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Dancing with Steinbrenner by J. Bradley

I; 1. The server at Acapulco's gently places a kid-size poolful glass of margarita on my table, the periscope of a straw staring into me. I pluck it out, lick the part of the straw soaking in margarita, then sip, watching grains of salt float into my mouth slowly. It burns away the knots in my neck and back. I look at the menu for something that won't punch me in the stomach later.

"Thank gawd that bahstad's dead." Someone at the bar yells before beer bottles, mugs, shot glasses, margarita glasses clink. I look over and see a photo of George Steinbrenner on the TV, glaring over his shoulder, the Yankees cap making it more cutting. Beneath it reads "1930-2010". I raise my glass, think about pouring a little on the floor before taking another sip. The Boss isn't getting a cut of this.

***

Walking back to the hotel, I see traffic flowing normally. I'm thinking if I was a little closer to Boston, traffic would be at a standstill, people running through the stopped cars hugging and yelling and celebrating the death of Steinbrenner, like he was hung out for all to see and the people could throw rotten fruit, people burning him in effigy. The hotel lobby's quiet and groggy. I punch "5" and head up to my room.

***

The local TV stations regurgitate the bursting of Steinbrenner's heart but nothing about the streets of Boston flowing with beer and blood, no pyres made of Yankees merchandise or Seinfeld DVD sets. I thought these people hated the Yankees. I'm disappointed by this lack of celebration.


2. "What kind of faggy shit is this," my father yelled. I put my hand over Leona's mouth, whisper "shhh" before removing my hand.

"Reg, what the fuck was that about?"

"We need to get our clothes on. Now. We have two, maybe three minutes before he'll be up here."

I threw the comforter off of us. I scrambled all over the room, stumbling into my pants, my shirt. I looked over and Leona's already dressed though I can see her nipples teasing me through her shirt. We opened our history textbooks and notebooks. Our pens hovered over the college ruled paper when three knocks slammed at my door before it flew opened.

"Goddammit Reggie, there is some faggy shit going on right now, you need to come see."

"Dad, I'm in the middle of homework."

"Fuck your homework. Get your ass downstairs to the living room, right now."

I followed my father downstairs to the living room and there was Alex Rodriguez karate chopping the ball out of Bronson Arroyo's glove.

'What kind of fucking faggy shit is this? All this fucking money just to have a guy who can't hit worth shit and can't even be man enough to get tagged for an out? Godfuckingdamnit." Over my father's shoulder and veins, I watched Leona creep down the stairs and then wave quietly before slipping through the door.


3. "Keep your eyes on the road, Reggie."

I-275 scared the shit out of me being over all that water, the possibility of losing control of the car and having nowhere to go but down.

"I am, dad, I am."

"You better not get us killed on the way. You know how long it's been since I've seen the Yankees play?"

"Yes, dad."

"Don't roll your eyes at me, motherfucker. Keep them on the fucking. road."

***

"What kind of shit is this? A stadium with a roof?"

We stared at Tropicana Field from the parking lot, dad the Marlboro dragon huffing ash and smoke, windows closed.

"Happy birthday..." Dad puffed harder. “What the fuck is so happy about it? We're at a fucking stadium with a dome which probably means these fucks play on AstroTurf, too."

"How do you know that, dad?" His right hand hit me on the back of the head like a leathery toy shovel.

"If you’d actually keep up with the game instead of listening to noise and chasing pussy, you'd know most indoor stadiums use AstroTurf. Doesn't matter what the sport is. If your field is made of AstroTurf, your team is a fucking pussy."

"If that's your theory dad, then that means the Yankees should trample these assholes." Dad squinted like he wanted to tear out my throat and use the new hole as an ashtray.

"I don't like easy games, boy. I like close ones, games won and lost by pitching and defense, not this power hitting bullshit. Fuck Mantle and Maris. The Yanks need more guys like Whitey Ford breaking bats and spirits."

"You wanna get out of here then?"

"No..." Dad finally opened a window, threw a butt out. "You bought the tickets and drove us all the way out here. The least we can do is go inside and raise some Hell, maybe even sneak you a beer or two. Maybe I can get you drunk enough to help your old man fuck with these assholes."

I got out of the car and opened the door for him. We walked through the parking lot, dad the Marlboro dragon leaving a trail of ash and smoke in his wake.


4. "I'm so sorry about your dad." The sentence lobs over my shoulder, smacking against my dad's closed mahogany coffin. Fingers grip my shoulders gently. My muscles remember that touch and I turn and standing in front of me is a petite, firm man with a crew cut, thin brown facial hair, a tasteful black three piece suit, and green eyes I remember waking up to. "It's been awhile."

"Leona..."

"Reg, it's Leon. It's been Leon awhile now."

"What are you doing here?" I fight to keep my voice treading a whisper.

"To say goodbye to your dad and...maybe run into you."

"Reggie, who are you talking to?" My mother shambles over, using me as a crutch to keep her steady.

"Um...this...is my buddy from college, Leon. We were in the same grad program. He's here to pay his respects."

"He was always disappointed that you never played baseball or any sports." My mother extends her hand. "Leon, thank you so much for coming." I watch Leon's rehearsed grip as they shook hands before my mother works the room, hugging other family members.

"Reg, wanna step out and get some air?"

***

I forgot what Semoran Boulevard was like at 5:42 on a Friday night, traffic lights as plaque to the multicolored, rusted blood cells, trees bulimic from all the carbon monoxide. Leon takes a flask out of his inner right pocket, hands it to me. I try not to spew the acid out, then hand it back to him.
"What the fuck is that," I gag.

"Corn whiskey. Like it?" I shake my head. "Too bad. That's all I have to drink." Leon takes another hit of the flask before offering it to me. I take it from him, another face puckering swallow or two. "Why did your mother bring up the whole never playing sports thing?"

"She has this weird thing about pointing out my shortcomings around other men."

"Classic Edith Bunker type."

We sit on the stoop of the funeral home, watching the start and stop of traffic. Leon's left arm, the flask hang.

"When did you..."

"Reg, this is not the right time. If you want to have that discussion, we can do that another day, if you're gonna stick around."

"I'm here for a week to help my mom settle things. Monday, we go to the probate lawyer to read the will. From there, I don't know."

"When you need a break from your mother, we should have a drink sometime."

"Aren't we having one now?"

"I mean away from the funeral. I know you're curious."

"Was it..." Leon puts his finger to my lips.

"Not now, Reg. I told you. Say 'yes' and when and we can talk then. I promise."


5. "What did your father say?" My mother asks.

"It's just between the two of us. It's your turn to go in now." My mother brushes past me into the probate lawyer's office. I step outside, sit on the stoop of the law office, take the flask of Jameson and ginger ale out of my sport coat and sip. He survived accruing three million Marlboro miles and left them to me. That would be great if I wanted a canoe, an oversized pack of Marlboro as a boombox. That would be great if they were worth something. He said he’d give me something else instead if I did him one last favor.

***

"Steinbrenner did a lot of things. He made the Yankees great again and I'm grateful for it. However, he made the biggest mistake of his life by letting Cashman sign A-Rod. It was because of him that the Red Sox finally won the World Fucking Series. I blame that fucking fag and his karate-chop action bullshit for the biggest collapse in Yankee history..."

"Did he really say all this?" The probate lawyer nodded. "And you have to read all of this?"

"It's part of his Last Will And Testament. He paid for me to read it." The probate lawyer cleared his throat. "And so, my son, I ask this favor from you, because this is the right thing, the only thing that can be done. You have one year from today to break into where Steinbrenner is buried and you are to dance on the fuckers grave and you are to video tape it and put it on the Internet'. The probate lawyer used air quotes around the Internet. "I have a stock portfolio, kept it hid from you both. Half of it will go to your mother. The other half is yours if you pull this off. I know you could use the money. Do this, and I will finally think of you as a man."

"Why don't you seem the bit surprised?"

"I've been practicing. He actually provided a separate copy of the text outside of the Will. He paid me to practice, also. Dancing on someones grave isn't a crime. A societal no-no, but not a crime. This is probably one of my more fun wills. The possibility of watching someone dance on a grave, let alone Steinbrenner’s...your father was quite the twisted man."

"When does the clock start?"

"Ten minutes ago. Email the link to the video to this address when it's done. I must be able to verify that it is you that is dancing on his grave or else you will not get what you are owed." The probate lawyer handed me his business card. "Good luck, Mr. Lownd. You will need it."


II; 1. Leon walks into the bar wearing a generic Express t-shirt three sizes too small, his pecs and abs trying to claw their way out of it. He sinks into the deep black leather chair across from mine.

"What... is this place? I can actually hear people talk at a regular volume."

"The Milk Bar. I figured it would be a good place for us to catch up, Reg."

We open the thick black menus on our tables. I'm looking for the thing that will keep me numb and open enough to ask all the right questions but all I see are beers and wine with long, foreign names and ABV percentages in the high single digits and low teens.

"Where's the booze?"

"This is a beer and wine bar. I didn't want you to be all slobbery and shitfaced when we talked. A little loose, yes, but not drunk. I know how you can be when your drunk. By the way, how's your elbow?"

"It aches and gets stiff when it's cold. How's your passenger side window?"

"I sold that car years ago. I needed the money to help fund my transitioning."

"About that..."

"Have you decided what you wanted yet, Reg? I think we need to have something we can put in our mouths to help us not say anything we might regret later."

"Any recommendations?"

"The Trappistes Rochefort 10 is a solid punch in the throat, just strong enough to relax you."

"You were always more into wine when..."

"Things change, Reg. Things change."

***

The masked wrestler bounces off the ropes and hits the Hulk Hogan wannabe with a flying elbow, knocking him on his ass. The camera pans and shows the smattering of people sitting in the bleachers around the ring clapping. One cheers and it echoes. The masked wrestler runs back to the ropes, jumps on the middle one and back flips onto the supine Hulk Hogan wannabe. He rolls away at the last moment and the masked wrestler lands hard on his stomach, rolling and clutching his stomach in pain.

"He was supposed to take that move, that fucking asshole." Leon growls.

"That's... you?"

"Reggie, duh. Like I would have you back at my place just to watch shitty local wrestling. This is what I've been mostly up to for the last few years."

The Hulk Hogan wannabe pulls up the masked wrestler by his head and starts punching him, stomping out of time with each swing. The masked wrestler breaks the hold, jumps back and kicks the Hulk Hogan wannabe in the stomach. The masked wrestler kips up, puts the Hulk Hogan wannabe in a headlock and jumps backwards, skull smacking the mat, then rolling the Hulk Hogan wannabe to his back and the referee counts the pin. Leon shuts off the TV.

"What does this have to do with me exactly and what my father asked?"

Leon turns to me. "I have tryouts with Florida Championship Wrestling in a couple of days. The tryouts also happen to be Tampa, where Steinbrenner is buried. You could come with me and I could help you out."

"I dunno if I should even do this."

"What are you talking about? You need that money don't you?"

"I do but I hate the Yankees. Dad was obsessed with them. Hell, he named me Reggie Whitey Lownd after his two favorite Yankees players. And there's something inherently wrong with dancing on someones grave."

"What if you pretended it was my grave instead?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Leona's dead, isn't she? Leona's the one who left you, the one who said no to marrying you, the one who hurt you. Doesn't all that hurt make you want to dance on her grave?"

"But you're still Leona, just without tits, and facial hair, and can kick my ass."

"Like I couldn't kick your ass then."

"I mean you can kick my ass even more now. I was mad and hurt but after explaining everything, I get it now, I do."

"I thought you wouldn't understand then."

"You never gave me a chance to try and understand."

"You're right." Leon sighs, puts his hand over mine. "I still love you, y'know. Like you said, I'm still the same person, except without tits, and facial hair."

"And a dick."

"I didn't go quite that far."

"But if I understand this right, that would mean I would have to be gay to be attracted to you since you identify as a man and last I checked, I'm not."

"That's not what your pants are telling me." I take my hand out of Leon's and slide away from him.

"I still think of you as Leona when you touch me. Let's not make this awkward again. We just got back to speaking terms, o.k.?" Leon clears this throat.

"You're right. Look, you can't do this alone. You need someone to record you dancing on someone's grave and who else are you going to trust to do this with you? Think about it. You could make a lot of money."

"Or it could be worth as much as those millions of Marlboro Miles he originally left."

"That's just a risk you'll have to take.


2. "What the fuck are you doing buying all the shit you need here?" Leon glares into my shopping cart, the Kodak 5.3 MP video camera, tripod, memory card, and batteries settling. "Don't you know you buy the things you need all at separate stores so no one notices anything weird?"

"You watch way too much Law & Order. It'd be a little weird if I bought a camera in one store, a tripod in another, and the memory card and batteries in a third store. Plus, it's a waste of gas. This looks perfectly normally, even in an office superstore. The fact I'm buying all this shit in an office superstore just means I'm completely ignorant from a techie standpoint."

"But what if you get caught?"

"We're not doing anything illegal, just something distasteful."

"Well, I don't want to get caught. Could fuck my career up."

"Of grappling with sweaty men? Short of murder or molesting a child, I doubt dancing on someones grave's gonna fuck up your wrestling career."

"Can I help you find something?" The blimp in an yellow Polo floats over to Leon and I, a walkie-talkie attached to his belt slapping his upper thigh.

"No, I think we've got everything we need."

"Sir, if I may, that camera takes terrible video." He walks away from us, coming back with a petite, yet thick rectangular box. "This is the Flip HD Video Camera. These things take great video and are cheap since Cisco's not making them any more. You'd be paying the same thing and getting a far superior video quality than you would with the Kodak."

"Isn't the requirement that you're clearly seen, Reg?"

"Yeah, it is...alright, we'll take this one." The blimp takes the Kodak out of the cart, places the Flip HD Video Camera box in the cart carefully.

"An excellent choice, sir."


3. "Ma, what is Alex Rodriguez doing here?"

A man that looks like Alex Rodriguez stops over at my father's coffin, looks at where his face would be if the lid was open. He caresses the coffin, trying to hold everything back until the sob cuts through the whispers, the hugging, the conversations. My mother walks over to him, rubs his back, then leads him out of the parlor.

***

"Ma, who was that man crying at dad's funeral?" My mother sits still, hands folded in her lap, as I weave through the last of the rush hour traffic on Semoran Boulevard, back to her house in Baldwin Park.

"He was...a good friend of your dad." She forces the words out of her mouth.

"I've met all of dad's friends and that was the first time I've seen that one. When did they meet?"

"Late 2004, early 2005, I think. Why does it matter, Reggie?"

"A strange man is crying at my father's funeral and you ask me why does it matter. Were they fucking or something?"

"Language, Reggie."

I pull into the Taco Bell parking lot just before University and Semoran and cut the ignition. "Mom, they were fucking weren't they?" She nods, tears starting to roll out of her. "How long did you know?"

"Your father always had needs I couldn't meet. As long as he took care of us, I looked the other way. He didn't really go out and find what he wanted until after the Yankees lost against the Red Sox in 2004."

"So... he was fucking a guy that looked like Alex Rodriguez because he felt Alex Rodriguez fucked over the Yankees?" My mother nods stiffly. "Is that..."

"Yes."

The engine coming back to life drowns out my mother's broken trumpet nose blows into wads of tissues. I focus on us getting back to her house alive.


4. I walk through the cemetery, baking in my faded black buttoned up shirt and jeans. I look like a rejected member of Color Me Badd trying to blend in with all this sadness. I kneel down to place flowers on a random grave as I quietly take video of the Steinbrenner crypt. I walk around, capturing the empty torches, columns, iron bars.

"Excuse me, sir, but what are you doing?" The groundskeeper yells across the way.

"I want to show the folks back home where the Boss was buried. My dad's a huge Yankees fan. He collapsed on the carpet when he heard George died. He only cried one other time when the Red Sox beat the Yankees in 2004. I told him I'd get some video for him, snuck out of a conference even just to do it. I might get fired but to see my dad smile but it'll be worth it."

"I understand completely. My dad's a big Jim Morrison fan. Went to Paris finally last year to visit his grave..."

***

"Jesus fucking Christ, this thing is a fortress," Leon says to the TV as we watch the video from earlier. The ice packs strapped to his knees rattle when he adjusts himself on the edge of the bed.

"I know. Even in death, the Boss is surrounded with stone and iron. How am I supposed to dance on his grave when I can't even get inside?"

"Have you thought about dancing on top of the crypt?"

"It's a little hard to break into a cemetery at night with a ladder. Also, the roof is slanted. How the fuck am I gonna dance on a slanted rooftop?"

"Carefully. But what are your other options?"

"Crowbar the gates open and dance in the crypt?"

"Dancing on a grave isn't a crime. Breaking into a crypt on the other hand probably is."

"Fuck."

"Fuck indeed." A knock at our hotel room door punctuates the indeed. Leon and I look at each other.

"Leon, who else knows we're here?"

"No one. All my friends know is that I went to Tampa for tryouts, that's it."

I slide off the bed and look through the peephole to see an Alex Rodriguez lookalike with three suit bags slung over his shoulder.

"What the fuck is he doing here?"

"Who?"

"What the fuck is he doing here?" Another knock slaps the door.

"Who? Who? Reg, who? Who is at the fucking door. You're freaking me out over here."

I take a deep breath and look over my shoulder, into Leon's eyes. "The man who killed my father, that's who's here."


III; 1. The Alex Rodriguez lookalike stands near the door in our hotel room, fidgeting with the suit bags over his shoulder.

"How did you know I was here?" I cross my arms and try slitting his throat with a stare.

"Your dad told me why but your mother told me where. I figured you might need some help."

"Fuck your help. Alex Rodriguez has already helped me enough."

"I didn't want your dad to die. It just happened. You imagine being inside someone and..."

"Stop. Stop. Stop! I don't want to hear it."

"Fair enough, Reg."

"You don't get to call me that, fatherfucker. What's in the bags?"

"Something to help us out, but since you don't want my help, I'll just leave." Alex opens the door, and slips out. Leon slides off the bed and walks to the door, ice packs on his knee sloshing with each step. I spread myself across the door and the frame.

"Where do you think your going, Leon?"

"To talk to the guy. He's hurting, too."

"The asshole killed my father... with his dick." My face puckers after saying this.

"Your father's bad heart killed him. His dick just happened to be in your father when he died."

"Ahhhh fuck, I don't need that fucking image in my head."

"Grow up, Reg. Everyone has sex. Some people have sex with the same gender. Now, step aside so I can talk to the guy. He's hurting and he wants to help you."

"What if I don't get out of the way?"

"I'll make one of my wrestling moves really hurt instead of pretend hurt."

"You wouldn't dare." Leon darts behind me, straddles my legs, reaches over to my right arm and locks it behind my back. My stomach stretches in ways it shouldn’t stretch.

"Gonna let me talk to him, now?" Leon huffs onto my neck. "I can do this all night, or until you tear something." I wriggle back and forth but Leon's legs and arms don't budge.

"Ow. Fuck. Alright, I give." Leon lets me go and I collapse, my cheek swimming, body writhing, wallowing in the various smells and stains in the carpet. I watch Leon's feet slipping into his beaten black Converse hi-tops then shuffling through the open door.

"Stop being such a wuss. I didn't hurt you that bad. You better be up by the time I get back." The door slams. I bring myself up to my knees, then to my feet. I limp to the bathroom, leaving a trail of clothing behind. I'm hoping the hot water will help ease the pain, the humiliation of being manhandled by a man who used to be a woman.


2. "You're really gonna ask Leona to marry you like that, on a fucking swan boat? What kind of pussy does that?" Dad and his Marlboro smoke snarls.

"Lake Eola was our first date. Our first kiss was on a swan boat. It has major emotional significance to us."

"So you're gonna ask the love of your life to marry you among swan shit and pond scum? If I was Leona, I would dump you in the water and crack your head open with that fuckin' swan boat. A sympathetic jury would not convict her if she did that to you. You have to think like a winner, like a Yankee. How would a Yankee propose to her?"

"He wouldn't propose to her. He'd keep her in cars and furs so she never tells the wife what's really going on, to make sure he can keep fucking her in ways his wife would never, ever would." The chair and I fall to the floor. My dad gets up and crouches over me.

"Smart asses like you never end up with a happy-ever-after. It's guys like me that have to knock the dick out of your mouth and knock some common sense into here." He pokes my forehead. "When it comes to romance, your generation is cheap and lazy. How did you buy the ring?"

"What does that..."

"Answer my question, boy. How did you buy the ring?"

"I used a credit card." I don't see my father's right hand until it moves through my right cheek.

"You couldn't even scrimp and save for a ring, you little cheater. You have to sweat, bleed, sacrifice to show a woman that you mean business when you say 'forever'. Take it back."

"What?"

"Take the thing back. As long as you live under my roof, rent free, chasing after whatever it is your chasing after in graduate school, you are gonna do what I tell you. Take the thing back, else I'm gonna throw you out on your ass."

"It's my life, dad" His left hand mows through my left cheek.

"I'm not gonna tell you again. I better see that receipt in a week or else you're gonna find your shit out on the lawn. Now go clean up." Dad walks out of the kitchen, the Marlboro smoke choking everything in his wake.


3. The Alex Rodriguez lookalike comes back in the hotel room with Leon as I'm sitting on the bed, drying off my hair and humiliation. Leon stands between us to make sure I don't do anything stupid.

"Should I call you 'Alex' or something?" I make the towel into a hood, hoping the glare intimidates him.

"I'm Dan, nice to finally..." He extends his right hand.

"Is that the hand that you jacked my father off with?"

"Reg, that's uncalled for," the back of Leon's head yells.

"Leon, until someone fucks your father to death and you meet the man that fucked your father to death and deal with the fact that someone's cock killed your father, you can lecture me about what is and isn't called for. The only reason why he's even back in this hotel room because you put me in one of those wrestling holds. Put your hand away, Dan."

"I understand why you're angry. I lost my father tragically, too."

"You mean your father was also fucked to death?"

"No, but his death was just as sudden."

I take a deep breath. "What's in the bags?"

He throws the three suit bags down on the bed and unzips them, revealing two Yankees, one Red Sox uniforms, hats, and masks. Each mask looks like a frozen burn victim version of Joe Torre, Nomar Garciaparra, and Billy Martin. "Leon can be Billy, I'll be Joe, and you can be Nomar. It would be perfectly fitting for Nomar to dance on Steinbrenner's grave, don't you think?"

"And yet you're gonna be the guy that fucked Steinbrenner over? Wouldn't it make more sense for you to be Billy since Steinbrenner kept fucking him over with all that hiring and firing he did to him?"

"Reg..." Leon tries growling but it sounds more like the scolding of a 12-year-old girl. " Sorry, Leon. We've got a bit of a problem, Dan. It's not a grave, it's a crypt with a slanted roof. We break into the crypt and risk getting arrested or I dance on top of the crypt and risk breaking my neck."

"Which one have you decided?"

"The cons are equally bad: neck breaking or shower rape. None of those things sound appealing at all. Maybe you should do it instead." Leon turns and punches me in the stomach. I'm back wallowing among the smells and stains of the hotel room carpet.

"Are you going to start acting like a decent human being?" I nod. Dan and Leon help me up and place me on the bed.


4. I fumble with the ring box in my pocket. I practice in front of the bathroom mirror, first like a high noon gunfight, then like an endless rope of handkerchiefs. I make sure the hinge touches the bottom of the pocket so when I pull out the box and open it in front of her, she sees the ring.

"Don't over rehearse," My father growled. "When you propose to a woman, you keep the sentences you want to say and don't work too much around them." I ignored the last part about buying the ring in cash, though. I'd never get married if I had to wait for it. I look at the concealer hiding my black and blue monocle my father gave me earlier before walking back to Leona's and my table.

***

My father sits on the porch surrounded by boxes full of stuff and a six pack of Natty Ice at his feet. He hands me a can.

"She said no, didn't she?"

"Yeah, she did." I pull back the tab and take a swig. "How did you know she would say no?"

"When a woman's got a constant hesitant look around you, the smile she makes about your name is a polite lie. Leona had that look. That's why I kept barging in when you and her were fucking."

"You knew when we were fucking?"

"Sadly, yeah, and it wasn't all that great either. You couldn't have waited until I passed out or at least had the good fuckin' sense to get me shit faced or maybe fuck her at her place? The point is she didn't want to be with you, Reg. No need to waste time with a woman like that. I mean, you got her engagement ring on credit."

"But I didn't want to wait..."

"You never want to wait, want to sweat, want to earn your keep, earn your name. Now, here's your chance."

I almost spit out my beer when I see in all of the boxes on the porch have my stuff in it.

"What about grad school?"

"If you want it bad enough, you'll still finish your degree. When you finish that beer, get your shit and get out."

"Where am I gonna go?"

"Not my problem. Leave the keys when you're done. I don't want to see you for six months." My father walks off the porch, into the house, locking the door behind him. He watches as I carry each box to the back of the car, making sure I place the key on the doormat before driving off with what I could carry of my life.


5. Leon and I stand in the middle of the wrestling ring, the darkness swallows the empty folding chairs facing us.

"We're gonna practice balancing on uneven surfaces here. It's safer than trying for the first time on the roof where you could end up a quadriplegic."

"Um, I've watched enough wrestling to know that you can still become a cripple even in the ring."

"Climb on the turnbuckle before I hurt you. Again."

The ring wobbles as I stomp toward the turnbuckle on the far left side of the ring. I climb slowly, sitting on top; Leon walks over to the far right side of the ring and then back flips until stopping in front of me.

"Show off."

"Love doing that. Give me your hand." I hold Leon's hand tightly. "Now, stand up." My feet wobble. "Follow me." The rope sags and sways with each baby step. Leon keeps me upright. "You have to consider things like wind, rain, birds, while you're up on the roof. You'll only need to be up there for a minute or two but it's gonna feel like the longest of your life."

"How long have I been up here now?"

"Twenty five seconds. We're gonna stop once we get to the middle."

"A rope is nothing like a roof, though. How am I supposed to practice balance on the middle of a top rope?"

"You're not. This is just the beginning, Reg." Leon lets go of my hand for a moment. "Now, focus on maintaining your center of balance. Don't worry about standing perfectly still. Worry about not breaking your neck." My arms flail frantically. The pull of the floor mats lure my back closer. Leon jumps on the rope, twists, gently grabs the back of my head and brings us back to the ring. I feel my nose crack, the trickle of blood on my lips.

"Fuck!"

"Maybe this wasn't a good idea."
"You think?"

"Let me help you to the back. There's a first aid kit in the locker room."

"No. Enough. Between that guy showing up and you hurting me three times now, I've had enough. We're done. I'm done. Fuck my dad and his stupid fucking will. Fuck dancing on Steinbrenner’s grave. Fuck everything. I'm taking the first Greyhound out in the morning back to Orlando and getting back on the road where I belong."

"Just because you got a little bloodied and beaten up, you're just gonna give up and walk away?"

"No, because you're the one who bloodied and beat me up. Again."

"What are you... oh."

"Yeah, oh. It's because of you, my life became fucked. My dad kicked me out because of you. I couldn't finish graduate school because of you. I had to take a job I hate, to survive, because of you."

"Because I wouldn't marry you you made poor life decisions? Reginald Whitey Lownd, Somehow, I’m not surprised you said that. You never could take accountability for your own actions."

"My actions? You apparently wanted to be a man. How do you think that made me feel to see the love of my life no longer look like the love of my life? I thought you said no because I wasn't good enough for you but it turns out, it's because you were confused about your gender identity."

"I'm sorry that I wasn't honest about who I was a person to you. I'm not sorry for saying 'no'. You still aren't good enough for me." Leon crouches under the bottom rope and lands on the floor. "When you're ready to stop wallowing in your own pity and blood, come to the locker room and I'll fix your nose."


6. Even though I sit on the outside row, the guy sitting next to me manages to spread to the point my right shoulder and leg fight to climb inside my body.

"What happened to you," he asks.

"I accidentally got hit in the face at a wrestling match."

"Really, I didn't know there was any wrestling shows going on at one of these parts."

"It was one of those crazy backyard shows. It was a friend's debut. Came up to see it now coming back home to recover."

"Shit, man, that's awesome." My pocket hums. "Aren't you gonna answer that?"

"Nah. He can wait." I lean back in my seat and watch the desolation of Lakeland in the dark streak by the window as I ry to sleep.

***

"How could you leave Leon like that?" My mother stands outside of my old bedroom door wearing a bathrobe. I dive under the covers and hold my breath. I peek slightly over them and she's still standing, toe tapping.

"All he kept doing was hurting me. The fact you told 'Alex' where we were didn't help, either. I'm still wrapping my head around that little revelation."

"Your father loved me very much, just... not quite like a man and a woman would love each other. It was a different time back then. He could do what he wanted as long as he took care of us, and he never did, but that doesn't matter now. What matters is that yet again, you are running away."

"What are you talking about?"

"I know why you were in Tampa, Reggie."

"But he told me not to..."

"He told you not to tell me but he never said anything about him not telling me."

"What about the 'secret portfolio'? Was that a lie, too, something to entice me into doing something so stupid?"

"The only way you'll ever find out is if you actually go through with this. You need to do this more for the money. You need to do this for you. Be a man once in your life."

"I am going to be a man. I'm going to book the first flight to Indianapolis and finish what I started out there."

"You need to finish what you started out here, Reg. That's more important."

I throw the covers off of my body and sit up. "And what if I don't finish what I started?"

"Then once you leave here, you never come back. You'll be just as dead to me as your father."


IV; 1. Mass Ave is the only bastion of cool in Indianapolis. Everything else is a chain restaurant, a hotel, something referring to the speedway or the Colts or Peyton Manning or Larry Bird or the Hoosiers. I always ask to stay downtown so I can crawl to and from the Ball & Biscuit after work every time I'm here.

And that's been every couple of months, always coming back when summer teases the city or when winter taunts it. I make sure to brush my teeth three times a day and down breath mints constantly so my coworkers and learners can't smell the name of the craft beer that sang me a lullaby.

***

"I can't believe your dad wanted you to do that." Sandra places the straps of her black lacy bra back on her shoulders before snapping it together. Three hours ago, we were at the Ball & Biscuit swapping work war stories from our jobs before staggering back to my room, before I turned pillow talk into a confessional booth.

"Yeah, who asks someone to dance on a grave?"

"Your dad."

"Yeah, your right."

"When you eventually go back, are you gonna try again?"

"No, I'm not. If my mom wants to be a complete bitch to me and never talk to me again for not doing something so silly and stupid, fuck her. She might as well be dead to me."

"Reggie, that's pretty harsh." Sandra zips up her skirt.

"So's emotional blackmail."

"But that's the whole point of having kids, Reggie, is to be able to emotionally blackmail them into doing what they don't want or will hate to do. I can't wait for my two kids to be old enough where I get to do the same thing to them when I need to. I mean, I wouldn't make them dance on someones grave, though. Well, except their father's. Maybe."

"I'm not having kids and if someone how I accidentally did, I wouldn't do that to them." Sandra's blouse over her head muffles her laugh.

"I said the same thing until after I had Jeremiah and then, when I caught him trying to take a cookie out of the cookie jar in my kitchen before dinner, I told him that Santa doesn't bring presents to people who steal cookies. He put that shit back in the cookie jar real quick while crying."

"How old is he?"

"Two. Gotta start it while they're young. Do you think your mom will ever talk to you even if you don't do this thing?"

"That's the thing about my mom, she does what she says she'll do to you. When she caught me smoking pot at fifteen, she made me drag my bed out to the lawn and set it on fire. When I kept missing curfew, she slashed the tires on my car."


2. "How are you holding up?" My boss cracks through the telephone in the conference room.

"I'm doing as O.K. as I can be. I'm glad to be here, though. Work's gonna help me take my mind off my dad for awhile."

"Good, good. I'm gonna work you so hard, you'll be too busy to mourn."

After the small talk, we go over metrics and figures, things like how many learners I still have in training, how many have attrited. Trainers are always blamed for learners quitting even when it's not our fault. We speak in arcane call center metrics before disconnecting our call. I run into the cafeteria and wolf down a sandwich and a Diet Mtn Dew before running back into class, turning on the projector, and covering the next topic on the agenda, taking inventory on all the attrition of this past year, wondering if I have gained more than I've lost.


3. "Are you going to get that?" Sandra asks between kisses. I watch my cellphone twitch on the desk in the living room section of my hotel suite.

"Nah. I'm off the clock. It's too late for anyone to really need me." I bring her down on top of me on the chaise lounge. My cellphone rattles on the desk again.

"It seems really urgent, Reggie. You should probably get that." I part her hair and look into her gray eyes.

"Sandra, the only emergency I see is that you won't be here when I wake up in the morning. Whoever is calling can wait. You can't."

"But Reggie..." I put my finger to her lips, caress her cheek, kiss her long and slow. My cellphone dances on the carpet. Sandra pushes herself away from me, grabs my cellphone, and hands it to me. "Answer the phone, Reggie, or else I'm leaving."

"Alright, alright." I hit the receive button and place the phone to my ear.

"Reg, it's Leon. Your mother's dead."

"Leon, what kind of joke is this? Why are you calling me from an unlisted number?"

"Because you won't take any of my calls, Reg. I'm not crying wolf here. She was driving through Semoran and Aloma and some asshole ran the light at Aloma and crushed the car. She died instantly."

"Bullshit. I call complete bullshit."

"Really? Check the Sentinel's site and call me back."

I storm past Sandra and open my laptop. I pull up the Sentinel's website and see the picture of my mother's car crushed, the link to her obituary.

"Reggie, what's going on?" Sandra walks and sees over my shoulder the article, the obituary. "Oh, God..." I feel her arms wrap around my neck, her chin digging into my clavicle as she whispers how sorry she is.


4. Leon's in the same suit he was in when my father died. I look around the funeral home to see if any surprise visitors walk in to say goodbye to my mother.

"Reg, I'm so sorry." Leon sobs on my chest.

"At least she wasn't fucked to death by another woman with a strap-on. Or a tranny."

"What's with you."

"Leon, both my parents have died six months apart from each other. This is all really fucking unreal. I'm numb. I feel like she died just to spite me."

"I get where you're coming from."

"No you don't. You still have your parents."

"Alright, you're right, I don't get where you're coming from. I'm here for you, though, Reg. I've always been here." Over Leon's shoulder, I watch Sandra walk through the open double doors of the viewing room, her black heels clacking gracefully toward us. I break from Leon's arms.

"Sandra... you're here."

"Reggie, I needed to see how you were doing."

"What about the kids?"

"With their father for a few days. I had some free flights lying around."

"Who's this?" Leon scowls.

"This is Sandra Callwell. She's a call center trainer for a bank. Sandra, this is my best friend Leon."

"Nice to meet you, Leon." Sandra extends her hand. Leon leaves it hanging.

"How long have you two known each other?"

"We’ve been seeing each other here and there for a few months. Why does that matter, Leon?"

"Damn you, Reg. You know how I still feel about you." Leon shoulder blocks past us and out of the funeral home.

"Reggie, is there something I need to know." Sandra cocks her right eyebrow.

"I'm not gay, I'm not even bi-curious. Our situation is a bit complicated. I'll explain tomorrow... over dinner, after I see the probate lawyer. I have to deal with all of this family tonight. I hope that's O.K.?"

"It is. I understand. Want me to stick around?" I hold her hand and nod. "Alright. Tell me what you need me to do and I'll do it."


5. "I am so sorry for your loss, Mr. Lownd. This was truly tragic, truly. How are you holding up?" I watch the probate lawyer's wattle quiver with each sentence. I take a sip from my flask before putting it back in my pocket.

"Not so well, sir. Not so well. This has been a really shitty year."

"It has been. This won't take long. Have a seat." I sink into the brown leather chair in front of the probate lawyer's desk. "Your mother was very upset at you not granting your father's last wish, incredibly upset. When you left her, she was so heartbroken that she changed the terms of her will."

"What do you mean?"

"The provision of you dancing on Steinbrenner's grave is now in her will as well. The time frame, however, is different. Instead of a year, you have three days in which to do it, from the reading of this will. Failure to do so means all of their assets will go into a charitable trust, which will then be liquidated after accruing interest for ten years and donated to George Steinbrenner's favorite charities."

I get up from my chair and take another swig from my flask before putting it away. "I won't be emotionally or financially blackmailed by a ghost. Are we done here?"

"Mr. Lownd, I want you to take a step back and think about this for a moment."

"What are you talking about?"

The probate lawyer hits a few buttons on his laptop and turns it over to me. "Your father was a shrewd investor. He bought stocks in Apple and Google before they took off. As of today, based on the amount of stock he had with Apple and Google alone... those two combined are worth five million dollars."

"What..."

"Your mother was actually quite the baseball card collector. We had her collection appraised and that's another half a million that could very well go to you. Need I continue?"

"What? If they had this, why didn't they help me with school?"

"Because your parents wanted you always to make your own way in life. They would have revealed it in time had you been made better decisions."

"But I've made better decisions. I'm a call center trainer. I go across the country to train people. How is that not a better decision?"

"The others you've made as of late have not been. You broke your poor mother's heart."

"O.K., you seem to know, to care a little more than a probate lawyer should. Wait... oh damn it..."

"Reg... I mean Mr. Lownd... what your mother and I had was special. Your father knew and respected that. She had needs he wasn't meeting and was O.K. with me meeting them. I thought we'd finally be together after your father died, but she still carried a black lantern for him."

"O.K., so now I've found out in the span of six months my dad was fucked to death by a guy who looks like Alex Rodriguez and that my mom was fucking my father's and her probate lawyer for God knows how fucking long. Jesus Christ." The probate lawyer opens the cabinet behind him, uncorks a crystal bottle and pours brown liquid into two glasses, handing one of them to me.

"To your mother and father." He clinks my glass before downing the brown liquid. "I can't tell you what to do here. You've clearly established that you are your own man and, even though your mother disagreed about you walking away from carrying out your father's wishes, I respected you for doing so. However, if you don't do this, you stand to lose millions. If it helps you sleep at night, don't do it for your mother and father. In fact, you should do it to spite your parents and do something with the money that really will spite them. They want you to do something this stupid, fine do it. Your mother always said living well is the best revenge." I sip the brown liquid. It falls warm and sweet down my throat.

"Fine, you've convinced me. Fuck them both. They want me to dance on his grave, I will, and when I am done, I am going to make sure they can see this from Heaven or Hell."


V; 1. The tension between Leon, Sandra, Dan, the probate lawyer and me makes the inside of the SUV claustrophobic; I keep Leon up front seat so he doesn't try to choke Sandra out.

"Who's the chubby, old guy?" Leon asks.

"That's the probate lawyer... I don't even know your name. You have business cards and everything on your desk and I just never bothered to pay attention."

"I'm Tim. I get that pretty often actually."

Leon shakes Tim's hand. "I get why you, me, Tim, and Dan are here but why her, Reg? Why is that cunt in the car with us?"

"Hey asshole!" Sandra slaps Leon upside the head. Leon tries to hit back but the seat belt holds him down.

"You were a woman once, Leon. Cunt is a blasting cap. You had that coming. Apologize or you walk home."

"You wouldn't do that." I pull to the side of the road and cut the ignition.

"I don't need you to finish this."

"What about how I feel, about you, Reg?"

"You're a man, now. I don't care if you don't have a dick, you're a man. I loved Leona. I'm getting used to Leon. You and I aren't meant to be."

"What if I gave you one more kiss? You have to at least give me that."

"If I let you kiss me and don't like it, will you apologize to Sandra?"

"Yes."

"Don't you fucking dare kiss her/him/whatever the Hell it is." Sandra hisses.

"I'll give Leon a free shot for that one, Sandra. I thought all I was to you was a fuck."

"Reggie... I was wrong..."

"Enough with this melodrama already," Dan huffs. "Sandra, you watch Leon kiss Reggie. Leon, you kiss Reggie. Reggie, you let yourself get kissed by Leon. Everyone then will apologize after, got it." We all nod. "Good. Let's get this over with."

Leon unbuckles his seat belt, leans over and kisses me. He smells like sour sweat and dairy products, tongue flopping in my mouth like a dying fish. I break away.

"Do you get laid with kissing like that?"

"Sometimes. While they're drunk and unable to notice the difference between a real dick and a rubber dick in their mouth."

"Apologize to Sandra, Leon."

Leon buckles his seat belt, crosses his arms, looks down while gritting his teeth before looking back up. "I'm sorry. Sandra."

"What are you sorry for?"

"I'm sorry for calling you a cunt, Sandra. Happy Reg?"

"Sandra, you good?"

"I'm sorry for hitting you, Leon." I start the car, pull it away from the shoulder and back on the highway.


2. The ladder rattles against the iron gates as we climb over them. After Leon and I are over, Leon gets on my shoulders and Dan passes the ladder over the gate, making sure the ladder lands on the grass quietly.

"Do you have the camera?" Dan whispers. Leon nods. "Good luck to you both. We'll be here on look out. If something goes wrong, we'll text you both.” We walk through the graveyard like clumsy ninjas.

***

We turn our flashlights on in small bursts to make sure we don't fall into any empty graves or open graves, eventually reaching the small Roman temple that is George Steinbrenner's crypt.

"We didn't practice like we were supposed to, Reg," Leon whispers.

"I know. I need to stop running. If this is meant to be, we do this now."

"You could die up there, or worse, fall off and be like Christopher Reeve. We have a day to prep. Give me a day to prep."

"Leon...you kept giving me shit about being hesitant over doing this. Now, you are giving me shit over about being brave."

"There's a difference between being brave and reckless." A light shines in our eyes, the click of a gun silences the crickets for a moment.

“What are you two doing here with that ladder?" The groundskeeper holds a flashlight in our faces in one hand, points a gun at our foreheads.”

"You mean this?" Leon throws the ladder at the groundskeeper, hitting him in the face. There’s a flash and a pop. Leon twists and collapses.

"Why did you do that, Leon?"

"Now you're giving me shit about being brave?"

"Brave? That was reckless. Are you O.K.?"

"He got me pretty good in the shoulder. I'm not going to be able to hold the ladder when you climb up on top of Steinbrenner's crypt or when you come back down. I can still hold the camera. Are you sure you still want to do this?"

"We're here already and the groundskeeper's out cold. We won't have another chance. Do you feel the bullet's in there?"

"I think it's just a flesh wound. Hurts really bad. I can play through it though."

"Good. Let's do this." I have Leon wrap his good arm around my shoulder, putting him against a tree across from the Steinbrenner crypt.

***

The ladder clangs against the lower part of the roof of the crypt. Leon props himself up and aims the camera at me, ascending to the roof. I slither on the roof until I reach the top, arrange myself to where I sit upright. I look over to Leon and give him a thumbs up before standing and removing my black ski mask. I hold my arms out to keep myself straight, looking at the distant red light of the camera. I take one baby step to the left, then back to the middle. I take one baby step to the right, then back to the middle. I set up a good rhythm, doing abridged versions of the Robot, the Running Man, the Roger Rabbit, and Rolling the Dice, thinking that I’m actually stepping on my mother and father’s spine instead of this roof. I don't hear the sirens, the spotlights, the clicking and aiming of guns.


J. Bradley is the author of Bodies Made of Smoke (HOUSEFIRE, 2012). He lives at iheartfailure.net.