“Bad for the Soul”

 

by

 

Maxine Mayer

 

12/23/99

 

 

 

I feel as though it has been snatched away from me. My time. My one chance. My only chance to be… human.

 

Snatched away from me, my dark time….

 

They came to my rescue, my friends and fellow officers of the law. Tripped over their feet to join me, just when I’d almost grasped it, grasped… meaning….

 

I had this wondrous opportunity, this chance to know, really know, what it’s like to be beaten, lost, afraid, alone, reviled. Not ridiculed, not laughed at or merely mocked. Truly reviled. To know what it’s like to lose. To have no true hope of winning. To be afraid.


Because I was afraid.

 

I was in real danger, because I was alone. I might have been killed. Easily. It is not an uncommon occurrence in this realm, among such people.

 

And for the first time, I think, since I came to Chicago, I recognized that.

 

Went into a “bad place” and saw it for what it was, didn’t protect myself carefully from what it was.

 

Went up against a “bad man” and saw him for what he was. Didn’t really expect to find the “good” inside the bad.

 

Begged him for what I needed - his remorse. Goaded him for what I also seemed to need - his fury.

 

I looked for something in Warfield. I’m still uncertain what. Not remorse. I knew better. Just for him to give in? Is that what I asked him for, that he simply give up, as so many other criminals have done before, when faced with my righteous indignation? Backed up, of course, always, by my formidable partners….

 

I pushed very hard. Pushed Warfield. Pushed Ray Kowalski. And Lieutenant Welsh. Pushed myself.

 

But I was the one who ended up with his back to the wall. Crushed by the weight of all the no’s in this little world, this part of Chicago, this sampling of mankind, this… imperfect Universe of ours.

 

No, you cannot achieve Justice.

 

No, you cannot teach by example.

 

No, you cannot save everyone.

 

No, you cannot overcome the world, all by yourself, on your own.

 

You can only die for it.

 

And then they will forget you, because you are not Christ….

 

I almost had it - despair - agony and anguish and hopelessness….

 

They took it from me, my friends, fellow officers of the law….

 

Perhaps that is the greatest darkness of all, for me. The humiliation of losing even the possibility of despair….

 

Not good enough. I am not good enough to face true darkness. Survive true darkness. I didn’t survive it - I was rescued from it by my friends, whom I love. Who forgive me for my rigidity and selfishness and arrogance and instability and heartlessness and inhumanity, forgive me for who I am, forgive me, every day of the week, with love….

 

I am not grateful.

 

I am an ingrate.

 

I do love them. Truly.

 

But I was not grateful that they bailed me out, snatched me from the jaws of death and despair, then.

 

And I am still ungrateful, now.

 

I want to be a hero, God forgive me!

 

I want to be a hero.

 

This brush with death disillusioned me. It was bad for the soul….

 

* * *

 

“You okay, Fraser?” Ray Kowalski calls, following me out of the bullpen, away from the Christmas party, down the hallway towards the outside door. Rushing to catch up with me, running after me again, as always. Almost always….

 

“I’m fine, Ray,” I tell him, lying in my teeth. I nearly cannot swallow, I am so not fine. He mustn’t know this.

 

“Ya got, ya know, plans? Fer Christmas?” he asks, catching up with me and putting a hand on my sleeve, to stop me from leaving the precinct. He is not wearing his coat.

 

“No, Ray, I don’t have plans. I don’t celebrate Christmas. However, Inspector Thatcher and Constable Turnbull and I will eat dinner together tomorrow, Christmas day, before they both fly home to Canada to be with their families.”

 

“That sucks,” Ray tells me, and I can see by the look on his face that it hurts him to know that I will be alone through the entire holiday season, straight through New Year’s Day.

 

“It’s all right. I have… plans of a sort. There are several books I wish to read. Highly recommended by reviewers whose opinions I value. And the classical radio station here always plays some of the greatest music at this time of year -“

 

“Fraser!”

 

“Yes, Ray?” I knew he would interrupt me. Books and classical music are no substitute for friends and relatives, to Ray. Not even to me. I had to try, though, to make him stop worrying about me. Futile. I should know better.

 

“If you’re not doing anything now, well, neither am I. How ‘bout we go get something to eat, rent a flick? Watch it at my place?”

 

I don’t reply. It is a tempting way to spend the evening but my heart is very heavy, my spirit is at a very low point. I will bring Ray down with me, if I spend time with him.

 

Ray sees that I am hesitating and presses his suit. “Then tomorrow we can take Dief for a run, maybe see if we can get some tickets to a - a concert or something, after Thatcher and Turnbull leave. Your kinda music, okay?”

 

His heart is in his eyes. How he loves me! It is truly a sin, to let oneself care so much for another person. Risk so much. I could never do that. Not after Victoria. Never.

 

Nevertheless, I find myself saying yes, at least to this evening’s proposed agenda. I know that Ray doesn’t want to be alone and - for reasons that I don’t want to think about or even consider - will not spend the holidays with his family. They have “made up” but still…. Something is not truly right there. I am afraid to learn just what is wrong. I do not trust my own reactions if what I think is wrong is actually the case….

 

“Thank you kindly, Ray. I am feeling a bit hungry. Perhaps - Chinese?”

 

He lights up like a Christmas tree when I agree to have supper with him.

 

Once he remarked - oh, long ago, when we first met - that I looked like something off a Christmas tree. He was right - I am merely an ornament, compared to him. Of course, that was not what he was trying to say about me at all….

 

Yet, he was right.

 

It is Ray who bears the light, the true light from within.

 

I wish he did not love me quite so much. It makes everything between us terribly difficult. It is difficult for me to maintain the kind of distance I keep from Francesca and Inspector Thatcher and Constable Turnbull and… others who love me.

 

I want their friendship. I do not want their love.

 

Very hard to maintain.

 

With Ray, it is harder.

 

We are always together. Or so it seems. Morning, noon and night. At work and at play. Through stakeouts and car chases and runs with Dief and lunches and suppers and after-a-case-is-solved sandwiches and coffee or beer and - always.

 

Wonderful that we are always together.

 

Difficult that we are always together.

 

Similar to what happened with Ray Vecchio and me….

 

But Ray Vecchio had a life. He had a real family - people who truly loved him. He had other male friends with whom he spent at least some of his spare time. He had women….

 

Ray Kowalski has nobody.

 

Wants nobody.

 

Nobody but me.

 

It is very difficult to hold Ray Kowalski at arms’ length.

 

But I try.

 

I do a great deal of sighing and smiling and clearing my throat and talking.

 

I try.

 

And I succeed.

 

Another triumph which is bad for the soul, it appears….

 

Ray selects a foreign film - Chinese, with English subtitles - at the video rental shop. “Farewell My Concubine.” This is a generous concession to me, I imagine, because his eyes are not good. But I am incorrect in that assumption.

 

“I seen it three times, Fraser - you’ll love it! Loaded with history and costumes and lotsa little details that you can memorize and remind me about, when I get ‘em wrong!”

 

“It’s not about history, Ray. ‘Farewell My Concubine’ is a love story, pure and simple.”

 

“Ya seen it?” he asks, disappointed that he hasn’t surprised me with something new.

 

“No, but I’ve read some of the reviews. It’s clearly a love story.”

 

“Well, those guys can be wrong. I say it’s about history. Not just a love story. We’ll watch it and then you can decide, okay?”

 

“Very well. I have no objection to seeing the movie. It is purported to be one of the great films of our time,” I reply, and wait while he pays for the rental.

 

Ray has decorated his apartment with some Christmas ornaments, red and gold garlands and tinsel, but he has no tree.

 

However, the living room is tidy, for a change. I wonder whether he made a date for Christmas Eve who cancelled at the last minute. Whether he is disappointed about that. I conjecture that, if he expected his date to come back here, perhaps have sex with him, it would explain the unusual attempt at cleanliness and order….

 

“Got some apple cider in the fridge, Fraser,” he tells me with a grin. “Ya like cider?”

 

“Very much. Is it homemade?”

 

“Yeah, it’s from the health food store near the precinct. They claim it’s fresh - no preservatives, no additives, the whole nine yards. So we better drink it all up before it goes bad on us. It better be sweet!”

 

“Thank you, Ray. That will be… very nice, indeed.”

 

“Well, I thought a you when I got it. I know ya don’t drink beer or wine or nothin’ and I wanted somethin’ special for the holidays.”

 

I stare at him. “You - you planned to ask me to spend Christmas Eve with you, Ray?”

 

“Yeah. Of course. What else? I know you got nobody. I got nobody. Stella’d sooner spend time with a rattlesnake than me.” He flicks his wrist. “So, yeah, I hoped we’d be doing that thing we do, tonight.”

 

“That is… very generous of you, Ray,” I tell him.

 

What he’s told me is a terrible thing. I’m almost speechless when I hear it. Feel close to tears.

 

I lick my lower lip and when my tongue touches the bruise near my mouth I am aware of how I must look. It must be painful for Ray to look at me. If he’d been beaten in such a way, I’d be insane with fury at the perpetrators. I would not rest until I’d given as good as Ray had gotten….

 

Ray, however, is not a violent man. Nearly all his anger is directed inward and his rage is simply a posture. He has a bit of anger left over for other people - criminals - sufficient to make him a determined police officer. But fury, rage - these are not part of him. Loud noise is a part of him….

 

I smile ruefully.

 

“What?”

 

“Nothing. Well. Something. I was thinking about our facades.”

 

“Our - whats?”

 

“Our masks. You wear a mask of anger and violence, while inside you are a man of peace. I wear a mask of imperturbability, while inside I am a very… angry man.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Oh, yes.”

 

“You angry at Warfield? Them goons who beat you up?” he asks as he hands me a glass of cider, puts his mug on the coffee table, and joins me on the couch.

 

“Not really, no. It was my fault.”

 

“Yours? How ya figure that?”

 

“I went where angels fear to tread. Got what I deserved. I’m no angel, Ray.”

 

“Close enough,” Ray replies with a quick grin.

 

“Don’t be foolish. You said it yourself, I’m selfish. You were right.”

 

“We’re all selfish, Fraser. Some more than others. You, least of anybody I ever met, except my mum.” He’s holding the remote control, ready to start the film, but doesn’t. “You gonna throw that crack I made about you bein’ selfish in my face every time we hassle, from now on?”

 

“No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to allude to that in a… bad way, Ray. I simply believe you hit upon a truth about me that few people realize, and I am grateful that someone - you - does know. I hope you won’t forget and be disappointed when I exhibit behavior which is selfish, in future.”

 

“Yeah,” he says dismissively, “we should all be so selfish. All be unlucky enough to have lots and lots a selfish guys like you fer friends. Which ain’t happenin’, ‘cause there ain’t no other guys like you.” He presses the remote and the trailers for future films available on video come up on screen. “Let’s watch this. I think you’re gonna love it.” He settles back into the cushions, grabbing his mug of cider on the way.

 

“I’m sure I will, Ray,” I tell him. I take a sip of the cider and carefully lean back against the cushions on my end of the couch. My back hurts. My hip hurts. My whole body aches. I do what I can to hide this from Ray, remembering how brave he was when he’d been beaten by a professional prizefighter some time ago. It wouldn’t do to give in to the pain. Wouldn’t do to be less brave than the next man, even if the next man is Ray Kowalski, who never gives in, never gives up…. Who is the bravest person I’ve ever known, even taking into account my father….

 

The film begins and not ten minutes pass before I am identifying with the younger boy, the “female” of the “duet.” Ray identifies with him, as well. He tells me he thinks the older boy, the “male,” is like me. Protective, strong, perfect, no identity problems. He tells me that he sees himself as the younger boy, the weaker one.

 

I, of course, say “ah” and “hmm” many times. I don’t tell Ray that I also identify with the younger, “female” boy/man. That I see Ray as the strong and protective older “male” boy/man.

 

I don’t tell Ray that he is wearing his heart on his sleeve. That his love for me is evident in his interpretation of the movie, as is mine for him. Which he must not know.

 

We are both teary-eyed and exhausted by the time this very long film is over.

 

But the evening is not over, not for us.

 

Ray asks me - perhaps imagining that enough time has passed for me to have forgotten what he told me earlier - “Ya think the older guy knew? I mean, really knew, how the younger one felt about him?”

 

“Yes. He knew.”

 

“So - like, why didn’t he say anything?”

 

“Are you serious, Ray?” I ask, astounded that he doesn’t understand.

 

“Yeah, I’m serious! I don’t get it. How could he go through his whole life without leveling with the younger guy? At least telling the younger guy that it’s hopeless? That he should find somebody else? Why don’t he chase the younger guy away, if he doesn’t feel the same way?”

 

“Ray, the older man is -“ I stop, I don’t even know how to begin to explain the complexities drawn in this film to Ray.

 

“The older man is? What, Frase?”

 

“The older man needs the younger one. Desperately.”

 

“And?”

 

“And… he needs him. That’s all. He needs the younger man in every conceivable way. Except -“ I cannot say it, but Ray knows, finishes my sentence.

 

“Except sexually? That it, Frase?”

 

“In the movie, yes,” I say. And flush. I can feel the heat in my face. How could I have let such phrasing slip from my mouth? I cough but do not succeed in distracting Ray from my error or his questions.

 

“Fraser?”

 

“Yes, Ray?”

 

“You feel like that older guy, in the movie?” he asks. “You identify with him?”

 

The question I’ve been dreading. I thought I’d gotten away without answering it, when Ray told me all about his identification with the younger man, and didn’t ask me who I felt more like.

 

“No, Ray, I don’t.”

 

“Ya don’t?” He is puzzled, now. I can hear it in his voice, see it on his face.

 

“I, too, identify with the younger man. Who is hopelessly in love with someone he cannot have, except as a partner and a friend.”

 

“You feel that way, too?” It seems Ray is having trouble accepting this fact.

 

“Yes, Ray. The film is designed that way,” I explain carefully, patiently. “Designed - written, directed, shot - so that every viewer identifies with the younger man -“

 

“So, like, it don’t mean nothing? I mean, that I feel that way, and you feel that way? It’s - it’s just the way the movie was made?”

 

“I believe so. For the most part, the story is told from the younger man’s point of view. Through his eyes, so to speak. We know his pain, his suffering, his heartbreak. We don’t really know what is happening in the heart and mind of the older man.”

 

“Oh, I get it. That’s why we get mad at the older guy when he makes the younger guy miserable. I see dat. That’s great. Greatness!” His eyes light up, and his face, too, and he’s happy again. And I don’t know why.

 

“You like that?” I ask.

 

“Sure! It’s like dancing, a dance routine. Figured out just so, to get you where you want to be, at the end.”

 

“That’s why you like it - to know that?” I ask again, certain that there must be more to account for the pleasure Ray evidently finds in my explanation.

 

“Okay, Fraser, you’re right. That’s not the only reason. I’m also not sorry to look at the movie that way - from a zillion miles off. It didn’t feel so good to hurt like that, for the younger guy. To think - to hurt like that. Like him.”

 

“I see.”

 

“Yeah, I’m sure you do. You always see. Everything.”

 

I look over at him, startled by the sudden sarcasm, the downward spiral of his mood, also sudden.

 

“Are you angry with me, Ray?” I ask. It is delightful to think that. That he is angry with me. I’m not sure why that’s true, but it surely is.

 

“Yeah, Fraser, I’m angry with you. You punched the stuffing out of the movie, for me. I’ll never watch it again without thinking about points of view and a director and a cameraman. You screwed with the beauty of the thing for me. Yeah. So, I’m angry with you. Don’t worry about it, I’ll get over it. I always do.”

 

“I’m sorry, Ray. Truly, I am -”

 

And again, suddenly, he turns on me. “Why’d ya do it, Frase? You knew I loved this flick. You knew what you said would spoil it for me. Why?”

 

“I - I don’t know why,” I tell him. But I do. I do.

 

“Ya sure you wanna leave it there - that you don’t know why?” Ray presses with his best detective voice. “Because you do know, Fraser. And so do I.”

 

“Ray -“

 

“Hit too close to home, huh, good buddy? Friend? Partner?”

 

“What?”

 

“You and Vecchio were real tight, right? Like the guys in the movie? You and me, we’re real tight, too. And there’s no place for it to go, is there? Not with Vecchio, not with me. This - tightness? No place to go with it. Never. Straight guys don’t go no place with it, they just punch each other on the arm and do a little boxer’s two-step and move on, right? To the next girl, and the next girl, until the ‘right’ girl comes along, just like for the older guy in the movie, and they get married and live happily ever after. Right?”

 

His belligerence is astounding and beautiful. As is his grasp of the truth. Breathtaking. I cannot breathe.

 

I stand and face him. He is still sitting on the couch, but his feet are on the floor, not on the coffee table, and he’s hunched over, ready to stand on a moment’s notice, at any least sign of a threat.

 

Like this one.

 

“I’m leaving now, Ray. Thank you kindly for the dinner. And for the movie. Dief, come.”

 

Ray is up and he’s all over me. “You are not leaving, Fraser! Come on, come on. How about it? More than partners? More than friends? Huh? Come on, Fraser, let’s do it!”

 

I step back, as far out of his space as possible. I shake my head no.

 

“Frase,” he says softly, all the anger gone from his voice. A plea. “I’m not - I’m not pushing ya just for the fun of it. I love you, ya gotta know that.”

 

“I do know that, Ray. I’m leaving now. Please forgive me. This is - this is something I cannot do. I am not angry. I promise you that. It’s simply - it’s impossible. Forgive me.”

 

I turn on my heel and without a thought for whether or not Diefenbaker is following me, grab my overcoat and my Stetson and rush out of Ray’s apartment. Down the steps and out of the building. Into the clean, cold Winter air. I take many deep breaths, bending over as if I’d run a race as I do so.

 

I cannot even feel the pain in my back or my side or the bruises on my face, now. The pain in my heart is so great, overwhelming.

 

I’ve done it! I’ve done it! Pushed him away!

 

He “made a move on me” and I pushed him away!

 

I am thrilled, exhilarated! I did it!

 

No one will ever come in again, I’d promised myself. But I wasn’t certain I could prevent it. Help myself. Keep myself closed to the importunings of such reckless, volatile, dangerous people as Victoria or Ray Vecchio or Ray Kowalski. Wasn’t certain at all.

 

But I did it! I pushed Ray Kowalski away, as I never could push Victoria away! As I was never required to push Ray Vecchio away.

 

Triumph!

 

Praise God, I am free and whole and me, again. Nobody in, nobody out. Good.

 

Love is bad for the soul.

 

Trust is bad for the soul.

 

Makes a person believe he is not alone, that he has made contact, forged a bond, a link with another person.

 

These dangerous ones - first they destroy my peace and solitude, and then they would destroy my life as I know it.

 

Once upon a time I was too weak to fight it, too na´ve to see it, too foolish to fear it, with Victoria. Ray Vecchio warned me, in his way, by treating my affair with Victoria as if it were an ordinary man and woman thing. A love story. A romance. By smiling and being happy for me. For his Benny.


His reaction reminded me of what I knew in my heart - that there was no Benny, that there was no Vicky, as Ray Vecchio probably would have called Victoria, had he met her under different circumstances.

 

There was no romance.

 

There was only desperation, driving fear, lust, love. And finally, when I was alone again, despair.

 

Nothing romantic, nothing like Ray Vecchio’s relationships with women, even the worst of them.

 

Nothing beautiful….

 

And not something to be sought after, hoped for, or repeated.

 

Something to be fought against, rebuffed, murdered, if necessary.

 

Women like Victoria, men like Ray Kowalski - their love, their overwhelming love - will destroy me. I know in my soul that I must destroy such people before they destroy me. And now I’ve accomplished that, with Ray.

 

I wasn’t sure I could, particularly after these recent set-backs. Particularly after he called me selfish, when all I was doing was being myself…. Particularly after he told me he was proud of me, when I knew he was not….

 

“Fraser?”

 

“Go away, Ray. Leave me alone. I’m all right.” I tell him this while I’m still doubled over near the curb, hands on my knees, vomiting all of my dinner onto the roadside.

 

“I can see that,” he replies sarcastically. “You need a doctor? The hospital? Food poisoning?”

 

“No -“

 

“Knew that. Okay, ya want I should drive you home? Or ya wanna come back up ta my place and rest for a while? It’s still early.”

 

“Ray, I can’t -“ I try to take a deep breath but still cannot get enough air into my lungs. I notice that I’m crying only when the tears slip into my mouth and I taste them on my tongue.

 

“Can’t what? Let me drive you home? Or come up and sleep over, where I can keep an eye on you, make sure you’re okay?”

 

I manage to stand, finally. I’m about to wipe my mouth with my hand when Ray gives me a handkerchief and I use that.

 

“Frase?”

 

I rub my hand over my forehead. Squeeze my eyes shut. The look on his face - pure concern, no anger, no resentment, no love, even. Simply concern for my well-being. It is awful to see.

 

Awful and beautiful to see.

 

I have not destroyed him, after all. Clearly, he is indestructible. Beautiful and awesome and indestructible. Incredible.

 

My relief is incredible, as well.

 

“Yes, all right. Thank you. I’ll come up for a moment. I need to use the bathroom. Wash up. I would like a drink of water.”

 

“Wow, whole sentences! Right after puking your guts up in the gutter - no pun intended! You’re the best, Fraser!” Ray teases with a grin, then picks up my Stetson and my overcoat from where I’ve dropped them - thank goodness, several feet away from the mess I’ve made. He puts his hand under my elbow and guides me back into his building. I do not need that but I don’t try to shake his hand off. It is not necessary to be rude. Cruel should be sufficient. Rude is… overkill, Ray would tell me.

 

Ray checks out my face when I come out of the bathroom. “Frannie did a good job with that ointment, Fraser,” he comments with a little bit of humor returning to his voice, which is a relief to me after those few minutes of absolute seriousness while he got my tunic off me and led me to the toilet. “There won’t be any scarring, I don’t think.”

 

“And if there is?” I ask, perversely, joining him on the couch. Can he even conceive of the plague this perfect face is to me, in my life?

 

“I’ll be the only one left who loves you, then!” he teases once more, with the grin I call his “try to top this one” look. Truly indestructible, Ray Kowalski….

 

“I fear not, Ray,” I find myself saying, only aware of what I’ve actually admitted when I notice his eyebrows go up. “Even scars will not dissuade Francesca.”

 

“Ya got me there, buddy,” he replies, laughing. “So, then, it’s Frannie, and me” - he’s counting off on his fingers - “and Thatcher, and Turnbull, and Vecchio - when he gets back - and who else?”

 

“I cannot think of anyone else, at the moment, Ray,” I say. I’m smiling, too. I can tell by the pain beneath my lip, where the bruise opened up when I washed my mouth and smeared toothpaste over my teeth and tongue with a finger.

 

Ray is slouched on the sofa again, but his feet are on the floor, this time. He’s ready for anything. He doesn’t quite trust the peace…. I do not blame him.

 

“It’s still a little early for me, but if you’re tired, Frase, you can have the bedroom - I just changed the sheets - and I can stay up a while longer, in here. I’ll sleep on the couch when I get tired.”

 

I am feeling perverse, almost vicious. Not angry - not at Ray - but too tired to fight any of the emotions that well up in me, particularly one emotion.

 

“You changed the sheets, Ray? Were you expecting someone?” I ask.

 

He grins, agrees readily. “Yeah, I had a hot date planned fer tonight. But she crapped out on me so I ended up settling for you!” He shakes his head. “You nuts, Frase? I changed the sheets. It don’t mean nothing. I took the dirty ones to the laundry and threw on some clean ones.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“Oh? Not ‘ah’ or ‘mmm’?”

 

“I’m sorry, Ray. That was uncalled for. I’m… very tired. Somehow, out of control, tonight -“

 

“Out of control?” He snorts. “I wish!”

 

“I am. I’ve said many… hurtful things to you tonight. I apologize. I hope you will forgive me.”

 

“I forgive ya, Fraser,” Ray says immediately.

 

“Well, that’s - I’m happy to hear that, Ray.”

 

“We still partners?” he asks. I have said the hurtful things but he asks.

 

“Of course,” I answer quickly. Then, “If you wish to be my partner.”

 

“I wish to be your partner,” he replies solemnly. “I wish to be your friend, too. We still friends, Fraser?”


”Yes, Ray, we’re still friends, for as long as you’ll have me.”

 

“And the other stuff, the rest of it?” His voice is low, his tone even, without a shred of hope.

 

“That is… impossible, Ray.”

 

“Because?”

 

I do not reply.

 

“Frase? Because? Because you don’t love me that way?”

 

“I - It is impossible, Ray. Please don’t ask me for that.”

 

“Because you don’t feel that way about guys? About me?” he presses.

 

“Ray -“

 

“Are you like that guy in the movie, Fraser? You want everything but the one thing?”

 

“No, I am not like him.” I cannot lie to Ray, not now.

 

“You do want everything, even the one thing?” His voice rises. He is incredulous.

 

“I won’t do this again, Ray. Never. I cannot. Please don’t ask me again. Don’t… try again. I beg of you. Please.” My passionate plea is delivered with no heat, little inflexion in my voice, and with my eyes fixed on a point far across the room, not on Ray’s face.

 

After what seems like minutes of silence I venture a glance at Ray. He is staring at me. When I turn to him he looks away, settles himself into the couch, his elbows on his knees, and stares at the floor.

 

“Ray? Are you all right?”

 

“Is that our theme song, Fraser?” he mutters. “’Are you all right?’”

 

“I simply want to know. As did you, about me, a while ago.”

 

“I’m okay. Just - I’ve known from the beginning that you had the hots for me.” He holds up one hand, the one without the bracelet, raises one finger. Doesn’t look at me. “Don’t interrupt, don’t deny. Major hots. I knew. I figured I’d take my time, not rush you. Canadian guy, maybe not too much experience with sex, with men, with anybody. Take my time. Never doubted I’d get where I was going, mind you. Just -“ he flicks his wrist, hand still up to prevent me from talking - “figured I’d let you… relax into it, ya know?” Now he glances at me, quickly. He seems to be reassured by whatever expression - or lack thereof - is on my face. He goes on. “I know you love me, Fraser. I know it. Even if you denied it, I’d know.” He pauses. “You don’t deny it. You just tell me no on the sex thing.”

 

“Ray -“

 

“So, well - it’s okay.” He puts his hand down and looks at me. “I mean, it’s okay. I’m not saying I don’t need sex, just that - that I can do without it, if I gotta. There’s always the other thing. Ya know. Masturbation. If you don’t wanna, it’s okay with me. Partners, friends. Love, the alright kind. No sex.”

 

I don’t speak. I cannot speak. I swallow, look away, look down, begin to cry. Sob. Sob like a child. Like a child who has lost his best friend.

 

“Fraser!” He scoots over on the couch and puts an arm around me and I bury my head in his chest, against his chest, and both his arms close around me, as I cry.

 

After a few minutes I manage to mutter, “Bad for the soul.”

 

“What? What’s bad for the soul?”

 

“Life,” I tell him. “It’s dreadful for the soul.”

 

“Yeah, I’m all over dat,” Ray replies, and his hand goes up and ruffles my hair. “Also, getting beat up. That’s bad for the soul.”

 

“I think it is, Ray,” I tell his shirt.

 

“Not having your friends around when you need ‘em, also lousy for the soul, huh, Fraser?”

 

I begin to cry again. “It hurt, Ray.”

 

“The beating?”

 

“No, you. You - left.”

 

“I’m sorry. My mistake. Thought I could pressure you out of it, if I left, showed ya how dumb a move I thought you were making, with Warfield. Dumb cop, me.”

 

“I never faced - faced… Chicago, alone, before,” I murmur.

 

“If I have my way, ya never will again, Benton-buddy.”

 

“I didn’t trust your judgment, yours and the Lieutenant’s. I’m sorry.”

 

“Wrong call, start to finish, yours, mine, Welsh’s - all of us.”

 

“That’s very generous of you, Ray,” I reply, looking up at him now. He wipes my cheeks with his palm, wipes away my tears. I keep talking. “I understand, now. I can’t beat the system - not alone. Together. Solidarity…. Together, maybe, we can…” I take a deep breath. “I wanted to be a hero, do what others could not - or would not - do. Risk everything. I thought I had nothing to lose….”

 

“Do you have somethin’ to lose?”

 

“My life.”

 

“Not so ready to die, now?” Ray mutters with a small smile.

 

“I don’t think I am ready to die, Ray. There’s so much -“ I trip over the words. Try again. “There’s so much - I have so much to live for.”

 

“You’re getting it, Frase. I don’t want you to die, or even get roughed up. Ya gotta think a that, a little bit, at least, when you go up against guys like Warfield.”

 

“I will think about that, Ray.”

 

“Okay, good. That’s great, greatness.” He looks around for a minute. “Where was I? Oh yeah, time for you to go to bed. No argument. Sleep it off, and if whatever they done to your back and your hip ain’t better by tomorrow, you are going to the doctor, no argument.”

 

He knows. About my back and my hip. Not just my face.

 

“I’m certain I’ll be fine in the morning. Your bed appears to be very comfortable. A good night’s sleep and I’ll be fine.”

 

“Yeah, sure, good as new,” Ray says as he helps me up and negotiates our way to his bedroom. “Ya need anything, middle of the night, you reach out, Frase.”

 

“Yes, Ray.”

 

I sink onto his bed, which is indeed comfortable, and sit for a moment, working up the energy to take off my boots and the rest of my clothes.

 

Before I know it, Ray is there, undoing the laces, pulling the boots off, pushing me down on the bed, pulling the blankets up over me. “Ya don’t need to get all undressed. Just try to sleep. If you go to the john during the night you can strip off some of the rest of this stuff.”

 

“Thank you, Ray.”

 

“Think nothing of it, Fraser.” And he does the “guy-two-step-boxer-macho” thing near the bed and smiles down at me.

 

He goes to the doorway and then turns to me again. My eyes haven’t left him yet. Won’t leave him, until he’s gone. “Merry Christmas, Fraser. Gifts in the morning. We’ll drive over and pick up yours for me from the Consulate. I got mine for you in the closet.”

 

“I do have a gift for you, Ray.”

 

“Hey, I know that! Guy makes me a present for somebody else’s birthday, you think I don’t know he made me something real special for Christmas!”

 

“I did.”

 

“Me, too, Fraser.”

 

“You made a gift for me, with your own hands?” I ask, surprised enough to lift myself up with my elbows a few inches, the better to see his face.

 

“You’ll see, in the morning.”

 

“You made me a gift with your own hands, Ray?” I repeat.

 

“What, ya think I got no talent?”

 

“I didn’t say that -“

 

“I made you something,” he replies firmly. “You better like it.”

 

“I’m sure I will.”

 

“Good. Now, sleep. We’re on for tomorrow, for a Dief run and a concert, after Thatcher and Turnbull leave, right?”

 

“Yes, Ray, if you like.”

 

“I like. Now, lights - on or off?”

 

“Off, please.”

 

“Dief - in or out?”

 

“Out, please. He’ll be happier in the living room with you. He doesn’t like to go to sleep when there’s something interesting in the offering.”

 

“Interesting? Me watching TV is interesting?”

 

“To Dief, yes.” I pause. “To me, also.”

 

“Yeah, well, don’t make me blush, here, Fraser. Good night. Sleep well. Ya can borrow my dreamcatcher, any nightmares come your way.”

 

“Thank you kindly, Ray.”

 

“You’re welcome. Very. Welcome.”

 

I feel welcome. When he turns off the light, closes the door and leaves the bedroom I don’t feel alone. It seems as if there is merely a membrane between us, separating us. A very thin membrane. It is very real but also quite fragile….

 

I pull Ray’s blankets close around me. They are very soft and warm.

 

I feel battered, inside and out. Bruised, in every conceivable way. “Batter my heart, three-personed God,” I murmur. It’s from a poem that comes to mind. Irrelevantly, I believe. I’m too tired now even to recall who wrote it.

 

I feel too good, too well. Bruised, tired, battered, yet… well. I am astonished at the feeling of well-being that pervades my spirit. I feel… lifted up.

 

Might it be, is it possible, that I have survived this dark experience and come out of it better off than before? Not a lesser man, not less of a man in any way - although a poor specimen of a hero, overtaken as I was by despair at the first taste of real pain, after a pitifully few steps on a solitary road….

 

Perhaps love is not bad for the soul.

 

Perhaps love is actually good for the soul.

 

Perhaps love is good for my soul.

 

Perhaps Ray Kowalski’s love is good for my soul….

 

I am uncertain if my love is good for him. That he wants my love is not to say that it is good for him.

 

All the dangers are vivid in my mind, still. All the dangers that ever were, are now, and might be, in the future, vivid and bright - like stars.

 

Stars. In a comfortable blue velvet night sky.

 

The dangers, vivid.

 

As I feel, to myself.

 

Vivid. In a comfortable soft-mattressed bed.


Ray’s bed.

 

Ray’s bed, I am suddenly certain, is good for the soul.

 

Ray’s bed is good for my soul….

 

I must be sure to tell him that first thing in the morning - Christmas morning - I think, right before I fall asleep.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

End “Bad for the Soul” - 1/1

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