Nice Men by Redfern Jon Barrett

Nice Men

Win once read about heart attacks, back in the world of laptops and wifi. Bedsheets. When they’d had the luxury of a closet and the chill comfort of a refrigerator. In this impossible world Win’d learned that sometimes heart attack sufferers shuddered with pain; sometimes fear overwhelmed. Yet others may float on a sea of elation, or else feel nothing at all.

The man on the floor is definitely feeling something.

“The ambulance is on its way.”

Has Win calmed him? By now the man barely seems to hear, his pupils glazed to the mid-distance. His skin is pallid, bare legs marbled white and blue against designer tile.

“The ambulance is on its way.”

Win’s said the same six times. They’ve counted.

Forty percent of homeless youth are queer or trans. They’ve read that somewhere too.

*

Before Win was they they’d had a home. A desk, bluetooth speakers, a mattress. Now Win has a sleeping bag; a sodden pile of corrugated cardboard, or else bare tarmac. A middle-class upbringing had told them to prepare: a market strategy for begging. Nail scissors kept them neat, their diction was crisp. None of it helped. Worst of all, Win had been nice.

They couldn’t have known that nice is a privilege, like indoor plumbing and washer-dryer combos. That nice is gifted among those with comfort. Now nice means vanished coins, stolen clothes, worse. Nice is trust, and trust is dangerous.

“The ambulance is on its way.”

The man’s breath is shallow. He’s slumped forward, like a drunk at a laundromat; a beggar outside a bank. He’s handled the heart attack with dignity, a quiet sinking to the floor, nodding along to assurances.

Win paces the man’s grand kitchen, helping themselves to crumbly cookies, a cold-brew coffee from the fridge.

*

It’s said folk hate what they don’t understand. It isn’t said they want to prod it, grab it, fuck it. Disgust and lust were never opposed; disgust and lust are lovers.

Nice men are everywhere: strolling down alleyways, stopping in cars. Nice men offer home-cooked tortellini; nice men grant soapy baths. Nice hands grope as Win eats; fingers plunge beneath the water. Nice men open their expansive homes then clamber into promised beds. It’s cheaper than a sex worker. Hate is hidden beneath soft words and outreached arms.

“The ambulance is on its way.”

Win leaves the kitchen. They pass through the hallway and pad up the stairs, passing tasteful prints. The washroom is a palace of shimmering white, where they grope at a bowl piled with bath beads. Multiple jets gush into the tub, suds soaping to a manic froth. Peeling away greasy clothes Win plunges in.

*

This one had arrived in an RV, a Jesus fish plastered across the bumper. It was a family vehicle, though the man lived alone, so he’d told Win as he drove. Win had twisted in their seat, gaping at the mobile lounge and sleek kitchenette. He’d asked Win if they believed in Christ; Win had asked what he meant by believe. The motor home had stopped, familiar suburbs surrounding the windows.

The heart attack struck almost at once: he’d walked them inside and offered a drink, when his lusty gaze froze over, palm placed to his chest as though a silent anthem played.

“The ambulance is on its way.”

But the nice man doesn’t hear. The nice man is dead.

Win’s clean now, clad in his polo shirt and chinos. They reach about his pockets, fumbling for the keys.

*

“The ambulance is on its way.”

By now it is a mantra, syllables stripped of meaning. Only the flow matters as Win races toward the state line. They twist in their seat, gaping at this new home, at the mobile lounge and sleek kitchenette; at the luxury of a closet and the chill comfort of a refrigerator.

 

Nice Men

 

Redfern Jon Barrett is a writer and activist with a Literature Ph.D. from the University of Wales. They are author to novels Forget Yourself and The Giddy Death of the Gays & The Strange Demise of Straights (finalist for New York’s Bisexual Book Awards). Their short fiction has been shortlisted for Scotland’s HISSAC prize and exhibited at the National Museum of Denmark. Redfern’s nonfiction writing has been published in Guernica, PinkNews, and Strange Horizons. They have also worked as a reader for Guernica and PEN America. Read more at redjon.com.

 

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Image (modified): Mariana Ruiz Villareal Public Domain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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