Breeders

concluded

by Martha Taylor, soulcake@bellsouth.net

Epilogue

Easter Sunday

It was Saturday night, and Marc was supposed to be studying for his Spring Quarter midterms, but so far he'd been unable to tear himself away from Nick-at- Night's Bewitched marathon. Arthur was in the kitchen doing the dinner dishes. He called something that Marc couldn't quite hear over Paul Lynde's frantic camping.

"What'd you say, babe?"

Arthur strolled into the living room, drying a wine glass with a dishtowel. "There's a sunrise service tomorrow morning at Palisades Park. I thought I might go."

Marc frowned at him. "Sunrise service? What for? Did somebody die?"

"It's Easter Sunday, Marc."

"Since when do you go to Easter services?" he demanded suspiciously.

"This would be the first time in years, I guess."

"Well, I hope you don't expect me to go with you."

"I don't," Arthur said mildly. He went back to the kitchen without saying anything more, leaving Marc feeling annoyed and vaguely guilty even though he didn't believe for one minute that Arthur was really going to get up before dawn on a Sunday morning. Most weekends Arthur didn't stir before noon.

***

Marc was doing the best he could on the Art History final. Unfortunately, he'd somehow neglected to attend any of the lectures this semester, so it was an uphill struggle. The professor stood at the back of the room and projected slide after slide upon a vast white screen. The pictures all looked vaguely familiar to Marc, but he certainly couldn't identify them. The professor's voice boomed like thunder, and with Marc's every failure, the pictures on the screen grew larger. He began to suspect that eventually they would engulf the whole classroom. A stormy seascape washed across the walls. The projector clicked, and Marc found himself surrounded by Parisians in their Sunday best. Click. Rolling green hills stretched as far as the eye could see. A shepherdess and her adoring swain knelt in timeless, decorous courtship. Click. Marc was enveloped in a shimmering field of red. Green glimmered at the extreme reaches of his vision, but the rest of his world was redder than blood. "I don't know," he told the professor, trying to keep his panic at bay as the red lapped at his feet, "Give me a break, would you? I don't know what it is."

"I'm sorry," Arthur said. "I didn't mean to wake you up."

Marc opened his eyes. The bedroom was in darkness, save for a sliver of light coming from the half-opened bathroom door. Arthur was only a dark shape by the dresser. "No, not you," Marc said sleepily. "I was having a weird dream." He stretched and adjusted the pillows. "What are you doing up, anyway?"

"I told you last night."

"Oh. Not that stupid sunrise service."

"Go back to sleep," Arthur said tolerantly. "I'll see you when I get back."

Marc sat up groggily, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. "If I go too, will you take me out to breakfast afterwards?"

"You don't have to go, Marc."

"I know." Marc dragged himself out of bed and stumbled towards the bathroom. "Do I have to dress up?"

"Jeans are fine," Arthur said, sounding pleased and surprised.

Marc pushed open the bathroom door and blinked at his own reflection in the mirror. He wasn't at all sure what he was doing. If Arthur had decided to get religion at this ungodly hour of the morning, it was certainly no concern of his. He bent over the sink and splashed water on his face. Oh well. With any luck they'd be done by eight at the latest, Arthur would buy him a big breakfast, and he could be at the library and ready to get to work when it opened at ten. Marc thought he was in the mood for lox and cream cheese at Canter's. With a big side of potatoes.

He fell asleep in the car during the drive to Santa Monica, awakening only when Arthur parked on a quiet side street off Montana. They were a block from the beach, and a dense, white mist hung close to the ground. Marc opened his car door and immediately complained, "Christ, it's freezing out here."

Street lights glimmered through the mist. The gray, pre-dawn light made Marc feel dreary and depressed, and he was beginning to regret this whole absurd expedition.

"I brought an extra sweater," Arthur said. "I thought it might be cold."

He handed Marc a green wool affair with leather patches at the elbows. "Great," Marc grumbled. "Now we can both look like dorks." But he put on the sweater.

It was a short walk through the deserted Sunday morning streets to the palisades. Mist hid the tops of the palm trees. Their straight, tall trunks loomed on both sides of the concrete path that wound through the park. Marc stopped at an overlook. A few cars rumbled by on Pacific Coast Highway far below, but the ocean was lost in the fog.

"Has it occurred to you that it doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense to have a sunrise service on the West Coast?" he said to Arthur. Arthur only rested his hand briefly on Marc's shoulder, then walked on. Marc scurried a little to catch up with him. Save for the homeless people sleeping on park benches, no one else seemed to be around. "Are you sure this is the right place?" Marc asked. "Where is everybody?"

"It's the right place," Arthur said. "But we're a little late. The service has probably already started."

Then the voices reached them through the fog, a slightly ragged chorus of "Jesus Christ is Risen Today." Marc got very quiet and reached out for Arthur's hand. They rounded the point of the cliff and found the congregation.

Several dozen white folding chairs were set in a half-circle on the grass. All the chairs were filled, and a dozen more people stood behind them. "Popular place," Marc remarked in surprise. Arthur hushed him. The hymn was being led by a thin man in blue jean shorts and a gray sweatshirt, who spoke every line of the song just before it was sung. Marc glanced suspiciously aside at Arthur, half- afraid he might start singing too. But to his relief, Arthur seemed content to stand quietly behind the circled chairs. After the hymn, a woman in a clerical stole got up, thanked everyone for coming out so early on a Sunday morning, and apologized for the shortage of chairs. Gesturing around at the dense mist she smiled and admitted that the only way they would know when the sun was up was by checking their watches.

A man in the front row said, "Maybe next year we should have the service at Griffith Park Observatory instead." Laughter rippled through the small congregation.

"Not a bad idea," said the woman. "Now if we could all bow our heads for the Lord's Prayer."

Marc heard Arthur murmuring the words of the prayer along with everyone else, lisping a little at the bit about forgiving trespasses when everyone else forgave debtors. After the prayer, someone else stood up and talked to them about God's mercy and the unconditional love of Jesus Christ, proven by the stone rolled away from the empty tomb. Marc was rapidly growing bored. He stood shifting his weight from foot to foot, feeling that everyone here was talking in some kind of secret code. Sure, it sounded like English, but when he tried to make sense of what the speakers were saying, it all came across as gibberish.

The next man who got up explained that his companion had succumbed to AIDS six months ago, and that he'd never been more certain of God's promise of eternal life. The KS lesion on the man's forehead was vivid as the mark of Cain.

Another hymn, "I Know That My Redeemer Lives," and then more speakers. Marc couldn't tell if they were following a program, or merely standing up as the spirit moved them. He hoped to hell that Arthur wouldn't embarrass him by deciding to say a few words.

The last person to stand was a young man with olive skin and black eyes. He wore a brightly-woven Guatemalan stole over his denim shirt, and led a reading of the Twenty-Third Psalm. At the sound of his voice, Marc, who'd been watching the grass at his feet, suddenly looked up and said. "Hey, it's Zack."

"Hush," Arthur whispered.

After the psalm, Zack smiled at everyone, then launched into the first verse of "Amazing Grace." He was a little off-key, but he sang the first few notes of the song bravely, and the rest of the congregation soon joined in.

"I had no idea he was a preacher," Marc said. "Didn't he drop out of seminary or something?"

Arthur took Marcls wrist in an iron grip and said out of the side of his mouth, "Shut up, sweetheart," but Marc didn't think he was seriously angry.

When the hymn was over, Zack raised his hands and said, beaming at the little congregation, "The grace of God be with us all. Amen."

People started to rise, but Zack waved them down again. "Wait a minute, a couple of things first. The pickup truck is parked right across the street, and if you wouldn't mind carrying your chairs over yourself, it would be a big help to Elizabeth and me. Also, we've got coffee and hot cross buns ready on the picnic table just behind me here, so please come back and help yourself. That's all. Thanks for coming out this morning, everyone. Happy Easter."

"Hot cross buns?" Marc said to Arthur. "Like one-a-penny, two-a-penny? I didn't know there really were such things."

A hand fell on Marcls shoulder from behind. "That's because you're a heathen, Marc. Everyone knows hot cross buns are traditional on Easter."

"Sean?" Marc turned. "Oh man, where the hell have you been keeping yourself?" He gave him an impulsive hug. Then he pulled back and looked at him critically. "Anyway, I'd expect you to know all about hot cross buns."

"It's Easter morning," Sean said mildly. "Don't be vulgar. How are you, Arthur? It's been a while."

Arthur shrugged, smiling. "It has been a while. What have you been up to? Are you still in that apartment on San Ysidro?"

A vague frown crossed Sean's brow. "San Ysidiro? No, I'm living in Silverlake now. I guess you didn't hear what happened."

"No," Arthur said faintly. "What happened?"

Sean gave a short bark of laughter. "January 17th happened."

"Oh shit," Marc said excitedly. "The earthquake? You mean it? Did the whole place come down?"

"Not quite. You know that line from 'The Lady of Shallott--'

"No," Marc said.

Sean continued as though Marc hadn't spoken, "--the one that goes, The mirror crackld from side to side? That's what kept going through my head afterwards, when the sun came up and we could see how bad the damage was. A huge crack had opened up down one side of the building, across the courtyard and up the other side. They wouldn't even let us back into the place to get our stuff for more than a week. For a while the management company was talking about rebuilding, but I'm sure they won't. The lot is zoned for commercial development. They'll raze the place and put up another Persian rug store or custom tile place."

"Just what the neighborhood needs," Marc said. "I can't believe the building was damaged like that. I didn't think West Hollywood got hit so bad."

"It wasn't. From what I heard from one of the city engineers, the building foundation must have been damaged in the December flood."

"Please, Sean, are you still going around boring everyone with your earthquake stories?"

"Hi Zack," Sean turned, smiling. "For your information, they asked me about it. Besides, I assumed you were interested in my earthquake story, the way you came rushing over that morning after the quake."

"I was just concerned about your tender heart. It seems to go out whenever there's a little excitement."

Sean thumped his chest. "Nonsense. Strong as a horse. Zack, you do remember Marc and Arthur, don't you?"

"How could I ever forget? It's not often I get to pull people out of a flood in the middle of West Hollywood. It's good to see you both. Thanks for coming down this morning."

"It was a beautiful service," Arthur said.

Zack gestured skyward. "I think the sun actually rose, but it's hard to tell through the fog."

"Faith is the evidence of things unseen," Arthur murmured.

"Exactly," Zack smiled. "When you look at it that way, it's perfect weather for an Easter sunrise service."

"Quite a singing voice you've got there, Zack," Marc said. "How could you deprive the public for so long?"

"I heard you running your mouth through half the service," Zack said. "Luckily I'm not the fire-and- brimstone sort, or I might have been tempted to call some down on your head."

"Have you heard from Mary and Carol recently?" Arthur asked. "Do you know how Sarah Ann is doing?"

"They're still in that nice little place in Sherman Oaks, you know, the one they found after the flood. I saw them just a week or so ago. Sarah Ann's more brilliant and beautiful than ever."

Sean grinned. "Her father's looks and her mother's brains. Lucky kid."

Zack scowled affectionately at him.

Marc was suddenly seized with a sense of the ridiculous. "Earthquakes! Floods! We're all lucky to have gotten out of that place alive."

Sean looked stricken. "Not everyone did."

Marc shut up, and Arthur put his hand on his shoulder. "It was nice running into both of you. Maybe we'll be seeing you around."

Zack nodded. "It's a small town. I'm sure we will."

Sean managed a bleak smile. "You're not going already, are you? You haven't even tried the hot cross buns."

In the car driving back across town Marc finally asked Arthur, "You knew Zack was going to be there this morning, didn't you?"

"I saw a notice in the paper."

"Well, that's a relief. I was afraid you had suddenly gotten religion or something." Marc was hoping Arthur would laugh. He didn't. Finally he went on, "That is why you got up this morning, isn't it? You just wanted to know how everybody was doing."

"I've been thinking about that case a lot lately. I thought this would be a non-intrusive way to follow up."

Marc smiled ruefully. "And it would have been if I'd kept my big mouth shut. Sorry about that. You know, Sean's old place is just a couple of blocks from Canter's. If you want to drive by after breakfast, it's fine with me."

***

A chain link fence was stretched in front of the bougainvillea arch. Ragged posters forbidding entrance still flapped on the sides of the apartment building. Arthur parked at the front curb and just looked across at the place, expressionlessly. Marc wondered if he were even going to get out of the car. The street was empty and silent. Every window in the building had been broken out. It made a sad contrast to the carefully maintained bungalows on either side.

"Do you really think Ginny drowned in the flood?" Marc suddenly blurted out. He and Arthur had never talked much about that morning. Marc's own recollections were muddled and uncertain. The only thing he could remember clearly was a vivid, utterly incongruous image of snow drifting down from a pewter gray sky.

"I don't know." Arthur was still looking at the ruined building. But when he finally turned to Marc there was a strange smile on his face, half-defiant and half-scared. "I really don't know. But doesn't Persephone always come back in the spring?"

~ The End ~

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Marc, Arthur and even Charlie return in Last Night on Findy Sickle Ridge, which I would really like to finish and post eventually.

Thanks for reading!

Martha