'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

03 March 2011

Impossible Fools

The opening chapter from one of my unfinished novels.  I completed eight chapters in the rough or around 150 pages and seem to have lost the rest with several computer changes. Perhaps it will turn up somewhere on my desk or in a drawer.
A slight gay tip of the hat to Faust and who would we become if our youth returned.


Begun 14th November 1995

Chapter 1

What if?
What if I had the form of Apollo and the face of Narcissus? What if I trod a distant age? What if the treasure room overflowed with riches? What if I could be born again? Such a powerful fantasy, the prelude to dreams, the root of delusion. I suspect most of us, at least once in our life, frustrate ourselves with the question - What if? From there we can go merrily on to imagine how different life would be, how different the world would be, how different we would be. Dreams perhaps but we soon wonder if we would be any different. Looking back at our life, some of us are tempted to claim how dramatically or at least noticeably we have changed, but often, this is not really a basic modification of our personality, merely a reaction, a response to a new set of circumstances or events, and that supposed new direction is most likely completely fitting with what we are, what we have always been, our basic self, our essence.
Life, some say, may be no more than a game of chance, like a chocolate wheel that goes round and round, potentially throwing up the same numbers and outcomes over and over. We draw the occasional variation, but it is the same path, the same wheel, and we can not but continue to collide with the same experiences. The repetition is not one of our strengths but our weakness. We could jump off the ride or play another game, but so often it is easier to seek the security of familiarity, even when destructive, but what if we dared to dream another dream, took a chance, made a wish. Can we break from the journey? Can we be anything but what we are?
* * * * * * * * * * *
The naked sunbaker stretched out on his blanket, chased away a mosquito settling on his paunched stomach, rolled over and reached across the grass for another cigarette. In the sunshine he felt alone, comfortable and at peace, for in this chosen back-yard privacy, he had never been aware of the disgust emanating from the bitter old bastard staring at him from the second level of the condemned fibro flats next door. Through the smell of burnt eggs and the grime of his neglected windows, the old neighbourhood voyeur regularly gazed down at the sunbaker, muttering to himself how unsightly it was that a man of that age should parade around flashing his saggy bits. The two had never spoken, only exchanged glares over the vine and weed entangled front fence, but never had, or could they come face to face through the heavy bushes and high wooden fence surrounding the exhibitionist's supposedly protected and idyllic retreat.
By their own reckoning they were both relatively old, although several years apart. Neither could abide the sight of the other, however the direction of this mistrust was far from exclusive, for neither did they feel kindly towards the brash ignorance of the unapproachable youths who also ignored them with deserved but humiliating vengeance. Both were so adept at complaining about the elusive happiness that appeared to be no longer available to them, that it had irretrievably, through their own fault, become no longer available to them. One remained employed in the theatre, and the other had long since given up an acting career, but they remained unaware of how much they had in common, for the closed and stubborn state of their indignant minds, imprisoned them both in their hollow and lonely isolation. The two men were resigned to seeing the world as an alien and unfriendly outside, a foreign place where they had failed, a place were they were no longer welcome. Like many of us, each in their own way had made mistakes. They had dwelt on the unimportant, elevated the selfish, dismissed the truth, made the wrong choices, and now reaped the rewards of this indulgent confusion. Each recoiled from the reflection of their own disappointment, evident in the sad face of another lonely old man. They may as well have been twins joined at the cheek, so close, so similar, but unable to see each other with anything but despair.
Neighbourhood warfare had not exactly broken out between the pair, but the occasional dumping of putrid rubbish in each other’s bins and the constant petty complaints to police or council administrators, saw retaliation with branches over the fence, and junk mail thrown into the neighbouring front yard. If the older guy shuffled down to his usually empty letter-box, his neighbour would immediately crank up the music to irritate his foe. This practice was once met with a rock spontaneously hurled at the open window, but the attacker had so little strength that the missile managed to just dribble over the sill, doing no more damage than a slight and sudden constriction to the dog’s bladder, startled whilst secretly wetting on the carpet. Such was their misdirected anger that they even failed to hit the right target. The situation had grown childish, but in spite of the intense and dedicated activity of the game, each deeply felt the personal but common terrors, that weighed on them with the heaviness of a stone heart.
Neither had ever looked forward to leaving youth and beauty behind and now age was creeping all over them like a sore. That vitality, which they had once assumed was their birth-right to do with as they chose, had slipped from their grasp, and with it the power to manufacture and manipulate supposed happiness, however transitory. This was to them the greatest of losses, but the occasional satisfaction they found in annoying each other did at least relieve some of the undirected rage and pressure of that void.
That day’s battle had failed to erupt, and as one man dozed in his back yard, unaware that he could be spied upon, he saw the first star begin to glimmer in the late afternoon. As far as he knew, no other human being might be gazing on that particular spot in the heavens. Nothing existed but himself and the distant planet that shone just for him. On the other side of the great divide, his neighbour, his twin, had dragged a rickety chair out on to his equally unsafe fire escape, and he too sat alone and saw the twinkle of that silver light, so bright in the orange-pink last rays of the sun. It was a time for memory, the days that were, and what they might have been.
No matter how days and evenings were filled, with either diversions or loneliness, sunset was always the most thoughtful and often depressing part of the cycle. There was something morbid and fatalistic about the end of the light, the slipping away of yet another day. Darkness could have its own secure enveloping comfort, but its inevitable and drawn out approach would so often throw an unconscious fear into their minds. It was a finale, another step closer to the ultimate end, that in their advancing years appeared spectre-like from out of the misty, unknown and unwanted future. As the night curtain descended they thought if only life were different, if only they had not travelled so soon and so far down that finite road. They prayed that the star was not the ferryman’s lantern, flickering as he stood unsteadily in his boat awaiting their arrival. Could they bargain about their passage, postpone the trip, do anything to avoid the inevitable. What if?
Why either wanted to prolong the unfulfilled existence they had chosen was perhaps a mystery, but fear knows little rationality, and to them age was most definitely fearful. Always wishing, always hoping for the impossible these men began the week, like every other week, with the repetition of the mundane, the inevitable, the loneliness, the fear.
"How are the goldfish?"
"They're fine."
"Still alive?"
It was a lie and he felt dreadful. He hardly ever lied to his parents. What could he do? His mother, crumpled in pink, was stretched out on the sofa crying into a tissue and his father, as usual, was trying to ignore not only her, but reality, by pretending to be cheerfully bright, negating and avoiding the obvious. His determined smile never lasted long, soon drifting into a vacant stare that disguised an internal world crammed with remembrances of hopes and desires never fulfilled. Alex suspected that there was a touch of senility overcoming his father. Conversations were becoming childish, and topics as well as his memory, seemed to roam freely, unhindered by the constraints of relevance, continuity or consideration. Perhaps anything to blind himself to recognition of his ageing wife, or his own obvious mortality. For him, the pace-maker and that damn pig-valve in his heart were more than enough to cope with, so for a man, suddenly come face to face with illness for the first time, that woman’s lifelong health and petty emotional problems were of little interest. He had been forced to abandon tobacco the day he was rushed to hospital. Alcohol, he had also been instructed, must be taken in tragic moderation, so at his age, what was he supposed to do for amusement. Being dependent on a battery buried under his skin was dreadful. He hated infirmity bitterly. There was nothing to do but create a new world for himself, with new rules and no opposition, where still he could be king. Irritability and confusion were an option for his new self that he favoured, but bitterness aside, he could hold on to one piece of past pride; his creation. He loved his son, his continuity, his future. The success or otherwise of his life would be passed on, transferred to another generation. He would be no longer responsible. Whether penitent or not he would be absolved. Certain of his son’s devotion he constantly clasped the opportunity to hand over his history to the one who, as the church said, had no option but to obey his wishes. No matter how distant and generally impersonal their relationship may always have been, as he looked at the evidence of his own life before him he felt love for this man, his son. Alex saw that he was truly the result of those genes, those two personalities before him, however he had always failed to appreciate the gift he had been smothered with. Realisation brought with it obligations he had chosen to reject. He could respect his father, he could love his mother, he could accept the idea of their apparent faith in him, but he was also aware of the little use he had made of such expectations, never asked for but once again thrust at him by the terrible frailty of these two old people.
It was a dangerous move from the outset, for Alex to take those fish, his father's home-bred fish. Any fool could see that the innocent creatures probably wouldn't survive in the new unsettled pond, and as expected, one of them went belly up that morning, the very morning his uncle had also died. Alex was attempting through this lie, to be so nice, to maintain respect, to honour his father. His goals were often set nobly in that direction, but no matter how faithful to the urging of his Catholic upbringing he attempted to be, his best intentions usually backfired. Fate and reality would step in, and a timely, comfortable coordination with the good resolutions of others was as elusive as was sustained happiness to his increasingly forlorn outlook. He could never get it right. Coincidence never fell in his favour. Uncomfortably that tiny insignificant death somehow appeared worse than the fatal tumour that killed his mother's brother. He certainly felt more affected by it. Disinterested relatives were no longer close, but that fish's blood had indelibly stained his hands. Haunting Catholic guilt, one of the pathetic essences of his existence had its usual unreasonable stranglehold over his thoughts, or the confusion that passed as thought in his constantly undecided mind.
Alex was not stupid, although it was obvious to himself how irrational he had become. He needed to be set back on the path. He needed solid definition, the lazy and simple ease of certainty, lost since the security of early childhood. Did he not once believe with conviction that Tchaikovsky had wanted to name his last symphony The Tragic? The passion and the tragedy of the music certainly reflected the composers own unhappy life, but derisively, his brother apparently replied that it should be called The Pathetique. No longer was he sure that this little quote wasn't fantasised by a backroom script-writer in an outlandish film he had once seen, or was it fictionalised in a book? He could no longer remember. Yes, the Russian master’s life was most pathetic, as was so obviously that of this admirer. How simple it had become, even with supposed maturity, to now be overly theatrical, and for Alex, definitely pathetic. Perhaps the mood was merely a passing phase, his incompetence at handling death, but whose? An uncle, a goldfish and the wary and watchful eye of age were increasingly bringing the awesome relevance of the shortness of life to the fore.
At the funeral, his family, none of whom wore the once traditional and expected black, had otherwise acted out their roles to perfection, but the unsettling and overwhelming image was that they all looked old. Apart from the presumably related young generation he failed to recognise, greyness permeated the sterile open pine of the modern church like a terminal disease. Beneath the rotating fans high in the fresh light-filled but uninspiring ceiling, tears were shed by everyone, even Alex, but he cried so often, even in front of the television, that to him, the significance of a wet eye was hardly astounding. It wasn't the sadness of the cold body nailed inside the eternal darkness of the casket that increased his discomfort on that hot day, it was the living who soon drove him away, that evident, confronting decay of everyone he had grown up with. Bouquets in hand, they were all on their way to the grave, and that dirty hole was beckoning to them all to slip gently inside. It wouldn't be long. They were all booked on the same journey. He could see the wreaths hung like a yoke around their necks dragging them down.
From where had he arrived at this stage in his life? He had created nothing for himself nor for his future. Had he contributed? Had he left a mark? Had he been of any use at all? The lucky ones, he thought, with families to replace them, were no doubt slightly reassured of some sort of immortality through the offspring of their sex lives. Blind satisfaction for some, but as for the non-procreators like Alex, who may feel immortal at the moment of orgasm, there is no continuity, for there, with the last spasm, it stops. Neither philosophers, nor Einstein nor the church ever did come up with an explanation for the contradiction of the immense but fleeting feeling of a seeming infinite and eternal infertile fuck that dissipates so soon after into the void of a sweaty, imperfect reality. A lover may touch heaven briefly but so often can the flat emptiness of the afterglow go out and become no more than a dark hole, as dark indeed as the pit before their feet. He wondered why death made him think of sex, but throughout his life he had to admit that many if not most things reminded him of sex. After all it is where we came from, how we replace ourselves, and the motivation of much of what we do in between.
"Fucking fish. It's all their fault."
He rolled over and tried to get back to sleep. Sore back, nightmares, a bladder that wanted to be relieved. How on earth had he arrived in this state? One day after the burial and his mind was in a whirl. Relatives should be avoided. It might be seldom that they came in contact with him, but the repercussions were so predictable. He had veered into a life they could not and would not understand, and their inevitable inappropriate questions constantly challenged his ability to be obtuse and inoffensive to their naive sensibilities. Sometimes he thought that perhaps his own apprehensions had selectively cut them off before they had made the misunderstood break themselves, but did it really matter any more? They had travelled in opposite directions, feasted at different tables. Understanding was now impossible, probably appropriately so, and now like different species, except for feeding on one another, they had little or nothing to share. The resources from the well of life were many but they each drank from a separate dish, not a more precious dish, nor one less worthy, merely different.
He no longer had a family, except his father and mother. He no longer had friends, except one. He had forgotten that he had himself.
"I've over-indulged. It’s upsetting my brain. Better give up drinking for a while. A few days anyway. Well, at least one."
There was no point in announcing to anyone that the regular and often laughed at resolution was perhaps again in action. No one would believe it. No one would care. He didn't believe it himself. Nothing seemed certain any more. What ever happened to that smug assurance of his youth? When a student, he knew all the answers with such conviction. For years, he remembered every intimate detail of his beliefs and their source, as if all had been written in stone by the inspired hand of God. Now he couldn't even remember faces he had once slept with, or for that matter, whether they had actually shared a night together or not. His mind needed rest, so what more perfect way was there to contemplate his predicament or his navel, than lounging beside the pond staring at those dumb fish swimming contentedly through their own urine; all except one, the one he had murdered.
This had been the fashion of his rotating thoughts for several weeks now, even before the climax of the recent spate of deaths. As predictable as he had become, Alex was convinced that it was once again time for a withdrawal, back into the inner self, the womb, the cave, to discover or perhaps re-discover what was this constant problem that nagged again at his security. Yes, friends, or what had been left of his acquaintances, had become noticeable by their absence, nothing exciting was happening to him any longer, he watched too much television and he was tired, verging on ill. He had to be at fault. Always, he found it hard to eventually blame anyone but himself. He wallowed in masochism. He was also getting older. Perhaps it was his mid-life crisis. Perhaps he had always been a selfish only-child, but that sounded like he was passing the fault to his parents, and if this was so, he would have to admit their influence which, as mentioned, he had egotistically rejected many years ago. He had to know where, in the depths of the past, had the seeds of this failure been planted, nurtured and sustained until this maudlin day? The interminably righteous path of self discovery had been searched often, but why had the solutions, scoured from so many expeditions into his failings, always disappeared from his memory at the very moment they should have once again been on call to save him. He thought it hardly fair.
Sex drugs and rock and roll. Everyone with a big mouth or a little bit of authority in the nineties, blames or praises the swinging sixties for what is wrong with the world, or for what is so wonderful about themselves. They were all there, believing passionately that they were an integral part of those days. Some have always looked back in pride, some maintained the optimism, and to some, their participation had become a tarnished badge that was so often worn to ward off the dangers of lost youth and the approaching crevices of flesh and self esteem. Alex was there, but apart from the many friends who had died in that time of freedom, he missed out on the drugs. He came hesitatingly late to sex, and rock and roll for him did not predate the Beatles.
"I want to move out and I'll need fifteen dollars a week for rent and food."
That was the presumptuous way he announced to his parents that he was to leave home for the first time. Jealousy, immaturity and possessiveness had just driven away his first love and caused the split with that first real friend he had ever made. No longer would they travel together to university, no more days and nights in the library together, no more secret but unidentifiable longings. His friend had moved, and his parents, although they could hardly afford it, had recently bought him a car. The need and opportunity of an escape from the entanglements of the womb was inevitable. He was no longer a child. He had loved. He was an adult now, firmly in control of his life. What were parents for if it wasn't to flatter him, support him, and now release him? That was their role. They had done what was expected and their time was over. They had grown to be no more than an element of his background. The individual began to believe that he was the only one around whom the world revolved, and he was about to bloom. Nothing was more certain to him than his importance in the cosmos. Inexperienced self awareness can be such a powerful and unexpected revelation that it so often blocks out the image of the rest of the universe, and Alexander smugly became very self aware. Acknowledgment of his own intelligence and the absolute certainty of his new convictions placed him on an egotistical level far above the rest of the puzzled unfortunates only barely within his field of vision. One day he would think himself a fool, but he had merely over-stretched his leap from introversion. The tightened spring had overshot the mark, but one day he would apologise.
For nine years he had walked humiliatingly in the shadow of his previous best friend at school. That shining star of the college was at the pinnacle of everything, and Alex was dragged unwillingly along to every party, event and holiday that his leader chose. In those school years he was shy, he was quiet, he brewed internally, he was an introvert. The boy’s family were poor, and his friends were rich. He was embarrassed, and try as his friends might, to drag him from the seclusion of his nest, he continued to spend most of his school years alone. Perhaps because of this timid rejection of the world, he studied much and almost by accident he became the first of his family to enter university. His background, snug as it was, gave him no experience or support for the discipline or expectations required in an institution set free in the rebellion of the late sixties. The various faculties he wandered through over the next few years may have given him no official credit, for he completed nothing, but it was certainly a valuable education that he would always praise and treasure. Not only did he browse the full variety of topics available to him, but the mere atmosphere and the compulsive conversations had set fire to and enlivened his brain.
These prospects were not initially obvious when he first arrived on the campus. Day one, he and his constant school friend shook hands and headed off to different departments, never to meet again for several years, but by then, time had forever broken the imbalanced bond. Day one of his second year, and his first change of subjects, he decided that he would no longer be so introverted, and glancing around the lecture theatre he decided that, under his own courageous initiative, he would take the unusual step of making first contact with another human being. It was almost a blind leap of faith, but he chose that above the humiliation of the constant snide accusation of being so pathetically shy. Amongst the three hundred or so at the first lecture, he selected a boy with a beard several rows to his front right. He studied the back of his fellow student’s head throughout the introductory hour and as they left he attempted to keep the boy in sight but in the crowd he became lost. Lecture two, and that same youth appeared from nowhere, sat beside him, placed his books on the bench, looked straight into Alex’s eyes and said hello.
Contact, success, the world had changed at last. He had done it, but there was still hesitation. It was a bit confusing as to just who's initiative this was. Perhaps it was significant, who had uttered the first word, but the newly born extrovert settled on the possibility that it must have been ordained by his new found force of will.
For eighteen months the ensuing conversation did not cease. Apart from sleeping at their respective homes they were seldom apart. There was so much to discover now that they were officially intellectuals. Such an endless range of topics to explore. It appeared that they never agreed on anything, but into the small hours they argued so often and so well, that Alex made every decision of belief that he has to this day. The scientific theories of the universe wove neatly into the existence of God and the philosophies of behaviour. From black holes to Saint Augustine to the words of the Moody Blues, nothing was irrelevant and the whole came into place. If he felt he had to convince his companion, or was unmoved by a new inspiration, he would disappear into books to research his next debate. He studied anything not on the curriculum to a depth that he could argue with sustained conviction and inevitably in an attempt to sway his opponent, he had convinced himself. The eventual break up of such a relationship, dependent on so much shared time and learning, unsettled the young student tremendously. His first effort at friendship, initially full of passion and then possession, soon crumbled and so, for a time, did inexperienced Alex’s stability.
"Was it a homosexual relationship?"
The thought had never entered his head. When the counsellor posed this question after the two had ended their friendship, Alex was stunned. They had not so much as even shaken hands in that year and a half. He had read the Ethics of Aristotle and understood the nobility of the Platonic ideal. The purity of the love of equals sat nicely with his Catholic inhibitions. No, it wasn't a sexual relationship, but he was in love with his ex-friend, and he said so. It had been the first reality that made him feel worthwhile. The split was never healed, and it took five years for Alex to stop plunging into immediate breath-taking trauma if the boy with the beard was accidentally encountered in the street. The sincerity of affection for his first great love would not be replaced for many years but, ideals aside, sex with all its rapturous splendour did arrive earlier than that; on his twenty first birthday.
"We brought him along for you. We decided you're a poofter and it's about time you woke up to yourself."
That was at the movies while buying a soft drink at interval. A fairly mundane setting that added nothing to such a momentous redirection or step in his life. No drama, no seduction, nothing to cause a stir. He accepted the comment as fact, offered his gift a lift home, had sex and the next day proudly announced to all his friends that he was gay. At last that was settled. So he wasn't asexual after all. It was so simple. From that day Alex would never sleep with anyone whom he didn't love, or at least think there was a potential for some relationship. No intentional one night stands for him, even if some of the next two or three hundred relationships only lasted for one night or less. The possibility of finding the next true love hovered comfortingly in the back of his brain, but more often than not his brain appeared to have grown an ally entrenched somewhere near his groin. Faulty his logic and appreciation may have been, but he believed he had always maintained the principled moral ground, even if such modified understanding was a bit difficult to explain to the Pope. He did try once. Being often prone to depression and needing to talk to someone, anyone, the decision to go straight to the top soon evolved one evening, under the intoxication of some straight Scotch.. As surprising as receiving a reply from Santa Clause, a week later a pair of Papally blessed rosary beads arrived with a watermarked letter from a Monseigneur in the Vatican, assuring Alex that the Pope said thanks for the letter and not to be too hard on himself. That was the gist of the letter written more sensitively than what one might have expected in return to the confused guilt-ridden outpourings of a drunk, desolate, loveless, but now sex-obsessed boy.
Well, the church didn't seem to mind, in secret that is. The Queen obviously didn't mind - look at her relatives and staff. His friends didn't mind. Even his unconsummated ex-girlfriend didn't mind. It was time to tackle the parents.
"Oh we've known that for years."
He never looked back after that. Sex was there to stay. Drugs on the other hand were not so easy to handle. Once he smoked a joint and it did nothing, and on the second and last occasion, two puffs made him sick and paralysed on the damp lawn under a mango tree for several hours. He decided against it, and when his friends started dropping off from their 'safe' habit he developed a hatred, verging on paranoia, for anything other than tobacco and alcohol. Some acquaintances went to jail, several suicided, one wrapped naked in a Bob Dylan poster while incense burned, and one ex-lover drowned in his own vomit. By the time the tally had reached thirty, he would turn almost hysterical at the mere mention of marijuana, or LSD. Gradually over the years, the respect of others for his increasingly unusual horror of drugs would isolate him more and more from those more drug tolerant friends who gathered around him.
The happiest indulgence remained rock and roll. All music really, because opera was up there with the flower power anthems, vying for playing time. Back in sixty-four he stood on his chair in the twelfth row, with pneumonia, to watch the Beatles play. He was too numb to be disappointed at the thirty-five minute performance that was impossible to hear, and when the screaming was played back on the radio it was disastrous to any musical ear of what ever dimension. No one in the future would ever admit that a Beatles' concert was not very good. It was an event, a piece of history, so why quibble about standards. He had been there, and he would hold that over every jealous young upstart he ever met.
By all accounts those indulgences were the corner-stones of modern western civilisation. Alex stared at the goldfish and thought how insignificant it all was. Surely he could and should do better than that. He realised that his penis and his heart had come between the university and his future, but he did survive and perhaps his career was more fulfilling than the series of professions he had previously lost faith in. He was still aware but still he couldn’t explain where it all went wrong. What happened after the disappointment of the sixties, or what had taken place in the crippled days before that great awakening. What specifically had happened to him at some as yet unidentified stage in his life that caused this misery. Perhaps it was everything. Perhaps it was nothing. He needed to dig further but historically manipulated backtracking was getting nowhere. The repetition was only playing with himself, but it takes time to work your way to the genesis of principles, even if it is fun to reminisce about old loves, old songs and old times. What if it could be the way it used to be?
The good old days. Has every ageing human being on Earth at some time bored the young with half memories and delusions of the glories of their past? It has always seemed to be so. Alex felt so pathetic to be doing the same yet again. He had no audience this time, but he was just as guilty. What about the bad times, the dull times, the ordinary times. What about the several times he had scratched anything sharp down his wrists just enough to produce a safe flow of blood. Suicide? Hardly. Pathetic? Certainly. Good old days? Not really.
"Shit I've been over this so often. What’s the point of reliving my youth. It’s too late now. I blew it. I'll be fifty in a couple of years, and I'll probably end up as bad as that old creep next door. You don't care do you? Neither do I."
The dog he was talking to looked at him knowingly, with that 'I love you anyway' look. If it were possible to get inside the brain of a pet it would probably be no more than a 'when do I get patted or fed' look, but Alex smiled, lit another cigarette, examined the stain on his fingers and promptly changed mood.
"Lets have a beer, then you get locked outside and I'm going out. I'm supposed to be on holidays after all."
Eddy would be sitting by the phone awaiting an excuse to get out of the house. He had given work away years ago and his life was now full of coffee shops, clothes shops, hair salons and amateur voluntary work. He belonged to at least a dozen committees, and meetings were the most consistent social life he had those days. Not to say that it was anything but a dizzy round of engagements. They had met about twenty years ago, slept together once, but forgot that failed episode very quickly. The two of them had remained friends ever since, except when one got upset about some personal affront that caused a minor but often exaggerated sulk for a month or two.
The two sat reeking of cologne and maturity, heads bowed reverently over a couple of insignificant cups of coffee, the consistency of mud, and continued exchanging observations of how inconsiderately the rest of the population behaved.
"How are the fish?"
"Dead, I hope. I feel like the Grim Reaper. Last time I looked, I think I could pass for the ugly old bastard as well."
"You’re not that old."
"I used to get away with it, but not any more. I hate getting old. Do you think I could be referred to as venerable from now on? Much nicer word; give me some credibility."
"You’re about as venerable or credible as my budgie, and he died last week."
"Thanks very much. So I’m feather brained, but, it’s so different now. Once a good night’s sleep and a few glasses of water and the wrinkles would disappear. Not anymore."
The rut would have continued if not for the intrusion of a cockroach, landing on it’s back in the sugar bowl from a secret place where it had hidden waiting for just the right moment to cause the most disturbance and disgust. The struggle, legs clawing helplessly at the air had none of the depth and futility of Kafka, it was just obscene. They felt no pity for the intruder, only themselves.
"Let’s get out of here, and have a real drink. If I want vermin I may as well sterilise it with alcohol."
With nothing much else to do the pair did take alcohol in impressive enough volume to remove any inhibitions that would normally have kept them protected by propriety. Soon after their third drink a young boy approached their table, introduced himself and, uninvited, sat down.
" Hello, I used to be gay but I'm straight now. I'm here alone because I don't know anyone any more. Can I have a drink?"
Intense from the outset. He was cute but dangerously young. Abusive mother, lived alone, and wanted to know if they took 'substances'. He appeared possibly intelligent but unbelievably precocious. Within minutes a bald man in a green T-shirt flashed his badge and paranoia washed over the boy more thoroughly than soap and water had obviously done in a long time.
"What's going to happen to me?"
The policeman, presumably from the licensing squad, behaved better than a kind uncle, and as unlikely as it appeared to Alex and Eddy, he assured the boy he would be fine. After a chat at a distance with the police, the young street kid somehow convinced them that he was nineteen and returned to their table briefly to grab his crushed packet of tobacco before discretely disappearing. Another drink, and they were joined by a forty-odd year old Sydney tart. She twisted the tips of waist length bleached hair, tugged at the hem of a short dirty cream skirt, had born a seventeen year old son apparently, and had left the south to get away from the ‘degenerates’. She had body odour. With her was an overly effervescent young black guy whom she had just attached herself to. His constantly smiling eyes and mouth bore a remarkable resemblance to Woopie Goldberg. There was another black girl with hair as long and untamed as Diana Ross in full flight. From windows overlooking the footpath, and from across the beer soaked floor she waved and grinned at them continuously, that is, when she had enough stability to stand. She was having a ball as she wavered from shoulder to stool around the bar. They chatted to a few people they knew and then Alex was fallen on by another boy, tall, with very long blond hair and a pretty face who had just arrived from Melbourne. They thought he introduced himself as Ben, but about five minutes later that was cleared up. He had said he was ‘bent’. The music was a bit loud. He then announced that his name was Sigfried, but then again, he thought Socrates might be nice. Presumably neither they nor the boy were sure who he was, as he lurched back into the darkness of the crowd.
"We could write a book about this menagerie."
This unusual popularity initially cheered them both but the inevitability of how limited it would turn out to be, soon brought them back to their more sober and safe despondency. Over the years both Alex and Eddy had met, sometimes slept with and often lost contact with many in the crowd, the older ones at least. The guy with the wooden leg, who had some how kept that a secret until he and Alex had undressed in the dark of the first of many nights they had slept together. The rough and sweaty dancer covered in tattoos who, many years ago, had been such a pretty redhead before he had been sent to jail for manslaughter. The dull real-estate agents, the monotonous public servants, the ex-monk, the hair dressers and the continuously unemployed. There were several that were unrecognisable, but as Alex was continually slipping off his stool it may not have been the mere lack of a fond memory that was affecting his comprehension. The sight was becoming as disappointing as the funeral gathering, and he was about to leave.
"Oh my god. Botticelli's angel has come to Earth."
Inebriated clichés were abounding by this hour, but the boy who had just appeared was certainly beautiful. He did have the serene innocence, and perfect features of a semi-divine creature. It was irregular but the boy was bare-foot beneath his worn white tights and buttonless white shirt. The slim unblemished vision walked slowly to the bar scrounged some coins from his dirty fist and ordered an orange juice. Alex lurched from his stool and staggered to a pillar closer to where the young beauty leaned shyly against the window where he now stood sipping his drink.
"Stop being so obvious. You'll frighten the kid."
"He's incredible. It's almost illegal. Certainly immoral to look that good."
"You never change, do you? You're past it. If you want to find someone, it's time you got realistic."
"I'm just looking."
"You're making a spectacle of yourself. If your tongue hangs out any further you'll be licking the floor."
The boy looked into his glass and noticed no one. Occasionally he was approached by a stranger but he smiled with resignation and politely turned away. His rejections soon created a space around him from which he could be observed, but he was so obviously unapproachable. At one stage Alex thought he saw the boy glance at him and shake his head. He too could have taken it as unsolicited rejection but decided to banish further demeaning thoughts from his head. This vision was his and he knew it.
Alex went home that night and restlessly, he could think of nothing but that boy. He had developed instant obsessions before, but not over a one such as this, an unattainable boy with the grace and sad confused perfection of an angel. His chances of happiness had been wasted so often in his past, and now in his forties he had convinced himself that it was too late. The urge to continue searching had never let go, but the veil of fear had at last surrounded him permanently, like a home-spun shroud the acceptance of eventual frustration had cloaked him irreversibly. There was no longer any desire to offer himself up to defeat. All those years of self examination and striving for the ultimate fantasy had done no more than create bitterness, disillusionment and resignation to the disappointments of fate. He just wasn’t wanted anymore. The last thoughts he had that night were of self-pity as he drifted off to sleep to dream of himself and his newfound imagined companion.
The water felt wonderful. Suds bubbled all over his body and running from his hair, foamed cleanly into the drain. Alex roughly applied a second rubbing of soap. He wanted to be especially clean, just like a new babe. A couple of days constant contemplation of his fantasy, his newest obsession, had moved him from the fears of rejection and resignation into a safer feeling of an objective connoisseur. He may no longer touch, but he could be smug with the realisation that he at least had an eye for beauty, and that eye gave him possession. He was beginning to feel so good and would have started singing if he had known some pedestrian words. 'I'm gonna wash that boy right outta my hair' seemed like the sort of song he should burst into, but it was hardly relevant, and he hated the music, the words, and the silly scene. 'O Solo Mio' started up but thankfully he got water down his toneless throat and the dog, sitting there in a puddle of water, watching him, began to bark. Kneading his hair it felt so thick and it crossed his mind that he needed a haircut. So soon? As he brushed the bubbles from his chest and abdomen he thought he had never looked so fabulous.
"Pretty sexy don't you think?"
The dog was still barking with its paws slipping on the edge of the bath. Alex splashed some water over the little spy who scurried briefly out of the room, but returned to continue harassing him from the doorway.
"What's your problem. You may be blond and cute, but you're too hairy and you're a girl. So you aint gettin nowhere with me."
Feeling a spring in his feet he stepped from the shower and noticed how good his calf muscles looked as his toes pointed towards the mat. Clean, fresh and tingling with the sensation of a new man, he was rubbing his hair with the towel, smelling the perfumed soap when a glance caught his reflection in the misted mirror.
Alex tore the towel from his head and wiped a hole in the steam covered glass. He bent forward, looked at his hair, touched his finger to the glass as he examined his face, wiped away a larger area of water, and stepped back to see the reverse image of more of his body. He walked out of the bathroom and sat unsteadily at the kitchen table, lit a cigarette, got up, opened another beer from the fridge and again fell onto the chair. Unable to settle there, he stood up again and returned to the mirror. His face broke out in a smile, he mopped the long hair from his forehead and began to laugh. His laughter grew louder, the dog's barking grew more excited, and the two of them ran from the room and fell about the carpet wrestling. Covered in dog hair and light red marks, Narcissus was drawn to the mirror one more time.
"How dare you scratch this beautiful body and I didn't put fluff all over you. I‘m beautiful........ shit, that’s me!"
An urge to get outside into the sunshine took hold of him, so he grabbed a robe, but decided he couldn't stand covering himself. He threw the towelling aside and ran down the back steps and out into the garden. Feeling like a kid he tried doing a hand-stand. For a few seconds he managed to stay vertical watching his genitals hang upside down with his delicate feet pointing at the sky. Perhaps the neighbours could hear his laughter and see his antics through the sparkling green of the trees but this was no time to care about what the ordinary people thought. He was too excited and so was the dog, who probably had no idea what was going on.
For once the neighbour was not spying on this new sight. He was missing
" I definitely need another drink. Care to join me you gorgeous animal? Guess not."
Not only controlling his trembling hand was difficult, but he could hardly breathe when he dialled Eddy. His voice faltered against the complacency of the outside world.
"What are you up to? How about dropping over. I’d really like to see you right now. ..........No nothing special. I’ll explain."
Alex put on his dressing gown, and although it didn't suit the outfit he plopped a large frayed straw gardening hat over his head. He left the front door ajar and went to pose at the rail of the back deck with his back to the door to await Eddy's arrival. After twenty minutes, and considerable pacing back and forth to change the music to the most appropriate for Eddy’s entrance, he returned to the balcony for what seemed like hours. He was about to call again but just as the music of Parsifal began to soar, he heard from behind the innocent voice of his friend.
"What the fuck are you doing with that hat on? Did you use the wrong dye again?"
Alex said nothing as he removed his hat. Rich dark hair cascaded from under the straw down to his shoulders, he turned around and opened the front of his robe and slid it off his shoulders so that it dropped to the floor. Eddy wasn't accustomed to Alex flashing his nakedness at him, but he only got a quick glimpse before he fainted. It was only then that the new fresh faced, smooth skinned boy realised that what had occurred was going to be not only a lot, but an exceptionally great deal of trouble. It was fantastic. It was unbelievable. It was a miracle but what was he going to do now. What about his parents? What about his job? What about everybody? His mind was in genuine deserved turmoil.
"You know it might not last."
"We aren't dreaming and there's no fairies except me at the bottom of this garden. I love it but I'm in deep shit, aren't I."
Eddy had recovered. He came too with a slight bruise on his elbow, had gone straight to the cabinet and helped himself to a Scotch. He could have become speechless, he could have screamed, but instead he had slipped comfortably to the floor. Apart from a misdirected elbow it was a beautifully graceful blackout, worthy of any prima donna. The shock, having been dealt with so stylishly, was now enough to frighten them back into reality, what ever that was.
"You've got some explaining to do. You know you're going to have to disappear from here. How do you think you can go back to work? You look like the errand boy, and what are your parents going to think of the sudden arrival of a grandson?"
"I can't just leave."
"You’re going to have to unless you want to be the town freak. You’re young enough to run away from home. You could start over again if you want to."
"I’m a boy aren't I. Fuck, I've been given a second chance."
"Maybe its a Buddhist reincarnation without having to drop dead first. I hate to say it, but you got a gorgeous re-run. It’s your face but you were never this pretty when I met you."
"You thought I was nice once."
"A long time ago and for about five minutes. If you were like this I would've contemplated hanging around for a bit longer, but don’t get carried away, you’re still not my type."
"What am I going to do? Do you think anyone will recognise me?"
"Not a chance."
"You did."
"Only because I'm here, and I'm smarter than the average idiot. If you don't tell you'll be a fresh kid on the block. You could get away with anything. Here’s your chance to pay back all those bastards who’ve been giving us a bad time. I like this idea. Want to try?"
Dazed, but trying desperately to keep control, and accept this as adults, as they were, or at least used to be, they poured another Scotch. Alex dressed, but his clothes were so conservative. The jeans were loose and baggy, the shirt was disgustingly plain. He tried an old T-shirt which hung haphazardly from his straightened shoulders, and having been an admirer from afar of the young and fashionably untidy, he realised and accepted that on him this was at last a better look. What once looked elegant had become out of place, and clothes that had made him look old and rough could now add style to his youthful frame. Dressing however was hopeless and as well as that his hair was so long he had no idea where to brush it. He wasn’t used to any of it.
"I can't go out like this. I look like a mess. It was fine an hour ago. I was old but I knew my place. I look stupid. I don’t know what to do."
"We could go shopping."
"Trust you. Shit, this is going to cost me, but I’m not complaining."
"What about me? How am I going to explain this. You aren't the only one who's going to have problems. You get the bonus and I feel even older. If I go out with you people'll talk. I'll look like an old leach."
"I didn't do it. Someone fucking hit me with it. Give me a break. This should be fantastic. I'm not making any sense, but look at me. I'm scared, I'm excited, I'm confused, but I'm young again. I don't know how or why, but it happened."
Alex burst into tears. Terror, elation, fear? He had no idea why. What was someone to do when suddenly, without warning, without precedent, without explanation they stepped out of the shower and they were twenty or thirty years younger? Almost everyone wanted to, but it never happened. Of course it never happened, it was impossible, it was fantasy, a dream, a wish, but on this day, in this house, in this city, under these stars, to this person, it happened. One glance in the mirror and there it was. Alex was young. Alex was beautiful. Alex was everything he, and almost any other honest or unhappy man, had ever wanted to be. His secret wish, his perhaps undefined wish had been granted. No one trusted Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, the Good Fairy, the Gods, but someone had come through. Why? How? Forget the questions. The miracle did happen this day. The consequences could be postponed, or at least the contemplation, understanding, and acceptance of them must certainly be set aside until his mind was capable of grasping the spontaneous unfathomable truth. Eddy reigned in his selfishness. His own immediate problems had to take second place.
"I'm sorry. Lets step back a bit. It's no joke, I know. Shall we have another drink? I think we'd better get pissed to talk about this. We're not going anywhere yet."
"I'd better do something."
They were well and truly drunk within the hour, and no closer to knowing what to do, and by this stage rationality was on the wane. Wild ideas came to the fore to be just as easily replaced by even less practical solutions to the predicament they were in. Seriously did they discuss Dorian Gray, the laws of nature, the limitless power of God. Had he been on any medication? Perhaps it was a throw back to an old Acid trip, but he never had any. They had discovered something never heard of. Should they see a doctor, tell some scientist, write to the Pope? It was terribly intense so they hopped in a taxi, dropped by Eddy's place and stole a pair of jeans from his young absent tenant and went to the pub.
Sunday afternoon had grown once again to be the best time to go out. In Alex's youth, although the trading hours had been shorter, Sunday afternoon was wild. Boys in board-shorts, hair tussled with wind salt and sand, having a last drink on the way back from the surf, looked sweet amongst the paler hardened drinkers and the more delicate less sport minded boys. These days the boys who hung around the bars were more likely to spend alternate hours at the gym. They were tougher and as far as Alex was concerned they just weren't as pretty as they used to be. Straight boys looked more alternative and feminine, and gay boys looked more masculine. Fashion and attitudes had rotated, but whatever the clientele, a binge at the end of the weekend had always played havoc with dragging himself to work on Monday morning with a raging headache and a pallor that looked like death, but his staff were used to it. He managed a theatre company, involved himself in an assortment of entrepreneurial exercises and although successful, his creeping lack of confidence was undermining his work. Alex didn't go out much these days. He felt like a has-been amongst the beauties of the day, as many or as few as there were. He was throwing the best parties in town before many of them were born, and his fame as someone to know had hung on for more years than it should have, but bit by bit it had eroded away and suddenly he faded into the background. No matter how good he had always felt when he left home, gradually he would begin to feel conspicuous, out of place, isolated, and down right old and ugly.
Once, every attractive boy knew him, but now the interloper was too old for the boys to notice or worry about. There was no longer anything competitive about his appearance. He now felt that to be with them he had to be like them, and the compromise only ever made him look silly. He wasn’t like them, the ones he wanted to admire, the young, the pretty. He thought them blind to his inner worth, but he too had always rejected anyone as old as himself, and that hypocrisy had led further to his isolation. Today however he no longer needed to worry, for he was no longer old, no longer suffering ugly decay as he had seen it. He had become beautiful once again. He was at last one of them.
Throughout childhood and his insecure adolescence he was an introvert. In his twenties he was thought the most extroverted of all his friends, but as his forties progressed he once again took on the mantle of his early youth, his introversion. Was it such a dramatic change or was it no more than him realising his useable strengths when appropriate and the temporary popularity no more than determinedly taking advantage of how attractive he once was, through a desperate need to satisfy his lusts and urges. Beneath the flamboyant interaction the world had witnessed remained a constant lack of self-appreciation, but also a strong desire for self-satisfaction. He had not really changed then, he had been blind to the opportunities, to the future, but now, suddenly, he had been granted a ‘what if?’, so perhaps now he could alter the path, take a better direction, make a success this time, create happiness. He at least felt he should, but what; what was he going to change?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment here or in side bar or you can email me at pepispictures@gmail.com

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...