“At Home with James Herriot” by Raphael Kadushin from Best Gay Stories 2009 by Lethe Press. Edited by Steve Berman.
Like the last entry, this story originally appeared in in the anthology Big Trips: More Good Gay Travel Writing. In fact, the author of this piece was the editor of that collection.
I wouldn’t have thought there would be any fiction at all in an anthology related to travel writing, let alone two pieces (and possibly more). This one is a quietly humorous story about an expatriated American living in London, who is employed as an editorial assistant for a publisher specializing in memoirs. The memoirs that pour in daily are as bleak and beleaguered as the grey streets surrounding the office, and I love that they provide contrast to the main character’s situation. He classifies his own problems as “slapdash and prosaic” in comparison, unable to compete with “a city full of practiced bloodletters…smart enough to fill their pockets with stones before (going) for a swim.” He terms his own problem as “just loneliness”.
We are told that it was in SoHo, in a club with mirrored walls where men glanced up “at their own reflected faces, waiting for an introduction”, that he met Marcus, an Englishman who says he is a travel writer. They begin a relationship, but Marcus is gone a lot, travelling. Meanwhile, London is slowly killing our hero, spraining his ankle, singeing off his hair, covering him in scabs from falls. He’s becoming one of the bleak and beleaguered. And then we learn that just before he set out for London his aged mother died, and we begin to understand why he’s there. Being in such bleak surroundings is cathartic. It makes his problems seem not so bad after all.
The relationship with Marcus and the way it turns out is unexpected and entertaining, but it’s his relationship with two other characters that I really enjoyed. He buys a pair of mice at a pet store. They were advertised as snake food, so his decision saved their lives. Mrs. Fishman and Tovuh have distinct personalities and a life of their own. They are my favorite thing about this story and also my least favorite, because of the odd decision the main character makes right at the end of the tale. Both times I read it I had to remind myself that this was just a story.