A Little Voodoo
by Maxine Mayer 10/9/99
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It wasn't difficult, after my father's death, to resign from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Move to a big city - Montreal. Get a job in a bar on St. Catherine Street. My French is good enough despite my less-than-native accent.
I got used to the hours fairly easily, as well. Came on at four in the afternoon, worked until two in the morning. The few who frequented this place for dinner didn't drink much. I was ready for the drinking crowd after the supper warm-up. They were more boistrous, noisy. Drank more, and there were more of them.
All the same, I didn't mind. The noise or the crowds. Time passed more quickly, eight to midnight. Then would come a lull when only the regulars hung around, waiting for their boys to come off duty. The dancers, that is. The male strippers. Their partners waited, drinking quietly. Clapped loudly in the late night hush, each for his own lover. Turned their eyes away when their boy cosied up to a customer, petted a man's cheek, or kissed that cheek, smiled lazily, seductively, at another man. Then, the partner would call out to me, "Bar-keep, another beer!"
Most of the customers flirt with me. I am, after all, the best thing in that bar, as male flesh goes, apart from their own personal lovers. It isn't hard to learn a few words of banter, a joke or two, a phrase to turn them away without insulting them. I've always been a quick study….
Jimmy, the owner, doesn't stop trying to get me to agree to dance - to strip - rather than tend bar. The money is better, of course, but I refuse. I never pretend I am too good to strip. Only, that I am too old. Jimmy laughs, disagrees, compliments me on my looks. Claps me on the back. "Okay, okay," he says. Ya don't wanna, ya don't hafta. If ya ever wanna, let me know." I smile and go back behind the bar. It is safer there….
I heard, about two years after the fact, from a passing Mountie who'd stopped at my bar, that someone in Chicago had caught the killer of my father. I felt a small tremor of satisfaction followed by a tiny twinge of guilt, that I hadn't caught the man myself - a Mountie, at that - and then I felt nothing. I thanked the fellow for his news. Thought nothing more of it until a few days later, when for the first time I experienced what I can only term… voodoo. That's the word for it, I reckon. "He put a spell on me." A Chicago cop who'd had nothing whatever to do with the capture of my father's killer. Who had nothing to do with the Chicago Police Department anymore. And who certainly ought to have had nothing to do with me…. Who walked into my bar one night and made a beeline for a barstool right in front of me….
His name is Ray Kowalski, he tells me, in the course of a long rambling monolog. He's from Chicago, "the Windy City," he says with a small grin. He's new in town. Never been to Canada before. Can't get over all the people speaking French. Didn't expect it. Feels so foreign. Happened into a gay strippers bar by accident. Never saw anything like it. Thank God I speak English - not just "tourist English," as he calls it. How can I work here? Doesn't it bother me - all those men dancing with no clothes on?
Assumes I'm straight, of course. From the get-go. So he tells me. His words.
"So, what's yer name?" he asks. "I'm Ray Kowalski."
"Ben." I don't spare him much time. He has arrived at the busiest and noisiest hour of the evening, although it's quieter than a Friday or Saturday night would be. And it's not ladies' night, which is a nightmare all its own….
"I'm up here on vacation," Ray offers. "Seein' the sights. Nothin' much doin' at night around here, is there?"
I shrug. "It's not Chicago, I don't suppose," I reply. "Another beer?"
I pour him another beer and take his money. He leaves an American dollar on the bar for me. I pocket it.
"You might enjoy the shopping, during the day. I believe the exchange rate favors Americans."
"Yeah, that's a good idea. I can go shoppin' tomorrow."
"You here for long?" I ask, to make conversation.
"Dunno. Long as I want. I quit."
"What, what?" Ray asks over the noise of the music. Another guy is stripping. It's Peter. He's very fine. Everyone likes him.
"What did you quit? Your job?" I ask.
"Jus' got a divorce. My divorce papers came through. Didn' wanna stay aroun' there. See her aroun'. Keep bumpin' inta her. Like dat. Ya know."
"I hadn't realized Chicago was such a small place. Why would you see your ex-wife so often?"
"I'm a cop. Was a cop. She's a prosecutor. Works a lotta da cases I work. Always bumpin' inta each other. Now - well, I didn' think it would be such a good idea, now we're divorced."
I nod. "Makes sense."
Ray Kowalski drinks his beer. He eyes the dancer out of the corner of his eye. It's Lawrence, now. He's another looker. Glances back at me. "Ya inta this stuff?" he asks. Apparently he has changed his mind, decided I might not be straight after all.
"What stuff?" I reply, playing dumb. Making him work for it.
He gestures at the stage. Lawrence is touching his cock, which is an impressive size, while he dances. "Dat. Men."
I hesitate. Ray is an attractive fellow. But I don't like to go with customers. They tend to return, not take no for an answer, when it's over for me. This man - well, he is definitely my type. Tall, thin, goodlooking in a rough sort of way, although certainly not tough. I like his eyes. Intense and gentle at the same time. In this light they look brown but I think they might be gray or even blue. He's just passing through. Maybe….
"Sometimes," I tell him impassively. "When the mood strikes me."
I'm rewarded with a smile that lights up the man's whole face. "I know jus' what ya mean," he answers with a laugh. "An' I guess the mood's strikin' ya now, else ya woulda said no. Right?"
I can't help grinning. "Right."
"When ya get off?"
"I'll be back fer ya. Wait fer me," he orders, slipping off his stool, throwing a large bill on the counter. He points a finger at my chest. "Ya'll wait fer me, outside, okay?"
I nod twice. He's waiting, still, for a verbal reply. Reluctantly, I force the words out of my mouth. "I'll wait."
He smacks his fist into the palm of his other hand. "Great! Greatness! Two a.m.!"
"Two," I repeat, feeling something warm steal into my heart. His energy is very pleasing. He is my type. Definitely. Considering how rare that is - how long since the last time - I'm experiencing something akin to anticipation. Ray Kowalski probably knows his way around the block. That is a relief. Because I hate fumblers….
Ray is waiting two storefronts down from the bar when I get off. I wave to him, shrugging into my leather jacket and taking out a cigarette. He watches me walk over and has his lighter ready when I get there. We lean together. He cups his hands over mine to light my cigarette. His hair brushes my forehead.
I take a long drag and blow the smoke away from him. He grins.
"I got ya somethin' - just a token. Here."
I'm amused when he hands me the lighter he used on my cigarette. Even in the dim streetlight I can see it is real gold. "You didn't have to buy me anything. I don't do this for a living."
"Nah, jus' felt like it. I saw ya using matches before, in the bar. They ain' reliable - in a wind. Saw dis in a shop. Thought a you."
"Thank you kindly," I say, the words slipping out from behind my façade with an ease that frightens me. I make a quick save, saying with a measure of sarcasm, "I'll treasure it always."
"Yeah, sure, whatever." Ray looks up the street, then down it. "So, ya got a place or ya wanna go ta my hotel? Or ya hungry? Wanna eat something? Have coffee? What?"
"I have beer and coffee and tea at my place," I tell him, starting to walk in the direction of my one-room apartment. He does a quickstep to catch up with me then keeps pace easily. "It's not far."
"Dat's good, 'cuz I'm not crazy about walking."
"Do you have a car?" I ask, for something to say. I'm suddenly feeling strange and almost shy. Almost as if I've never done this before. Certainly, I've never brought anyone to my home….
"Yeah, back in Chicago. An' my pop is takin' care a da one I fixed up when I was a kid - a GTO. A classic. Ya know cars?"
"I'm afraid not." I pause. "But you came to Montreal by plane? Or bus? Didn't drive?"
"That's right. By bus. Longest damn trip I ever took without bein' in charge of the starts an' stops," he tells me with a grin. "Never again!"
"I know what you mean. I crossed Canada by bus. Very tiresome."
"Ain' dat da truth!" Ray agrees.
"Well, here we are," I tell him, turning into my building and starting up the stairs to my flat. "Be it ever so humble…." I add, opening my door and gesturing Ray inside.
"Wow!" he says, looking around. "Wow!"
"Wow, what?" I ask, taking off my jacket and throwing it on a chair. "Beer?"
"Yeah. Beer's good." He's still standing at the door, apparently dazed.
"What's the problem?" I ask from the kitchen.
"Ya ain' got no furniture."
"Yes, I have," I say, coming back to where he's standing in the doorway, giving him a small shove to get him out of the way so I can close the door. "I have a kitchen table, two chairs, and a bed."
"A bed by any other name -" I paraphrase.
"Don' smell as sweet," he interrupts.
"I have a rich inner life," I retort, but he's not buying it.
"Ya had anybody up here before? 'Cuz I gotta tell ya, that cot don' look good for two - not if dey wanna do somethin' on it. Widout fallin' off, that is."
"I've had no complaints," I say impassively. I shrug. "If it doesn't suit you - there's the door."
"Nah," he says with a small gesture. "I don' mind. Jus' - I like to let 'er rip. Guess I'll need to be a little more careful, else we'll both fall on the floor."
"Let me worry about that," I say as if I've known him all my life. "You just enjoy yourself. A tourist shouldn't fret. It spoils the holiday."
I slouch back against the wall, put my foot up behind me, hook one thumb into my belt in the classic male hooker pose, and take a sip of my beer. Ray eyes me appreciatively, a grin twisting his lips. I can tell he's catching what I'm thinking and doing. Getting the joke, feeble though it is. I know he's liking what he sees, although he doesn't speak. There's no need. After all, he wouldn't be here if he didn't already like what he's seen.
"Wanna get it on, or what?" he asks, moving closer to me.
I bite my upper lip. Slide my foot back down the wall so I am standing firmly on solid ground at parade rest, except for the beer bottle in my hand, which he takes from me and puts on the kitchen table, along with his own. My heart is beating frantically.
"Wanna get it on?" he asks again, moving back toward me. He touches my cheek with one finger and I take a quick breath. Suddenly I can't get enough air. He has closed in on me….
"I - I'm not sure," I mutter, feeling flustered in a way I haven't for a long time.
But I am sure, when his mouth descends on mine and both his hands grip my shoulders, slide down my arms, and my forearms, until he reaches my hands. He takes each of my hands with one of his and pulls them down from their protective position in front of my chest. He pulls them behind his back, then lets go. I keep my arms where he's left them, only holding onto him now, clasping him tightly. His arms go around mine, his hands settle on my jaw. He is still kissing me. His eyes are closed.
After a minute, he moves his mouth off mine, opens his eyes. Asks, "Yer not sure?"
"Okay," I say with a deep sigh.
"Fine. It's fine."
"Ya wanna, or not?" I hear the edge in his voice. He won't go farther if I don't say something explicit. What he is doing resembles entrapment in an alarming fashion. I shake the thought from my mind.
"I'm not a child, Ray," I manage to verbalize. "If I didn't want you here, you wouldn't be here. I can take care of myself."
"Dat wasn' my question," he answers, eyeing me narrowly.
"Yes," I admit finally. "I do want to make love with you."
And I cannot believe I've said that. "Make love." Not "have sex." Why did I say that? What am I thinking? Feeling? Am I out of my mind?
Voodoo. He's put a spell on me….
The smile that lights up Ray's face is incredible. Beautiful. I don't recall ever seeing anything like it in my life. Sunrise on snow. Birds singing morning prayers of thanksgiving for their food. Trees stretching their branches to the sun, rustling songs of praise to the gods. Wolves loping through autumn leaves, howling their joy. Howling….
A perfect smile.
I believe my own smile matches it….
Ray undresses as quickly as he can, impeded as he is by my hands all over him.
"Your turn," he tells me, serious heat in his face and voice.
I undress more quickly still, and reach for the condoms and lube where I store them with other toiletries on top of my trunk near my cot.
"Yer in an awful hurry," Ray says, passing a hand over my chest. I shiver but don't reply. "How 'bout a kiss an' a cuddle, first time 'round? Save da heavy stuff fer a bit?"
"First time around?" I ask, dazed.
"Well, yeah. Night's young. I got as long as I wanna stay, in dis city. Ya tol' me ya was off from work tomorrow. So - first time around."
"Ah, I see."
"Well - dat okay or what?"
"Yes, of course." My cock is hard as a rock. As is his. "Might we stop talking, now, and get to it?" My language betrays me, as it always does when I'm tense, excited, or in any way out of control of myself. It's been a long time since I've spoken in the old way, like an educated man. I've surprised myself.
"Sure, Ben. Whatever turns yer crank." With that, his mouth takes mine once more, his hands are everywhere on my body, his groin is against mine, and I can no more speak than fly. I pull my mouth from his and taste my way down his body, all the way to his feet, to the arches. His feet are planted firmly on the floor. His hands are gentle on my head as I kiss my way up to his knees, then to his thighs.
I stop there and rest my cheek against his thigh. My knees hurt. It has been a long time since I've gone down this road…. Ordinarily, I am the recipient of what can only be termed worship…. I wonder why I'm doing it now, worshipping….
Ray's hands rest on my hair without pressure and he doesn't speak. I look up, past his cock to his face. His eyes are huge. I look at them, waiting to read the question, when am I going to take him in my mouth? That question isn't there.
"Mmm?" I murmur, pressing my cheek into his thigh again, and closing my eyes.
"What's goin' on?"
"I don't know," I tell him. And it is the truth.
"I feel funny, like."
"How so?" I ask, opening my eyes, looking up at him again, but making no effort to rise from my knees. I like it here. His cock tempts me. My mouth wants to taste it, taste him.
"I wanna suck you off."
I raise an eyebrow. "Same here."
"I never felt like dis before. I mean, I really really wanna suck you off."
"I'm not stopping you," I say, without moving a muscle.
"You wouldn' mind?" he asks, his tone tentative, odd.
"Not if you'll wait until I've done you," I add. With that, I straighten my back and take his cock in my hand, bring it to my lips, taste the fluid at the tip.
"Yeah, okay, dat'll work," Ray mutters, pushing his cock against my mouth. The rounded end is soft against my lips. The shaft is hard in my hand.
I lick him, every inch, then take him into my mouth. The slurping sounds I make are the only ones in the universe, for a few minutes. Those, and his moans. His hands alternate between squeezing my head and releasing, as though he's conscious that he mustn't hurt me but can't maintain complete control over his hands.
When he comes I swallow everything he ejaculates, shuddering at the bitter taste, shivering when his fingers smooth down my hair, then slip farther and rest on my jaw.
I pull back, letting his penis fall lightly near my mouth, and ask roughly, "Still up for it?"
He doesn't answer for a moment so I stand and repeat myself, my eyes on his. "Still up for it?"
"Oh yeah!" Ray grunts enthusiastically. He pulls me to the cot and arranges me on it. He kneels between my legs and takes me in with one huge gulp. He kneads my hips in rhythm with his sucking, and I respond, coming quickly, with great pleasure. A powerful headache begins right afterward but I don't tell Ray.
He slides up my body and rests his head next to mine on the pillow, pulling me onto my side. His eyes are closed. Otherwise, I think, he would notice the strain my headache has put into my eyes.
"I ain' sleepin' ya know. Jus' restin' fer a minute."
"That's fine," I manage. "There's no hurry. As you say, you're on vacation."
He grins without opening his eyes. "Dat's right. And what a great vacation it's turnin' out to be!"
I am wakened by the smell of sausages and eggs. Ray has apparently been up for a while, long enough to find his way around my small kitchen and cook. He is already sitting at the table in boxer briefs, eating. He smiles and gestures with his fork for me to join him.
I throw on a pair of shorts and go to the bathroom. When I come out I see that Ray has set a place for me. A plate of food as well as a glass of juice are on the table in front of the second chair. I sit and eat without speaking.
"So, how long ya been workin' at that bar?" Ray asks, slouching back in his chair, finished with his food. He hasn't eaten much so I take his plate and add his leftovers to mine. I don't recall ever being so hungry.
"Not very long," I reply cautiously.
"Ya said ya came across Canada - what did ya do on the west coast?"
"Something else," I tell him, my tone forbidding. I don't want to talk about my past. I became a Mountie for all the wrong reasons. The reasons died when my father died. That life is over.
But he won't take no answer for an answer. "What?"
"It doesn't matter."
"But ya weren't a bartender your whole life," he asserts.
"So, what were ya?"
"I'd rather not talk about it. What would you like to do today? Sightsee? Shop?"
"I'd like ta fuck. After I get a straight answer outta you," he says bluntly.
I'm taken aback, everything I've heard and learned in the last few years suddenly gone. I don't know how to respond to such talk, such a manner.
Finally, I say, "I thought you quit the police force. You ought to give up the interrogation technique of conversation, as well. Just a suggestion."
"I ain' interrogatin' ya. I jus' really wanna know." He doesn't back off. But I already know that about him - that he doesn't back off.
I sigh. "I was a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. A constable."
His eyes widen. "No kiddin' - really?" I nod. I can see him look at me anew, try to shave me, cut my hair and dress me in red serge in his mind. Try to reconcile the man who blew him last night with his idea of a Mountie. "Why'd ya quit?"
"What makes you think I quit?" I ask. "Perhaps I was thrown off the force. Made to resign. Perhaps I was injured and could no longer do the work. Perhaps I am lying and I wasn't a Mountie at all. How can you know?"
"What the fuck - Are you nuts? Were ya a Mountie or weren' ya?"
"Yes, I was. I resigned after my father died. I'd joined the force to please him. Probably, to prove something to him. With him dead, there was no longer any reason to remain."
"Ya didn' like the work?"
"I didn't care for the hours. Or the solitude. Or the odds. Or the ingratitude. Or the politics. Or what's happening to this country, kilometer by kilometer. About which I could do nothing. Nothing permanent, at any rate." I stop talking and take a deep breath. I don't recall the last time I made a speech. And I've never told anyone why I left the RCMP.
"Yeah, I know what ya mean." He takes another sip of juice. He looks thoughtful, as if he wants to ask me something more.
"What is it, Ray?"
"I jus' wondered if ya ever been married."
"Ya ever been in love - with a woman, I mean?"
"Not that I recall." I remember Victoria. Beautiful, beautiful Victoria. I cringe within, remembering the lust I felt for her, the love she bore me, and how I betrayed her trust so long ago.
"I was. Am. Was. With my wife."
"You seem not to know how you feel about your wife, now."
"Yeah, well, I know. I don' love her no more. It's over."
"Ah. Well, that's good. Considering your divorce, I mean."
"Ya don' need ta rub it in," Ray says defensively, getting up from the table.
"Sorry. I meant no offense. Perhaps, telling the truth isn't always a valid approach. Once upon a time, I resisted doing that. I equivocated, prevaricated, procrastinated. Anything to avoid telling people what I really thought."
"Why'd ya do dat?" Ray asks, curiosity in his tone.
"I feared hurting peoples' feelings."
"An' now ya don' care?"
"That's right. I don't."
"Hmm. Dat better?"
"Not fearing the effect of my words on others? Absolutely."
"Gotta try it, then," Ray says with a smile.
"You can't simply try it. It requires a complete change of heart and mind -"
"An epiphany, right?"
I smile. "Something like that. At any rate, it's not a game or a choice. Life leads you to change. You can't simply make up your mind on your own."
"I already did. When I quit the force."
"That's not quite the same. You had a legitimate reason to leave. You weren't impelled -"
"An' you were? Impelled?" Ray sounds like he's never used the word before. A deception, I'm certain.
"When your life loses all meaning, you have no choice but to move on. Or die."
"I'm happy ya didn't die. Wouldn' a met ya, if ya did." His grin is infectious. Mine comes automatically, in response to his. After a moment he asks, "Wanna get it on again?"
"I think, perhaps, you might enjoy a day of sightseeing, as you've never been to Montreal."
"We can do both."
"Ah, a diplomat!" I reply.
"Dat's a first! Nobody ever called me a diplomat before!"
"There's a first time for everything."
"So - ya happy now?" Ray asks. The question seems genuine.
"Happy?" I echo, as if I'm unfamiliar with the term.
"It ain' a trick question, Ben. Ya been on yer own fer a while, doin' what ya please. Not answerin' ta nobody. Not worryin' what people think. Sayin' what ya like, thinkin' what ya wanna think. Are ya happy?"
"I don't put much store in the concept."
"I thought ya told me ya don' equivocate no more."
"No. I don't." I stand and walk over to my clothes, picking them up from the floor. "I'm going to take a shower. Care to join me?"
"Nah, I showered already, before, while you was sleepin'."
"Will you be here when I come out?" I ask. I don't wish to consider why I give a damn.
"Why wouldn' I be? We got plans, right? Listenin' ta all dem people speakin' French? Sightseein' an' all?"
"Yes. Yes, we do."
"Even if you don' answer my questions," Ray says, undeflected by my several attempts to change the subject.
"The answer is… no. No, I'm not happy." I pause. Lick my lips. Smile. "At least, I haven't been… until now."
Technically, of course, Ray is not on vacation. He is between jobs. Unemployed.
I wonder, briefly, as we take in the sights of Montreal, how long it will be until his money runs out.
He pays for everything. Food, entry into the museums he asks to visit. Pays for our taxi rides from one place to another. He purchases one souvenir after another in the shops we pass.
And he buys things for me. Already he has gifted me with an outrageously expensive Irish wool sweater and a gold bracelet - a band, really - which almost doesn't fit around my large wrist. Cigarettes, which are fairly expensive in this city. A crystal ashtray. He has attempted unsuccessfully to persuade me to try on various other items of clothing and jewelry, which require a more exact fit. But I am on to him and resist. His generosity is overwhelming and unacceptable to me. To what I wish for, from a… liaison.
I begin to see why a woman might divorce this man. In every way, he comes on strong. Too strong, I believe. Even I find him frightening. But for me, fear is a pleasant change from feeling nothing at all….
"Ya gotta go to work later?" Ray asks over a cup of coffee at an outdoor café where we stop at around three in the afternoon. I am exhausted; Ray is not.
"Not tonight," I tell him, shaking my head. "I'm off until Friday at four."
"That's great!" he says enthusiastically. "Ya don' mind spendin' the time wid me?"
"Not at all."
"What do ya usually do on yer days off?"
"Not much. Sleep, some. Walk in the park. The library is open during the week, when I'm free. I often spend some time there. Not too long, though. They don't permit smoking."
"That's it?" he asks. "No time wid friends or nothin'?"
"No," I reply curtly. "I've made no friends here." When he just stares at me I add defensively, cursing myself as I do so, "I've met no one I care to be friends with, thus far."
"Ya ain' really tried, have ya?"
"So, ya make do wid strangers, tourists passin' through, one-night stands? Like dat?"
"Ya ain' lonely?"
I can see that Ray would be lonely if he was forced to live as I choose to live. I tell him softly, "No. I'm used to it. I've never had many friends. I - I'm more of a one-on-one sort of person. And after I left my job -"
"Yeah, I know. Aside from Stella - dat's my wife, ex-wife - an' a few guys I partnered with on the force, I never had no friends, neither."
"You are lonely," I assert, quite sure of that.
"Yeah. Yeah, I am."
Ray's voice trails off and he looks away, his eyes following people as they pass in the street. I wonder what he is thinking. Perhaps he is considering what he will do when he returns to Chicago. I am close to asking him but decide against it. What business is it of mine, after all, what this man does when he leaves Montreal? I will never see him again, when he moves on from this city. What possible need do I have to learn his plans?
"Ya don' ask questions, Ben. Ain't ya interested in people?"
"No. Should I be?"
"Well, it passes the time - questions, I mean. Figure, ya gotta learn somethin' besides jus' the answers, when ya ask. Ya know what I mean?"
"I am not a student of human nature, Ray. I truly do not care to learn more about people than I already know."
Ray nods. His eyes half-close into a speculative gaze. "Ya like me? I mean, ya don' let on much. I don' wanna spoil yer… solitude, if ya had enough a me. I can find somebody else ta sleep wid, if ya ain' interested no more."
"I am interested. In more. Of you," I tell him quickly. Nothing less than flat assertions will smooth away his frown or relieve the insecurity I sense in this man. I am speaking nothing but the truth. He will know that.
"How much more?" he parries. "'cuz my hotel's costin' me a bundle. If we gonna be sleepin' together every night while I'm here, I might as well check out."
I chuckle softly. He is not quite as insecure as he seems. He has been working the angles, conning me, as they say. I do not mind. "You ought to check out of your hotel, Ray. My place is big enough for two, for a while."
"Not wid dat bed, it ain't! How 'bout I use some a da dough I'll save on a room to buy us a big mattress?"
"That isn't very practical, Ray. What will I do with it when you… move on?"
"Why doncha worry about that bridge when ya jump off it?" he counters, a grin on his lips which doesn't reach his eyes.
I am wary, but I agree. "Very well. There is a Salvation Army outlet about ten blocks from here. They're open during the week. We can pick up a mattress there, if you wish -"
"An' get some sheets to fit, too. Ya know a good place to buy sheets, Ben?"
"I think I can find one."
"Good. Great. Greatness!" he exclaims, and I am caught between pleasure at his delight and fear for myself. For my… space, which he invades with impunity, gaining more and more ground with each passing moment….
My feeling of fear persists as the day progresses. We purchase a mattress, and then sheets, pillows, blankets and various other items, from a cheap shop I've managed to convince him to enter, rather than the very expensive department store he would have chosen. We carry these items along the street from the shops the few blocks to my place, and deposit them in my apartment, along with his suitcase, after he checks out of his hotel. Then we go out to dinner.
I am very quiet while we eat. I am unsettled by the day. I have not spent nearly so much time in another person's company in years.
But Ray is a clever man. On the way back to my apartment after dinner he picks up a bottle of wine. When we get home he convinces me to drink two full glasses over the course of an hour, although I rarely drink alcoholic beverages. I am not completely relaxed but less sharp, less tense than usual.
He makes up the mattress while I am in the bathroom. When I come out, he is under the covers. From what I can see, he is naked from the waist up. He is on his side, leaning on his elbow. He is waiting. There is no smile on his face.
"Ya comin'?" he asks. "Get yer clothes off, first."
"Of course." I maintain an outward façade of nonchalance as I strip off my garments. I wonder whether he will be ready for the "heavy stuff," as he calls anal sex, tonight. Or whether he will want merely "a kiss and a cuddle" again.
My question is answered when I join him on the mattress. My supply of condoms and tube of lubricant are next to the pillow, behind Ray's head. I become erect immediately when I notice these items so prominently displayed.
Ray touches my shoulder. I shiver, breathe deeply and exhale.
"Ya always dis ready, dis fast, Ben?" he asks. "Or is it me?"
"You are certainly the reason tonight."
He shakes his head. "Ya got some way a turnin' a question around so a guy don' get a clue what yer thinkin'."
"Yes, I am… easily aroused. If I find the other person attractive. Otherwise - not at all."
"Dat's better. Ya like da top or da bottom?" he asks bluntly.
My headache has returned. The apartment seems crowded, as if there is no oxygen in the air. My head is spinning. I feel faint. I do faint. Because the next thing I know, Ray is squatting next to the mattress, holding a wet washcloth firmly against my forehead.
I think, irrelevantly, that it must be one of his, brought with him in the suitcase we picked up from his hotel when he checked out earlier. Because it isn't mine.
"Whatsa matter, Ben? Ya okay?" he asks, concern etched all over his face and in his eyes.
"I might ask you that. Did I faint?"
"I felt… short of air. I'm sorry if I worried you."
"Ya sick or somethin'? Ya look healthy enough but there was no reason fer ya ta faint -"
"Yes, there was. And yes, I am in perfect health," I add, removing the washcloth from my head and sitting up. I wait, expecting another ripple of dizziness. When it doesn't come, I am relieved. "We can continue now," I say, reaching for Ray and pulling him over onto me, seeking for his mouth with my own.
"Hey, wait up! What happened? What reason? Why'd ya faint?"
"Your proximity," I tell him, trying again for a kiss.
"My - what?"
"Your nearness," I explain with a shrug. "I was… overwhelmed. I do not often react with such intensity, such a strong sexual response, to anyone. I would like you to -" I hesitate to use the word that comes to mind. I settle on another. "I would like you to take me, now."
"Yes, of course. That is what we are here for, isn't it? Taking pleasure and giving it?"
"Here? Ya mean, here, in yer apartment? Or here, on earth?"
"Yer a freak," Ray tells me, finally accepting that I am no longer incapacitated. He kisses me. Eats my mouth. My eyes close. I let myself go in his arms, beneath his body. The voodoo still works, the spell holds. I tremble with pleasure when he tongues my throat, then my nipples. I feel no need to give pleasure, tonight. Only to receive it.
I am not disappointed. Ray is apparently in the opposite mood. He gives himself to me with every touch, every kiss, every pressure. Swallows my cock whole and sucks ruthlessly. When one long finger, cold with lubricant, presses inside me, I moan in anticipation. I touch his cheek, signal him to release my cock. Tell him without words that I want his cock inside me.
It is only after he responds to these wordless directives without hesitation, only after he has penetrated me, fucked me, come inside me, and I have ejaculated, that I wonder about us, Ray and me.
Yesterday, I had not yet met him.
Today, we move together as if we've done this a thousand times. Made love a thousand times.
I cannot account for it. I am extraordinarily annoyed with myself for attempting to reason out, in my old way, what is clearly beyond reason.
Our… affinity for one another. Our… bond with one another. Is beyond reason.
There is no meaning….
I knew that yesterday.
Why question it today?
I'd already explained it to my own satisfaction, yesterday.
I called it voodoo. Conjectured that Ray put a spell on me.
What possible explanation - scientific, psychological or physical - would more neatly cover the experience?
I would like to do more than find an explanation that covers the facts.
I would dearly love to explain them away.
Explain him away.
I sense that will not happen. Is impossible.
When Ray tells me, "Your turn, Ben. Return da favor," I am certain.
Return the favor. Fuck him, to return the favor.
Clearly, Ray believes the fucker does the favor, not the fuckee.
What an incredibly odd way of looking at things, I muse.
Then I smile.
Not so odd. I was favored. He did me the favor. He fucked me.
Just the thought makes me hard again.
I hasten to return the favor.
"Oh, yeah," Ray groans as I lubricate him, shove my cock inside him in carefully calculated increments, complete with thoughtful pauses. My old, considerate ways are good for something, after all. "Oh, yeah. Great. Like dat. Great. Hmm. Great. Full a ya. I like dat."
"You like that?" I echo. "Do you like this?" I aak as I reverse, pulling out, then in again, trying for a relaxed, unpressured rhythm, angling for his prostate.
He pulls me down on top of him with his legs which he has wrapped around me tightly. I try to hold myself up with my arms but it is difficult. Grateful for the width of the mattress, I pull him around, instead, so he is on top of me. We are of similar height but I am a great deal heavier than he. Were I to do as he wishes - drop my weight on him - he would be crushed.
He grins at me. I know why. He was quick enough to unwrap his legs when I turned him. He is now braced on my lap, my cock still inside him, his knees on either side of me. He controls the fuck effortlessly but I can tell it is not what he wants….
"Let me turn us again."
"Oh. Okay. Good."
I cannot believe we've accomplished two turns without my cock coming out of him. I am inordinately happy about it. I "favor" him by resting my weight - much of it, anyway - on his chest.
When his legs go up around me again and his mouth opens under mine, I up the pace. I don't even know how long it takes before I come, the pleasure is so intense. It seems to occur outside time.
Ray spurts soon after I achieve release.
I wake in the middle of the night. I am both terrified and horrified.
"Oh, God," I groan, not caring whether I wake Ray or not.
"Yeah, I know," he replies. "I been lyin' here, thinkin' about it."
"We didn't use condoms, Ray," I accuse. I sound like an old woman in my own ears.
"I'm clean. How 'bout you?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know," Ray repeats fatalistically. " 'course ya don' - how could ya?"
"Forgive me, Ray."
"It's okay. Live fast. Die young. Leave a good lookin' corpse."
I am appalled by his tasteless joke.
"I have always used condoms before, with… everyone else," I tell him.
"But ya ain' been tested, have ya?"
"No, not recently. But I am confident I am clean. Not certain. Only testing makes for certainty. But I am confident. Reasonably confident." I am babbling.
"Well, den, don' worry. Go back ta sleep."
"Will you? Be able to sleep now?"
"Sure. After I take a leak. An' finish off that wine."
"I'll join you," I tell him, wide awake.
"Ya don' hafta -"
"I want to. I am quite alert. I could not sleep now."
We both get up. The floor is cold under my feet and the room is chilly too. I turn on a small lamp and check my watch. It is three in the morning. I find my shorts and a pair of sweat pants. I look for a sweater and put that on too.
Ray rummages through his suitcase and selects a pair of pajama bottoms and a tshirt to wear.
He pours me a glass of wine and empties the bottle into his glass.
"Cheers," he toasts and finishes off the wine. I do the same.
"I am terribly sorry, Ray -"
"Ferget it. We both done it. You ain' no more at fault than me." He looks at me oddly with those incredible eyes of his. I have yet to determine whether they are hazel, blue or gray. "If I get the virus, it's worth it, ta me."
"That's - ridiculous."
His eyes narrow. "You don' feel like dat?"
"I - I don't know how I feel."
"There ya go! If ya didn' feel the same, you'd know it," he retorts, triumphant.
"I don't want you to die," I blurt out.
"I don't kill so easy."
"That's what they all say…. And then they die…."
"Stop it. Yer scarin' me."
I shake my head again. Again, say feebly, "I'm so sorry, Ray…."
"Quit it - ya didn' do nothin' I didn' do."
"I should know better -"
"Ya ain' a Mountie no more. Jus' a guy - like me. We both shoulda known better. But we didn' - so shut up about it. Next time, we'll be careful."
"You mean, we will lock the barn door after the horse has run away?" I ask, angry at him because he has reminded me of my former life, which I do not wish to remember. "Of what use is that?" I say bitterly.
"We made a mistake. We don' gotta repeat it," he tells me wearily.
I am still angry. "No. We do not need to repeat it. Any of it."
His eyes widen with shock. "Ya don' wanna make love wid me no more?"
"I think it would be wise if you… continued your vacation in another part of Canada, Ray," I tell him coldly. I stand. "Our… interaction is clearly detrimental to our health and well-being."
"I jus' got here," he yells, gesturing to his suitcase, and the mattress. "Ya wan' me to leave? Now?"
"Of course not, Ray," I reply smoothly. "The morning will be fine. I have several maps. After breakfast I will help you choose your next vacation spot. Then you can make travel arrangements. I think it would be a good idea if you rent a vehicle, since you disliked the bus trip so much -"
"Hey! Don' make my plans fer me!" Ray shouts. "Ya ain' my brother!"
"I'm sorry. I tend to be… officious." I am appalled at how much of my former manner is returning. How my carefully constructed façade is crumbling. I don't understand why but.my speculations do not please me. "You must plan your own trip, of course."
Ray doesn't answer me, so I go over to the mattress. I hesitate for a moment, trying to decide whether my wisest course would be to lie down on the cot instead, to sleep until daybreak, rather than use the mattress. I discard the idea. I have already offended the man, asked him to leave. I need not insult him further….
And indeed, some part of me is uncertain, even now, whether Ray actually would sleep on the mattress if I took the cot, or if he would join me whatever choice I made, wherever I lay my head….
The uncertainty pleases me because I discover that I want him to join me, wherever I am….
I have virtually thrown him out.
Not a minute since.
Now, I want him. I want him.
I am still angry because he reminded me of my past life. But I still want him….
As Ray described it - a kiss, a cuddle, a suck, a fuck - whatever I can get.
I want it. With him. Want him….
It is incredible. Beyond rational explanation.
I am forced to the same conclusion I reached before.
Voodoo. It is voodoo.
He's put a spell on me….
I do not lay down. I turn to him, knowing that it is up to me to apologize, if I want him to stay.
He is slumped over my kitchen table, his head in his hands. I approach cautiously, say his name very softly.
He doesn't reply or look up.
"Whaddaya want?" he mutters without lifting his head.
"Forgive me. You can stay, of course, if you wish. With me, here. For as long as you like."
"As long as I like?" he replies, his head still down.
"Yes." Then, throwing caution to the winds, I add, "Forever, if you like."
This finally gets a reaction out of him. His head snaps up. "Forever? You unhinged, or what? What da hell will I do in Montreal forever? I don' even speak French!"
Shocked, I realize that he has been thinking about just this. Well before our argument.
"I - I don't know," I reply, miserable. He is right, of course. There is a large hole in my bag of marbles, as I have often suspected. "Does it matter?"
His reply wipes away our quarrel and any question of his leaving in the morning. As it should.
"Of course it matters! Ya think I wanna live offa you?"
"You could learn French. I could teach you -"
"Don' make me laugh! I flunked high school Spanish three times before the teacher felt so sorry for me she gave me a "D" so I could graduate!"
"I am a very good teacher," I tell him. I smile. "You aren't a schoolboy any longer. With the right incentive, I believe you could learn anything -"
"The right incentive? What's dat? You?"
I shrug. "Perhaps. Or simply not being forced to return to Chicago."
"I don' wanna go back," Ray replies. He is clearly made miserable by the reminder of his home city.
I buttress my suggestion with another thought. "You could dance, you know. At my bar."
He laughs. "Oh, yeah, they're really lookin' fer middle aged guys to strip."
"Jimmy - my boss - asks me to dance, at least once a week. I am older than you."
"Yeah, yer older. But look at you!"
"I have. In the mirror. I am running to fat. You are slender. I am clumsy. You are graceful." I pause. "You could dance, Ray. At least until you learn enough French to apply for -"
"Yer jokin', ain't ya? Stop callin' it dancin'! It's strippin'! I couldn' do it. Never."
"Oh. Oh, well, then -" I take a deep breath. Voodoo. He's put a spell on me. Nothing stops the words from leaving my mouth. "Then, I will. The money is better than what I make as a bartender. The tips are very large. Private dancing costs the customers extra. The boys retain every penny. I'd be able to afford to… keep you, if I dance -"
"Ben!" He says my name harshly and I recoil. I believe he is angry. I am wrong. "Ya wan' me ta stay?" I nod, mute, terrified. Excited. "Dat make ya happy? If I stay?" I nod again. "Okay. Deal."
"Deal?" I echo, bewildered.
"Yeah, deal. I'll stay. Learn French. Get a job. Ya won' need ta dance naked front a all dem guys. I got a lot a cash left, yet. I sold my car before I left home."
"You'd stay?" I can scarcely bring myself to hope….
"Sure. Why not? Best offer I've had all day!" He grins and winks at me. "Ain' like it's a hardship fer me."
I think then, of how I am. My silences. My walls. My anger. My… jealousy. My… lack of affect. I must warn him. "It might well become a hardship, in time, Ray. I've never lived with anyone before."
"Hey, I ain' Mary Sunshine, myself!" He comes to me, then, with generous reassurance. "We can make it work, if ya wanna. Got a feelin' der ain' nothin' you couldn't do, if ya put yer mind to it."
I shudder, whether with joy or terror, I am uncertain. He enfolds me in his arms. I murmur my promise: "I will put my mind to it, Ray."
"Dat's all I ask."
After a moment I tell him, "I'm tired."
"Let's sleep fer a while, den. Okay?" Ray's solicitude warms me. I know he is wide awake. I can feel his energy.
"Thank you kindly."
After two months, I take Jimmy up on his offer to let me dance at his club, over Ray's objections. We need the money. Ray's money is nearly gone and his French is improving very slowly.
I am the toast of Montreal's underground world, thanks to Ray, who teaches me a few steps and moves, choreographing my routine. Apparently, my clumsiness is no obstacle to my being accepted.
I am asked whether I will consider appearing at a popular drag nightclub. The money is even better than stripping but I refuse the offer without consulting Ray.
I refuse. For now. The future will tell its own story. I have no illusions about what I will do in order to keep Ray with me. What price I am willing to pay. No price is too high.
Many men tell me I dance like a boy just coming into puberty, although they do not use those words, of course.
But I understand their meaning….
I cannot imagine how Ray endures it. I could not, were our situations reversed. I am more possessive than he, I suppose.
When my last set is over I shower in the dressing room, throw on some clothes and join Ray for a drink at the bar.
Our lips brush in a quick kiss and I am instantly as hard as I was the first night we were together.
"Ya were great tonight, Ben," Ray tells me.
I smile. "Thank you kindly," I reply. I take my tips out of my jeans pocket and place them on the bar. "We'll eat again this week."
Ray grins. "Put dat away before somebody mugs ya, idiot!"
I do as he asks, then sip my drink. I am pensive tonight. He notices.
"Tomorrow is my day off," I remind him. "What would you like to do?"
"I'd like ta fuck, after I get ya ta tell me what's buggin' ya," he says bluntly. A version of that sentence has become a ritual with us.
"I - I am not sure."
"Give it a whirl, why dontcha?"
"I feel strange. Odd. I don't know what it is…."
He puts his hands on my hips and swivels the barstool so I'm facing him. I cannot meet his eyes.
"Yer not happy?" he asks quickly. "Izzat it?"
Suddenly, I know what it is. I look at him and grin widely. "No, that's not what it is. I am happy. Very happy."
"No wonder ya didn' recognize it!" he retorts. His voice, his face, his eyes - his whole body comes alive with joy.
"I am happy!" I repeat, with wonder in my voice.
"Yer happy!" Ray echoes, throwing his arms around me, holding me tightly.
"I'm happy," I whisper again, and again, until I am hoarse with saying it.
"Dat's it - let's go home, Ben. Now." He tosses some bills on the bar. "G'night," he calls out to the bartender and Jimmy. Then he pulls me off my stool, his arm around my waist, and leads me out of the club. My eyes are closed. I am leaning against him. I feel boneless, relaxed, soft….
"Ray -" I murmur.
"Ssh. Don' talk. I know." He signals for a cab. "Lemme get ya home."
"No, Ray, I want to tell you. Please."
"Okay, what is it?" he asks impatiently, holding the taxicab door open.
"I am happy. I thought it was voodoo, at first. That you'd put a spell on me."
"Yeah, and now, whaddaya think?" he asks, humoring me.
"Now, I know what it is," I say solemnly. "It's love."
Ray laughs. "Jus' figure dat out? Yer real slow on da uptake, ain't ya?"
"I've never been in love before, Ray. How was I to recognize it?"
"Come on. Lemme get ya home. Jeez, one drink an' yer a weepy drunk!"
"I am not drunk. I am perfectly sober. And happy. Happy, as I have never been in my life."
"Dat's good. Now, get inta da cab, wouldya?"
"Very well. I simply wanted you to know." Another thought strikes me and I put my hand on Ray's arm, preventing him from getting into the taxi.
"Now, what?" he asks, exasperated.
"Are you happy, Ray?"
"I don't put much store in the concept," he quotes. I frown, so he replies honestly. "I go up an' down - dat's da way I am."
"Oh," I say, crestfallen. I so want him to be happy, too.
"Lovin' you don' go up an' down, though," he adds. This time, he successfully bundles me into the taxi, gets in himself, gives the driver our address.
"You love me, Ray?" I ask, wonder in my voice.
"Ya gotta be kiddin'! Don' try ta tell me ya didn' know!"
"I didn't know. But I am glad to hear it. I am… happy to hear it."
"Yer drunk, Ben. A fallin' down drunk." He grins. "Watch out I don' take advantage a ya, while yer in dis state."
"I wish you would," I say wistfully.
"Well, if ya put it dat way -"
"I do," I tell him seriously. "Take advantage of me."
"Soon as I get ya home, I will."
I sigh contentedly and lean into him, slipping my arms around him. "Good."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ F i n i s ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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