The Farm Ch. 06bySumacandIvy©
Chapter 6: Conversations
The arid land lay before him illuminated by the rising lemon moon, casting deep shadows around the rocks and low scrub of wormwood and camel thorn. Aarmaan stood guard concealed from view in one of the shadows beside wind eroded boulders at the crest of a hill. A lizard near his right shoulder absorbed the last of the day's heat from the rock and zigzagged off. The asses and camels from the caravan sent out their evening song and the goats baaed out their need for the boy who milked them. Aarmaan picked out angry bellow of The Cobra, a Bactrian named for the speed of her strike. Someone must have gotten between her and her white calf. Two days before she took a fair sized bite out of one of the boys brought along to tend the animals. Aarmaan looked to the mountains in the east that provided cover for bandits ready to sweep down on the caravan like wolves were not guards in place. He smiled and rested the curved stock of the jazail on the dirt at his feet and leaned the cool barrel against his cheek and watched for sign of movement. A fox cried in the night. The odor of cook fires drifted in the air. His stomach rumbled.
An arm encircled his throat and a harsh whisper sibilated in his ear, "You're my captive."
Aarmaan reached for the knife at his hip and paused. "Rahim, and if I'd drawn my knife and stabbed you?"
Rahim pushed closer dropping his arm to encircle his captive's chest. He kissed his neck slowly. His hand slid to the front of Aarmaan's perhan and slid across his thigh. "Draw forth thy Khyber knife." He kissed the stubbled cheek.
Aarmaan turned in his arms and kissed him quickly on the lips. "Pull forth thy Khyber knife. You distract me from watch to say something as foolish as that." They kissed again and laughter started to bubble up between them. They muffled their laughter each against the other.
"I brought you something warm to eat." Rahim's teeth flashed. He removed a small covered bowl from his bag. Aarmaan started to laugh again. "Dal and rice, fool."
"What, no goat?" Aarmaan lifted the cloth and dipped his first two fingers in the lentils and rice and fed it to Rahim then set the bowl aside. They kissed again and let their hands linger for a moment at each others' waists.
"I'll wait up for you. Say you'll come to my tent." He was interrupted again by Aarmaan's laughter. "Can I say nothing to you now without you laughing at me? Come." The laughter came harder. "Come when your relief arrives." Aaraam's shoulders shook. "Aarmaan, not everything has two meanings." Rahim laughed now. "I won't talk to you anymore."
Aarmaan turned to scan the land before him and leaned back again into Rahim's warm body. He turned his mouth to him for a last kiss. "I'll come to your tent, Rahim. And I will draw my Khyber knife."
Prize reached out in his dream and laid his hand on the hip of the warm form next to him. A smile on his lips. The skin soft beneath his calloused palm. "Rahim." The scent of lemon drifted up from the clean sheets. He jolted awake and carefully withdrew his hand. His heartbeat pounded in his ears, his mouth went dry, cold grew in his stomach, dread and fear tightened his muscles, and he prayed Gordy still slept. He waited. Gordy did not move. His breathing slow and even. Below the small clock on the parlor mantel chimed four times and birds stirred in the trees outside. Still no movement from Gordy; Prize carefully slid naked from the warm bed into the chill of the bedroom and crept from the room. Carefully he avoided the first step with its squeak and placed a bare foot on the cold wood of the step below. He grasped the banister as a deep cough shook his ribs. He listened for movement in the bedroom, nothing. Like a shadow he followed the stairs to the Persian carpet and clicked the shackle around his right ankle. He crouched on the floor and gazed into the dead fireplace. The birds sang louder. The clock ticked hollow in the silent room. He pulled his hands over his head and tried to remember his dream. Goosebumps rose on his skin. Only one word remained, Rahim.
The touch felt warm on Gordy's skin long after the hand pulled away. More honest and intimate than any Prize ever gave him. Prize who kissed his thighs and sucked his nipples by rote and opened his lips for every kiss. Prize who sucked his dick and swallowed his pleasure. Each movement calculated to bring pleasure and satisfaction. They were never as warm and complete as the hand on him in the dark, touching his heart, jolting his soul. And the one word, Rahim, sighed in the dark. Gordy held himself still and mimicked sleep, hoping the hand would return. He waited as Prize slid slowly from the bed. Time to think. Sleep reclaimed him.
He stirred slowly and pulled his legs underneath him and moved to his knees, his face to the fire.
"What are you doing here?"
"I don't know."
"I put you in my bed and you left." It had been a conciliatory gesture, a way to repair the damage done.
"Yes." Prize's voice was flat and hollow.
Gordy stepped forward to stand directly behind Prize. "You dreamt."
"I didn't." He shook his head slowly, fighting panic.
"Prize, you talked. Who is Rahim?" There was no answer and Gordy filled his fist with black hair and pulled the head back.
Prize leaned back into Gordy's leg and whispered, "There is no one named Rahim," and rested his cheek against his inner thigh.
The touch Prize gave to Gordy, rote and practiced, was not the touch he gave in the early morning to Rahim. And Gordy wanted that touch again. He envied the whispered Rahim. Gordy threw Prize forward in disgust and walked to the door with long strides. It was stupid of him to want more. Mrs. Featherwink promised him a whore's son named Prize and that's what he received. The basket waited by the door. Gordy carried it to the table and unpacked it. He set aside a heavy envelope. He ate without tasting. He watched Prize. He did not call him to kneel at his knee.
He tossed some bread at him and said, "Eat." No more.
Prize lifted the bread to his lips and took a tentative bite. He took another. He turned his head to look at Gordy and discern what he knew beyond one word, to see if he felt the touch, to gage his mood. He sat as unreadable as the Sphinx. Only two days ago he failed to defuse his anger, and the results had been dire. He didn't want to make the same mistake. A cough tickled in the back of his throat. He fought to suppress it and failed.
Gordy looked at him with cool eyes. "Is that a hint for attention?"
Gordy pushed his chair back and crossed the carpet. He swept up the drawstring pants and threw them at Prize's head. "Put these on." He removed the key from his dressing gown pocket and freed the shackle. "I'll be down after I dress." He turned and ascended the stairs. The empty bed. The touch. To the devil with Rahim. Prize was his.
Prize pulled on his drawstring pants and began to clear away the remains of the breakfast. He looked at the food, some bread, a slice of mutton, jam. He listened as Gordy moved upstairs. One bite. He wouldn't know. Prize lifted a slice of bread and looked toward the stairs and dropped the bread on the plate. He drew his arm across his chest and over his shoulder and touched the slash on his back and winced. He moved slowly. His chest felt tight.
"Not finished yet?"
Prize jumped, clattering a jam spoon on the plate. "Soon."
Gordy smiled and looked Prize up and down. His hurt back, the dirty thin pants hung low exposing the top curve of his buttocks. The way his shoulders fell forward and the tremble in his voice and hands. "Come to me."
And Prize moved slowly and stood before Gordy. He kept his head bent. He waited. Gordy ran his hand down the side of Prize's face and paused along the jaw. He traced his lips with his index finger. The lips parted. The lips always parted. His hand trailed down Prize's chest to the top of the thin cotton pants. He placed his hand flat on Prize's lower abdomen and let his thumb slide below the cloth. Prize kept his arms at his side, his eyes on Gordy. Under his hand, Gordy felt Prize's breathing quicken, the muscles tightened. Gordy pulled his hand away.
"Finish here and join me in the garden."
The heavy rain had driven some of the lower growing plants into the mud. A few pea plants were torn away from their supports. Nothing beyond repair. Gordy indicated a wood chair he carried out from the kitchen and placed a cloth over Prize's shoulders. He took a few practice snips with the shears and started in on the hair. Dark and shiny in the light, it fell on the cloth and ground. Gordy surveyed his work. The result was acceptable. Short like the hair of a Roman senator. Still enough to grab if he wanted. It enhanced Prize's appearance. Prize plucked a strand from his leg and rolled it between his fingers. Gordy pulled the cloth from his shoulders and shook it clean.
"Much better. We've more to do." He moved back to the cottage. Prize waited looking at the storm damage to the garden. The wind lifted the cut hair and sent it rolling down the path where some caught in a puddle, among the lettuces, and some, buoyed by the current, floated over the wall. Prize rubbed his hand over his shorn head. He pressed his back against the wall to steady himself and looked again at his garden. Rows of lettuces, carrots, beets, his pea plants twined around poles at the far end. Herbs grew in pots by the door. A lazy plump bee hovered near the purple spikes of lupine her legs heavy with pollen. He inhaled. Fresh turned dirt. The promise of rain on the breeze. His eyes drifted to the ancient oak tree that stood on the crest of the hill behind the cottage.
"Come to me, Prize."
Prize paused to take a deep breath to calm the feeling of dread growing under his ribcage and turned. A cough caught him and pulled him almost double. He stopped a moment to set his resolve and moved out of the sun and into the cottage. Gordy waited by the open armoire an amber jar of viscous cream filled the palm of his hand.
Prize stopped. His skin crawled. He worked to keep his face passive as he eyed the jar. He knew nothing good came from the armoire, but he knew he would rather face whatever Gordy drew forth from it than what waited for him elsewhere. And elsewhere was what March whispered about, the cell, and that something that visited him in the stable accompanied by the acrid stench of gunpowder horrified him more than either.
"I want to know about Rahim." Gordy pinned him with an algid glare.
"There is no Rahim." Prize dropped his eyes and studied the polished surface of the dining table.
Gordy crossed the rug bouncing the jar in his hand and paused before the fireplace. He turned and looked at the glowing peat. "You called to Rahim in you sleep. Who is he?"
"Please, I don't know a Rahim." He clutched the edge of the table and lifted his face to look at Gordy. "Please." His voice felt hollow. A thousand invisible flies walked across his skin.
"I see." Gordy lifted the jar and examined its content. He tipped the jar and the jellied mass slid to one side.
"Please, don't ask me what I don't know. Please, I can't tell you who Rahim is."
Gordy tipped the jar again and watched the gel slide up the other side of the jar. "How can I believe you here in the day when I heard you last night?" Another tip of the jar.
"It was a dream." Prize realized his mistake the moment the words passed his lips.
"Why do you dream about Rahim?" Gordy stepped closer.
"I don't know."
Gordy tilted his head.
"I don't remember."
"Please, I don't remember my dreams."
Gordy crossed to the table and set the jar down on the polished wood. "I believe you, Prize. Why would you lie?" Gordy lifted his hands from the table in a gesture of acceptance and placed them softly back on the surface with the jar resting between them. Prize watched as Gordy lifted each finger and replaced them on the wood. "Your pants are so dirty." Prize trembled. A cough caught him and he shook with the effort. His eyes watered. He felt cold under burning skin and the flies kept crawling. Gordy tapped the jar lid with his middle finger. "You caught a chill in the stable."
"I can see you're fine. And since you're fine, let's get on with your," Gordy shrugged, "transformation." He turned the lid on the jar. Metal grated on glass. The lid came free. A sharp odor climbed through the still air and tickled the back of Prize's throat. "Loosen your pants. How's your back? Slide up on the table."
Prize dropped his pants and stepped free. The table was something new in Gordy's repertoire. Prize stood in confusion not sure how he was to proceed. Gordy patted the surface. "Just slide your rear up here." Prize lifted himself on to the table; his feet just touching the floor.
"That's it. Now swing around and lie back." Prize did and kept his arms rigid at his sides, the cool wood on his skin made him shiver. Gordy grasp his right arm and moved it above Prize's head, the elbow flexed. He traced the raw skin at the wrist. "Take a breath and relax." He dipped his first two fingers into the jar and removed a dollop of the stuff and rubbed it in Prize's armpit. "Not smooth. My fault really. Don't be concerned. Put your other arm up. Good boy." More cream and a sting and slight burn. "You'll be so much more beautiful without this hair."
Prize froze. He remembered that odor. The room and the table. The ropes around his wrists and knees. The laughter and sneers. Practiced hands on his body. The mirror and how he was turned, displayed. How he had to watch his own fear, the drug pulling him from his body to observe dispassionately as he was splayed and exposed.
Gordy wiped the cream and hair from each armpit using the discarded cotton pants. Prize remained still. He kept his arms bent above his head. He stared at the beamed ceiling when Gordy stepped away to get more cloths. He clenched and unclenched his fists. He fought to slow his breathing. Breathe in, "Prize sounds like lies." Breathe out, "Prize means sighs." Again and again. He coughed. He shivered. He fought to maintain his surrender. Gordy returned and moved the cream to Prize's chest, belly, and downward. Prize jumped when his penis was held in a firm grasp.
Gordy smiled and said, "Be still, I don't want to hurt you. Now turn over."
On the hill behind the cottage stood the oak. It was Prize's oak, growing from the pasture land that surrounded the little farm. Prize stole time to watch the tree while he worked in the garden. The branches strong, the crown full. Milk cows folded their legs beneath their bellies and rested in the shade. The bark grew smooth except where a large burl clung. A few dead limbs hung to one side. The oak stood resolute against the summer storms and challenged the lighting to strike it dead. It welcomed the soft rains the leaves turned in anticipation. Its roots ran deep, as large in the earth as its canopy against the sky. Its upper branches caught the first of the morning sun when Prize's garden lay deep in shadow. The sun, red and dying, slipped behind its branches, throwing the oak into stark silhouette. It shone in the light of the full moon.
Prize turned his head and watched his oak through the wavy glass in the window as Gordy wiped the last of the cream and hair from his crack and pulled the muscles apart to see if he missed any. He gave Prize a slap, leaving a pink handprint on the right cheek. "Go and wash. You don't want to leave it on too long."
And Prize walked with lemon soap and cloths to the well and watched his oak as he washed himself. His skin felt raw and sensitive. He felt more naked than he had in weeks. A crow screamed out his territory and Prize turned his head and caught a glimpse of Gordy in the doorway. He moved a soapy hand to his penis and wrapped his hand around the shaft and moved it back and forth, a twist at the end. He lifted a hand to his nipple and rubbed. Gordy expected this. The oak leaves moved in the breeze.
His hand slid down his side. He placed his foot on a large, smooth stone and parted his cheeks. He washed carefully. Prize rhymes with sighs. And the cough caught him again.
Prize took his place on the rug. He rubbed his hand through his shorn hair and dipped his head. "Whatever pleases you." He raised his head. His eyes softened. His lips parted. His knees parted exposing his hairless groin and he pushed his chest out.
"You do that well."
Prize lowered his head. "My my mother sold me to this."
"You called me whore."
"Whores are only rented. Put on your shackle." A quick click and it was done. Cold ran down Prize's spine like a drop of well water. The shackle was his choice. It was always his choice. It kept him safe. It kept him anchored at the cottage. Gordy paced the carpet. "Now tell me about this Rahim?"
"I don't know." He looked at the hand that had betrayed him in his dream and Gordy followed his gaze.
"We're back where we started." Gordy stood in agitation. "Try this question. Why were you circumcised?"
"To change who I was. To make me who I am. To increase my worth. I don't know."
"You son-of-a-bitch. Do you know anything? Do you know what I have in that armoire you're always sneaking looks at? I have the means to make you tell me. You'll shout the answers. You'll beg to tell me."
Prize moved to his knees. A series of coughs shook him. "Let me pleasure you." His hands lifted toward Gordy.
"On new terms." Gordy went to the armoire and removed a pair of leather cuffs. "Place your hands behind your back." Prize complied. He was too stunned to think. His wrists were overlapped and held firmly. "I don't trust you." Gordy removed a gag with blocks of leather-covered wood. Prize knew that type of gag; he wore it for days in the cell. He slept in it. He tried to eat with it in place, bent over a cracked plate pushing food around and onto the straw. It was Miss Liz who pitied him enough to feed him bits of greasy food and dribble water into his mouth.
Gordy shook the blocks and straps to untangle them. The device was simple, a wide leather band with a large hole and a cup to hold the chin, on both sides of that hole two leather-covered blocks extended. Once placed in the wearer's mouth and buckled behind the head the jaws were held open. It could not be dislodged. The one Gordy held was old, the brown leather supple, the stitching strong. The buckles dull and solid. Prize felt the muscles in his legs turn to tallow and he sank back, his buttocks on his heels. His knees moved outward and he slid down on his belly. Gordy was going to strap and block him. That's what Cruel called it. "Gordy, please." The cough came again. He wanted to plead with Gordy. He wanted to change his mind and there wasn't enough air. The moment was passing. He pushed, "Please," through his lips. And he couldn't breathe.
"And what will you give me if I put this away?" The buckles jingled. "Will you tell me about Rahim?" Gordy ran a finger along the cut in Prize's back to punctuate his point, causing his shoulder blades to push closer together. His hand moved down Prize's back and pulled at the leather cuffs. It circled the small of Prize's back then stroked the smooth exposed skin between the buttocks. "Or will you give me your ass?"
What could he tell him? Rahim was an oak in the morning light. Rahim visited him in dreams. Rahim tasted like dates and spice. Rahim was not the cell, the cottage, the lurking horror that kept trying to struggle from behind a curtain. "I release you from your promise."
Gordy flung the blocks and straps onto Prize's back and watched him flinch. "Give it to me tonight. You'll have time to reconsider." His anger boiled. He thought he had out flanked Prize. He wanted Rahim because Prize touched him so gently in his sleep. Because he spoke his name with love and longing. Because no one had ever touched Gordy that way. Because Prize gave Gordy his body and nothing more.