“The Grove of Mohini”
**Winner of the 2019 Saints+Sinners Fiction Contest**
At a housewarming party for a wealthy man, two queer men from different generations meet.
Leo finds himself single in his 50s and unsuccessful in his career ambitions. In their youth, he and the host were part of a group of eighteen gay friends, all but three of whom died of AIDS.
Siddhartha is 20, still trying to figure out the nature of his sexuality and gender identity. On a whim, he has taken a job as one of the costumed “forest nymphs,” hired as eye candy for the A-gay guests.
As Leo and Sid trample through the dark woods, real and metaphorical, they find they have things to learn from each other.
“The Grove of Mohini” can be found in the collection, Saints+Sinners: New Fiction from the Festival, 2019, ed. Paul Willis and Amie Evans. Paperback and ebook can be purchased from Bold Strokes Books.
“Good evening, Leo the Lion,” Gavin said, planting a demure kiss on Leo’s cheek. “Leave it to you to be early.”
“It’s almost nine o’clock, Gavin. You called the party for 7:00.”
“Oh, please! Only my parents came that early. They’re already in the kitchen with a bottle of sherry and two glasses, playing cribbage. Anyone who’s anyone won’t arrive until 10:30.” He leaned one hand on the marble newel post and raised the other in the air, indicating…everything. “Do you love it?”
“I want to run screaming,” Leo answered, sipping the champagne which he knew damn well was a hundred times the price of his usual New Year’s purchase. “Soon you’ll be alone in the middle of the night, wandering room to room like the ghost of Ian Curtis.”
“No dear, unlike you, I know how to enjoy life. I shall fill every room with cut flowers and uncut boys. You know, jealousy brings out the colour in your cheeks.”
Leo couldn’t help smiling. The rhythms of their conversation, 35 years in the making, were as comforting as they were taxing.
“Fuck you, dear,” he said. “I suppose a tour is unavoidable?”
As Sid entered the cavernous, half-empty garage behind the twinks, an earlier group of guys was being ushered deeper in the house. How many hot young men had this Arthur recruited? Sid was last in line as they signed in one by one with an older, severely thin man in leather jacket and pants.
“Which one are you?” The man showed him a list with their profile handles down one side. Hung+Yung, JustDave, YasKween…
“I’m NewInTown99. That’s me here.”
Sid froze. “Oh, you need that?”
“Liability. Otherwise we can’t pay you.” When Sid didn’t respond, the man narrowed his eyes and drawled, “Don’t worry; I won’t let your mother near this list.”
“It’s Siddharth Sadangi.” He spelled it. They filled in the rest of the blanks and Sid signed the form. Still bent over the table, he looked up at the man and whispered, “I don’t think I should be here.”
The leather man raised one grey eyebrow. “No?”
“The other guys…They’re all really beautiful. They know how to dress and… and be properly gay. I’m…”
“New in town, I get it,” he responded with a smile like a lemon twist. “You need to relax, kid.” He took Sid’s hand and slipped something into it. He pointed over his shoulder. “Through that door to costume and make-up. You’ll be paid on the way out if you fulfill all your duties and don’t piss on Mr. Keenlyside’s azaleas.”
Sid peeked discreetly at the jolly, red gummy bear the man in leather had slipped him. He brought the candy to his nose and smelled the sweetness of artificial strawberry and the thick pong of weed. Before he could tell himself it was a bad idea, he popped the whole bear in his mouth and downed it after only a few chews.