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.
Para kay Jennifer
For Neal Roxas, may people remember the case of Jennifer Laude as a symbol of injustice; and of a world that continues to hate the beauty of LGBTQIA people.
By Neal Roxas
maalala mo sana siya
hindi sa bakas ng mahigpit
na sakal sa kanyang leeg
o sa natapyas nyang tenga,
hindi sa pagkalublob sa inodoro
o sa puting kumot na huling
yumakap sa kanya bago—
maalala mo sana siya
sa malago niyang buhok,
mapungay na mga mata,
hatid ang init nang sya ay makilala,
sa ingay ng kalsada,
at sa sigaw ng masa,
ng pumikit-dumilat na hustisya
sa isang lipunang hindi yumayakap
kundi nananakal ng magaganda
Marlon Sy writes about finding love even when one is not looking; and not wanting to let go when that love is found.
By Marlon Sy
Ah, sa akin ika’y buwan,
sa gabi ng buhay ika’y tanglaw.
At sa liwanag ng umaga, nandiyan, kasama ng panginoong araw.
Kaloob ka: God gave me you.
Dumating di hinanap.
May pusong walang pagpanggap.
Uhaw kong damdamin, binusog.
Tulog kong buhay, nagkamalay.
Di maabot ngunit damang dama.
Magkalayo ngunit magkaugnay.
Buwan, ay ayatin ka!
Elmo Ellezo writes about the apathy of those who have more in life, even if – by choosing to lend a hand – they can help effect changes in other people’s lives.
Ni Elmo Ellezo
May mga taong umangat lang sa buhay,
parang naging katulad ng bahay na bato ang puso.
Kasing tigas at wala ng pakiramdam sa iba.
posteng bato na naghihiwalay sa kanilang sa sarili
sa reyalidad ng malawak na mundo.
Bingi sa mga ingay sa labas.
Binulag ng mga bakod at posteng bato,
ayaw tumanaw sa kabilang bahagi ng mundo.
Gwardyado, akala moy kaaway ang mundo,
Ayaw makibahagi oh umambag sa mga walang laman ang kaldero
Ayaw makipagkapwa tao.
Naka-kandado pati ang kanilang mga puso.
Tanging paraan na silay mamulat ay delubyo.
Kapag tinumbahan na ng mga posteng bato.
Kapag binaha na katulad ng mga nakatira sa estero.
Kapag nagutom, namatayan na katulad ng mga ordinaryong tao.
Anong klaseng mundo ang nililikha nitong mga posteng bato.
Mga kaaway ang mahihirap at walang tiwala sa kapwa tao.
Makasariling pag uugali at walang pakialam sa mundo.
Sana maibalik ang aking pagkabata.
Walang mga poste at bakod na naghihiwalay sa sinasabi kong kapwa.
Kung saan ang daigdig ay pinagsasaluhan ng lahat.
May pagkakaugnay ugnay, tiwala at pakikipag kapwa.
Munti kong panalangin ay mawasak ang mga posteng bato.
Mga posteng batong isinasara ng bakal at mga kandado.
Mga posteng batong nagpapamanhid sa kalagayan ng dumadaing na mundo.
Ang posteng batong naglilikha ng taong bato ang puso.
“Babae po ako. Ngunit babae rin ang gusto ko. Pang-lalake man ang kilos at anyo. Sa babae pa rin naman ako nagbabanyo.”
Pilit kong iniisip
Kung inisip ko at pinilit
Kung nagbago ba ang ihip
Ng hangin noong ako’y isang paslit
Ang paghanga sa kapwa babae
Ang kilos, lakad at pananalita
Na animo’y lalake
Na nagsimula noong ako’y bata
Tinanong ako kung ako ba’y humanga
Sa mga guwapo at pogi
At ang sagot ko’y oo nga
Pagtangi ay sa babae lagi
Ni minsa’y hindi kinilig
Kahit na noong panahong
Maliit pa ang mga bisig
Suot ay bestida at hindi lontang maong
Matagal na proseso
Matagal na nilihim
Dahil sa sariling paninimdim
Hanggang ako’y namulat
At seryosong nagkagusto
At sinimulang isulat
Nilahad, ipinusta pati pamato
Wala naman kasing nagturo
Naramdaman na lang
Tapos para akong tuliro
Noong ako’y pitong taong gulang
Kaibigan ko siya
Sa ikalawang baitang
Kapag kasama’y masaya
Kapag naka-akbay ay lutang
Marami nang napusuan
Panahon na ang lumipas
Gusto’y babae pa rin naman
Sa pagkatorpe’y walang kupas
Madalas sakin ay tinatanong
Kahit hanggang opisina
Siguro sila’y hilong talilong
Kung Ma’am o Sir ang itatawag twina
Babae po ako
Ngunit babae rin ang gusto ko
Pang-lalake man ang kilos at anyo
Sa babae pa rin naman ako nagbabanyo
Lesbiyana kung ako’y tawagin
Tomboy sa kanto namin
Ate sa kapatid ko
Tita sa mga pamangkin ko
Eto ang aking SOGIE
Lesbiyana – Sexual Orientation
Babae – Gender Identity
Butch/masculine – Gender Expression
Hindi napipilit ang puso
Kusang tumitibok sa ritmo
Hindi ito parang damit na nakiki-uso
Hindi sinisino kahit amo
Masarap sanang maging malaya magmahal
Malaya sa mga matang mapanghusga
Malimit pang nasasabihan ng hangal
Madalas pang tumanggap ng pang-aalipusta
Pantay-pantay na karapatan
Dinggin sana ang aming hiling
Hindi espesyal ang aming panawagan
Sugat ng diskriminasyo’y laging nasasaling
Lungkot ay aking ramdam
Kapag hindi niyo maintidihan
Sana hindi niyo maranasan
Ang araw-araw naming pinagdadaanan
Kapag maganda o guwapo sa paningin
Sayang ang palaging sinasabi sa amin
Pero bakit sayang ang sasabihin?
Ano bang nasayang sa amin?
Isa po akong babae
Mahigit apat na pung taong gulang na
Mukha lang pong lalake
Isa pong lesbiyana
Good As New
On the things that we’re willing to do to support the people we love…
I push the key into the slot and twist it until I hear a click.
The door opens and I see there’s just the odd bill, and upon reaching in, I found a couple of letters. I stuff them inside my bag and I close our mailbox.
“Good morning, Gunther!” I turn around and see my neighbor, John, and his Bullmastiff, Boomer. “Anything interesting in there today?” He grinned, showing a perfect set of pearly teeth.
“Nah, man. Just the same old
stuff.” Boomer approached and nuzzled against my hand. I reached over and
petted him. “Boomer’s being especially friendly today?”
“Yeah. We’re on our way to the park. Do you and Erik wanna come with? We can get some coffee on the way.” He was built like his dog. Thick, with a boxy, compact body with massive, muscular arms and legs with almost no neck to speak of; he stood there with that bright smile of his. Dark brown hair cropped neat and short, with a full beard that came almost to his big, blue, puppy dog eyes.
“Sorry, man, I’m working tonight. Maybe next time.”
He grinned, and scratched Boomer’s ears, “No worries, next time then. See you later!” He pulls on Boomer’s leash and they make their way out of the building.
On any given day, I’d have gone out that door and walked his dog with him. On any given day, I’d have gotten coffee with him, and I’d know how he takes his coffee after years of living next to each other. On any given day, I’d have chatted and laughed with him in the park. But not today or any other day, I suppose. Not if he knew what I did for a living.
I see him standing outside by the curb, looking at his phone, and for a moment I allowed myself to hope, but as he started to walk away, I started to go up the steps to our apartment.
“Gunther, is that you?”
“Yeah!” I yell out as I drop my keys in a small azure dish on the table by the door. The apartment smelled of a heady mix of coffee and sandalwood.
Erik pops out his head of the kitchen. “Anything in the box?” I shrugged “Just the usual. I’ll leave it on the table and sort it later.” I went to the couch and slumped into it with a belabored groan.
Erik comes out of the kitchen and chuckles as he sat down on the couch with two mugs of coffee. He sets on in front of me on the center table, and sips on the other. “Rough night?” I moan in response. He began to leaf through the morning paper as he sipped his coffee. He turns to me, “John dropped by this morning, by the way, him and that dog of his. He was wondering if we wanted to go out tonight.” He paused for a bit. “I really think he wants a threesome with the both of us. What do you think? He’s not unfortunate looking.”
I sit up and take the mug he set in front of me.
“Well, threesomes are extra, you know.” He looks at me above his horn-rimmed glasses. “How much extra?”
“Wouldn’t you wanna know…”
“Well, for future reference.”
I stretched out and curled up on the couch like a lazy cat. “I wish I could lie down here forever. I have another appointment later tonight.” Erik stands up, and a takes both mugs. “You better rest, but try not to stay in bed all day. I have an appointment with Dr. Jacob today. I think I’m getting better.” He shuffles off to the kitchen and I could hear the water running as he washes up. I get up and follow him. He was hunched over the sink and I sit by the small banquette.
“How are you feeling today?”
“Much better.” He looks back down on the sink. “I really wish you’d stop doing this, though.” He said as he kept on washing dishes. “You’re a smart guy. I’m sure there’s something out there for you.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Well, the money is good, and it’s fun. I will get out eventually, of course.” I took out a cigarette from my pocket and lit one. “And where is this coming from?”
“It’s coming from a place of caring, asshole. I worry about you.”
I took a hit on my cigarette and let out a long steady stream of smoke. “I’ll be fine. You know how I work.”
He sighs and he finishes the dishes and turns around, dishcloth in hand. “I know, but that does not change the fact that what you’re doing is fairly risky. I don’t want you getting sick. Especially not on my account…”
“I’ll be fine. We’ve been through this.”
He throws his hands up. “I’m
just saying there are opportunities out there…”
“Geez, Erik, again: where is all this coming from?”
He looks down at his shoes, his hands absent-mindedly drying a mug. “I’m just worried about you, that’s all.”
“Well don’t, Erik.” He looks at me, and I look straight into his eyes. “If you have a problem with what I do, by all means let me know.” I put out the cigarette and toss it in the ashtray in the middle of our breakfast nook. “I appreciate the concern, but I am fine.” He looks at me and softly mutters okay.
I stood and left him there, still holding on to the mug, and went to my room, closing the door behind me.
My hand makes contact on his slick skin of his bare buttocks with a loud thwack, and waves of pleasure bubble up and escape from his lips like wisps of steam. I feel myself totally engulfed by his warmth. The air in the room was heavy with the scent of musk and sex.
“Harder! God, fuck me harder!”
I grumble in response as I instinctively adjust my hips to gain better leverage as I bring my weight forcefully, but gracefully, down on him. I feel his insides twitch and contract like it was sucking me further and further in. With every down stroke, I could hear the bed creak in protest, the chains that held his arms taut, spread out before me, jingled like the sleigh bells, their tone high and crisp.
I held on to the tense muscles on his shoulders, contorted in the struggle against the leather cuffs that bound him, and my relentless and unchanging rhythm on top of him. His eyes undoubtedly burning under that heavy blindfold that was clasped behind his head, he turns his head to the side with a look of abject bliss and pain on his face.
I bury my hands in the silk sheets that covered the bed on both sides of his torso. I feel my breath quicken as I change my position. I hear him gasp as I pull all the way to very tip of my cock and pull out with a soft pop. He whimpers into his pillows.
I take the bottle of lube from the nightstand and pump out a couple of globs on my fingers, and smear it in between his buttcheeks. He moans in pleasure as my fingertips grazed his raw, pink asshole. I wipe the rest of the lube on myself. I spread him apart and come up to the side of his face. I slip myself in between his thighs and lay myself down on his broad, muscular back. I feel the sweat from him stick to my chest, the soft hair on his back was matted into swirling, abstract forms that sharply contrasted with his pale complexion. I place my lips near the side of his face. He is shuddering in anticipation. He wants me. He wants all of me. I whisper into his ear.
I hear him suck in air.
“Goddammit! I want you to make me bleed!”
I smile, as I always do at this moment, and I whisper; “Okay.”
I reach across him and undo the buckle on the leather cuff on his left wrist, and then the right. I flip him over and pull his hips closer, carefully guiding his legs on either side of my torso as I position myself between them. I take a deep breath and bear down, hip first in a massive thrust that knocks the wind out of him momentarily. A small groan escapes his throat, a low rumble that I felt more than heard, his shuddering body under mine. I feel his body writhe and undulate like a coiled serpent as the lines between us blurred. I started to feel that familiar fire start to creep under my skin, in every nerve, flowing with my blood. I feel that creature within me stir. I feel the familiar flush in my cheeks as I begin to slowly lose control of my thoughts.
“Do it, you fuckin’ pussy. DO IT!”
I reattach the chains that dug into the wooden posts of his bed to his restraints. Reaching behind his head, I unlatch his blindfold. He opens his eyes, but squints, blinded by the sudden burst of light. He arches his back and turns to look at me, his eyes still adjusting to the light. I raise my hand high and seeing his eyes slowly register, I bring it down hard and feel the snap of my fist make contact with his nose. The sound echoed in my head, that sharp crack that shattered the relative calm of my mind. He gives out a howl, a low pitched moan that makes my ears ring. I hear him let out a cough, and a fine, scarlet mist filled the air of the scent of blood.
“Fuck, YES!” He lets out a guttural grunt and I feel him tense up under me as he struggled against his restraints. “Hit me again!”
I felt the creature claw its way up my throat. I reach down and feel his hair under my fingers. I clench my fist and pull his face up from the mattress by his hair. I see his eyes shut tight; his nose crinkled as sopping noises filled my ears when he tried to breathe through his flared nostrils. I move my face closer to his and see a drop of blood trickle down to the corner of his mouth.
I snake my arm around his neck and roughly pull him up. His hands balled up into fists, straining against the chains that kept him immobilized. Beads of sweat formed on his temples, trickling down his face. He struggles against me, he resists. I breathe in his scent, that metallic scent mixed with the salt on his brow.
I feel it, the creature, peering out from my own eyes, his claws prying my mouth open. His serpentine tongue, pendulous and rough as a rasp, falls out between my teeth and as he whimpers, gasping for breath, the creature’s tongue caresses the side of his bloodied face, like a tiger tasting its prey.
And I distinctly remember thinking: this one tastes, oh so sweet.
I push the key into the slot and twist it until I hear a click.
The door opens and I see there’s just the odd bill, and upon reaching in, I found a couple of letters. I stuff them inside my bag and I close our mailbox.
I go up to our apartment and let myself in. I feel exhausted: More so than any other night in recent memory. Maybe Erik is right. I really ought to consider another job: this is starting to feel like a lot of work. I place my keys in the small dish and notice that the kitchen lights are on. The smell of coffee hung in the air like a fine veil.
“Gunther, is that you?”
“Hey, yeah.” I step into the kitchen, and Erik was sitting there, a bottle of vodka and a mess of soda bottles on the table. “Hey.” He mutters, a tired smile plastered across his face.
“Don’t you have therapy tomorrow? It’s almost three in the morning.” I began to pick up the empty soda bottles and place them next to the sink. He shrugged his shoulders, and poured himself another drink. “Come, sit a while and have a drink. I imagine it’s been a wild night for you.”
I take off my jacket and sat down in front of him with a glass I took from the dish rack. His smile never left his boyish face. I poured myself some vodka, topping it off with a splash of club soda. I took some ice from the small bucket in the middle of the table and drop a couple into my drink. I reached out to get another ice cube and gingerly ran it over the swollen knuckles on my right hand.
He just sat there, watching me through that shit-eating grin.
I took a sip of my drink. “Yeah. You can say that. I guess.”
“You really ought to do something about that. He grunts as he got up and went to his bedroom. I look out the kitchen window. It’s so dark out you can barely make out where the skyline ended and the night sky started. In the distance, a police siren echoed off the narrow alleyway.
Erik comes back and pus down a small first aid kit on the table. He went to the sink and ran some water over a small towel. “You okay?” He asked as he took my hand and began to wipe it with a damp towel. It felt cool on my skin, and I relax a bit. “Yeah. I’m fine. You should see the other guy.”
He gave out a small chuckle. “I know that was meant to be a joke, but seeing that it’s tie-me-up-Thursday with Creepy Charlie, I will let that pass.”
He laughed, that sonorous laugh that made me fall for him all those years ago. Before all of this, before the medicines, before the hospital visits that left him drained and unable to speak for days.
He popped open a small bottle of mercurochrome and soaked a cotton ball. He started to dab it over the area where the skin split on the knuckle of my index and middle finger. The dark amber liquid seeped into my skin, and turned the top of my pale hand a brilliant shade of orange.
“Jealous? No.” He dressed my hand, gently turning it over to anchor the adhesive tape between my fingers. “I just worry about you. All the time.”
He turns over my hand and held it in his. I feel the warmth of his palms on mine. He leans down and gives the back of my hand a soft kiss. I feel the warmth of his breath on the back of my hand, and it crept up my arm. I close my eyes. At that moment, all the questions melt away. Why I do the things I do has always been clear. What I can and cannot betray or abandon has always been the same.
I open my eyes and I see him there.
He still held my hand. In hands that will always be warm, hands that will always be there. He smiles, as I myself find smiling in turn.
“There. Good as new.”
And I was.
Edges perfectly aligned
What do you do to recover from a failed relationship? For some, it’s by finding another lover; for others, by first forgiving oneself; and still for others, a combination of both… and perhaps doing even more. In all instances, though – as Ryan Robert Gutierrez Flores writes – there’s that desire to be “touched” again…
The rain started to come down hard and heavy outside. Big, fat drops started to form rivulets that cascaded down my windowpane. I flipped the light switch on the lamp on my desk. I need to finish this, I think to myself, things may be so royally screwed up in my life, but at least there’s work. It’ll never be finished, it will never leave you, there’s always work.
I’ve been staring at the same blueprint on the screen of my computer for the past four hours. The coffee that sat on my desk for the same amount of time has all but congealed, leaving a ring halfway up the insides of my mug. I take off my glasses and set them down. I picked up the coffee cup and place it in the sink. I see that the coffee pot is empty.
I open the fridge and take out the coffee can and begin to make a fresh batch.
I need to finish this.
I return to my desk and pick up my phone and check my messages. Apart from the usual follow-ups, and odd spam message, there’s nothing much to see. I open up a dating app on my phone and begin absentmindedly browsing the men that populated the feed. The usual parade of toned, muscular, and half-naked bodies with the same dead eyes flew by under my fingertips.
I see a familiar face. Gunter. His dark eyes, bright with mischief, stares back at me behind glass.
I need to finish this.
I dial his number.
“I was wondering when I was going to hear back from you.” He removes his coat and hangs it on the rack next to my apartment door. “How’s your partner.”
“Well, ex-partner.” I say as I led him to the living room. I clear away the rolls of paper that littered the couch and the coffee table. “We broke up last fall.” I go into the kitchen and come back with a cup of fresh coffee and I set it down in front of him.
He sits and takes the cup in his hand. “I’m sorry to hear that. How are you holding up?”
I gestured around at the mess of papers and blueprints that surrounded us “My new calling in life is to be a heartless workaholic.”
He laughs. His pearlescent teeth remind me of pure Carrara marble. The joke isn’t even that funny, I know. But it was nice to hear someone else’s voice in this void of an apartment.
I sit across him. “How have you been?”
He stretches his arms: his dark, lumpy cardigan sweater clung to him like an oil slick. “I’ve been doing well. Out of town engagements are usually slow during this time of year, so I welcome staying in the city for a bit.” He looks around. “What happened with Mike? I like him.”
“Well, it’s a long story full of sighs.” I took a sip of my coffee.
“I have nowhere to be.”
I look down at my cup. “He is in love with someone else. He just doesn’t have the words to say it. I figured the only way for him to own up to his feelings is for me to remove myself from the equation. Besides, it wasn’t really meant to last.” I set the cup down on the table. “So I broke it off. He didn’t take it well, but I figured that it’s for the best.”
“It’s not that long a story after all.” He sets his cup down in front of him. “And not too many sighs, it would seem.” I shoot him a smirk. “You did what you had to do. Nothing more.”
“That’s the issue. It did mean more to me, at least at first. After a while you start to lose things. Parts of yourself; they’re like joints of wood that come apart. They become unglued and drift away until there’s nothing left. Your entire self chipped away by small, daily indignities.”
He stares at me with those dark eyes.
“It meant more to me.”
He smiled, “I know it did. I didn’t say it didn’t.”
I stood up and took his empty coffee cup. I went over to the kitchen and place it in the sink. I come back and see him standing, looking at the photos on the wall. “You were adorable as a child.”
I blush a little, and I tugged open a drawer next to the couch. I took out the box of weed I keep for particularly stressful days and begin to roll out a joint. “I was a terrible child.” He looked at me and I held up the joint for him to take.
He lit it, and took a deep hit, the smoke curled around his beard like a thick fog.
“Ever the disappointing one.” I took a hit and feel the warmth rise from my chest. “Even after getting into RISD, I was a disappointment since RISD wasn’t Cornell.” My father couldn’t even be bothered to attend my graduation, I thought to myself.
“This your dad?” He points to one of the photos on the wall as he took another hit on the joint. “I see the resemblance. He’s hot.”
“Yeah? Well, he’s not exactly straight. He doesn’t think I know, but I know that his associate partners at his firm weren’t exactly hired for their intellectual qualifications. So if you want him, I say go for it. You’re just his type.” I take out my phone and look at him on top of my glasses. “I can give you his number.”
“Well that’s too bad since he’s not.” He sits, cross-legged, between my legs and hands me the joint. I feel his hands slowly and tantalizingly go up my legs and go past my knees, his fingertips barely grazing my skin as they move and rest on my thighs. “I prefer to have them younger.”
“Of course you do.” I take a hit. “Not too young though, I hope? You won’t last three minutes in jail.”
“Well, let’s see.” I feel his fingers through the soft fabric of my underwear. He traces the outline of my cock with his fingertip. I let in a gasp as he takes a hit: his fingertip feels electric and it springs to life, twitching against the soft pad of his finger. “Response time is satisfactory. I’d say you’re just the right age.” I take a hit, “I like your method, kid.”
He stood up, towering over me. Those eyes narrowed into little slits. He reaches down and plucks the joint from my fingers. He takes a hit. Smoke begins to fill the room and my head begins to shift ever so slightly. “That’s enough from you. My turn…” He purred. My eyelids began to droop. He pulls off his sweater up over his head. I catch a whiff of his scent. It hits me like a ton of bricks. I reach up to touch him. Any part of him.
“Put that goddamn hand back where it was.” He growled. His bulk casts a long shadow over me; I can see the tattoo that adorned his shoulder and rips across his broad chest, obscured by the light, in shades of gray and blue. I see his chest flex as he undid his belt and let his pants fall on the floor with a dull rustle.
I look up at him. I can’t see his face, but he stood there, looking down at me. He stood there his head cocked to one side for a while. I close my eyes. And I take a deep breath. I feel him come back down, and the soft bristle of his beard makes contact with my chest. I feel him breathe, long, deliberate breaths, taking in my scent. He makes quiet, low guttural noises from his throat. I feel his strong hands reach around my back and he lifts me straight out of the armchair. I feel those powerful muscles against my body, as hard as tensile steel, as he carried me to the bedroom.
He lays me down gently on the bed, and propped himself on top of me with those thick arms covered with the swirling patterns of his fine, dark fur. I open my eyes and I see him staring at me straight down. His face, with the rugged, square features, softened in the dim light of my room. He leans in and kisses me softly.
I feel the heat coming off of him. His fingers like lit tapers on my skin. The colors of the walls began to thrum as I felt myself stiffen even more in my boxer briefs because of his expert attention. I lose sight of his hands for a moment and I feel soft tendrils move up my stomach, under my shirt. I open my eyes as I take yet another hit, and another, and another until nothing remained but those dark eyes staring intently at me.
I open my eyes. I must have dozed off.
The first thing I notice is the silence. The rain must have stopped at one point. I see the moon rising high in a perfectly clear night sky outside the window, and the long shadows it cast across the floor, over our clothes and the carnage of our clumsy way to the bed.
His arm was around me. His eyes still closed. His breathing heavy.
I look at him, his face bathed in moonlight. The beautiful way his beard was so thick and soft, and always smelled faintly of the cigarettes he swears he never smokes.
My bedside alarm clock reads 2:24am. He spent the night? That was nice. He never had before. I don’t mind. I welcome not being alone tonight. I closed my eyes and tried to fall back asleep. I turn around to face away from him.
“No.” I softly whispered. “I am glad you’re here.”
He pulls me close. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be.”
I rolled around to face him again. I buried my face in his furry chest. I can smell the faint traces of his cologne, and the pleasant stickiness of his sweat. It was a heady scent I breathe in deeply.
“Why?” he asked as he gently ran his fingers up and down my back, raising goosebumps as they traced the outline of my spine.
“For being here. For listening, I suppose.”
I feel his fingers under my chin and he lifts my face up to his. He kisses me deeply, urgently, desperately. The kind of kiss that makes your toes curl.
I need to finish this.
The kiss ends, my lips still tingling as he pulled away. I keep my eyes closed.
No. Not yet. Please.
I know he had to go. But I desperately cling to him, my hands refused to let go of him. I feel his cheek rest against my forehead, his beard, soft against my face.
“Don’t be so sad, Gabe. I hate to see you like this all the time.” He smoothed out my hair, his touch soothing. “You did what you had to do. Mike will be fine. You don’t have to carry this around with you.”
I couldn’t help it. In my silence I feel the sky open up and the rain started to pour again. Big, fat drops that fell one after the other, stream down my face. It rained so hard, my face still buried in the soft thicket of his chest.
“You have to forgive yourself sometime.”
He gives me a soft kiss on my cheek as my sobbing ebbed. His lips on my face was warm like the sun. He pulls away and I feel his weight leave the bed as I settled back into my pillow. My eyes still closed, I hear him come back from the bathroom and the soft jingle of his belt as he dressed. I feel his hand settle on mine, and when I opened my eyes, he was gone.
In the relative darkness of my room, I hear the sound of the world outside; the sound of the city that never sleeps. I listened to the distant sound of a dog barking, the even more distant sound of a police siren.
From where I lay, I could see the faint glimmer of the light from the streetlamp as it passed through the edges of my curtains. I look over to my nightstand and I reach over to switch on the lamp. A seeing what was there makes me feel it: A sensation I haven’t felt for weeks. I felt the corners of my lips curl up into a smile. I settle back down into bed and I allow myself a moment to laugh.
I let it escape; gales of relieved laughter that made me feel lighter than air. I take another look at the nightstand.
There it was, the same bunch of dollar bills that I left out for him, untouched. Still neatly folded together, their edges perfectly aligned, with Benjamin Franklin’s tight-lipped face staring right at me.
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