HIV/AIDS storytelling: kearns: sorting it out at lulu’s #4 — a passage marked (021)

richardkearns.awo.vanmoi1_1917byou can tell who’s in love
at lulu’s. it’s not like they sit
holding hands or rubbing unsecretly
each other’s feet under the table
rather, they bask in the sun of one
another’s presence, recalling
the rumpled beach of sheets unmade at
home after a long implosive &
rock-motion’d night. the teen-aged

raven who sits on the beverly
street sign & shits on the green-striped
umbrellas can tell. the six teak-beaked
earth-toned x-wing space-jocky sparrows
who fly & skreeetch between the tables
in crumb reconaissance along the
wooden death-star-deep canyons can tell
the doll-dress’d rat-dogs who show up
can tell & it confuses them; they deal
with it like any other kind of competition —
pant & smile & wag & agitate for food

falling in love is not an option
for my fellow sides of beef
back there
back where
once i felt
safe eating in
the dining room in
the meat locker inn
i live in —
only lonliness, only pain & death &
fear & bitter-leaved forests of
shadow’d disanticipation


two days ago. barry.

i never knew his last name. he
lived with us at the institution.

barry was a mouselike short bald
man who wore flower-patterened
polo knit shirts that were buttoned up
all the way to the top. khaki pants &
polished brown loafers that matched
his belt. always. an indistinct white
moustache that must have been blonde
once. he walked around with his hands
knotted into a ball in front of him resting on
his potbelly. ears tipped slightly forward
white mouse ears

barry was profoundly shy. he could never
look at the person with whom he wished to
speak. he would look away & start talking
asking for assistance (or even a new
roll of toilet paper for his bathroom) was a
tremendously painful process. he couldn’t
even point. once he’d get up the nerve, he
would suddenly begin talking, & you would
have no idea to whom he was speaking, or
even what he was saying (because he
spoke so softly) & it made everyone
closeby lean toward him, which, in turn
scared him more

watery blue eyes. you would have
imagined pink & ghostlike

two mornings ago. breakfast

barry normally sits to my right, hiding by
his table next to the wall. by himself
he was a bit agitated, which is unusual for
barry. he didn’t say anything. but it was as if
he were conducting some fierce inner
conversation. i watched him jump up from
his seat & run into the hall where he shouted
out some voweled non-wordish thing once. i
knew he died in the same instant i heard
the odd quality of surprise in his voice

food distributers & caregivers were slow
to react. they were busy busy busy
serving the meal & brooking no foolishness
‘cause they are shamefully understaffed
nonstaffed. two residents from the table of
socially dominant males dragged an annoyed
caregiver into the hall. they fuss’d. barry
broke rules dying here in public —
that’s what closed doors are for

percy — you’ve met him before, he’s an
out-there elderly blind black man, one of
my assigned table companions —
used to greet barry at the beginning
of a meal. it was one of the meal rituals. he
would sit there in his blindness & listen to
barry enter the dining room. “that you,
barry?” he’d ask

“yeah,” barry would answer, loud so
we all could hear him. his three moments of
courage a day

percy talked with me about barry at
dinner tonight: “you ever gamble, richard?”

“once, when i was younger, i got sucked up
into someone else’s family’s penny-ante
poker game. they chewed me up and spit me
out, minus my pennies. i don’t like that
feeling of losing, so i’ve avoided it ever since
unless you’re talking about life stuff. then
we’re all gamblers”

“you’re right there, richard, you’re right there”

“do you like to gamble, perc?”

“it’s all mathematics, richard. it’s just numbers”

“well, but you’re good at it. i’m not. that
makes it fun for you. it ruins the fun for me
you gamble to enjoy it”

“i gamble for money”

i pause. what is there to say? “oh”

“you know what money gets you, richard?”

“i’m not sure”

“money gets you the things you want. see, i
take my money, i tip mama, & she brings me
two cups of fruit”

i am breathless. “i suppose that works”

“don’t you gamble with a friend, now”

barry? this has the feel of a confession
to it. don’t know what to ask. i must ask
something. i must find out. “no?”

“i gambled with a friend. he bet on the
raiders. he liked the raiders. but the raiders
didn’t have a winning team. he bet on the
raiders, & i took his money because i only
like winning teams”

“i didn’t know”

“i do”

i return’d to the page driven
to tell you this story. this was
barry’s ripple that might have
gone by unmarked

not this day

not while i can
still fall in love
among the brown &
fleeting sparrows
at lulu’s
with you


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