“If On a Dark Night Two Strangers Should Come” by William Hawkins from <em>Saints and Sinners 2014: New Fiction from the Festival</em> (Bold Strokes Books).
Full disclosure: I have a story in this anthology.
This story starts with the narrator recounting, more or less faithfully, the story of Jupiter and Mercury’s encounter with Baucis and Philemon, from Ovid’s Metamorphises, as an entry to telling us about a particular night in New Orleans. Hurricane Gustave has just unleashed its fury on Baton Rouge, everything feels out of joint, and everyone is restless. He tells us the night began at a birthday party for the boyfriend of a friend, but things took an unexpected, unpleasant turn, and he’d found himself in a cab with an acquaintance, heading to the home of his much older lover, Mickey, looking for drugs.
There are some very funny moments in this story and some poignant passages, too. “I led us there and wondered how many times you had to walk up to a house before you were walking up to your house” is a fantastic way to convey the ongoing nature of their relationship and something of his feelings about it, too. We learn that he and Mickey first got together in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, another period of time when everything felt off-kilter. Is it the return of that restless energy that leads the narrator to take the actions he does next? Or could it be his awareness that Mickey is the one more invested in the relationship, is possibly even falling for him? I’m not sure the Baucis and Philemon story really illustrates this one, and I don’t much care. The ending is surprising and the characters would not leave my mind after the story was done. There’s much more I’d like to know about them.