By Bruce Benderson
_ Your limbs feel almost like they’re floating, your eyelids, heavy…
_ His eyes. ..
_ Go ahead...
_ They’re staring at me…
_ Just his eyes?
_ I don't like them because they're too... open. They're pretending to care about me.
_ And that bothers you?
_ Do you feel you don't deserve it?
_Yes—I mean—no, I deserve it, it's just I don't trust those eyes.
_ Because you don't think he cares about you, really.
_ He does. I mean, I think so. But as far as I'm concerned, caring about, or for…somebody... has to be self-serving...
_ ...in a way...
_ And who is he?
_ Go deeper... The voice speaking from you is none of your concern. You don't need to help it at all because it knows exactly what to say... because the rest of the world doesn't need you right now... It can take care of itself.. So relax... and go deeper—
_ But I don’t know why those eyes scare me so much?
_ You don't have to know... The voice that's been speaking knows... all about it... Doesn't even need to say what it is as you go deeper ... into a delicious state of relaxation.... while the world takes care of itself. And it becomes clearer that you will go into this state any time you feel the fear of being... adored... cared for… Your arm will float upward as if weightless as you decide why being adored is a fearful feeling... If you really have decided that it's a feeling that's best dealt with by being afraid.... As you rest in this delicious state of relaxation deciding if distrust... and fear... are really the best way to deal with the eyes caring for you, even adoring you...
_ But what about those eyes?
_ Stare straight into them. Go ahead. Look!
Blue eyes with flecks of silver. Much older than those of the one who's afraid of them. But open. Vulnerable. Too vulnerable for the age and weight of a man pushing forty-five and one-ninety-five. Eyes in an aging, moisturized face. Secretly knowing how well it can play-act vulnerability or innocence or risk-taking and other youthful attitudes that are beginning to look out of place on his sagging features.
That’s what he’d say even now, lumbering down the almost deserted city street, sending out his careful, youthful earnestness to an imaginary public, his overly fixed eyes scanning the street as if it weren't deserted, about to lose its whole identity just like he is.
The street that used to be the main drag of the red-light district; but now it's in transition; he can remember better times when this street was a menu of easy pleasures and scary appetites, can see the way the bar on this street used to be as the memory leaks out in small details showing:
a young woman with deep-set, circled eyes calling attention to the skull beneath the skin, rearing her head into the red light of the bar the way it used to be, rubbing below the red into a dirty pink blouse, sliding her fingers inside its shadows, rubbing red and pink, over and over, robotically, below the red light. It seems as if she's been doing it forever. She speeds up whenever anybody glances in her direction even accidentally, increasing the pressure and urgency of her stroke when one of the older guys actually talks to her as she asks him for a drink, fixing him in her eyes with rubbing, rubbing...
This is the bar that got all the rejects. They call it the Last Resort. Hidden from a teeming street near an alley where the streetlamp keeps getting busted by the same boy, over and over again. A place for whores in dirty pastels, taking a break from the street, rubbing, in case somebody will look. Stony-faced, shirtless male hustlers in summer, with liverish nipples sculpted from adolescent skin, their pinpoint pupils fleeing the 5 PM light, looking for an early trick for the by-the-hour hotel around the corner. Working-class gays coming in from long unskilled day jobs just for a nip. That homeless man with the purple bruises nodding out at the table. The Hasid furtively stopping in over and over like a hallucination to peer at the whores of both sexes, turning round and round on his swiveling bar stool before dashing out again. In the john before the small mirror with its greasy thumbprint whorls, people scoring drugs and lumbering out into the alley to do them, in and out. In, out. In and out.
But the bar’s gone now. The alley sealed by a larger structure. The whole street almost deserted. Everything closes so much earlier nowadays. The new souvenir shop with its plastic replica of deco-era landmarks and its unlit neon has already been shut behind its gate. And next to it is a theme restaurant formaldahyding memories of Tin Pan Alley. These days, except for the glassy, reminiscing flame in the man's blue-gray eyes, it might not have existed. If it weren't mushrooming into full intensity in his head in the sudden flash of the image of that Puerto Rican lap dancer as she hops down from the black wooden stage in the cramped bar, among the cracked red bar stools near the torn red banquette and the grime-covered ceiling fan, to grind against a client around whose suited shoulders her arms hang loosely so she can fan out bills like a hand of cards behind his head to count her take so far. He remembers it so clearly. He can see it. Her tight ergonomic body in a g-string making the same repetitive gyrating motion. The bullet of her head with its full mouth like a lead seal and the slick black cloche wig bobbing up and down... Later… she is standing alone like an abandoned toy: making the same arabesques to blackness, robotic gyrations...
He remembers waking up the next day with that horrible hangover, the clattering image of that dancer spilling out of the bright sunlight through his pounding head like a noisy row of dominoes set in motion. The only antidote was to double the usual dose of the benzodiazipine tranquilizer, until it began to lather over the hammering image with the white suds of tranquilized sleep, wrapping it in gauze like a mummy, so that very afternoon he could go back to the dank bar raging in full summer daylight and watch the same lap dancer, taking a break, holding a Tequila Sunrise, talking to her brother—it had to be her brother—with the same smooth shell of a face branded by lips that seemed asleep in mourning, his burly shoulders tapering to a scarred naked abdomen under his open vest.
There was something about the downward cast of both necks, the convex lids of both eyes, that hinted of historical despair. And from the long, pale arms of brother and sister dropped grimy hands balled into fists like tear drops. As he watched them standing together, he thought what it would be like to lie next to both—her and him—to feel each ultimate rejection.
He's what's known as a "summer john,” a teacher during the year, a habitué of dark places during summer. Both lives are neatly compartmentalized, except that the increasing chaos of each succeeding summer is making getting it together for fall more and more difficult. And the anticipation of summer as the school year's predictable seasons wear on is getting more and more urgent, which is a bad sign. He is, in fact, a vastly popular teacher, a survivor of the city public school system who identifies so strongly with adolescent turmoil and has lived so long with emotional ambiguity that students are drawn to him. He's a soulmate rather than an authority figure, even a romantic image for some.
Other teachers' classrooms have been torn apart by gang violence. His room is where truces are made and controversies worked out. There are people in prison who've mentioned him as the one cool person at one moment in their stalled lives. There are practicing sexual minorities who've fantasized him as confidante. There are painters and writers who now think of him as the first person to notice they had something. Faculty and administration regard him with suspicion and even hostility, a wild-eyed threat to order at the worst times.
But in the street, he has another kind of status. He's a type. Too intense a gaze... Not bad looking, badly dressed, too casually for narrowed, sharp-shooting, street-survivor eyes. Too opaque to them and a boring enigma. Why wouldn't a man with a regular salary want cleaner shoes or sharper pants? they, who are used to shouting at the world about every little thing they've won, ask. Is he too crazy to do something about it--or smart enough to mock their own concerns about it, which is worse. So they approach him as a mark and a john, ironically, with contempt, but with hesitation... avoiding the eyes.
_ Are you still looking at those eyes, Buddy?
_ ...Yes. . But there's no face. They look like somebody cut them out of a magazine and pasted them on the wall. It’s weird. There isn't any face around them.
_ Where is this wall?
_ In a bar. With black walls. It's one I used to go to a long, long time ago.
_ How long ago?
_ Yes, it's real dark and crowded inside. Only red lights.
_ How old are you in this bar?
_ How do you feel being there, Buddy?
_ Great. I feel great. So many people are looking at me. So many people want me.
_ Does it feel good to know that eyes are on you...?
_ Are you looking at the eyes?
_ Like I said, they're looking at me.
_ How do the eyes make you feel?
_ I don't feel anything. They don't bother me at all.
_ The one with the special eyes? Can you see his face now?
_ Yes. It's his face the very first time I saw him.
_ How does he make you feel?
_ I guess I liked his face... for a john.
_ And how is he looking at you?
_ He seemed fascinated...
_ The eyes?
_ They see... through me.
_ …right to what's good about me.
_ What a nice feeling it is to be understood...
_ You're never understood... in this situation. If you go into it wanting to be, it'll end in disaster.
_ You don't trust the eyes?
_ They’re creepy. I don’t like them at all.
_ This time they’re not... but they’re still scary. He's staring at me. He's looking right into me.
He's seeing what he thinks is a girl in the shadows. Lovely blonde hair, almost fluorescent in the dank shadows. It looks like a child. Hiding next to the torn red banquette on the other side of the jukebox in this mostly Hispanic and Black bar, where the few white people are mostly johns. Peering at him.
Not a girl. But a boy. A delicate face. Impossibly large eyes, generous lips. The tank top hanging off the bony chest. Wrists like matchsticks. What on earth? What's he doing here, a child, here in this place?
It was on that summer afternoon in the bar, when he went directly from his bed where he'd slept all afternoon thanks to the merciful benzodiazepines and passed in an instant from the blinding sunlight of the street back into the dark bar. First, after his eyes had adjusted, he'd seen the brother and sister—the body doubles—and then, in the corner, the fluorescent blond curls had caught his eyes, so out of place here. And then, perhaps because at first he'd thought it was a girl, he found himself staring at that angelic face—with it's almost too large eyes—and that fragile body, like a young girl's. In fact, maybe it was a very young girl, without even any breasts yet. No matter how long he stared, he couldn't tell for sure. He couldn't tell, really.
Actually, he was caught by the enormous amber eyes. Were they the eyes of a frightened deer? A lion cub’s eyes? Ferociously scared and proud. Casting loneliness and mastery into the dark of the bar. Defiant eyes, so vulnerable. So he glued his eyes to them. This time he went beyond his usual conscious projection of the candid and the kind. He boldly poured his middle-aged soul into his eyes, and they catapulted into the other’s.
Which—if he wants to be honest to himself—wasn't all that unusual for him. At that moment, he wasn't thinking what it meant, with his long summer histories of adolescent women, who were all prostitutes. He hadn't been thinking what it meant to have been wandering into this bar lately, instead of the one up the street where he used to go, which was hard-core female prostitution. The fact that this one was mixed was a realization he diluted by his theory of body doubles: for every male he looked at here, he tried to locate or remember an equivalent female body. He was merely doing genealogy.
And then again, the last few summers had been characterized by such anonymity. The bodies were mock-ups of youth into which he vomited all his tenderness and need. Girlish junkies with wispy dirty blonde hair approaching transparency. Bony arms dangling over his shoulders, or even left passively by their sides and pressed into the rumpled sheets like baseball bats placed next to their thin bodies, while he felt himself hovering above them, barely feeling their heat through the walls of the condom. Feeling instead their fragility and disdain, which excited him. Hoping to cradle their abjectness but realizing how little he had to lose if they rejected him. How can you really be rejected by a street prostitute? Shifts others might consider major would actually be negligible to him, a slight narrowing of the pelvis to young male proportions, a bend in the wire of the form, a hardening of a few muscles. Were their brothers really so different an experience from them? Maybe some of the girls hadn’t even always been girls.
What hid in the corner of the bar was different, fading into the vague light like dirty water around the impossibly large yellowish eyes, mouth pouting defiantly as if after a reprimand—wet, gleaming lips, face unbelievably broad and heart-shaped, sweeping up to the vast dome of the forehead; but especially the pale cavernous eyes.
And now he felt himself walking toward him, forgetting all social embarrassment or fears of legal repercussion—sleepwalking into the swallowing stare. And talking everywhere but inside the strange desire that was gripping him everywhere, because he'd had lots of practice at such sublimation. As a teacher. For how far were care and concern from desire? The desire to love. To which this young person seemed to respond.
_ I'm staring back at him now. Right back.
_ How does that make you feel?
_ And now …and now?
_ I'm looking at his open mouth as he speaks. Gold, and a tooth missing. Hey, well, it's not the most appetizing mouth. But I gotta do what I gotta do. I have to do my job.
_ I want you to go deeper, Buddy. Stay with the conscious memory of that moment. You're comfortable now, safe. It's something that happened long ago in the remote past. Let that memory, the unappetizing mouth, float in your mind like so many particles of dust in the air, insignificant, like those cut-off eyes on the wall... Now maybe a voice inside you will tell you why you are inside this bar, looking at this man, at his eyes, at his mouth...
_ I feel... tears…
_Go ahead and let them come up. They can't hurt you, because the past no longer exists.
_…like I'm gonna cry.
_Let the voice inside you feel the tears, Buddy. Does the man want you to cry?
_No... no... he doesn't! But... somehow he knows that I'm about to. Oh, I don't want him to see me!
_He'll take advantage of it. No, I won't cry. I didn't. I just... hovered there. You always wait for the mark to speak first.
_What's he saying, Buddy?
_He's making a bad joke. Telling me he thought school was still in session, so what am I doing here. Ha... He says maybe I shouldn't be in here and that maybe he shouldn't be either...
_Trying to glue the eyes to mine ‘cause... I don't want them to look down at my hands.
_Can you see your hands, Buddy?
_I can see my hands in the back of my mind, but I'm not looking at them. ‘Cause then the john's going to look. He’ll know that I live outside, that I'm sleeping in the street. They’re more than dirty... cracking, dried up, what happens when you sleep outside... but I don't want to go back to the street tonight.
Sturdy legs, probably creamy, clad in bargain camouflage pants, and that limp yellow tank top, shoulder blades poking out, sculpting the egg-white skin into meringue wings. A breastbone carved from soapstone.
He drinks in the child's diffidence like water for an animal dying of thirst. His eyes part the shadows that enfold the boy, wishing he could become those shadows. He strains to know the bar, the street outside, the police, the summer heat exactly as the boy would know them. It's a talent he developed in his classroom, a way of focusing that resembles a trance in which he turns into the listener as he explains the siege of Troy to one of them, the Holocaust, exactly the way an adolescent would conceive it.
Meanwhile he watches the boy—always watches. The boy is concocting a story that he guesses might raise his status in the man’s eyes. He's obviously used this story before about really being eighteen and knowing he looks younger, his mother dying that spring and his never having had a father.... All of which sounds appealing and tragic to most ears and wins him sympathy and helps clear away anxieties about jailbait.
The boy goes on about the supposed aunt he lives with. Who means well but expects him to go to work in a couple years. Though he was planning on going to college instead. Which is why he has to get some cash together easy and quick.
Until the man with the caring eyes gently asks him, how did Mom die? And under the phosphorescent blonde hair the camel-colored eyes get wider and more vacant as he loses himself in his delicious wish-lie about a motorcycle accident: a silver motorcycle. He likes the idea of a mother on a silver motorcycle. Barely old enough to be a parent. The fact that people sometimes thought they were brother and sister tickles his fancy, too. Himself as his mom, barely grown up and irresponsible, sizzling with unlimited energy and taking big risks; after all, she used to be a go-go dancer! And dancing more for fun on Ecstasy someplace else after work until early morning, in tooled boots among gay men who might be fashion stylists, in her cream satin rodeo shirt trimmed in silver thread, a silk kerchief in colors of rose and yellow trailing from her pale neck, black satin pants tailored like jeans... As blue neon caresses her blond hair at a disco, he also imagines her empty smile, blank eyes, a look he mimics for the man. After which she climbs upon her silver bike—reflected in a gleaming black puddle by harsh lamplight—and the tires spin the puddle into broken mirror shards as she's tossed high into the air to land on the pavement with a bone-crushing thud.
Why should the man worry about the truth of the story? Especially when he can see the enormous taupe pools mutating to clear ginger—the boy's eyes—transforming into vials of fantasy. What difference, then, the catalyst for such a mutation? All that interests him is seeing the boy sacrifice himself to the trance he has produced for himself probably by lying… In return, the man's flesh composes around a grateful availability to the boy, in the way that a talented guidance counselor, priest or veterinarian places his physicality in harmless, reassuring availability before a skittish client.
The boy doesn't fall for it right away. He's seen comforters become predatory, stony or contemptuous. If that's going to happen, he just wants the money. So he lets his body ignite unavailably, mocking those middle-aged flames farther along the continuum of time, already dimming and guaranteed to pale next to his.
The man stiffens the privilege of his older authority. His eyes gently but sarcastically show how much more he knows, can buy, protect. And the boy succumbs.
They’re out on the street. Blue dusk caresses their mannish and boyish profiles and separates them in outline. A man and a boy. Never having touched before and then, by accident, the bare wrist of the boy grazing the man's sleeve... the man staying casual. There are cops, concerned adults everywhere. His arm shoots up into the salmon-colored sodium vapor lamplight. It's easy to get a taxi with all of them having just dropped off passengers for the theater.
It’s dark inside the cab. Even dark enough to swallow the boy’s enormous eyes, so that the man can't see him thinking about his real mother, who’s old enough to be his grandmother and had become cloying and puffy that last time he saw her—a little past sixty now—if she's alive, thinks the boy, collapsing out of fantasy.
There's only this brief time to sink into real memories before leaving them amputated and isolated with the usual scars thickening around them. He already knows enough about prostitution to realize he must drink up this darkness to relax so that he will burst into a white flame later, ignite the fantasy paid for when flesh is pressing against his. Sensitive as the man might be, he couldn't stand to understand what the boy feels in these interim moments, the poignant sense of luxury at merely having been given this little respite between performances. Farther and farther into the dark recesses of the taxi his mind retreats into a self the man won't ever know. The most the man will ever glimpse of this real identity is dreamy silence, a stopped automaton tired of projecting fantasy but caught in light that isn't quite dark enough.
"Don't know why I'm going home with you,” says the man.
"Want me to get out of the cab?"
"This is the first time I ever did something like this."
"You never paid a hustler?"
"I've been with lots of hustlers... girls."
"So what the fuck you doing with me? Do I remind you of a girl?"
The boy does reminds him of a girl. He knows what he is doing. All the girl junkies turn him on because they aren't... female. The dope turned their hormones off and made them neuter. He doesn't particularly want to be reminded of being a man most of the time, which tends to make him feel like a failure. His story is typical. He wants pale bodies beneath his. The skin needs to seem poreless so that if it were moist it would be like the skin of a snail. He can't even see the boy in the darkness of the taxi, or doesn't want to. Funny how he never realized how good he is at compartmentalizing certain things, like work with the kids at school. He doesn't even think of them as boys or girls. Just empty capsules waiting to be injected with compassion. If anybody seems human to him, they do. Wanting to fill them up is greedy, he knows down deep. But there he always is, caring and empty, ready to pour his thirst into what they're suffering.
Does this boy remind him of a girl? He doesn't remind him of anything, he's sorry to think. He doesn't want to be reminded of anything, he must admit. The boy reminds him of a big gap in himself.
Time is distorted now. A very short stretch seems like it lasts forever. Or perhaps it’s the opposite. Time passes without our realizing it.
_You've been quiet for a very long time, Buddy. You’re in a deep trance, very relaxed. Do you want to go even deeper? Or do you want to remain where you are? Or “wake up,” even?
_( …don't know. It's so dark in the stairwell of this building. First the taxi was dark, but now... the bulb is out in his hallway. It's almost pitch black so he has to help me from behind up the one flight of stairs. He could have walked upstairs in front of me and let me hold his hand or the hem of his shirt; but instead he stayed behind me, slipped his fingers under my belt to steer me upstairs so I wouldn’t bump into anything. Like being lifted...)
_Want to tell me what's happening?
_( …steering me down a huge black hallway with the fingers still pushed under my belt, my cheek colliding softly with a metal door; but he still won't let go of the belt. His other hand jangles the keys and the door falls open, pushing me into the apartment until I’m at the opposite wall, with him sandwiched against me.)
_Buddy! I want you to describe what’s happening.
_Nothing. It really is nothing (just darkness and his body pressing into mine so I can't tell the difference between them, his thing a little up in my fatigues from behind. He won’t let go of the belt. I don’t really care, but I won't admit it, about an old guy's body pressing into mine, his thing pushing up the material over my crotch.)
_Do you want to wake up, Buddy? I’m going to count to 3 and—
"You should let me fuck you. I mean, you chose a guy.”
“Usually I’m the one who does the fucking,” answered the man.
But maybe there was no answer, just black, his arms floating up way above his head, feeling light but bare as they fall against a cold wall; arms up high, like when the cops bust you up against a wall and search you. The man’s hands fumbling with a belt buckle—kind of clumsy hands.
_My pants must've come down cause my ass is damp and I can feel the cold air conditioner stinging it and his hand searching for something, but I just won't let him.
_Did he… force you?
_No. I swung around. I said… "I don't do that" (and suddenly his hands all over me like butterflies, cool, dry, pulling up the tank top, pushing down my fatigues so that I can step out of them; and his pants and shirt are off, I can feel his body against me, soft… hairy… the hair was a little bit like a punishment).
_Buddy?... Can you answer me? You probably should wake up now... Can you hear me?
_What are you afraid of? There's nothing to worry about. Anything threatening is inside your head already. It’s just a part of your mind you may not see or hear very often. It seems like somebody else who may be scary, but it’s just you in there. You’re telling yourself about the past. It can’t hurt you, and there’s nothing to worry about.
_( …I know there's nothing to worry about. There usually is, but not now. The feel of the clean sheets for once after such a long time, the safe locked door… a pillow... There sure isn’t anything to worry about. And his hands on me aren’t greedy... more like gentle. Going all over me. I don't mind. Putting my hand on his dick that feels thick and rubbery... Old guys aren't very sensitive, it always feels a little rubbery. But here in the dark... with the walls shutting out the street, and a clean smell in this place. I pull the guy against me... I pull the feeling of falling asleep ‘round me like a warm blanket...)
His sleep is deep, and he dreams. The relative safety and comfort, the caressing kindness of the schoolteacher, can't exterminate a memory hardened into a mean core. This memory of being eleven years old is the prime reason for his being here next to the man. Buddy is perched uncertainly in the front seat of a canoe on a big moonlit lake. To him the endless expanse of black water looks thick as oil. It’s ready to swallow him up. He isn't a very good swimmer, and his hairless, skinny white legs in their orange surfer trunks begin trembling as the canoe teeters. He's scared. But he wouldn't tell Rory, his older brother, who is sitting straight-backed behind him, black coarse hair sticking from thighs and shins. Rory's paddle precisely pierces the water, breaking its black skin (like a hypodermic needle, Buddy thinks); then it quickly rotates to make a J-stroke. It plunges the canoe forward like a snake goes through sand, militant resentment sparking from each prick of the paddle. Buddy can feel it attacking his spine like electricity. That performance-paddling is really just an angry display of Rory's own talents, a mockery of Buddy's lack of them. Worse still, it is yet another embarrassing appeal on Rory's part to bond. His need and anger leaking out under the pitiless black sky, revealed by grimaces of white teeth under moonlight.
The spine of the canoe cutting black water. The day flipping through Buddy's mind: his shirtless brother dragging him into the bedroom for a surprise for his birthday. From under the bed comes a white cake box.
But instead of the butter cream cake that Buddy loves, the top flips open to reveal gleaming steel:
a Bowie knife, a dagger, a bayonet handle, an entire collection.
The stiff brotherly arm thrown around Buddy's shoulders wilts as Buddy turns away and denies any interest in collecting knives or learning knife mastery. He is looking instead at the single blue vein running down Rory's hard, pale fifteen-year-old abdomen. Buddy doesn't want to look at it. It's almost as if the vein were pulsing with rage at Buddy's finicky rebuff.
He’s thinking of the time their father sent them out into the field to play catch, figuring it was a thing brothers might do. Smack, smack went the ball against the leather. With each smack, the vein on Rory's hard abdomen, always naked in summer, seemed to puff up, as if from swollen pride. Dad wants you to be normal, he kept repeating, accenting the word normal with a half-smile on his face. Dad wants you to be normal.
Now Buddy is handling his own paddle even more awkwardly, while Rory hisses mocking corrections. Buddy tries to pay attention to all the orders but can't, not when he feels so frozen and so afraid of the eyes of the older authority figure. He fumbles. The paddle drops into the water; as he bends to snatch it out, he almost overturns the canoe. Rory lurches to the other side to ballast the weight, and the canoe rocks dangerously. How Buddy wishes he hadn't gone canoe riding at night in the first place, but Momma was already asleep, Dad wouldn’t stop them, and Rory literally dragged him off the porch to the edge of the black lake, barking orders to lift one end of the canoe and wade in. The horrible feel of cold water stinging Buddy's ankles in the dark.
Farther and farther out into the lake hurdles the canoe, fast enough to make the wake hiss against its spine. Buddy's lips are compressed with fatigue. He thinks of the obstinate presence of his brother in the house, like a black thing standing between him and his parents. Momma really doesn't care for Rory, it seems to him. She really doesn't, he was thinking today, to take his mind off Rory teasingly tracing light figure-eight's along his neck with the tip of the dagger, while Buddy stood stock still, afraid to move. Are you sure you don't like knives? Rory kept asking, while Buddy held his breath, the veins popping from his forehead, which had gone scarlet. I like 'em, Buddy finally managed to force out, though the point stayed pressed against the skin, and Rory's knuckles grew pale around the handle. Finally, he moved the dagger away and Buddy took a long breath. Sit down, Rory ordered, his face growing vulnerable and needy, then jumping into desperate beaming delight at his brother's sudden change of heart, as if it had come willingly, his hands eagerly removing all the knives from the box to lay them out at precise intervals on the bed.
Check out the Bowie. Whack! An issue of Popular Mechanics tossed onto the bed started curling into ribbons, slashed by the amazingly razor-sharp Bowie. Pfoofff! The point of the bayonet whizzed through the thickness of the magazine, pinning it to the mattress. Breathless from his own mastery, Rory looked at Buddy with sullen eyes. Really, what did you mean, you didn't like knives!
A sudden swerve of the canoe that is almost a right angle. Grasping the boat's edge, Buddy can literally feel Rory gloating again at his own prowess. We're going to a secret place, he announces. It's one that Buddy has never seen before. He has no idea where he is. An inlet concealed by poplar branches that Rory makes Buddy pull aside. Then they are in a narrow lagoon, which has a slightly stagnant odor. Clumps of squat, thorny raspberry bushes line each side, like sullen, blurry stains in the dark air. Get out! Rory orders.
Buddy hesitates, then hops out reluctantly, feeling green slime creep between his toes. As he does, he sees the canoe shoot backward and Rory paddling out of the lagoon. Hitch a ride home! he screams, laughing manically. But Buddy dives forward soon enough to grab the edge of the canoe. Rory stands and tries to rap Buddy's knuckles with the paddle, flipping the canoe, which tumbles him into the water. The overturned canoe bobbing, bobbing… That’s all. No Rory. Until wan-colored rage rears up, wet hair plastered to a head over darker lips curling with hatred. Buddy backs up, but the slippery green slime sends him falling back. Underwater he feels his head bang against the slime-covered rock. Then the foot pressing on his head, pinning it down. His fluttering fingers sliding like minnows over his brother's hairy leg, trying to loosen the foot. This is the moment that will mean everything: he hears himself thinking, as he feels the sinewy, hairy calf sliding through his panicked fingers until the thoughts leak sweetly away from him like black ink.
Embraced by strong arms. Miraculously lifted like a baby in strong arms out of the blackness. Surrendering to the arms, swooning into them as they hoist him up into the air against a hard chest, holding him tighter than he ever remembers being held, cupping his limp body against the dark pressure of a groin, backing him toward the bank and lowering him into the slippery mud, under the edge of a clump of bushes.
Too exhausted to resist the caress of the brotherly hands moving over him, happy for it, breath coming in big fascinated gulps, gasping in the new blur of air and mud while rough hands stray to his trunks and coax them off to make cold air cauterize every place between his legs, and stroking, stroking hands mold his thighs open. At first he has no idea what is causing the strange pierce of pain.
He wakes up to it, and it doesn’t stop.
_Buddy, what’s happening? What’s happening?
_Those eyes aren’t the same any more. They changed back. They jumped right out of their face again and glued themselves to the wall. Now they look just like all the others. I hate those eyes.
_Whose eyes were they, Buddy? Do they belong to the man who raped you? Are they the eyes of the man who was found dead? And were you the one who—
_They’re eyes in a dream. I just got to figure out when the dream stops and the real thing begins. I don’t know—I swear—I don’t know.
Bruce Benderson is an award-winning novelist, essayist, and translator. His story collection Urban Gothic is forthcoming from Itna Press.