The Brothers Connolly
by Ted Prokash
Oliver Schinkten

Like all good stories, The Brothers Connolly begins at the tipping point, where the ground beneath the major character shifts in an unalterable way. Jack, a playwright living in the shadow of New York City who fears that he’s peaked in high school at age fifteen, is about to lose his lover and is heading home to care for his “crazy” mother in Wisconsin. For a gay man of decided culture and understanding, this may be a death sentence. Meanwhile, he struggles with his failure of expectation in the metropolitan area—no doubt one of many deaths ahead. “But now he was going home, a place where a man was afforded nothing in greater abundance than time to think.” Just as the mouth of the Holland Tunnel looms like a vacuum hose siphoning people into Manhattan, author Prokash has created an ominous opening to a different king of coming home tale. His use of interiority and dialogue is just as juxtaposed as it is skilled, enriching the characters and providing the type of relatable insight that make Jack an everyman. His departure, in more ways than one, is a worthy journey.


Chapter One

Jack sipped a vodka gimlet and tried to really concentrate on the apartment. He concentrated on being a silent, unobtrusive influence in the room so as not to spook any of the sights, sounds, or smells of the place and thus dissuade a full revelation of their collective aura. Too much of his past was painted in colors that on the canvass of his memory looked strange and unaccounted for. He was determined that his last few hours in New York find him in a state of diligent awareness; that they be imbued with all the rich context of his surroundings. For a long time it had been precisely the ability to delineate a given scene or situation that had defined him. Now, the thought that whole years of his life could blow by him like the breeze, ruffling his hair and stealing away with all their secrets of meaning was making Jack paranoid. It felt like a lifetime since Jack’s power of delineation had landed him in New York – just in someone else’s life.

“This isn’t New York either; it’s Jersey City,” Jack reminded himself. He exhaled heavily. He was having a difficult time concentrating on the apartment. It was a smallish upper in an old brownstone and rather nice, really – nicely decorated and tidy, anyway. But to anyone who had lived in Williamsburg or Manhattan, or any place on the other side of the Holland Tunnel, it just felt like New Jersey. Jack had never considered the apartment home anyway. For him, it had only ever been a place to lay over in between cab rides into and back out of the city. In fact, he hadn’t really considered any of the multitude of apartments he’d occupied in the past twenty years to be home. And his whole life in that time seemed like a series of recuperative layovers in between mad dashes from here to there. Right now, Jack was ready for another in a series of vodka gimlets. He just might forget to put the lime juice in this one.

Just when Jack was about to postpone his concentrating and fix himself that drink, Lee came bursting forth from the bedroom, dressed in a shirt and tie and moving at the big-city pace that came so naturally to him. “Jackie hon, did you make any coffee? My ass is up against it today – Christ!” Lee flourished into a classic pose and confronted his wristwatch. “Tsk! See, it’s after 11 o’clock. I’d better absolutely fly. My luck, they’ll be sweeping the fucking tunnel.” Lee granted himself pause enough from the manic state into which he’d been compelled by his busy schedule to eye Jack’s occupation with utmost severity. He indicated the empty drink tumbler. “Someone’s starting early,” he said, his tone dripping with insinuation.

“I stayed home last night, remember?” Jack shot back, effectively neutralizing Lee’s air of condescension. “Besides, you know I can’t get on an airplane sober – much less deal with that fucking airport.” Lee tried to affect surprise at this.

“Jackie hon, whatever are you talking about?”

“Lee, you’ve known for weeks I was leaving.”

Lee took on a sardonic tone. “Oh, that’s right; you must tend to your poor, crazy mother in Wisconsin.”

“It’s not that simple Lee.”

“Jackie, your mother’s been crazy your entire life and it’s not your job to fix your fucked up family.”

“It’s not that simple,” Jack repeated, sounding quite defeated.

“Honestly Jack, I can’t see why you’d want to go back there,” Lee said with real disgust in his voice. “There’s nothing for you there.” Once more, he glanced ostentatiously at his watch. “Look, I’ve really got to go. We’ll talk about this when I get home, okay babe?”

“I won’t be here when you get home.”

Lee, already at the door, issued a heavy sigh. “Don’t be silly Jack,” he said. Without looking back, he exited the apartment.

So that was it. That was goodbye, Jack thought, and a poor excuse for drama between a couple of desperate fags. In a way, he was glad. Just as his years in New York had seen him grow steadily more effete, Jack’s relationship with Lee had followed a downward curve of passion. Any dramatic farewell would now have to be forced. It would be embarrassing for them both. He supposed that Lee was doing him a favor by pretending not to understand what was going on – by making the split clean and bloodless. Lee had moved on, just as everyone who became enamored with Jack’s talent or his wit eventually moved on, taking with them a new, smug knowledge of the frailty of the human character. Jack decided he hated Lee’s apartment and that the only memory he’d take from it would be of the time that Lee, in front of a room full of dinner guests, attributed a line from The Picture of Dorian Grey to William Shakespeare.

Jack mixed one more drink for himself and took it with him up to the roof. Lee’s building was one of the tallest in the almost-New York neighborhood and from the top, one had a fine view of the famous Manhattan skyline. He knew that the hectic cab ride and the suffocating clusterfuck at LaGuardia would provide him scant opportunity to bid the big city a proper adieu, so he came up here to say goodbye from across the river. It was an unseasonably warm October day and Jack found the Manhattan skyline standing in a thick haze. Only the most prominent skyscrapers were visible, standing out as dark, mysterious giants in the fog. Jack had climbed to the top of the old brownstone to take one good look back at the great metropolis where he was to have realized his dreams, only to find it shrouded in an enigmatic fog. It was a bit too perfect a metaphor for Jack to appreciate in his current state of mind. He felt like he was being mocked by someone very powerful. It seemingly was not enough that Jack should finally admit defeat and crawl back home ashamed, but he should do so in utter indignity, having earned the apathy of his lover and having embarrassed a city that openly welcomed the very dregs of the earth. So it goes. Jack knew that he’d gone farther on precociousness and rumor than anyone had a right to. And he did have a good time – too good, no doubt. That was part of the problem, no doubt. Jack sipped his drink. “Hmmm, did I forget to put the lime juice in this one?” he mused. He took another taste.

“Here’s to A Languid Pose,” Jack announced to the city across the river. “A finer play I’ve never written.” And this was true. Jack had written A Languid Pose for his high school drama club, and now, he rather wished he hadn’t peaked at the age of fifteen. Jack’s drama coach prudently decided that his exploration in three acts of the wages of decadence was a bit mature to be put on through the school, but the man did become something of a sponsor for the budding playwright. Mostly on the merits of this one play, Jack procured a scholarship to study drama at Ripon College in Wisconsin, and from there, moved on to graduate school at NYU. He quickly became disillusioned with the world of academia (the sentiment was no doubt mutual) and dropped out to begin his career as a playwright. He’d been “working” in New York ever since. It had been twenty years of thirsty work requiring plenty of booze and prescription speed to keep him sharp, and in that time, he even finished a play or two – nothing that made it to Broadway, of course, nothing that made any money. Most of this time, Jack had been supported by one smitten director or starry-eyed theater fan or another and Lee was just the last in a long line of these. At least Lee purported to be a fan of the theater, though he hardly knew his ass from an orchestra pit. Yes, that’s good, Jack thought. Bitterness is at least some low form of passion. Once again he addressed the fog-shrouded metropolis across the Hudson, “You are a mean city and stupid. You move too fast to allow for the germination of a single original idea.” Jack felt like he hadn’t had the chance to think for twenty years.

But now he was going home, a place where a man was afforded nothing in greater abundance than time to think. According to Jack’s mother, his little brother had had time to think up all sorts of erratic and disturbing new behaviors. But then Jack’s mother had been thinking all her life and was now completely crazy for it. Everyone else there too thought of things or did things that would spare them from their thoughts and, ostensibly, Jack’s reason for going home was to save certain of these people from their conclusions. Not that these were stupid people, for the most part, but they did seem to exist under a certain cloud of doom. Jack just didn’t want anyone in his family to become the kind of person who cast off anonymity by doing something shocking and violent – to make his family name in the tabloid newspapers. Ostensibly, that was Jack’s reason for going home. That’s what he would go with for the record.

Jack took the last swallow of vodka from his glass. Now it was empty. Just a short time before, it had been so full of promise. When the drink was fresh, the glass seemed to hold magical powers of intoxication. Now it was sucked dry. Don’t cry for the empty glass, though, it could always be filled with more booze. Jack, on the other hand, had a plane to catch.


book text © Ted Prokash

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