tagGay MaleThe Wolf and the Mirror

The Wolf and the Mirror

byMMuradUmar©

"Who knows? Not me. We never lost control."

-- Kurt Cobain, from David Bowie

I noticed the young doctor the moment he cautiously opened the kitchen door with his worn canvas duffel bag hanging over his slumped right shoulder. His eyes looked bright but tired. The best word I could use to describe him would be complex, or maybe distant, as if he was a bit out of his element. However, he seemed worldly enough to be able to handle himself for a week in rural Wisconsin. His shoulders were broad and tense as he lowered his bag to the ground and greeted Dorje Mary with a firm shake of the hand. I could see his short, meaty fingers with hair on the knuckles as it grasped her pale, slender hands. They say you can tell a person's age by their hands. I guessed he was in his mid-thirties. His hands were strong and calloused as if they were well-used.

He asked about where he would be sleeping. His voice was short and low, like gravel that had been slowly polished by years of feet running over it. The words of her soft reply no longer registered as having any meaning. I heard a few passing words, "Welcome doctor," and "Namaste". My mind was distracted by his unnerving presence.

It had been a week since I had interacted with anyone except the hippy groundskeeper and her stoner boyfriend, a few passing neighbors, and the patriarch of the Amish vegetable farm down the hill around the forested area where I set my tent. I slowly gazed up from the cutting board where I was chopping the tender onions that I had picked from the field down the hill on the far side of the barn. My eyes took a second to focus through the tiny bit of tears that pleasantly burned. After several hard blinks to clear my vision, I could focus well enough to see that he was looking over her shoulder at my young face. It startled me.

My eyes were paralyzed for a second as I wasn't expecting him to notice me, as the invisible servant preparing for the first dinner. He smiled as a greeting, to put me at ease. I could see teeth that looked whiter due to the thick, unkempt beard that erupted from his face. The contour of his teeth looked slightly sharp but inviting. And then the look was over. I have no idea how long our eyes were locked -- probably for less than a second -- but my sense of time had been altered. The knife in my hand had involuntarily stopped when I quickly looked back down.

As I looked into the half-chopped pile of green and white, I thought about his beard. It grew dark and wild with slight patches of gray and a single streak of white that extended from the upturned corner of his mouth to the diffuse point beyond his defined chin. Focus, I told myself. You are going to lose track of the knife if you don't focus. As I looked further down into my work to avoid his gaze, the smell became more overpowering. Above the odor of freshly-cut onions, was the smell of smoke and cedar. I suddenly felt warm with blood flow through my face and afraid that my blush would be noticed, I felt a wave of self-awareness. I could no longer even hear the short exchange of words between them. I quietly set down the knife and with a quick rinse of my hands with cold water, I excused myself to the dining room of the retreat center. When the light wooden doors swung shut, I discretely slid my hand behind my apron and adjusted a slightly uncomfortable off-center bulge in the front of my trousers.

I walked to the far corner and gazed out of the green drapes on to the even greener Kettle-Moraine state park. Hills and strange valleys made soothing pockmarks as far as I could see. I felt my labored breath calm down as I looked toward the late-afternoon horizon. The landscape looked very foreign from the flatness I knew on the farms outside Detroit. Everything was greener than it should have been. The sky was bluer. My eyes finally rested on the jet black of the solar panels that provided the power to the little sustainable community.

I didn't want Dorje Mary to see me at the moment. I didn't consider myself a Buddhist, and I didn't think they had superpowers or anything, but I had been working here long enough to know that she could see through my shaky persona. Buddhists were good at that type of thing. I could hear the two conversing distantly in the kitchen about rules at the retreat center. No drugs. No unwanted sexual advances. No talking after sundown tonight. The conversation gave me enough time to compose myself and hide away the uncontrolled images that were flashing through my head. His beard was just long enough for me to hold in my hand. It made me want to stroke his face like I did in the barn back home with the ferals.

My thoughts were interrupted as I saw him leave with his bag swinging leisurely in his right hand as he went toward the barn. His steps were heavy and irregular as if he were in the midst of a successful prison escape. He became more noticeably at ease as he approached his room, unaware he was being watched. Eventually I could even see him let a secret half-smile show through his wild beard when he turned for a moment in profile. His dark jeans swung loosely from his ankles in sharp contrast to how tightly they fit his well-shaped buttocks. I could only see the bottom of his right back pants pocket bulging with his oversized wallet, half-hidden beneath the checkers of his burgundy flannel shirt. There was a brand-name tag from the back of his shirt visible in front of his wallet-bulge.

A vow of silence can make you notice the smaller details in sights and sounds. Silence also eliminated my stress of having to make small-talk with all the rich guests from the city that would be arriving this evening. I didn't care about the rest of the guests at the moment. My mind focused on only one. I didn't catch his name or the Dorje hadn't said it. I only knew he was a doctor of some sort, and I noticed two letters embroidered in blue on his brown canvas bag: M.U. Maybe I could cheat at my silent vow and ask him his name when nobody was listening. But no, not even away from a silent retreat center would I ever be able to form the words to initiate conversation with him. Perhaps those would be the only letters that I would know. Perhaps I could sneak a look at the guest log when everyone had gone to bed, and I was done scrubbing the dishes. But did it matter? The stories that my mind spun as I watched his firm buttocks climbing the outdoor stairs to the barn loft were most likely more stimulating than his real life. But who could say? Everybody has interesting secrets.

His pants had worn through beneath the seam of his back pocket where he carried his wallet, so that I could see the tiniest bit of skin on the back of thigh. There, I saw the same dark, thick, slightly curly hair that matched the beard on his face. I knew then his whole body was covered in a thick layer of unkempt fur like a wild dog who had wondered too close to civilization. I guessed he was a recreational biker judging from the shape of his glutes. I wished he would turn around and return to the kitchen. Maybe he needed to talk to Mary again. I wanted to see if his jeans fit as tightly in the front. But, that evening I only saw him from the back, walking tired from his drive from the city and laying alone in his Spartan room above the barn. He closed the large sliding wooden door behind him, and I could imagine his relief as he lay down for a nap before dinner after undressing. As he disappeared, I was aware of my own shaking hands. They smelled like freshly cut onions and pheromones. I sighed and returned to my duties in the kitchen.

The Dorje gave me a knowing smile when I returned to the kitchen. I smiled back to hide the blush of my face and bowed politely as I went back to my duties. Cutting vegetables was simple and distracting. Did my desires show on my face? How many remain hidden? How much could I keep hidden? This time I chopped harder, frustrated at the knowledge that there was less I could hide at this community center. They practiced silent awareness for weeks at a time, so they understood the subtle signs of silent communications that others could not. The embarrassment I felt at my own personal transparency dissipated as I decided to indulge my dirty thoughts. I let my mind drift to the thin mattress in the barn. There, I would be the most dutiful Center employee, going above and beyond my kitchen duties. I would do anything he needed me to do. I wondered if his bed needed to be made. My eyes were wet again from the onions and the strange emotional sensation that didn't want to dissipate.

That night, my eyes stayed open. I slept on the Visqueen floor of my simple hexagonal tent. I laid on my back staring through the dark red cotton above me. I had been there for over a month now. I had slept in the same spot ever since I had moved up to the retreat center the very day that final exams had ended. I stared at the bright stars through the few openings in tall Wisconsin cedars, but I was distracted by the brighter pull of the window in the barn loft. I could see the unorganized reflections of a body's shadow on the rough plywood roof of the room. The shadow had broad shoulders with a slight hunch. The outline showed his defined deltoids that seemed to stop his arms from falling naturally to his sides. The window was too high for me to see any of him, except the once when I saw his exposed shoulder by a sleeveless undershirt casually pass near the window.

He looked weary, with a deep emotional tiredness. Many had that look when they arrived at these retreats. Even the richest and happiest expatriates of Chicago and Minneapolis, would quickly feel their deep weariness when listening to silence for a moment. His bearded face, beyond his thick shoulder, had that expected weary expression, but with it, an unexpected allure. I only saw him pass the window once that night, but my eyes stayed open, hoping for a second glance. For hours I looked and only saw the skin of his hairy triceps once. The shadow dropped beneath the bottom of the window frame. I imagined then that my doctor was probably reading a book, maybe some boring medical crap, or maybe... I rolled on my side and laid on my hands in prayer position to soften the feel of my hard pillow. Maybe he brought a dirty magazine in his bag.

I laughed at the thought. Did anyone still have dirty magazines? I used to have the internet when I need it, but in the woods, one has to improvise. I merely used my imagination on nights where I needed a release. The lack of internet or any magazine, had forced me to be more creative with my own sexual fantasies. No one could see through the tent cotton beneath the cedars and tonight, there wasn't even moonlight. I slid my hand down my chest and abdomen within my thick sleeping bag. I lightly brushed my nipples as my hands passed them. But that night, it was different. My hand stopped short of touching myself. He hadn't told me to touch it, I thought. Maybe he was enjoying his own touch in that room after his long drive. He probably needed a release from the stress of a long week at the beginning of a week away in rural Wisconsin. He could do what he wanted. I could help him. But I laid there, unmoving, unable to move. My hand had stopped where it was short of my waist. He needed to tell me to touch myself, or it wouldn't be right. My mind had finally focused.

My college therapist suggested many months ago that I should spend my summer away from campus and away from my father. Panic attacks had become a weekly occurrence for me, only to become a daily routine as finals approached. My mind and body felt like there was only the weakest glue holding them together. Someday, if I decided to return to school when summer was over, I wanted to tell her that she was right. I needed to be here, on my side, at that moment, looking up at the window as the lights switched off.

For the previous forty-some days, I worried about little except for having the energy to rise and prepare breakfast before the guests awoke. I cleaned the rooms and did the laundry when the guests left. Life was simple. I was happy even though I missed some small pleasures, like a soft bed or the Midwestern pleasure of eating meat with every meal. Here, we only ate what we picked at the farm. I was bored for sure, but boredom felt so freeing. My uncluttered mind now wandered to strange places that I hadn't visited before I laid on the strange ground of the Kettle-Moraine State Park. As I approached sleep, my mind now floated outside his window, unable to look away from his slowly heaving chest as he slept. I laid awake all night hoping for just one more peek at his broad shoulders as he passed by the window above my pitched tent.

The after-lunch cleaning ended early. Many guests were eager to help out on their first day of the retreat. A few free hours in the afternoon hit me as a welcome surprise. My mind was weary from the sleepless night before, and I made myself a fresh, black coffee as everyone filed out for afternoon meditation. When the bunk house was quiet, I sat again in the dining room, and looked across the extraterrestrial landscape. I peered through the same window where I had watched him the night before walk across the tall grass to his room above the barn. The scene played again clearly in my mind. I sipped my warm coffee and smiled, deeply. Caffeine was one of the chemical pleasures allowed at the center and every sip gave me a rush. Other pleasures I had to imagine. Here we ate vegetarian. I tried to remember the savory taste of meat.

I normally sat solitary during those fleeting free times in the bunk house, but that afternoon, there was no question that I would join the retreat members in the shrine room. Some pleasures could be imagined, but others could just be seen. I followed the same trail as the stocky, bearded doctor, bypassing the barn, and quietly slipping into the back of the meditation room so I didn't disturb the afternoon's reading. The room was surrounded on three sides by large windows and faced south, to conserve energy. I rarely participated in any of the retreat events, even though I was allowed if my work was done. I had come here to find peace on my own terms.

The strange conversations that they had about the Buddha rarely made any sense to me, and I didn't care about religion. Sometimes, however, I took comfort in being with others in my solitude. And sometimes, just the sound of a human voice was comforting, after weeks of deafening silence.

To my surprise, the bearded doctor was reading aloud from a book, while sitting cross-legged on a pillow and a mat, facing the dozen other Buddhists in the room. I don't know why he was chosen to give the reading that day, but it gave me an excuse to look at him. I didn't care what he was saying, but I loved the way his lips moved beneath his wild beard. I listened to his low voice that sounded almost like the contented grunts of a dog, seeing his owner come home for the day. The doctor read from the book, "A monk asked Master Joshu, 'Does a dog have Buddha Nature?' Joshu replied, 'Mu.' And then the monk said, 'Since it has, how did it get into that bag of skin?' Joshu said, 'Because knowingly, he purposefully offends."' Buddhists were always reading nonsense like that. Sometimes they chanted even more incomprehensible things in some ancient Asian-sounding language. He bowed deeply until he could almost kiss the floor and everyone bowed in response with hands in a shape somewhat like the prayer position. While the room was looking down, I sat in back on a folding chair and could see that he let himself reveal a tiny, knowing smile. Was it directed at me, the invisible one? Perhaps he was laughing internally, at the absurdity of the reading. Perhaps he understood what he just said, and it still made him laugh. Perhaps he was laughing at the awkwardness of my rapidly growing desires. Either way, his smile infected me. I could feel his bearded smile warming me deep inside my body, as if his hair was pressed firmly against the back of my neck. He kept reading, but I had no comprehension. I thought of his beard and his knowing smile as he mouthed the strange story about the dog and the Buddha.

He had shed his city clothes and fitted jeans from the night before for a simple white t-shirt, that was so old it was almost translucent. I could see the fuzzy outlines of fur on his chest and two nipples that could hardly be contained. Two words in block font were simply written across the front in faded red, "The Huskies". The seam on the armpit of the old t-shirt was slightly ripped. I wished I was closer to the front of the room, so that I could smell his musky sweat from underneath his arm. Still, I imagined it smelled like cloves, and old cedar, and that particular odor of a dog after coming in from the rain. He reached across to scratch his opposite shoulder and as he set his hand back down to turn the page of the book, I imagined the red font across his shirt was the smear of blood from his satisfied paws after his catch.

"The Beardless Barbarian from the West by revered Joshu," he read after turning the page. The title sounded again like complete nonsense. The only thing that was real to me at that moment was his smile and his beard. He paused after reading the title as he looked up at me. I realized I was no longer invisible. The seasonal worker who cooked and cleaned in the background, actually existed as a real person in his head. At least, I existed at least in his mind for the second he looked at me with his deep, smoky hazel eyes. His eyes spoke to me directly, much more clearly than the convoluted Asian proverb he was reading. His eyes said only one thing, very clearly, You are mine.

I could feel a quiver inside my jeans as he looked at me and continued with the chapter about the barbarian. At that moment, he was a feral dog eyeing his prey. In the silence of the room I, the prey, had nowhere to run. For comfort, I descended on to an empty Zafu. I crossed my legs awkwardly, trying to copy the posture of the Buddhists in the room. I put my left hand palm up with my right hand on top. I made a reasonable facsimile of the meditation pose and smiled innocently. I looked like I actually cared about the ritual in the room. In reality, I was there to watch him, and my crossed legs conveniently hid my half-erection that tightened my coffee-stained jeans.

I closed my eyes and focused on my breath so that my body could stop reacting so intensely to his piercing gaze. Breathe in. Breathe out. Ironically, I was doing what Dorje Mary had wanted me to do since arriving, but for very different reasons. Think about anything but his hazel eyes and the rhythm of his breathing chest. After a few breaths, I calmed down, like a prey willingly accepting his fate. I made the conscious decision to actually listen to the story he was telling. I was his trapped prey, and at this point it would be impolite for me to leave in the middle of the talk.

The doctor spoke. "A monk asked Master Joshu again, 'Does a dog have Buddha Nature?' Joshu replied, 'No.' The monk came the next day and asked again, 'Does a dog have Buddha Nature?' This time Joshu replied, 'Yes"'. The meaningless of the story gave me some distraction from the stare that filled my thoughts. It pleasantly confused me into submission. Yes. No. Tell me what you want me to say, and I'll say it. Tell me what to do, and I'll do it.

Goat milking? No. Carrot picking? No. Composting? No. Unlike myself who worked in exchange for room and board, the guests could choose their duties. The retreat center tried to be mostly self-sufficient in its corner of the state park. I surveyed the sign-up sheet tacked to the back of the kitchen while the everyone else was safely in the dining room eating their dinner silently. What was his name? What name would I shout out when he finally pinned me to the ground. The Dorje had called him doctor with a laugh, but I never heard a name.

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