Five months after the Rapture, Jake lives on a Florida beach in his twenty-foot travel trailer in a constant fog. “Watch your head,” he says to the stranger he’s invited inside. The ocean caresses the shore, unseen; seagulls glide through the mist.
The Stranger grasps the aluminum door frame and steps into the trailer. The space is tight; they’re practically on top of each other. Jake’s stomach grumbles; a seagull laughs. The Stranger’s head nearly touches the ceiling, a few strands of his long brown hair hover away from his head in the static electricity. Jake feels electricity, too, in the Stranger’s piercing jade eyes.
“Sit,” Jake says, sliding onto the bench of cushions next to the sink. The Stranger floats into place across the table from him, straight-backed, hands in his lap.
Next to them, beyond the table, a gray canvas covering a queen-size pop-out platform moves in the wind like waves, like a lung, breathing, its breath salty and moist. Jake glances at the unmade bed. The Stranger follows his gaze.
Jake stands, blushing. “I completely forgot the food!”
The Stranger doesn’t react. Maybe he’s not here for food. When he appeared in the fog on the beach and Jake asked, the Stranger said yes, that he would like something to eat. Jake hopes there’s a deeper meaning to his accepting the invitation.
Jake’s attraction presents itself as nervous chatter as he rummages the cupboards over and under the sink and stove. “I’ve been here since February,” he says, “in this trailer.” In an overhead cabinet, he finds an empty coffee canister and a plastic tub with a half-sleeve of stale saltines. “On this beach.” In another cabinet, an untouched Christmas fruitcake in a decorative tin. “Before that, I lived with a friend.”
The Stranger reaches down and slips off his sandals. “That’s nice.”
“Well, a former friend,” Jake says. “We fell out.”
“I don’t want to go into it.”
“Okay.” The Stranger’s smile is soft and inviting.
Under the sink are cans: beans, corn, kippers. Jake places the kippers on the table. The Stranger picks up the tin and examines it curiously.
In the short refrigerator opposite the sink, Jake finds a near-empty bottle of cranberry juice, a plastic-wrapped rectangle of blue-green cheddar and a wrinkled, dull red apple. He sets them on the table. “Pretty sad,” he says, standing.
“It’s beautiful,” the Stranger says, picking up the apple delicately.
“Woo! Stood up too fast!” Jake is briefly blinded, dizzy. A seagull squawks like a wild-haired woman. He braces himself so he doesn’t lose his balance. Light-headedness is a regular occurrence of late as Jake rations his dwindling food supply.
When the disorientation passes, the Stranger is standing close, pressed against Jake, one hand in the small of his back. “Are you okay?”
“Yes. I–” Jake flutters.
The Stranger helps Jake return to his seat. Jake touches his cheeks to determine if the heat he’s feeling is inside and out. The Stranger’s look is intense and a little off-putting.
“What!?” Jake asks.
“Are you all right?”
Jake sits up, embarrassed. “I’m fine! Sit.” Then, “No, wait.”
“What is it?”
“In the cabinet over the stove.” He points. The Stranger follows Jake’s finger. “On the left.” The Stranger touches it. “Yes. Please get the crackers from in there.”
The Stranger retrieves the tub, places it on the table next to the other items, then returns to sitting.
Jake shakes his head, “Sad.”
“No. This. It isn’t much of an offering.” He makes a line of the items across the middle of the table.
“I don’t understand,” the Stranger says.
“I invite you in for something to eat,” Jake says, touching each item in turn, “and all I have is canned fish, stale crackers, moldy cheese, a rotten apple, and cranberry juice full of backwash!” He laughs at himself.
“I don’t need anything special.”
“You’re not hungry?”
“I hunger for more than food.” He reaches across the table for Jake’s hands. His hands are warm, his fingers long and slender; he’s masculine and feminine at the same time.
Something stirs between Jake’s legs. Is this a come-on? Then he sees the scars: crude squarish indentations on the Stranger’s palms, just above the wrists. Suicide comes to mind. Jake considers pulling away, but it’s been a long time since he felt another man’s touch, and never one so handsome as this.
“Our needs are cut from the same cloth,” the Stranger says. “We are at opposite corners, pulling against the center. Why not come together and be warm?”
In Jake’s wordless confusion, a seagull lands on the roof, claws tapping overhead like a blind man’s cane. Jake glances up as the bird waddles past the open vent. Wind whistles through the trailer; the canvas over the bed pulls at its ties.
The Stranger pores over the collection of postcards taped to the bland, waterproof walls behind Jake, colorful explosions of city names and national parks. He stretches his right arm along the top of the cushions; his fingers tickle the quilt falling over the edge of the bed. The scars beg for an explanation. Perhaps sensing Jake’s focus, the Stranger pulls both hands into his lap again.
Jake picks up the kippers, “Shall we?”
He fingers the metal ring and peels back the tin’s sharp silver tongue, infusing the stale ocean air with bright oily fishiness. Dropping the lid into the sink, he bends down over his knees, opens the low cabinet and pulls out a paring knife and two forks. When he sits up, the Stranger has peeled the plastic from the cheese, and the mold with it, apparently; it’s bright orange and emits no earthy smell.
Jake picks it up, “What’s this?”
“Cheese,” the Stranger says, winking.
Jake sparkles, picks up the apple. Its skin is as taut as the day he got it, its red more lustrous than ever. He peers over the fruit.
“Apple,” the Stranger says, smirking.
Jake takes a huge bite. Juice explodes in and around his mouth, a stream runs down his chin. It’s delicious!
Eyebrows arched, the Stranger guides Jake’s hand to his own mouth and bites into the apple.
This is definitely…something. Jake struggles to breathe, suffocating in his attraction. “We have matching scars,” he says suddenly, laying his right arm across the table, palm up. At the base of his hand is an inch-long pink keloid scar. “I was seven, riding my bike and drinking chocolate milk at the same time. I wasn’t very good at it, obviously. It doesn’t look like much now, but there was so much blood.”
The Stranger runs his thumb lightly over Jake’s scar, then takes Jake’s hand in both of his, caressing it like he’s washing it.
Jake fills the nervous void: “In junior high, there was a rumor that I’d tried to kill myself. Because I was queer.”
The Stranger reaches for Jake’s left hand; Jake gives it willingly.
“Am queer,” he says.
The Stranger repeats the handwashing motions with Jake’s left hand; the veins beneath his olive skin ripple. Heat returns to Jake’s cheeks. Silently, the Stranger runs an index finger from the tip of Jake’s left thumb halfway across the base of his hand then digs his fingernail in.
Jake winces, reclaims his hand. When he examines it, instead of the small red moon-shaped indentation he expects, he finds a scar like the one on his right hand. A scar that didn’t exist before.
“Now we have matching scars,” the Stranger says.
“I don’t remember this,” Jake says aloud but to himself.
The Stranger lays his arms across the table. His large chunky scars have transformed somehow into pink scars similar to the ones on Jake’s wrists. –No, exactly like them.
“I don’t understand,” Jake says, finally.
The Stranger takes Jake’s hand and, holding it like a palm reader, draws a line from between Jake’s two middle fingers down to his wrist. Jake tingles. “These are the first and second carpal bones,” the Stranger says. The rooftop seagull echoes the Stranger. “The ligaments joining these bones are much stronger than those joining the bones of the palm.” He jabs Jake again; Jake allows it. The seagull gets louder and the Stranger raises his voice, too. “Therefore, they’re better able to support the weight of a body hanging on a cross.”
Jake suddenly understands what happened to the Stranger, where his scars came from, who he is. He bites his lip; an unexpected tear skitters down his cheek. “But they’re exactly the same,” he says.
The Stranger takes Jake’s trembling hands, “We’re exactly the same.” His smile dissolves everything.
For the rest of the evening, they eat. The saltines are light and crispy; the cheese is sliced but never runs out; the cranberry juice is replenished, as are the kippers; when the apple is passed across the table, it seems to repair itself.
Eventually, they find themselves leaning into one another laughing over the sweet boozy neverending fruitcake. They eat until they’re stuffed, and still the table is covered with food. Drowsy, they crawl into bed and make love.
The next morning, Jake awakens to the sound of the trailer door closing. On the table are empty containers, a browned apple core, a small chunk of blue-green cheese.
He unzips a flap on the canvas cover next to the bed and sees through the screen the Stranger walking away, sandals dangling from one hand.
“Hey,” Jake says, “wait!”
The fog swallows the Stranger. A brief moment later, a seagull appears in the very spot where the Stranger disappeared, carrying a struggling fish in its beak.
James Dean Jay Byrd is a queer writer/performer based in Austin, Texas. His solo show, “Naked as a Gaybird,” deals with junior high bullies; his as-yet-unpublished memoir, *Fumbling for the Knob,* looks at growing up in the closet in an evangelical family. Outtakes/excerpts of these works and others have been featured in Dead Mule School for Southern Literature, Olivetree Review, and other journals; JDJB has also been heard performing stories on the RISK! podcast. More info is available at jamesdeanjaybyrd.com.