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October 24, 2023 Fiction


Bud Jennings

Etymologies photo

Breathing the dusty bloom in the town library’s darkened stacks (his Saturday afternoon hiding place), hunched over an art book wider than his shoulders, thumbing past thick pages—of the pasty corseted coquettes peeking over fans, the overgrown landscapes, the girl drowned in the stream banked with flowers—the boy was on the lookout for one of those statues of a sinewy, alabaster athlete or an oil portrait of a handsome man, anything beautiful beneath a glossy plane his fingers could slide across and imagine. Suddenly the clickety-clack of the librarian’s heels on the floor’s planks cut short his forage, made him quickly stash away Masterpieces of the Western World and then pull from the shelf below an unabridged dictionary. With a languid expression, he flipped open and stared at one page, resting his elbow on the other—a posed ruse to throw off anyone’s suspicion. Under a contrived knit brow, his eyes aimlessly drifted among a thicket of words, until they happened to stop on depling, noun, German to Middle English, a child born to older parents, and thus he found a new label for himself, more succinct than his mother’s change-of-life baby and less piercing than faggot, which Joey Novakis and his friends would blurt as they passed him in the school hallways.

And eons after—when he is a man living a Faustian dream and his hands have known what it is to touch warm shoulders; when his fingers have traced a man’s jawline and his desires are no longer sequestered in musty tomes—he is sitting in a coffee shop and reads a newspaper article about the new research proving the positive correlation between a mother’s advanced age and male homosexuality. He smiles at the memory of particles of library dust—the old and secret witnesses to his desperate longing—as he sees the consummating reverse mitosis, the fusing of depling and faggot on the same page.