Saturday, 19 July 2008

Here the world ends

Here the world ends

Nexis Pas
© 2008 by the author
Nexis Pas asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.


Liam, a character in a play; he is a popular singer of sappy, new-age ballads, all of which he writes; a small man, with a big voice, in his late twenties. Speaks with a strong Irish accent. Gay.

Gil Rowan, a character in a play; Liam’s current lover, larger in stature than Liam and a few years older. Also Irish, but more educated speech patterns and accent. Gay.

Devlin Onert, the actor playing Liam; a moderately successful actor on the stage and in movies and television, also acts in musicals; in his early thirties; has a very pleasant baritone voice; impish in looks, cute rather than handsome; a character actor rather than a leading man. Irish, but speaks with a better trained voice than Liam. His sexual orientation is the subject of much gossip.

Michael Linnet, the actor playing Gil Rowan, in his forties but still capable of playing younger roles convincingly; has been successful in a wide range of dramatic roles; definitely a leading man and a draw in every play he acts in. Speaks with a standard English accent. Gay.

Director: Joe, in his 50s, has a faded actor quality about him

Stage manager: Fran, in her 40s, competent

Author of The Islands of the Moon: Patrick

Set designer, Douglas

Lighting director

Director’s assistant

Stagehands, other assorted theatre production personnel

All the visible action takes place on the stage where Onert and Linnet are rehearsing their roles in a play entitled The Islands of the Moon. The director, stage manager, and author sit at a table at the front of the stage and off to one side, with their backs to the audience. The director tends to pace when he is working, and he frequently stands up and walks about as the scene progresses. The director’s assistant, the lighting director, and the set designer sit in the first few rows of the theatre, not together, spread out. Each of these persons has a copy of the script and makes notes in it as the actors rehearse. Linnert carries the loose pages with the lines for the scene in one hand. Onert has a copy of the script propped open on one end of the music rack of the piano. The back of the stage is open, and from time to time, other workers in the theatre wander across the stage. Onert and Linnert occupy the middle ground of the stage. There is an old upright piano off to one side; its sound quality should be weak and tinny. Chords should fade quickly. It should be apparent to even the nonmusical that it is slightly out of tune. On the opposite side of the stage is a truncated staircase, standing by itself. Without actually being dusty, the stage should give off a feeling of mustiness. It should be cold and unheated. There are other, never explained props and pieces of furniture at the back and sides of the stage.

Liam is seated at the piano, with his back to the audience, composing a new song. He sings several lines, then stops and then repeats a line but in a slightly different version. There is a tablet of paper propped on the piano. From time to time, Liam makes notes on it. Halfway through the song, Gil Rowan creeps down the staircase and stands at the bottom, with one hand on the newel post, one foot on the floor, and one foot on the last step. He is trying not to make noise and disturb Liam. He is focussed on Liam; Liam is oblivious to his presence until Gil speaks.

Liam is dressed in an old sweater that is several sizes too large for him, a pair of jeans, and socks (no shoes). He has pushed the sleeves of the sweater above his elbows to get them out of the way while he is playing. He rocks from side to side as he plays, totally intent on the music. Gil is dressed to go outside in bad weather.

The setting for this scene of The Island of the Moon is the small sitting room of Gil’s cottage on the northwest coast of Ireland. The piano is against one wall, the staircase is along the opposite wall. Windows, a small sofa, a few chairs, an unlit fireplace. The furniture should be run down. This is a cottage used occasionally, not someone’s home. (None of this is in place during the rehearsal of the following scene.) Liam has switched on a lamp near the piano; the rest of the room is only dimly lit by the early morning light coming through the windows..

Liam (singing): The Man in the Moon
Sailed a barque from Brasil
Across the Sea of Storms.
It had sails of silver
And ropes of rubies
And anchors made of amethysts.

‘The Man in the Moon
Sailed a barque from Brasil
Across the Sea of Storms.
Searching for the dark shores
Where his lover swam,
Toward the Islands of the Moon.

‘The Man in the Moon
Sailed a barque from Brasil
Across the Sea of Storms.
Searching for the dark shores
Where Gil Rowan swam,
Toward the Islands of the Moon.’

(Liam strums a different succession of chords on the piano and shakes his head.)

Gil: I should have had the piano tuned before you came. Is that a new song? If I’m interrupting, tell me, and I’ll go away and let you work.

Liam (surprised, looks over his shoulder): Oh, I didn’t realise you were there. (Plays music for the last three lines again) I’ve just started on it. I woke up with the song running through my head. I’m sorry if I woke you up. If I don’t play a song right away, I forget it. This bit’s not right yet. (Plays the melody line again)

Director: Devlin, a little less surprised, I think. Just enough to show that Liam is concentrating on the music to the exclusion of everything else. And he wouldn’t be unaware that his singing would wake Gil up. He’s just indifferent. The music is more important to him than Gil. He’s not used to considering others when it comes to his music.

Author: Perhaps ‘I’m sorry that I woke you up’?

Devlin: ‘I’m sorry that I woke you up.’

Author: Yes, that changes it from an uncertainty to a statement of fact. (Everyone nods and pencils in the change)

Liam (glances briefly over his shoulder): Oh, I didn’t realise you were there. (Plays music for the last three lines again) I’ve just started on it. I woke up with the song running through my head. I’m sorry that I woke you up. I tried to get out of bed quietly. If I don’t play a song right away, I forget it. This bit’s not right yet. (Plays the melody line again)

Gil: You’ll work it out. You always do.

Devlin: Do you want your sweater back? It was the first piece of warm clothing I found in the dark.’

Assistant director: ‘Could find’

Devlin: Do you want your sweater back? It was the first piece of warm clothing I could find in the dark.’

Gil: No, wear it. (sneers) You look cute in it. Like a child wearing grown-up clothes. Where did the idea from the song come from?

Director: A bit lighter on the nastiness there, Michael. Gil has plenty more of that to get through. Let it develop slowly. Suggest it rather than emphasize it.

Gil: No, wear it. (playfully) You look cute in it. Like a child wearing grown-up clothes. Where did the idea from the song come from?

Devlin (swivels around on the piano stool to face Gil; pulls off sweater and tosses it on a chair): From a picture in a book I had as a child.

Gil (advancing into room): And the book had a character named Gil Rowan? (Picks up sweater and folds it neatly before placing it on the seat of the chair)

Liam: No. Last night when you went swimming in that pond, when the moon came up, it was like you were swimming on the moon. There was one point--you dove under the water and I lost sight of you. I suppose that reminded me of the picture. I can’t remember the story, but the Man in the Moon was searching for someone. I don’t think he ever found the person he was looking for.

Gil: So you wrote a song about a man who has lost his lover, who oddly enough bears my name. And what about the two lovers in your song, Liam, will they be reunited?

Liam (whinging): That verse hasn’t been written yet.

Director: Devlin, look a bit uncertain. You need Gil to reassure you, but don’t sound too needy. You’re still not sure what Gil wants from you or what you want from him.

Liam (plaintively): That verse hasn’t been written yet.

Director: Much better. Use that. Michael, continue.

Gil: You should have joined me. Then you would know. The water was quite warm.

Liam: I’m not that good of a swimmer. Not good enough to go swimming at night in a strange place.

Gil (folding his arms across his chest): Is this song for the Gil Rowan album? That would be what--the third album inspired by one of your lovers.

Liam: I know, Gil. It’s a pattern with me, isn’t it? I meet someone and then tell the whole world by singing about it.

Gil (with amusement): From the beginning of the affair to its end, at least in the other two albums.

Director: A little more sarcasm, Michael. We need to sense that Gil is the more aggressive partner.

Gil (disdainfully): From the beginning of the affair to its end, at least in the other two albums.

Liam (the two men stare at each other for several beats; Liam is the first to look away): I always hope it will be different.

Gil: Your fans would be disappointed if there were no heartbreak at the end.

Liam: I wouldn’t. (stands up and walks to a window) Why are you dressed like that? Are you going out? It’s raining.

Gil: The best time for a walk. There’s no one else about. Come with me. I will show you the ocean in the rain. There are several pairs of wellies in the hall. There’ll be a pair that fits you. We even have hats and waterproofs.

Liam: No umbrellas?

Gil: You’re a city boy, Liam. There’s nothing wrong with a little water on your face. You won’t melt.

Liam: That could be a song—about melting in the rain.

Gil: It’s always a song with you.

Liam (defensively): It’s how I react to the world.

Gil (biting back his words and speaking to himself but with the intent of being overheard): It’s how you protect yourself from the world.

Liam chooses to pretend not to have heard and says nothing; he turns back to the window

Gil (more conciliatory): Come on. You drove all the way here. You should see at least look at the ocean once. Give yourself a break from writing. Perhaps you’ll find the music in the sea.

Director: Ok. Dev, you slouch over and put on the boots and the raingear, which will be stage left for the performance. Truculence is what is wanted here, I think. Give the impression of going along with Gil’s suggestion reluctantly. Try one pair of boots and reject it. The next one fits. Don’t look around, just put the boots one and then the coat and hat. Pull the door open and walk out. Michael, you stand there and watch as Liam gets dressed to go out. When he walks out, you shake your head in exasperation. Let a short time elapse before you walk over to the door and leave. Close the door behind you. Then the lights will go out and the cliff will move forward onto the stage. When it’s in place, the two of you walk quietly back and take your places on the cliff. And then the lights will come back up and the audience will see you in place for the next scene. Let’s run through the exit.

(Linnet and Onert pantomime the actions the director has outlined.)

Director: Good. We’ll work on that when the scenery’s in place. Let’s stop here for a minute. Is that the music En came up with?

Author: It’s not supposed to be great music.

Stage manager: Then En succeeded. (general laughter) Joe, I have a question. Liam wakes up thinking about this song, he gets out of bed and pulls on the first clothes he lays his hands on, including Gil’s sweater. Then he comes downstairs. He turns on the light by the piano. This is what—a floor lamp? (directs question at set designer)

Set designer: I found an old standard lamp. It has the original shade. It’s a bit tattered but it’s perfect for the time and this set.

Stage manager: If all the light is concentrated around the piano, will anyone be able to see Michael coming down the stairs? He’s going to be in the dark.

Linnet: My thoughts exactly. No one will realise I’m there until I speak.

Director: It’s early morning. There would be some light. Don’t worry, Michael, the audience will be able to see you.

Set designer: Gil is about to go out into the rain. He would put on one of the pairs of wellies by the door. There’s no reason for him to be wearing shoes at this point. What if he were to wearing thick white woolly socks? Those would be visible even if that corner of the set is dark.

Stage manager (humorously): We could put some glitter on them to catch the light.

Author: Gil is a butch guy, not a queen.

Linnet: Thank you for that, Patrick.

Director: All right, white socks for Gil. But no glitter. And Michael, you’ll have to stop by the door and put on your boots before you leave. I want to run through the cliff scene now. (to stagehands) Could we clear more space here? (sweeps his arms to indicate most of the central stage area)

Stagehands move forward and begin shifting the furniture; during the interim, Linnet and Onert move out of the way, to the front of the stage, at the opposite side from the table. They stand beside the curtain. The Director jumps down off the stage and begins consulting with the set designer. The author picks up a mug from the table, peers sceptically into it, then wanders off stage and comes back shortly carrying a cup of tea.

Linnet (conversing quietly with Onert): What do you think?

Onert: About the play? I think it will work. Here at least. We couldn’t play it outside Dublin. Too many people would stay away because the characters are gay. They’d be afraid the neighbours would talk if they went to see a gay play. How’s Lewis?

Linnet: He’s fine. I rang him last night. He was planning to go golfing today if the weather is good. They don’t start filming the new episodes in his series until next month. So he’s not busy right now.

Onert (trying out an idea): Do you wonder if Patrick knows about our history? His script cuts a bit close to the bone.

Linnet: Do you think so? It seems to me that Gil and Liam are more connected and involved than we ever were. It was just sex with us. We were still at the raging hormones stage.

Onert: And you and Lewis were temporarily at odds and you needed to get off.

Linnet: Perhaps. Ancient history now.

Onert (his anger beginning to show): Not so ancient.

Linnet: Lewis came back. We made up. We’ve been together since. And quite happily, I should add. Let’s change the subject. I think Joe is ready to get started again.

The stagehands have cleared a space in the centre of the stage. The Director jumps back on the stage and motions everyone to their places. Linnet moves quickly away from Onert, who follows after a brief time.

Director: Dev and Michael, you’ll be standing about here. You’ll have to imagine it now, but you’re standing on the edge of a cliff. Michael will be right at the edge. Dev, you hang back a few feet. The ocean is below you, with the waves slamming against the cliff face. We’ll project the scene of a cliff and a raging ocean onto the scrim behind you. You’ll both be dressed in heavy clothing. The wind will be blowing enough to move your clothes, and we’ll have the sound of a stormy sea in the background. You’re going to have to shout. That will make you sound angry, and as the scene continues, this is going to become real anger. You will have to imagine that the air is filled with rain, but I want you to convince the audience that you are getting wet. Now, Gil is elated and Liam is wary at first. He doesn’t know what Gil is planning, but he suspects the worst. Liam is both fascinated by Gil and terrified of him. He’s stunted emotionally, and Gil is trying to force him to confront that and open up. I want anger from you, Michael, anger that is fuelled by Gil’s love for Dev, I mean for Liam. Dev, the violence has to surprise the audience. Liam is not really a sane man, and Gil is asking him to be something that terrifies him. Ok, let’s try it.

Gil: I love it when it’s stormy like this. With the wind pushing at me, and the sea hurling waves at me. (Snatches the cap off his head and tosses it into the air toward the ocean. a stagehand catches it and throws it back. Gil grabs it as it sails past. He laughs and shouts over the sound of the wind.) How could you not love this? It’s raw nature. Untamed. Passionate.’

Liam: It has no rhythm. It’s all chaos. Just a jumble of sounds.

Gil: No, it wouldn’t do at all for your kind of music.

Liam: What do you mean?

Gil: It’s not orderly, melodious, measured, introspective, everything programmed toward a neat resolution. This ocean’s never going to be one of your serene, harmonious worlds.

Liam: Is my music that bland?

Gil: No, not bland. Just sad. You could be much more.

Liam: I disappoint you.

Gil: Sometimes--a bit. I had hoped . . .

Liam: What? What did you expect from me?

Gil: Redemption. It’s what I’m always looking for. To save myself from the Fates.

Liam: And how could I help you do that?

Gil: Come here. Don’t worry. The footing is solid here. (Gil holds out a hand toward Liam and pulls him forward. He wraps his arms around Liam and turns around so that both of them face the ocean, with Liam standing in front of him at the very edge of the cliff. Below them the waves hit the land and drive the spray skyward. The wind blows the rain directly into their faces. Gil presses his body against Liam’s and pushes him forward. The rubbery fabric of the waterproof tugs at his chin as he digs it into Liam’s shoulder and against his neck.) I sacrifice my lover to the Fates. That way they will take him and forget about me for a time. There will be a tragic accident. A misstep. No one could survive that sea and those rocks.

Liam: (struggles to push himself out of Gil’s arms and away from the edge): Don’t. Don’t even joke about such things. That’s not funny.

Gil: Don’t worry. I wouldn’t have let you fall. The sacrifice only works if the lover does it willingly. (releases Liam) You have to trust me, Liam. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m not going to be like the others. I’m not going to let you make me be like the others.

Liam: I don’t know what you mean.

Gil: Yes, you do. You chase everyone away. You force them to reject you. Then you can be sad about the break-up and write a song about it. I refuse to become one of your songs, Liam.

Liam: Even if that were true, why would you care?

Gil: Perhaps I like a challenge. (Moves closer to Liam) Perhaps I love you. Why do you find that so hard to accept? It can be like this. (Gestures toward the ocean) All this danger on one hand, yet we’re safe here on the land. There’s always danger right at hand. And always safety.

Liam: But I’m nothing. There’s nothing to love in me.

Gil: Oh, Liam, there was never a man more wrong about himself.

Director: And this is where you push Gil away violently, toward the cliff edge, and run off stage left, Dev. Michael, for a very few seconds, it has to appear that you’re going over the edge. Enough to frighten the audience, at any rate. The set is supposed to be ready by Friday, and you can begin practicing a flailing movement backward then. You have to recover your balance at the last minute. Then you kneel down and grab at the ground for safety. Then you stand up and chase after Dev. The set—if all goes well—will move out of the way in time for you, Dev, to come running in from stage right. You’ll be out of breath and labouring to run. When you reach centre stage, you’ll bend over and brace your arms on your knees. Then you start getting sick from all the emotion. Michael, you will need to tear around back of the curtain and burst in from stage right just a few seconds after Dev. Ok, let’s practice that. You’ll have to pretend the back curtain is in place. Back in place in front of the cliff. Michael, repeat Gil’s last line. Dev, shove and run.

Gil: Oh, Liam, there was never a man more wrong about himself.

Liam suddenly crouches down and then lunges forward. He hits Gil below the waist, lifting him up and back. Gil’s body is propelled backward toward the edge of the cliff. Liam turns and runs off stage left.

Linnet: Ough. (He falls on his back for real. Onert has knocked the wind out of him and for a few seconds he cannot speak. When he does regain his voice, he is genuinely angry) Goddamit, Dev. If the set had been in place, I would have gone over the edge for real. I could have been seriously injured.

Director (excitedly): That was perfect, Dev. That’s exactly the quality we want. We just need to work on it so that it looks real but doesn’t hurt Michael.

Linnet (still angry): Thanks very much for your concern, Joe. (Gets to his feet gingerly) I’m through for the day. I’m going to see a doctor. If I’m damaged, I’ll be seeing a lawyer. (He stomps offstage. The others turn to look in the direction of his exit.)

Onert: I’m sorry, Joe. I’ll go after him and apologise. I’ll get him to come back. (He runs off in the same direction)

Director: What was that, then?

Author: They’ve a bit of a history.

From offstage there is the sound of Linnet and Onert shouting. Linnet is angry and Onert is pleading with him. Only isolated words can be heard. ‘Idiot, you could have hurt me.’ ‘Look, I’ve said I’m sorry.’ etc. Gradually the volume dies down, and then there is a brief silence. A door slams loudly. A half minute later, Onert reappears on stage.

Onert: He’ll be back tomorrow. He’s going to see a doctor to make sure nothing is damaged.

Stage manager: If I know Michael, he’ll reappear tomorrow with a bandage wrapped around his damaged bits and expecting sympathy from all concerned. He’ll milk it for a day or two and then find something else to complain of.

Director: Right then. (Looks around) It appears we won’t be able to rehearse any further today. Fran, Douglas, let’s go over the sets again. We can do that downstairs in my office. (The Director, the Stage Manager, and the Set Designer walk off, talking. The rest of the crew wander off, leaving the Author and Onert alone on stage)

Author: Is it working the way you planned, Dev?

Onert: You’ve read the last act?

Author: I did write it.

Onert: Then you know that Liam allows Gil to save him. Six shows a week for the run of our contracts, more if the play’s a success. Night after night, Gil saves Liam through the strength of his love. Lewis will be in London, taping that silly soap opera. Michael will begin to associate me with the characters we play.

Author: Words aren’t that strong, Dev. And Michael’s an actor. They’ll be just lines for him. He won’t even think about them some nights.

Onert: That’s where you’re wrong, Patrick. He’s going to do nothing but think about them.

Author: Why are you doing this?

Onert: I want him. I’ve wanted him for years. Why are you helping me?

Author: Perhaps I like a challenge. (Moves closer to Onert) Perhaps I love you.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Nexis Pas

© 2008 by the author
Nexis Pas asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

(This story came about as a challenge. I much admire the work of a writer who uses the pen name of Julian Obedient. You can find his stories on Nifty; he’s listed in the Authors section, although not quite in alphabetical order [in his case ‘o’ follows ‘p’]. We were exchanging a series of bad puns, and I told him that I would write a ‘vice verso’ story if he wrote the ‘vice recto’. His response was a story called ‘Ramesh’, which can be found in the Gay--Beginnings section of Nifty. It was posted on June 11. This is my take on his tale. Since Julian’s story takes place in New York, I attempted to write this with an American accent and, what proved in the event to be more difficult, American-style punctuation.--Nex)

I spotted him a half mile or so past the exit ramp to Wheeler College. He was sitting on a tree stump along one of the few straight stretches of that road. As my car approached, he stood up and stuck his thumb out. I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen a hitchhiker. He had a small backpack slung over one shoulder. That was the only thing he had and even that didn’t appear to have much in it. He looked like a college student trying to get a ride into the next town.

I had been driving for a couple of hours and needed something to occupy my mind besides the endless forest on either side of the road. I slowed the car to check to make sure he wasn’t a crazed serial murderer, although I don’t know why I expected that to be apparent. At least he wasn’t carrying a bloody ax or waving a pistol. That was enough for me. By the time I had made up my mind to give him a lift, I was just passing him. When I got the car stopped, I was a hundred feet beyond him. I rolled down my window and motioned him to jump in. As I watched him speed toward me in the rearview mirror, I allowed myself a few seconds of visual enjoyment. He had a lithe, muscular body. He wasn’t even winded when he opened the door and hopped in.

“Car broke down?”

“Don’t have a car. You going to the city?”

“New York?”

“New York.”

I admitted that I was. He nodded with satisfaction. For the next few miles, I tried to engage him in conversation. Every attempt I made to find out him was turned back with a smile and a refusal to give any information. After much joking from me, he finally gave me a name.

“Rasheem? Is that an Indian name?”


“You don’t look Egyptian.”

“My grandfather’s second wife was Egyptian. I’m named after him.”

I glanced over at him. He gave me another smile, revealing a set of even white teeth. “Your grandfather’s second wife’s name was Rasheem.”

“No, my grandfather was named Rasheem.”

“You could be Egyptian. You look exotic enough.” And he did. His flesh was golden, his hair dark, his eyes black.

He nodded. Evidently discussion of his looks bored him. He had seen them every day of his life, I suppose. But he couldn’t have been unaware of the effect he must have on others. “You a student at Wheeler?”

“Not any more.”

“What are you studying?”
“I just told you I’m not a student anymore.” He turned away from me then and looked out the side window at the passing trees. Another subject he didn’t want to discuss.

So who was riding beside me? Was I sharing the car with Holden Caulfield or Ferris Bueller? Someone following the great American tradition of escaping to the city at any rate. I’d made that journey myself a few years before. Only I just moved from Long Island into the Village.

“What’s the music?” He pointed toward the car’s music player.

“That, Rasheem, is me playing ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.’ I suppose you never listen to music like this.”

Rasheem, or whatever his name was, snorted with derision. The idea that he might listen to an old song was clearly laughable. “So you a musician?”

“I play in a dive called Benny’s. It’s at . . .”

“I know where it is. And it’s not a dive.”

“So you have revealed something about yourself. You know New York.”

“A bit. Places. A few places.” He admitted grudgingly.

“Drop by and hear me play some night. I’ll buy you a drink. That is, if you’re old enough.”

“I’m almost twenty. How old are you?”



“Be careful there, kid. I can still stop the car and let you off here.”

“You won’t do that.”

“No, I wouldn’t. But why are you so sure?”

“For the same reason you stopped to pick me up in the first place.”

“And that would be?”

“Because of this.” Rasheem reached over and squeezed my near leg just above the knee and then ran his hand up toward my crotch.

“Be careful. I’m driving.” I picked his hand up and returned it to his leg, squeezing his thigh while I had my hand over there. It was a very dense thigh. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to make a play for you.”

“Why not? Everyone else does.”

“I can understand that. Perhaps I want more than just your body.”

“And that would be?” He mocked my voice almost perfectly.

“Well, what role should I offer you? What part appeals to you? No, don’t answer that. It’s more a question of what part I should offer myself. You’re going to be the supporting actor. Once I know what role I will play, your role will follow automatically.”

“Perhaps I already have a part.”

“Quiet. I haven’t yet decided whether your part will have dialogue.”

He mimed a look of surprise.

“I can say positively that there will be no miming.”

Rasheem mumbled something without opening his mouth.

“Hmmm, perhaps a lot of moaning on your part. Let’s try you out in that part. Pretend you’re overcome with passion and lust for me and moan, baby.”

Rasheem tilted his head back, squeezed his eyes shut, opened his mouth wide, and started moaning. The volume escalated, as he threw himself into the role.

“You’ve got the part.” I shouted over a chorus of sharp, panting screams. “Let’s try post-coital languor. Quiet, post-coital languor.”

“What’s that? I just need a few minutes to recharge and then I’m ready to go again.”

“Not if I get my hands on you. I guarantee languor.”

“Nah, you just think everyone’s an old man like yourself. You’ve forgotten what it’s like to be young and virile. I don’t need Viagra.” He giggled with delight. I was suddenly aware both of how young he was and of how experienced he probably was. With his looks, he most likely had more sexual partners in a month than I had had in my life.

We rode in silence for the rest of the way. I didn’t want to chance more conversation, especially a flirtatious one. There wasn’t room in my apartment or my life for a complication like Rasheem, even if he had wanted to be part of it. I didn’t need a young man who was running away from something he wouldn’t discuss and toward something that hadn’t been decided yet. Just as I turned onto the road leading to the Lincoln Tunnel, he asked to be let off at the first subway entrance. “My sister lives a few stops uptown.” The traffic was heavy as usual, and the moment I slowed to let him off, the cars behind me started honking. He said “Thanks” and hopped out. The last I saw of him, he was running down the stairs to the subway tracks, hurrying to get somewhere, or maybe to get away from something.

For a few days afterward, the sight of a dark head of hair on a young body was enough to make me crane my head to see if it was Rasheem. I had to avoid Chinatown.


Two weeks later, I was halfway through my second set at Benny’s. I had just finished playing “Moonlight and Roses” and was modulating down through the keys to “Night and Day.” As I often do, I glanced up to look at the crowd sitting around the piano. Establishing eye contact. It’s supposed to make each member of the audience feel as if I’m playing just for him. Rasheem was standing near the end of the piano. He smiled shyly at me, as if unsure that I would remember him. My hands started playing “You Do Something to Me.” I didn’t even think about it. I played fifteen bars or so before I realized what I was doing. I played an extra long set that night. Really upbeat numbers. It was probably the first time Rasheem had heard any of them. I couldn’t remember any song written after 1940--not for want of trying. For my attempt to impress with my knowledge of contemporary music to have been successful, Rasheem would have had to be in his 80s. The other patrons loved the music, however. When I finished, the applause was loud, and my tips jar was full. Perhaps that impressed Rasheem. Since the crowd at Benny’s tends to be older, successful, moneyed gays, he may have felt it was elevator music for the executive suite.

Except for his age, however, Rasheem fit right in with the crowd. He was dressed in that expensive, casual style that looks good only on the very slim, the very athletic, and the very young, although few young people have the money to afford such clothes. It was quite a change from the jeans and t-shirt and scruffy jacket he had been wearing the last time I saw him. My first thought was that his parents must have money for him to have an allowance that ran to such clothes.

“I didn’t expect to see you again.”

“I was free tonight and in the neighborhood. I remembered that you said you played at Benny’s. Is that your name—Victor Timothy Keenam?” He pointed to the discreet sign on the piano that spelled out my name in an ornate script.

I nodded yes. “I think I promised you a drink. Let’s see if we can get Blake to serve you one.” I waved to the bartender as we grabbed two seats at the back end of the bar. “A vodka and tonic for me, Blake. And one for my friend Rasheem. He’s much older than he looks.” Blake looked askance at Rasheem over the top of his half-moon glasses. His chin was so pushed so low, it covered the black bowtie he wore.

“White soda is fine for me. And the name is Phillip.”

“Another grandfather?”

“Some ancestor. I have the usual number of them. One of them must have been named Phillip.”

“You made it to your sister’s?”

“What? I don’t have a sister.”

“The night you got off at the subway, you said you were going to your sister’s place.”

“Oh, she’s not my sister. Just a businesswoman I know. She found me a job.”

“Doing what?”

“I’m a ‘personal assistant’ to a vice-president at —.” He named one of the leading brokerage firms in New York.

“And what does a ‘personal assistant’ do?”

“You could say that I provide stress relief.”

“And what is that in plain Anglo-Saxon.”

“Massage, sucking, fucking. More if he’s tense.”


Rasheem-Phillip nodded and looked away. We had crossed one of his conversational boundaries again. I let my eyes linger on the clothes he was wearing. I was trying to guess how much they might cost, when I realized that he had turned back and was watching me with amusement.

“He took me to Sven’s and told the manager to make me look presentable. Nothing but the best for the boy toy.” He pronounced “boy toy” with a light sardonic grimace of his mouth.

“And why isn’t the toy providing stress relief tonight?”
“His parents are here for a few days. He visits me at lunch or sometimes he has an ‘unavoidable meeting’ at night. Tonight there is some sort of family dinner. I wasn’t invited. He stashed me at the Eastmark Motor Lodge on Seventh for the duration.”

“Not the Park-Cotillion?”

“No. The help doesn’t rate the Park-Cotillion when he’s by himself.”

“So you are free.”

“At least for tonight. I won’t charge you.” He gazed at the jumble of bills in the tip jar and did a quick mental calculation. “You couldn’t afford me anyway.”

It was my turn to shrug and remain silent.

“Did you ever figure out what roles you wanted us to play?”

“Is Phillip your real name?”

“It will do for tonight.”

My drink tasted flat. I was getting tired of Rasheem/Phillip and his posturing. We were beginning to sound like a French movie. “I think I will have your left nipple pierced and a gold-plated ring put in it. Tell your boss that a gang of marines on shore leave kidnapped you, and it was either a nipple piercing or a tattoo of a dollar sign on your ass.”

“The cock would be more appropriate.”


“That should be obvious.”

“I didn’t mean why the tattoo on the cock. I meant why be a rent boy.”

“I’m beyond the rent boy category. I’m prime real estate, with a view overlooking the park. Why shouldn’t I lease it out to the highest bidder?” He pointed to the tip jar. “We both work for tips. Only my line of work is more profitable.”

“But I don’t have to be stashed away when the family visits.”

“I could get you a job. A boy toy that plays the piano could command a high price.”

“No thanks. I’ll pass on that.” I glanced at my wristwatch. “I have to start the next set. You can sit here until I finish, if you want.”

“No, I’d better get back to the motel. The family dinner should be over by now, and he might call. Thanks for the drink.”