Bye Bye, Blackbird
by Jasmine Griffin
The alarm on Peter’s phone sounded, a calming violin melody signaling that it was time to move Josiah from his prone position on the bed that they shared. If Peter left him in one spot too long he’d get bed sores and it’d be that much more painful to move him when it was time to bathe him.
Peter stood from his customary spot on the left side of the brown leather sofa they’d gotten from Ikea, and walked through their shared apartment. He passed the wide array of flora that he hated but made Josiah feel more one with nature, lilies in a vase on the kitchen island, ferns hanging from hooks coming out of the ceiling, and succulents scattered about on books shelves and counter tops.
He walked down the narrow hall, with black and white framed photos on the walls, pictures they had taken on their last vacation to Mexico. Peter made his way into the bedroom that he’d shared with Josiah for the better part of five years. The bedroom itself was fairly sparse, there was a dresser, a television mounted on the wall, the bed at the center of it all and a record player and stacked crates carrying Josiah’s record collection sitting at the far end.
They’d gotten the sheets on the bed long before Josiah had been confined to it. They were red, flannel, and ugly. They’d been gifted to Peter and Josiah as a house warming gift by Peter’s sister Sasha as a joke. Josiah had said that Peter reminded him of the Brawny paper towel man, resulting in him forever being labeled by his sister as a “gay lumberjack”. Since then she’d gifted him with a variety of flannel items, including but not limited to a thermostat, a pair of boxers and flannel printed headphones; he was still unsure where she’d managed to find those.
The nurse would be there soon and Josiah always liked to be awake and sitting up before she came. He didn’t like to seem like an invalid, even when he was. Were it not for Josiah’s wishes, he might’ve been in the hospital even now. Josiah had been adamant about remaining home. It wasn’t just because he hated the sterile cold chaos of the hospital, or hearing the cries and screams of strangers when their loved ones met their end. It was mostly because of Josiah’s mother.
Josiah’s mother, Mrs. Maybelle Annaliese Washington, who made Peter refer to her by her full name even in everyday conversation, was one of those bible thumping, big hat wearing, scripture quoting Baptist church types. They’d both known that if Josiah had gone to the hospital, his mother would’ve taken over his care. Not only would Peter lose any say, but he would also be barred from seeing his partner, no matter how ill Josiah became. So home it was.
Peter attempted to extend an olive branch of sorts and invite Mrs. Maybelle Annalise Washington over for a visit for dinner. However, Mrs. Maybelle Annalise Washington, saw Peter only as the little lost white boy that was the reason that her precious Josiah had strayed from the path. While Josiah could still be spared from the flames (Hallelujah! Amen!), Peter was a lost cause, and was bound to meet his kind when Lucifer called him home to hell.
Peter chuckled to himself as he entered the room. When his time came, and he did go to meet his maker, Satan or otherwise, his sister would likely line his coffin in flannel.
Peter noted that the Miles Davis record that he kept playing even when Josiah slept had reached his favorite song, “Bye Bye Blackbird”. Peter’s smile grew. “Get up lazy bones! Your song is on!” He rounded the bed as the words left his mouth.
There was no answer. When Peter’s eyes landed on Josiah he was laying stiffly beneath the red flannel cover, he didn’t look himself. That wasn’t saying much, however. Josiah hadn’t looked himself in months, he’d lost weight, in his body and his face, his brown eyes that were at the moment closed, had a sunken look when opened, and his skin that had once been a rich brown had taken on a grayish hue that made Peter cringe each time he saw it. Still, in Peter’s mind, Josiah was ever beautiful, even in his suffering.
Peter knelt over Josiah’s stiff form on the bed. His body looked more rigid than restful, the smile froze on Peter’s face. “I guess you’re sleeping in today. They said you’d be tired. Sleeping’s good.”
Peter placed a hand over Josiah’s and found the brown one beneath his cold. The smile stayed frozen on his face.
“Jojo you’re freezing. You should’ve told me. I would’ve turned the heat on.”
Peter rubbed Josiah’s hands with his in an effort to warm him with the friction. He rubbed and rubbed, the chill stayed. He would have to turn on the heat.
“I’ll be just a minute, Jojo. We’ll get you warm.” He leaned down to brush a kiss over Josiah’s lips. It was just a brush of skin against skin like their first, a light touch. Goosebumps rose on his arms like that first time, but unlike the first time, Josiah’s breath didn’t ghost over his skin.
Peter stood. It was no matter. Josiah was asleep. Breath came lighter in sleep. What had he been doing? Right, he had to turn the heat on.
Peter moved to leave the room when the record in the record player began to skip, playing the same notes again and again and again. It was Josiah’s favorite. It couldn’t be broken, he had to fix it.
“I can fix it. I can’t fix it. I can fix it.” He chanted. He would turn on the heat and fix the record.
Peter stayed frozen to the spot at the foot of the bed, a smile stuck on his face, and then the pounding came at the front door.
The nurse was here. He would have help. It would be fine. He would fix it.
Peter moved back down the narrow hallway, and towards the door. He moved quickly but his mind seemed to have gone blank, numb. When he answered it, it wasn’t the nurse on the other side. It was a short plump dark skin woman carrying a lasagna, Mrs. Maybelle Annaliese Washington.
“You asked me to come so I’m here. Least you could do is invite me in. Ain’t got the manners nor the morals God gave you, I see.”
The record continued to skip in the background as she kept talking. Peter stopped smiling.
Jasmine Griffin is an avid reader and emerging African American queer author. She is currently working on her MFA in Creative Writing at Wilkes University. At present, she’s also writing on her first novel, Blackbird at a Crossroads, which incorporates African mythology, African American folktales and Southern Crossroads lore. She enjoys reading paranormal, fantasy, historical and speculative fiction. Her favorite authors are Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Neil Gaiman and Ursula K. LeGuin. A Cincinnati native, she resides in Amelia, Ohio with her feline familiars Honey and Oliver.