Fred Vogel

Posted on June 19, 2017


Pieces of Things Fall

After graduating from NYU’s School of the Arts, Seth took classes at The American Mime Theater, with the goal of becoming a professional mime, much to the chagrin of his father, Wyatt. While still on speaking terms with the public, Seth waited tables at a popular Greenwich Village bistro, while his father waited for his son to get his head screwed on straight. Seth waited the rest of his life for his father’s acceptance, but it would never come.

During the early ’90s, being a mime was quite competitive in Manhattan. There were mimes on most major street corners entertaining tourists while scaring the daylights out of little children. Besides hustling the streets for the stray dollar dropped into his beret, Seth also performed at birthday parties, grand openings, trade shows, and weddings. Although the pay was next to nothing, it was where Seth’s passion lay. He enjoyed the challenge of performing without the need to verbalize, to have his audience visualize what he was trying to communicate.

Wyatt walked out of a bar with a group of friends one afternoon and spotted Seth miming on the corner. He herded his friends to the other side of the street, hoping none of them would catch a glimpse of his face-painted son. Seth never told his father that he had seen him cross the street that day or that it had torn a tiny piece from his heart.

With the realization that he probably wouldn’t be able to make a living strictly on mime money, Seth joined Planned Friends, a burgeoning acting troupe in the Village that gave struggling performers the opportunity to hone their skills. The members would be cast as extras, or parts of the scenery, when the host came up short on real friends, filling empty chairs and dance floors at parties, weddings, and funerals. They became adept at playing a variety of roles – socialites, billionaire uncles, record company and movie executives, significant others, grieving cousins – whatever was needed.

On the first Saturday in May, Seth attended a lavish Kentucky Derby party at a SoHo loft guised as the host’s tech-genius nephew, who had just jetted in from San Francisco. It was there that he met John Albright, a handsome attorney in his early thirties. John was the son of Hugh and Marge Albright, major players in the clichéd circles of Manhattan snobbery.

“Excuse me, but I don’t believe you belong here,” John Albright said, as he walked up to Seth.

“Excuse me?” Seth asked.

“This is not where you’re supposed to be. You need to be in the other room.”

“What other room?”

“Follow me.”

Seth looked around at the party-goers: The women clad in designer spring outfits with flamboyant hats, the men in cotton suits, some garnished with suspenders and bow ties, all slurping Mint Juleps, jabbering away, ignoring the festivities from Louisville being shown on televisions throughout the large apartment. Seth shook his head in amusement, then followed John Albright into the other room.

“Here’s where you belong,” John told Seth, closing the door behind them. “You don’t want to be with those people, do you? They’re so damn…sociable.”

“But I’m supposed to be with those people. I’m the host’s nephew.”

“Interesting,” John said. “Because I’m the host’s son and I say you aren’t supposed to be with those people. Don’t worry, my father always uses outsiders to take up space. He’s a great guy but not quite as popular as he would like.”

“So, now what am I supposed to do?” Seth asked.

“You’re supposed to let me kiss you.” John said, taking Seth’s hand.

Seth had been a virgin before he met John Albright, but that was soon to change.

Seth made it a point of visiting his parents Sunday afternoons for a much appreciated home-cooked meal. Seth’s mother, Carla, like nearly all Italian mothers in New York City, knew how to bake a perfect lasagna. Seth did his best to gain favor with his father by joining him on the couch and watching whatever sporting event was on television, but usually excused himself to help his mother in the kitchen. Wyatt would sit in silent exasperation, wondering where he had gone wrong. Seth’s dinner conversation with his father went just as expected – downhill, fast.

“You still trying to be a mime?” Wyatt asked, after some chit-chat about the neighbor’s dog and the crappy weather.

“Nothing has changed since you asked me the same thing last week. And the week before.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

“Wyatt, try to be nice, would you please?” Carla said.

“My son the mime. Better yet, my son the waiter on the fast track of becoming a mime. How exciting. You make us so proud. You know, this is not what your mother and I had in mind when we put you through college.”

“I know that already. Jesus. Can’t we just have a nice meal together? Does everything always have to be centered on my lifestyle?”

“Your lifestyle?” Wyatt shot back in anger. “Don’t even get me started on your lifestyle.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Seth asked.

“You know exactly what it means. The whole world knows what it means, for Christ’s sake.”

“Wyatt, please,” Carla begged. “Leave the boy alone.”

“My friends. Their sons are men.” Wyatt said. “My son is a… a frickin’ mime.”

“I’m learning other skills. Would you like me to teach you the finer points of yo-yoing?”

“Listen, mister comedian. I expect you to pay back every penny your mother and I wasted on your education.”

“Don’t listen to your father,” Carla said. “You don’t have to pay us back anything. Have more salad. Wyatt, pass Seth the salad bowl.”

“The hell he doesn’t,” Wyatt said, ignoring the salad bowl request.

“You don’t understand me at all,” Seth said.

“I understand you perfectly. I just don’t like it,” Wyatt said.

“Sorry to disappoint,” Seth said, getting up from the table, grabbing his sweater from the couch, and pushing open the screen door, mumbling “asshole” under his breath as he left.

“What did he say?” Wyatt asked. “What did he say?!”

“He said he’d call as soon as he gets home,” Carla assured.

“What’s the matter with that kid, anyway? He’s becoming crazier by the day.”

Seth found himself spending most of his free time with John Sinclair, dining at the city’s hippest restaurants, going to museums, having tons of sex. Unlike his father, John’s parents were supportive of their son and would have them over for cocktails and conversation on a regular basis. The two young men would also get away to the Sinclair’s beachfront home on Sylvan Lake to enjoy a weekend of trout fishing and skinny dipping whenever possible. The home’s wall of glass afforded a spectacular view of the lake, where the two would cuddle on the oversized chaise lounge sofa after an afternoon round of love making. Seth was amazed at John’s fishing and boating skills, as well as his expertise in birding, botany, and ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­dendrology. He could name every bird, plant, and tree in the area, with no hesitation. Seth felt quite inferior that his main skill was his ability to appear trapped inside an invisible cube. Self-doubt caused Seth to wonder what John Sinclair even saw in him.

A trio of Planned Friends, including Seth, were sent to a gallery opening for an up and coming Italian artist to play prospective buyers. The three made their way around the large space, oohing and aahing, surmising what must have been in the artist’s head as she was creating each piece. The young artist eyed Seth in a flirtatious way that stunned him. He had never thought of himself as a lady’s man, let alone an Italian lady’s man. Maybe some of his mother’s genes were showing, he joked to himself. He turned away from the lovely artist to glance at his reflection in the gallery’s lit window, looking for any unusual movements that may be occurring inside his corduroys. And at that moment, Seth’s walls came crumbling down.

John Sinclair, strolling arm in arm with another man, passed by the gallery, oblivious to the misting rain, as well as to Seth’s presence, the two separated by a pane of glass.

The following morning, Seth drove out to the lake house, where John’s Jaguar was in the driveway. He rang the doorbell. No answer. He rang again. And again, adding violent fist bangs on the thick maple door. The front porch light flicked on and a visibly exhausted John Sinclair opened the door.

“Seth, what the hell?”

“You tell me, John. What the hell?”

“What are you doing here?”

“I was in the Village last night. I saw you, John.”

“You saw me what?”

“You walked right past me.”

“You’re not making any sense.”

“John, please don’t lie to me.”

Taking in a deep breath of the brisk morning air before exhaling, John looked into Seth’s eyes.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say. Things happen. This happened. I’m sorry. Can we talk about it later? I really need to get some sleep.”

“Is he here with you?”

“Please go home, Seth. I’ll call you this afternoon.”

John closed the door and the porch light went dark, leaving Seth numb. He got into his car and sat for what seemed a lifetime. He got back out and walked over to the wooden fence that bordered the front of the property. He climbed over and continued down to the lake. He looked up at John’s bedroom window but no lights were on.

Seth undressed and waded into the frigid waters until his toes could no longer feel its silty bottom. He swam for as long as he could before his strength gave out. Looking up at the low, graying sky, he saw the silhouettes of birds circling overhead and knew that if he were there with him, John Sinclair would be able to identify each species. Without a spoken word, the mime let go of his life and sank to the bottom of the lake like a cast iron heart.


Fred Vogel‘s words have seen the light of day in Literally Stories, Crack the Spine, Flash Fiction Magazine, Literary Orphans and elsewhere. He resides in Oregon.

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