A home at the end of the world
gooseflesh over the smooth broad curve of his scapula. I could feel the subtle rise and fall of his breathing.
    Quickly, because I lacked the nerve for deliberation, I moved my hand to his thigh. He twitched and grimaced, but did not retreat. I burrowed my hand in under the towel he wore. I watched expressions of fear and pleasure skate across his eyes. Because I had no idea what to do, I replicated the strokes I’d used on myself. When he stiffened in my hand it seemed like a gesture of forgiveness.
    Then he put out a hand and, with surprising delicacy, touched me, too. We did not kiss. We did not embrace. Jimi sang “Purple Haze.” The furnace rumbled from deep in the house. Steam hissed through the pipes.
    We mopped up with Kleenexes afterward, and dressed in silence. Once we were dressed, however, Bobby relit the joint and began talking in his usual voice about usual things: the Dead’s next concert tour, our plan to get jobs and buy a car together. We passed the joint and sat on the floor of my room like any two American teenagers, in an ordinary house surrounded by the boredom and struggling green of an Ohio spring. Here was another lesson in my continuing education: like other illegal practices, love between boys was best treated as a commonplace. Courtesy demanded that one’s fumbling, awkward performance be no occasion for remark, as if in fact one had acted with the calm expertise of a born criminal.

ALICE
    O UR SON Jonathan brought him home. They were both thirteen then. He looked hungry as a stray dog, and just that sly and dangerous. He sat at our table, wolfing roast chicken.
    “Bobby,” I asked, “have you been in town long?”
    His hair was an electrified nest. He wore boots, and a leather jacket decorated with a human eye worked in faded cobalt thread.
    “All my life,” he answered, gnawing on a legbone. “It’s just that I’ve been invisible. I only lately decided to let myself be seen.”
    I wondered if his parents fed him. He kept glancing around the dining room with such appetite that I felt for a moment like the witch in Hansel and Gretel . As a child in New Orleans, I had watched termites browsing the wooden scrollwork under our parlor window, and found that the intricate carving broke away in my hands like sugar.
    “Well, welcome to the material world,” I said.
    “Thank you, ma’am.”
    He did not smile. He bit down on that bone hard enough to crack it.
    After he’d gone I said to Jonathan, “He’s a character, isn’t he? Where did you find him?”
    “He found me ,” Jonathan said with the exaggerated patience that was a particular feature of his adolescence. Although his skin was still smooth and his voice sweet, he had devised a brusque knowingness by way of entry into manhood.
    “And how did he find you?” I asked mildly. I could still work Southern innocence to my advantage, even after all those years in Ohio.
    “He came up to me the first day of school and just started hanging around.”
    “Well, I think he’s peculiar,” I said. “He gives me the creeps just a little, to tell you the truth.”
    “I think he’s cool,” Jonathan said with finality. “He had an older brother who was murdered.”
    In New Orleans we’d had a term for people like Bobby, unprosperous-looking people whose relations were more than usually prone to violent ends. Still, I allowed as how he was quite evidently a cool customer.
    “What would you say to a game of hearts before bed?” I asked.
    “No, Mom. I’m tired of playing cards.”
    “Just one game,” I said. “You’ve got to give me a chance to recoup my losses.”
    “Well, okay. One game.”
    We cleared the table, and I dealt the cards. I played badly, though. My mind kept straying to that boy. He had looked at our house with such open, avid greed. Jonathan took trick after trick. I went upstairs for a sweater and still could not seem to get warm.
    Jonathan shot the moon. “Look out,” he said. “I’m hot tonight.”
    He

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