Today we shine the spotlight on A. C. Burch and
The HomePort Journals
Fleeing New York City and an abusive partner, would-be writer Marc Nugent finds work at HomePort, the Provincetown mansion of Lola Staunton, a fabulously wealthy recluse. Aided by an attractive-but-unattainable artist and an all-too-available cross-dresser, Marc investigates accusations of rape and murder that have estranged Lola from a childhood friend for more than sixty years. Past and present converge when a long-lost journal reveals tales of infidelity, adultery, and passion that mirror the life Marc has recently abandoned. When his ex-lover arrives in search of revenge, Marc must confront his past, his notions of family, and his capacity for love.
Chapter 1 – Kismet
November 13th, 2008 – Provincetown
You never really know a place unless you live there. Until last night, Provincetown was a state of mind—a place that spoke to my heart. Now I’m actually here, I’m not so sure….
Setting down his pen, the young man cradles a cup of hot chocolate, then scans the near-empty café. His light blue eyes reveal exhaustion and disillusion. When the theme from Mission: Impossible shatters the midmorning stillness, he snaps shut a leather-bound journal and rejects the call.
Right on schedule. Brandon’s never up before eleven after a night of party’n play. What could he think we have to say to each other?
Offshore, a nor’easter closes in on the back beach. Ominous clouds darken the dunes of East Harbor, then the East End. Raw, heavy mist bathes trees and buildings in a prelude to the pelting rain to come. As the storm moves ashore, Long Point recedes into a murky, gray infinity.
When the phone rings a second time, the young man mutes it, eyes the screen until the name fades, then stares out at Commercial Street in search of distraction. There isn’t much to be found. Provincetown has entered its dormant phase. Worn, tawdry, and forlorn, the scene before him shows no trace of the vibrant mecca that captured his imagination just weeks before. It had been Carnival then; thousands of revelers, raucous laughter, outrageous costumes, and general goodwill had crowded Commercial Street in a euphoric celebration of summer, sun, and sex.
In the muted November light, the bleak streetscape retains few traces of those frenetic days. Cockeyed, scruffy buildings with peeling paint, faded fliers tacked to telephone poles—their events long forgotten—boarded windows with hastily scrawled thanks for “another great season,” all contribute to a petulant air, as if the town begrudged those who decamped at summer’s end.
The only person in sight, a stooped old woman with a large paper bag in each arm, shuffles along the sidewalk. She’s tiny, even elfin. Her face is furrowed; her back hunched under a thick wool coat laden with damp. When the downpour starts, she seeks refuge in the café. As she tugs the door open, a gust of wind rips it from her grasp. Before the young man can come to her aid, the bags give way. Cans, bottles, and packages roll down the steps and into the street.
When he sprints past her to save a large can of beef stew from an oncoming car, she yells into the quickening gale, her shrill voice rising high above the wind.
“Thanks, dahlin’. You’re my knight in shinin’ ahmah.”
While her knight scavenges the flooding gutter, she seats herself at his table. Her dark, penetrating eyes never leave him, watching his every move with amusement and subtle assessment. By the time he’s salvaged everything in a pile by the door, she’s ensconced like royalty, greedily downing his hot chocolate.
“Hey kid, your phone’s lightin’ up. Oops, you missed the call—some Brandon fellow. ”
Incredulous, the young man stares at her, his blond hair plastered to his head, his sopping clothes glued to his pale skin. Her eyes twinkle, and the corner of her mouth starts to curl as if she’s losing the battle to suppress a smile.
“I didn’t answer, in case he was a trick. Didn’t want him thinkin’ your grandmother was nosin’ ’round your love life.”
She chuckles lasciviously, then extends a gnarled hand.
“He’ll call back, no doubt. Dorrie Machado.”
“Marcus Nugent,” he responds, dazed by a dose of frigid rainwater, the loss of his hot chocolate, and a strong sense of déjà vu.
“Well, Marcus Nugent, thank you for savin’ those goddamn groceries. Most folks wouldn’t do such a good turn for an old lady they didn’t know from Eve. Somebody brung you up right, that’s for damn sure.”
Marc studies her wrinkled face. She’s eighty if a day, with close-cropped white hair, a little flap of skin under the chin, and leathery, wind-burned skin. There’s something mischievous in this woman’s bearing—a smug sense of knowing—as if she’s watching an opening act with full awareness of the final outcome.
“You’re new here, Marcus. I ain’t seen you ’round.”
“Just got here early this morning. Please call me Marc. I’ve never liked Marcus. It sounds too much like a character from ancient Rome.”
“If that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get. Now tell me, Marc. Are you running from somethin’, or did you come here to find love?”
“You heard me. Don’t go gettin’ all bitchy-queenie with me. I’m askin’ are you runnin’ or searchin’? There’s only two things that bring you boys to town this time of year. I know that much after more than eighty years of livin’.”
“I’m not sure that’s any of your business.”
“Ha. Ha. Ha.”
Dorrie’s brittle cackle fills the room, coaxing a grin from the man behind the counter as well as two men at an adjacent table who’ve been surreptitiously studying Marc’s physique, his sodden clothing having left little to the imagination.
“If you’re gonna live in this town, dahlin’, everybody’s gonna know your business whether you want them to or not. There are busybodies at every corner, just waitin’ to get the goods on you, and not all of them are old bags like me.”
Dorrie glares at the two interlopers to drive her point home.
“Better get used to that sorta bullshit from the get-go!”
As the two men rapidly split a newspaper between them and dive for cover behind its pages, the counterman produces a large cardboard box for the groceries. A wide, self-satisfied smile softens Dorrie’s rough-hewn features, showing decades of cigarette stain. Marc smiles back despite himself.
“You got a cah?” she asks, looking up at him with a slight tilt of her head, like an inquisitive fowl.
“A place to live?”
“Tell you what. You get me anotha one of these here,” Dorrie says, holding up his empty cup, “and a ride home, and I’ll do somethin’ ’bout that.”
His phone vibrates. Dorrie nods in satisfaction.
“Ah! Brandon! Him again. I figured as much. You’re a runnah!”
Marc shrugs, orders two hot chocolates, and throws in two pieces of chocolate cake for good measure.The rain stops as suddenly as it had begun.
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On Kindness and the “Logical” Family
by A.C. Burch
One of my favorite authors, Armistead Maupin, has often spoken of the “logical” vs. the biological family….
Recently, I read an interview with author Rick R. Reed, where he discussed “families of choice”. No matter what you call them, gay folks often seek the support and comfort of such relationships to offset a harsh or disappointing childhood.
The logical family is at the very core of The HomePort Journals, and this family of choice includes the elderly, transgendered, and others beyond the typical circle of gay friends. Through mutual respect and appreciation for their differences, they overcome the past to become a loving family.
I feel blessed to have a real-life, logical family; dear friends whom I can, and do, count on. That was not always the case: Most of my “traditional” family was (and, unfortunately, still is) ensnared in the negativity and mindlessness of religious fundamentalism. There was no room for me in their system of beliefs. My “lifestyle” was considered sinful, my love, repugnant. It should come as no surprise that I yearned for a better world where kindness was commonplace.
To a certain extent, I created that world in The HomePort Journals, knowing full well that it might be seen by some as sentimental or reflective of a much simpler time. Those who think that are most welcome to their opinion, but I have a hunch…. Most of us—if we are truly honest with ourselves—yearn for acceptance and respect for the person we truly are. I believe these desires exist in the minds of most folks, especially gay men—if only as an unrealized dream.
I suspect we adhere to society’s expectations (being hip, being “hot,” whatever they may be at the moment…) in hopes of finding meaning and validation for our existence. And, who hasn’t dreamed of a lover who just “gets it without being told?” When you assess these yearnings, aren’t we just looking for inclusion, a bit of respect, and a modicum of kindness? And, of course, love.
As with many of us, at first my characters hid their kindness behind gruffness, insecurity, and deflection. In fact, Helena Handbasket, the cross-dressing housekeeper of the HomePort Mansion, has enough wardrobe changes to make Madonna rethink her next national tour. Their reticence makes sense to me.
Kindness is all about risk—kind people are often exploited and frequently belittled. Since completing The HomePort Journals, I see that risk as the price of entry; the stepping-stone to achieving our desires, be it a best friend, an ideal lover—or a logical family.
Writing The HomePort Journals taught me how a single act of kindness can change everything. I came to value my family of friends even more and recognize the important, affirming role they play. That realization became a cornerstone of the book and my life. We are always the better for offering kindness. After all, it opens the door to love.
About the author:
A.C. Burch is a long-time Provincetown resident who spent his early summers on Cape Cod and since then, the sand has never left his shoes. His first visit to Provincetown sparked a romance with the town and forged a love of the sea that continues to this day—most summer days will find him sailing on Cape Cod Bay. A.C. trained as a classical musician, but his passion for the arts extends to photography, the art scene in Provincetown and Miami, as well as the written word. His literary icons run the gamut from Jane Austen to Agatha Christie by way of Walter Mosely and Patrick Dennis.
Promotional post. Materials provided by the author.