Thomas Westerfield is the author of Goes On, Without the World’s Understanding, a new short story collection published by Rattling Good Yarns Press, a small, independent gay publishing house, examines multiple facets of gay lives.
“This is my book debut at age sixty-nine,” Westerfield told Queer Forty.
Goes On, Without the World’s Understanding is bookended by the stories “Surviving” and “His Father,” the former about a male sexual abuse survivors’ therapy group and the latter following the protagonist of the first story as he spends a quiet Sunday evening with the father who abused him as a teenager.
Other stories include “Mr. Sissy in Sin City,” where a gay retired teacher finds himself at a late-night Las Vegas roulette table with a lonely, drunken college student celebrating his twenty-first birthday; “The Last Great Aria of a Magnificent Faggot,” in which a 96-year-old gay cult novelist confronts a decades-younger queer interviewer; and “Today’s Agenda,” a story of a burnt-out white professor playing dangerous academic games with his Black lesbian colleague over racial policies within their department.
”The stories explore darkness, but also offer enduring glimmers of compassion, hope and kindness. It is a unique, surprising and satisfying bundle.” — Allen Silver, author of Man of Use: A Sensitive West Texas Boy Finds Purpose and Fulfillment in Erotic Service
To celebrate the publication and to introduce his work to Queer Forty readers, Westerfield shared an excerpt from “Mr. Sissy in Sin City.”
Mr. Sissy realized he had seen the young man naked earlier that afternoon.
He had been in the hotel’s spa, a faux bathhouse modeled on those of ancient Rome, when the young man and his equally young group of male friends entered en masse, all easily naked and jostling each other, loudly invading the quiet with their talk and laughter. Too much physical beauty and over-charged erotic energy so suddenly present. Mr. Sissy’s rest and calm had been shattered.
Now the young man was sitting next to Mr. Sissy at the roulette table, perhaps a bit inebriated, reddish hair thick and tousled, grinning wickedly, yet at the same time without guile, his green eyes bright with delight.
This is truly a happy young man, Mr. Sissy thought.
And he had to laugh at the young man’s snug white t-shirt with big blue letters unapologetically stating, “BAD CHOICES MAKEGOOD STORIES.” English major, Mr. Sissy surmised, or perhaps Philosophy. Or just a drunk frat boy proud of his idiocy. That possibility chilled Mr. Sissy’s enjoyment for a moment.
The tall, thin, aging dealer with sunken dark eyes and an elongated face lined with deep creases asked the young man for his ID.
“I’m twenty-one. Today!” he exulted to the dealer. “Finally, legal,” he said to Mr. Sissy with a wink.
Mr. Sissy held his frozen half-smile of bemused indifference even as he reeled inside, flush with thrill and nervousness. Had the young man actually winked at him?
“Happy birthday,” said Mr. Sissy.
“Hey. My name is Michael,” the young man said back, extending his strong, muscled arm toward Mr. Sissy for a handshake.
“Hello,” Mr. Sissy said, trying to casually match the handshake’s strength. “I’m John.”
Since no last name had been given by Michael, Mr. Sissy felt no need to give his own—Siskiyou—much less the long family story of how he became nicknamed and forever known, even to himself, as Mr. Sissy.
Still, Mr. Sissy thought, seeing how he would react to the nickname might reveal how comfortably Mr. Sissy could relax and be himself in his presence.
“So how does it work?” asked Michael, loud and over-enthusiastic, as the dealer handed back his ID.
“You’ve never played roulette?” Mr. Sissy asked.
“Nope. Never. Nada. No way.” He laughed, amused at himself and perhaps drunker than he first appeared.
Mr. Sissy placed a ten-dollar chip on the black.
“My boys pussied out,” Michael continued, offering an answer to an unasked question. Then he looked startled, sat straight up, and searched the near-empty casino floor. He lowered his voice but kept the celebratory drunken demeanor. “It’s only three o’clock, and they couldn’t keep it up.”
Mr. Sissy registered that Michael was a “man” in legal terms only. But flashing momentarily onto the image his eyes had captured earlier that afternoon in the spa, he mused that the naked body he had observed there— pale white skin and long, naturally muscled frame, leaning back in the warm pool exposing a short and very thick uncut cock—was certainly not that of a boy.
Michael kept talking as Mr. Sissy absently slid two ten-dollar chips on the black, his previous bet having failed. “My boys are great,” he spoke fast and eagerly without taking a breath. “But we’ve been talking about Vegas forever. I’m the last of us to turn twenty-one, and tonight was supposed to be all-out epic. We were going to keep going and going and going until sunrise. The plan was to end up at the fountains…you know, the ones at the Bellagio. But they got too stupid drunk.”
He stopped, modestly belched with mustered decorum, then grinned a naive, sweet, yet still somewhat devilish grin. Mr. Sissy could not help but grin back. Michael was definitely attractive, but more importantly to Mr. Sissy, he sensed some basic good-heartedness about the boy-man—some unfettered decency within him no matter how stupid drunk, or troublemaking, he might get.
“Hey! You won!” Michael excitedly proclaimed as he saw the roulette dealer crowning two chips atop Mr. Sissy’s bet.
Mr. Sissy lifted the chips between his right thumb and forefinger, then placed them on the square marked EVEN. “You see the last ten numbers have all been odd ones,” he explained, pointing to the slim vertical board digitally listing the last ten numbers where the silver ball had dropped. “Now it’s more likely to land on an even number sooner rather than later.”
“Aaahhhhhhh,” Michael slowly exhaled as if coming to some great understanding.
“Playing the odds in a manner of speaking. It’s still a matter of luck and chance. It always is,” Mr. Sissy emphasized. He became curiously serious, wanting to ensure the young man grasped the essential point. “Always remember that whatever the game you play or how much you bet. You can play smart and strategic with a recognition of the odds. But, ultimately, it always, always, comes down to luck and chance.”
There was a pause as Michael frowned with the effort of attempted concentration. He was seriously trying to follow what Mr. Sissy was saying.
Amused and even touched, Mr. Sissy found himself unexpectedly urgent and insistent. “Never ever think for an instant that there’s a fool-proof way to beat the house.” “Gotcha!” Michael nodded intently, looking at the board with the numbers lit up, then turning his gaze to the table where the four ten-dollar chips had been laid, and finally back to Mr. Sissy. His green eyes became more vivid, startled even, as if suddenly aware that Mr. Sissy’s face had distinct features. The young man was alert and sober now. “Hey! You’re the old guy from the spa!”
“Yep, that’s me. The old guy,” Mr. Sissy acknowledged, knowing he had not suppressed his instinctive wincing at the phrase “old guy.” He hoped he recovered his good humor quick enough so that no awkwardness would linger between them. And it was disconcerting, Mr. Sissy now realized, that the young man had seen him naked earlier that afternoon.
About the Author
Thomas Westerfield is the author of the short story collection Goes On, Without the World’s Understanding, published by Rattling Good Yarns Press. At age sixty-nine, it is his first published book. “Mr. Sissy in Sin City,” from which the opening pages are excerpted, was written after a long detour into the corporate world and surviving a near-death experience. He currently resides in San Francisco writing his novella, That Goddamned Red Rose. Mr. Westerfield is also a Laughter Yoga Leader who has conducted sessions for seniors, including those living with dementia. He was recognized in 1988 as one of the “25 Unsung Heroes of the Gay Community” by The Advocate magazine. His website is thomaswesterfieldwriter.com.
Get the book here.