by shukyou (主教)
illustrated by amei
Day #527, 6:20 AM – Wake up, dose #1
Evidencing once more an uncanny ability to beat the alarm clock, Jonah opened his eyes at 6:19 on the dot, reached over, and clicked off the alarm before the morning talk shows could filter their way into the bedroom. Tony stirred, but only enough to steal all of Jonah’s covers, roll over, and go back to sleep. Jonah let him.
He toddled to the bathroom, slippers shuffling against the hardwood floors. He’d slept hard the four hours he’d slept, no dreams or night sweats, and that was good. Even so, the pre-dawn chill made him feel eighty years old. He didn’t even flip the lightswitch in the bathroom; he trusted the early morning light to make his reflection just bearable enough to be seen. He just swung the medicine cabinet open and plucked a fat white bottle from the bottom shelf. As he twisted it open, his eyes scanned the label: Zidovudine, 400 mg (2 tabs) daily every 4 hours, Pharmacist Dr. Carla Mendez, and a list of contraindications so long they had to be continued on another sheet entirely, to say nothing of the eight-page booklet on side effects.
Two pills tapped into his open palm. Dose one.
They went down, down, down with a glass of water, down to his empty stomach, where they hit like meteorites, crash-landing into nothing. TAKE WITH FOOD, the label instructed him, but he might as well have put a big sign on the pantry that said TAKE WITH DRUGS, for all he felt like eating these days. That dealt with, he shuffled back through the bedroom, pausing only long enough to take a small black day planner from atop an antique writing-desk, then into the kitchen.
By the time the teakettle sang its song, Tony had emerged, beloved, ratty boxers nearly sliding off his hips, thick black hair falling into his eyes. “Morning, baby.”
“Morning.” Jonah was eating dry Cheerios, one at a time. The day planner lay open on the counter, and he twirled a pen in his left hand, pondering the day’s events, a little pair of reading glasses perched on his nose. The glasses were a recent necessity, and he wasn’t sure he liked the way they sat on his face.
Tony went for the milk, drinking it straight from the carton in a manner Jonah had stopped complaining about a decade ago. “How’re you feeling?”
Jonah shrugged, scrawling a little note in the 6:45 time slot. Half a cup of Cheerios. ‘It’s a good thing it’s Cheerios,’ says the box. Haven’t quite figured out what bad thing would happen if it weren’t. “Slept well.”
“That’s good.” Tony leaned over to glance at Jonah’s planner, his lips frosted by a neat milk moustache. “What’s on the schedule for today?”
The milk moustache made Jonah smile, and he reached up with the sleeve of his oversized sweatshirt to wipe it away. “The usual.”
7:45 AM – Walk outside (weather permitting)
The sunny, cloudless sky had looked promising, but Jonah opened the window just to be sure, and the second the cold air hit his shower-damp skin, he shut it tight. Only the end of October, but the frost had come early. The day’s exercises were to be held inside, then.
Jonah had charted the distance around the apartment, and found that five times through and back made a mile, provided he circled every piece of furniture at least once. Tony grabbed his ten-pound free weights in each hand and followed Jonah, curling with every step. Tony did not have to take two tabs every four hours; Tony did not have new dark continents surfacing on his skin every few weeks. “You can go run,” Jonah laughed, running his hand along the back of the couch as they passed, just in case it became necessary for support. “You don’t have to stay here with me.”
“Nah,” grinned Tony, leaning over to kiss Jonah on his cheek. “Outside doesn’t have you. Or Miles Davis.” The sounds of a soulful horn wafted in from the stereo system in the bedroom.
It was a good day, though, and the steadying hand never found itself put to use. Waking up was always the worst part, even when he’d slept well. The walk an hour after breakfast was to make sure he didn’t just go back to sleep, no matter how much that was all he wanted in the world. He went through with it because it was on the schedule, and he put it on the schedule because he knew never wanted to do it, but it always made him feel better. Jonah liked schedules. They were neat and orderly; they told you where to go and what to do. If you could trust a schedule, you could make your way through a day. Or five hundred twenty-seven of them.
Tony paced him, never getting ahead, making allowances for Jonah’s somewhat slower pace by shortening his stride, and just walking in place as Jonah dutifully orbited a free-standing lamp. “You look like you’re feeling better today.”
“It’s my costume. This year, I’ve decided to go as a healthy man.” But it was true — he did feel better today, better than he had in a long time, better than yesterday, which had been better than the day before. Both of them suspected the answer had a great deal to do with the little white bottle which had so recently made its medicine cabinet debut, but neither was willing to say anything about it, for fear that speaking might jinx it. Jonah’s family hadn’t been religious for at least two generations, but it didn’t mean he couldn’t be superstitious.
He reached his starting point again; three-fifths of a mile completed, two-fifths to go.
10:20 AM – Dose #2
“Tony Maroni’s Delivery Service.” A tray appeared on the small table next to his recliner, sporting a glass of water, half a bagel, and two white pills. “We deliver for you, baby.” Tony wiggled his ass well within Jonah’s reach and looked proud of himself, so Jonah smacked it in a gesture of affection and gratitude. This pleased Tony, who flopped lengthwise on the adjacent couch and grabbed the remote.
“Hey, I was watching that,” Jonah lied. He rarely watched television anymore, but liked to keep it on for its ability to chase away silence. A mystery novel lay open on his lap, a review copy (whose title he’d already forgotten, to say nothing of the first-time author’s name), and he picked through the pages. He needed to tell the editors to stop sending him such dreck; he was a very sick man, and could not afford to waste his time on bad literature.
“Take your pills.” Tony replaced an Oprah rerun with a college football pre-game show, then settled in.
Jonah regarded the medication and bagel, then decided to go bagel-first. It had been toasted with love, and also with the toaster oven.
The talking heads, men who looked like refrigerators wearing suits, began chattering on about how this player and that player were their respective team’s best hopes for winning. Jonah never understood why Tony watched football, as a sport or as a sexual activity; for the former, the rules were painstakingly arbitrary, and for the latter, you could barely see any man under all those tons of padding. Jonah nibbled at the bagel’s darkest edge, enjoying its burnt flavour. “You know what happens when you watch too much football, don’t you?”
Tony didn’t even look at him. “…What?”
“Makes you butch.”
“Didn’t I tell you to take your goddamn pills?”
Jonah sighed and put down the bagel, considering the few bites a sufficient cushion for what was to come next: two more pills sent down the hatch, intrepid deep-sea explorers never to be heard from again. He reached for his notebook and scrawled in the little space alotted to 10:30, My body is the Pacific Ocean. Watch out for sharks.
12:00 PM – Eat a healthy lunch
Tony ran a damp washcloth over Jonah’s forehead, kneeling next to him, glass of water at the ready. Once upon a time, Jonah had felt embarrassed about having people watching him throw up, but that seemed like a lifetime ago. He lifted his face and Tony obediently poured in a mouthful of water, which Jonah swirled around and spat into the toilet, flushing afterward. “…Really, though,” he managed, forcing a smile, “the egg salad was pretty good.”
“Oh, baby,” Tony kissed his sweat-damped hair, “I’m not going to take this as an insult to my cooking. You want some more water?”
Jonah nodded meekly, and Tony lifted the glass to his lips, letting the Manhattan tap water flood in; this time, Jonah swallowed. “…Well, that was unpleasant.”
“But no blood this time.”
Shutting his eyes, Jonah shook his head. “No blood. Just sandwich.” He already felt better having their weight out of his stomach, which left him sure this was just a reaction to food and drugs, not something more sinister. With a great sigh, he let himself slump against the sink, resting his flushed cheek against the cool porcelain. “…It was probably the football.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “The Steelers weren’t playing that badly, baby.”
“My antibody count is so low, I must’ve become allergic to it.” Of all the things in the world to blame for the way he felt, the football was the least likely culprit, and therefore the easiest target. So he laughed, and Tony laughed, and it was all right again.
Grunting with effort, he pulled himself into a sitting position, which took far less energy than he might have expected. He actually was feeling better. With the practiced grace of someone who’d repeated the motion hundreds of times before, Tony slipped Jonah’s arm around his neck and shoulder, lifting him to his feet. Three years ago, lifting Jonah had been a something of a feat even on the muscular Tony’s part, but now Jonah’s thin frame hefted easily. As he stood, Jonah caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. A new lesion had sprung up below his left eye, making a shape that looked like a cross between an inverted teardrop and Argentina. “I think I want to brush my teeth.”
“Good, because I’m not kissing someone with barf-mouth.” Propping Jonah up with one arm, Tony set one-handed to the task of preparing Jonah’s toothbrush; Jonah watched, and easily could have summoned the effort to help, except everything felt so far away. Everything, that was, except Tony. Tucking his face into the crook of Tony’s strong neck, breathing in the heavy scent of his skin, Jonah smiled.
1:15 PM – Call Deb
“You don’t have to do this,” Tony told him, handing over the cordless phone.
“No, I do.” Jonah, returned to his comfy chair, tapped the open planner page. Call Deb was written at every 1:15 on every Saturday until the planner ran out of pages — on the quarter hour, not the hour itself, so she wouldn’t mock him for his compulsive punctuality, even though he suspected she was onto him by now — and Jonah had pondered going in and scribbling before each one, 1:14 PM – listen to Tony tell me I don’t have to call home.
Speed dial sent the call on its way, and she picked up on the third ring. “Miller residence.”
“Hi, it’s me.” His voice didn’t shake, hadn’t shaken in years.
“Baby brother!” By now Jonah knew well enough that her customary cheerful greeting served also as a warning to all those on her side of the conversation. He imagined them now, the WASP advertising executive she’d married picking up the three sons who’d never met their uncle and sweeping them out of the room, letting mommy have her conversation with her faggy brother in peace. “How are you feeling? How’s the new medicine working out for you?”
Deb had worked as a receptionist at a doctor’s office before the kids had been born, and thus knew very little about the particulars of Jonah’s treatment, but liked to pretend she did. “Good, good. I think it’s–” working was not the way to finish the sentence, so he amended, “doing all right. How’s your bunch?”
“Oh, you know. Same old, same old.” The quickest way to get Deb off the subject of his health was to ask about her kids. “Jimmy and Teddy are doing their twin-thing where they get the same cold at the same time, and I think they’re passing it to Bobby. Steve’s been busy at work, but he’s home today, and having another pair of hands is great.”
“Sorry to hear they’re sick,” said Jonah, trying to fight back the irony in the statement. She wouldn’t ask about Tony, so he saved her the awkwardness of a pause where reciprocity should have been. “I liked the pictures you sent. Did you make their costumes?”
“I did! Simplicity patterns, mostly, but they were so excited about being cowboys this year that they started pestering me all the way in September. Steve picked up the little hats and boots when he was in El Paso.” There was a strain in her voice when she said this, one Jonah could hear as clear as daylight, and just as clearly knew he couldn’t say a thing about. He’d always told her to call if she needed anything, and she never called.
Jonah drew little circles in the margins of his planner as they talked, first interlocking, then concentric. “I’m sure they’ll be the hit of the church carnival tonight. Anyway, I was just calling to say hi, so don’t let me keep you if you’ve got things to do–”
“Well, I hear Teddy crying from the other room, so I should probably go do something about that. You know how kids are.”
He didn’t. “Yeah. …Say, Deb? Mom wouldn’t be there, would she?”
There was a slight pause from the other end of the phone, too long to be coincidental. “…No, Joe, she’s … gone out to see a friend today.”
It was a ridiculous, transparent lie, and Jonah let it go. “Well … tell her I said hello, and that I asked about her, okay?” Jonah cleared his throat. “And that I hope she got the flowers and card I sent her for her birthday.” He’d filled the card’s inside left panel with his meticulous handwriting, telling her all about his new medication, how he’d gotten a book review published in Time, what the trees looked like in Central Park in autumn. He didn’t really expect her to read it, of course, but just writing it made him feel better, as did the possibility that she might read it.
“I will, Joe.” The strain in Deb’s voice grew even more audible, and Jonah pondered the weight of the prize Deb’s kind heart had won her: the dubious honour of being the one of the five remaining members of his immediate family to stay in touch with the prodigal. “You take care, baby brother. Call me if you need anything. Day or night.”
He wouldn’t. “I will, big sister.”
The phone fell silent in his hand, and he pushed the button to end the call. His fingers flipped to pages a week ahead, revealing the next Call Deb. He hovered over it for a moment with the tip of his pen, then sighed and shut the planner, leaving the appointment unchanged.
2:00 PM – Skip dose #3, have sex with Tony
“Someday I’ll be offended that you’re the one who gets to schedule when we have sex. Haven’t you ever considered I might not be in the mood?”
“Tony?” Jonah rummaged around in the drawer next to the bed, finding two bottles of lube and selecting the one that didn’t smell like bananas. “I have never known you not to be in the mood.”
Tony paused in the middle of unbuttoning his jeans, which his marvelous ass filled out masterfully well. Jonah had dropped nearly fifty pounds over the last two years alone, and his own ass, which had never been that spectacular, was by now considerably less than. “…Well, you got me there.”
Jonah smiled and settled back against the headboard, watching Tony undress, admiring the man he’d fallen in love with at a Pat Califia book signing (of all things) on a spring afternoon in 1979. Jonah was a quiet man by nature, and so didn’t bother saying things like you’re just as handsome as the day I saw you waiting in line, with your stupid NYU t-shirt that got worn threadbare years ago and blue hanky in the wrong back pocket because nobody from Patterson had ever taught you how to be a proper faggot, because things like that always looked all right in text, but sounded ridiculous when actually spoken. Writers by necessity learned to keep these little thoughts to themselves, Jonah had observed, because nobody wants to sound like his own prose.
Disrobed, Tony stood before the room’s full-length mirror, grabbing the little roll of skin over his belly. “I think I’m getting fat,” he grumbled at his reflection.
I should have such problems, thought Jonah, who again held his tongue. “You’re not getting fat. You look amazing.” Leaning back, Jonah spread his bare knees and unbuttoned the fly of his ratty boxers, revealing the evidence of just how amazing his body thought Tony was. “Now come on, handsome.”
That brought a wide grin to Tony’s face, and he strutted his way over to the bed, stretching his arms high above his head just in case there was some part of his anatomy Jonah’s eyes had missed. He dropped to his knees on the mattress, positioning himself between Jonah’s legs. “Did you take your pills?”
“No,” Jonah sighed. “I’ll put a dollar in the fund later.” There was a glass jar in the kitchen, half-full of bills and change, which served as a penalty jar for Jonah; every time he failed to comply with some doctor-prescribed treatment, he was required to contribute towards Tony’s long-held dream of owning a motorcycle (something Jonah felt was an intensely ridiculous purchase, especially for two men living in Manhattan, but that was the point of a penalty, now, wasn’t it?).
Tony nuzzled his way up the inside of Jonah’s thigh, carefully navigating around the dark islands that rose from pale seas of skin that never saw sunlight. “You know I worry about you, baby.”
“Worry about me while you’re on top of me.” Jonah settled into the nest of pillows he’d created for himself, trying to look as seductive as a skinny, thirtysomething man wearing a white cotton t-shirt and greying plaid boxers could be.
With a playful growl, Tony gave Jonah’s thigh a bite before stretching himself out along the length of Jonah’s body, managing his posture on knees and elbows such that all of his heat but none of his weight fell on Jonah’s body. Tony was always warm, even in the dead of winter, a personal furnace of a man, and Jonah, the cold-blooded sort, had never found cause for complaint. Jonah reached up and took Tony’s face in his hands, bringing him down for a full, open-mouthed kiss. It was and would be the only shared wetness between them, and even that Jonah ended too soon for his own taste, trying to hide his paranoia by pretending he’d decided he suddenly had nothing better to do than chew on Tony’s ear.
That made Tony laugh, then moan a little, and he pressed his cock hard against Jonah’s thigh to show his sincerity. “Shall we get suited up?”
“You may do the honours.” Jonah released Tony from the embrace, sprawling along the pillows again, one hand coming to rest just at the exposed skin of his belly where the t-shirt had pulled up. The pills made him nauseated, tired, and distinctly un-sexy, and whether or not they were saving his life, life without the (increasingly infrequent) taste of Tony wasn’t worth living. “I’ll just lay back and enjoy the show.”
Tony wiggled his ass in Jonah’s general direction, and this time, instead of slapping it, Jonah curled his hand around his own balls and squeezed, panting slightly. That seemed to motivate Tony sufficiently to quit showing off and retrieve two boxes from the table on the other side. One was a staple now in the house of every gay man Jonah knew — condoms, the economy pack in the big cardboard box, a jumble of little foil squares. The other, slightly larger box contained latex gloves, unpowdered, the kind doctors used for surgery. The uniform of the contagious, thought Jonah, making a mental note to write that down later. “Who first?” asked Tony, holding up both boxes.
Jonah thought for a second, then extended his hand, a royal waiting for a kiss from his courtier. “If you would.”
Tony would, it seemed, with pleasure. Two years of practice had taught them both that there was no such thing as a sexy way to put on latex gloves, but even after two years, Tony was still bound and determined to make an effort. He first slipped, then tugged Jonah’s slender fingers into their second skin, unrolling the thin rubber down Jonah’s palms to his wrists, then kissing the bared skin just above his pulse. Jonah shivered at the touch of Tony’s lips as they brushed across skin and latex alike, feeling heat and pressure still, but with all moisture gone; the world had become very dry. He flexed his fingers, hearing the quiet creak of the glove as it stretched to accomodate his joints. Now he was the deep-sea explorer, a participant in his environment from behind a thin membrane, keeping him in as much as keeping everything else out.
Putting on his own gloves took Tony half the time and a fraction of the show, and the box of gloves was cast aside, replaced by the box of condoms. Tony plucked two from the collection, tearing the first foil pouch and unrolling the condom onto his own cock, having saved all the production for this part. There was no practical reason why it should have taken Tony so long to put on a condom, and Jonah didn’t have a single complaint, watching as the milky latex rolled from the tip of Tony’s cock to his balls, each inch covered worth a theatrical groan from Tony. “Tease,” Jonah said, his lips as dry as his hands.
Finally it was done, and Tony preened for a moment, his cock jutting out at a sharp angle from his body. “Patience, baby.” He tore the second pouch open and perched its contents on the tip of Jonah’s cock, then bent over and placed his lips just above the rolled rim. With maddening speed (or lack thereof), Tony lowered his mouth down, unrolling the condom as he went, lips and tongue hot through the latex, but still dry as a bone from the other side. Jonah shivered, watching, reaching down a rubber-gloved hand to stroke at Tony’s handsome cheek.
Tony worked his mouth around Jonah’s cock enthusiastically, sucking and teasing, squeezing at Jonah’s balls with his hand, then tugging at the waistband of Jonah’s boxers. There was a time and a place to protest about discomfort with one’s body, Jonah supposed, and this was neither; he lifted his hips and let Tony half-undress him, shivering a little as his bare ass met the air. “Wait, get the–”
“Two steps ahead of you.” Tony lifted a bath towel from the floor by his side of the bed, a ratty old thing, still vaguely damp from Tony’s morning shower. With a grace that never failed to impress Jonah, Tony swept his arm under Jonah’s knees, lifting his ass from the bed long enough to put the towel down underneath. Jonah was, among other things, very particular about his sheets. That settled, Tony spread Jonah’s legs wide and reached for the lube, working a substantial amount onto his gloved hand. “This okay?”
“Fuck, yes.” Once upon a time, they’d been slightly more egalitarian about who went where in bed, as much out of principle as anything else, but that seemed a long time ago, and Jonah could find no cause to complain about a default state of being stretched on his back, with one of Tony’s fingers pushing gently at his ass. “Easy,” Jonah murmured, as much a reminder to himself as to Tony, because his first instinct was not to have Tony go easy on him — to have Tony slam into him, filling him with his cock, knocking him up against the headboard, stretching his hip joints to the breaking point and making it hard to sit for a day.
But easy it was, and there was still something to be said for the gentle tenderness with which Tony’s finger slipped inside him now, maddeningly careful and slow. Tony grinned, then bent down to kiss Jonah’s belly, just beneath the hem of his shirt. “Good?” he asked, and when Jonah nodded, he added a second digit, entering him just as slowly as the first. Jonah made a sharp, choked sound and fisted his gloved hands into the bedsheets, arching his back, pressing his own hips deeper onto Tony’s hand. Tony smiled and lowered his mouth to Jonah’s cock, all dry pressure and dry heat. Jonah whimpered and bit his lower lip, muffling the sound. Tony’s many excellent qualities neither began nor ended with his mouth, but it certainly gave his other body parts a run for their money as he swirled his tongue around the head of Jonah’s cock.
Jonah opened his eyes to see that Tony had propped himself up on his knees, and was jerking himself off even as he finger-fucked and sucked Jonah off. Truly, though Jonah, here before me is a man of many talents. “Don’t,” mumbled Jonah, gathering himself enough to swat Tony on his shoulder. “I want to take care of that.”
Tony looked only momentarily disappointed, then redoubled his efforts toward getting Jonah off, taking Jonah’s cock deep into his mouth, until the head brushed the back of Tony’s throat; even taking into account his own modestly sized equipment, Jonah had always considered this something of an accomplishment. Tony’s fingers slicked in and out of Jonah’s hole, faster now, all slide and pressure, no unguarded surfaces left that might cause any friction.
Jonah’s mind never shut off, which he considered both a blessing and a curse, but sex was loud enough to drown out its constant chatter, at least for a time. He melted into Tony’s touch and stopped thinking about family, work, writing, medicine, doctors, sickness — everything but the rhythm in his body that started from between his legs and spread out to the tips of his fingers and toes, right up into his noisy brain. With only the slightest gasp of warning, he came, lifting his hips off the bed before collapsing bonelessly back to earth. His toes were still tingling, but in a good way.
“That sounded good,” grinned Tony, letting Jonah’s still half-hard cock slip from his mouth and withdrawing his fingers from inside Jonah at once. Jonah thought about making some sort of token protest of discomfort, but it seemed like too much effort; instead, he lay back, letting Tony attend to the aftermath. Off first came Tony’s soiled glove, turned inside-out and deposited into the trashcan beside the bed, followed shortly by Jonah’s condom, expertly removed and tied shut by Tony’s deft touch. The old towel came in handy for cleanup,
That done, Jonah stretched back, gesturing forward with two gloved fingers. “Get over here,” he purred, trying to muster the energy to sound appropriately seductive; he stripped off his t-shirt to punctuate the sentiment, for what good that did. “I told you I wanted to take care of that.”
Such a suggestion earned no argument from Tony, who grinned and stalked forward on his hands and knees, his cock dangling between his legs. Jonah reached for his balls, cupping them in his sterile-suited hand, feeling their weight. In response, Tony leaned forward and put his forehead against the headboard, half-straddling Jonah’s chest, careful always now to keep his weight balanced on the bed, and not on Jonah himself. Never let it be said Tony was anything but considerate. Jonah snatched up the lube and wet his palms with it, feeling the chill as he spread it across the surface of the latex, then warmed at the touch of his skin.
He then regarded Tony’s cock, and perhaps he should have done this in a different order, but it was too late for that now. With fingers slicked, Jonah reached for the rim of the remaining condom, rolling it off Tony’s cock with far less finesse than Tony himself had rolled it on earlier. Tony looked briefly puzzled, but then Jonah’s fingers wrapped around his now-bared skin, and he groaned, closing his eyes and rubbing into Jonah’s hand.
Jonah slid his circled fingers effortlessly up and down Tony’s hard shaft, tightening the circle just as he slipped over the head of Tony’s cock, just to hear him curse under his breath and moan. While Jonah supposed he could have taken off his own gloves too — you had to be careful, of course, but he’d yet to hear of a case of transmission by handjob — he had to admit he’d grown strangely attached to the feeling of distance, the impossibly thin space of separation. He felt slick and safe, all dressed up, people to see and places to come.
There’d been a time when all he’d wanted was skin, around him and in him, sticky and raw and hot — but, to paraphrase Marlowe, that was in another country, and besides, the stud was dead; his wreckage might be seen again, but only by the deep-sea explorers, and even then, from a distance.
Tony slipped one of his still-gloved fingers in Jonah’s mouth, and Jonah bit down on it lightly before licking at it, not hard enough to break the skin, but hard enough to get his point across. He flicked his tongue around the tip of the digit the same way Tony had sucked him off minutes before, and Tony let his head drop forward, grunting and breathing heavily. Jonah felt Tony’s cock jerk in his hand, tugging against the reins of his grip, and he moved faster now, hands tightened, sucking hard at Tony’s finger, until Tony cried out and came, and Jonah moved so most of it fell against his bare chest, with a few curls making it up to cross his mouth. He smiled and waited until Tony was looking again, then licked the come off his lips, the sight of which made Tony groan again and collapse to the bed. Feeling rather pleased with himself, Jonah groped for the towel from earlier; the initial kink of fluid contact was nice, but things like that got unpleasant quickly.
Recovering quickly, Tony took the towel from Jonah’s hand and finished wiping him down, then patiently unrolled the remaining gloves and sent them to the trash. Jonah started to tell Tony that he was feeling tired, but all attempts at speech were replaced by a tremendous yawn. Actually getting off himself had variable impact on his energy level, but directly causing a great orgasm never failed to make him sleepy. “I think somebody needs a nap,” Tony teased gently, spooning up behind Jonah and nuzzling the back of his neck.
Jonah wanted to make an argument otherwise, claiming that he should get up and do some more work, or at least take a shower — but Tony was as warm as he ever was, and the feel of his soft cock nestled up against Jonah’s bony ass was comforting, and before Jonah could make any efforts to the contrary, he felt himself slipping into sleep.
4:45 PM – Try to get some work done
He woke to the sound of voices from the other room, and to a glowing red 5:23 from the bedside clock. Any guilt he felt regarding deviating from his schedule was overshadowed by how good a satisfying orgasm and three hours of sleep made him feel. His body was the true tyrant here, and his schedule had to answer to it, not the other way ’round.
He pulled on a ratty pair of pants and a dressing-gown, then stumbled out to find Tony seated at the table with his Tía Carla, his mother’s twin sister who had been a second mother to Tony and his siblings. They were chattering on in Spanish — which was in fact Antonio Javiel Rodrigo Maroni Gutierrez’s first language, something that had never failed to impress Jonah, whose major flirtation with foreign languages had been learning enough Hebrew to make it through his bar mitzvah without embarrassing himself in front of his entire family.
“Well, here’s another country heard from,” smiled Tony, waving from the table.
Tía Carla turned and smiled, hefting her sizable figure from the table and coming over to give Jonah a big hug, nearly crushing him with her meaty, loving arms. “Jonito,” she beamed, patting his sides. “You look good! Has my boy been feeding you?”
Jonah pressed a kiss into her halo of permed hair, smelling the beauty salon lingering in every curl. “It’s good to see you, Tía Carla,” he smiled. “And yes, he has been feeding me.”
“Well, good. Good, that’s good.” She gave him one more bone-crushing squeeze, then returned herself to her previously occupied position, asking over her shoulder as she went, “And your T-cells?”
With a good-natured sigh, Jonah opened the refrigerator to retrieve the carton of orange juice, wondering all the while if ‘death by family’s well-meaning concern over one’s health’ was listed in any of the standard medical textbooks as a valid cause of death for a death certificate. “They’re fine, Tía Carla. Up and up, all the time.” When Jonah had come out to his own family, he’d watched as its members each in their turn had simply stopped speaking to him; within five minutes of having met the Gutierrez side of Tony’s family, he’d become Jonito, with the J that sounded like an H, to everyone gathered for that Christmas dinner. He’d actually written an article about it for the New Yorker a few years back, after concluding that it didn’t matter how badly his own family came off sounding, if they neither read the New Yorker nor talked to him anyway.
“Good, good.” Tía Carla nodded and patted a brown paper sack on the table. “I brought you boys empanadas from Mercedes’ kitchen, so if you don’t eat them, you’ll be insulting her, not me.”
Jonah’s stomach turned and rumbled at the same time, which was another unpleasant side effect of being medicated: the frequent inability to distinguish hunger from nausea. The only time in his life he’d ever claimed to keep kosher aside from holidays was when confronted with a special batch of Mercedes’ empanadas which may or may not have had pig intestines in them, he’d never been able to get a clear answer on that one. “We ate a late lunch,” Tony explained, taking one of her hands between his, “so we’ll have them for dinner later. Sounds good, baby?”
“Sounds good,” Jonah echoed, unable to tell if he was lying or not. Well, he’d just woken up; he’d see how he actually felt come suppertime. He picked up his orange juice and notebook from where he’d left it on the kitchen counter, then trudged over to the couch, each sleepy step an effort. “I’m sorry, Tía Carla, I’ve got some writing I need–”
“No, no! Write!” She shooed him couchward with both hands. “You’re busy boys, don’t let me take your time.”
With a sheepish little smile, Jonah settled himself down in the chair with his review copy of Charles Kuralt’s A Life on the Road; nonfiction wasn’t usually his thing, but Jenna had slogged through John le Carré’s The Russia House for him the previous June, when a summer cold had landed him in the hospital for nearly two months, and he owed her the favour. His frequently mislaid reading glasses were for once right where he’d left them, and he settled them on his face, then perched the memoir on his left knee and his notebook on his right knee. Before I was born, I went on the road, went the first sentence, which Jonah supposed was a fair way to begin.
Behind him Tony and Tía Carla picked up their conversation again presumably from where they’d left off when Jonah had entered. The sound of their words became background noise to him, meaningless (to him) sound carried by human speech. Like a radio tuned to a foreign station, left on for the illusion of companionship, he scrawled in the margin, turning the page sideways so as not to confuse his personal musings with the review. Like babies who love to hear you talk even before they know what language is.
He’d made through nearly forty pages of Kuralt’s childhood when his ears pricked to the sound, picking out the words infección and inmunodeficiencia from Tía Carla’s rapid tones. Turning, he peered from behind the chair, and when Tía Carla saw him, she shook her head. “Oh, no, not you, mijo. A little girl from work, she’s got two babies, her boyfriend left her and then she found out, very sad. I gave her the number of your Doctor Ravinder.”
Jonah wasn’t sure if the doctor in question had seen a vagina in his life save in medical texts, but was far too polite to say so to his matronly adoptive aunt. “I’m sure he’ll be able to do something for her,” he nodded, omitting the second part of the phrase: as much as he can do for any of us.
Turning back to his book, Jonah found that as the pages meandered through Middle America, his mind stayed fixed on the young woman whose name he didn’t even know. He felt like crying, not for the legion of tribulations that lay before her, but for how her unfaithful lover had left her to face them on her own. She had her children, of course, but children need care long before they can give it, and Jonah suspected she’d have little help there either.
He’d known he was one of the fortunate ones, from the moment the doctor had handed them the test results — good news for Tony, bad news for Jonah — and instead it had been Tony who’d wept, wrapping his arms around Jonah’s chest, begging him never to leave. Every time Jonah himself had contemplated giving up, just sitting back and letting the host of infections carry him away, there had been Tony by his bedside, yelling at the doctors on his behalf, fining him for not taking his medication, forcing him to eat when he felt like starving, giving him reason upon reason to keep living.
One of the fortunate ones? Hell, he was the luckiest boy alive.
6:20 PM – Dose #4, get candy ready for trick-or-treaters
Tony brought him a bowl of M&Ms, on top of which sat two elongated white pills with blue stripes around their middles. Jonah gave him a dirty look. “I was just about to go get it myself,” he protested, which was a complete lie, as he had utterly lost track of time while reading.
“Well, now you don’t have to.” Tony kissed his hair, then set down a glass of water next to the half-finished copy of A Life on the Road (Jonah was leaning toward a mostly favourable review, with perhaps a few negative marks for folksiness that came off as only slightly forced). “What do you want for dinner?”
Jonah palmed the AZT, then munched a few of the candies. A couple of M&Ms, he wrote in his day planner, melting, as promised, in my mouth. “Don’t we have empanadas?”
Tony shook his head. “Not for you. They’re full of jalapeños, and boys who spend the second half of their lunch hours yakking up the delicious sandwiches their hard-working boyfriends spent hours slaving over hot stoves to create don’t get spicy things.” He stroked Jonah’s hair to let him know he was just teasing, then took a couple of the M&Ms for himself. “I could make some spaghetti.”
“I’ll do it,” Jonah offered, placing the pills on his tongue and holding them there for a moment while he gathered his courage. They tasted like chalk and like nothing at once, which he supposed was about par for the capsule medication course. He lifted the glass to his lips and washed them down, then finished the rest of the water, giving them a proper burial at sea. “I need to get up and move around anyway. My back’s stiff from sitting here.”
“All right. There should be trick-or-treaters arriving soon anyway.” Tony helped Jonah to his feet, then twined their fingers together and held his hand all the way to the kitchen, which was such a Tony thing to do. Reticent by nature, Jonah’d had to learn quickly that Tony’s gregarious nature meant that all his own deep-seated shyness about physical contact had to go. In fact, the first time Jonah had ever been bold enough to display public affection for another man had been their second date, when Tony’d linked arms with him all the way down Fifth Avenue, then kissed him in the middle of Times Square, in broad daylight, surrounded by hundreds of people, terrifying and exhilarating and romantic all at once.
Jonah squeezed Tony’s hand, then let go, poking at a big bowl of individually wrapped candy pieces on the counter. “Maybe I’ll have candy for dinner.”
“That’d be something like a thirty-dollar motorcyle fund penalty contribution, and you still haven’t paid up from this afternoon.” Rummaging around in the cabinet beneath the stove, Tony produced a spaghetti pot, then placed it in the sink to fill with water. Tony’s interpretation of Jonah’s ‘I’ll do it’ statements was often loose. “How much do you want?”
Enough to keep the AZT from making a repeat performance, Jonah thought, but didn’t say. “There, that’s plenty of water, I won’t even need that much if you’re not eating any.”
Tony shrugged. “I might have a little.” He hefted the half-filled pot from the sink to the stove, then lit the gas burner. “There, you do it,” he said, handing the salt shaker to Jonah, whose discriminating palate tended to think Tony over-salted everything. “I’ve got to get into my costume before the kiddies arrive.”
“Costume?” Jonah tapped the shaker twice over the water, frowned, and added another tap for good measure. “You didn’t tell me you were dressing up.”
With a wink, Tony disappeared into the bedroom, rummaging around in what sounded like plastic bags. Jonah shook his head and went after the package of dry spaghetti even though it’d take the water several minutes yet to boil. Spaghetti was classic comfort food for Jonah, easy to prepare and hard to screw up, which was the way he liked his food. After a minute, Tony came flitting out again, resplendant in pink plastic wings and dinky plastic crown, carrying a plastic glitter wand, all of which looked sized for an eight-year-old girl and purchased from a store whose specialty was anything but costumes. “I’m the Bad Fairy of the East!”
“Mothers and their children are going to run screaming,” Jonah shook his head, trying to find the slotted wooden spoon as a diversionary tactic to keep from laughing. Tony had obviously already gotten into the candy himself and worked up an impressive sugar high.
“Whatever, if they bring little Fifi and Miffy and Charles Engelbert Waldemar the third to Fag Central, they deserve to see a grown man in a sparkly tiara.” The doorbell rang, and Tony snatched the candy bowl from the counter, holding it under one arm in a stance more fitting of a linebacker. “And here they are! Coming, little yuppies!”
If Tony’s contempt for the upper middle class was going to get him killed at the door, by God, Jonah was going to be there to watch. He rounded the corner just in time to hear a resounding ‘TRICK OR TREAT!’ and to see no fewer than seven chubby hands plunge like mad into the candy bowl. Tony was kneeling down, holding out the bowl at eye level with a charming grin, and to their collective credit, the clutch of young mothers in the doorway looked like they didn’t know whether to be scandalised or turned on; Tony Maroni tended to have that effect on people, particularly straight ones.
As Jonah entered their collective field of vision, the kids gazed up at him with eyes wide. The biggest one of the bunch, a boy in a storebought pirate outfit, found his voice first: “…Are you supposed to be a zombie, mister?”
Jonah thought about this a moment, then extended his arms straight in front of him, in his best Frankenstein-movie impression, and staggered forward towards them, letting loose an inarticulate groan somewhere between ‘braaains‘ and ‘Republicaaans‘. The kids shrieked in unison and catapulted on down the hallway, laughing and clutching their bags of candy.
The sound receded, and Tony shut the door, looking comically bewildered at Jonah. “…I think we just held the Lavender Menace Awards, and I think you just won.”
Kissing his fairy princess on the cheek, Jonah smiled. “Everybody has a talent.” He turned and shuffled his way back to the kitchen, to wait for the water to boil.
7:30 PM – Eat a healthy dinner
The spaghetti was bland, but that was a mark in its favour at this point, and Jonah ate it by individual strands, separating them out and wrapping them around his fork one by one. It was a laborious process, made more reasonable by how his portion and appetite alike were small. The sauce was watered fairly thin, but he’d actually summoned the energy to chop some vegetables and throw them in, which he figured made him a culinary genius on level with Julia Child, at the very least. On the television, CNN’s perky new anchors were on the scene in at a filling station in Smalltown, America, talking about how oil at over $40/barrel was affecting the economy of Joe Sixpack. Jonah looked over his shoulder, where Tony was readying his own dinner and demolishing the leftover spaghetti at once, pink wings still strapped about his shoulders. “See, Evel Knievel, gas is expensive. You’re better off with the subway.”
“Joyriding the subway? Not the same.” The phone rang, and Tony walked over to take the handset from its cradle on the wall, saying as he went, “You’re not going to talk me out of this one, baby– Hello?”
Jonah sighed and went back to winding one of the few remaining spaghetti strands around his fork. The television switched to shots of war, green-tinted action footage of missiles streaming through the sky like shooting stars on which only the Pentagon could make a wish, all with a pleasant female voiceover about how new and advanced the ordinance in question was. All the effort spent on finding new and better ways to kill people, Jonah wrote in the 7:30 slot on his planner. Unrelated: serving of spaghetti, with sauce, squash, tomatoes, carrots.
He became aware that though Tony had answered the phone, he hadn’t said much past the initial ‘hello’. Turning over his shoulder, Jonah saw Tony had sat down in one of the kitchen chairs, bracing his hand against his brow so Jonah couldn’t see his face. Jonah reached for the remote and muted the television just in time to hear Tony’s end of the conversation: “Thanks, I appreciate you letting us know. …Yeah, ten tomorrow’ll be fine. …You too, Sal. Bye.”
The mention of Sal’s name set a stone in Jonah’s stomach. “…Kevin?”
Tony didn’t answer right away, but his silence was enough. Jonah felt a wave of nausea, and placed his plate on the TV tray before he made a mess of things. He’d stopped keeping track of the number of these phone calls they’d gotten — sometimes directly from hospitals, more frequently through phone trees set up well in advance — though if he had to guess, he’d put it well into the fifties. Funny how it didn’t stop stinging. “A little after six,” Tony finally said, raking his fingers through his hair to draw it from his eyes. “Sal said he was sorry it took him so long, but….”
“But Mike was a mess,” Jonah finished, waving away the concern as though Sal could have seen the gesture. Sal was Tony’s roommate from college, the straight twin brother of flamboyantly gay Mike, who’d been with Kevin for three years, since shortly before they were both diagnosed. Everything read like that sometimes, eternal unwindable cat’s cradles of relationships, families built by strangers.
With a great sigh, Tony nodded. “…I saw him Tuesday,” he said softly, voice wavering. “Kevin, I mean. He looked … fine. I mean, not fine, but–”
As good as I do, Jonah thought. If there had been one thing he’d learned while losing friends at a fairly steady rate over the better part of the previous decade, it was that healthy, sick, and dead were three states separated by thin threads, perilously easy to cross. “How’s Sal holding up?”
“Not good.” Tony drummed his fingers atop the table, a nervous gesture. “I mean, he … Kevin and Mike were his….” He looked so young, Jonah thought, wracked by grief and terror, trying to compose sentences with words that had abandoned him. A tear escaped the corner of his eye, and he grabbed a paper napkin from the table. “And Mike’s last blood test was bad….”
Jonah pulled himself out of the chair with no small effort, moving the few feet to the couch before depositing himself there. “Come here,” he said, patting the cushion next to him. Tony walked over, pulled off his plastic wings, and collapsed on the couch, his head on Jonah’s lap. Jonah ran his fingers through Tony’s curls, listening to the shudder of Tony’s breath as little sobs crept their way out. He could read the terror coming off Tony like waves by now — not a fear of dying, for that was Jonah’s to have, but a fear of being left alone.
Fifty calls, give or take, followed by as many funerals, all closed-casket because nobody wanted to see what the disease did to you, all held where you could find space amidst all the funeral homes and churches that refused to take in queers, plague victims, or (worst of all) both. That’d been what they’d watched, both of them, until two years ago, when Jonah had seen Tony’s eyes turned from the coffin to the mourners, the ones left behind. Sometimes the deceased’s family wanted nothing to do with him, and his lover took center stage in the front pew; sometimes the family showed up in droves to give him a copiously heterosexual funeral, and his lover was relegated to the back with all the other unsightly mourners, years of commitment erased by a desire for propriety. Every time now, Jonah could see Tony’s eyes wander there, lingering on the deceased’s beloved, learning how to be a widower, wondering silently at which end of the affair he’d wind up sitting.
“Let’s plan my funeral,” Jonah said, out of the blue, surprising even himself as the words came out of his mouth.
Tony lifted his head, dark eyes red-rimmed but no less beautiful for it. “…Baby, no, you can’t, I don’t want you to–”
“I think we need to.” Jonah’s voice was calm, and he found that the smile across his lips was absolutely sincere. He brushed the pad of his thumb down Tony’s cheeks, chasing away the tracks of tears. “I don’t want Deb showing up and making everyone sing ‘Amazing Grace’, or your family deciding that what I really need is a good, old-fashioned bank of professional Sicilian mourners, or you, riding up and down the aisles in your goddamn motorcycle….” He stopped, laughing at both the mental image and the faint horror of Tony’s expression. “Because just because I’ve told you that you can only get a motorcycle over my dead body doesn’t mean you get to drive it at my funeral. Well, okay, maybe at the graveside service, but definitely not in the synagogue.”
“This isn’t funny,” Tony frowned, looking exceedingly put-out.
Jonah reached down and pressed his thumb to Tony’s lips. “Then can we make it be, a little?” He reached his free hand to take Tony’s, his chilly fingers in Tony’s warm ones. “I mean, I want my ashes scattered in Central Park. Did you know that?”
“Right next to that angel fountain, where you took me on our fourth date and I asked you to move in with me and you said yes, even though we’d only been dating two weeks and my apartment was so small that you said, and I quote, ‘I’ve given head in bathroom stalls bigger than this.'”
Tony shook his head. “How do you remember all that?”
“I’m a writer. I get paid to remember for other people.” Jonah gestured in the direction of his notebook, which by now was beyond his reach. “And I want Miles Davis playing, and I want you to wear that white linin suit that looks so amazing on you, and I want that picture you took of me on the hotel balcony in Jamaica, the one where I had the only tan I’ve ever had in my life, on top of the casket, and I want you in the front row so everyone knows exactly with whom I spent the best years of my life, and you don’t get paid to remember things for other people, so if you don’t take this down, you won’t remember, so get my damned notebook and start writing.”
At least Tony knew better than to argue with a direct order; he climbed off the couch and retrieved the black day planner, flipping to the back where there were extra blank sheets. “I just don’t think we should be talking about–”
“We’re going to have to talk about it sometime, Tony,” Jonah said quietly. “Or we don’t talk about it, and you’ll have to do it on your own, and that brings us to my earlier concern about how funerals and motorcycles just don’t mix.”
“I’m not going to ride a goddamn motorcycle at your goddamn funeral,” Tony sulked, but he was fighting back a smile, and Jonah knew he’d gotten through. He settled himself back on the couch, tucking his head against Jonah’s chest. “Especially if I’m wearing my white suit.”
Jonah smiled and wrapped his arms around Tony’s shoulders. “That’s the spirit.”
10:20 PM – Dose #5
Two more pills tapped out into Jonah’s hand as Tony brushed his teeth. “Oh, good,” Tony said around a mouthful of toothbrush, “I was about to remind you.”
“I remembered.” Jonah filled his glass with water and swallowed the pills down, then finished the rest of the glass. It never hurt to be appropriately hydrated. He contemplated his face in the mirror, looking at the dark spot beneath his left eye. It didn’t look bad, but if it got bigger, he’d take it to Dr. Ravinder to get it checked out. “At least it’s not pointing upward, or it’d look like some sort of prison tattoo.”
“Now there’s a funny thought.” Tony spat in the sink, rinsed, and returned his toothbrush to the holder, then squeezed past Jonah into the bedroom. Jonah followed a moment later, switching off the main light before climbing into bed behind Tony. He wouldn’t sleep now, of course — he couldn’t, there was still one more dose to be had before his bedtime — but he liked tucking Tony in. “You, the most dangerous man in the joint.”
Jonah wrapped his arm around Tony’s waist, pressing his lips to the back of Tony’s shoulder. He always smelled so good, like sunshine and sweat, and Jonah couldn’t get enough of him. “Men and women cower in fear.”
“Yeah, well, not me.” Tony turned in Jonah’s grasp, until they were face-to-face, their foreheads inches from contact.
With the dim light from the bathroom behind him catching in his curls, Tony looked angelic and beautiful, like one of the marble sculptures in the Greco-Roman wing of the Met brought to life, and Jonah a modern-day Pygmalion for it all. Jonah reached up to brush his fingertips across Tony’s lips, smooth with just the slightest hint of dampness. “How did I get so lucky?” he asked quietly. “All the boys in all the world, and here I am with the perfect one.”
Tony kissed Jonah’s hand, and even in the dark Jonah could see him roll his eyes, which bore only the faintest red remnants as evidence that he’d spent much of the evening crying. “There’s my real Halloween costume — the perfect man. As soon as the clock strikes midnight, though, I have to go back to being plain ol’ Tony.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Jonah reached his hand around the back of Tony’s neck, pulling him close enough to nuzzle his nose. “All right, it’s time for all bad fairies to go to sleep.”
“Baby, I’m your bad fairy,” laughed Tony, kissing the corner of Jonah’s mouth. He smelled minty fresh, which was what brushing your teeth did for you, Jonah supposed. “The Bad Fairy and the Lavender Menace — I think we’ve got the makings of a first-class supervillain team. We’ll get you a purple cape, and I can pull out those chaps I haven’t worn in years….”
“Which is sad, because they look amazing on you.” Jonah’s hand slipped down to grab Tony’s ass through his cotton boxers, giving him a rough squeeze where said chaps would emphatically not cover.
With a little growl, Tony nipped at Jonah’s lower lip. “You can’t be up for it again after this afternoon.”
It was true, of course, but that wasn’t the point. “You are.” Jonah brought his hand around to the front of Tony’s boxers, where he was pleased to find that, indeed, he’d yet to find a time Tony could not be talked into sex in approximately five seconds. His hand slipped through the flap in the front of the boxers, curling around Tony’s half-hard cock and squeezing there a touch more gently.
Tony gasped and rocked against Jonah’s touch. “Figured I’d take care of that after you got up…”
“Oh?” Jonah withdrew his hand — something of a relief, as he’d been holding his wrist at an odd angle. “Why not show off?” He settled his head against Tony’s shoulder, then draped his free arm across Tony’s stomach, making it perfectly clear that his contributions to the effort were over.
“Oh, hell,” sighed Tony, sounding only mildly irritated. With his free arm, he pulled his boxers down, arching his hips from the bed as he did so. Silhouetted in the light from the bathroom, Tony’s cock curled in toward his stomach, ramrod-straight now, twitching as Tony’s fingers found their way around it. Tony gave a few strokes, then went for the hand lotion on his side of the bed — one of those pump-action bottles, a convenience they’d both been grateful for on more than one occasion. It slicked through his fingers, cold and white.
Truth be told, Jonah did miss the days when he’d been able to fuck for hours, the weekends when he’d grabbed Tony the moment he’d gotten home on a Friday night and they hadn’t put on clothes again until Monday morning, the weeknights when they’d gotten the police called on them for bedsprings creaking and headboards slamming against walls on into the wee hours of the morning, the evenings and hands and faces and bodies he’d forgotten, if he or Tony had ever known them in the first place. They’d been good years, before the plague set in, back when everything had been angelic and everyone invincible.
But this was all right too — a pleasant calm after so many years with the volume turned all the way up. Tony’s hand moved faster now, jerking himself hard and quick, pushing himself to orgasm as soon as he could get there. Jonah felt his own pulse begin to race, his body’s feeble effort at response, and he pushed that back, letting himself enjoy Tony now without worrying what his body could or could not muster for reciprocity. He brushed his hand across Tony’s belly, then up and down his arm, feeling the muscles taut like cords in Tony’s forearm. “Come on, baby,” Jonah murmured, turning Tony’s pet name for him back on Tony. “Come on, come on.”
Whether from his encouragement or from sheer need, Jonah couldn’t say, but Tony bit his lower lip and jerked faster, closing his eyes. With a cry loud enough to give at least a few keen-eared neighbours pause, Tony came into his own hand, through his fist and onto his belly, where Jonah’s hand lay. Jonah lifted his newly christened hand to his mouth, licking away puddles of warm come there. “Better than a spoonful of sugar,” he grinned.
Tony rolled his eyes. “You’re a perverted Mary Poppins.” He reached for his discarded boxers, wiping himself up before tossing them into some far corner of the room.
“You’re the one who’s practically perfect in every way.” Pulling the covers back over Tony but not himself, Jonah kissed him at the corner of his cherubic mouth. “I love you, you know.” A brief yet tangible pause set in. Of all the things they said to one another, that phrase rarely appeared in conversation; each of them understood how the other felt, as Jonah the writer understood it, so what was the point in restating the obvious?
Except the point, of course, was that Jonah did love Tony with a quiet yet deep intensity, one that shaped every inch of his life, every fiber of his being over the past ten years. He loved him in the embarrassing, consuming way that made Jonah glad that he was the one infected, that he had the easy job — dying — and not the difficult job — watching the man he loved more than he ever thought possible die. If that was going to be Tony’s cruel burden, then Jonah had better let him know how much he loved and appreciated him, to make the task worthwhile. And he didn’t know how many times he might have left to say it.
“…I know,” said Tony after a long moment, reaching for Jonah’s cheek with a sleepy pawing gesture. “I love you too. More than anything.”
“I know,” echoed Jonah, pressing a kiss this time against Tony’s lips. “Go to sleep. I’ll be in soon.”
Tony closed his eyes and stretched out, draping an arm across Jonah’s skinny waist and holding him first tightly, then with gradually lessening intensity as sleep slackened his muscles. Jonah watched him for a long time, as Tony’s breathing slowed and steadied, keeping watch into the night.
2:20 AM – Dose #6, journal, sleep
Jonah placed the black day planner back on his desk, to be retrieved the next morning, knowing that if he opened it to the current page, he’d see a cheerful Day #528, 6:20 AM – Wake up, dose #1 written at the top. Routine was comforting. A place for everything, and everything in its place. He then pulled out a journal with a battered brown leather cover. It was the third like it, the first two already filed on his shelf, and he’d need to find a fourth soon enough if he kept writing the way he had been.
You’re a writer, Tony had told him, holding out a tattered blank book he’d given Jonah as a present years before, back in the days when Jonah had lived and died by the typewriter and never written a thing by hand. He didn’t even need to look at the book in question; he knew by heart his opening lines: Day #1: Today was a bad day. The brown journals and black planners huddled together on the shelf, marking time in tandem. The first pair chronicled days 1-204, the second 205-378. There had been a time he hadn’t expected to make it to the end of the first book, and here he was, well on the way to filling his third plague journal.
He stared at the pills — dose six, the last one of the day, before it started all over again — then placed them on his tongue and swallowed them down, imagining them now not as asteroids, but as seeds, buried in him to grow plants that breathed the disease right out of his skin, like real plants breathe oxygen from carbon dioxide. They reached out from his stomach, then spread through his body, carrying their roots through his blood, turning the diseased red to living green, building trees in the desert, impossibly alive.
Under the halo of the desk lamp, Jonah opened the journal, flipped to the first blank page, picked up a heavy fountain pen, and wrote:
Day #527: Kevin’s dead. We’ll go to Mike’s tomorrow, see how he and Sal are doing. Tony’s taking it pretty tough.
Planned my funeral today — details in the back of the black planner, and I’m too tired to re-write them here tonight. (I’ll have to eventually; Tony’s handwriting is terrible.) I shouldn’t have put this off so long, I know, but it never seemed the right time until now. Like so many things, just waiting for its moment. It isn’t for me, of course — by the time we get there, I won’t actually care. But Tony needs it planned out. We’ll call it one last gift to him, one last thing he won’t have to worry about. He’s given me so much, and I–
Maybe I’ll end up living until I’m a hundred; maybe I’ll get hit by a bus tomorrow and all the pills in the world won’t make a difference; maybe I’ll be healthy one day and gone the next, like Kevin. All I can keep doing is living good days until the bad days come, and when they come I’ll have enough to make up for them. Good days aren’t the easy ones, but they’re the ones that matter.
Maybe ten years from now, we’ll have forgotten all about it. Maybe a hundred. People used to die all the time from polio, and I’ve never known anyone who had it. People probably used to die in droves from sicknesses whose names we don’t know anymore. Maybe this is like that. Maybe someday, nobody will even know anymore what it was called.
The world can’t last like this forever. Things are changing all the time. Bodies adapt. My immune system grows immunities to my efforts to save it, so I try new things, and maybe one day it’ll develop an immunity not to the medication, but to the thing that makes me sick. That’ll make it all worth it.
October 31, 1990, day #527 after diagnosis: Today was a good day.
He closed the journal, settling it back in the desk drawer, then rose and walked to the bed. Tony barely stirred as the bed shifted, and Jonah drew himself close to his beloved, pressing a kiss to Tony’s shoulder and shutting his eyes.