I didn't like going down to the basement in our house in Rock Island, not by myself, especially at night. The rec room was ok -- we used to invite our friends over to play pingpong or foosball or watch tv. But off to the side there was a laundry room, and beyond an artist's studio belonging to Mr. Kint, the previous owner of the house. He was an engineer, but his hobby was painting.
No one had touched it since the day he died, except to empty the file cabinets. There was a calendar from 1966 on the wall, jarsful of pens, pencils, and paint brushes, and a slanted desk with a slide rule and a t-square. It looked like he was just upstairs getting a drink of water, and he would be back any minute. Sometimes I imagined his footsteps on the creaking wooden stairs.
I let myself into the house around 2:00 pm. It was deserted.
My first thought was that my brother Ken had come home unexpectedly and hid in the basement to scare me. I said “Ha-ha, big joke!” and walked briskly to the doorway.
Someone was sitting in the old swivel chair, bending over Mr. Kint’s desk, drawing furiously on an oversized pad of art paper. Pale light streamed through the basement window above him.
It must be Ken. He liked to draw.
"Big fan of naked men, huh? Me, too." Ken was the family member I was out to.
I saw that the hand was trembling a bit. It was very pale, sprinkled with brown spots. The fingers had long crusty nails. The hand of a monster.
Was it Mr. Kint, returning to complete the drawing he’d been working on when he died? Suddenly terrified, I screamed.
He swung around. It was Brian!
"Are you from East Moline, Dork?" he said angrily. "You almost made me ruin my drawing!"
"Well, you scared me to death! What...what are you doing here?" His hand was perfectly normal.
“Visiting Ken -- what do you think? He went out to pick up a half-gallon of ice cream. He should be back any minute.”
“I mean. . .what are you doing here in Mr. Kint's studio?"
“I have a sketch due Monday for art class, and Ken said I could work down here. The light is perfect."
"Why are the men all naked?"
He began to blush. "Oh...I was just fooling around. I'll fix it before I turn it in." He paused. "So what did you mean by 'me, too'?"
Now it was my turn to blush. Struggling for a way to change the subject, I said "Hey, I'm making roast beef for my friend Haldor at Augustana. You and Ken want to come? Bring the ice cream."
I climbed slowly back up the stairs. Now I was certain that Brian was gay.