Definitions - illustration of an open dictionary with a rainbow and two young men in shorts on a pot of gold and an old man watching the parade

By DesDownUnder © 2007

Edited By Blue at Codey’s World

Any similarity to living or dead persons is coincidental. Copyright for this story is held by the author known as DesDownunder at ddunder@adam.com.au Personal one off copies are permitted for private, non-commercial use. Any copying or use of this story or any portion of it that renders anyone monetary gain or profit in any form is prohibited without written permission of the author.

See more poems and stories by DesDownUnder at Codey’s World: http://www.codeysworld.com/desdownunder/

The parade suddenly stopped. It wasn’t supposed to stop. Parades are supposed to keep moving down the street.

An old man watched. He knew that parades always stop and start. There is always something that holds them up along their way; some reason that things, well, just stop.

He had made a real effort to come to the city to see the parade. He escaped the confines of his room in the nursing home where he lived, just to see the boys in the parade. A reminder, perhaps, of his own long lost youth. He was not disappointed.

He watched as the parade began to move again, towards him. He had long since learned that parades eventually move on.

The old man had walked on the footpath, alongside many of the marchers in the parade, but he could not keep up with them, even with the aid of his walking stick. He had to rest.

Leaning on his walking stick, he was enchanted at the approach of the Rainbow float. A huge, almost transparent silk rainbow cloth flowed from a flagpole at the back of the float. The end of the cloth came to rest in a large golden pot supposedly filled with gold. Two tanned bare-chested lads danced on top of the gold, waving and blowing kisses at the crowd as the float moved along the street.

What really caught his eyes though, were the golden shorts the boys wore. The material shimmered with a dazzling sheen in the bright sunlight as they danced.

Suddenly, the float stopped moving. The parade had come to a halt.

The boys stopped waving and held each other’s hands, still dancing, smiling at each other. “Only lovers smile like that,” thought the old man as he felt a glow from watching them.

“Homos, faggots!” yelled a voice from behind the old man, “Now they’re dancing in the streets. God hates faggots.”

The old man turned to see a man in his thirties. He wore a crumpled, ill-fitting, worn suit. “Was there some store that specialised in clothes that no one should wear in public?” he thought to himself.

Above his head the man waved a book in his hand. “Death to the faggots,” he yelled.

The old man saw the two boys turn and look with astonished faces at the messenger of hate as he continued calling to his God to strike down the sinners. The taller of the two dancers looked like he was going to burst into tears. The old man felt his hurt.

“Smite them, oh Lord. Show them no mercy; smite them down.”

“If it’s smiting you want,” shouted the old man, “I’ll show you smiting.” And with that the old man wielded his walking stick like it was the sword, Excalibur, knocking the man’s book from his hands.

“Faggot lover!” screamed the man as he rescued his book from where it fell, “Or are you a damned faggot too?”

“I am, but I don’t think I am damned,” said the old man, “and I prefer to be known as a homo rather than faggot, if you must call me names.”

The man in the suit went into a rage and called for the sinners to be punished.

The sun kept shining, and when he realised no one had been smitten, he pushed the old man, causing him to fall to the ground.

The man raised his book over the old man, shouting, “I smite you in the name of the Lord.”

Before he could do so, however, the old man leaned up to strike the man’s shins with his walking stick. Startled by the unexpected attack, the man backed away and then hobbled off into the crowd of people who had gathered to see what was the cause of all the commotion.

“Here, let me help you up,” said the short, dark-haired boy from the rainbow float.

“Are you alright?” asked his companion, his longish red hair falling over his eyes as he bent down to assist the old man.

“The old man looked up from his position on the curb. “Yes, I think so. Nothing seems to be broken.” The crowd dispersed as the boys helped the old man to his feet.

He could see now that the boys were older than he thought and probably in their late teens. They helped him stand, but he was a bit wobbly on his feet.

“Come and sit down on this bench,” said the taller redheaded boy.

They helped the old man sit down on the bench.

“Who was that awful man?” said the shorter of the boys.

“I don’t know and I don’t care,” the old man muttered. The boys looked at him with concern in their eyes.

 “Thank you, boys,” he said, “You sure aren’t wearing much today, you young fellas.”

“We’re in the parade,” the dark haired boy said.

“Oh yes, the gay parade,” said the old man.

“You know about that?” asked the redhead.

“How could I not know? The street is littered with posters and poster boys. The TV has been talking about nothing else for weeks,” said the old man. “Besides which, the cranky ol’ bloke who lives next to my nursing home has been swearing about it every day. He nearly had a fit when I told him I was coming into town to take part in it.”

“You’re gay?” the boys asked together.

“Is that such a shock to you two? Did you think you invented being gay? You young people are so wonderful,” he said with a croaky laugh. “Do you have names?”

“I’m Jeff,” said the redhead, “and he’s Gloria.”

“I am not. My name is Gary,” he said as he swiped his friend upside of the head, with a gentleness that betrayed his true feelings for his friend. The old man smiled.

“You can call me Len,” he told them.

“You’re a bit late to take part in the parade, Len,” said Gary, “It is all but finished.”

“Yes, well, I can’t walk fast these days, so I just sort of ambled along the footpath with the parade, watching.”

“Did you like it?” asked Gary.

“Yes, I did, especially your float, at least till the smiter started yelling his abuse at us.”

Gary giggled at the word smiter.

“What was his problem?” asked Jeff, “Why does it matter to him that we are gay? I just don’t understand people like him.”

“My dad said it is people like him that make it bad for everyone,” said Gary.

“So your parents are okay with you being gay?” asked Len.

“My dad is, but Mum moved away some years ago. I always blame my coming out for that.”

“She was just looking for an excuse to move out, Gary,” said Jeff as he put his arm around his friend. “What about you, Len, how did your folks take your coming out?”

“I never told them,” said Len.

“You never told them?” the boys said together. “Why not?”

“It just wasn’t done when I was a kid,” said Len, “Most often, we didn’t know ourselves, until we were older. Hell, most of us back then didn’t even know it was possible to have feelings for another boy.”

“How could that be, Len? Didn’t you watch TV?”

“We didn’t have a TV.”

“No TV? How old are you?”

“Don’t be so rude, Gary,” said Jeff as he briskly bopped his friend on his head.

“Now, now, Jeff. You don’t need to smite your friend. I know I am old. I am, let me see, seventy, seventy-something.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Gary.

“Sorry? What are you sorry for?” asked Len with twinkle in his eye. “Sorry, because I am seven…over seventy, or because we didn’t have TV when I grew up?”

“I can’t imagine not having TV,” said Gary.

“Or being seventy either, I bet,” chuckled Len. “Don’t worry about it. There was little Television when I was a teenager, and certainly no shows that discussed sex, let alone sex with another boy. It was all hidden, forbidden.”

“Come and sit on our float with us, Len,” said Jeff, “and tell us more.”

“If you would like to?” added Gary.

Len smiled at the two youths. “I would really like that. That is, if you don’t mind being seen talking to an old man.”

“Why would we mind?” asked Gary.

“The way you wielded your walking stick at that man was so cool. We owe you one for defending us,” said Jeff with a huge ear to ear grin.

Len was struck with admiration for the boys. He felt warmth from their words and gestures as they assisted him to the float. Gently they eased him onto the platform just as a parade marshal came walking alongside.

“You’re going to be stuck here for about ten minutes or so, lads,” he said, “the lesbians’ engine has broken down on their float and we can’t get past it.”

“Never could get anything past a lesbian,” said Len.

They all looked at Len before breaking out in a laugh.

The marshal wandered away as Jeff said to Len, “What do you mean it was all hidden, Len? Did no one talk about sex when you were young?”

“Oh, sure, they talked about it, but not about what we now call gay sex. You see, it was against the law,” said Len.

“It still is, some places,” said Jeff, “people have to be careful about how they meet.”

“And who they talk to on the Internet,” said Gary. “But at least most of them can do that and find out about it.”

“Boys, that is just it. There was no one we could talk to. There were no books we could read, no movies, or magazines that even dared to speak on the subject, and there was certainly nothing like the Internet.”

“You’re kidding, aren’t you?” asked Gary.

“No, I’m not, you see…wait a minute, let me tell you how I found out about what homosexual meant. That might make it clearer to you what it was like. Would you be interested to hear about that?”

“Sure,” said the boys.

“Okay, I will tell you boys a quick story from my past. It was before the Internet, before the text phones; even before the bars and clubs or saunas.”

“Cool!”

“Let me see, where shall I start?” Len smiled a cheeky grin to himself as he began. “Once upon a time, there were forests of trees.“

The boys did a half roll of their eyes to each other, and sat down alongside Len to listen to his story.

“Men came and cut down the trees to burn the wood to keep warm. They also used the wood to make buildings and furniture and eventually, paper.

Onto the paper, men wrote words. Words that defined other words. Words that became laws. Words that were never spoken or only said in whispers. Some whispers were very loud.”

Jeff and Gary giggled, though they were not quite certain why.

“So when I first heard that word, it was when another boy said it in the schoolyard. I had been looking at him eating his lunch. I liked looking at him. I looked at him every day.

“Homo,” he yelled at me.

It was the first time I had heard the word.

 It is somewhat customary for early teenage boys to question everything. So I asked, “What is that?”

“A homo,” he yelled back at me. It is equally customary for other early teenage boys to act like they know the answer to everything. “A homo-sexual,” he shouted back at me.

Before I could question him further, he ran over to his friends, who were now doing what groups of early teenage boys do quite often, poke fun, at a solitary individual of their choosing. They pointed their fingers at me and laughed.”

“They were bullies,” said Jeff, “we still have those.”

“I’m sure you do,” said Len as he continued. “They kept laughing at me as I turned and walked away, with their verbal slings and arrows piercing my mind. Why did I feel I was less than I was, a moment ago? Why did he say such a thing to me? Why did I feel it was cruel?”

“Did you report them to the school counsellor?” asked Jeff.

“What school counsellor?” said Len, “There were none of those things when I went to school. We were lucky if the teachers even talked to us.”

“I wish some of our teachers didn’t talk to us,” said Jeff.

“Of course, I get it,” said Gary, “There was no one you could talk to about your feelings.”

“Boys,’ said Len, “I didn’t even know what my feelings were. When he called me a homo, I really had no idea what he meant.”

At dinner that night, I asked my parents what homosexual meant.

“You mustn’t talk about such things,“ my mother said, not even looking at me.

“It is wrong and against the law,” scolded my father.

“Against the law?” I questioned.

“Yes, it is,” said my father. “It is a crime for boys to do those things. Now don’t you go thinking about it any more. All you need to know is that it is wrong!”

“You don’t need to think about it,” said my mother, waving her knife in the air, “only evil people think about such things.”

“I can see why you didn’t come out to your folks,” said Gary.

“Yes, but I couldn’t help but think about it or the boy who called me that name, a homosexual. After dinner, we sat and listened to the radio plays.”

“Radio plays? You listened to plays on the radio?” asked Gary.

“Sure. It was terrific fun. Sort of like TV, only we imagined the pictures in our heads from the words spoken by the actors. But that night I couldn’t concentrate, so I went to bed early.

As I lay in my bed, I made up my mind to find out what it actually meant, even if it was just so I did not break the law. From what my father said about boys doing things, I think I had an idea what he meant, but homosexual, what did it actually mean? I had become curious to know more.

Every dictionary I could lay my hands on did not even reference a definition for homosexual. I asked one teacher after another, but they all, as I was to realise later, played dumb.

Finally, one of the prefects took me aside and told me in muffled tones that the Public Library had a really big dictionary that contained definitions of everything.

He walked quickly away before I could ask him anything. I now think one of the teachers put him up to it to stop me from asking.

I mustered what little courage I had and thought up a plan. After school one day, with determined heart, I would venture into the city, alone.

“How old were you?” asked Gary.

“I must have been about 13; yes, I would have been 13. I had just started high school.

I would have to go on a Wednesday, straight after sports class.

“Sports class?” said Jeff with a questioning look. “Which sport?”

“Oh no,” said Len, “it was all we had then. A whole afternoon devoted to exercising and a football game, after the physical exercise lesson and running laps around the grass patch they called an oval. Nothing like the sports facilities you have now.”

“Physical exercise?” said Jeff. Len saw wheels turning in Jeff’s head.

“We have PE, Physical Education,” Jeff said, proudly.

‘Much the same, I would think,” said Len.

“What about swimming?” asked Gary.

“Oh yes, we could go to swimming lessons on Friday mornings in summer, if your parents could afford the extra money for the trip to the pool,” said Len.

“That must have been tough,” said Jeff. “Did you go swimming, Len?’

“Once,” said Len, “but I nearly drowned when the teacher got tired of me being frightened of the water and threw me into the pool.”

“He did what?” said the boys together. Len smiled at the way they spoke at the same time.

“You have to remember, schools were much different then. Teachers were more or less a law unto themselves. Provided the kids passed the exams, the teachers could do what they wanted. No one questioned them and they could cane us whenever they felt like it.”

“Cane you? What? Do you mean they hit you?” said Jeff, his eyes wide with horror.

“Oh yes, they would usually pick on one of us at least every day to hit with a length of cane, either across the palm of our hands or on our backsides.”

“That’s barbaric.” Said Jeff.

“Yes, indeed it was,” said Len.

“I would have hit the teacher back,” said Gary.

Len looked at the boy. Gary’s head was barely as high as Len’s chin. The thought of him attacking one of his taller teachers made Len aware of the boy’s internal stature.

“Then you would have been expelled from school,” said Len.

“Wow! And we thought we had it tough with the security guards,” said Jeff.

“Did many get expelled, Len?” asked Gary.

“No, not really, but we were never told. Kids just disappeared. They didn’t turn up to class one day and we never saw them again. If we were told anything, it was simply that they had moved. For all we knew, they could have been sold into slavery.”

“So you didn’t get expelled then, Len?” asked Gary.

“No, but I could have been, if my trip to the Library had been discovered.”

“What?” said Jeff, “You could have been expelled from school for going to the library? You are joking with us now, aren’t you?” Gary smiled at his boyfriend. Len grinned at them both.

“Well, no. It wasn’t the library that was the problem. It was that I would be going from school into the city, instead of straight home after class, whilst wearing my school uniform. If we were in our uniform, we had to go straight home.”

“Let me guess, Len, you weren’t allowed to go to school without wearing your uniform?” said Jeff.

“That’s right. Of course, if I had my parents’ permission, it would have been alright.”

“So if you got caught, you could have rung your mum on your mobile phone and she would have okayed the trip to the city.”

Len looked at Jeff. His naďveté was charming. Whoever said that young people were without innocence these days was very wrong, thought Len.

Gary turned to his friend. “They didn’t have mobiles back then, Jeff; did they, Len?”

“No, we didn’t”

“But you could have called home though, couldn’t you?”

“If we had had a phone, yes I suppose I could have,” said Len

“No phone! You didn’t even have a phone at home?” said Jeff, his brow creased with his concern.

“No, we were quite poor. My mum gave me lunch money on Mondays, because the bread had gone stale since Friday. So I knew if I went without lunch, I would have enough money to catch the bus into the city on Wednesday.

“Stale bread?” said Jeff.

“Bread was baked Mondays to Fridays, and before you ask, freezers weren’t invented for home use yet.”

“Did you have a fridge?” asked Gary.

“Eventually, but I remember when I was very young, we only had an ice box, which was a cabinet that held a block of ice in it. Every morning, my mum had to wait for the ice man to deliver the ice. On hot days, he let me sit in the van until it reached the corner of our street.”

The boys looked at Len with open mouths. “Shut you mouths, boys or you will catch some flies,” said Len. He laughed as both members of his audience closed their mouths instantly.

“So with my saved lunch money, I caught the bus into the city instead of going home. If I was quick, I would be able to catch the five o’clock bus home and I could just tell mum I did extra running after sports class.

When I arrived in the city, I made my way to the formidable ancient building, the repository of all knowledge; the Public Library. I just stood outside and looked at it.

It was a clear day like today, but with no clouds, just the hot sun bleaching the grass and cracking the pavement. It was my first time in the city without my parents.

I opened the huge, glass-embedded wooden doors. Inside, everything was polished wood; dark, foreboding, polished wood. Sunlight streamed through the very high windows. The silence was stifling. Books with dry leather covers covered the walls of polished wooden shelving. Books with pages made from trees sat on shelves made from other trees.

So here I was, on a mission of desperation to find an answer to an age old question, “What did homosexual actually mean?”

Where was the dictionary? Where was this book that defined all words?

I saw a woman behind a large, square counter with curved carved corners made from even more polished wood. A wooden sign hung above her head with gold embossed letters, “Librarian – Enquiries.”

I lifted my school bag onto the counter.

“You can’t take your bag into the library,” said the woman quietly, but in a tone with which no one would argue.

“I’m sorry,” I said, and my words disturbed the air as if I had shouted them. People looked up from the wooden tables that sat either side of a long aisle-way.

She raised her hand towards a wooden sign above the reading tables: Silence Please!

A bearded man with glasses sitting on the end of his nose frowned his displeasure; then lowered his head back to his reading, sighing with resolution to his task. Several people seemed to take the opportunity to shift in their seats. The silence returned as if it had echoed off the books that lined the walls.

The woman attempted a smile, but I was shaking with fear and determination.

“What do you want?” she whispered to me.

“The dictionary,” I said, terrified that she might ask me, “Why?”

“The dictionary, of course,” she said with disdain. She lifted her hand, uncurling her long, aged finger. My eyes followed as she pointed to the end of the walkway between the two long rows of reading tables.

“Leave your bag here by the counter.”

I dropped my bag and looked to where she had pointed. Columns of sunlight streamed from the skylights high above, disturbing only the dust of knowledge filtering through the air. The walls were all lined with books of all sizes, in shelves so high you would need a ladder to get to the top.

The pathway to enlightenment was clearly lit for me by the pools of sunlight on the floor.

At the end of the aisle was a huge wooden pedestal sitting on a stepped circular dais. On top of the pedestal was an enormous book, the dictionary, the book of definitions. One final shaft of sunlight fell onto the book, making it seem to glow with all the power of some infinite knowledge.”

Gary and Jeff leaned forward, entranced by the old man’s tale.

“I began my journey down the aisle, towards the altar on which my ignorance would be sacrificed. My quest for the word that dare not be read was nearly complete.

“An older man lifted books discarded on a table and put them on a trolley made from wood, with wooden wheels silenced with soft leather tyres. He looked up at me; then turned and wheeled the trolley towards the bookshelves on the wall. With every step, the leather on my shoes betrayed my mission. I took shorter steps, but it was no use. “Seeex, sex,” my shoes seemed to squeak as I walked on the polished wooden floor.

Wooden tables, wooden shelves, books with paper made from wood and a wooden floor. I was surrounded by wood. You boys would not understand how much we depended on wood in those days.”

Gary and Jeff raised their eyebrows at each other and then turned back to Len, as he continued.

“Finally, I stood at the crossroads of the aisles. Only five more feet and I would be there; only five feet between me and the dictionary. The man with the trolley wheeled it across my path. He watched me as he pushed the trolley, his eyes staring at me.

His lips parted to reveal a sneering cavern of missing teeth.

Then he turned and looked away.

I was literally shaking in my shoes as if I had been cursed, or was it that I was about to discover the nature of the curse?

I was determined. I would not give up now. I walked forward to the base of the dais.

I blinked my eyes, and one foot after another, I walked up the steps, until I looked down at the open pages of the book that would reveal my secret to me; that would define me or not.”

Len’s voice dried and he began to cough. “Give him some water,” said Jeff, and Gary leaned around the huge golden pot on the float and produced a bottle of water which he gave to Len.

“Thanks, boys, I don’t really talk so much these days. Well, not all at once, anyway.”

‘What happened?” asked Gary.

“So you want to hear more, then?”

“Oh yes, please keep going,” said Gary, “Don’t stop now.”

Len was much amused as he pondered Gary’s words, remembering when he himself had used them in very different circumstances. He put aside his reflections and continued.

“Standing in front of the book on the dais, I looked at the pages with some hesitation. It was opened to the F’s. I spied the “F” word. The last person to use this book must have looked it up. I read its definition quickly: “to copulate.” How vulgar! But I actually knew that. The boys at school talked about nothing else, except football, which of course is another “F” word.

Spurred on by the fact that someone else had looked up a much-used forbidden word, I turned the pages and found the H section. Now to find H-o.

I glanced out of the side of my eyes; first to the left, then to the right, but no one was watching me. The sunlight streamed around me as if it was always there. I could not see beyond the shafts of sunlight. I did not dare look behind me at the Librarian’s desk. If she knew what I was doing, I thought she might make me leave. I bent my head back to the book trying to look studious.

Home, Home-maker; Hominoid; Homogeneous; Homo sapiens;

Ah! I took a deep breath and read.

Homosexual: Pertaining to or exhibiting homosexuality.

I sighed. It was no help at all.

Why did I think a book would help me?

Then I saw the next word:

Homosexuality: A sexual feeling or attraction for someone of the same sex.

I had found it. I read it again, and again.

Somehow, I did not feel overwhelmed with revelation.

I couldn’t believe that was all it said.

Homosexuality: A sexual feeling or attraction for someone of the same sex.

The definition was cold, objective, without passion.

It was accurate without telling me any details.

No instructions. Nothing.

It only told me what I already knew; but now I knew the word at least existed.

Now I had seen the word written. It meant there were others like me.

Then I realised it said nothing about it being wrong. The definition simply said a sexual attraction or feeling for someone of the same sex.

Yes, I was attracted to my own sex. I no longer needed to doubt what I felt.

With a defiant flourish, I turned, leaving the book open at that page, the page of my definition; my fear now displaced by knowledge. It was written; if someone else had written it, defined it, then I was not alone. It wasn’t just me.

I marched triumphantly but quietly, my shoes strangely silent, back through the sunbeams, picked up my bag and quickly held it in front of me as I headed towards the door.

“Find what you wanted?” asked the librarian.

“It’s a start,” I told her, “It’s a start. Thank you.”

I burst out into the street, running and skipping, feeling enlightened, exhilarated.

I was overwhelmed with certainty and happiness. The word had defined what I felt, what I desired, and I knew who I was.

The dictionary had confirmed my corruption and I was very, very pleased.

“So you felt you were corrupted?” asked Jeff.

“I suppose I did, because I had been told it was wrong. I was still an outcast, but now I knew what it was, why it was that I was an outcast.”

“So that was the moment you accepted your sexuality?” asked Gary

“It was the moment I defined it. Later, I came to understand I was not corrupted, I was just being me. If others didn’t like that, it was their problem, not mine. I was going to be me, and damn what anyone else thought. Defining my sexuality was the realisation of my independence.

I was going to live happily, homosexually, ever after.”

“Still, you didn’t tell your parents or anyone else?” asked Jeff.

“I wasn’t stupid. It was still illegal. As long as I didn’t open my own mouth and admit it publicly, I was safe.”

“The law was changed though,” said Jeff.

“Yes, many years later, and that was when my friends and I all stood proudly. Some of us had even worked to bring it about. We were old enough that we didn’t need to yell, “We are gay,” from the rooftops, but we didn’t need to hide it any longer, either. We felt free.”

“How did you survive all those years in hiding? That must have been awful. How did you meet people?” asked Jeff.

“Aha,” said Len, “that is a different story. Oh, the parade is moving again. The lesbians must have been fixed, and I’d best be off to catch my bus back to the nursing home. Thank you, boys, for a lovely time. I really enjoyed talking with you.”

Len stepped off the float and started to walk away with a bit of a spring in his step.

“Len, can we come and visit you at the home?” asked Gary.

Len stopped and turned, “Would you like to do that? Of course you can.”

“Which home are you in?” Jeff called out.

“The TLC Home for the Gay-Aged, it’s in the phone book.”

“We’ll see you there,” said the boys, “and Len?”

“Yes, boys?”

“We understand about all that…wood,” said Jeff.

“We know what it is to depend on wood,” added Gary, as both boys hugged and laughed together, waving to Len.

Len called back to them with a twinkle in his eye, "Wood is better than gold, boys."

Gary and Jeff laughed and hugged each other, waving to Len.

Len laughed too. He watched as the boys mounted the pot of gold and resumed their dancing and waving to the people on the sidewalk. Then he sighed with a happiness as elusive as a rainbow; a happiness he had believed he would never feel again.

You can never tell where or when a rainbow will appear.

He watched the rainbow float slowly move along down the street.

Len turned and walked into the sunlight of the late afternoon. He had long since realised that parades eventually move along and pass on by.