Luminaries

At eleven forty-five, Steven walks outside. People lounge on the benches around the fire pit, talking, laughing, kissing. The sounds of sex float in from the surrounding darkness, bodies writhing somewhere beyond the firelight’s reach.

The tables where candles and markers and white paper bags have been laid out stand empty.

“What the fuck?” he says, nearly to himself, then raises his voice. “WHAT. THE. FUCK!

Surprised faces look up, stare at him.

“What are you people doing? Do you have any idea what is happening around you?”

He stomps down the porch steps and into the fire ring. “Simon was my friend. My brother. AND I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT INSTRUMENT HE PLAYED!” He takes a deep breath and continues bellowing. “No one told his brothers he was dying because they DIDN’T KNOW WE EXISTED!

He’s panting now, but can’t seem to stop. The faces around him look chagrined, and more have begin drifting in from the darkness, from the main cabin.

“We live in too many fucking closets. People are passing out on stage, and you just ignore it. ‘The show must go on.‘ ‘It’s all we have.’ ‘Put it in a FUCKING CLOSET.

“Well, this is not all we have. WE ARE MORE THAN JUST A PARTY. We all promised we were going to make luminaries to honor our friends at midnight.” He holds up the wrist wearing his watch. “Well that’s in ten minutes and no one has made a single one. Because we just PUT IT IN THE FUCKING CLOSET and go PARTY.”

He turns in a slow circle, his face purple with rage, and everyone his glare falls on shrinks away. “So come out of your closets, do your fucking job and HONOR YOUR FRIENDS!

He grabs a white bag and a marker, and works around the places where the paper becomes spotted with tears.

***

Luminaries cover every surface, a flickering golden-white halo surrounding the fire ring. One by one their creators come forward, speak a few words, and lay them in the fire.

Steven holds his, and his remaining brothers – Andrew, Walter, and Chain – stand behind him with their own in their hands. He stares for a moment into the fire. “This is for Leon, and for Simon.” A beat. “Simon played keyboard.” He drops his luminary into the fire; the rest of his words have already been spoken.

“For Simon and Leon,” say Andrew and Walter. Chain lingers another moment. “Leon… You’ll always be the king.”

“To the motherfucking king of disco,” Mr. T says as he tosses his bag into the fire. Others echo him: “To the king.”

Katherine picks up her paper bag. “We are family,” she says, stepping to the fireside. She looks around at everyone gathered. “So fucking act like it.”

More come forward, and more. Words for Simon, words for Leon, words for them all. Some simply drop their bag into the fire, too overcome to speak.

Rain steps out of the crowd, Skye at his elbow. “Leon… You’re already among the stars. So Simon, this is for you, to find your way there too.” He drops the bag and turns away again.

When Sorrento comes forward he has no luminary. Instead he holds a pair of fuzzy, zebra-striped, mile-high platform shoes.

“These were Leon’s shoes. These happen to be the ones he wore here last year, but I have more. Does anyone want any? Seriously. I have closets full of these fucking things. I don’t know why anyone would ever need this many shoes. Even a man as gay as Leon.” A small chuckle ripples throughout the gathering.

Sorrento lowers the shoes and puts a hand under the medallion around his neck, presenting it to the firelight. “This was Leon’s medallion, and there’s only one. Thank God.” Another chuckle. “Because… Because this is more weight than anyone should have to bear.” He closes his fist around it and squeezes it tight. “I wear this to remember him. To keep him with me. And to remind me: this fight is only beginning.”

He releases the medallion and looks slowly around the fire ring, taking in every face. “We are dying,” he says. “We are dying, more of us every day, and we are the only ones who care. Don’t forget Simon. Don’t forget Leon. Don’t forget a single person we lose to this fucking disease. And don’t let them – ” He jabs an angry finger to the world beyond Saratoga. ” – forget about us.”

He glares at them all for a long moment, and no one says a word. Finally he looks back down at the fire. “This is for Leon. Long live the fucking king.”

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