Augustus 'Gus' Coffey.)
MESSENGER OF GOD appeared in the Spring 2001 issue of AIM Magazine
PETS appeared Summer 2001 issue of ARTEMIS Science Fiction Magazine.
Originally published AIM Magazine Winter 1999:
John M. Faucette
(Dedicated to the memory of my best buddy of thirty years:
Many years have passed but I remember the night I told Ken my secret. It was a different era. Disco was king--the beat pumping and pounding, the clubs in full swing, crowded night after night with bodies pressed tight against each other and the air saturated with the beat and sweat, perfume and smoke.
We'd been friends a long time, Ken and I. A long long time. Just one of those chance meetings on a job one day. You talk, hang out with each other, party together. Share family losses and sicknesses, hopes, dreams, failures and fears. Double date and watch each other's back. Lend and borrow money, go on trips. Cruise for women, for clubs and bars, afterhours joints, for a little excitement.
One day you look back and realize you've been friends for years and you can't imagine a time when the other wasn't around. It was that way with Ken and me. And yet there was a secret I'd never told him, had never hinted at.
It's funny--he drank a lot and I never hesitated to tell him I thought he had a problem. Of course, he got upset, said I didn't know what I was talking about--the fact that he had to have a drink when he got up in the morning, that the first place he headed when he came to my place was my bar, meant nothing. He just liked liquor, he could hold it and he could stop any time he wanted. Years later, when his drinking and his high blood pressure sent him to the hospital and a doctor told him he was an alcoholic and he had to quit if he wanted to continue on this Earth for any reasonable length of time, he was forced to accept the truth and give up his beloved drinking.
I'd never held his anger against me against him for I knew that was the way people were with their addictions. When I was a boy my own father had been a smoker and alcoholic and I'd seen how difficult it was for him to give up either one.
Workwise, we moved on. Computers got bigger. We went back to school and he finally into facility management, myself into programming.
We'd meet on Fridays after work and go to different record stores and check out the latest disco and jazz albums--this was before cassettes and CDs. We'd buy whatever we thought was hot and go to my place which was close to midtown and listen to them, commenting on the merits of the various cuts and albums--back then, our own private version of Siskel and Ebert. Or, other times, I'd go over to his place and we'd listen to whatever he'd purchased since I'd last seen him.
Strange, but in all that time I never mentioned my secret.
We lived for partying and dancing in those days. There was always a new tune: Fly, Robin, Fly, Disco Inferno, Don't Leave Me This Way, a new club: Pippins, Othello's, Colibron, a new dance: The Hustle, the Patty Duke . . . . Once I knew all the dances and their names. Now, they're lost in time. Gone. . . .
We partied in clubs in midtown and the Bronx and Brooklyn. We went to dives in basements in which, looking back, I'm sure we took our lives in our hands, but back then we thought we would live forever. The invincibility of relative youth.
We met all sorts of women and covered for each other as men will do when the perception is the next one is better than the current one.
We went to houseparties and weddings. And always there was the music. Even now I can remember the unending beat, the press of bodies dancing shoulder to shoulder, butt to butt, stomach to stomach. The flashing/strobing/whirling lights. The almost physical pressure of six foot speakers blasting out the always there beat. The vibrating of the floor under our feet and the hot air about us. Disco was the religion. There was nothing else. Except jazz. And that was a distant second.
I don't know why, but one night I felt the need to tell the truth. There was no reason for it. I could have kept my secret. But there comes a time, often without warning, when you realize you're not being honest with your buddy, when no matter that it might mean the end of a friendship, you have to tell him.
It's funny, I remember a lot of things, but I especially recall that evening. He'd come over, gotten his usual straight vodka and ice, settled in and we'd listened to a few cuts of whatever the latest disco piece was. Whatever they were, I forgot long ago. Finally, I took a deep breath and said, "Ken, man, we've been friends a long time, but I got to tell you something. I got to be honest."
He looked at me. I'm sure all sorts of thoughts went through his mind, but he just shrugged and asked, "What?"
Not knowing how to say it, I took the record out of the album and put it on the turntable, lifted the needle and placed it down carefully. There was a long silence as the needle moved across the record to the first groove.
I thought he would say something when the music began to play, but he didn't. He leaned back, closed his eyes and listened until it was finished and I lifted the arm and replaced it. The melody still echoed through my mind as I sat down.
Now that I had revealed my secret, I waited for his comment. Would this destroy our friendship? What putdown would he have? It certainly wasn't disco. I started to tell him I thought it the greatest piece of music I'd ever heard.
"Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21," he said. "Otherwise known as The Theme From Elvira Madigan."
"What--you know it?" I asked, surprised.
"Sure--I love that, man. That's the greatest piece of music ever written," he said. "Absolutely magnificent." He touched his fingers to his lips, kissed them and offered his fingers up to God. "Magnificent."
"You never told me!" I said.
"I didn't think you were interested in that kind of music. With you it's always disco disco disco--a little jazz--then more disco disco disco."
And so, sometimes you learn you don't now everything there is to know about a friend. Sometimes, in being honest, in telling people about yourself, you learn more about them. I told my friend my secret and learned it wasn't such a secret.
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Links of interest:
Black Street Fiction (A collection of more down-to-earth black fiction.)
Augustus 'Gus' Coffey.)