He is certain the Picasso behind her is real. Small but genuine.A bronze lap-dog paperweight- Paris circa 1950. A Papillon.A non committal albino arrangement of white flowers in a white vase.The wrong side of fifty, she is small, her black stockings in black shoes; small feet swinging like dead crows beneath the seat of her chair. A swivel high-back that threatens to engulf her. A black vinyl hole. A junkyard of Jungian therapy.The simple dress is vintage Jean Muir, charcoal grey. She may have bought it new. It might have been a fond find, second time around. Frameless spectacles, a ghost against her neutral face. Pale green eyes.
‘You were very young.’ she says, her small voice direct but expertly measured so as not to be immediately intimidating. She smiles- ‘Minors, in the legal sense.’
A reflex movement starts the clock. Counting and accounting.
‘Yes. Yes. Underage.’ How could he have said otherwise. ‘We were new to it, youthful.’ His eyes closing. His hands rising to touch his pained face. An inner blackness aching to swallow him.
Youth had left him now.
‘Maybe you were altogether too young.’ she adds, a fresh note of encouragement vivid in her voice. An ink pen poised over Madonna blue paper.
She imagines his infected phlegm rising then falling. Instantly craves a cigarette. She knows that she can’t have one. Not yet. Instead, pours water from a glass carafe into a whisky tumbler.
She sips. Watches. Sees his unhappiness unfurl like a winged thing nested inside him. A vulture restless in the wild wood of him. She shudders. Beak and talons.
‘Yes. We were fresh at it. Vulnerable. Tender as jailbait.’ A small trace of glee.
She pounces, ‘Go on. Go on then.’ Purrs. One claw already in the thing’s wing, her fangs sensing blood. ‘Go on from ‘Its danger’.
He attempts a grin. A loser’s grin. It is his defeated champion, mascot of an old army of sadness, his eternal backing off from confrontation.
‘Right.’ says Connor, his present jetting into his past without so much as a bye or leave, ‘We sensed its danger. We smelled it. Its danger was tangible. Unwashed. Fear sodden. You could slice it and serve it between unbleached hands of bread with rough cut ploughman’s pickle. We were dangerously young. God! We were young and we were dangerously hungry to be old.’
Reaches for the crystal water, gulps some.
Spit to spit, he quickly thinks, we must be inexorably joined, this bitch and me, our DNA mingling in a specimen dish.
She reads his sudden wanting, his need, his fragile stability. The waste of space.
‘Take your time.’ she tells him, her tone stroking, ‘It’s your time Connor. Remember. Your time. It’s your investment in yourself.’
Connor Cloud, the notable documentary film-maker- Glue Boys In Guildford, 1987, Gay Men In The Fens, 1998. Forty nine, mena-porche-al. Twenty eight regrettable pounds to the bad. Gap clothes. CK underwear. Handmade shoes. Expensive scent. Close to breaking down. Bestride two horses- the then and the now. Bound. Certain to fall, to eat dung.
‘We were schoolboys, fifteen, green as envy. Brackenwood it was, one of the old grammar schools. Traditional. It looked backwards for it’s inspiration. Winchester, that was the benchmark, the masters’ intellectual champagne, magnums of demi-sec. We were white, we were bubbly, but we were unforgivably sweet. The sprouts of proles, all scrubbed up, hard boiled, served with a sprinkling of sugar. And we were only ever Asti Spumante. Cheap, low alcohol fizz with preposterous delusions of grandeur.
Homosexuality was understood, pigeon-holed and seldom referred to.
I remember being dizzied by a first glimpse of the PE master’s pubic hair. Mike Hutchins, an Australian on an exchange. Bronzed. Blonde. Above his tied towel, a tan line, and there, slap bang in the hot spot of my field of vision, a damp curl, flat against the whiteness of his lower abdomen. A damp curl making a question mark and, therefore, questioning.
There were thirty of us, wet. Hot foot from the showers, twelve year olds or thereabouts, skin pale, spotty, groins promising, our voices neither here nor there. Erectile tissue threatening.
He saw me.
He watched me, how I was trapped. And he smirked. Smiled softly before turning and leaving to leave me be.
An eerie erotic image on a loop of video tape. I’ve used that smile again and again.
In the dark, whacking off, he’d endlessly leave, leaving slowly to leave me be, over and over.
Nine months after, I was sharing a library study table with Leo Bax. A close friend. His mother dead. A dead dancer. His father owned a company that installed swimming pools. He was short, Leo, stocky, half-caste. His skin the colour of café latte. We did everything together, homework, play, oral sex. He had a fat cock, thick enough to make me gag. Boy’s cum that smelled boy sour but tasted sweet, like tired milk.
‘Look’, he said, his amber eyes alive with devilment, his eager hands unfolding the newspaper cutting. Toronto. A month out of date. ‘A blast from our past.’
He was right and I felt blasted by it.
Mike Hutchins Suicide. Mike Hutchins the youngest of a group of seven men accused of operating a paedophile porn ring was today found dead in his prison cell where he was being held on remand pending trial etc.
It was an odd photograph.
He looked relieved, winded, grounded, like an aberrant angel caught by God.
I was instantly twelve again, open mouthed, towelling my armpits dry. It was instantly twelve midnight again, a boy between the sheets, hard as rock, my mind on his questioning curl, answering yes, yes, over and over.
Leo, older than me, had had him. That’s what he said. He told me.
Thirteen, and in a stock cupboard in the Drama block. Hutchins went to fuck him, bracing the boy against forty copies of Macbeth and a stack of Alan Bennetts. But his erection left him so he leaned down and sucked on Leo ‘till he came, the boy’s peepers fixed on Becket’s Waiting For Godot and a programme from the previous year’s pantomime.
‘Was it good?’ I begged him.
‘Yes!’ he said, his eyes gone glassy as the dangerous memory kicked in, ‘It was fucking fab! Fantastic!’
As much as anything else, its dangerousness excited us.
Animated, Connor stared at her sufficiently long to cause a measure of social discomfort.
She sensed his ascendancy and was immediately in two minds- cautious but curious. But her knowledge of the strict guidelines had her reaching for the panic phone. Connor raised both his hands in a gesture conveying astonishment and disbelief. He straightaway withdrew. She understood. Left the receiver untroubled in it’s cradle. But the door opened loudly.
The yawning door space filled with the bulk of a suited man.
‘Yes?’ Her voice made no attempt to hide her irritation.
‘We thought you might be in need of assistance?’ the apologetic question delivered in a fawning monotone that Connor immediately recognised from hours spent listening to extras getting to grips with single lines of script.
‘It is fine. And we are fine.’ That was enough to make the stranger leave and have the door re-closed with pointed gentleness.
She caught Connor’s eye then, then pointed to the security cameras at ceiling height in four corners of the room. Connor shrugged. So what, he thought. Everything railing against him was already on film.
She moves the glass of water.
‘Its dangerousness excited us..?’ she said, almost carelessly. A cover for the new hint of urgency which she knew had crept into her voice.
Connor coughs, starts again.
‘Leo was always very frank about what he wanted. He’d say fish and chips and I’d say alright. He’d say sex in the woodshed and I’d say yes, I don’t mind. It was always that matter of fact. Boys, see- beautifully uncomplicated.
No room for artificial intricacies and emotional melodrama. Easily half the worry of girls. We did it once with his dad mowing the back lawn, the noisy Qualcast inching nearer as we flew to orgasm. Body fluids moist in the dry sawdust, caught like spilled candle wax. The green machine suddenly silent. My legs shaking. The evidence urgently rubbed out by Leo’s tennis plimsolls. His dad calling that he was getting us lads a drink of cold milk. Me relieved. Leo, close to a fit of the giggles, shoving my damp shirt-tails in his mouth. Leo composed, whispering to me, it’s the danger, the danger, it’s the danger that does it for me! Me instantly agreeing. Me agreeing with him, not because I always seemed to agree with him but because I felt it too. I thought it thrilling didn’t I. I filed it away in my memory as unforgettable- the danger.After that we made a game of it- cocks out on the back seats of buses, cocks out as we cycled into town. That sort of thing.
Only what happens is, and after a surprisingly short time, really, shorter than you’d ever think, you jade the appetite for it, create another boredom threshold. Go off the boil. Lose your wood. We sussed it soon enough. In the end, nothing short of a suicidal sixty-nine in full view of the massed kop at Anfield would have done the trick.
We never went there. I’m so glad.
What we did was worse, infinitely worse. Oh yes. We chose another avenue to hell.’
Connor loathed the smile. It was too small. A fake.
Beyond the flowers the view through the sixties window was unobstructed, semi-rural, planted out with perennials, and privilege. Connor saw it was a sight denied the common herd. And he suspected the existence of a ha-ha somewhere in the mid distance, where the clipped lawns ended and the grazing began with it’s cow pats and buttercups.
And close to the horizon a spire, as might be expected, it’s great lingam thrust into disinterested space. A flaccid flag of St George wrapped around a pole. And, nearby, a strange crop of media masts. A wind-sock and a helicopter pad.
‘Go on.’ she said, again conscious of her own agenda, and less inclined to hide it. ‘You were walking that last mile down an avenue to hell.’
‘Yes. But at times it felt like we were running. Running cross country. Ice in the puddles. Light rain making our kit transparent. Gorse bushes biting at our flying calves. The masters belting out abuse or encouragement. Some of it mewling. Most of it lewd. Move your arse Cloud! You would son! You fucking would if it had my fist up it!
It was my idea.
And, in all fairness, it was my turn. And Leo fell in with it. That was a surprise. Then he took the whole thing over and what I’d always intended as a fantasy found it’s own peculiar momentum. It ran away with itself, rattling on to merge with life and finally form it’s own hideous reality.
I always thought it was fiction. Always believed we made the whole thing up. To this day I can still kid myself on that I read about it, on some wet Sunday, in one of the tabloids.’
An alarm starts. The sudden screaming bird of it jangles her nerves. She stares at the telephone. Waiting. Nothing. The car alarm stops. She imagines the bliss of seeing damaged feathers floating above the car park. She visibly relaxes. Signals with a finger that he should continue.
‘The Reverend Allan Flude was new to the parish. Young. On probation. Hiding. We saw it at once- a trail of social baggage that he thought he’d got well shot of. A past he was still escaping from. It hampered him, haunting his freedom of thought and movement. Most people took to his style, took to his measured carefulness in good part- the product of an eager Christian consideration and creative sensibilities, so it was generally agreed.
Leo and me, well, we believed otherwise.
I resolved to prove my theory right. And, somewhere along the line, I formed the extraordinary idea that I could make this creature wholly mine. I could know him. I could have knowledge of him.
Not a child. Not seventeen. Not kind. No. Not kind at all. Not bound by anything.’
Connor suddenly shouting, ‘We were boundless!’
She is scared, triggered.
Sweat has collected in glassy beads along his hairline. He raises both hands to comb through his tired hair with splayed fingers. Body fluid moistens them. He rubs his anxious hands against his flexing thighs. Dry again. Connor thinks he might be involuntarily leaking. Begins to rock slowly.
Immediately, she reaches beneath her and brings out a chromium dish, the shine of it reflecting shards of collected light. A primed hypodermic. The extreme needle sanitary. Nothing sharper, it’s tip glinting. Balls of bright white cotton wool, soft, blunt. Skin coloured sticky plasters. Her manicured hands twitching.
Knows the score.
Stops rocking. Dreams of dreaming.
The door suddenly opens.
He does not struggle. It would be pointless.
Later. His limbs seem familiarly leaden. Through the naked window he can see how time has flown. Rooks punctuate the evening sky with marks and exclamation. The distant trees have taken on the pallor of spilled ink.
Her hands are highlit by a desk top halogen.
His hands are tied.‘Allan Flude.’ she reminds him, her tone emotionless, perfunctory, ‘The preacher. Remind me of the bent preacher again.’Flude came to Connor’s mind immediately, as easily as switching on the TV.As always it’s the same brief show composed of edited highlights. Always in the same place- the green painted residential caravan sited in the Rectory orchard where they watched amateur films, where, later on, they made films and watched them too. Where Flude was finally found bollock naked, his heart stopped, the TV showing snow, the video ejecting gay hardcore. A small brown bottle of butyl nitrate open on the green Wilton, the bleaching effect of it widespread as if it were the ghost of spilled blood.
‘I wanted sex with a grown man.’
‘Yes. It’s always about what you fucking want.’
Her reply surprises him. ‘Why.’ she asks, feeling increasingly cruel, ‘What could you possibly find so repulsive about female genitalia?’
The question stuns him.
She’s the cunt, he told himself. As if butter wouldn’t melt inside the covered furnace of her, her pudenda breathing like a separate animal, it’s gums stimulated by blood-flow, it’s teeth bared, longing to snatch at his puny inches. She could chew him to the bone, spit him out and move on.
He wasn’t fooled.
This one could sell her unborn foetus to laboratories. Oh yes. This one is all heart!
‘The smell!’ he says, finally, his tone derisory, ‘The god awful stench!’
Fuck the rules, she tells herself.
She lights a Marlborough Lights cigarette, revelling in the mild anarchy of it. She’ll flick it’s ash into the chrome tray. Stub it out on a cotton wool ball.
‘The preacher. Let’s get back to the damned perverted preacher.’ she says, re-focussing, deliberately moving things on.
‘Well, we ingratiated ourselves. It was easy- servility with intent. He knew what we meant from the start. He had to have known. It’s never an easy thing to conceal the game you’re playing. And we were far from being expert at it. Then we contrived to be found by him, in flagrante. Gobs full. Lost in that world of boy to boyness.
Flude watched us for a while, just as we suspected he would, rustling himself.
Then he picked up our discarded shorts and coughed discreetly. No fuss. No flap. No lecture. Simple as that.
In less than a week we had our first threesome.
Me intoxicated by his masculinity, punch drunk on his genitalia. Me near to sleeping in the crucible of his hairy chest, my arse sore and singing lullabies. Leo close to coming for the third time, kissing him alternately- soft and hard then soft, then hard. You could untie me, you bitch.’
She does not respond.
She is stood at the window, staring out at nothing. Letting the nothing of it lubricate her journey inward. Days, weeks, crying on the phone, clutching at straws, burying the truth like a cat buries it’s shit.
‘He introduced me to film. Film making. Film developing. Film editing. It was his creative seed. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be who I am today.’
She turns to watch his fears being soothed by his remembered ego, sees him clothe himself in calmness knowing for certain who he is.
‘Allan Flude, deceased. He introduced me to it all.’
She’s heard it before. The predictable all of it.
He always gets this far down the line and reverts. His misunderstood genius failed and failing. Increasingly impotent. Overweight and gaining. Starts to ramble on excitedly about his significance, his contribution to the genre.
It gets in her way, deeply irritates her.
He was there when the sick preacher died. So what!
She walks towards him.
Connor is deep into a purple performance of his romanticised CV.
Out of the blue and without thinking, she strikes his face harder than she remembers ever striking anybody.
He screams like a burning child.
The door opens. ‘Fucking get out!’ she screams, her fist on it’s way for the second massive strike.
Connor screams again.
The door closes.
Hot blood leaving Connor’s damaged nose like truth through a crack in the plaster of lies.
Blood and spittle leaking from Connor’s mouth.
Her mouth opening. ‘I had a son.’
The agent starts again, ‘I had a son. He disappeared three days after his fifteenth birthday. He was gay. Fresh out. He’d told me and I didn’t mind. I didn’t mind at all, not in the least. But I minded him being missing. Oh yes. I minded that very much. And even all the resources of this all knowing place have not been able to help me stop the minding. But you, you sad apology for a human being. You might just hold the key. So I tolerate your excursions into self-aggrandisement. That key might unlock a whole new area of investigation for me.’
Connor is disinterested.
Connor is self-interested, coughing, spraying droplets of blood at the breastline of her Jean Muir. It disgusts her.
She hits him again. The white flowers spilling.
Connor screams. Involuntarily urinates. The ministry floor no stranger to piss.
In the sudden mess of everything she screams another demand at him ‘So tell me you evil bastard! The production company, D4 Dangerous, tell me about that! Tell me everything you fucking know about the snuff movies.’
Chris Madoch- Welsh Bardd and creative polymath has been invited to regularly contribute to ‘Cyrano’ and ‘Tant Mieux’. He recently had work in ‘Suspect Thoughts’ [A Journal Of Subversive Writing]. More can be found at www.chrismadoch.com