Excerpt from No Man’s Brooklyn, novel-in-progress.
I remember the time, Anya, when my mother asked about you and me. I was thirteen. My mother’s sickness was in its early stages. She had already turned the couch in the livingroom into her sickbed, which is what it would remain until her death. She hated lying down in the bedroom, she said she felt isolated and forgotten, like she could just fade away in there and no one would know.
I had just come in from playing wiffleball and she started asking me questions and somehow the topic came around to you and she asked if me and you were an item. It was the first time my mother had ever asked me about you in that way, the first time she had ever mentioned romance. I couldn’t look directly at her when I told her no me and you weren’t an item.
I always thought you two would wind up together, she said. I still think that, don’t you?
My mother was smiling. It’s like she knew something that I didn’t about me and you, about us, our future. It was a fortune teller’s smile.
I don’t think we’ll wind up together, I said, and she said, Why not?
So I told her I don’t know why not I just don’t think it’ll happen, we’re friends and I think we’ll always be friends, that’s what we are to each other.
Maybe you’re right, she said. But I don’t know, you two, ever since you were little kids….
There my mother’s voice trailed off to a faraway place and her eyes followed. I think she had gone back to visit me and you as little kids, to see us.
When she returned she said—Remember how she used to follow you around everywhere when you were kids?
Yea, I said. And I used to get mad.
You did but also you liked it.
My mother smiled again. I did too thinking of little Anya following me around.
Anyways my mother’s voice got more serious when she said—You know Daniel, boys your age, they talk about girls a lot, they go on and on about girls but really they’re scared. They don’t even know exactly what it is they’re scared of and that’s what makes the whole thing even scarier and more confusing. And when I say boys that covers all ages because there’s no such thing as men, that’s a myth. I want you to remember that. There’s no such thing as men, only big boys and little boys.
That’s what she told me Anya, what I internalized. What do you think? Was it like that for you? No real men, only boys pretending to be men and some not even pretending. I wonder if Peter Pan is to boys what Jesus is to sinners?