A Time to Grieve
by Susan Douglass
He's gone. He's really gone. Ray Doyle swallowed down the lump in his throat. And I didn't even get to talk with him one last time -- to say "good-bye" at least.
Doyle had gotten the word that morning through a phone call from the AIDS Action Center. Tim Anderson, the man whom he had served as a "buddy" for the past year, had finally succumbed to the deadly disease; a neighbor had found him dead, in the small flat he had called "home."
Of course his family wouldn't go near him, Ray thought bitterly. Tim had been thrown out of his parents' house the minute he had informed them of his diagnosis. He had wandered the streets, homeless, until AIDS Action had discovered his huddled form on the center's doorstep. A newly trained volunteer, Ray had been given this man to take under his wing. Ray had found him a job with a printer in the gay community, part-time because of his illness. Later, Ray had helped get him medical care and disability payments, a reasonably comfortable flat. Ray had talked to him on the phone, had visited him -- gone shopping for necessities, cooked him a cake to celebrate his birthday. He had simply held his hand as Tim lay frightened and wheezing on his bed.
Now Tim was dead. Ray had known that the death was certain to occur, at least until a cure for AIDS was found -- unlikely within Tim's lifetime. But Ray's emotions churned against the force of the inevitable.
Tears sprang to his eyes. No longer fighting them, he let the rivulets travel down his cheeks. Life with Tim had become a regular pattern. He had given Tim painting lessons. Tim had initiated him to the brain-twisting wonders of a certain nightly quiz show. A new pang cut through him. When he watched the show tonight, who would discuss the topics and questions with him, the status of challengers and current champions?
Maybe I could get Bodie to watch the show, Ray mused to himself. He doubted it. The rigors of Bodie's duties within CI5 prevented anything like regular viewing on the telly. Doyle had once belonged with CI5. This was until two years ago, when a reporter from a tabloid newspaper had tittered about government money being used to hire homosexuals in the formidable anti-terrorist organization ("your TAXES!" the headline had screamed). Ray's involvement as a gay man had been uncovered; a reporter had trailed him going to certain pubs in off-duty hours. Cowley had been forced to ask for his resignation. The Controller had fought it tooth and nail because he despised bigotry of any kind. But it was either fire the "pansy" or else lose all government recognition and funding. CI5 would cease to exist.
Ray smiled through the unwiped tears which had dried on his cheek. There's another of us still there. We are EVERYWHERE. His mind rested on Bodie -- his lover. Bodie had to be extremely discreet, watching for followers when he came to Ray's shabby bed-sit -- the only place he could afford from his job at a florist shop owned by two lesbians. Of course, Ray could never visit Bodie at the official CI5 flat assigned to him.
Doyle counted his blessings, however. He still had his life, his health. His last HIV test still showed negative. His days of easy pick-ups from bars were over years ago. A warmth spread through him. Above all the blessings of health, he had Bodie -- who was really all and everything he needed in his life.
And he's coming here tonight, Doyle thought. Bodie's presence would help chase away the sorrow of Tim's death. Doyle scampered up from the lone couch which also served as his bed. The flat's stove was miniscule -- but it served him well. He carefully selected the ingredients for tonight's dish. It would be Chinese, his own recipe for egg rolls and chow mein. He fought off a new wave of sorrow as he prepared the appetizer and meal. Tim had eagerly consumed his chow mein, the last time Ray had carried it to his flat.
The door rattled as a key turned in the rickety lock. Finally it was shoved aside as Bodie walked through. "Mmmm," he murmured, sniffing the food's fragrance. Doyle was just dishing it onto plates for serving. Bodie strode over behind Doyle and nipped him on the neck. "Someone else tastes good as well."
"You berk," Ray rasped. "Sit down and wait." At his lover's mockingly crestfallen look, Doyle lifted his face, opening his mouth invitingly. As Bodie's lips met his, he plunged his tongue into Bodie's warm cavern, wriggling it.
"Hey, that tickles," Bodie groaned.
"But you love it," Doyle retorted, then plunged his tongue inside again. The pairs of lips twisted and turned in their passion. Here, in the privacy of his home, Ray wouldn't have to worry about the disgusted looks of straights, who would cringe annoyingly at the sight of two kissing men.
Reluctantly, Ray pulled his mouth away. A pot of stew was still simmering. It would burn if he didn't watch it carefully. "Save some of your appetite for dinner," he exclaimed. "Afterward, you'll get your dessert." He wriggled happily as Bodie stroked his hair, then his buttocks.
After the savory dinner, Doyle curled his head against Bodie's chest. Unaccountably, the tears welled up again. He struggled to swallow them down. Bodie wasn't involved with AIDS Action; he couldn't afford to associate with any organization considered too "gay." But AIDS isn't a gay disease, a shot of resentment insisted, within him.
He shook his head. Bodie had never met Tim. Ray couldn't let his sense of loss spoil one of the too-few evenings he spent with his lover.
"What's wrong, sunshine?" Bodie asked gently. His hand ran over the springy curls.
Ray shook his head vigorously. "N...Nothing," he replied. "Nothing that involves you, anyway."
Bodie brushed his lips against the broken lump of Doyle's right cheek. "Anything that involves you involves me. You must tell me."
The resentment suddenly exploded, white-hot, filling Ray's mind. He knocked his lover's hand away, thrusting his body to the far end of the couch, as far away from Bodie as he could get. "No!" Doyle lashed out, sarcasm lacing his voice. "It wouldn't involve a respectably employed government servant such as yourself!"
"Ray," Bodie began. Doyle's irrational fury cut him off.
"You're defending Queen and country -- and our great Prime Minister as well. Why should you care that people are dying? All around us, people are suffering, getting sick and dying -- but of course, they're just a bunch of 'queers!' Meantime, they can't get the right medicine because it's all considered 'experimental.' But why should you care? You're sitting there, pretty, in your gilded closet!"
Bodie shoved himself toward him, on the couch. He seized Doyle's arms in an iron grip. Blue eyes glittered within a pale face. "Don't ever tell me I don't care," he spoke steadily. "Don't think I haven't seen the wasting bodies and faces. Cowley and I -- we have to work from the inside." Doyle continued to glare defiantly at him.
Bodie suddenly let go of his grip, his head bowing, reddening in obvious shame. "But I usually see those faces only on the telly and in the news photographs," he whispered. "While you -- you actually do the real work, getting your hands 'dirty' so some of the straights would say. I bet the straights treat you like you have the Black Plague. And look, sunshine," he indicated the tiny dimensions of the flat. "This is your reward. Cowley has always said you were the best -- but he was forced to sack you."
Doyle felt his own cheeks growing hot. "I just acted like a complete berk, screaming at you like that." He smiled crookedly. "A screaming queen, that's me." The flood began to build up in his eyes again. The lump rose in his throat. "Why do you put up with me?"
Bodie enfolded him in tender arms. "Did your AIDS 'buddy' die today?" he asked softly. Ray could only nod. "I should have seen that something had happened," Bodie added. "Go ahead, cry. Let it all out. Don't do what I did when I lost my mates in Special Services, or we'll have to send Dr. Ross out here on a private call." Bodie had kept his grief within him that time, Ray recalled -- with almost tragic results.
Doyle clutched at his lover's outstretched hands. The dam cracked, then broke open completely. The torrent of his sobs rushed outward, tumbling in rapids. More cries welled from the source of mourning within. Would they never end? Tim, wait for me, his scattered thoughts cried out. Why wasn't I there, with you when you died? You were in such pain. You never told me of it. The flood rushed out of him, but now the waters were gently washing over him, healing his soul. Go now, Tim. In peace -- to that place.
Some interminable time later, Doyle lay, resting his head against Bodie's chest. The flood had spent itself, at least for now. He had lost a precious life in Tim -- but he had Bodie. He nuzzled his cheek against Bodie's arms; he reached for the packet of rubbers which lay inside the side table's drawer. Tonight, he would celebrate the wonder of Tim's life with his special expression of love. And his beloved would be there to celebrate with him.
-- THE END --
April 8, 1990
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I wrote this the day after I found out that one of my best friends had died of AIDS. "Tim Anderson" is based on a composite of two people with AIDS I knew who are now both gone. Sorry about the unnamed "certain quiz show" but my friend got me addicted to JEOPARDY, and I don't know the British equivalent. Anyway, I thank you all for your indulgence in allowing me to write this tale, and get some of it out -- and I thank the "circuit" for existing. This story is dedicated to my two friends and to all people living with AIDS.