If not for the goddam leech-sucking wolfchild orphan-ridden loneliness. So that when I touch his shoulder Im egg-white congealing against iron-grid and a breath pushes up past my lungs, as if I need this to breathe, and as if it has revived itself from the stale, insipid breaths I breathe through what day this is.
The net curtain blows at night with the breath of darkness against its cheek. I lie below the window in my house, 20 km away from all of this, and the gossamer of it billows over me, a benediction in 60% nylon and 40% something. It encocoons me where I am looking at the patterns of the pine against the ceiling, with my eyes wider than I imagine, not straining to see in the dark, but more to look into the darkness.
And as I am speaking to God, the curtain listens.
He sits across from me on the lawn, which has been scattered with jacaranda blossoms, wilting like butterflies that were born to fly a few metres from branch to soil. Damaged goods, I think, looking at the hot boils left by mosquitoes and scars from randy childhood fights with cousins and drunken aunts. A body that needed only my caresses to escape the battles. He has fine whitish hairs on his neck and arms, and along the muscles of his legs. Inside, his new lover and killer lives, I think. Damaged, damned, doomed.
He has The Illness, yet his body is still beautiful. Im healthy as a coop-raised pig, and I dont have a whiff of his sex appeal. My health is a tardy gloomy responsibility, which I have not nurtured well. His blood is killing him, my heart is starving me.
He walks in while I belt out poetry on the PC. See if you can open this, he says, proffering a jar of preserved, grated beetroot. I open it with ease, he has no more physical strength, his eyes say, a spy unabashed. We must eat it, he says, with his knowledge of expiry dates.
His voice is hollow as a percussion instrument within the house. He is preparing the evening meal for the other housemates. Ten of them live here, I am the perpetual outsider inside. The Visitor Who Has It Not.
They dont ask why I am here, almost every day. I sit with them in the garden, drink black tea from the cups and have a portion of the evening rations put before me when the sun sets. I dont know why I am here. Im pre-programmed, a tube train hurtling along my own set of rails. Im here because of the nights all one in my bed, because of him, because of Mother.
In the garden, patient as a concrete gnome, Mother sits. Today, Mother has opted for an even stranger combination from the handouts he dresses in. On Saturday he was All Africa, down to the woven red ribbon of glass beads. Today, he is in a white thing that covers a burnt orange brown thing. Mother knows of my hopeless infatuation with the Angel of Illness. Mothers knows, and his eyes, tepid as a monitor lizards, has seen it all before. Mother has loved and lived and lost in a giddy procession of yesteryear and his face has become more manly with the knowledge.
The other night Mother sat in the office, flies of the night clinging against the ceiling and refusing to let us speak alone, and told me of Love and love, pink toilet seats, married men and guavas and bread. I sat engrossed on the single sofa chair, sipping cold tea and coughing from the unplanned cigarettes, and becoming more dismayed by the largeness of the world. He was not here, that night. Im over him when his body is not beside me, when my eyes are not telltale searchlights, planning a night of rapture and safe sex and abandon, as if the combination is possible.
Mother looks after them every day and perhaps this has replaced the need for lust. My need is irreplaceable.
If only we had met ten years prior to all this, I say to him, and he is puzzled by the mathematics of the statement.
Why ten? he asks.
Because then I was able to jump and you were healthy, I want to say. Now, weve lost both and all.
If I had met him before meeting Chris and Dean and Mark and the freakbus of others who gulped my time. If I had met him before the comfort of me was there for him.
I could have saved your life, I want to say to him. Imagine if you had met me before you wandered into The Trap.
I know today that I will never, ever again be allowed the luxury of a wet fresh kiss and the groping of my hand against a hard crotch, that spiralling together on the hot current of passion, the falling of two bodies, without the Third Party of doom standing beside me, and whoever whispering the mantra: Love at your own peril. You could be catching It right now.
I know that I have never had it, that luxury. Before The End I did not pluck it from life because I was coy and scared and thought opportunity to be eternal. Now, I cannot have it, because of The Fear.
I am whole and healthy and ready and lonely and I cannot lust, because I dont know the new rules. I cannot understand them, either, because I hear Deaths rattle above every safe alternative.
Im so fucked.
If not for the goddam loneliness, it would be OK.
You are a hunk, I say to him in ye olde worlde pick-up talk, just to practice being able to say the words to a hunk, without the fear of scorn. It makes him glow sadly, I see. He, too, has the Third Party at his ear, reminding him.
For a moment, he blushes. The red, killing blood inside of him forgets its mission and rushes to his cheeks like a schoolgirls blush.
I love you, he ventures, and it is so untrue and quick and hopeless and out of place that I do not challenge it and he does not excuse it. His arse is tight, his eyes are Brad Pitt, his hands are brawny and gold and his nose is Rome-like. He has a crew cut and strong feet that have a boyish awkwardness about them. I have fondled lesser beauties than this and felt myself blessed. My mind does not release instructions for me to touch him now.
I am whole and healthy and needy and lonely, but The Answer has Aids.
Im not interested in sex, I lie to him, in his room at The Home. Im uncomfortable because I am alone with him in his room, and habit suggests that I dive in now for a quick blowjob. All I would (die for I swallow these words) is to have Someone next to me at night when I sleep. Someone I can hold and feel against me.
I want that too, he says.
If I may lie, he may lie. We have been taught well.
What makes me so special to have health, choose health, so that I can live, yet deny lust? Suddenly, all at once, again, I am the smart kid with all the sweeties at a party that nobody came to. I have it all, I have nothing.
I am scared, I say to him.
I am selfish, I think to myself. So selfish that I see a picture of me, in Full Health, in a world surrounded by red ribbons and graves and could-have-beens. The popular kids chose to leave to lust and love somewhere else, a party that I do not have the guts to attend.
Perhaps They had it all, and became sick from fullness? I must ask Mother.
Were a lonely little healthy bunch left here with a future intact. We? How many of Us are left? Unsure and untouched, we mean precious little to each other.
Those who are not infected are affected, Mother says, and draws on his Craven A long ones. Nowadays, something stiff to suck on is so scarce, he says, and screws up his eyes a little.
Already the sun is setting and soon I must leave this Home and go to my house. Did I mention that I live far away from here, all one?
He might be Dead tomorrow, I say to myself. You know how death leaves no note. Love now, I say to myself, remembering a précis of New Age hype and Christian absolutes. Love and lust have always been twins in my book.
Give me Someone. Give me Love, I said to the net curtain the other night. A strong storm was brewing and the curtain was a hand, protecting the room. The air hissed outside, the trees swayed as if they were going to hit back.
Give me an Answer, I command the curtain.
Give me a God that can make all this heal, I say to the curtain.
Im not interested in a God that makes people suffer and die. Im not interested in conditional life, I say to Mother.
He puts a scratched record from the 80s on the turntable. The CD no longer plays. He is taping the music for Mother.
I build up my courage, it fails me thrice, and then I blurt it out:
Come, stand up, please! Stand up and hold me from behind! (Just like my First Love held me, in an awkward, quick moment, when we were stumbling out of the movies while the credits were still running in the Hollywood dark of the theatre. His name was Braam and we were both straight yeah right, at least he was and we had seen a Movie of Love. The movie had made us both, all of 18 years old, weepy. Braam was behind me, and I was forlorn in an unrequited love that has been repeating itself for the remainder of my virginity. There was a silent denial between us; the boldest touch we indulged in was wrestling. The movie … we walked out, and Braam laced his arms around my shoulder, from behind, and pulled me closer into him. I felt the definitions of his chest against me, and his hard lust against my bum. It lasted a moment, and he let go.)
He gets up from in front of the hi-fi, and stands behind me, puts his arms around my waist.
No, put up your arms, around my shoulders, I ask. This music is the memory.
He pulls up his arms and places them around my shoulders and holds them there. My breath is gone. I feel the hotness of his torso against my back, but he does not proffer his crotch against me. The heat in him warms my shirt, like I warm the pillows at night, and I forget about the hot blood which is donating the heat.
Then he lets go, awkwardly, as if it was then, and we are but two men holding each other, about to explore the next step, and one of the men is realising that the other does not find him sexually attractive.
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