Jim Knable’s Sons of Dionysus, a lusty novel of myth, mirth, and music.
Arthur is a member of a group of debauched singers. They meet every Wednesday night at an old town bar called The Owl. They sit around a round table, dark knights of lechery. They call themselves the Sons of Dionysus. They sing songs about murder and lust, and they also sing spirituals. I have gone with Arthur to the Wednesday night gathering. I can’t sit at the table with them, but I sit with some other guests behind them on wooden chairs. They all raise their clay cups and drink and sing and sing and drink, like the dwarves in The Hobbit, like the angels who fell with Satan in Paradise Lost. They have a reputation on campus for being disgusting and despicable, but they’re very loveable guys.
This is our Freshman year. Arthur joined the group, though he said he was not a joiner of groups. That’s a big thing here, groups. Most of them are more refined than the SODs. Some of them drink and play checkers or chess. Some of them have tea and talk about Shakespeare. Some are all women, some are all men, some are men and women together. A couple others do some singing, but stick to drinking water when they’re singing, then switch to beer when they’re done. The SODs like to mix the beer and singing. I drank with them. I didn’t sing with them. I wasn’t one of them. They frightened me a little, but I felt myself drawn to them. I wanted to be with them. They seemed to accept me for who I was, which was unusual for me, being accepted by a whole group of people. It all started with Arthur accepting me, having no real choice because we were assigned to be roommates, but accepting me nonetheless.
Our first day together, when we first met he said: Jeremy, I don’t care who you are or what you did before this. I used to be different and maybe you did, too, but now we’re both starting fresh and we can be anything. So let’s make a pact to just roll with it and be ourselves with each other.
I was really impressed and moved by that. We went out that night and walked around the campus, getting the lay of the land and stopping by parties. I’d been abandoned by new friends before, old friends, too. But Arthur didn’t abandon me that night, we stuck together.
He was from an upper middle class family who lived close enough to visit him on weekends, though they didn’t. His father was a lawyer and his mother some kind of decorator. He went to a private boarding school and seemed to be experienced in most things far beyond me and most of my friends from growing up.
I grew up moderately poor, went to public schools, but always got into the gifted and talented programs. Teachers believed in me. I wasn’t a nerd or a geek or even that socially awkward. I had my own way of talking and being. Most people respected that. But I didn’t have many friends who I could count on. I got into the college I wanted and left home, a very small and mediocre town, a stifling place.
So here I was, on a Wednesday night with this group of miscreants. They’d pass a pitcher and some clay cups back to us Guests and we’d drink and they’d drink and they’d sing. Arthur would look back and we’d toast every once in a while. The other Guests were mainly girls who wanted to have sex with the guys in the group and some guys, who also wanted to have sex with the guys in the group. There was a lot of gayness in the group, but it was no big deal. You could be gay or straight or any other denomination. They didn’t discriminate.
I wanted to be one of them.
But if Arthur said he never joined groups, that was even more true of me. I didn’t want anyone ever to look at me and say I was anything other than myself.
But I still wanted to be one of them.
This was the first Wednesday night that Arthur would sit at the table. They had called him up to join them from the Land of the Mortals. That’s what they called it. They were Immortals and they called up Mortals to become immortal. It was one of those silly college things and everybody there knew that. But it meant a lot to me. It means a lot to me. They sang songs about death. Violent death, accidental death, death after sickness, loving someone who dies. They sang about love, lust, like I said; and they sang some spirituals. They were spiritual to me. They were the closest things I had to gods. Are.
The leader of the group that year was named Moses. It was his real name and everyone loved him for it. He had cultivated a beard that summer in preparation for his leadership role. He stood up before those seated at the table and the assembled guests and said: My people, follow me and we will eat the meat of the golden calves and drink milk and honey until we piss roses. And then everyone drank and the guys started their first song of the evening.
About halfway through the program, Arthur turned back to me and said very quietly: you should be sitting up here. And then he turned to the table and kept singing. I drank and watched. There was a girl on my right in a short sparkly dress.
She said: He’s your best friend, huh?
I said: Here, I guess he is.
While they sang, she told me her story. She came here every Wednesday night. She was a senior; this was her last year with them. She had slept with all the straight guys in the group and some of the gay ones. She was an honorary member, but she still could not sit at the table.
I know it’s supposed to be sexist, she said, but I like helping them out, being like Wendy with the Lost Boys. My friends think I’m a little ridiculous. I do have a completely different life outside of this. But when I’m here, I’m here and I believe in it. I can tell that you do, too. It’s strange to be always on the outside of something you love so much. Isn’t that strange?
And I said: Yes. I was pretty drunk by then.
I asked her what her name was:
Delilah, she said, Yours?
Yeah, that, too.
You’re pretty cute.
You remind me of someone who’ll grow up to be someone important.
Just someone in general.
And then the SODs started in on singing their most beautiful song, which was based on a poem, set to music by a famous composer and arranged for the group by one of their old members, now in his 60’s. It’s hard to describe music with words. But it is a very beautiful song and when they sang it, no matter how drunk they were or you were it touched something in you eternal, like it says in Our Town by Thornton Wilder. It moves you deeply and makes you want to cry but you hold the tears inside and feel them even more, like they cry into your throat and down to your heart. It makes your chest full.
I looked down at my lap and saw that Delilah was holding onto my hand. Her gaze and mind was fixed ahead, into the center of the table and the center of the song. I don’t even think she grabbed my hand on purpose; she just needed to hold onto something. As much as the music affected me, I think it changed every atom in her body into white hot lava and transported her somewhere else like the sun or the center of the earth or some place where nobody has a body at all. Like in Dante, in Paradiso, where you try to describe Heaven and it’s pretty, but it’s really all about love and a kind of pureness that wastes all attempts to define it away. We listened and they sang through to the end. And then we all sat in silence.
Pretty shit, said Moses, instantly casting away the sacred for the profane, or maybe making it more sacred by leaving it alone in its own universe. Another guy farted loudly and then one of the Freshmen stood up, unzipped his pants and pulled out his testicles. Everyone looked at him. What the hell are you doing? said Moses. Isn’t this what we do? said the Freshman. Not now, said Moses. Jesus, man put those away.
Delilah sighed and let go of my hand. She looked into my eyes and I felt the warmth of her face.
You should be up there with them, she said, Next year maybe.
The evening wore down to the final song and then we were all outside in the slow Autumnal winds. Arthur put his arm drunkenly over my shoulder.
This is where I belong, he said. I never knew where I belonged.
I felt the same way, but was too scared to say it then.
Continue Reading Chapter Three
Jim Knable is a Brooklyn-based writer of plays, songs, prose, and the occasional screenplay. His plays have been produced at MCC Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Soho Rep, NYC’s Summer Play Festival and other regional theaters, and have been published by Broadway Play Publishing, Dramatic Publishing, Samuel French, Smith & Kraus and Playscripts, Inc. He released his solo album Miles in 2000 and Redbeard (2006) and Golden Arrow (2009) with his band The Randy Bandits. Their next show is Saturday, November 5 at The Rock Shop in Brooklyn
Graham Stevens (audio) is a Drama Desk Award-winning actor and singer based in New York City.
Adam Overett (audio) is a performer and composer/lyricist who has appeared on Broadway in The Light in the Piazza, and whose musical Call It Courage premiered at the Zach Scott Theatre in Austin.
Noelle Teagno (audio) is a proud union member (SAG/AEA/AFTRA) and studied theater at Yale. She’s been seen in an SNL Digital short, College Road Trip, and Stella, as well as at NJ Rep, the Women’s Theater Co., Theaterworks USA, and more.
Beeb Salzer (illustration) is an artist, set designer, and essayist based in San Diego.