Intimations of mortality

Harold Brodkey on Aids
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The Independent Online
"Will you kiss me?" she said.

"Ellen, I'm filthy with Aids. I have viruses crawling in me, hideous - hideous wrigglers. I smell to high heaven. I don't want to kiss anyone..."

"I've been bathing you. You don't smell." Then she tried another line of connection between her world and mine: "Tell me you love me."

"Why? Do you think I'm dying? You think we'd better have a full farewell now?"

"No. Of course not. I just want to know. I want you to tell me."

"Because of the Aids? Because I'm so sick?" (The because being a way of hiding in spite of.)

"I just want to know."

"Of course I love you. So what? Love won't inspire the white cells." She was trying to cure me.

"Shhh, I know that," she said. I could feel her knowledge in me like a small, clear, delicate motion of the air, a response to the shame and apology in me. She moved closer. "Don't be difficult."

Ellen never teases and never persists; it's not her style. So this was strange, giddy-making. I felt pushed and prodded.

It didn't matter if she pretended I was sexy. The hollowness and grayness were embarrassingly clear. I joked about it - "I'm a dead man," I said. I spoke in very slow motion, and with what sympathy I could piece together for myself leaving without wanting to and for her being left behind: "I love you. I always loved you."

This Wild Darkness by Harold Brodkey will be published in November by Fourth Estate.