Louis had a friend who collected stamps. Years ago, I won a small pot in the Massachusetts lottery and took Louis to Europe, and in every country we visited he bought sheets of postage to mail home to his friend. In Paris, I watched him from a hotel reception desk, choosing a table at an outdoor café, raising two fingers at a waiter, sliding his friend’s stamps into an envelope and addressing the envelope in his big loopy scrawl. By the time I’d paid our bill two coffees had arrived, and when I sat down beside Louis he was humming a club tune. This was Europe to me: sunshine and all the national coffees and Louis humming as he did his mail.
Louis addressed the envelope to his friend, then he wrote postcards. He asked me to pick out a card for his mother, and even sixteen years later, I remember the Seine river scene I chose; it was the one I thought he’d have chosen himself. “Picturesque,” he remarked, then he suddenly kissed me—on that broad French street! I closed my eyes and took his hand under the table, and he sang me a love song to the tune of the French national anthem: “Je t’aime je t’aime, je t’aime, je t’ai-aime, Joe…” In those days I hadn’t yet learned to fear Louis’s mom, and I didn’t know the friends he wrote to at home. I barely knew Louis.
We’d only been seeing each other five weeks when I won my money. Nothing like that had ever happened to me, and I’d never had a steady boyfriend, either, and between Louis and the sudden wealth, I believed life had changed. Louis had a fancy dining guide, and in Europe I spent a fortune on expensive dinners, after which we checked out the clubs, most of them just like places in Boston, but exciting nonetheless for being overseas. Then we came home, and I gave Louis fifty-five thousand dollars towards a salon on Newbury Street. It was the best thing I ever did, because it made me a partner, and through all the bad years, I’ve depended on that stream of checks, each with prevala printed fancily at the top. And giving him money tied me to Louis, too. Otherwise, how long would he have lasted after I drank up his good will? But Louis was loyal. He got me in a program and tried to watch out for me, and sometimes we still had dinner, once, twice, even three times a year. He knew how I felt.
I remember saying the money wasn’t going to affect me, and perhaps it didn’t. Perhaps it simply heightened existing defects. For a while, I kept my job with City Cyclists, humping along as I always had, repairing flats and talking jargon with weekend athletes, but it was hard to convince myself that I needed to work, and even harder to resist squandering the sudden deluge. Besides the cash for the hair salon, I wrote checks to every gay charity in Boston and hired a musclebound design queen to fluff up my small apartment. I stood rounds of drinks all over town and bought Louis bouquet upon bouquet of flowers.
I’ve never been good at planning for the future. Eleven months after I won my pot, I screamed at my boss and lost the bike shop job, and the thing with Louis barely made it to two years. And sometime between those two points, the money finally ran out. As I’d told myself again and again without believing it, even $237,000 can’t last forever.
When the phone rang, I was wondering what small tidy gesture might make the place clean. I’d been struggling to stay dry, but I’d had my slips, and it was weeks since I’d closed up the fold-out couch. On the night-table, perched like a tea bag on the handle of a coffee mug, lay the wrapper from a condom I barely remembered using, and when things reach this point I start to get worried. I watched Mr. Navy jump to the ficus plant and squat, and when I hollered at him he hopped down and rubbed my leg. I’d been out walking most of the night, approaching, then avoiding the usual taverns, and I still had on yesterday’s button-down shirt and briefs.
The man on the phone said, “Mr. Meegan, Officer Lee McCabe of the Rhode Island State Police. Regarding a Louis Prevala, of Boston, Mass?”
I said, “Yes, sir.”
There’s a notion that such moments bring you to your senses, but the effect on me was to turn up the static. Louis had once called me a sports car with a headlight misaligned, and as the trooper explained the nature of his call, that crooked, unpredictable beam was hard to resist. I went to the kitchen and poked around for Excedrin, and as I knocked back the tablets I noticed my hand was shaking. I opened a Dr. Pepper and wondered if I’d fed Mr. Navy, and through it all, the cop described the collision. He said Louis’s mother had turned into the wrong lane, and I pictured East Duffield as it was when I visited: the shingled storefronts, the chunky green window boxes. How inconspicuous I’d felt there! The officer said Mrs. Prevala had not survived—but she never thought I was right for her boy. Then he said Louis . . .