by LJ Barr
When the spirit of his dead husband take up residence in his boyfriend, Mark must respond.
| Mark shivered from the cold and shook away the chill as he stepped out of the winter cold into the Kingston East complex's heated vestibule two weeks later. “Brrr,” he growled. It is fucking cold outside. Well, yeah, Sanger. He scolded himself. It is January, after all. He exhaled to the count of ten before he pressed the buzzer corresponding to Nick’s loft. He had to calm down. He closed his eyes and shook his head. Mark had been running on adrenaline since the Process Server delivered the papers earlier this afternoon; at that moment, Mark contemplated shooting Marla but thought better of it. She wasn’t worth the waste of a perfectly good bullet it would take to kill her, and she not worth Mark spending the rest of his life in Prison. He pressed the buzzer.
“Yeah, Martins here. May I help you?”
“Nick, it’s me, Mark. I had second thoughts on the way over here, and what I have to say is better said in the privacy of the Loft,” Mark said. “No matter who far back into the corner we sit in the club, walls have ears,” he replied. “Can I come up?”
“Of course, you can, Mark. But you didn’t have to ask. You have a key,” Nick replied.
“I know, but I don’t like to arrive unannounced,” Mark replied.
“Come on up; I’ll be waiting,” Nick said and disconnected. Mark stomped his feet again and left entered the main building lobby.
The door closed behind Mark, and he headed toward the East Lift Bay. The Hydraulic Lift System was accidentally discovered by Don Gilmore—an Engineering instructor in the Harvard School of Engineering—while researching an entirely unrelated project. Don found a series of numbers and symbols abandoned on a computer by a previous Engineering student. Don set aside the current project and focused on the formula that he found. Persistence pays off because six weeks later, Gilmore discovered the missing equation in the recipe and gave birth to today's Hydraulic Lift System. By the end of the year, he delivered the system to the Engineering Forum in NYC—something like the Harvard Think Tank for Math. After much discussion, Scientist and Engineers signed off on the project, Gilmore had his invention patented, and mass development began. Two years later, the building codes changed: New construction limited to fifteen stories; and every building three-stories in height required one Hydraulic Lift bay. Anything from four to fifteen levels in size required two Lift bays. There were three Lift bays in each Kingston Residential complex, one in the east, one west, and one bay in the lobby, restricted for use to the lower level.
“Level seventeen, sir,” The male voice intoned, as the lift slowed and stopped, interrupting Mark’s thoughts. Unlike old-style electric elevators that jerked to a stop., the hydraulic system restricted to a smooth finish. The door whooshed open; Mark stepped out into the hall and headed to Nick’s Loft.
Just as Mark was about to ring the doorbell, the door swung open, and Nick’s smiling face looked at him. “Sorry, man, I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said, “you look like you saw a ghost. It’s like you’re coming home after a long day,” He grinned. “So, come on in and sit down, at the table, not the bar, and I get us something to drink. Would you like it warm, cold, or something in between?” Mick asked.
“Mark could have lived the rest of his life without hearing those last words at the door. Nick did not speak them; David had indeed spoken those words through Nick. And d yet it felt so good for Nick to Meet Mark at the door that Mark remained silent. “You know, I could use a Brandy,” Mark replied.
“Brandy and Cheese Chunks, it is,” Nick replied. He reached up and pulled a bottle of Brandy from the rack atop the Loft Refrigerator and set it on the counter. Nick then took a bag of cheese chunks from the fridge and busied himself arranging on a small plate, which Nick set on the table. Brandy and cheese chunks were his and Nick’s alone. Well, at least alone, as far as Mark knew. Nick returned to the kitchen to bring Bandy's two snifters to the table, placing one before Mark on the table and the other in the vacant place across Mark. Finally, Nick joined Mark at the table. “Okay, Mark, what has you so upset?” Nick said.
“Do you remember when I told you that night before Christmas that I didn’t think Marla had finished tormenting me? Well, the Process Server presented me with papers earlier this afternoon,” Mark replied.
“Don’t tell me,” Nick said, “let me guess. Marla says she wants the kids.”
“Yeah, but she’s got to be kidding, right?” Mark said. “I mean, she has less than a leg on which the stand; scratch that. Marla doesn’t have a fragment to stand on, let alone an entire leg.”
“Then why obsess over it,” Mark,” Nick replied. “Marla not only told you that she didn’t want anything to remind her that she and you were ever married; she made the same declaration before her lawyer, to say nothing of the judge, in the courtroom! And now, she’s trying to say she had a change of heart. Let’s get serious here, Mark,” Nick replied. “She might not be kidding, but she has to know you have videotapes and recordings of her escapades into the sordid lifestyle. And then there’s my testimony and that of the kids. This Boston is not the Boston of Twenty years ago, the judge listens to what the kids say, and neither of them likes Marla.”
“I’m not afraid, Nick. I’m madder than hell because I know what she’s trying to do. She thinks she still has a hook embedded deep into my back, which gives her a certain amount of control over my life. But I completely shook that hook out after Miles Treacher gave me those videotapes and recordings. She thinks I’ll call off my wedding plans if she uses the kids as bait. But Marsha is not baited, Nick, she is my daughter, and Trey couldn’t stand Marla even before she brought Marsha into this world.” Mark said as he popped a cheese Chunk into his mouth and washed it down with a healthy swig of Brandy.
“My question for you, Sanger,” Nick replied as he also popped a chunk of cheese into his mouth and chased it down with Brandy. He swallowed. “Why are we waiting until the end of March to marry?” Nick asked. “Why don’t we set a date for, oh, I don’t know, Valentine's Day? Why don’t we make it a proper Valentine's Day?”
“You know, Martins, that sounds like a plan,” Mark said.
“Good, I can reserve the Fellowship Hall,” Nick replied.
“You know what, Nick? Why don’t we make this day unique to you and me? Why don’t we get married in that Gazebo at City Park? Mark asked.
“Hey, now, that sounds like a winner. I like it more every time I think about it. This wedding will be just for you and me.,” Nick said.
“Yeah, Nick, you and me?”
Several hours later, following a superb dinner in the Club Restaurant, Mark and Nick went to a movie. But their special night began, not ended, in the bedroom. Nick never loved Mark so completely; but for one lapse, it was all Nick. He had long since fallen asleep, but Mark lay awake, racking his brain for ways to tell David to leave. Mark had to do it. He’d realized several weeks ago that as long as he kept those two albums, David had a link to him. Mark just never expected David to invade Nick’s privacy to get to him. Mark lay awake thinking. Finally, he rolled over, careful not to rouse Nick, got out of bed, pulled on his sweatpants, a long-sleeved shirt, pulled his robe over the top of everything, and left the room, heading down the stairs. He loved the ambient lighting in the Living room. When the overhead lighting went off, the baseboard lighting came on, bathing the entire room in soft blue light. It was beautiful. He walked across the living room and into the kitchen, flipped on the overhead, dimming the baseboard lighting. Mark put a tea pod into the Keurig, set it to brew, and took a bag of Milano cookies from the overhead cabinet. Removing two cookies, Mark put the bag back where he found it and closed the door. The Keurig beeped; Mark poured a cup of tea, took his cookies, and sat down at the island bar. He sat there alone for about ten minutes and then blinked. “David, is that you?”
“Yes, Mark, it is.”
“Why are you here?” Mark asked.
“I had to know how the formula worked, Mark,”
“David, I have to call Bullshit. You know how that formula works. You worked night and day on it before you got sick, and you perfected it the night you died. That’s just an excuse. I repeat, why are you here?” Mark asked.
“I missed you, Okay? Am I allowed to miss you?” David replied.
“No, it’s not; you have no right to miss me, David. You’re dead! I’ve always known you to be a jealous bastard in life, David, but I never thought you’d go this far. Jealousy was the crux of every argument we ever had in college. To be honest, I don’t know how we held it together long enough to have a life together after we moved to Washington. I understand why, David. I just can’t understand the reason you invaded Nick’s privacy,” Mark said.
“Yes, you do, Mark. You need to get rid of both of those albums and end your Thursday afternoons with my father. You can have nothing left in your life to remind you of me; you must sever the link.” David said.
“I figured that out a couple of weeks ago, David,” Mark replied.
“Does it have to be tonight?” David asked.
Mark knew he shouldn’t compromise, but he couldn't help himself. It was too later for such a conflict. “Okay, David, this is going to be a long weekend, but the update meeting is Monday evening,” Mark said. Steven is Sensitive.”
“I didn’t know that,” David said.
“You wouldn’t; you were too busy thinking you were better than everyone else to care about my friends. I never understood why Casey and Steven invited you to join our group,” Mark said. “But back to the subject at hand. “I’ve already invited Nick to come with my Monday evening. Consequently, you’ll be there. If Steven senses your presence, you know what that means, David. You leave.” Mark looked upstairs, as though expecting Nick to come down any minute.
“Don’t worry about Nick; I made sure he’d sleep.”
“As I said earlier, this weekend will be awkward. Stay in the background,” David. Do you hear me?”
“Yeah, I hear you, Mark. I won’t surface again. You’re angry with me.”
“You’re dead! Mark repeated. How can I be angry with a spirit? I’m just disappointed. If I thought you’d do something like this, I’d burned those albums the last you came to see me.”
David didn’t comment.
“Stay in the background,” Mark repeated.
“Okay, the background it is,” David said.
“It had indeed been one awkward weekend. Thank God it was over. It was the Monday night update meeting, and the four of them—Mark and Nick, Casey and Steven, sat at their table in the Club Restaurant. They’d finished eating dinner, and they now engaged in conversation about the improvements to the formula.
“Are the changes successful, Steven?” Nick asked.
You’d better believe the results are, at the very least encouraging,” Steven replied. “Preliminary results are even better than expected, and Leslie’s results are even more encouraging, he said. If these reports keep progressing, Steven and I will set the date long before December. How about Nick and you, Mark?” Casey asked.
“That’s the good news is Nick, and I set the date over the weekend,” Mark replied. “We’re doing Valentine’s Day in Style.”
“Casey looked askance at Mark, raising an eyebrow. “And what event precipitated your change of mind?” Steven asked.
“I heard from Marla,” Mark replied.
“Let me guess,” Casey said, “Marla’s taking you to court for custody of the kids.”
“You would be correct,” Mark said.
“You can’t be serious,” Casey replied. ‘Marla not only told the judge, in the courtroom, no less, that she wanted nothing to remind her that she and you ever married, as well as you and your lawyer. I repeat, Marla can’t be serious.”
“She doesn’t want the kids; she just believes that my daughter gives her control over certain aspects of my life,” Mark said, ‘but Marsha is not a bargaining chip. She’s my daughter,” Mark emphasized.”
“Congratulations, Casey, I’m glad the formula works so well,” Nick replied.
Casey and Steven did a double-take. “Nick, you’ve never been so interested in Casey’s endeavors,” Steven said as he peered into Nick’s violet eyes. “David, are you in there?” Steven asked.
Nick gave a cursory nod but remained silent.
“Mark, this can’t continue; David has no right to be here. He’s dead, and you must make that clear to him,” Steven finished.
“Head, I’ve already discussed this. I told David that if you sensed his presence, he had to leave for good,” Mark said.
“You have more to do than just telling David to leave, and you know what I mean,” Steven replied.
“I know what needs to happen, Steven, believe me,” Mark said.
“Mark, you know, Casey said, this situation brings my mother’s words to me before she died. She and dad raised me to believe in spirit-visitation.” Casey, think about it, even an omniscient being needs help sometimes. Don’t you believe that a spirit does more up in the continuum after death than sit on a cloud all day and play the harp? “Mom always said that one day something would happen that tested my beliefs, and so it has,” Casey replied as he stood up. “I think the time has come for Steven and me to leave. We’ll meet again in two weeks. Take care of business, Mark. Come on, Steven, let’s get out of here,” Casey finished.
Mark jumped up from the table as soon as Casey and Steven left the room. “I’m sorry, Nick,” he said.
“It’s okay,” Nick said, “I understand. I’ll be here when you return.”
Mark pushed his chair under the table and hurried toward the restroom, surveying the room as he went. There were only two other couples in the dining room besides Mark and Nick. There were two male restrooms and one lady’s room in the restaurant. There were only six women in residence at Kingston East. For whatever reason, women gravitated westward. The restroom system in the Kingston Residential Projects was unique to the Kingston brothers and their architects. Each men’s room contained three toilet stalls, a corresponding portioned urinal, and a sink. The lavatory's entire back section was an accessible stall, complete with a sink and urinal at the stall's south end.
Mark locked the door and headed for the sink, corresponding to the third stall. He stopped, and sighed audibly, then splashed cold water in his face, and dried away the excess moisture, and peered into the mirror. “David, are you there?” He asked.
“Yes, Mark, it is me,” David said.
“Steven sensed your presence,” Mark said, ‘you know what to do?
“Are you sure, Mark? I’ll miss you,” David said.
“David, we’ve been through this,” Mark replied. “You’re dead, and what we had died with you. Get out! Go now! And don’t come back. Is that clear, David.”
“Yes, Mark, thank you for setting me free.”
Mark splashed cold water in his face again; that was easy. He thought and left the room. That was easy. Mark thought.
Mark sat down at the table, and it was Nick’s turn to emit an audible sigh. “God, it feels good to be the only person in my body. Thank you, Mark,” Nick said.
“I can imagine,” Mark said.
“You know, Mark, I feel like something we might have done when we were kids,” Nick said,
Mark waited for the words: “if Mason hadn’t interrupted our well-planned lives,” but they didn’t come. Jealousy was not in Nick’s vocabulary. Hell, although, In the first two years Mark and David were together, Nick was there every time they quarreled, and that happened regularly in the first three years and the crux of every fight they had. David’s Jealousy of Nick because he and Mark had remained close. Later, for the first three years after Mark and David went to Washington. Jealousy of Mark because of the honors Mark received for the achievements Mark made.
“Hey, Sanger, you still there?”
“Yes, Nick, I’m still here,” Mark replied, “Just what would you like to do?”
“I’d like to go to a drive-in movie, Mark,” Nick replied.
“Are you insane, Martins?” Mark said, his eyes registering surprise and even a little shock. “It’s the middle of January! The wind may not be blowing as it did on Friday or Sunday nights, but it’s still cold,” he finished.
“Mark, you’ve been in my Suburban, Mark. Today’s SUVs aren’t like those built twenty years ago. You can choose how fast she cruises, and the back heats independently of the front, and there’s an independent vent system for the back,” Nick replied.
“Okay, you’ve sold me. Let’s do this thing. It just might be fun,” Mark replied.
“Since Matthews paid the tab,” Nick said. “Why don’t you and I go up to the Loft, put on some warm clothes, grab our heavy winter coats and some heavy blankets, and go to the movies. That new Virtual Reality Drive-in out on the west loop. They have two sections, each showing a different film. They give you a pair of goggles showing which film plays in what section; you choose, and pay accordingly,” Nick said.
Nick drove his sports car up in front of Mark’s building and turned off the engine; some cars still drove the old-fashioned way. “Why don’t you come and have something to drink?” Mark asked.
“Not tonight; you have some heavy thinking to do and a mission to complete,” Nick said. “You don’t need my brand of distraction interfering with your task.”
Although he did have a point, Nick was wrong about heavy thinking. Mark thought all afternoon yesterday, but Nick was right about the distraction. Although Mark entertained no latent feelings concerning the task at hand, he just wasn’t a fan of the tedious, time-consuming task before him. Mark’s first thought was to gather both albums and toss them into the fireplace, but on second thought, he realized the act of throwing the albums could shake loose photos from the pocket of the back cover of the Our Home album; and scatter them all over the hearth. Mark didn’t cherish the idea of finding loose pictures behind the log rack, as a reminder of the home they shared during those years. “I guess your right, Nick,” Mark said.
“Call me after you finish the project,’ Nick said.
“It’s bound to be after midnight,” Mark said.
“I’ll be awake,” Nick replied.
Mark got out and went inside the building and heard Nick drive away. He went to the Lift in the lobby, stepped inside, and gave the computer the floor number. The Lift ascended to Mark’s floor; he got out and headed down the hall toward his Condo.
Mark entered the condo, let the door close, took off his coat, hung it in the small closet off the entryway, and headed for the Master. He undressed, took a shower, dressed in a pair of sweat pants and a heavy sweatshirt, stepped into his slippers, and omitting the robe, Mark went to the closet. He dug deep into the large box packed with clothes he no longer wore, but Mark had not found the time to take to Good Will. Mark pulled out the two albums in question, kicked the closet door closed, and carried them to the living room; dropping them to the floor in front of the fireplace, Mark went to the kitchen to brew some Hot Cocoa. Mark set a carafe of Hot Cocoa, a small plate of sugar wafers—energy food for the task—and his favorite mug; he set everything atop the freestanding Bamboo table tray, standing on four sturdy Bamboo legs.
Mark set the table to the hearth's right, went to the sofa, grabbed two substantial throw pillows, and dropped them to the floor between the albums and the food, and sat down.
It was 8:00 P.M. when Mark sat down, and four hours later, at a few minutes before midnight, Mark chucked the last photographs into the hearth and watched them burn. Mark sat down on the sofa and called Nick. “Done, Nick,” he said when Nick answered his phone.
“Time-consuming, huh?” Nick asked.
“You bet; I kept out twenty photos from the Wedding Memories album,” Mark replied, “and before you ask, no, David’s not in any of them. David did his best to avoid these photos of family and friends. There’s even a picture of Kyle Mason, which blew smoke to his story that his father didn’t care,” Mark said, “But it over, thank God.’
“Meet me at the Club Restaurant, tomorrow evening,” Nick said, “and I’ll tell you why David wanted you to believe that Kyle Mason didn’t care but get some sleep tonight. “We’ll talk tomorrow. Have a good night, Mark.”
“I will; thanks, Nick. I love you,” Mark said and disconnected the call, after Nick chuckled, and returned the sentiment.