The Wall and Goat Ch. 06bysexuscumlupus©
Ch6 – Jesse
It was midnight, the house was silent, the incandescent hands of my little clock told me that a new day was just beginning, another one was just lost. A day where Maxie had kissed me, in the field, under the stars. I had been so angry at the start of that run, half way between the dark sort of sadness that leads to doing really stupid things and the hot red rage that lead to me breaking my sort-of-best-friend's nose. But the body wants what the body wants, and as annoyed as I was when we started, the familiar burn of muscles and the sweet-sharp flood of endorphins could not be denied. Pretty much all exercise gave me a hard on when I finished, and running with Maxie certainly didn't fix that.
It was midnight. I hadn't slept at all.
Maxie had gotten back about nine, and I'd heard him crash onto his bed. There'd be no movement since. For the last hour I had wanted to tap on the wall, and as the clock hands slid inexorably towards a new day, I knew I had to. I didn't want to just leave it where we had. I had to explain to him sometime. Why not in the dead of night?
I tapped on the wall.
There was a grunt and the sound of Maxie shifting in bed. He thought of him naked mad me excited and scared all at once.
I thumped the wall again.
"Huh. Eh? Ung..." the sounds of Maxie moving around followed the half words, then he hit the wall with some other part of his anatomy, "Jes?" His voice was thick with sleep, making him sound older and less smart than I knew him to be.
"Maxie? I need to talk to you."
"Mmm, 'kay," I peered through the hole, but it was pitch black in Maxie's room, "What's wrong?" He spoke through a yawn that made his jaw creak.
"Maxie are you awake?" I knew I'd woken him, but there was no point in telling him if he wasn't going to remember in the morning, and I was losing my resolve. I banged the wall right next to his head.
"Fuck. Yes, I'm up now. Ye gods what time is it?"
"And this couldn't wait until the morning. You selfish bastard," his hard tone vanished as he spoke, "Sorry Jes, I'm fine, talk to me."
"OK." I took a deep breath, a pause I thought I was going to get trapped in. "I'm not, I been, I wasn't...hang on. I never knew, you know? I never knew like other people do. I had this feeling I might be. I couldn't really think about it, I didn't want to. So I ignored it. It just became a habit."
"Er...are we talking in code?"
"Maxie!" I pleaded with him through the wall, prone on my bed, facing the little hole that was our main channel of communication.
"Yeah, yeah. I get it. You ignored that you fancied guys right?"
"Right. So...when I met you, I didn't know what to do with all these feelings. I didn't want these feelings."
"What feelings?" I could hear Maxie smiling.
"Don't do that. You know and I'm not saying pretty things to you through a wall."
"Fine..." Maxie sounded resigned.
"So then back last summer there was this man." I gulped, wanting to stop, "In the Hyde Park bathrooms. He...he attacked me. Stole things from me. Things I didn't know you could take." I made my voice small, half wanting for Maxie not to hear, "He raped me." I took a hard shuddering breath, I had never said it out loud before. Never even said it in my own head, and now that fact was out there, flitting to Maxie's ears like a butterfly on wings of poison. "Lucky for me I was shit at suicide and good at healing."
I paused, but the only sound from the wall was Maxie's uneven breathing, "So I'm sorry I was awful to you. You didn't deserve it, and I'm sorry I took your first kiss after I'd been so mean to you. Sorry about your hand."
There was a long silence in which I worried that Maxie had fallen asleep.
"Put your hand on the wall, with your thumb right by the hole." I did so, not quite knowing why, "My hand is there too. I wish it felt warm."
One knock for yes.
"Thank you." And then I lost the grip on consciousness I didn't know I'd been holding.
I dreamt him dead again. In the dream I walk down the steps to the Hyde Park toilets, my best leather brogues clattering noisesomly on the tiles as I descend, a skip and a hop. I got to urinal, empty white porcelain, the air thick with bleach over washed with floral scents that do nothing for the nose. I look in the mirror as I piss, meet my own gaze, and Narcissus-like smile at my reflection, my pale pink skin, my clear round eyes. And then my gaze shifts, the focus alters and there is something dark in the stall behind me.
I finish up, reel around to see the naked figure slumped against the cistern, his legs splayed around the commode, the insides of thighs dark with sticky blood. His head rests against the side of the stall, hair falling in his face. Perfectly sculpted muscles do not move, there is no breath. His lips are red, a lipstick slack smile drawn in the blood which flows readily from his heart. Toffee coloured eyes meet mine and I sweat he blinks. Dead but blinking. There is a gash in the side of his head, the shine of opened bone. I run from the bathrooms.
I woke in a cold sweat, tied up in my sheets and on the floor. How falling off the bed hadn't woken me I had no idea but I struggled upright and went for a shower. Only when I returned from five minutes under steaming water did I look at the clock to see it was only just seven o'clock. I had no school.
Naked now, I dropped into bed and peered through the hole in the wall. Maxie wasn't there, probably having his own shower, but then I saw the curve of his spine and shoulders, the shorn back of his head. He dropped out of sight again, then rose slowly.
Push ups. Liar, obviously push ups didn't count as exercise. No wonder he has a torso that looked like the better models in GQ magazine.
I counted Maxie's shoulders rise and fall another sixteen times before he got up, slapping salt-sweat from his arms. He was wearing boxers and nothing else. His fabulously sexy upper body heaved with the effort of his laboured breathing. Maxie had big thighs, taut with muscle and sinew, and his tight boxer-briefs left little to my already overactive imagination. Maxie stretched, arms out above his head and another half inch of dusky coffee coloured skin snuck out from the waistband of his underwear. My confused sexuality aside, it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
Maxie sat, turned and then knocked on the wall. I slid back sharply, not wanting to be caught watching him.
"I know you're up," in more ways than one, my mind added, "I can hear you breathing Jes. I hope you never have to sneak up on anyone."
"You wanna hang out afterschool?" at Maxie's words I realised there was really no reason for me to be up, I was excluded for the week.
I knocked for yes.
"See ya Jes. Be good."
I lay back in bed, pondering the ceiling. After what I'd told Maxie last night I hadn't expected him to sound quite so chirpy. I closed my eyes for what felt like a minute, but turned out to be an hour, and when I looked at the clock I realised Maxie would already be at school. There was a piece of paper in the hole in the wall. A note.
You're a lousy spy. Hope you got a good view ;)
Still processing last night's conversation. Sorry I'm not more help. Hang on today and we'll talk after running.
Under that were two lines, unfinished.
The world will be fixed/in the eyes of friends
I smiled. There was nothing to do, nothing on my schedule, so I pulled on slacks and an old zip up hoodies and shuffled barefoot to the kitchen for cereal, toast and television. Only to find that my mum had left me a list of jobs literally as long as my arm.
I did the washing up, put the laundry on, cleaned the kitchen floor; I bleached the loo, wiped down the shower, rearranged all the toiletries of which I had two and mum had twenty; I wiped the washing up and put it away, then did another load. Stopped for coffee and read in The Week about a women who followed her sat-nav across Europe, a cute guy who stole a fourteen pound carp to win a fishing contest and a snake clinging to the wing of a plane in Australia. I hovered the lounge, plumped the sofa cushions, unpacked the last of the boxes and put it in the recycling; I painted the hall with the colours mum had left, cleaned paint of the carpet on the stairs, re washed the sink after the brushes. I ate lunch standing over the sink, tinned beans with a spoon from the saucepan and a can of peaches in a similar fashion. I reorganised my books according to font size, changed my mind and put them all back; I downloaded all the Keane songs I could find and turned the volume up high, learnt the lines while I changed my sheets, made the bed, then did mum's too; went back to the kitchen, put the laundry on to dry, looked for a brownie recipe mum always used; made brownies, made a mess in the kitchen, cleaned the kitchen; brownies came out a little burnt but good, ate half the pan before remembering to save some. Had another shower. Sat down in front of the TV to realise it was four o'clock, raced up to my room, changed into running gear, and wrote a note to put in the hole.
It's a cruel world/And I need somewhere to hide/But time goes by/And your still on my side
Then I went downstairs and waited for mum.
"Wow," Mum dropped her handbag in the hall, and her coat fell across it as she stared around the house. I think one of the reasons I love my room to be so tidy is that mum is so messy, "Maybe having you home is a good thing."
"I did all the chores. And I made brownies." I was trying to win points to get to go out.
"I bet you ate all of them didn't you?"
I shook my head.
"How was your day?"
"Oh like you care about my day," Mum reached out to ruffled my hair, which I hated, "Where is it you want to go?"
"Well you know you can do that."
"With Maxie." I winced, waiting for the explosion. Mum looked deeply perplexed.
"I thought you two didn't get on? Shame, he seems like such a nice boy."
"We...er...worked it out. We're friends now."
Mum rolled her eyes.
"Fine, fine. Just no more bruises OK?"
Maxie's front door was opened by a tiny brown woman with thick grey hair. I felt the smile drop from my face that it wasn't him.
"Merhaba," her accent was strange, and I didn't recognise the language, "Nasilsiniz?"
"I...I'm looking for Maxie?" I wasn't sure why I made it a question, I knew he lived here.
"You must be Jesse," the little old woman smiled, her dark eyes crinkling in a web of cobweb fine wrinkles., "My Küçük has told me about you," she turned from me, "Küçük! You have a boy here for you."
I blushed crimson at her words, wondering precisely what Maxie had told her and wondering now if this was a good idea. Maxie, still pulling on running gear, half ran half skidded down the stairs. My note was crumpled in his hand.
"Hey Jes. Babaanne, this is Jesse. Jesse, this is Babaane, my grandmother."
"Oh!" I flashed Maxie's grandmother my best good-boy smile, "Nice to meet you."
"You say 'Iyiyim'," the old woman smiled at me, "Go on."
I made a hash of the word, mispronouncing every syllable. Apparently there were a lot more of them.
"Babaanne!" Maxie scowlded his grandmother, "He don't have time to learn Turkish now. We have to run. He pulled on his trainers and turn from the house, somehow sliding through the narrow space in the doorway. Allahaismarladik!"
Maxie clapped me on the shoulder and his grandmother pulled him back and whispered something I didn't catch. She called out something incomprehensible as we jogged softly down the road.
"You're Turkish?" I asked Maxie in surprise.
"Partly. Babaanne will try and teach anybody. You'll see."
"Yeah. Mum wants me to invite you and your mother over for dinner at the weekend. You'll have to come see what it's like on my side of the wall."
"I bet it's a mess," I picked up the pace, Maxie falling in just behind me, "Come on you, we gotta get you fit enough to eat cake!"
We ran to the edge of town, through lanes lit by the windows of houses and came to the vast rolling fields scattered with sheep that fell away on all sides. Over the hills and far away. Dogs and walkers abounded and I turned to lead Maxie along the northern edge of the town, turning back in before the train tracks, heading towards the old priory and our hill. We ran for an hour, our detour having taken us a good few miles farther than we had run before and by the time we reached the hill I wasn't the only one sweating. Maxie collapsed on his knees, panting, making broken animals noises as he tried to breathe. I rubbed his shoulder automatically, a gesture repeated many times for new runners.
"I think...I think," Maxie swallowed the wet air as though drinking, "I think all this running shit is going to kill me."
I sat next to Maxie and looked out over the town at dusk. There weren't many street lamps, so different to the London streets, but here and there orange fizzed in the not-yet-dark. I stared at the sky, the stars creeping out in between high wispy clouds.
"What did your grandmother say to you when we left?"
Maxie was lying on his back, chest still heaving, but I no longer feared he might throw up.
"She told me I'd found a good goat." Maxie pulled the crumpled song lyrics from his pocket, "You listened to more Keane?"
"Yeah," I drew up my knees to hide my combined endorphin-and-Maxie-proximity hard on, "I really like the newest album, but some of the old singles are great. That song is brilliant, I can't believe it didn't get on an album."
"Yeah. I went to see them live for the first tour and they said that Snowed Under should have made it onto the album too, it has the title lines in it. Hopes and Fears." Maxie sighed and stretched out on the ground, "About last night."
I had dreaded this, having to face him while I spoke. Some things were easier said through the wall.
"Have you spoken to anyone about it?"
I knuckled him twice on the shoulder, my fear of touching him subsiding under my fear of speaking.
"Oh Jes..." I turned to look at him, and found Maxie's beautiful ,edible toffee eyes brimming with tears, "Do you want to talk about it?"
I shook my head hard.
"OK then. Something else. Are you gay?"
I stared at him, surprised.
"I...I have absolutely no idea," it was a weird, if honest, answer. And I had no clue. I saw girls who I thought were beautiful, men who were gorgeous. I'd dated girls, felt something that might have been like rather than love, I'd kissed girls, wanted to kiss boys, never had. I picked at my nails, "I don't know Maxie." Words stuck in my throat, so I spit them out anyway, "I know I like you though."
Now it was Maxie's turn to look thoughtful. I watched him, thick brows furrowed, and he watched the stars coming out high above us.
"I think I sort of like that answer." He turned to smile at me, and I felt, if not my heart leap, then some other, rather more forceful part of my anatomy pulse along with my heart beat.
"What do we do now?"
"Head out west, fetch up back home again?" Maxie half quoted our shared favourite poem at me, "I like you y'know."
We walked home in a companionable silence, close enough to touch but not actually touching. We walked, since Maxie's face when I had suggested jogging back was black like thunder. As we got to our road Maxie reached out, fingers in my palm, tracing up to hold loosely onto my wrist, his fingers a bangle of warmth on my skin.
"Tell me." It wasn't a question.
I shook my head. I'd never spoken about it. Not to mum, not to dad, not to the therapist they'd wasted six hundred pounds on before realising I was just going to ignore the incident for the rest of my life. Maxie's hand went tight about me.
"I'm not giving you a choice."
When I spoke, my words were not my own.
"Strong drink; a crimson tidemark round the tub. A yard of lint, white towels washed a dozen times, still pink." I breathed, glad to have got it out of me, even if I borrowed someone else's lines, "Hurt like fuck to tell the truth, and I realised I wanted life way more than I wanted to do the other wrist. I saw...him, and realised if I killed myself he'd won. I panicked, wrapped my arm in every towel we had and took a taxi to the hospital to get stitched up. Whatever doc I got, he had a gift for tiny stitches. No scar. If there'd been any more bourbon in me I probably would have done the other arm."
"I'm glad you didn't."
"Me too." I worked my gaze up Maxie's arm, still holding my own, scrounging around to find the courage to look at his face. Toffee caramel eyes met mine, the most open honest gaze I had ever known, and I could see something shining out from him. I was too scared to call it love, but it was though he was one of those Catholic paintings; his chest laid open, his heart aglow.
"I missed you at school."
"Sorry." I whispered. I couldn't look away from his eyes, could barely draw breath. People before had looked at me like they'd known me, but Maxie looked into me and understood. He let go, the connection broke, and I filled my lungs with cool wet air.
"Good night Jes."
I smiled, tapped his shoulder just once and we turned to walk to our own houses.
Bed, dark: the window open to show a sky clouded over, the mist thicker now, turning into fog. I lay in bed and tapped on the wall. I beat a tattoo pattern of the poem in my head, not really speaking, half whispering, bits of syllables becoming lost in the wetness of my lips. When I finished, Jesse started, and I lay back, settling my shoulders to listen to the rhythm as the words flowed through my skull.
Tap. Tap tap taptaptap (Fact: the world will be fixed)
Tap taptap tap tap (in the eyes of friends)
Taptaptap tap taptap (who head out west and fetch up)
Tap tap tap (back home again)
I loved to think of us as twins, far travelled and now different. Friends who recognised each other. Though I'd been moody and angry the first day I'd met him, there had been something beneath the surface of Maxie's skin that drew me in. I couldn't believe he didn't feel something the same. No one forgave acts such as ours quite so readily.
I kissed the skin of my wrist where Maxie's fingers had been, my breath shuddering in and out of my chest like a rusty saw stuck in green wood. I wanted him to speak, to whisper soft poetry through the wall until I fell asleep, but all was dark on the other side of the hole. I held in my mind the sound of his remember voice, the soft tapping of our poem. I stroked my fingers down the cool plaster board and picked idly at the corner of Strangeland. I closed my eyes.
I did not dream him dead.