by Matthew Lyons

 

When Harold first got the cancer on his forehead, he stayed inside for three months, totally ashamed.  Cried every night, like a baby, just wailing into his pillow, inconsolable.  Michael didn’t know what to do, so he just tried everything.  Foot rubs, take-out Chinese, all his favorite movies, even just holding him while he sobbed himself raw in the dark.  None of it really helped, and maybe that was the worst part.  He loved Harold so much, didn’t care about the tumor at all, just wanted him to be okay.  He didn’t see the golf ball-sized atrocity above his face, he just saw his husband.  And he had always been enough for Michael.

The doctors were all optimistic, said it wasn’t half as bad as it looked.  Said with a little surgery he’d be cancer free lickety split.  They’d just slice it off, stitch him shut, graft a little ass skin there for completeness’ sake, bandage him over and call it a day.

When they told him Harold was going to be okay, Michael felt so good he started to cry.  Next to him, Harold didn’t say anything.  While Michael took his hand and squeezed it and kissed it and whispered Thank you God, Harold stayed clammy and limp, and for some stupid reason Mike didn’t think anything about it.

Years later, he still looks back and wonders at what an idiot he was.

*

If you’re stubborn and selfish enough, and a good enough picker, skin grafts can get really infected, really fast.

*

Mike’s so sick of looking at the drooping yellow flap of skin on Harold’s forehead that he can’t even be in the same room as him anymore.  The thing’s always wet and gummy and smells like hot cheese and when Mike thinks about making love to his husband these days he just gets sick.  Harold hasn’t gotten a haircut in months and sometimes wisps and loose locks get caught in the mess and that just makes Mike want to scream forever.

He gets so angry sometimes because Harold did this to himself and to Mike, too, and he still doesn’t think he did anything wrong.  “It’s my body,” he always says whenever they fight about it.  “I can do whatever I want with it.  You’re not the boss of me, Michael.”

They used to hold hands all the time.  Now they don’t go out in public together anymore.  Everything’s just fucked.

Mike’s been sleeping on the couch in the den for months because he refuses to sleep next to Harold until he goes back to the doctor’s to really get it fixed this time.  Harold tells Mike he’s being too dramatic and he needs to get himself together, but Mike just thinks he’s in denial.

That horror on his forehead makes him look more like a monster than the tumor ever did.

When Harold isn’t home, Mike sometimes calls his mom in Louisville and asks how things are going there.  He has to lie about Harold but that’s not hard, he’s had lots of practice by now.  Sometimes, if he’s really lucky, she’ll tell him that Ian Emory who runs the hardware store down the street just broke up with his latest boyfriend and still asks her about him.

In his most shameful daydreams, Mike imagines Kentucky, alone.

*

Harold knows it’s bad.  It’s not like he doesn’t look in the mirror or anything.

So, okay.  He decides to do something about it.  Because he still loves him, or at least that’s what he tells himself when he gets scared of losing him.

*

He wakes up early and rolls out of bed before he’s awake.  It doesn’t take him long to get everything in order.  The plan isn’t that complicated.

Harold spends all morning in the backyard, with Mike’s bowling trophy, and the hacksaw from the pegboard in the garage, and the industrial strength superglue.  It’s easy to separate the little gold guy and his pedestal from the base, but the flap is slippery to peel back and hold there and the glue burns in the raw like a motherfuck, blows white spots in his field of vision.  He swallows the pain back and waits for it to set, then when it feels stable, he goes looking for Mike, but he’s not in the house.  Harold calls and calls out for him, but he’s not home.  He pretends to not see the folded letter with his name written on it set on the coffee table. It’s not really real if he says it’s not real.

Mike’ll be back soon.  Other people are gonna want to see this anyway.

He goes parading.

He marches up and down the streets, pumping his arms and legs proudly, a big grin tattooed across his face as he shows off his brand new cranial accessory.  It glints in the sun, like a warped gold unicorn horn, and when people point and take pictures and snicker behind their hands, he has to believe it’s because they know how cool he is now and not because of the reasons they usually do it.

He’s so cool.  He’s so fucking cool now.  Not disgusting, not a monster.  Cool.

He marches for hours before coming home, sweaty and sunburned and smelling like cyanoacrylate and melted Swiss cheese.  His head hurts so bad and the edges around the base of the little man won’t stop weeping fluid into his hair and ears and eyebrows and he’s almost forgotten about the letter until he finds it still sitting there like an unexploded bomb.  When he picks it up to read it he can’t because of the crying from knowing what it says already.  Everything he’s been scared of hearing for years.  Of course.

There, in the living room, Harold crumples to the floor and weeps and clutches at the little golden figurine anchored to the front of his skull, trying to tear it off.  Except it’s too late for that.  The glue’s already set and it’s going to be there forever.

*

Hours away, heading southwest out of Cleveland on I-71, Mike rolls down all the windows and puts on Moondance and turns it up and drives faster and sings along and is so fucking ashamed of how good it feels to be free.

 

***

 

Matthew Lyons is probably taller than you, not that it’s a competition or anything. His work has most recently been published in Out of the Gutter, The Molotov Cocktail, Animal, Abstract Jam, and more. Complaints can be filed on Twitter at @reverendlyons.

 

 

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