Another installment of Franky Benítez. For a full list of chapters, click here: Table of Contents
Franky Benítez fell in love for the only time in his life on a Friday night in the South End during the first act of a local lesbian farce. The playwrights were a socialist couple from Davis Square who had staged a comedy about a five-women band in London struggling with finances, record deals, and relationships. The reviews in the Globe had called Five Punks “unique, stylish, and edgy.” Franky convinced his roommate Martin to take the T with him from Central and head into town. Martin had spent most of the day smoking pot and reading Tolstoy, but when Franky bribed him with a roast beef sandwich from Buzzy’s before the show, he finally got showered, shaved and changed into a fresh pair of clothes.
“Let’s go see some lesbian punks,” Franky said, as they left their apartment.
The ride on the Red Line was bumpy and cramped, full of Harvard, Tufts, and MIT sweatshirts, and young people who were still unsure about whether an X would be the best letter to describe their generation. Franky and Martin, two New Yorkers now living in Cambridge, always felt that when compared to the New York City subway, the T was a line of toy trains. Unlike a 4 or an A or a D rumbling though Manhattan’s underground, Boston’s Red Line was Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy. It crawled past Kendall Square, over the Salt and Pepper Bridge and into Charles Street. By then, Franky and Martin would be so impatient with the train’s pace, they would get off at Charles, grab two roast beef and Russian dressing sandwiches at Buzzy’s and walk through Beacon Hill, into the heart of the Back Bay and then finish at the South End. To the roommates, a 15-minute walk in Boston would take you across three or four neighborhoods, unlike Manhattan, where walking from 1st to 5th was an army march. Once Martin was so high during one of their walks that he told Franky that Boston was too tiny and he felt like Gulliver in Lilliput, each giant step eating up a mile of terrain.
The theatre was a black box space on the corner of Berkeley and Tremont, about three blocks from the publishing company where Franky worked. The South End was a neighborhood in transition, but it was the one place where Boston felt like Manhattan. In the early 19th century, this part of Boston didn’t even exist, as it was just tidal marsh, but as the city grew and fill was transported from the city’s outer suburbs to form the South End and eventually the Back Bay, the neighborhood became the final stop of the Boston and Providence Railroad line. All the bowfront buildings that gave the South End its charm had always reminded Franky of Manhattan’s brownstones. The South End, once a white Protestant district after the Civil War, began to attract Irish Catholic immigrants as well as blacks from nearby Roxbury, and Boston’s white middle class fled the neighborhood, adding to the city’s racist past. Soon, tenements ruled the neighborhood, a place for new arrivals to share rooms together and by the 1940s gay men began to live there. Jazz took over parts of the neighborhood in the 1950s, and Franky recalled the time Martin and he went to the original Wally’s Paradise to catch Arturo Sandoval. After the city’s jazz age, the district became poorer for the next twenty years and it was common to see empty bowfronts decaying. A few Puerto Ricans led a cultural revival at Villa Victoria in the late 1960s (Franky had always loved walking down Aguadilla Street in the winter and murals of Albizu Campos against a snowy backdrop), but it wasn’t until the early 80s when the gay community restored the South End into a neighborhood of hipness. Theater mixed with nouveau cuisine and people stayed out later into the night. This mini-Manhattan was all Boston had for Franky and Martin, and they found themselves spending more time there than in another place in Boston or Cambridge.
They sat in the back row of the black box, behind a group of elderly ladies from Newton who had read the Globe review and had ventured out into Boston for a monthly adventure. While the ladies chattered and read their programs, slowly enunciating the word “les-bi-an” to show off their new way of thinking, a group of younger and stylish men to the left of Franky were talking about a converted pub that had just started serving tapas from Barcelona. Franky made a mental note. Tapas in Boston? The city was changing. Finally.
The play began inside a cold, dreary flat in London’s West End as the punk rock lesbians were collaborating on a song inspired by their childhood love for Duran Duran. The dialogue was witty and English, and when Franky’s eyes focused on the character of Fiona, the sassy bass player from Belfast, his stomach swirled and somersaulted. Even though her wardrobe was styled after George Michael during his early Wham! years, her eyes transfixed Franky and made him ignore the other four cast members. Her eyes were green and deep, like an emerald gemstone reflecting into sunshine. Her accent was brass and northern, the wit in her speech displayed a raw energy that gave her presence. She commanded every action in the play, but made sure her fellow actors had their moments as well. And her body. Her body wasn’t thin and flat and Irish. Her body was full and Latin, with dark black hair that fell to her shoulders and framed her rosy cheeks. She was, as Franky found out later on their first date, dark Irish, having received the blood of the Spanish Armada when the English navy sank certain ships and sailors rowed their way to Ireland.
“Martin, that’s the one,” Franky whispered to his roommate.
“The one? The one what?” Martin asked. The pot had yet to leave his system completely and there were times when he would wander and his brain would shut down. This was one of those times, which were becoming more frequent. How the hell did he ever get into Harvard, Franky thought. He already knew the answer: Daddy’s Jewish money from the East Side.
“That girl right there, Fiona, she’s the one,” Franky said. “I’m in love, Martin.”
Martin smiled at his friend. “That’s cool.”
During intermission, Franky grabbed a program and read the bio of Siobhán McDonald (Fiona):
Siobhán McDonald is thrilled to be playing the role of Fiona. A native of Dublin, she moved to the Boston area with her family when she was six. She quickly shed her inherited Irish melancholy and has been performing in plays since high school. Siobhán earned her way into Emerson College, where she played the lead roles in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? and A Tribute to John Patrick Shanley. She is a recent graduate of the New Theater Conservatory, and was recently cast in the role of Chicklet in Psycho Beach Party, to be staged later in June at the Central Square Center for the Arts. She would like to thank her father and mother for supporting her dreams after all the years.
“Martin, I’ll be right back.” Franky said, as he jogged through the black box lobby and outside to Tremont Street. He searched around to see if the homeless flower peddler who was always walking around with roses in his hand was still selling flowers. Franky picked him out right in front of Hamersley’s trying to convince a middle-aged man to buy a rose for his lady. Franky ran over to the peddler, grabbed a twenty from his wallet and took the last of the roses. He returned to the black box just as the second act was beginning, short of breath but relieved that he had accomplished his mission.
“We’re waiting for her,” Franky told Martin. “You bet your ass we’re waiting for her.”
The actors came back on stage and began jamming to a Pistols-like song specifically written for the play called, “Love Can Hurt, So Give It To Me.” While the backbeat bounced off the walls of the black box, Franky Benítez began to imagine a life with Siobhán McDonald, the girl from Dublin who shed herself from her family’s Irish melancholy. Franky clutched the roses close to his heart. Love can hurt, as he already knew, but sometimes the hurt can be pure joy. And for the first time in his life, Franky Benítez felt a love that had nothing do to with his past. This time, this love was his, one he could mold and nurture. And there was no way he was going to let this love leave him. This love had nothing to do with his parents. For once, Franky would love and this would stay with him forever, faithful and true.