Summer of 75
by Donal Hayes
Cathal O’Flynn took a clean white shirt and a pressed pair of black trousers and put them on the bed. All his clothes were either black or white but these definitely looked most normal. The shirt had been bought in the U.S.A so it didn't look as peculiar as some of his clothes. His black rimmed glasses still looked very foreign and his wiry hair was completely out of place but there was little he could do with that.
The greater Dade County had a population of just over 3 million souls and less than a million spoke English. Most of the radio stations broadcast in Spanish and any news from Washington was far less important than news from Caracas, Bogota or Havana. Especially Havana.
Downstairs, Rosita was listening to Las Zafiros and preparing dinner for Cathal and his senior, Fr. Hernandez. It was Tuesday it was pork with black beans. It had taken Cathal quite a while to adjust to the new diet. It was all chicken and pork with croquettes, rice and beans. On Friday, of course, they had fish. Rosita made the same joke every Friday as she scraped off overcooked fish from the pan.
“Today we swim Father, but on Sunday we shall fly.”
Cathal would smile and do his best with the bony offering.
Dinner was normally a fraught affair. Cathal had spent his whole life feeling awkward, long silences were second nature to him. Fr. Hernandez, on the other hand, abhorred silence and would always talk to fill the gap.
“So, Fr. O’Flynn, what have you planned for your night off?”
“Cinema, maybe. Maybe go for a walk.”
“You should go down the park, play dominos with the men there. Get to know them. More important, let them get to know you.”
“Or there is a Bridge class starting in St. Michaels, some Russian guy. You should go, you would be good at Bridge.”
Cathal didn’t look up, his eyes low searching hard to find a piece of pork without too much fat.
Cathal left the house as quickly as he could and headed down Calle Ocho toward Coral Gables. The sun was starting to set and the city was soaked in a warm pink glow. Even in the middle of the city there were palm trees that were dancing softly now like windmills in the easy breeze. This section of the city was mostly Art Deco designs and the pastel blues and yellows softened in the evening light making it look like a cartoon village made entirely from candy.
The only person Cathal missed from home was his mother and he would write to her every Sunday to try to explain this new world he was living in. Mostly, his pen failed him. He couldn’t explain the constant music, the smell of garlic and barbequed fish and coffee, the intense heat, how hard it was to breathe, even at night. It was difficult to describe how so many people could live so close together, that you were never, ever alone. And yet, at times like this he felt most alone, tears often coming as he would see his mother making bread at the table and think he would never be that close to her again.
Five years earlier, when Cathal was being ordained, he took three vows, one of poverty, one of obedience and one of chastity. The three vows were manmade but the commitment was to live a simple, pure life dedicated to doing good things. The eldest child to a widowed mother in Cork in the 1950s, Cathal felt poverty, obedience and chastity would come naturally to him. And he was right, poverty and obedience were easy in the Church and he knew for sure that he would never have sex with a woman.
Cathal sat alone on the bus, his shirt sticking to the faux leather of the seat, his mouth as dry as peanuts. He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and discretely read the address, although he had read it so many times he could recite it. “The Cactus Lounge, 2041 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami”. The magazine that Cathal had found in the University claimed that there were 23 homosexual bars in Miami, 13 in the city and 10 out on the beach. Most of the city bars were to be found in the ‘Powder Puff Patch’ but that was too close to his parish so Cathal had selected the Cactus Lounge.
Cathal had his ear pressed against the window and he could hear himself breathing faster and he had to remind himself that he had done nothing wrong, yet. Probably wouldn’t. Certainly, not tonight. Tonight, was only to reconnoitre. His left leg was jigging on the ball of his foot and he noticed his palms pressed together in an ironic position of prayer.
He looked around the bus and imagined all the other passengers naked. Men and women, young and old, but mostly the men and mostly young. He found himself staring at a guy across the aisle, he had been wearing denim jeans and a denim jacket with a tight white t shirt, now he was naked with a couple of books on his crotch. He had a smooth tanned body with two black nipples and a sparkling silver crucifix over his heart, he had a surf white smile and really kind eyes. He reached out a gentle had “My name is James, Come, Follow me.”
The big red and silver bus whooshed to the kerb and Cathal shook his head back to reality and clambered back out into the tar sticky heat. He was still a couple of blocks before the Cactus Lounge but he was preparing his alibi already. How was he to know it was a homosexual bar? Anyone could make that mistake.
The bar was cool and dark but it was too still early, except for a few older customers, so Cathal found a seat at the bar as far from anyone else as he could. In his mind Cathal made two lists. The first list was the reasons why he shouldn’t be here, top of which was a picture of his mother, then God, then all his classmates laughing at him, then Police arresting him, then his Bishop praying for him, but overall just deep, deep shame. The second list had only one thing on it – the answer to a question he was asking himself since he was about six. Well, he thought, as he tore up list number one, he was about to find out.
Once he had decided to do it, he had to decide what ‘it’ was. He had heard there was a code where guys wore different coloured handkerchiefs in their back pockets to show their preferences but he didn’t even know his own preference, let alone what colour it was.
“Hey, my name is Simon. You’re new here.” One of the older guys from down the bar.
“Hi, I was walking past and I was really hot and I needed a drink and. . .” Cathal blurted out.
“Hey, hey, relax tiger, that’s ok. Your first time in a bar like this?”
“I didn’t know, I just came in, it was a mistake.”
“All our first times are mistakes honey. You’ll be okay. Where is that cute accent from?”
“I’m Irish, my name is Cathal.”
“Do not fear, Cathal, I am here to help.”
“So, Cathal . . . do you prefer to fuck or be fucked?”
Even with Cathal’s close relationship with ‘awkward’ this was too much.
“Excuse me, I need the bathroom,” Cathal said, leaving.
In the bathroom, he tried to control his panic and he stumbled into a toilet cubicle and locked it behind him.
As he tried to focus his mind on how to get out he noticed a small screen at waist level slid across revealing a saucer sized hole. A hairy dark index finger came through beckoning him and then replaced by a bearded open mouth making sucking sounds like he was tasting wine.
Cathal didn’t stop to say goodbye.
All the following week Cathal felt like he had escaped from jail. He gave thanks to God for teaching him a lesson and the next Tuesday Cathal went to the movies. Jaws was playing and the mania that was sweeping the nation was no different here in Miami. Cathal loved it, the hidden monster from the deep that Brody had to face, the community in denial, the misfits, Quint and Hooper, secure in their individuality, the bravery of dealing with your worst fears. It was nothing short of biblical.
Walking home, Cathal realised that with a small diversion he could easily walk past a number of ‘men only’ bars. Since his terrifying introduction to the Cactus Lounge he had read more about the different bars. They all catered for different sub-groups. The Cactus, he learned, catered for the chicken hawks and drag queens. The Blue Oyster took care of the bears, the cubs and the otters, The Crossed Swords catered to the chubs and their followers and Bottoms Up gave the twinks their home.
Buoyed with the bravery of Chief Brody, Cathal strode into the Bottoms Up like any movie outsider saying to hell with the consequences. A man’s gotta’ do what a man’s gotta’ do.
Bottoms Up was smaller and busier than the Cactus the previous week. The walls were covered with pictures of Greek gods, the Rocky Horror Picture Show and Michelangelo’s David. There was a small dance floor with funky music blaring and a disco ball throwing diamonds of coloured light around the room.
The customers were mainly under 25, mainly Latin and mainly smoking. Youth and beauty hung on their cotton shirts like fresh aftershave, their movements emotional and dramatic like dancers. Cathal was entranced, he had never felt more out of place and yet so much at home. He was sitting between two groups of young guys and both chatted to him as if he had always been there, asking his opinion on music or movies and getting much different answers than they were used to. He became the funny, entertaining, academic type that relieved the boredom of stereotype. He was attractive exactly because he provided a break from the tedium of common beauty.
Cathal was about to leave when one of the guys put his hand on his arm. . .
“Hey, why are you going so early? Stay and buy me a beer.”
“Maybe another time. I really need to go.”
“My name is Santiago,” the young man offered his hand.
“ . . . Cathal.” The shaking of hands lasted too long and was too much like holding hands.
“Can I walk with you. . . Cathal?”
“I don’t think that is a very good idea.”
“Well, can I see you again then?”
“Eh, maybe, no, I don’t think so. Maybe.”
“That’s a yes then.” Santiago flashed the whitest of smiles.
“I might be here next week.”
The following Saturday afternoon Cathal was visiting the neighbouring church of St. Rose of Lima, helping in a soup kitchen, when he saw that confession was being heard. Cathal’s normal confessor was his spiritual guide, Fr. Doyle, from the diocese, but Cathal had not spoken to him about his sexuality. This seemed like a good chance to share his load.
Inside, in the cool dark confessional, Cathal dropped to his knees and waited for the window to slide across. He tried to get the toilets of the Cactus Lounge out of his mind. It was clear to Cathal that he was close to committing a mortal sin. Was kissing another man a sin? Was touching another man a mortal sin? Was it enough to end his relationship with God? This was the academic side of Cathal’s brain, rationalising his crime, discussing the theory of his actions. A small suppressed corner of Cathal’s brain knew that the real question was how much of a sin it was to want to fuck the ass off a young Latin guy. The screen slid across.
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned, it is one week since my last confession.”
“Go ahead my son.”
“Since then I have been disobedient, I have treated my brothers with disrespect. I have. . .” Cathal paused.
“It’s okay, go ahead.”
“I have had impure thoughts Father. About another man Father.”
“Have you acted upon them my son?”
“No Father, but the temptation is great.”
“Be careful my son. Do not confuse sexual temptation with love. Love is the reason we are all here, sex can distract from that.”
“But if I fall, Father, is it a mortal sin?”
“I don’t think you can sin out of love my son. Let us pray O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you. . .”
The following Tuesday, Cathal had sex for the first time. He met with Santiago in the Bottoms Up and both knew immediately what they wanted to do.
“Do you have somewhere we can go?” Cathal said hoarsely.
“Yes.” Santiago’s older brother worked in a local hotel and had a key to staff quarters.
Cathal walked behind Santiago but he felt everyone knew what they were doing. His heart has beating so loud he thought people were looking at him.
The sex was much simpler than he had expected. He thought there would be rules as to who did what and when, but there wasn’t. It all just evolved. Santiago was very relaxed and, while clearly it wasn’t his first time, his goal seemed to be to make Cathal happy. And he was.
That summer of 1975 was a summer of sex for Fr. Cathal O’Flynn. Santiago was a good teacher and a good learner. He was happy to make Cathal happy and asked for very little. Cathal knew he was dirt poor and when he could he would give him some money for his family. In equal measures Cathal was delighted and terrified to be falling in love for the first time.
Late in the summer Cathal celebrated a funeral mass for an elderly parishioner. Ernesto Bautista had left Havana to fight for the US in the Second World War and had never returned to Cuba. He started a small bakery in Miami called Daily Bread and, when he died, employed twenty-five people and had five vans delivering bread and pastry all over Miami.
His brother gave Cathal an envelope for the mass that contained a $100 bill. It was the first time that Cathal had seen a note of such value.
That night Cathal met with Santiago. He only had an hour but he always felt good after meeting him. The Church told him to hold his breath and Santiago allowed him to exhale. Santiago was low tonight and it saddened Cathal. His father had left again, his brother had gotten his girlfriend pregnant and his mother was trying to raise the other six children with no money. On an impulse Cathal passed him the envelope with the $100 bill.
“Don’t open it now – just give it to your mother.”
“I can’t, this is your money.”
“I got it today for the poor – I can think of no better cause.”
“Thank you,” Santiago whispered, his beautiful brown eyes threatened tears. “Thank you.”
The following Monday was the first of September and Cathal sat at dinner listening to Fr. Hernandez chattering on. He hadn’t heard the doorbell when Rosita came in with two tall priests and was uncharacteristically nervous.
“Father O’Flynn, this is Monsignor Scully and Father Belmonte from the Bishop’s palace.”
Scully removed his hat but not his black gabardine, turned and stared at Fr. Hernandez. “Would you mind leaving us, Father.”
Cathal knew straight away he was in trouble. This was not a chat about his future. This was very serious.
“Father O’Flynn,” Scully said. “Listen to me. Please do not speak.”
“We have some information that we have been investigating.”
“Look, if this is about. . .”
“I said be quiet, you have no idea how serious this is. You have two options and you will have about thirty seconds to make up your mind. We have evidence that you have been having a relationship with a boy of the parish. He is only fourteen years old, so you haven’t been having a relationship, you have been raping him. And you have been paying him for sex, stealing money given to the church and giving it to your little boy whore.”
“Oh God, it’s not like that at all, he’s older. . .” Cathal found tears coming and his head spinning.
“It’s precisely like that. You are a disgrace to your family, a disgrace to your parish and a disgrace to your church.”
“Really, I can explain everything.” Cathal had his head in his hands, his whole world falling apart.
“I don’t want to hear it. Now, Bishop Garcia is a generous man. If it was me I would be coming in here with the police. The Bishop wants to give you one more chance. But it means leaving here now. This minute. Fill a bag for overnight and we will send back for the rest of your stuff.”
“But, I can’t leave. I have my work, I have. . .”
“You will not see this place again. You will be sent for a few months on retreat to pray for your illness and when you are in control again you will be sent to a new parish far away.”
“I’m not going. You can’t make me go.”
“This is going to be quick – I would be very happy to go to the cops right now, very happy. You will be sent to jail, you will be thrown out of the church, your family will be shamed and your little boyfriend will be marked for ever more as a priest’s whore. Or you can be smart and go get your stuff.”
“I will wait in the car for exactly two minutes.”