In a hospital, Prior lies in bed. Louis stands close by, talking to a nurse. The nurse, whose name is Emily, tells Louis that Prior “looks cute.” Louis explains that Prior’s family is old and highly respectable. The Priors came to the U.S. on the Mayflower, and before that they were respectable English lords.
This is an interesting detail about Prior, to which we’ll return. Prior’s long, impressive ancestry should make him “American as apple pie,” and yet Prior, as a gay AIDS victim, is a symbol of everything the Reagan administration condemns as un-American.
Louis tells Emily that he needs to go for a walk in the park to think. He tells Emily to tell Prior, “I had to go.”
Here, we see Louis as a coward, unable to face his sick lover. We can condemn Louis’s actions, but we can also sympathize with them—he’s facing a choice more difficult than anyone should have to make. One of the tragedies of the AIDS epidemic was that it made such choices all too common—there was no way to stay “on the fence” when human lives were at stake.