It’s raining again today.
Much to my dismay, I see the sky outside my window. Bleak. Gray. And even with the negative illusion of my dark room that should show that one tiny window as a square of light, it’s more like a faint projection on a blank wall of a Serbian art house film.
I check the clock, it’s barely past seven in the morning, and I will myself up from the sticky, oppressive heat of my bed, which despite the best efforts of my poor, ancient, and overworked air-conditioning unit, feels more like an electric griddle set on low than the dreamy softness that grinning salesboy promised when I bought these sheets. Another day off to a rip-roaring start, to be sure.
Stumbling across my room into the small lav in what could probably be the unsexiest pair of pajamas ever known to man, I flipped a switch and heard a soft moan and a rustle in the bed I just left.
Right. Anton spent the night.
I took a piss, relishing the sound of a steady stream make contact with the toilet water, hoping it would drown out the soft sound of the rain against my window. As I relieved myself, I started to trace back my steps last night.
He smiles: “Like, ‘Wag mo akong ma-Terry Terry!”
We laugh. Mental note: Please don’t do that, like ever again.
“Mike said you’d be here on time. Sorry, I was caught up in traffic.”
Not an excuse for being almost 40 minutes late, but whatever. “It’s alright, I work in the building, so I went down when I could and I figured I could read a bit while waiting.”
He plops down on the sofa directly across me. He’s totally not what our mutual friend Mike said he would be. For one he’s NOT 5’10’, more like pushing 5’8” tops. As a tall-ish guy (About 6’ tall), I do try to date people within my height range.
“What are you reading?”
“Some stuff for work.” He makes a face.
“Really, put those away, you’re off the clock, right?”
I put my papers back in my bag. I will concede this point. “I’m sorry. You have my undivided attention.”
He takes a sip from the bottle of beer that somehow materialized in front of him at one point. “Good. I have been reading up on the Queen and her deliciously sordid relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles and Kate Middleton.”
“Oh really now? And?”
“I haven’t made my mind on it as of the moment.” He continues. Looking dead straight into my eyes.
I confess, I averted my gaze.
“So how do you know Mike?”
“I knew Michelle from college, when they got married, I was dead set against it. Mike is just too short for Mich.”
It took all the strength I had in me not to laugh in his face.
“Anyway, Mike seems to have taken it upon himself to overhaul my sex life, so he offered to introduce me to you.”
I take a sip from my drink, and arched my eyebrows. “And why would he do that? Is there something particular about your sex life that needs fixing?”
He laughs and pats his belly. “I seem to have an awful knack of devouring the souls of all I come across, at least in his estimation. I work in advertising, so I guess he’s right.”
“So tread carefully is the name of the game, is it?”
“You can say that. We can also call it bad publicity and fake news.”
“You sir, are a hot mess it seems.” I raise my drink to him with a slight smirk.
“And you sir, are not in a better place, believe me.” He raises his beer and gently clinks it against my glass.
I take off my pajamas and step into the shower. I turn the tap and turn around to let the water run in cold rivulets down my back. I wonder what fresh hell awaits me back at the office.
I hate Mondays. As Garfield would say, but unlike that goddamn cat, I actually have a reason to hate it. I start to lather up my hair and beard, and I work my way down. Making quick work of washing up the sticky scent of sweat, gunk, and sex. I took care to wash that nasty business back there. I never enjoyed being on the receiving end of penetrative sex: it always makes me uncomfortable the next day. Like legitimately makes me feel out of sorts: like my back is all out of alignment. If it’s a psychological thing, or an age thing, I don’t know exactly: but I keep forgetting to stretch before getting into it. And I have a theory that this hamster is trying to kill me by jackhammering me every time we meet.
“So, Terry: Apart from your riveting work as an auditor for one of our country’s finest banking institutions, and a possible history of homicide involving your ex-husband’s mistress, what should I know about you?”
“Very funny, something tells me, that is your favorite movie.”
“If it is, will you hate me?”
“No. I wouldn’t. But you will be judged. Though I haven’t really seen it.”
“Then I am judging you. Maricel Soriano is a national treasure.”
I snort. This conversation is absurd.
“Oh, mock me all you want. It doesn’t make you superior. Sexier, perhaps, but not superior.”
I snort again. Loudly. People from the other table look at me.
“Okay, significantly less sexy. Are you retarded?”
We both laugh.
“I must say you are turning out to be so much more vexing than Mike initially led me to believe.”
He smiles, “Well, I do try.”
“Room for one more?”
I turn my head and open my eyes to look at him, framed by the door.
“Don’t be ridiculous. This shower wouldn’t fit us both. Go read a magazine or something. I’m still pondering the secrets of the universe.”
He doesn’t listen (as always), and proceeds to slowly peel off his clothes: First that ratty t-shirt, and then those boxer briefs. I stare at him, taking in the lurid little striptease. He steps into the shower and I feel the coarse brush of his chest hair against my back. His arms, thick and strong envelop me in their embrace.
“So troublesome. Must you invade my every waking moment?”
“I intend to invade every inch of you. Must you protest so vigorously every time I do?”
His hands begin to unravel each excuse, each justification. I feel the heat rising in my body for the first time today, as I felt his cock firmly press in between my thighs. I turn around, not without much difficulty, in the small space we now share, and I face him. His eyes glow like obsidian, his lips taste like cocaine.
And 5’8″ seems to be the perfect height after all.
“Go ahead. You can say it. Mike warned me about your height preference.”
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. I made a mental note to kill Mike later.
“It’s not a requirement.”
“That’s good to hear. It would’ve been a shame, you know.”
“Because I only date people who are 6’ and taller. So you’re the perfect height. If we don’t hit it off, I’ll have to find some other giant to climb.”
“Given that the average height for our people are around 5’8″…”
“That implies that you don’t get to climb very often. How do I know if you can climb well enough?”
“Oh I can climb pretty well, thank you very much. You’ll just have to trust me on that.”
“Well, we’ll see.”
Come Up For Air
Ryan Robert Flores eloquently writes about what it’s like to love, and then lose that love; and then wallow in the pain that comes and lingers afterwards, even as others are starting to ignite the loving again…
“Knock, knock! Michael, are you decent?”
“As decent as I’ll ever be, asshole.”
I push those heavy doors with my shoulder as I balanced a cake and a bunch of flowers. “Surprise, Motherfuck-“ he wasn’t alone in the room after all. Standing by the bed was Michael’s mother, Polly, and a bunch of other people and little children I didn’t know.
“James, you’ve met my mother. Guys, this is James, my roommate. James, this is everybody.”
“Hey everybody. Don’t mind me; I’ll just put this in the fridge, and these in some water. Michael, the rest of the gang is on the way, I’ll wait for them downstairs at Starbucks.” I went about arranging the flowers as quietly as possible.
“Uncle Mike, does it hurt?”
“No. It doesn’t hurt. The doctor was great. I don’t feel a thing.”
“I’m glad. Will you come over for Thanksgiving next week? Sandy said you won’t be able to make it.”
“I did not! I just said Uncle Mike might not make it because he needs to rest. Right mom?”
“Don’t worry kids, I’ll be there. Save my seat.”
Polly went over to where I
was arranging the flowers. “So James, I hear you’ve broken up again with your
Goddammit Michael. I smile, “Yeah. It didn’t work out. He needed to move out west. It’s just as well. If I went with him, I wouldn’t have been there in the apartment when Michael had the heart attack.”
“That’s true. Thank you for taking care of him James. The family really appreciates it.” She picks up some stray leaves that fell on the table and throws them away in the small trash bin in the corner. “I told Michael to stay with us uptown, but he insists on staying at your place with Gabe. Speaking of which, where is Gabe?”
“He’s probably at work. The flowers are from him.” I lied.
“I would’ve thought he’d be here.” She said pointedly.
“Well, he’s been very busy lately. Honestly, ever since they started developing that parcel down at West 23rd Street, even I hardly see him.”
She shrugs and takes the vase and brings it over to Michael’s bedside. “Come children, your uncle needs to rest. We’ll come back tomorrow. Say goodbye and get your coats.” Polly comes over and gives me a hug, and out the door they went, in single file.
I turn to Michael. He was looking at me sheepishly. “You told your mother about my breakup? Why?”
“I was not aware that it was classified information, buddy.”
I sat by the edge of the hospital bed. “I mean it wasn’t classified, but I would’ve thought it was something that you could, I don’t know, keep to yourself?”
“You still miss him, don’t you?”
“Of course… Of course I do.”
He looked at his toes peeking out from under the blanket. “You know there’s still time, right? Why don’t you call him?”
“After what was said? I don’t think so.” I felt his hand on mine. “Look, buddy, at least you can try to see if you can take it back. He’s a good guy, if not slightly flaky. You two were great together.”
“Oh he was a good guy, alright, but I don’t know. I felt a little relief when he left. That can’t be normal for great relationships, right?”
He shrugged his shoulders.
I take my phone out. No messages.
“Enough about me, silly. Where’s Gabe?”
He shrugged his shoulders again. “I don’t know. He’s at work, I think.” He tried to lift his arm, reaching across his chest to scratch his shoulder, but he winces in discomfort: the tubes get in the way. I reach over and scratch his shoulder through the fabric of his hospital gown. I feel a low rumble from his throat as he closed his eyes. He takes a deep breath and I feel the rough brush of his beard against the back of my hand.
I just sit there, scratching his shoulder, until I hear his breathing slow down. I sit there, staring at my phone. I look over at Michael, now fast asleep. I stand up and quietly slip out of the room.
“Good Lord, what the fuck did they feed you at the hospital?”
“Fuck you, buddy, shut it and keep pushing.”
My knuckles are already turning white at the effort of pushing Michael’s wheelchair up the steep ramp of our apartment building. After much grunting and possibly a couple of burst blood vessels, we finally get into the lobby. “Goddammit dude, you are fucking heavy!” He laughs, “More of me to love, buddy. More of me to love!”
I smirked at him. “Great. Tell me, have you gotten that out of your system, big boy? Remind me again why I’m doing this, when you have a perfectly healthy boyfriend running around the city?”
“Because you love me. Don’t deny it.”
I snort in reply as the elevator doors opened and I wheeled him in. “Besides, Gabe is busy.” I give out a melodramatic sigh. “He always is.” The elevator stops on our floor, and I wheel him out to the hall. My phone rings and I stop abruptly.
“Easy does it! Hey!”
“Sorry, sorry. Wait let me take this.”
“Can we at least get inside first?”
“Shhhh… Come on dude, this is a boy.” He snorts and starts fiddling with his phone.
I push the talk button, and bring it up to my ear. “Hey. What’s up?”
“So I was thinking, maybe we can try out this new place I found in Chinatown? I heard you say that you felt like having crab, and this is apparently one of the best places in the city.” I felt a smile creep across my face at the prospect of a date. “Oh yeah, Yes I did… I mean, I’d like to try it out.”
“Great. What time are you free later? I can drop by to pick you up, or would you prefer to meet there?”
I look at Michael and he’s still busy with what seems to be a particularly intense round of Candy Crush.
“I think I’m good by seven o’clock? I just need to have my roommate settled and I can be on my way. Just send me the address and I’ll meet you there.”
“Alright, I’ll text you the address and I’ll see you later.” I put the phone back in my pocket, and I start pushing Michael’s wheelchair towards the end of the hall. He puts his phone away as well. “So… Is that a date?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, nosey, but yes.” I open the door and push him into our small living room. “We’re going out later.”
“I heard. Which dirty dating app did you use to meet this one?”
I feign shock. “Wow. What did I do to deserve this much judgment?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “You haven’t exactly been hunting in the better side of the woods lately.” I help him get up from the chair, and we start moving towards his bedroom, his arm around my shoulders. “I hope he at least has a job?”
“Oh, listen to you, mister. Seriously? But if you really must know, yes, he has a job.” He sits on the side of the bed with a grunt as I take off his UCLA t-shirt, and help him put on a fresh one. He lies back as I take off his pants and shoes and lift his legs unto the bed. I open up his bag and dump his medicines unto the bed. I took a small basket from the dresser and sat down beside him and start sifting through the half dozen or so plastic pill bottles. “He’s a professor.”
“Oh, is that your new thing? Reliving a sordid teacher-student role-play fantasy of yours?” He stretches his arms and begins to absentmindedly toy with one of the bottles of meds on the bed.
“Of course not.” I admit it wasn’t too convincing. It was, indeed, my thing.
“Bullshit, buddy. I know how extra credit turns you on. What does he teach?”
“Economics, I think.” I grab the bottle from him and put it inside the basket. “Now, I know you had a heart attack, and not a stroke, so I trust you would know which medicines to take and when. They’re all here and I’ve refilled your water bottle. You have some crackers to tide you over, at least until Gabe comes home. The remote is right here between your pillows should you want to watch TV. Do not get out of bed, except if you need to go to the bathroom.” He nods, “And you need to get ready for your date?”
“Yeah.” I stand up and pull on the blanket to tuck him in. “You have to rest.”
“Yes, Mother.” He closes his eyes and turns to his side. I remember him tell a joke that only sociopaths sleep on their backs, and I smile. I wonder if there’s any truth to that. I turn off most of the lights in his room, and I gently close the door behind me.
I woke up with the sun in my eyes. I felt around the top of my bedside table for my phone and checked the time. It was almost 11 in the morning. I slowly get up, slipped on some boxer shorts and went out, letting out a huge yawn in the process, and close the door of my room behind me.
Michael. Crap. I wonder if he had breakfast already. I make my way to his room, and open the door.
He was lying in his bed, his face covered by his CPAP machine. The tube snaked its way to his bedside table littered with Oreo wrappers. Gabe was nowhere in sight. I walked up to him and sat by the edge of his bed. I carefully place my hand on his arm and gently shook him awake.
“Hey you, wake up. Do you want some breakfast?”
He opened his eyes, and took off his mask. “No.” His voice was still hoarse. “No, I’m fine.” He turned and lay on his back. “How was your date? Did you get an A?”
I smiled at him. “Silly bear.” I pushed a couple of strands of his hair away from his eyes and smoothed it out. “It went well. The restaurant was good. I didn’t care much for the crab, but the rest was actually quite yummy.”
He closed his eyes again. “Do you want to rest some more? I was just about to make something for myself, and I was wondering if you were hungry.”
“He spent the night?” His eyes still closed.
“Yeah. Well, I mean, after dinner, we got some ice cream and headed here. But he left a couple hours after.” I noticed that the sheets on the bed were undisturbed on the other side. Gabe’s side. I look at Michael. “Gabe didn’t?”
He opened his eyes and smiled a sad smile.
“No.” he sighed. “No he didn’t.”
I moved to sit beside him, and cradle his head to my chest. “I’m so sorry.” He cried, quietly, I could feel his tears, hot against my skin. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, don’t cry. Michael don’t cry.” I whispered in his ear. He just sobbed, silently. I feel his strong arms around me shake as he tried to contain his sobs in vain.
I ran my fingers through the tufts of his hair. I slowly rocked him to the slow rhythm of my breathing. His sobs became fewer and further between. I felt his grip on me loosen. “I’m sorry.” I shushed him then and pressed him even closer. “There’s nothing to be sorry about.” I say. “Everything’s going to be okay. Stress is bad for you. Just try to be calm and take deep breaths. I’m here.”
“Are you really?” He whispered.
“Of course! I’m right here and I won’t go away.”
“Good.” He closes his eyes again and takes a deep breath. “I’m glad.”
“What happened?” I ask him softly. “Can’t it be fixed?”
He pulls himself away from my embrace. “No. I don’t think so.” I pull out a couple of tissues and gently dry his tears. “That’s ridiculous, Michael. You guys have been married for years!” He sighs, his eyes downcast. “It can’t be fixed.”
His eyes lock into mine. “It can’t be fixed because I don’t want to fix it.” His eyes, those clear pools of the bluest blue you can imagine, staring into mine.
“Okay.” I understand. “I’m just here.”
I held him in my arms for what seemed like years. As if we were frozen in time. As if we were drowning in each other, and I never want to come up for air.
Both Eyes Open
Some members of the LGBTQI community live in the shadows. Until they and the people they love start to get hurt.
The ticking of the clock was the only sound you can hear in the living room. That large, wooden clock Father brought home from Frankfurt last year was particularly loud. Spring has come late to our village, and people are a little antsy about how to put together a festival in such short notice. The cherry trees will begin to bloom soon. My parents were off in the town hall to attend one of the many meetings with the council preparing for the influx of tourists who are sure to come through town in a couple of weeks.
Everybody was in a bit of a rush, since they haven’t exactly finished putting up the observation decks at the public causeway lined with cherry blossom trees, nor the small collection of food stalls that the local merchant guild was planning. The first few groups of tourists have started to arrive and our inn was starting to fill up with guests.
I poured myself a drink at my father’s bar and I sat in one of our overstuffed settees.
I see her walk in, dressed in a simple linen robe, her hair down, preparing for bed.
“Will you wait up for Mother?”
I nod. She approaches and quietly refills my drink.
“The children are sleeping. Should I draw you a bath before bed?” I nod. She smiles and gathers up her robe.
“Hana?” She looks back and I see her small smile once more. “I am sorry for missing the New Year Festival again. I must really get control over my work schedule. I will make it up to you and the children during the summer.” I placed my drink on the lacquered table beside me. “I have booked us all a trip to the city to stay at that hotel in the city that you like, we can go shopping and get the kids some new clothes and toys. The boys seem to be growing much faster than ever before.”
“I think that is a wonderful idea. Thank you. And don’t worry about my birthday: It was work. It really can’t be helped.” She turns around and stops at our family shrine. She reaches out and gently touches a Daruma doll she placed there about three years ago, its single eye looking at her, slightly askew.
I look at the clock on the wall. Of course she understands, Hana has always been very understanding.
I look up from the guest ledger and see this ruddy faced foreigner with a grin that stretched from ear to ear.
“Konnichi wa, and welcome.” I reply. I bow slightly, and see him return the greeting.
“I made a reservation, it should be under Phillip Thompson?”
I scan through the names on the ledger and find his reservation. I enter his arrival in the log and hand him his safebox key.
“Thank you.” He picks up his bag and smiles. I look at his face, fair, with a splash of freckles across the bridge of his nose, between wide blue eyes. He had a set of straight white teeth behind a big, bushy beard, the color of straw. “When will the cherry blossoms begin to bloom?”
“Maybe within the next couple of days: We’ve already seen some trees beginning to change color.” I open a small door and pick up his suitcase. “This way please.” I lead him down the hall towards his room.
“This is my first time in Japan during the spring, but I’ve heard such beautiful things about this season.”
“Yes, it is beautiful in the spring. And the weather is so much more forgiving, especially in this area. Once the trees turn, I will arrange to have a place for you along the causeway. Do you prefer viewing the cherry blossoms in the afternoon or at dusk? They set up the park with lights at night and I could prepare some traditional Japanese confections for you to enjoy during your viewing.”
“Oh, that would be great! I think an evening viewing would be best.”
I set his suitcase down and kneel to slide open the paper screen that leads to his room. “Would you want to bathe before dinner? We have our own onsen, and you can try it out. I can also prepare your bed while you bathe so you can rest before eating. You must be tired from travelling.” I move into the space and put away his bag off to one side of the room.
“Yes, I would like that very much.” I open one of the closets and take out a robe and hand it to him. He changes into the robe as he makes more idle chatter. I take down his bedding and check to make sure it’s fresh. I absent-mindedly turn around to set the bedding on the tatami mat. He had his back turned towards me as he slipped his arms through the sleeves of the robe, and I had a brief glimpse of his broad shoulders. I feel a familiar sensation that stirred at the bottom of my belly.
I push it down. And drop my eyes to the floor.
“I see that Mr. Thompson has checked in today.” Hana looks over to me as she reviews the guest ledger. “I heard from Akane-sama that the pavilion opens tomorrow for the viewing. Shall we make arrangements for him?”
I put down the paper I was reading, and I look at her. Yes, I reply. He wants to arrange a nighttime viewing.
She picks up the phone and begins to organize a private viewing for him. I go back to reading the paper, though, I was only skimming the words on the page. My attention is lost among the fog of my thoughts. The clock on the wall ticks on and on.
I look up at her again.
She’s sitting there, cradling the small Daruma doll in her hands. She traces her finger along the edge of paper that came away from the body of the doll. She takes some paste from a drawer, and gently pressed the paper back in place.
“I have asked the kitchen to prepare a bento of sweets for tomorrow night, but I won’t be able to accompany Mr. Thompson to the viewing. Would it be alright if you go with him? I have some things to attend to.”
I put the newspaper down. “We have discussed this already. I do not understand why I must attend to the guests.”
She sits there silent for a moment. “No games, Touma. I just can’t go. That’s all.”
“Fine.” I got up and poured myself a drink. She sets down the doll on the shrine and went back to writing. I look at it, the red paint has faded significantly, with one forlorn eye staring out at me.
“You weren’t kidding! This place is amazing!”
Phillip and I walked along the banks of the small river that cut through the park. Paper lanterns lined the path that reflected off of the gentle ripple of the water. There were groups of people in colorful robes, weaving through the trees, admiring their foliage, or sitting on low benches enjoying their bento boxes filled with cakes and dumplings.
You can smell the aroma of roasted fish and other foodstuff from the collection of stalls on the other side of the stream. We didn’t have to go though; the kitchen has outdone itself in preparing both savory and sweet boxes for us to enjoy this evening.
We reached a low hill in the middle of a bend in the river where the view was particularly breathtaking, and set down our dinner on the bench that sat under a tree. Viewing the cherry blossom trees this early in the season meant that no cascading petals would go in our food. And you get to fully appreciate the magnificent foliage at the pinnacle of their glory.
“I have heard a story about how the cherry blossoms represented fallen warriors during the war.” Phillip sat down on the opposite end of the bench, looking out at the stream and the trees that lined the opposite bank, lit by soft hues of yellow and mauve. I offered him a bento filled with rice, grilled sea bream and pickles. He took it and he started to eat. “How can something so beautiful represent something so sad?”
I sat beside him, and started to softly play a tune on my shamisen. “Cherry blossoms represent impermanence in our culture. Like the cherry tree that is so short lived, it serves to remind us that nothing stays the same forever. We live, we bloom, and we die.” He was looking at me as I say this, and I see him look out into the water again.
“Once there was a man who had a cherry tree in his backyard. He loved the tree he grew up with, playing under its shade for many years as a boy. As he lived, his children played under the shade of the tree which gave him much joy.” I see him close his eyes as he listened to my story.
“As he lived, and as time passed, his children grew up, his wife passed away, and one by one his children had families of their own, moved away, and died. However, death would not come for the old man.” I struck a sad note. He opens his eyes and looks at me.
“He lived for so long, alongside his beloved cherry tree. Till one day when he went out into the garden to sit under its branches, as he has done countless times before, he found that the tree had died.” Phillip looks at me intently. “Overcome with grief, the old man wept and called for death. He took his sword and took his own life under the dead boughs of the cherry tree he loved. As his spirit escaped his body, it bonded with the tree, and it bloomed for one last time.”
“That was beautiful.” Phillip wiped the tears that welled in his eyes. “Sad. But beautiful.”
“Just because there is suffering, does not mean the story is sad: The old man lived a full life and in the end was granted a beautiful death. He was blessed with this fate, and death did not rob his life of its meaning.” I sat beside him and looked out into the water. The river started to fill with light. We sat there in silence, watching the cherry blossoms dance with the gentle breeze.
“Why did you come here, Phillip?”
“I missed you so much. I didn’t know how else to reach you.”
I felt his head gently rest on my shoulder.
“Hana doesn’t know.”
I hear him sigh. “I know.” He said under his breath, his voice was like an echo of mine over the surface of the water.
The clock ticks on, as I sat there reading the paper. Hana comes in with a glass of whisky on a small tray. She walks over to me and places it on the lacquered table beside me.
“How was your viewing?”
I put the paper down. “It was beautiful.” I reply. I can taste the venom in my voice.
“That’s good. I wanted to join you, the trees are particularly splendid this year, but I was kept busy here at home. The children needed tending.” She picks up the Daruma doll and sets it down on the desk in front of her.
She uses her finger to push it forward, and it rolls forward and settles upright. She pushes it from one side to the other, its wobbling making soft noises as it recenters itself in front of her on the polished desk.
“Did Phillip enjoy his stay?”
I can feel it. That coiled snake in my belly is moving.
“Why do you do this? Why did you do this?”
She doesn’t look at me. But still I know she was crying.
“Why? I don’t know.” She wipes away the tears on her pale cheeks. “I’m tired, Touma. Just say it so I can go to bed.”
“You are impossible. There is nothing to say.”
“No.” There’s a cold fierceness in her voice. It sounded like steel. “No. I see how you look at him. At them. It kills me every time I see it. That’s why I wrote to him. I asked him to come. I just… I needed to see it for myself.” She took a brush and started to grind some ink on her inkstone. I kept quiet. I know. I know it’s wrong. I know.
“Hana. Don’t do this. Please.”
“No. I’m tired Touma. Now I truly understand.” She takes her brush and dips it into the ink. She takes the Daruma doll and paints a big staring pupil on the other eye.
“Enough. No more secrets.” She stands up and leaves the room.
And there, on the desk, sat her Daruma doll, staring at nothing at all, with both eyes open.
I Am Here
Have you ever been “lost” in a labyrinthine gay bathhouse? Here’s a poetic glimpse at its nerve-wracking – yet intoxicating – appeal.
I stood there in front of that door for God knows how long. Staring at that small sign that says “Pull”, I felt my heart pounding as I fumbled for my wallet in that harshly lit alley in downtown Tokyo. I knew I shouldn’t be there, which explains the hesitation, but I couldn’t bring myself to walk away. This is a mistake; I mutter under my breath, it’s been too long-much too long.
It’s getting cold. This is ridiculous. Go in or go back to the hotel.
I reach out, and all of a sudden the door opens. Out pops an old man in a greatcoat, about 60 years old, his hat pulled down low on his brow, with flushed cheeks and brandishing a briefcase. He takes one cursory look at me as he brushes past me and starts to shuffle towards the train station down the block. I could hear a man’s voice coming from inside, gruff and clipped. I don’t speak Japanese, so I feel this sudden (though not thoroughly unfounded) jolt of guilt that I was wasting their heat since I stood there holding the door open like a frozen doorman. I quickly found myself inside.
There they stood, peering at me. These two men, one significantly older than the other, stood there and bowed. The younger of the two smiled, revealing a toothy grin. “American?”
I shook my head, no. “No, no, Filipino.”
“Ah! Filipino! Welcome, welcome.” He put out a cup of steaming barley tea and motioned me to drink. I cupped it between my hands to warm them and breathed in the nutty aroma wafting from the small ceramic cup. “Manila?” He asks. “Yes.” My voice was tightening in my throat. “How much?”. He smiles again and points to the ticket machine off to the side of the door. The machine had a laminated sign on it that says ¥2,800. He went over and took the money I fished out of my wallet and fed it to the machine. It spits out a ticket, and he hands me my locker key on those elastic bands not unlike the vintage phone cords I played with when I was younger. I slip it on my wrist, and follow him as he led me past the split curtain and into the locker room.
I open my eyes. It is pitch black.
My eyes slowly start to adjust to the darkness and slowly, shapes begin to form around me. Undulating bodies, slick with sweat, they writhed under my touch. In this surreal landscape, I could feel my mind slowly melt away, along with the stress built up on the knotted muscles on my back.
I feel it, the hot breath on the back of my neck as I slowly rise from where I lay my head, rising from the warmth of some faceless chest that served as my pillow for the past half hour, as the rest of the room pulsed with lust. I felt two strong hands suddenly grip my arms as I steadied myself to stand.
“Wait. We’re not done.”
“I need to freshen up, aniki, and I need a smoke.” I watch as Touma stands up, his muscular bulk slowly rising from the floor. I feel him approach and pull me into a deep, long bear hug. “Don’t take too long. I might not find you again.” He growled into my ear. “You are mine tonight.”. I feel him stiffening against the inside my thigh, and I knew he wouldn’t last too long, with or without me. I noisily breathed in the smell of his musk, kissed his neck, and he lets me go.
I wind my way out of the maze of corridors lined with men of all shapes and sizes, obscured by the dark. I can feel their eyes on me as I brush past them, their hands “accidentally” brushing against my body. I feel the cold draft coming from the shower area, and I close my eyes against the light that greets me as I open the door.
I opened up my locker and started to undress, the guy from reception looks on as I peeled off the winter gear I had on. The guy from reception steals glances at my little awkward striptease. I ask him if I need to be totally naked.
“Yes. Or underwear.”
I stop pulling down my boxers, and I start to close my locker. He says something in Japanese again, and holds up a strip of fabric. A fundoshi. Oh no. I slowly removed my boxers, and neatly folded them. I placed them inside the locker and closed it, I stood there and reached for the fundoshi, and he smiled.
Of course. This is becoming more and more embarrassing as each moment passes. He hands me a small washcloth and goes back through the door to the reception area. I stood there for a moment, looking at the calligraphy scrolls that adorn the walls of the space. I slowly make my way towards the long corridor where I could hear the faint sound of water. I wonder where all the people were.
I enter one of the shower stalls and begin to wash off the stench of the city.
I settle down in one of the hot tubs, my washcloth folded neatly on my head. I relish the feeling of being almost lulled to sleep by the gentle rippling of the water, and the almost iridescent heat of the stone tiles on my skin.
Why do I do this to myself?
I breathe in the heady mix of steam and jasmine. I am getting much too old for this. I know. I’ve seen the looks the younger ones give me. How they see the wrinkles that have appeared almost overnight. Not that I care much. I have always been very cavalier about my appearance, even when I was younger. Partly because I have always been unhappy with how I looked. Only later was I able to think of my features as mildly attractive to others.
The door opens and he stood there, staring. I see a hint of surprise and a slight pink flush to his cheeks, and a towel in his hand. I smile slightly, completely unaware of what my face was doing. He takes it as a positive sign. He walks towards me slowly, his body well-proportioned and well put together. He had a sexy, compact and stocky build, with thick arms and calves that are covered by coarse hair. I move to make room as he steps into the tub and sits across from me.
I took the time to study his face: Those eyes that seemed to me so full of curiosity, as if they were drinking everything in. That thick beard that came away from the sides of his face, filled with crystal droplets that dripped down to his chin and fell one by one into the tub. I could see the swirling patterns of the hair on his back and shoulders. I see him looking at me.
He can’t resist. He can’t fight it.
He stood up, the water washing down his lithe body making it gleam under the soft lights of the bath. He gracefully steps out of the tub, and I can’t help but look at him in awe. He takes a towel from a small squat table and proceeds to dry himself off. I don’t know if it was the heat, or the heavy scent of flowers that pervaded the room, or just a deep longing that I feel at the pit of my stomach, but I can’t help but watch transfixed as he seemed to move in slow-motion.
He walks back towards the tub, and he sits on the edge. His hand reaches down and runs his fingers through my beard, and traces the outline of my jaw. I smell the subtle scent of vetiver on his wrist as he does this. I feel my anxiety start to subside in my gut as this gorgeous stranger continues to trace his fingers around my face, across my brow, down my nose, and against the side of my neck where my pulse was racing. I closed my eyes in delight.
I feel his hands move to the back of my neck, gently feeling the tense muscles he found there, and moving his fingertips in small circles. I don’t think he speaks English. With my luck, he probably doesn’t. But as it always happens, right now is not the time for words. I got up from the tub and step out. He got another towel from the table and began to slowly dry me off, taking his time with fascinating precision. After he dried my legs, he lets the towel drop to the floor.
There we stood.
He says nothing. Just looks at me with a perfectly still, handsome, inscrutable face. I feel his hand in mine and he silently leads me into the void.
I see nothing. I don’t need to.
My hearing picks up where my vision left off, and I hear the soft padding of his feet behind me as I move further into the maze. I sense the other people hiding in corners, their eyes moving faster than their bodies, as they watch him with either hunger or cold, dispassionate ambivalence. I find a little empty corner just as my eyes begin to get used to this twilight world once more. I push him against the wall and look at him.
Handsome. Within and without light.
I feel his forearms, my fingertips lightly brushing against the strands of hair, until I reach his broad shoulders. His averted and while it may first seem impossible to explain, I feel the heat of his blush. I lean in and kiss him on the lips, a number of small tentative kisses that lead to longer, deeper ones. He was hesitant at first, but he began to return the kisses, gripping my arms tight and pulling me closer to him: obliterating what little distance there was between us. He spins me around and pins my hands above my head on the wall with an audible smack that the people around us turned towards us. He’s strong, I think to myself, I fight back somewhat but he persists.
His hands felt soft against my skin, and they burned with warmth that surprised me.
Why do I do this to myself?
My mind snaps back to here. I feel his chest under my palms as he busied himself under me. I feel the fur under my fingers like I was riding a wild beast. This emptiness inside me is lost in the thrum of excitement I feel deep in my belly: the same soft thrum that slowly sets my mind adrift, makes my body convulse, and makes me feel as if my joints have come apart like wax.
I open my eyes.
The guy from reception smiled as he offers me another cup of barley tea. I look over to the other end of the room where a huge guy was sitting, dozing off. I check my watch and realize that I would need to take a cab back to the hotel. I never noticed the first time I walked in, how graceful the small stone garden was, and how intricately carved the big stone lion was on the entryway. I picked at my fingernails nervously as I waited for him to come out.
He comes out of the locker room into the reception area, his hair slicked back, and dressed in a wrinkled shirt and a slim tie. He returns his locker key to the reception desk. He looks at me, and smiles.
I see the big guy get up and start gathering his things. He looks at me, and gives a slight, almost imperceptible bow and put on his coat and hat. He looks back at Izumi and motions for him to follow, saying something in Japanese before heading into the street. I look back at Izumi, and he smiles. He gives a little bow, and opens the door to follow the man outside.
I stood there for what seemed like forever. Quite unsure what to think or feel. I smell the light scent of vetiver left hanging in the air.
“How do you like?”
I like him very much.
The guy from reception grinned at me from behind the desk. I come over to return the locker key. Everything is great, I said. He puts back the key on the hook, and thanks me again, looking at me with those knowing, but soft, brown eyes. He gives a bow and asks me to come again. I put on my coat and after one last sniff of that perfume, I step out into the brisk cold of a clear winter night.
My lovelife may have no direction, but my life has…
In a world obsessed with “finding the right one”, Gab Riel writes about the joys of singlehood; and about being alone but not being lonely.
By Gab Riel
Last night I was asked over a coffee by a friend why I do not have lovelife until now. It’s been three years since we became friends and wala pa din ako kwento sa lovelife ko kundi ‘yung flings lang, like I’m not really serious. Crush ko lang and that’s it.
Masyado daw akong pa-virgin and serious looking.
I asked: Bakit nga ba?
Is it because it’s not my priority?
Is it because I do not look for it?
Is it because I’m used to being single and alone?
Is it because I am not good looking and no one dares fall in love with me?
Is it because I am too busy with something?
Is it because I prioritize my health, my family and my career?
Is it because I enjoy traveling with friends than dating?
Is it because I feel bored easily?
Is it because I’m reaching my goal of savings and investment?
Is it because I am choosy?
Is it because I have high standards (Wow bes!)?
Is it because I am waiting for someone else?
Or is it because I am afraid to fall in love? Again?
Too many questions but all of the above are valid questions and mostly true.
I am just a 25 year old who doesn’t want to settle at early age. I am free and careless.
Sometimes I am jealous of other people with partners, yes, but that goes away in a matter of day. Sometimes I wish I have a partner today, but the next day I would be thankful again I never had.
My lovelife has no direction, but my life has.
May mga tao na hindi nagagawa ang mga bagay na nagagawa mo because they are confined with the idea na lovelife is sapat na.
Pero life is not about lovelife, it is how you enjoy it.
Ganun talaga, may mga bagay na hindi para sayo dahil ginusto mo.
Sabi nga ng iba, di baleng walang lovelife; ang mahalaga nadidiligan.
Antay lang. Dont rush things.
Malay ko kung at the age of 30 doon pa lang darating.
May five years pa para mag-enjoy alone.
Over a bottle of rosé…
Patrick King Pascual writes about finding love and then losing it – via the experience of Peter and Richard.
(While Yumeji’s Theme was playing)
His heart was pounding hard when he opened the door. He was greeted with a smile. He never thought that moment would come.
It was half past one in the morning and it was a Sunday.
They went inside his house and stayed in the balcony.
It was the first week of September.
His name is Peter. His friends knew him as a devoted and passionate person.
He was very excited and nervous. Every time their eyes would meet, he would respond to it with a smile.
Richard, on the other hand, is known to be caring and sweet in his own ways.
They shared stories, laughed at each other’s jokes, and flirted in between. He wanted to hold his hand, feel his skin closer to him – but every time he moves closer, a creeping feeling takes over.
Around three in the morning, they decided to end the night.
As they walked out of his house, Richard following very close behind him, he stopped. “Am I going to see you again?” Peter asked. Richard stepped closer to him and answered, “Why not?”
His heart was pounding hard again. He turned and faced him, and gave him a smile. They were just staring at each other. For a moment, it seemed like a scene lifted from a movie.
Peter’s face moved closer to Richard. Their lips met. Without saying a word or moving a muscle, they kissed. It was a slow kiss. It was a long and passionate.
He removed Richard’s glasses. Maybe, to better see his face. Then, they kissed again.
They first met when Peter attended a gathering with his old friends. He was running late and had to leave to early. He felt a bit uncomfortable when he arrived. A few minutes passed, he asked if anyone from the group smokes. Richard, who was with one of his fiends, responded, “I do.”
They went out of the café. He introduced himself to Richard as he puffed on his cigarette. Their initial meeting was brief, but he knew he wanted to know him more. After two sticks and uncomfortable stares from his friends, he asked for his number. They went back inside. After a quick group photo, he left.
Present time. The following evening came. Peter messaged Richard. He can still feel his kiss. It was a memorable one, he said.
Richard arrived at his place half past 12 in the morning.
They went straight to his room and picked up where they left off.
The kiss was longer than the previous night. It felt like it was more passionate, has more meaning, Peter recalled.
They went all the way. They both wanted it to happen. It was intense.
“We might get used to this,” Richard whispered. Peter responded with a kiss.
For a moment, they were just staring at each other, still in bed and naked. He wanted to capture all the details of his face in his mind.
The night ended with Peter giving Richard a tight hug. Richard leaned forward and gave him a kiss.
Peter waited for Richard for five years.
Ever since Richard moved to New Jersey, they consistently exchanged Skype and Viber messages. They, sort of, continued where they left off when they first met.
On Wednesday, Peter went to his house. He gave him a small cake. Maybe it was just an excuse to see him.
Then on Thursday, Edward went to Peter’s house. They stayed in the balcony again. Peter opened a bottle of rosé and a small pack of truffle cheese.
The Script was playing on his phone. He was surprised that the he also knew the words. After a sip and a slice, he noticed they were unconsciously singing together.
And then the strings of Yumeji’s Theme started. Peter walked towards Richard. He took his hand and pulled him closer to his body. Slowly they danced together.
Everything was in slow motion. The music seemed endless. He held his body tighter and laid his head on his chest. It was euphoric.
It was a poignant moment for Peter. He was not sure if Richard felt the same. But he knew what happened was not a knee-jerk reaction.
Richard was scheduled to go back to New Jersey the following week. It was a bittersweet moment for him. He missed his family and friends in Manila, but he needed to go back to fix his citizenship application.
They had not seen each other for several days. Richard and his family went to Davao. But they continued to message each other.
When Richard got back, he stayed home because he felt sickly. Probably he was too tired after the trip.
They were supposed to meet the following night, Richard’s last night in Manila. But Richard’s friends surprised him with a party.
Peter did not reply to his messages.
The following morning, hours before Richard’s flight, Peter received a message.
“I’m on my way to the airport now.”
Peter replied: “Take care.” Then he sent another message, “I’m annoyed because we did not get to see each other before you leave.”
“I guess, I’m not sure, it is better that way. At least we won’t be thinking too much,” Richard answered back.
He was mad. He was sad. He was pissed off.
Richard has been in a relationship with his partner for three years now. Peter is also in a serious relationship with his longtime partner.
Maybe, what happened, they just picked up where they left off when they first met.
“Take care all the time. And always smile,” Richard messaged Peter.
Peter replied, “Yakap :(“
Theirs is not (yet) a love story. At least not the type you were hoping it to be.
But it was something real.
Ikaw ay isang bahaghari
Evangeline Grace writes about being part of the rainbow life, stressing “kung pinagtatawanan ka ng mundo, Dahil hindi ka lang basta bughaw at kulay rosas, Itaas mo lang ang iyong noo… Dahil lahat ng bahaghari ay matatagpuan sa langit.”
Ikaw ay isang bahaghari.
Hindi sinasabi rito
Kung ano ang nasa pagitan
Ng iyong mga hita
O kung gaano katangkad
O kaliit ang umbok
Sa iyong dibdib.
Kung tinutubuan ka ng buhok—
Ng bigote o balbas
O kung malago ang nasa binti
At nakatago sa kilikili
Walang panghuhusga sa kung ano’ng mayroon ka.
Hindi ka pipigilan
Kung ang gusto mo ay mag pantalon
O kung mas gusto mo ang palda,
Ang maluluwang na damit
O ang masisikip na nagpapakita pa lalo
Sa hubog ng iyong katawan.
Hindi nito tinutukoy
Kung ipinanganak kang may tatak ng mga kulay:
Kung dapat ay bughaw ka lang
O kung dapat ay kulay rosas ka lang.
Walang sa’yo ay maaaring tumukoy
Pagkat ikaw ay isang bahaghari.
Hindi ka lang bughaw
O kulay rosas
O puti o itim.
Hindi kailanman dapat limitahan
Ng iba o ng mismong iyong tahanan
Ang kaya mong gawin.
Isa kang bahaghari.
Puwede kang maging kahit ano
O kahit sino na iyong gustuhin.
Tinatakan ka bilang bughaw,
Pero maaari kang mamuhay at gumalaw
Sa kahit anong kulay
Na gusto mong abutin.
Puwede kang maging kahit ano
O kahit sino na iyong gustuhin.
Tinatakan ka bilang kulay rosas,
Pero maaari kang mamuhay at gumalaw
Sa kahit anong kulay
Na gusto mong marating.
Ikaw ay isang bahaghari.
Huwag kang palilimita
Sa iisang kulay o dadalawa.
Maaari kang maging pula,
kahel, dilaw, o berde
Puwede kang maging bughaw,
Indigo o lila
Kung kulang pa para sa’yo
Ang pitong kulay sa harap mo,
Ang pula sa indigo
O ang berde sa kahel
Huwag kang palilimita
Dahil hindi iisa ang kulay
Na maaari mong pagpilian.
Kung pinagtatawanan ka ng mundo
Dahil hindi ka lang basta bughaw at kulay rosas,
Itaas mo lang ang iyong noo…
Dahil lahat ng bahaghari
Ay matatagpuan sa langit.