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petrified heart still pounding

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He dreams of the ocean.

In the dreams, he has fallen from the docks and no one cares to try and save him. He is helpless, thrashing, the taste of salt in his mouth and water, waves, endless around him. He calls for Catherine, for Beatrice, for anyone, but his voice is swallowed up by the insistent, quickening crash of the tide. Eventually he slips under, is consumed, and sees--removed from himself now, somewhere high above--his body dashed upon the rocks, bloated and rotting and forgotten.

He wakes in a sweat.

It's been two months since he was run out of Red Hook, a knife at his throat. The fact that he wasn't killed is the only thing that keeps him believing in God these days. But word spread, and word spread fast, and so he's somehow ended up in Manhattan, Hell's Kitchen, tethering passenger ships to posts and squinting out across the harbor, hoping to see Brooklyn. It's not the same, it's not home--at home there was Beatrice and Catherine and conversation. The tenement where he lives is all noise, heat, constantly sweltering. It's not pleasant. But here, he's no one, or at least he's not Eddie Carbone. He makes himself remember that that's a blessing.

He retraces how he got here. 

It's easy to pinpoint where this all went wrong. The cousins, he knows. Marco. Rodolpho. That was when it happened, when all this began to happen. Beatrice thought it was Catherine, as if he were some kind of brute, the kind of man who takes without asking, who takes what cannot and should not be his. No. It wasn't Catherine. (He had wanted, hoped, that it was Catherine, in some sick way, because that might be more admissible.)

He knows the answer.

Rodolpho, Rodolpho--the name slick and sweet on his tongue. Rodolpho. Rodolpho, blonde, singing, sewing--hardly a man at all. Not here, not in Red Hook, New York, America. And yet his incongruity made him intriguing. To Catherine, anyway, and maybe to Beatrice, and maybe to the men on the docks, who watched him, this strange blonde version of a man, and eventually welcomed him. He has told himself there was no intrigue, only revulsion. How could Catherine want that, when there were so many other men, the right kind of men, men like him? He was a good man, this is what he has told himself every night for months now, he is a good man. That was what he wanted for her--a good man, not him, a good man. Not what it had been perverted into, not what they all thought of him.

He had kissed her.

His mind had been a whirlwind, allegations and Beatrice and the ocean and Rodolpho all swirling in his head. Nothing made sense, that Catherine wanted him, that man--not a man, a boy--when he could see what it was. A trick, a scam, and she was a baby who wanted more than he could give so of course she fell for it. But how could he say this, tell her--words have never come easily to him; he is dumb and lumbering and only muscles. At the time, it had made some twisted sense. Show Catherine that this is what she needs, deserves, show Rodolpho that she would never be his. And so he had kissed her, desperately, regretting it even as he did it, feeling nothing. This is what would be remembered--him destroying what he had worked his whole life to build, this girl he cared for more than anything or anyone, all of it crumbling. There would be shouts from the docks, horrible things, worse than what he would be called later, when he was scrambling away from home.

He prays more often than he used to.

The one good thing about the tenement is his neighbors are Irish, and Irish Catholic, and when he's alone he lays on the couch and can hear them praying over dinner, their brogues like forgotten music suddenly remembered. At night, the youngest one, a girl--Catherine's age, maybe, younger--murmurs the Lord's prayer, and it breathes through the thin walls, and he murmurs it, too.

He asks for forgiveness.

From God, from Beatrice, from Catherine. Beatrice--what a shame that he had hurt her, too, all those years. Long before the cousins came, he couldn't bring himself to touch her any longer. Why, why? She had been lovely, she had been enough, and even though he was nothing, she had remained his. But he could give her nothing, could not kiss her anymore, could not cling to her at night the way he once did, could not even accept her offerings of herself, her mouth, for him to take as he pleased. Why, he asks again, to God or no one, why. If he had wanted her more, if he had given her more, this could have been avoided. He knows what Beatrice thinks, that he wanted Catherine more than he wanted her, but--if only that were it! That could be forgiven. This unnameable poison in his heart (an old, useless muscle) cannot be. It spreads, spreads, spreads.

He had kissed him.

In his head, this had made sense, too. Kiss Rodolpho, confirm then to Catherine and the world what kind of man he is. Rodolpho, the name itself like a kiss, he had kissed him and confirmed nothing. Instead he had begun to fall apart--what did the look on Rodolpho's face mean? Hadn't Rodolpho held onto him for just a moment? Hadn't his lips parted, hadn't he opened his mouth, as if to say, yes, yes, this is what I am. And from then there had been questions, new questions, rising like bile to his throat. What had he wanted? Why had he hoped for Rodolpho to give more, to sigh into his mouth and press his palms into his back. Afterward, on the docks, he had caught himself drifting, watching how the sweat pooled and shone at Tony's lower back, the hollow of Louis' neck, on Mike's chest beneath his shirt. Had he always noticed these things? Were his eyes always lingering? He'd moved crates of cargo as quickly as he could, all his muscles burning, hating himself for even considering such questions.

He walks the streets alone, cold.

He had thought that being run out of Red Hook would run these thoughts out of him, too. That maybe he would miss Beatrice as much as he misses Brooklyn, would remember why he had wanted her in the first place, all those years ago. He's only ever been with her; he can hardly remember his life before she was in it. They were a unit, Eddie and Beatrice, the Carbones, when that name wasn't a bloodstain on the pavement. but that's gone now, and thinking on it feels false. The undeniable truth: there is a part of him, possibly a large part of him, that craved the knowledge of the taste of Rodolpho's mouth, not to warn away Catherine but to know it for himself. He realizes, now, his feet aching and body sore, that this has possibly always been the case. He cannot articulate this to himself, cannot parse what it says of him, except that in this light, so much makes sense--was his need to fight merely a need to touch? When he washed himself after long days on the docks, Louis next to him, the two of them undressed, nothing between them--it had always felt sacred, a kind of ritual cleansing, fingers brushing over one another as soap was passed from man to man. He had noticed, once, how the suds had clung to Louis' back, and though he is a man who has never known beauty, he had found something picturesque about it. "Eddie," Louis had said, "take the soap," and he had noticed how his palms were shaking.

He goes to a bar.

The only reason he knows about it is because the boys used to mock it, wondering aloud what kind of man would willingly go to that sort of place. It's seedy, dark, and the air is heavy with the weight of what's unspoken. Here, he feels eyes on him. He orders a beer, drinks it too fast, and it goes straight to his head. He is being looked at, he is being devoured. How, why--maybe he had been handsome, once, and maybe on a good day he might still be, but today--today he knows that these men are hungry, and maybe he is hungry too. Another beer, another. The room spins. A man--blonde, of course he's blonde--eases up to him, plunks coins onto the counter and buys his next drink. "What's your name," the man says. He says, "George," or "Laurence," or "Peter," as if it matters, as if he cares. "You have nice arms," the man says, "would you like to go for a walk?" And nausea swells, and he says no, and he stumbles down the street to the tenement and listens to the Irish praying.

He thinks he is losing his mind.

He goes back, sits at the bar and tries to convince himself that he is only drinking, that he is not like these other men, that he is not hungry. That man, the same blonde one, or someone like him, buys him another drink. It's cold in his throat and the man has round pale clean fingernails, and when he is asked again, "Would you like to go for a walk?" he hears himself saying, "yes, yes." He knows what those words mean here, and he is afraid but he needs an answer to all these questions which hurricane in his chest, so he steps out into the cool New York night and lets himself be led down the street, around the corner, through the dark. The man talks about movies, and the Dodgers, and even though he is awake he is dreaming of the ocean again. He is pressed against a wall and he does not resist--he is drowning and it is easier to give in--and he is pliant in the man's hands. "Watch for cops," the man says, and he swallows hard and keeps his eye on the street as his belt is unbuckled. A warm palm finding its way between his legs--"I used to live in Brooklyn," he says--his stomach lurching at the feeling of being held--"I had to leave, you know,"--a gasp, his eyes screwing shut, the water rushing over his head--"Red Hook,"--he is being wrung out, he is gone.

He is going to Hell. 

The man carefully buckles his belt again, zips his pants. He can't move at all; he rests his head against the hard brick behind him and feels something like relief, despite the shame and embarrassment broiling in him now. This is meant to be an exchange, he knows, he is supposed to return the favor, but he cannot make himself move. "I'm sorry," he says, "I'm sorry." And the man laughs and pats his chest with his soiled hand, and says, "First time?" He can only nod, nod and apologize, and the man smiles like a movie star and says, "I'll see you again. Soon."

He knows the man is right.

That night he scrubs himself until it feels like his skin may bleed, but there's no cleansing himself of this. He had enjoyed it, and he will see the man again and will yield to him, over and over, and he will repeat this ritual of prayer and washing until it is a part of him.

He is lost, lost, lost.

And yet he finds his way to the bar on Tuesdays and Saturdays and the man is there, and sometimes he asks questions and sometimes he does not. "Tell me about Red Hook," once, "tell me about the docks," another, "tell me your name, really." He answers as the dance begins: down the street, around the corner, into the alley, buckle, zipper, hands. Red Hook, its certain peculiar smell, the sound of Italian being spoken down narrow streets, how they'd slip a crate of whiskey at Christmas, how he'd fallen into the water once and almost drowned. Finally, climaxing, he breathes his name--"Eddie, Eddie Carbone,"--and he swears it echoes off of every skyscraper in Manhattan. "Charlie," the man says, "come home with me next time."

He does.

The apartment is wide and bright and lined with books, a diploma mounted on the wall. Charlie makes coffee, and the mug is warm in his hands. Charlie's eyes are blue, and he is clean-shaven with pomade in his hair, a crooked smile, freckles. "You don't look like the other guys at that place," he says, and Charlie laughs and says, "Well, neither do you," and even though he knows that isn't quite true, he smiles, tries not to think of how he's gotten here. He learns that Charlie went to Columbia, and that Charlie practices law, and that Charlie was engaged to a beautiful girl from Connecticut that he couldn't let himself love. "Not her fault," Charlie says, "I just couldn't." The night stretches on, and he thinks maybe he can return the favor, all these favors. "Can I give you--you know," he says, and Charlie says, "Only if you want to," and he nods and says, "You'll have to teach me," and Charlie just laughs and laughs. Takes his hand, guides it, murmurs slower and harder and Eddie, Eddie, Eddie. He has not heard his name said with such tenderness in so long, and when Charlie finishes, Charlie buries his face in his shoulder, takes soft breaths.

He thinks of Charlie constantly.

On the docks, in bed, eating lunch. It is Charlie he thinks of, Charlie's voice and hands. When he passes by the churches he worries again about damnation, and he takes up prayer more fervently. But this is good, even if it is wrong. It is a kind of shelter, a comfort he hadn't known he craved. On Tuesdays and Saturdays now, he goes straight to Charlie's, where there is coffee waiting for him, and sometimes they touch and sometimes they do not but they always talk. "I had a wife," he says one night. "I guess I still do; it was messy." Charlie runs his fingers down his forearm, asks, "Did you love her? Do you?"

He must have, once.

Charlie kisses him, softly, open-mouthed, and oh, oh--he has not been kissed like this in years, this kind of kiss which whispers, I want you, just you, over and over. He gives in to it; he has never done anything like this except for Rodolpho, long forgotten. Charlie, Charlie, that name is like a kiss, too, and Charlie kisses and kisses and kisses him, and he wants this. This. He lets Charlie unbutton his shirt, draw his palms over his stomach and chest and touch the muscle there, and then his pants and what's beneath them, and he prays the Our Father in Italian when Charlie takes him into his mouth. This is a kind of deliverance, salvation. If they are damned, at least they will go to Hell together.

He gives himself to Charlie, in every way.

This is strange, new, this belonging to someone. He's old now, he should have been killed in Red Hook, and somehow he's been granted this second chance. He thinks, sometimes, of Beatrice--wonders if she found someone new, if she misses him. Better that he's gone, he figures. He does not let himself think of Catherine, wonder if she's still with Rodolpho, no, down that path lies only danger. He has Charlie, who he calls college boy now and then, because Charlie is constantly reading, and it makes Charlie blush. Has he ever made anyone blush before? Never--there was never flirtation with Beatrice; they were poor and their marriage was a necessity to survive. They had cared for each other, but he has realized now that maybe he never loved her, not the way she would have wanted, not the way she deserved. Sometimes when they are walking through the city (like friends, like men), he thinks he sees her, her hair pulled back, and wonders if she sees him, if she wants him still. He hopes not; she deserves better than he could have given her. He knows that now.

He keeps secrets.

For a long time, he does not tell Charlie about what happened--Rodolpho, Catherine, immigration, the knife. Charlie begs to know, to be told, but he cannot say it. "You'd hate me," he says one night, "you'd kick me outta here and never see me again." Even now, it feels like someone else's story. "Please, Eddie, please," Charlie says, "give me this." He wants to punch a hole in the wall. He can't say it. He can't figure the words out, can't put them in the right order. "They thought I--wanted my niece," how can he say that? "I kissed the man she was seeing, I kissed her, I called immigration, they tried to kill me." Charlie draws it out of him eventually, and he expects Charlie to run, but Charlie takes his hand, his rough and ugly hand, and kisses it at its center, silent. "I'm not good, not like you," he says. Charlie says, "I don't believe that," and so he doesn't believe it, either.

He believes Charlie, now, that's it.

Months later, when he has moved out of the tenement into the apartment below Charlie's, they take the train out of the city down to the shore. Charlie's doing, of course. "I don't swim," he'd said, and Charlie said, "Well, I do," and that had been that. Charlie pulls strings, cashes in favors, and there is an empty house on the beach waiting for them, painted in pastels and draped in soft linens. He watches Charlie pull on his bathing suit, marvels at Charlie's thighs, and when it is dark and the stretch of sand in front of the house is empty, they walk to where the tide comes in. Eddie rolls the cuffs of his pants and dips his toes in the water, breathes in deep and smells the salt and the sea. Red Hook, he thinks, better than Red Hook, because there is Charlie several feet in front of him, in the water up to his chest, free. They walk for a long time, Charlie in the water, he on the sand, silent, toward the decrepit pier halfway down the beach. It's there that Charlie pulls him in, water soaking his pants, and kisses him. For once, he does not care if they're seen, and he does not fear the waves or the current. Charlie takes his hand, and there are stars above them, and when they return to the beach house and undress, Eddie tastes salt on Charlie's skin. This is his now, this belongs to him. He sleeps with his head on Charlie's chest, and Charlie's fingers stroking across his shoulderblades, and Charlie's heartbeat steady beneath him, like listening to the sea in a shell. 

He is at peace.

He dreams of the ocean.