Sancho's Donkey


loren-npc_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

And also, kind of:


Scene Title Sancho's Donkey
Synopsis 'When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?'
Date May 15, 2019

Rochester, New York: Hawthorn Lounge

What the fuck is this place. None of the tables are the same shape or size, which Teo could probably kind of admire, or tolerate, or whatever, on its own if it weren't for the fact there's also a stage with a woman reading poetry on it, the cocktails chalked out in serif font on the blackboard overhead, and the walls are decorated with a combination of Bankseyesque stenciling and baroquely framed photography. When he was twenty-five, Teo thinks, he would've thought it was pretty cool. Interesting. He would've thought the regulars had to be smarter than he was.

But now Teo is in his mid-thirties, and he can't quite put his finger on why it's irritating. If there were enough humans alive and thriving easy enough to draw the cultural ire that formed the subculture of hipsters, he'd probably associate it with hipsters. But youth these days are a tragic demographic, the privileges that they might have entered this world undermined by violence, the disruption of war. Same goes for boomers, if that's who he was going to make faces at next. It's pretty. It's quiet. People feel safe here; he chooses not to begrudge them that. What bothers him? It doesn't occur to him to stop wondering until it's too late.

The answer is: Teo can't picture them here. Himself and Francois. That's.


Whatever, Teo decides. He drinks more of his seltzer water, not liking it OBBbviously, but trying to blend in, support the local economy, and also be good. He has drives to make. The gallery tomorrow. That'll be fun too. When was the last time he went to a fucking gallery art show? He doesn't go to fucking art shows. Maybe we will add that to the living document that is the list of 'should's. (If he really focuses, maybe he'll learn to hate Rochester as much as he hates New York City.)

The woman on the stage finishes her poem, and a light smattering of applause ripples through the crowd — concentrated closest to the stage, where likely her own friends are sharing armchairs or even plonked on the rug-strewn floor by the low tables, nursing over-sweet Old Fashioneds, and then dispersed with guttering frequency, from those not really listening, further back. She slinks off the stage shyly, hands off the mic to the next person.

This next person is a tall man, decently over six foot with a rangy kind of build that makes him seem a little taller still. An older gentleman, with a grey, goatish thatch of beard on his chin, kempt mustache, and silvered hair combed rakishly aside. He fits in well with the decor, all tweed and waistcoat and scarf of deep colours.

"Thank you very much, Roseanne of Pittsburgh," is too specific not to be a callback, one Teo must have missed. The accent is crisply British, rounding out a distinct, dark voice, crackled pleasingly over cheap sound system. "That does include our open mic, I'm afraid — but to see us off, I have the most distinct pleasure of introducing our last sonneteer. Please welcome," pause for mild effect, "Taunya Daley."

This announcement is better received — there's a wolf-whistle from further back than where even Teo is camped. A prominent local, perhaps. A woman with dark skin and bright clothing ascends the stage where the man reaches out his hand to help her up, and they exchange a cheek kiss as the mic is passed over, which happens to pick up the overlapped exchange;

"Hello, darling."
"Thanks, Loren."

And she moves to stand in the middle of the stage. The man — Loren — seems content to allow her to close the show on his behalf, slinking through the crowded interior of the Lounge to find his own corner to sit and listen.

Teo EXCLAMATION POINTS OWL GIF EYEZOOM. If anyone were sitting nearby and thought to look at him, they would immediately notice something off. He doesn't move, but he actually stops moving, rather sharply, like a deer freezing in the tall grass. Or maybe the puma in pursuit of it. He forgets to blink. He turns his head around slowly, and then his shoulders after that, like a puppet moving its parts in sequence based on the rotation of its strings.

To the surprise of no one: Teodoro Laudani has made a huge mistake.

Teo stares at the older man moves along the stage, leaving the woman alone in the column of her spotlight. He stares as the older man takes the steps down, the line of Teo's eyes moving on that perpendicular zigzag pattern even as Loren's head goes left then down then left and down. He stares as Loren veers off to the unoccupied (unmatching) table that others have subtly given berth to, cued by the fresh cocktail abandoned there, or maybe the stately coat wrapped around the shoulders of the chair.

He should leave. Teo should get up, get his ass out of here. This wasn't the plan, of course; he's not actually fucking crazy. (He is fucking crazy.) He's a normal fucking person. (No.) He's a farmer. (Technically, still.) He can make normal fucking decisions. (Can? Will?) He pulls himself up from his chair, an inch of seltzer-water abandoned to melt the ice cubes in its midst. He plants one foot in front of the other, and miraculously finds himself

right by this Loren's table. Of course.

The woman on stage is beginning to talk, and there is music in her voice and the rhythm of each breath, and the subtle thump of her fingers on the microphone. Taunya Daley is very good at what she does, and as Teo crosses the club, he doesn't get too much in the way of attention. Not until he is right at that (charmingly unmatched) table.

Then he gets Loren's attention. Reluctantly, a little, the host of the evening having settled to pick up a glass of amber liquid, lounging back in his seat. As Teo casts his shadow, he pauses to see if that shadow is going to move on, or even invite itself to sit — it is, after all, a free country — and when it does not, he tilts a look up.

His eyebrows raise in inquiry. "Can I help you?" in that under-the-noise level, so as not to be disruptive.

"I hope so," Teo hears himself say. It's disturbingly autopiloty. He is having some type of traumatic stress reaction, floating outside his body, observing himself act in third person, not even drunk enough to excuse this behavior, really. But he doesn't care, or not enough, or only does so in third person too.

Teo has been dragged along by the tide of misery for so many years, a corpse bloated with the bad kind of nostalgia, that it's refreshing to move perpendicular to the grind of surf.

So Teo pulls up a chair. Sits down. Takes out his phone. He remembers exactly where the picture he wants is, filed in his Downloads folder, where he had pulled it off an older device. It's three years old, maybe; Francois' hair was slightly shorter, closer to the last time he had gotten it cut. Thanks to an accidental encounter with a small, very muddy goat, and the pre-estrangement era, Francois had run out of clean clothing to wear on the farm during that visit. He had obliged to try on one of Teo's array of flannels, which doesn't look too big with the sleeves rolled up his forearms. He looks sufficiently unlike himself to leave space for his imagination.

"My name is Ted Lang. I'm a private investigator. This man owes eleven thousand dollars in child support," Teo says, unblinking, so perfectly calm and even that you would have to assume that he has objectively made peace with being the actual worst person in the entire world. He sets down the phone on the table, rotates it.

From the screen, Francois smiles up at his former lover. Leaning back on a fence, wearing red-and-black tartan, the wind trying to make his hair divulge its secret curls. "Do you recognize him?"

There are a couple of curious glances from nearby patrons, but ultimately, the lounge does not screech to a halt. The poet's words coming through the speakers are not the only ambiance, with other conversations murmuring in their private corners. Loren's suspicion and curiousity both are reserved, stabled behind an expression of continued polite inquiry, though his brow pulls at the centre when the young man joining him at the table identifies himself as a private investigator.

And a frown, then, for the matter at hand. Loren sets down his glass, leans to look at the little rectangle of light on the table. Although his expression doesn't change much at all, his observation takes one, two seconds too long to to imply that this is a complete stranger.

And it's not what he confirms, either, by the time he peers across at Ted Lang. His mouth skews a little crooked. Regretful. "I don't think I can be of any help to you, I'm afraid," he says, carefully, in the tone of someone would would prefer not to be involved at all.

Now what is Teo supposed to do? Besides, obviously, somehow resist the urge to burst into maniacal laughter. He can feel the urge rising from the gut like a bad episode of hiccups, diaphragmatic, bordering painful, pulsing, as if on a downbeat they hope that he's going to let down his guard and make a complete ass of himself. (He has already: made a complete ass of himself.) (It's just that no one knows it yet.)

(But perhaps Loren suspects? That works just fine. When you are immune to shame, you can do anything.)

(Loren is handsome up close. Maybe Francois wishes that his husband were thinner, taller. Maybe Francois wishes that being cheated-on would inspire him to recruit diverse poets and mixologists in vintage jeans and the strength of fortitude to rebuild a community to then repair the rubble of their relationship. Maybe Francois wants someone whose concept of grief and post-war suffering looks good in an Oxford shirt combination with jeans, spectacles, a British accent. Maybe Francois wants someone who would age with him beautifully, acquire a layer of patina and lyrical stories, instead of rot past recognition in the prime of his life.

And do stupid things like this.)

"If you think of anything, I'd appreciate it if you called this number."

Teo writes it on a napkin. An old burner, no battery in it right now for sure, but maybe there's still a voicemail service left on it for another month or so. It's certainly not the voicemail service for a Ted Lang as identified by any kind of auto-responder message. Teo smiles, retrieves his phone, steps back.

Loren does take the offered slip of paper, folding it in half without really looking at it — observing, instead, the curiousity of a private investigator having thought to single him out, no doubt. But Ted Lang is already standing from his chair not five seconds after sitting down in it, and Loren doesn't seem inclined to delay him.

"Of course," he is obliged to say. "Have a good evening."

Amusement has kindled somewhere in Loren's manner. Maybe this will make for a fun story with certain confidantes. But he doesn't wait to watch Teodoro leave, returning his focus instead to the stage after he tucks the napkin in his breastpocket.

Which may make for an odd kind of cognitively dissonant cue when Teo's phone, in hand, notifies him of a text.

Of course, Teo had several lies prepared to field questions. He understands it's possible he should have supplied them; it's balancing on a knife's edge, sometimes, with how much to elaborate your deceptions up-front, how long to wait. I was told you practically know everyone who comes through here, would have been adequate. But that sort of reputation stands for itself.

The more important factor was obviously that: Teo doesn't care.

He takes some small, mean thrill of pleasure to think that next time Francois bumps into this man, they will have a very awkward conversation.

But, mostly, Teo doesn't care, it's one of those dramatically uncaring thrills, like speedballing a lot of wine and a little bit of cocaine when you're seventeen and joyriding a stolen moped with one of your best friends whose uncle is in the mafioso because your brother is very angry at you and you are still four days out from beginning your redemption arc. Everybody needs time to process, and Teo tends to spend his making very baaaad deciswhy is his phone buzzing.

Teo makes a face, pulling out the device to look.

8:23 PM
I'm sorry for how badly i have handled all of this
which is understatmenet
whenever you would like i would like to try again
je taime

Teo is sober and cognizant enough of his own foibles to feel bad for a moment, which is definitely better than not feeling bad at all, given the circumstances. He stops looking at his phone long enough to get himself out of the dark, the last read lines of Taunya's poems following him out. My boredom is spent, I haven't any more. She has a good voice. He manages not to walk into anyone or trip over anything as he goes.

Outside, the sky is still barely light. Teo studies the shade of blue, and realizes this is approximately the time of day they had their incredible public fight the other week.

"Ugh," Teo says uncharitably, looking back down at his phone. The person walking by him makes a sympathetic sound, one of those We have all been theres. He is not accustomed to being the type of individual who has the kinds of problems that everyone has been to, but whatever. He stops by his truck, hunching irritably against the cold.

I'm out of town right now
I need some time to

think? Stalk your extramarital penis adventures? Impersonate lawful investigators? Drink in between days? Come up with another, different elaborate lie about what I am doing through this time, for those to whom I might owe a more detailed explanation than Raul, who at this point, would probably make a point to avoid asking, and sooner just stop texting to ask if Teo wants in on the newest job. Boopboopboop, he pushes the backspace button.

I'm out of town right now
I need some time.

Teo presses send.

wherever too

have a good night

you mean everything to me

nd i know I said i missed you before
but that isn't comparaable
I miss having your respect and your regard
I know it is my fault for having lost it

I will do eveyrthigng I can to get it back
whatever you need
or whatever you want to talk about

sorry when you are ready
I know you said you need time I just want you to know

By now, Teo is back inside his truck. He is glad he didn't start driving, or he most certainly would have gotten into an accident at some point in this barrage of words. He ughs aloud some more, with no audience to commiserate this time. Really, the timing could not be worse! But he appreciates the sentiment, of course. But he already felt bad about his current activities, prior to meeting Loren ('meeting Loren') ('''''meeting Loren'''''), and he already had it on his day planner to start feeling even worse, now that he has met Loren (''''''''''met Loren''''''''''). And now he has to feel even worse about it, probably?


Teo's tedious eyes tediously start to sting, but he tells them to stop, and they do. He has been awake too many hours. He tells himself he is too tired to analyze how drunk Francois must be, to offer up this degree of humility. It's embarrassing, to think that his husband has to get this completely outside of himself, unhinged by chemical alteration, to show proper remorse. It doesn't help that, probably, Francois still wouldn't have if he hadn't gotten super loaded, himself, publically humiliated them both in the street. What A Man Has To Do Around Here to Get Some Respect. But he is not far out of his own mind enough to shun respect now that it's been offered.

Teo also can't believe: they're texting about this? What the fuck. It's maybe that thought, as much as his husband saying that they can talk about anything, now, that marks his realization he wants badly to tell Francois more.

To provide him with explanations, what-ifs, anecdotes of longing, salient love song lyrics, that he might have tried earlier, had he not been terrified — or merely certain, that Francois would not have been able to tolerate the chaotic jumble of emotion required in the telling. There could be no guilt without accusation, clarity without confusion, answers without questions, hope without disappointment. He'd understood the cleaner narrative Francois had artfully constructed, but only insofar as he had also understood that he didn't fit anywhere in it, not as he was. So he would have to rewrite himself. He had told himself it was fine; that he'd done it before.

Which is, somehow, both inextricably connected to this moment, him here in Rochester tonight, while also completely failing to justify it.

Okay, I understand
Thank you for telling me.
Je t'aime.

Once Teo hits send, he thumps his head down into his steering wheel. The horn goes off. BWAAARMM.

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