In the time between 4th of July 1983 and New Year’s Eve 1984, there was a string of events that were not played out by actual scenes, but were decided by the players. Katherine decided to not only print one article in the Times, but to go out with a bang: she paid off some of the staff at NYT to help her publish an entire Sunday edition dedicated to educating people about the ongoing AIDS crisis. The front page headline splashed, “NYT Editor Katherine Stockton Comes Out As Lesbian”. Sinclair Everett also came out publicly, and the infamous interview with him was included in this issue. (He consequently was divorced by his wife Mary, who was awarded custody of their two young children.) There were obituaries and memorials for Simon, Leon, Trevor, Kimberly, and Abner – though oddly, Katherine never was able to find a copy of Abner’s poem that she’d promised to publish. Before Kimberly died, she headed out to San Francisco along with Eli and Dawn for a project photographing people in poverty and those who were sick and dying from AIDS. Sadly, she died before the project was finished – she got sick while on the road and passed away shortly after flying back to New York. Katherine included many of those pictures in the paper as well, along with a long memorial dedicated to her friendship with Kimberly. Included in the memorial was a picture of Katherine holding Cassandra Kimberly, Charlotte’s infant daughter, whose middle name was in honor of her late “Auntie.” Katherine was of course fired from her post at the Times, but she had been expecting it and was prepared. She freelanced a few articles for Out magazine with Nick’s help, as well for an LGBT magazine called The Advocate. When she wasn’t freelancing, she was writing grant proposals for the new Saratoga Center, and was spending most weekends on-site helping out with whatever needed doing. She had far less less money, but far more passion for her work, and she felt more alive than she had in years.
Almost everyone who is attending the party has gathered around the bonfire. The luminaries that people have created are lined up on a table near the fire, the tea light candles inside each illuminating the art on the outside. Fittingly, Steven is the first to speak. “This is for Leon, and for Simon.” He pauses. “Simon played keyboard.” I smile sadly.
One by one, each person takes their luminary, speaks a few words, and throws it into the fire. I wait until those who were closest to the deceased have gone before I make my own statement. First, I look around the circle, pausing for just a split second on each person’s face, and quote a popular song: “We are family.” Then, in a more concise echo of the words Steven had shouted earlier that night, I add, “So, fucking act like it.” I’d meant to say more, to announce my decision to print an article in the Times and my wish to do more, but my throat closes up and my breath catches. Instead, I take a deep breath, toss my luminary into the fire, and step back to let someone else speak.
NOTE: This post contains spoilers related to the Lottery of Death.
As a player, I’m not entirely sure where in the timeline the Lottery of Death happens. I think that’s probably unclear on purpose; since it’s not the way things “really” happen (well, as far as we living people know, anyway).
People are in good spirits until the bell rings, signaling that the Lottery is about to begin. The room goes silent as ominous music fills the room. I sit close to Santiago, my left arm linked through her right. Nate already has a tear sliding down his face. I smile at him, slightly bemused. “Already?”
Santiago gives me a Look. “Well, yeah. This is scary,” she says. I immediately wipe the smile off my face and nod somberly. She’s right.
One of the two Agents of Death passes out small pieces of paper to write our names on: one for the least risky behavior over the past year, up to five for very risky. Everyone must throw their name in at least once. The second Agent collects the names in a hat from which they will pull the names of the unfortunate. I am unsure whether to put my name in two times or three, but in the end decide to go with my original instinct and put in three. Death announces that they need ten names. Ten? I think, looking around. steps There were roughly forty people. That’s a lot.
Death asks Pepper to pull the names. Pepper steps out of the kitchen and comes to stand at the front of the room. He reaches into the hat and begins reading off the names, not pausing for more than a second or two between each. “Sam. Tomasz. Max.” As each name is called, that person stands up and goes to the front of the room to wait.
“Simon. Leon. Ruben. Trevor.” The room is silent save for the music and Pepper’s solemn voice.
“Joani.” Gasps all around the room, and one high-pitched voice lets out a horrified wail of, “What!?” I am slightly shaken, myself. I knew Joani. Not well, but I knew her. She was a bit of a quack, but she was kind and she had a good heart.
“Dawn.” I hear a choked sob, and look over to see Charlotte’s shoulders shaking. I am sad for her, but feel surprisingly calm: lots of people were more risky than me and my friends. I become more and more relieved as names are called and none are people I am close with.
Santiago and I look at each other in shock. I hesitate, then realize they are waiting for me. I stand up to join the crowd of names that had been pulled, my eyes wide. This isn’t real. This isn’t happening. Santiago lets out a primal scream of grief that sounds almost inhuman. I jump, and look over numbly. Her face is buried in her arms.
“Please follow us outside. The rest of you, wait here.”
I fall into line in a daze as we follow of the Agents of Death dressed in black. As we march outside single file, I am filled with regret. “I made stupid choices,” I thought. “I should not have been so careless.” One anguished thought rises above the others: “I’m not ready to die!”
They lead us outside to a field behind the cabins. “Wait here. Do not speak.” We are left with the Angel of Death. I am standing amongst nine other people, and yet I have never felt so alone in my life. Tears stream down my face. We wait for what feels like forever before we are told to advance down the field. I can hear the distant strains of the same sad music from inside wafting down the field.
I see coffins in the distance. Only five? I squint in confusion. We are stopped about ten feet from the coffins. “Those of you who see your names in the coffins, lay down in them. If you are covered with a shroud, then you have passed on. The others who see your names in a coffin have contracted the virus, but you may not know it yet. The rest of you have had a near-death experience sometime later this year, but you survive.” My stomach drops as I advance, skimming the names in search of my own.
It isn’t there.
It takes a moment for the news to sink in. I’m not dead? I back away from the coffins and see the rest of the crowd starting to approach. Santiago rushes at me and envelops me in a bear hug. “Don’t you ever scare me like that again!” I find Charlotte and Kimberly and hug them, too. I look around at the crowd, which is a mixture of people embracing and sobbing. There are two bodies still in the coffins. I don’t remember who.
The music slowly dies down, and the Angel of Death faces us solemnly. “We are gathered here today to mourn the loss of Leon.” The former disco star. I hear more gasping sobs from the people around me. The Angel of Death looks around sadly. “We are gathered here today to mourn the loss of Simon.” The rock star? He was part of Urban Renaissance.
As the opening notes of Just A Little Lovin’ trickle from the speakers, there are no words. The vastly different cliques mingle, embracing both friends and strangers, united in their grief.