Written c. September 2005.
(CP: This is a work of short fiction. It won a university literature award.)
After a few nights he insisted that the window be left open so that he could hear the water. The wind would come through the flyscreen with a surreptitious whistle, hypnotising us in our stupor. The added cold meant that extra linen was required. Nicolas didn’t like sheets – he didn’t understand them, thought them arbitrary to the comfort of the bed and, besides, they were just another piece of fabric that needed cleaning. I took the eiderdown off the parents’ bed and added it to mine. Nicolas started referring to the bed as ours.
In those first few weeks of summer we would rise at midday and slowly migrate to the veranda via the kitchen and the bar. We would sit in the sultry air and listen to the waves and I would watch the surfers, wondering why more didn’t venture this far up the coast. I swam once over the summer; the water was warm and the surf was mild. I swam out past the breakers and trod water for a while. Looking back at Nic on the wet sand, afraid to venture in. I got bored quickly and returned to him and didn’t swim again, happy to sit on the veranda instead.
Soon after realising that I wouldn’t be leaving the beach house until classes resumed Nic and I went into town and bought vodka and champagne and Cointreau. The afternoons were spent outside drinking mixers and smoking cigarettes. He had brought with him old REM and Talking Heads CDs and we’d listen to them and he knew all the words and would sing along out of key oblivious to his inability to carry the tunes. He would put Lifetime Piling Up on repeat on the stereo and this would be the leitmotif for us to move back inside, back to the bedroom.
He was a passive love maker, I expected little else. He would lie on his back naked and let me do all the work. He made a point of always getting the lyric wrong: I can feel my lifetime piling up, I can see it crashing into yours; his ironic destiny he called it. Sex like this became an ordeal after a while and I refused to service him without some sort of co-operation. I would force him to masturbate in front of me and then I would fellate him and have digital sex. He thought me perverted and I would smile as he said this because I didn’t find it erotic at all. I just appreciated the indignity I was causing. Soon enough he refused to continue and I was only slightly upset at having to return to straight-sex-one-at-a-time.
Due to his inability to conceptualise time the sexual acts of our otherwise prosaic relationship would always occur too early in the night for us to fall asleep in each others arms. I would get up first and shower and then call for him to follow. During this time I would rearrange the furniture and laugh to myself as he tripped over them. One time I removed the cigarettes from the packet and put them back the wrong way so he’d light the butt. It was a tribute to his pathetic stoicism that he never questioned me about this. Not even when I switched the position of his toiletries so that he sprayed shaving cream under his arm and ripped open his face while shaving with deodorant. He was a trooper, incorruptible, nouveau, challenged. He was my trooper.
We met through a journalist friend of mine who had set us up on a blind date. He wanted to show off his superior wit. He was in a vengeful mood after I had gazumped him to some literary prize that I didn’t even care about. The dinner was pleasant enough and we went to a bar afterwards and got drunk and the novelty of the sex was too great for me to refuse. In the early days, back in the city, I would go to his place because he was more independent than me and smoke joints and listen to his records. He had actual records and a stylus and a roommate named Sean who I slept with one afternoon when Nic went out to get coffee.
I enjoyed the routine and the weather was getting warmer and I imagined that a week at the beach house would be good. He was hesitant about leaving his comfort zone so I tempted him with a cocktail of sex and security and the aroma of love. I enjoyed my newfound ability to manipulate and the idea of being the controlling member of the relationship drew me to Nicolas more than any confluence of ideas or affection. We drove up with a week’s worth of clothes and little else. We bought food on the first day and drank the house dry by the first week. The only book in the house not by EM Forster or Gerard Durrell was American Psycho, which I think my sister had bought, and I would read aloud from selected paragraphs on the veranda while Nic laughed or masturbated to the sex scenes. The parents had bourbon and red wine and we drank them despite not liking either. The alcohol lubricated me through those first few weeks but the chafing returned and I was forced to lubricate myself by humiliating Nic.
After the stockpile of alcohol ran out Nic suggested we combine dinner with the process of procuring more. The drive into the township was forty minutes and I acquiesced despite knowing that once there all I’d want to do is return to the beach and drink and then fuck. The paucity of clothes meant that a day’s planning had to go into dinner and I was forced to negotiate the primitive washing machine that the parents had installed years ago. I selected a white collared polo shirt from Ben Sherman and a subtly checked pair of pants, also by Ben Sherman, for Nic. Knowing that he would get cold by the time dinner had ended I also washed his white Ralph Lauren sweater, though I needn’t have bothered: when the clothes were dry I took the sweater and wrote GO FUCK YOURSELF across the front in black magic marker. I told Nic he looked resplendent in his get up and we drove to this expensive seafood restaurant I had made reservations at.
Throughout dinner I was jumpy and nervous, like that time between a support act and the headliner. We were sitting out on the patio and the wind was beginning to pick up and despite my continual urges for Nic to wear the sweater that was resting on the chair between us he remained resolute in his conviction that he wasn’t cold, yet. I had the lobster Mornay which was naff and Nic had some fried piece of fish which he explained away as being easier to eat than shellfish or prawns because he feared he would cut himself or choke or some other bullshit. I was hardly listening because I didn’t care about anything except the wind picking up and the restaurant was playing the new Happy Mondays CD and I wanted to hear if I liked it. Eventually the cheque came and the sweater was still sitting between us and Nic looked like a fucking ostrich just sitting there, head up in the wind, hair blowing like reeds caught in a gale, wearing the gayest outfit I could have constructed from the clothes in the house. Nic didn’t pay for the meal because he’s a nozzle, even though he’s not, unfortunately.
We walked to the liquor store and bought gin and more vodka and Midori and a variety of soft drinks. I put it all on my father’s credit card and wondered if somewhere back in the city my father experienced a moment of clarity through the vapour as someone charged something to his account. I put the alcohol in the boot and threw the unworn sweater in the back seat, cursing Nic for his newfound ability to withstand the elements.
The drive back to the beach house was memorable for two reasons. First, Nic told a joke. This was something of a novelty for Nic who considered himself above arbitrary humour and thought that while Rove should be shot Ricky Gervais was the funniest man alive. I never did understand how he could possibly have understood The Office, but I thought it best then never to question Nic for fear I would receive some faux philosophical polemic about the transcendence of tragicomedy through the senses. It was the only joke Nic told me while I was sleeping with him and he gave it an interlude which characterises people with generally high confidence that are looking to branch out into other fields of success. The second memorable experience from this trip was that Nic told me about his colourful (ha ha) childhood. I had never listened so intently to Nic before and as a result:
Nic and Me in Car Returning to Beach House
A play in one act
Two young men are in an expensive car. Both are dressed well and are fashionably handsome. The driver is particularly good looking, with dark curly hair down to his collar and a fresh, seductive visage. The driver is smoking a cigarette. The road is empty and winding, and the car, for this reason, and only this reason, is travelling only slightly above the speed limit.
Nic: I have a joke to tell you.
The driver looks questioningly to his passenger but doesn’t respond.
What is the hardest thing about rollerblading?
Nic: Telling your parents you’re gay.
The driver laughs despite himself
Me: That’s very funny Nic, one would think with your pseudo-liberalism that jokes like that are inappropriate.
Nic: Well, I can’t deny its humorous qualities.
There’s an uncomfortable silence between the two parties, then, almost with courage, the driver turns to this passenger
Me: When did you tell your parents?
Nic: On my eighteenth birthday. I gathered my mum and dad and sister together and told them. I knew they wouldn’t care too much because they love me. I was never interested in girls and they knew it.
They took me to a special psychologist when I was 13 to discuss how puberty and stuff would affect me differently to other people. He told me that I would start feeling things and that they were the same as the other kids my age. I never felt those things for girls, though. I used to have a lot of friends that were girls because I would hang out with them at lunch and stuff while the boys played modified sports that didn’t interest me, but I never really liked any of them. When I was in Year 12 I fell in love with this 16-year-old boy who was doing community education from the local private school–
Nic: Yes…does it matter?
Me: Hey, I went to a Catholic school. I thought it was an important detail.
Nic: Anyway, me and him used to hang out one afternoon a week and I grew to really like him and that’s when I sought of knew I was different and…
Me: Did you fuck?
Nic: No, he…he…he had issues, or something…
Me: Ha! Did you ever think that maybe you’re ugly, or something?
Nic: Come on Patrick, anyway, so I told them and they were sort of cool with it and yeah, that’s how. What about you?
Patrick: What about me?
Nic: When did you tell your parents?
Patrick: I’m not gay.
Towards the end of summer our routine became tiresome and we knew it was time to return to the city. I had to go back to class to finally finish my degree and Nic had to go back to doing whatever he did before he left. In those last few days we walked along the beach and I found myself holding hands with him if no-one else was around. He never seemed to care about public displays of affection and it wasn’t because he was more proud or anything. He had the gift. I would lead him down to the water and we would traverse the hard, wet sand with the foam splashing against our legs. I think I almost enjoyed those last few days but I knew that the end was nearing. Or perhaps I enjoyed it for that reason.
On the last night at the beach house we stayed up listening to The Smiths and smoking the last of the cigarettes. As we walked to the bedroom for the last time I started singing the words to Reel Around The Fountain, more reciting, actually, than singing.
I dreamt about you last night…
Nic was looking as good to me as he ever had. He was lying there naked, drinking champagne with Midori, smoking a cigarette, the window open.
And I fell out of bed twice…
He knew I was in the room, not just by the singing, he could sense it. He could have been deaf too, for all I knew.
You can pin and mount me like a butterfly…
I started undressing and took the cigarette he had been smoking from the ashtray and took a long drag and exhaled up into the air.
But ‘take me to the haven of your bed’ was something that you never said…
I drained my seabreeze and stood completely naked in front of him. And for just a second, for the shortest of moments, I saw him look straight at me.
Two lumps, please, you’re the bee’s knees…
We slept together for what would be the last time. It was more enjoyable than ever before and I for a brief period I did regret all the stuff I had done that summer.
But so am I…
And he looked at me, for that’s the only way I can describe it, and he told me he loved me. And I lied and told him I loved him because I knew he couldn’t see.