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Short Stories 365/69 | N.S. Beranek

“Rochester Summers” by Craig Cotter from Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2014).

There’s a muteness between the characters of this story that is heartbreaking. The narrator meets Alex while he is working a summer job. He’s attracted to the other boy, who is actually a year his junior, though he seems like the older one of the pair. Alex controls their interactions by asking for rides home from work, suggesting they stop for food, directing the main character to drive to the lake, and engineering a system whereby they gradually trade wardrobes, with every bit of it nearly wordless.

Reading it through the first time, I was inclined to think it was just them, and I wanted to shake them and ask what their problem was. As the story unfolded it became obvious that they liked one another, but they never, ever talked about it, and that, I think, is the real cause of the tale’s unhappy ending.

This story did something very important – it made me remember that this is how it used to be, in general. It seems strange, now, when things are so open, to recall that people didn’t used to talk about having opinions different from the “norm”. If you differed you didn’t say so for fear of being ostracized, or worse. If you noticed someone was different you had to be careful about letting them know that you did, and even more careful about bringing it up to anyone else, because there were real consequences. The result was that everybody thought they were the only one, or at best one of a few, who was different. Which is exactly what those in power wanted. It’s easier to control the masses when everyone thinks they’ll be fighting alone if they rebel.

As is turns out, the “normal” people are the minority. Now the rest of us are really pissed off, and you know what they say. Payback’s a bitch.

So this story got me to thinking, which is good. It also broke my heart, though, because I like to believe that behind closed doors, or out at the lake, two people so obviously attracted to one another would be able to express to one another how they feel. The fact that that never happens here is tragic, and the long term effect that silence has on the relationship is even more so.

Maybe it’s because it’s written in first person, but this story feels real. It feels much more like memoir than fiction, and I am left wanting to know two things: 1). Is this a true story? And 2.) If so, did he end up happy?