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Friday, 19 June 2015

Unison by Vivien Dean

Freddie Valek is a dreamer. He dreams about the fantastic as a means to escape, about finding the perfect man, about anything his imagination can conjure. When he falls asleep after work one day and finds himself in pre-Civil War Louisiana, he can’t say that he’s surprised. The only part of the dream that shocks him is that it’s taken him ten years to have a dream about the history of his most prized possession—a water-logged portrait of a man named Ezekiel.

All he knows about Ezekiel is what the woman who gave it to him said. That Ezekiel was the son of a plantation owner and a slave. That nobody ever found out what happened to him. Freddie’s dream thrusts him into the parents’ lives and their demands that he’s been brought to them to find their runaway son, a mission he is more than happy to accept.

But the closer Freddie gets to finding Ezekiel, the more he’s convinced that none of this is actually a dream...

Genres: Gay/Contemporary/Time Travel/Interracial
Heat Level: 2
Length: Novella (20k words) 

Read a short excerpt...

...When he’d graduated from high school in 2005, he’d expected to do what most of his classmates did—find work somewhere local, live with his parents until he could afford his own apartment, then take it from there. The fact that he was gay and nobody knew it was a wrench in the works, sure, but times were changing. Ellen was out. People loved her. Nobody he knew watched Will & Grace, but it was still a popular show. People somewhere watched it. By the time he found somebody to love, he figured even his small Kentucky hometown wouldn’t care that it was a guy and not a girl.

Then Hurricane Katrina hit. He watched in horror as all those people down in New Orleans lost their whole lives. When his church organized a relief group to go down and help muck out their homes and start rebuilding, Freddie was the first to sign up. He stayed long after they went back home, switching his efforts to the Red Cross and any other charity that would have him. At his size, with his youth, he was a valuable commodity. He worked tirelessly, without complaint. He might not have grown up with much, but he had a roof over his head and never went hungry. It about broke his heart seeing all these good people who hadn’t done a damn thing wrong and had still suffered so much.

One of the people he helped was an older woman named Miriam Mattingly. Her house had been left standing, but everything inside had been ruined. He worked alongside Miriam and her three grandsons to clean it out, sleeping in a tent in the blocked-off street, eating with the rest of the neighborhood when everyone would take a break from the work. At Miriam’s request, the last room they tackled was a tiny space upstairs that she called her thinking space. Not everything there was entirely destroyed. Birth certificates and family portraits still graced the walls, water-damaged and swollen, rippled in time forever.

One arrested him. The first time he walked into the room, Freddie stared at it for a solid ten minutes. He never even heard Miriam come in behind him.

“Handsome, isn’t he?” she said softly.

Freddie nodded. “Is that a real person?”

“He was as real as you or me. He was the illegitimate son of my grandfather, six or seven greats ago. My grandfather never officially acknowledged him, but he had that portrait commissioned anyway. How he explained dressing up a slave so fancy, I’ll never know since white plantation owners didn’t do that in the 1830s, but there it is.”

Indeed. The young man in the picture wore a stiff suit and gazed away from the artist with a dreamy half-smile Freddie more than identified with. Though he was obviously African-American, his skin and eyes were lighter, testament to his white paternity. Sharp cheekbones sliced across his face, drawing focus to his over-full, solemn mouth. The hurricane had ruined the lower half of the framed painting, but it made Miriam’s ancestor more real to him rather than a figment of some artist’s imagination. It was like he was fighting against utter destruction, rising proud above the distorted images.

Freddie stole glances at it all day. When it was time to go, Miriam took it off the wall and held it out to him.

“Take it.”

He balked. “I can’t. He’s part of your family.”

“You think those boys out there give two hoots about someone who lived almost two hundred years before they were even born? They see all this as a sign Granny should’ve moved on ages ago.”

“But you must still want it. He’s still important to you.”

Her weathered face softened. “He’s a legacy I don’t need anymore. My grandfather might not’ve recognized Ezekiel as his son, but he held onto that painting for a reason. I used to think it was to teach future generations to learn from his mistakes, but maybe not. Maybe he did it so Ezekiel could have a life beyond the little one he had.” She smiled at him, soft and knowing. “Maybe Ezekiel can show you what kind of life you can have beyond the one you’ve got waiting for you back home, too.”

Though he’d only talked about Kentucky in vague terms, instead regaling Miriam with dramatizations of his favorite daydreams, Freddie got the feeling she saw through it all. His fingers shook when he took the painting from her. “Whatever happened to Ezekiel?”

“Nobody knows. So give him a happy ending with one of your stories, you hear me?...”

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