: Slowly walking down the hallway in the Tupperman manse in Old Metairie, Bruce Halloran takes a few moments to really look at the orderly, neatly hung gilt-framed portraits lining the walls. A tasteful frosted lead crystal dome hugs the ceiling light, making the inferior light bulb within seem even cheaper. Apparently, this hallway is a shrine to Mother Tupperman’s time as the queen of a krewe he’s never heard of, the Krewe of Ayesha. Her bal masque gown is gorgeous. Just not on her. An otherwise stunning white gown dripping in crystals and aurora borealis rhinestones, each handset on the material. Strapless, held in place by the sheer gravitational force of her wraparound bosom. The only way to tell her back cleavage from her front cleavage was the crown and bottle blonde hair facing you. That, and the enormous scarlet A applique on what he assumed was her right breast. Hester Prynne at Carnival. In another photo with her court at what looks like the Queen’s Luncheon, she’s wearing a blue-gray suit that makes her look like a linebacker with a fetching hat. The makeup that day was a bit slapdash. All around black eyeliner, rouge for eyes and cheeks, and a lip color known best as Spitty Red Jellybean. Augustus Gloop in drag. On the opposite wall is a portrait of her testing the weight restrictions on her throne with a man old enough to be her great-grandfather as her King. Bruce reminds himself to ask Phil if he lived out the night or if his mother just ate him whole after the pictures. The other is her royal portrait, in the dress, but with a matching cape and train, towering tiara, and enormous mantlepiece collar emblazoned with another, much larger scarlet A. I take it back, Bruce thinks. Hester Prynne in Vegas. He’s about to walk back into the living room when he notices a small, cheaply framed Polaroid wedged in between Her Majesty and the end of the wall. It’s a little fuzzy, and the shadow from the gilt frame keeps it mostly in shadow, but he can make out that same cheesy moustache in it’s youth. It’s Phil and what has to be this Youngblood character. They’re dressed in some old krewe costumes that they hooched up to make it grander. He takes out his phone, turns on the light and shines it onto the picture. He was a good looking man, this Jeremy Youngblood. Big shoulders, narrow waist, perfect ass--wait a minute.
Despite the many years of alcohol and drugs, despite the many, many years that have passed since it all happened, when it came to men he noticed in the bars, he had an eidetic memory. He remembered this guy. He was hot. And together, they were kind of cute. Both of ‘em grinning like happy idiots. Lantern Jaw and Lip Brow. On the bottom of the shot is a neatly printed line that reads “St. Ann Parade ‘88.”
Halloran takes a few pictures of the shot from different angles, and texts them to young Mr. Tschantz with the message “Youngblood’s on the right.”
Returning to his chair, he looks at Phil, who’s once again lost in his mind. Bruce tops off his tea, grabs a cookie, and sits back down before snapping his fingers loudly. Phil comes to, and smiles politely.
“You were gone for...quite a while.”
“Yeah,” Halloran belches. “Sorry. So. Where did we leave off?”
Phil bites his lower lip, his eyes going pouty. He looks at the floor and blinks furiously, trying to stave off the tears. Finally he looks up again and asks,
“Why do we have to discuss all this? Why do you need to know...know everything they did to me-to us?”
“Phil. We talked about this. I have to know everything so I can...so I can make things right somehow. Look, I know it’s hard to look back at a traumatic past. There’s a reason I won’t look at pictures of me from the early 90s. But I have to know. It’s the only way I can help.”
Phil stares back at him, a hint each of resentment and resignation in his glare. Bruce stares back at him in full barfly glower, insisting on capitulation. It works. The soft, vague features of Phil’s face return. Struggling not to sneer, Halloran shoves the rest of the cookie in his mouth and nods to Tupperman to go on.
“...well...like I said, I was in there for years. Longer than the others. Kendall was the first to break. When they got inside his head, he caved in. Big time. He sobbed for two days. When he wasn’t praying or beating himself up--and I don’t mean just berating himself. He’d have these fits where he would punch and slap himself as hard as he could. When we weren’t in therapy he would stare at the rest of us with hatred in his eyes...but not as much as the hatred he gave himself in the mirror every morning. In a week or so, the doctors decided he was cured and moved him to a halfway house somewhere in Treme--”
“A halfway house?” Bruce exclaims. “That’s where they send alcoholics and drug addicts.”
Phil looks into his eyes and says solemnly,
“That’s how we were treated. It’s what we were told. ‘Taking drugs is an unnatural behavior. It puts your brain into an unnatural state. That state is called addiction. Engaging in homosexual behavior is an unnatural state. You are addicted to the homosexual lifestyle. People choose to take drugs and people can choose to give up taking drugs. You must choose to give up homosexuality before you can be cured.’”
The robotic way Phil recites the poisonous words chills a little part of Halloran’s heart. You didn’t talk about it with anybody. But back then, every fag was deep-down frightened of being sent to the brainwashers. Sure, occasionally you got the ones who spent two or three years laying everything in the bars then suddenly “found Jesus” and rushed off to impregnate some broad and pass for straight. Them you could handle. But when you ran into one who’d undergone “reparative therapy,” you knew it instantly by the look on their faces. Drawn, defeated, and numb. Until they found out you were still “in the bar life.” Then the faces either became masks of judgement or pity. Didn’t matter which, they all said the same thing before walking away.
“I’ll be praying for you.” Exasperating.
“Carlson got out just before I did,” Phil continues. “But they didn’t get to him. He was strong, stronger than the rest of us. Certainly stronger than me...he figured out that all he had to do was fake it. He was smart enough not to try it right away. He waited and watched. He watched Kendall melt down and go hateful. He watched Bobby crack up suddenly in the middle of the night, screaming ‘sorry! Sorry!’ at the top of his lungs until they took him out. Even Reuben. Reuben jumped up in therapy one day, grabbed one of the Playboys which were part of our therapy, and starts beating off to Miss August in front of the psychiatrists. He was out the next day. Carlson watched, and he made them believe that he was cured. The last thing he said to me was ‘just tell ‘em what they want to hear. See you at The Phoenix when you get out!’
“I wouldn’t see Carlson again for years…” Phil trails off, taking a deep breath. We’re moving into deeper territory, Halloran thinks. Better grab another cookie.
“After Carlson got out, they tried a new therapy on the rest of us. It was some drug that would make it easier for us to find the root cause of our disorder. That’s how they found out my family was still alive. A few days later, the doctors come in and...t-there’s my...mother. I’m to be placed in her custody--”
The house phone rings, startling them both. Phil rushes to the phone on the opposite side of the room. Bruce turns around to look at the enormous portrait of Mama Tupperman. He thought it when he first saw the face. Bitch.
Phil mutters an absent “thank you” into the receiver, and walks back to his chair.
“Sorry. Sales call. I have no need for a timeshare in Orlando. Where was I?”
“Mama’s back,” Halloran drones, his voice dripping with contempt already.
Phil’s shoulders slump and he resignedly continues.
“They had called her in KC. All the papers were already signed and what possessions I had packed up and ready to leave. I was wheeled to the door, put into her car...and brought here. And after listening to her tell me about what an embarrassment I was to her a-and...th-the rest of the family...she told me my Dad was dead. Had a heart attack a week after I left...of course, I caused it to happen. So, since she couldn’t hold her head up in public anymore, when the doctors finally called her, she moved my sister and her family into the house, packed up, headed to New Orleans and got this place. Said at least here nobody has to know who she is...then she’d say how lucky I was to have her give up her life to take care of me.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet!” Halloran barks, rising from his chair and walking to the matron’s portrait over the fireplace. He stares up at her. He can see the intent; wisdom and benevolence. But the artist was too good for that. You can see the pettiness and disappointment in the little lines around the mouth and the eyes. Even in the way she’s sitting. Snorting a bit, he says not looking at Phil,
“I think I can fill in the blanks on this one, Philsy. Stop me if I’m wrong.”
He begins pacing deliberately, stabbing and mangling the air with his hands for emphasis. “She moves you into this place and takes over your entire life. Because she can. She’s got papers that says she owns you. So...you become her servant, only leaving the house when she needs you to run to the store. She’s now got money, she’s a free woman, and she’s got live-in help. What else to do but enter Metairie society and work her way up to Carnival queen. She could afford to do it with the money she got from the state to care for you, and the insurance money as well. And I’m guessing it all happened without you being around to see it.”
“That’s not true.” Phil replies. “She needed me to help her get ready. No one asked who I was.”
“Of course,” Bruce sighs. “I’m gonna save you some grief here Philsy. I already know this part. Where’s Lady Tremaine now?”
“Mount Moriah Cemetery, in KC. Next to my father. And the plots for my sister and her husband. I was supposed to be buried there...but, well...I couldn’t provide them with grandchildren.”
Phil holds up his hand. “I’ve told you everything else. I’ll tell you this. For Katrina, we evacuated back to the family house in KC with my sister and family, two daughters. Mother and I had to share a room for months. Lacey, my sister and her husband weren’t happy with me being in the house, especially around the girls. So when everyone was home, I was in that room. When they were all gone, I could come out. But I wasn’t allowed to go into any of the bedrooms or outside to use the pool. I did anyway, but not often. If I got too dark in the sun, it started a fight. The worst part was, Mother was trapped there with me. Because apparently everyone in KC knew that her only son was not only a faggot, but had been committed to a mental institution because of it. But she could still run down to Cosentino’s for groceries, or go get her hair done. I couldn’t even do that. They didn’t want to have to explain me to the neighbors.
“Eight months later, we came back here. Mother was looking forward to resuming her krewe duties and seeing all her friends. I was looking forward to never seeing Lacey or her horrible family ever again. We weren’t back here more than two weeks when it happened. She’d told me to go walk over to Majoria to get some aspirins and a tube of violet mints. When I came back, I found her. In the hallway, flat on her back. Her eyes were open...I remember thinking how...surprised she looked. I had to call Lacey. She kept...shrieking into the phone, ‘you did this. You killed them. You’re the reason.’ Eventually her husband Leon took the phone and told me to never come back. I wasn’t welcome at the funeral. And if he saw me, he’d kill me. Oh, and throw my body under an overpass. The funeral was had. The will was read. My in-laws contested it and lost. All without me. One day a lawyer shows up with papers saying I own the house and there’s a trust fund that will pay the bills and give me a small allowance for food and whatever. Lacey didn’t even think I deserved that.”
Halloran continues to pace, looking around the room at all the knick-knacks and doodads, figurines, lamps, rugs, everything. “So, you’ve been living in this place for the last decade alone?”
“Not entirely,” Phil mutters, looking down at the carpeting again. “I tried to rent out to a lodger a few years back. Seemed like a nice guy, was a cook at Oscar’s, I think. He was only here for a few weeks before he decided to move out. Said he was getting a place closer to work. But...yeah, just me otherwise.”
Bruce stops, puts his hand on his hip, and smacks his lips.
“Why? Why are you still living here?”
Phil blinks oddly at Bruce, not answering. Halloran keeps going,
“Seriously Philsy, what the hell? Why are you still in this house, with all this--crap! Why haven’t you sold it all and moved away, started life anew somewhere else?”
Phil blinks again. “...where would I go?”
“Anywhere! Everywhere! Nowhere, just go. This joint’s gotta be worth, what? An easy $200K? And there’s gotta be some cash in all these statuettes cluttering up everything, even if you sold ‘em off by weight. You’d have enough money to do whatever you like.”
Phil’s demeanor becomes more studied. In fact, he kinda resembles his mother. He looks Bruce in the eye and says evenly,
“I have nowhere to go, Bruce. I have nothing left but this house and my memories. Don’t you think I want to leave? Don’t you think I’ve tried. I can’t. I can’t hold a job, my mind is too scattered. I can’t concentrate on anything long enough to finish it. Everything I eat comes from the microwave because I can’t cook anymore. I nearly burned down the house after Mother died because I forgot I put food on the fire. I turned off the gas to stove in case I turn on a burner and forget about it. Mother’s lawyers pay all the bills. I won’t remember. And if I sell the house...I lose the trust fund and everything it provides. I have to stay here. It’s the only place I can survive.”
Bruce is about to argue with Phil when his cellphone starts going off on the coffee table. He grabs the phone, and sees a text message from young Mr. Tschantz.
“Please check your email, Mr. Halloran. The photograph was most helpful. We’ve located Dr. Youngblood.”Bruce looks over his cellphone at Phil, still sitting there. Still gently wringing his hands, still looking like a defeated nothing of a man alone in a desert of porcelain and matronly aggrandizement. And right now, he really wants another Salem...This Is My New Orleans.