Hexagon of Life

Robert Vaughan

1. Derelict is what my Mom called him, and though it sounded harsh, he was homeless. Well, sort of. Slept in his car. Used the showers where I worked at Café Mocca Sauna & Tub to clean up. I can’t recall now how he moved in. But one night he came over and never left. I thought it was my roommate Roy’s bed he’d end up in, but he came into mine.

2. The lanterns were his first project. No, the first one was actually fixing our piano. He had perfect pitch. We’d sing as a quartet, Roy tenor, Derrick took bass, I’d warble soprano and he’d plunk the alto line on the piano. He seemed to know every song, like those birds that imitate others. When he decided to launch lanterns Roy and I just exchanged glances. Then Roy said, “Well, Derrick, I’ve always wanted a torchiere.” 

3. “The poppies die at night,” he said. It was well past midnight. We were lying on our backs under a blue moon, mapping constellations: Cetus, Draco, Ursa Minor. I asked if any other flowers die at night. He said let’s not talk about death. But I wondered why he’d brought it up. He knew about Roy. When he rolled over on top of me, I giggled, squirmed and we started kissing. The world spun, felt like Orion split me wide open.

4. Love is beautiful. Okay, the physical grind, that savory stupor. But some of love was hideous, like Roy’s slouched decline. Trying to keep our hope alive against incomparable odds. He’d say, “call me Hester Prynne.” People stared when he came into Café Mocca, his face turned scarlet by Karposi. Or AZT. Roy was fierce. Maybe it’s why I clung to Derrick. He seemed so full of life, so vital to me. Boy was I wrong.

5. It was a paradigm of domination. Roy was everything before Derrick moved in. I was devoted to Roy, would stay until the premature end. His family had ex-communicated him. And yet, love arrived in another form. Life-affirming, desirous, and melodic. Derrick required so little, was gone for hours working on his lanterns at the new workshop. Still, slowly he seeped into my veins, replaced my blood. And I, his moat.

6. People who scream when they sing Salman Rushdie. It was Roy’s idea. I thought it was his dementia. But he repeated it: people who scream when they sing Salman Rushdie. Two weeks ago, Derrick never came home. Just vanished one Monday, split town like he’d never been here. So not really a derelict, Mom, just a vagabond. Salman may never return to his homeland. Derrick may never discover where his homeland is, carrying it, like Rushdie, singing the unnamable. While riding my bike to Café Mocca this morning, I began singing Salman Rushdie, softly, then louder. And by the time I crossed Delaney it was a full bloody yell.

Robert Vaughan is an award-winning author, playwright, and teacher. His books include Microtones (Cervena Barva, 2012), Diptychs + Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits (Deadly Chaps, 2013), Addicts & Basements (CCM, 2014), RIFT (Unknown Press, 2015), Funhouse (Unknown Press, 2016), and Askew (Cowboy Jamboree, 2022). He was twice the runner-up for the Gertrude Stein Award for Fiction. His work has been widely anthologized, including the New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction (W.W. Norton, 2018) and Best Small Fictions 2016 and 2019 (Sonder Press), His plays have been produced in S.F., N.Y.C., and Milwaukee. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Bending Genres. www.robert-vaughan.com

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