Three Very Sad Homos by Shastri Akella
In his author’s note, Shastri Akella writes: “Those of us who live on the fringes know that the humorous and the disturbing are linked like lovers in our rhetoric.” Upon first reading, our editors found delight in Akella’s language, the aforementioned link expressed through deft use of metaphor and juxtaposition. A lawn is given a buzz cut. Speech bubbles are blue lagoons. The wind has teeth. Here, the startling marriage of seemingly unrelated images builds a queer world where three young men grapple with a loneliness that is illustrated by form. Further readings illuminate the links shared by these three short, sharp pieces. The authorial choice to divide the three allows each piece—and each character—to exist in their own island, thus echoing the characters’ sense of loneliness and longing. Each piece shines individually; read together, they form a hopeful chorus of queer life and love. —CRAFT
My Favorite Elvis
The boy and the dog were both named Elvis. Whenever Daddy hollered “Elvis” they both came to him. Even when it was one of them he wanted: the boy for a chore, the dog for a game of Fetch. If their roles got switched, Elvis fancied, the dog would shuffle to the corner store to buy a pack of cigarettes and he would get to play Fetch with Daddy.
Six years later, when, one day, Elvis took his own sweet time responding to his name, Daddy said to him, “You keep me waiting again, I’ll put you down like Elvis.”
The house to their left was empty, its lawn untamed like the hair Daddy had in what he called his Wild Fratboy Days. From the window of his room, Elvis watched the stalks of wild rye swim in the summer breeze. He dreamed of growing tall enough to cradle their blond furry heads.
Louis Bruegger moved into that house with his family. They gave the lawn a buzz cut and ruined Elvis’s dream. So when stupid Louis came knocking, Elvis refused to play with him.
“Because his surname sounds like booger,” Elvis lied when Daddy asked why. His words made him feel wise. For a moment he felt like his future was bright.
“Tough tits, Junior,” Daddy replied. “I guess you’ll have to play with yourself like Second Daddy.”
Daddy snorted. Second Daddy smiled but pulled the face that old Ms. Jean did when she farted between the blackboard and her students and thought no one noticed.
Elvis studied kinesiology in college and only dated men who were a full head taller than him.
“Why?” one ex asked.
“Because you have to look down at me when we talk,” Elvis confidently replied.
Between one man and the next, Elvis listened to “Hound Dog” by Elvis, the Elvis that Daddy called My Favorite Elvis.
Less than Samuel
Samuel thinks of nicknames when he eats by himself.
Jack had stopped responding to Samuel’s texts after what felt like a reasonably successful Date One. As Samuel scrolls through five days’ worth of unidirectional messages, the blue lagoons of his speech bubbles not separated with the green landscape of Jack’s responses, he reaches a conclusion: they would’ve found the pleasures of the flesh and of making TikTok duets if, on that first date, he had become less than Samuel on Jack’s tongue. Sam, Sammy, Sparky.
Love is a city, and a nickname is a handy map, Samuel thinks.
It snows on April 1. The wind is full of teeth. On the streets Samuel hears an April Fools’ joke. He earned an F on his kinesiology quiz, it is six in the evening, and he has nowhere to go, so he rides the bus, looking for gloves separated from their doubles, for scarves separated from their necks. Samuel picks them up, gives them nicknames, and leaves them where he finds them.
Louis liked the name: Prospect Cemetery. As if its prescient eighteenth-century builders had known that one day college boys would come there to look for one-night boyfriends.
Louis himself found no prospects in Prospect Cemetery. He tried but they didn’t find him pretty. He sat on the branch of an apple tree and relished the collective ruckus of their pleasure. They didn’t mind; he cleaned up after they left.
One day, he lingered on the trash of the boy he loved but couldn’t have. Gus Pitman, senior, kinesiology. He wanted to pocket Pitman’s condom, he longed to eat the leftovers of the pizza that Pitman had bitten into with his perfect teeth.
Pitman actually talked to Louis one night: he zipped his trousers up, clapped Louis on the back and asked, “How’s it going?”
Louis replied that he hated winter nights.
“I guess I’ll see you around,” Pitman said as he stood there shirtless and smoothed his ginger ’stache down with his thumb.
Back in his dorm, Louis locked himself in the bathroom and cried. His tears, hot with delight, made him crave apples.
On winter nights when Prospect Cemetery was full of snow and empty of boys, Louis stayed in his bed and pictured framed photographs on his room’s bare walls. In those photos he was married and had a husky by his side. Pitman’s favorite breed.
Louis always threw the trash away: he never brought the condom home, he never ate the crust. Louis may have seemed ugly to the cemetery lover boys, but he believed in consent.
SHASTRI AKELLA’s first novel The Sea Elephants, a queer coming-of-age novel set in 1990’s India, is forthcoming from Flatiron Books (May 2023). He is a winner of the 2022 Fractured Lit fiction contest judged by Deesha Philyaw, a 2021-2022 writing fellow at the Fine Arts Works Center in Provincetown, and a 2023 writing fellow of the Oak Springs Garden Foundation. Shastri worked for a street theater troupe and Google before he earned an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he also got a PhD in Comparative Literature. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Guernica, The Masters Review, Electric Literature, Rumpus, [PANK], The Common, and World Literature Review, among other places. He is represented by Chris Clemans (Janklow & Nesbit). Find Shastri on Twitter @shastriav.
Featured image by Annie Spratt courtesy of Unsplash