IT WAS LATE AND IT WAS EARLY. IT had been only by great effort that Paul Boudreaux had persuaded Gaylord Le Claire not to go directly to his hotel. Now, his heart pounding, Paul led the way up a dimly lighted threadbare flight of stairs.
Gaylord had no idea how far the cab had taken them. He tried to understand the significance of why he was here. He thought of his parents; his vacant hotel room. He looked at the kind eyes that had just turned, there was something very nice about them. Perhaps it was the dark hair, the expressive mouth and quick smile. They all had a peculiar effect on him. He compared what he saw with the others they had just left; Paul was the most intelligent, the cleanest of them all.
"Can you see?" Paul asked … "Here, take my hand."
Gaylord took the hand offered him. "I'm all right," he answered. "Little dizzy though."
They reached a second landing. The dilapidated state of the hall surprised him. The worn carpet had been patched from various rugs, the paint on the walls curled, and the ceiling was a design of brown water stains. Not even a straight chair was in sight, only an old fashioned floor-lamp stood in the hall; a cluster of artificial flowers, made from faded georgette, drooped and sagged on it. They looked decayed and tired. Too tired to drop in the rusted waste basket beneath them. Five doors, in dark and dismal frames, leaned against the right wall. At the second one from the left, they stopped. In the center of this dark and varnished door something shone. Gaylord looked hard. It was a small brass plate, inscribed with the name "Paul Boudreaux." It gave the door an air of something personal, and he liked it.
"Here we are," Paul said, turning his key and pushing the door open. "Hope this spooky hall hasn't scared you."
"I'm not scared."
Paul turned on a light and Gaylord was again in a modern world; amidst blond structures of wood and shiny metal. The light came from brassy lamps beneath clean homespun fabric and was directed toward a shaggy carpet.
"My gosh, Paul; what a difference," he cried, aghast.
"It's like from a magazine." He absorbed the modern, masculine room. "Did you do this?"
"No, I had it done. I'm afraid I'm not the artistic type. Want to see the rest of it?" He smiled and patted Gaylord's waist. "Come on, I'll fix you a drink first."
"You think you should …? I don't want to pass out on you."
Paul laughed a throaty baritone. "Just a little one. I want to fix you a real special one."
Gaylord giggled. "What?"
"Surprise … Like surprises?"
"Come on then."
With his hand still on Gaylord's waist, they strolled across the room to a mirrored niche. Gaylord sat on the cushioned stool in front of a rounded blond counter. He had never seen so many bottles of liquor in a private home before. He grinned back at Paul who was busy shaking a chrome cocktail shaker.
"What do you do, Paul?" Gaylord asked innocently.
"I have a rich, a very rich aunt that thinks I'm terrific." He handed Gaylord a tumbler filled with a frosted whiteness. "In fact, she thinks I'm so terrific, she gave me this building along with four others. I don't know why … She was my mother's only sister. Never married … She was a wonderful woman … So kind and thoughtful … She loved the gay crowd … So I guess I'm sort of a cruel landlord. Taste your drink and see if you like it."
Gaylord took a sip. "It's good … Tastes like a milk shake."
Paul laughed and stood beside him.
"You're cute … Gay … Awfully cute and sweet." He looked at the milk-stained lips … sparkling blue eyes. He put his hand under the chin and kissed away the stains. "Now, come on before I get carried away … I'll show you the rest of the place."
Paul clicked on the lights as they passed a blond, flat-top table surrounded with four padded chairs onto a small but compact kitchen. Then, to a paneled den of books, pipes and leather. Gaylord looked into the brown walled bathroom.
"Paul … it's beautiful." He thought of the dingy hall and wondered about it.
"You haven't seen anything yet. Wait till you see the monstrosity that decorator put in the bedroom."
The monstrosity turned out to be an over-sized bed. It was covered with a white goat skin that touched the floor. Gaylord put his hand to his chest and uttered a sweet cry of amazement. Paul turned on a radio after he had snapped on another soft shaded lamp.
"This is something," Gaylord grinned at him. "May I sit on it?"
"Walk on it, sit on it … lay on it … do anything your little heart desires, Gay … it's all yours …"
Gaylord placed his empty glass on a nearby table and sat on the bed. Then, he lay down on the fur and stretched.
Soft music filled the room; flowed like bare arms embracing; nakedness and young mouths kissing. Gaylord listened, hearing it. Hearing the voices and jazz bands, inter-mixing, from the streets. He remembered the Negroes, bare chested and sweating, working on the lower Mississippi, the same ones he and his parents had passed. He forgot all this as Paul came close …
And now, Paul had lifted his legs onto the softness and was sitting by his side looking down at him. Gaylord stretched his arms over the fur and felt it between his fingers. He looked into the brownish face and with a deep sigh breathed … "Gee … this is wonderful."
Paul bent over him … "Tired?" he asked softly.
"Wanta undress and go to bed?" Paul's voice trembled with the whisper.
"Here?" He looked at his watch … "Oh, my gosh. It's two-thirty … Mother will be worried sick. I promised I wouldn't stay out late." He started to get up.
"Stay a little longer," Paul whispered. He bent down and kissed him. Gaylord trembled and sank back onto the fur.
"I should go … I can't stay too long … maybe they're asleep."
"Should we call?"
"No … I don't think so …"
Two arms like doric columns pressed the sides of his waist, his own arms still stretched beyond them. Now, he placed them on the columns. A faint smile played on his lips; a violent pounding hit within his chest. He felt no strangeness, no sense of contrast or of vanished time … and yet …
"I'll take you home … don't worry," Paul murmured.
"I'm not worried."
"You're awfully sweet."
The columns broke and went around his neck. A gear seemed to shift in his mind. He spoke hurriedly. "You are too." His arms patted the shoulders over him. "You're very nice, Paul. I had a wonderful time tonight … thanks to you." He smiled a childlike grin. "That was some party, wasn't it? First time I've ever been to one like that."
"It is?" Paul asked with surprise.
"Funny, Gene didn't have any girls there … isn't it?"
"It all depends on the way you look at it." Paul grinned and patted Gaylord's checks. He saw him watching him with an awed expression. "All those boys should have been girls, Gay. Nature just played a dirty trick on them. Funny … it is funny … Boys that should have been girls and girls that should have been boys." His expression changed, became serious. "Just a bunch of innocent sheep, that's what we are; trying to find happiness in our own little way, being whipped, cursed and slaughtered by the noble ones who think we are trying to corrupt their evil sexual selves. Throwing young and innocent kids in jail unless they can pay off to some shyster lawyer, cop or judge. They're the ones who should be locked up. Those that bleed the young minds that fall in the dirty filthy traps they set. Instead of helping … they destroy." He shook his head as if in great grief. "Oh, Gay … the whole thing is a mess. It breathes of loathsomeness." He sighed deeply and looked tenderly into Gaylord's startled eyes. "Be careful, my little Gay. You're the kind they like to catch. The kind they like to take up to some damned doctor, who's generally the biggest faggot of us all, and have him pump you with stupid questions, trying to make you all the time … Then, he always wants to give shots … Shots … He wants to change you … God knows they can't … I've had them."
"What's a faggot?"
"A faggot … don't you know what a faggot is?"
Their cheeks touched with a shuddering continuous laugh. Paul gripped Gaylord tightly in his arms.
"I guess I'm just dumb."
"Oh … Gay … I'm sorry … Here I've been talking like a condemned old man … I thought you knew all about … well about faggots and gay life."
"You sound like you know what you're talking about. How old are you, Paul?"
"I'm twenty-seven … and I don't know if I'm right or wrong … I get carried away sometimes … and I didn't want you to get mixed up with all this mess … I'm sure of one thing though … I know what a faggot is … a faggot is the name one feminine boy calls another … Now do you know what a faggot is?"
"I think I do … I …"
"Let's forget this serious stuff … I'm sorry I got so rattled … You know what a faggot is … you know how one works?"
"I'll show you … How's that …?"
Gaylord gazed at Paul. What could he say to that? Paul touched his hair, adjusting the wave on his head. Then he reached down and put his hands behind his neck, locking them there. "Gay …" he whispered …
"Is this the way a faggot works?" Gaylord tried to grin. Paul gave him a quick kiss and sat up … "Stinker … Here I was trying to make love to you."
"I'm going to take this tie off … do you mind?"
"I don't mind."
He watched the other untie the knitted silk and place it on a small end table. Watched him unbutton his shirt and throw it across a chair.
"I'm going to do a strip-tease for you too," Paul teased, unfastening his pants. "Claude's not the only one who can, and I'm doing it the hard way … without music."
Gaylord watched; looked through the semi-nude physique. It was standing on the streets of the French Quarter amid the rows of spoiled bricks and flashing signs. It moved among feminine men who sat in smoke filled clubs; among mannish women who sipped exotic drinks from skull-shaped goblets. It floated over the broadness of Canal Street. It glided down the miles of streetcar lines. Over the heads of blacks, yellows and whites it flew. There, over the river, from the mist of a steamboat whistle, it became wet and came back to the side of the fur lined bed to get warm. It was no dream. It spoke to him.
"You've got to take these off … Remember?"
Gaylord grinned and flushed. He looked from the face to the underwear the other was fingering … He remembered Claude's nude body. The way it looked. The mattress gave under him as he moved toward Paul. With shaking hand he unfastened the shorts. "There …" he flushed. The underwear dropped slightly, showing the navel and a line of dark wiry hair. He started to lay back down.
"Oh … no … you've got to pull them down …" teased Paul.
"You do," grinned Paul.
"Well …" Gaylord leaned over again and drew down the underwear while wave after wave of excitement went shuddering through him. He felt even dizzier than he had at the club, and his heart beat as though it would break through the cage of his ribs. Paul's body came clear and even closer. Gaylord tried not to breathe, to stifle the swallowing sound of his throat.
The room rang out in a whisper. "Don't be afraid of Paul. He likes you … he's your friend … don't be afraid … Abide with us restless seekers of love and we shall teach you."
He listened to hear if the imagined call would continue. Listened for the soft voice to tell him more … but it was gone.
All the endeavors of his life seemed drawn into the blazing fulfillment of this moment. He asked himself if he was really here. If this was really happening. In his own experience when something was about to happen to him, particularly anything rather unpleasant, he always had a vague sort of a preview of what was coming. It was like a net in which he had been caught, but it was not unpleasant to be caught … In fact he did not want to escape. There was joy in the captivity, and in it, all the freedom that his former life had never given him.
Gaylord could only lay there baffled. He wanted to touch Paul's hair softly and tell him that it was all right. He wanted to put his arms around him and draw him close to him, but the idea still seemed preposterous.
Paul's hands found Gaylord's face and moved over each ear; and then his head bent, lips met his and they were warm and loving. After a moment, they drew away. Gaylord fixed them with his gaze, taking their image to his brain to hold through the darkness he knew was coming.
Faggot. He had received his answer to this question, and now, what new mysteries were soon to unfold?
Paul raised his hand and with a magic touch the light faded; the luminous naked figure darkened. Again he felt lips on his and the knot went from Gaylord's throat. He felt his shirt being opened and pulled from his trousers. Should he get up and fly from the room before it was too late. Fly from the hands feeling … groping … Again his throat choked up; his legs tightened. He heard a voice and raised his body obeying a command softly spoken. He filled his vision with Paul, drawing at his shirt, imagining the fingers fumbling around each button. Passion was tearing his limbs; the weight of a love mate was crushing him as he felt warm breath over his naked hard nipples. Visions of what was happening came as clear as reality, with a million thoughts. He grabbed at the head on his chest … "Don't, Paul," he panted … "That tickles."
In the darkness he saw the burning eyes, felt the dripping lips on his again.
"Let's take these off," Paul whispered and without waiting for an answer, he unbuckled the belt and pulled the zipper. He jerked at the trousers as if the eagerness of his love could not wait.
"Wait …" breathed Gaylord, sinking deep into the fur … "Let's don't."
Gaylord's eyes filled with fright as he looked up at Paul, but the expression on the darkened face he saw, so eloquently sincere and miserable, killed the other protest on his lips.
He said humbly, "Well …" His mind could not sustain. He was afraid this was all wrong … but his whole life had been wrong … All the evenings of his life had been dyed in a cloak of morbid grey. The lost years ebbed with a waning voice in the cloak's creases, cuts where tears soaked its flimsy fabric. Yes, he had cried himself to sleep many times. But he had been fated to live after all, chosen for a task that called for more than ordinary strength. He and only he had stood on the rim of mysterious deeds and had had that deep vision, that passionate, wildlike dream.
Gaylord knew what he wanted. He knew he would remember this night all his life. He held the hands on his trousers and a nerve in his thigh began to jerk and his body seemed out of his control. His hands trembled so that he knew Paul would know he was afraid. He didn't want that. Somehow this moment was longer than all the rest of his life together, or rather the forms had been subtly changed and hidden by a veil.
"Why are you trembling, Gay?" Paul whispered. There seemed so much warmth and tenderness in his question. "If you don't want to …"
"I'm all right …" uttered Gaylord removing his hands which were holding those on his trousers …
"You want to?"
"I don't know …"
In the soft light he saw Paul's face. He gave in to his emotions and pulled down at the base of Paul's neck, like one wishing to uproot a little tree without hurting it, pressed the lips down on his. Reminding himself that this was an old friend or perhaps a long lost lover, he was about to kiss.
When their lips parted he began to tremble again. He clung to Paul as though for support. They embraced again and his trembling increased. He seemed unable to control it … He might have been afraid. He felt warm hands at his trousers again and when a soft voice asked him to raise a little, he did as he was bid. A hammer seemed to be hitting at the sides of his skull. He felt dizzy on feeling sticky fingers on his naked legs. He shut his eyes and opened them again when he heard his shoes hit the floor. He heard this and because he was afraid of the white shadows on the black ceiling, closed his eyes again.
He pictured himself standing on the threshold of a door, about to lunge into the delirious festive rites. The ceremonial day that he had spent a lifetime preparing was at hand. A warm gush was covering his body, coming from a sky-reflecting pool. He saw white pillars and a shrine. He heard distant voices calling. The sound was muddled, appealing … with a note of sadness.
He should have asked this gracious boy about time past. Surely he would know the answer to the riddle that had puzzled him for so long.
He was happy to be here. Glad that he had followed Paul's beckoning hand down the mystic river of life. Back to the gates of time … the beginning of himself … Paul knew the answer … later he would ask and learn …
Gently and slowly his tumid shorts left his body and in their place was a warmness, like scented spring water, dripping gently over him. His heart pounded, flamed as the drops passed over his tingling skin.
Now, in the still night, Gaylord Le Claire was carried on a magic carpet of ermine, over the dark earth, which had no boundaries in time and space, where lurked melodious and far-fetched names and elfin and perplexed peoples, and which was itself only a name melodious and far-fetched.
And lying there he dreamed he was floating among twinkling stars and as he passed them, they reached out and touched him. Kissed his naked body with fevered kisses … He felt their soft caress move over his legs … linger on life-giving parts … growing moist and warm. He was helpless in their domain, and was half blinded by their brilliant reflection that leapt from the shimmering sky. He wanted to lie forever on this soft magic fur … wanted to feel the kisses on his nakedness until time grew out … to dream he was part of them and still nothing …
He was traveling fast now … shooting past comets … stars … and growing hotter and hotter … He should turn back … quick … quick …
But he had gone too far. He was almost at the sun. It was scorching hot now and their cool kisses had suddenly turned to steam. His carpet, his beautiful magic carpet had suddenly burst in flames … and the stars sprang shrieking into flight taking with them everything … draining him of his beautiful dream; tossing him back into reality.