Henry Morton Robison, roving editor of the Readerís Digest:
"Gypsy, shall we assume that everyone knows what Unconventionality
means--Ėand take off at once?"
Gypsy Rose Lee, premiŤre stripteuse of burlesque and author of The G-String Murders:
"Letís not be in such a hurry to take off anything. With all the amateurs at it,
how do you expect a girl like me to make a living?"
We stood in the room with the chair, the Lidskialfa, just Mikhael and me, for a long time. It had a light shining down on it and the gold that was on it, at first, made it hard to see the fine carving and the details. I wanted to go right up to it and touch it, just to see what I couldnít see at a distance, but when I took that first step up to it, Mikhael put his hand on my shoulder and stopped me.
"We go no closer," he said in a soft voice.
I nodded, but then I shook my head.
"Freddy said she sat in it. Whatís that about?"
"For Fredericka it was different. She is already a queen in my heart."
"I see," I said. "Sheís a queen and Iím just a ... what? A vassal?"
"No, of course not."
"Then what? What am I?"
"You are a New York boy whom I know through odd circumstances. That is all you are to me."
"Mikhael, you are not a nice person at all. Youíre a snob."
"I am. I admit it."
I heard him laugh, or at least chuckle twice, right after he said that and although he was telling me I was right, it made me blush. I think it must have been the attitude in his voice. I think it had to be the terrible way it made me feel suddenly to be right in judging someone when I had no right to judge anyone.
"Iím sorry," I whispered.
"I accept this apology in the spirit in which it is given."
"Whatís that supposed to mean?"
"You apologize and I accept. Thatís all."
"No, itís not all. I can hear in your voice that itís not all."
"Can you?" He gave me a strange sort of look as though he could read something in my face that I didnít know was written there. "You can, I see it. You have a mind, Max. I was not aware of that."
"Of course I have a mind."
"I donít mean a brain, Max. Everyone has a brain. You have a mind. That is not the same thing at all. It means that you can reason and feel things at the same time and make a deliberate and honest decision on the two things at once. You may have the same double senses as King Solomon."
"Youíre putting me on," I said, almost embarassed at saying it.
"No. I mean this completely. You may have the finest mind in my experience."
He put his hand on my shoulder again, only this time it was to lead me closer to the throne. I moved hesitantly in the direction in which he guided me and when we reached the edge of the platform on which the Lidskialfa sat we stopped. He put his other hand on the arm of the chair and gently guided me up the step to the seat.
"Sit there," he said. "Try the Lidskialfa and tell me what you see from there."
"I donít know what you mean," I replied. "What would I see? What could I see? Weíre in a room and Iíll see the room and Iíll see you."
"But how you will see me and how you will see the room. That is what interests me, Max."
"I donít know what..." But he was turning me around, moving me backward into the plush seat of the ancient chair. I placed my hands on the carved wooden arm rests and slowly descended into the large, ornate seat. When my butt touched the plush, he moved his hands to my waist and gently shoved me backward until my back had reached the upright of the chairís back. I blinked a few times. There were tears in my eyes for some reason. My hands hald the end carvings of the chairís arms tight and when my vision cleared a bit from the lachrymal secretions I did see things differently. I couldnít understand it, but I did.
"What do you see now, Max?" Mikhaelís disembodied voice inquired of me.
"I see a man and a woman and a boy and a girl," I said. "I see a room all red and covered in gold flocked wallpaper. I see sorrow and I see pain." I couldnít believe what I saying out loud to him. "I see loss and I see gain as well. The man holds the boy close to him and the woman does the same with the girl. The girl is very frightened and the boy is also scared but he is braver. He stands erect and tall. The man is the least comfortable. He is weeping and ashamed of it. He is holding tightly the shoulders of the boy and the woman. He is afraid for them more than for himself."
"Yes, it was so," Mikhael said from some distance.
"I see a room like this filled with other people who hold guns in their hands. I cannot see their faces clearly but they are not smiling, I know that much."
"They did not smile that day."
"I see the room again, see it empty of people, completely empty. I see the room more red and gold than it was before and the gold is not steady but moving and the red is not red but drying to a purple and brown. What do I see, Mikhael? What is it?"
"You see a room where people have died, Max. You see a room where blood has been violently shed on the gold-flocked walls of red. You see the flames of willful destruction and madness, Max. You see it all, just as I see it, just as I have seen it every night of my life."
"I need to leave this room, Mikhael. I need to."
"No," he said abruptly. "I will come to you in the Lidskialfa."
He leapt up onto the chair and sat there with me, his body pressed hard against mine. We were together, trapped between the hard, carved arms of the large chair. His arm was around my shoulder and his other hand was on my chest, over my heart. I could feel him breathing, he was so close, as close as anyone had ever been to me up until that moment. His breathing was hard and empty, no healthy oxygen in it in either direction. I wanted to give him good air, but I had no idea what that meant, what I could do to achieve that.
"Mikhael," I whispered, "was that you? That little boy I saw...was that you?"
"Hush," he whispered back at me. "You may not know more."
I turned to look at him. Sitting there together I realized that he was about two inches taller than me. His eyes were a cold and burning green color and his sandy hair fell over his brow as he looked down at me. I stared up into them, wondering how we would ever get out of this chair, out of this uncomfortable position we shared when I felt his hand leave my heart.
"You are excited too, Max," he whispered. "I could feel it in your heart."
"I donít know whatís happening yet," I said.
"I do," he responded and he leaned down those two inches, his eyes never leaving mine, and he kissed me.
What I felt then, when his lips and mine met, was something I had never felt before. No kiss of any kind from anyone had ever lit me up within before. It was as though I had caught the flame of the room I had seen in the vision given me by the Lidskialfa. I burned hot and then cold and then hot again. His hand touched my cheek and my chin as we kissed and the flames leaped downward through my loins and into my legs. We parted, but his face stayed very close to mine.
"This is the gift of the Lidskiala," he said softly. "It is not the memory it shared with you, but the memory it makes for you."
"This is crazy," I said.
"This, Max, is love." And he kissed me again.
We talked in his room for hours. Much of that first flush of passion had past and we were ourselves again. We agreed that for the present, at least, no one should know about what had happened between us. He was wise enough to realize that this sort of thing would not be acceptable in his school or in mine. Even Freddy was not to be told. Mikhael feared that she would be upset and never see him, or either of us really, ever again. We never spoke about the future, though. What had happened, it seemed, was already behind us. He never suggested that anything more would occur of a similar nature.
He used that phrase, "a similar nature," and I knew what he meant. What he didnít know, though, was my family history and the potenatially open acceptance of the worst of what we did. I made the promise he secured, however, and would not speak about what had happened, even to my mother, for a long time. He had created the secret that I kept. He had brought me to a place of privacy that my own family had never even suggested could exist.
It was a place that never felt as comfortable as it might have if my life had been different. It was not the sort of place our family could acknowledge. I knew what my father would say, what Granny Elaine would say, if they knew about this new friendship with Mikhael. I would be a bargaining chip for improvements of all sorts. I would be the pawn in a chess game where the outcome was the betterment of our situation. I knew that and I kept the secret for that reason alone.
My life would have been a happier one if I could have told someone about my feelings, but not even Mikhael would tolerate hearing about them. I had been revealed to myself, once and for all, not as a gigolo or a pimp, but as a man who craved other men, who responded to other men. I was an amateur in these ranks, but one who could, with my family history, become the best in this business. That was totally different from anything I had ever seen before in myself.