The Cry of Wolves (Excerpt)

Coming-of-age novel set in '90s New York

The Cry of Wolves

Chapter 1:

Paul Kelly brushed past two homeless alcoholics guarding the entrance to Fourteenth Street subway station and joined the other immigrants crowding onto the uptown Number 6. As he squeezed in between a large Latino woman and an elderly Chinese gentleman, also en route to service rich America, he was careful to avoid their gaze of commiseration. For two years now, he’d been opening and closing the front door of a residential building on East Seventy-Third Street--a doorman. It made him cringe to think of his time there, the betrayal of his own ambition.

It appeared, he admitted, a great beginning, just what he needed to get on his feet, save a few dollars. The pay was very generous--there was no denying this--but it felt as if he was being showered with gifts for bowing and scraping to people who weren’t his superiors, but who, more often than not, acted as such. For some employees, mostly elderly gentlemen who had been in the Service and non-English speaking immigrants, the job could be described as a godsend, offering a generous salary for little toil invested. But for an educated, white-guy in his early twenties like Paul, it was ‘loser’ territory. (Twenty-third Street Station.)

His cousin secured him the position through a friend who worked for a real estate corporation, and Paul, who was staying with his cousin at the time, felt obliged to accept. He didn’t think too deeply on the subject. Back then, he believed he’d just sail up the corporate ladder, people opening doors and offering him opportunities from all angles. From his doorman position he felt it was only a short elevator ride to the penthouse, unaware that this ease of passage was reserved for the exceptionally talented or for those who had inherited the privilege. Paul was one of those destined to use the stairs. (Twenty-eighth Street Station.) Following a year with his cousin (she had insisted on him staying to help her over a broken heart), he found a beautiful two-bedroom apartment with a colleague in a pseudo-Irish community in Queens. This he soon realized wasn’t his scene: bars throbbing with Irish music, small talk on street corners concerning Irish football results and shops selling Irish newspapers was hardly his idea of experiencing The New World. Fortunately after six months his Polish roommate returned home and Paul found a studio for himself in the East Village in Manhattan. For the first time he was happy where he was living, and it was one of the reasons he felt the limitations of his current job so keenly. (Thirty-third Street Station.)

The main obstacle in his career path was his uncertainty as to what field to enter. His last few years in secondary school proved lethargic and he had only gained entry to a commercial college. Taking a Marketing course, he intended to complete his first year certificate, move on to the diploma, then transfer to university for a degree--it was the roundabout route. However, having spent most of his first year masturbating in the male toilets to homoerotic images some budding gay porn artist had executed on the doors of several cubicles, he realized he would have to confront his homosexuality before it confronted him. (Grand Central Station.)

Admitting his sexuality in Ireland wasn’t a possibility. He was so frozen, so welded over with fear, that for Paul to come out would have been... Well, he just couldn’t imagine what they would do to him. His youth had been haunted with images of the town parading up to his front door, dragging him from his bedroom--as his parents watched in shame and horror--and parading him down the main street while his friends and neighbors jeered from the sidelines. His genitalia would then be chopped off in a public execution and he’d spend his life as a sexless cripple, forever disfigured for his crime. While this wouldn’t have happened--though at the same time his town wasn’t completely safe for queers--Paul had been unable to see through the ball of fear that had rolled up inside him. (Fifty-first Street Station.)

He knew his career would be in business, imagining himself as a Media Executive or running a fashion label or leading advertising campaigns. He was open to pretty much anything besides, ‘Hello Mrs. Bernstein. How is your ball of fluff you call a dog? And I’m not allowed ask you how you are, because that would be too personal coming from a servant. And you really think I’m a piece if shit, don’t you? The funny thing is I probably have as much money as you, except you’ve been living here for forty years and your rent is less than mine. And I’m so fucking bored, I’m going to explode!’ He’d been there too long. (Fifty-ninth Street Station.)

Of course, like all men Paul was responsible for his own fate. What was the use of him getting angry? Nobody cared. If he didn’t want to do the job anymore, he would just be replaced as if he was never there. But where was he to go? This was the scary part. Something was keeping his hand on the door handle. (Sixty-eighth Street Station.)

*

The buildings rose before him like spirals of achieved dreams. He liked to stroll up the remaining few blocks, admiring the wildlife of the Upper East Side. It was obvious that in this part of town wealth was the fashion, one being instantly recognizable as someone who lived in the buildings or who serviced the rich in them. And if social inequality was highlighted, racial inequality was also prone to rear its ugly head. He had often observed black nannies pushing Aryan children in prams, but there were no black people living in his building. African Americans who were successful lived further up Central Park on the Westside, and, of course, were greatly outnumbered by their white counterparts. Paul had never thought of himself as part of this underclass, but since his coming out he was beginning to feel a solidarity with his disaffected ‘brothers and sisters’. If blacks were discriminated against, gays were somewhere further down the scale. To say one was gay was to encounter a begrudging acceptance--if that--from the world.

His parents had ‘hit the roof’ on hearing their first born, their first contribution to the continuation of mankind, their great hope for the future, was a poof. His mother, a staunch catholic, took to bed and couldn’t get out for a week. His father took the trouble of writing him a stern letter, warning of the dangers of AIDS and of growing old ALONE. Paul later learned his dad was about to fly out and bring ‘his son’ home, the inference being that someone had ‘got to him’ in New York. Fortunately he thought better of it, but still never quite accepted the truth, believing Paul’s sexuality some kind of cosmic error, a possible miscalculation of the Gods, or a freak of nature occurrence in which his sperm had been infected with this toxic substance--something beyond his responsibility.

Paul, deeply hurt by their response, refused to answer his phone for two weeks. Though harsh on his parents this let them know that if they didn’t change their tune, they wouldn’t be talking to their son at all. Then there was the inevitable tearful phone call with his mother.

‘I love you, son.’

‘I love you, too.’

‘We can work it out.’

‘There’s nothing to work out.’

‘Maybe you’ll keep an open mind?’

‘What for? Nothing’s going to change.’

‘You never know what God has around the corner for you.’

‘I’ll make my own decisions about my future, thank you.’

In one fell swoop, Paul had gone from being the golden boy to the rotten egg. Where once his praises were sung around coffee morning tables in the neighborhood, now he was a change of subject. His existence had become the color of Moira’s new dining-room curtains, his dreams the fact that Helen was having a Tupperware party next week, his romantic prospects the bad spell of rain they were enduring. Paul was in New York where they, his parents, would prefer, if the truth were known, he would stay.

Their reaction was a revelation. They were far more interested in how his homosexuality was going to affect them! Not once did they empathize with him, or ask him how he was feeling, or as to when he knew. His New York experience was proving no different, their main preoccupation being the kind of job he was doing or aspiring to do. They never mentioned rents or living expenses, or how the hell he was managing to survive in a foreign city on his own, so far away from home. He concluded that they’d always been like this. First it was Paul of ‘four grade A’s’, then ‘Captain of the school soccer team’, and now the ‘Marketing Executive’.

Achievement? Yes, he wanted it. But it had cost him. It was all he was to them.

*

The locker room was littered with pictures of naked girls.

Paul’s eyes were drawn to two co-workers who were already changing into their uniforms. He dared not look for a moment longer than he should, just long enough to store their naked torsos in his memory, to be revisited in later private moments. He’d always been a spy around men. He’d grown up in their company, fought with them, played, smoked, studied, showered, always so achingly close, but so far. This was no place to indulge his fantasies. One false move could blow his cover and then he would have to leave. These colleagues weren’t any more enlightened than the baying mob Paul had left behind in Ireland. His main gripe was how they viewed gays as freaks, somehow weird, different. It was almost as if he was an alien species with two heads, three eyes, webbed feet and a tail swinging behind him.

As a rule, people didn’t bother him much. He didn’t give them reason to. He was ‘quiet’ Paul, a ‘nice guy’, ‘harmless’. It was a role he had slipped into early: ‘If I’m super-nice, others won’t have reason to attack me, probe, expose.’ His silence however was becoming more difficult to maintain. He’d grown up in a straight environment, but since his move to Greenwich Village he was experiencing another mode of living. He couldn’t justify his Jekyll and Hyde existence anymore.

He fixed his hat and straightened his bow tie in the mirror. A Hispanic co-worker noticed him admiring himself and insinuated that Paul would like it up the culo, as he had done on a number of occasions previously in a half-jocular, half-offering manner. He had even gone so far as to pinch Paul’s behind. Paul laughed it off, secretly desperate for the experience. This would have been okay if he wasn’t gay. They could shag their lives away and no one would care. But to be gay, to stand up against the world and admit it, left one open to all sorts of bigotry. No, he wasn’t one of the boys, he was different. Paul Kelly was a fag, queer, homosexual; and somehow to purify his existence nullified such seedy advances.

An Irish co-worker joined them and it seemed as if the Archbishop had entered to put an end to their sinful behavior. Paul didn’t like this guy. He was part of the ‘more Irish than Irish’ brigade. They wore their green as a sort of battle cry, wrapping it around themselves in a protest against their exile. Paul entered into a conversation about some Irish band that was due over. They had discovered they shared a common interest in music--it was the only common ground they could find--even if Paul thought his own tastes more refined. He thought of the Morrissey line about ‘Giving people valuable time, he’d much rather kick in the eye’. His survival, he knew, depended on keeping beasts like this contented. He’d been forced to live in the lions’ cage and he had to make friends or be mauled to death.

He made his way up to his sentry position. Where once he’d gotten some satisfaction from doing the job well, it was now merely perfunctory. The morning proceeded. Tenants bustled in and out. Paul helped them with their shopping, chit-chatted about their dogs, gave them notice of any deliveries made in their absence. From his vintage point he could envy the rich kids, commiserate with the lonely, scorn the arrogant, life’s rich pageant passing before him.

Chapter Two:

On re-entering his apartment building, Paul encountered his neighbor June.

‘Oh Paul, glad to bump into you. I just left a note under your door. I can’t talk now. Will you be in later?’

‘I’m not sure. I don’t think so.’

‘How about tomorrow?’

‘Tomorrow’s fine. I’m not working until three. Do you want to do lunch?’

‘Can’t, I’m afraid. How ‘bout I pop over round eleven.’

‘Fine, but is everything...’

‘Oh yeah, I just have a favor to ask. Listen, I have to rush. See you tomorrow. Bye.’

‘Bye.’

But June didn’t hear. She had already bounced out the door, leaving a rose scent in her wake.

Paul envied her, dolled up to the nines, heading to some record launch or concert. The fact she worked for a major record label meant her diary was jam-packed with exciting engagements. She seemed so full of that American ‘positivity’. He didn’t buy the whole, ‘don’t be a real human being, be always an up person’ mentality that was in constant circulation; but, whether real or feigned, he had to admit her enthusiasm stood in stark contrast to his hobbling up the stairs after another shift in doorman hell.

The Americans could talk, he concluded, mainly about themselves - but there was something in that. Irish people didn’t speak up for themselves, list off their accomplishments. In America it wasn’t enough to say that he did marketing in college (which to an Irish employer would mean that he wanted to do marketing); he had to convince people he was born for it, ever since he organized the playbills for his junior infants play, he knew he was were destined for it. People were more interested in who he was, rather than in his grades and accomplishments. It was all about ‘personality’.

His apartment was the jewel in his existence. In six months he had repainted and furnished the studio from zero. From his Christmas tips he’d purchased a state-of-the-art sound system, an all in one TV/VCR, and the latest Macintosh computer which he prominently displayed in a makeshift office space between his kitchen and living-room. It pained him to admit that, while the job was a thorn in his side, it had also allowed him to set himself up quite comfortably. No sooner had he removed his jacket than his he checked his answering machine:

‘Hi Paul. I know you’re at work but I wanted to let you know that I’m still on for meeting up later. This rehearsal is going on forever but I’ll be finished by seven, so I’ll have time to go home and change. So ten would be good for me. Call me if there’s any change. Ciao.’

Paul settled into the sofa, his evening secure. He was thrilled for his friend William, who’d just gotten his first break designing the costumes for a revue in the West Village. Paul had been in college with William’s brother, who wrote to Paul asking if he’d meet up with William when he arrived. He’d signed off with: ‘Oh, and he’s a bit of a poof, I should warn you.’ Paul, who was getting more adventurous at that stage, wrote back saying he’d be only too delighted to meet up.

The first meeting was a little awkward, both wanting to like each other but unable to break some immovable barrier between them. On the subsequent meeting, Paul came out to William and they then spent the rest of the night complaining about the treatment they’d received in Ireland as queers. From then on, they were like sisters.

William was camp. He was overtly homosexual in that he spoke in a high-pitched timbre, used his hands as tentacles, and was given to sudden outbursts of joy normally associated with dizzy blondes. If Paul thought he himself had suffered, it was more in the vein of private torment; William had faced the world head on. He didn’t have a choice. The moment he opened his mouth, even to speak quietly, he gave himself away.

Though being so open had its advantages. He’d been out on the gay scene in Dublin and as soon as he hit New York headed for gay Chelsea. Landing a job in a gay fashion boutique, he spent his spare time assembling his portfolio. When one of his gay colleagues in work recommended him for this job in a gay-themed revue, he was interviewed by a gay producer and subsequently passed with flying colors.

Paul looked into his imaginary mirror again, examining his reflection for any signs of queeniness, something to signify that he too had a passport to this exclusive homosexual club whose members helped and promoted each other’s interests. Sadly, he could only conclude that he wasn’t gay enough, that, indeed, he found the reliance on an exclusive gay identity slightly distasteful.

*

Walking down Ave A, Paul felt like he was in a Mardi Gras. In succession he passed a highly decorated Mexican restaurant, a grunge live music venue, a fifties style bar/club and a retro fashion boutique. The streets themselves were alive with rock chicks, mid-westerners, Euro trash, queens and beggars. He didn’t have to travel more than five blocks in any direction to see what humanity as a race had to offer. Every ‘freak’ from small-town America, indeed the world, found a welcome here. This was Bohemia after all, a place where rules were something others adhered to; people were free to do or try or be anything.

Paul fitted uneasily into the landscape. He was there by virtue of his renegade sexuality, not any liberal philosophies. Indeed, he wondered at the excess of it all: bars didn’t close, drugs sold openly on street corners, sex shops littering the landscape. He was, of course, riddled with catholic guilt, so he was either going to do nothing or be unhappy in vice. He was yet to learn that most prostitutes are more honorable than most bishops.

He passed one of the new ‘cool’ Irish bars that had recently opened. He didn’t dare look inside. He may see faces from his hometown or from college, people who he didn’t want to know anymore, people associated with the old Paul. How could he stand in front of them now: Paul Kelly, a man who makes love to other men; a man who likes to get on his knees and take another man’s cock in his mouth; a man who likes to bend over and let another man fuck him up his ass; a man who likes the reverse. All those girls would know that he fancied their boyfriends, that he would lie down and throw his legs over his head and let their boyfriends screw him, like they did them. Everyone would know.

The bar he and William liked to frequent lay off the beaten track on a tree-lined residential block. It had an air of mystery with its painted black entrance and its windows that were decorated with multicolored crystal beads; one might have thought it was a herbalist’s shop, or a tattoo parlor, or a fortune-teller’s salon. It wasn’t clear if the veil of secrecy was an embarrassment of sorts, as if to appease its neighbors who might be agitated by living next to a gay bar; or, as Paul liked to imagine, it was more in the vein of retaining an air of exclusivity: if you didn’t know what it was, you had no right in passing through the entrance.

As soon as it came into view, he, as usual, was overcome with a tingling sensation knowing that the promise of finding love, Mr. Right, possibly lay behind that secretive entrance. It had the ability to transform his mundane existence as if falling down a rabbit hole, or revealing a world behind a wardrobe, or waking up in a field of poppies. It also had the advantage of offering insulation against the bruises and bites of the world outside. The constant prejudice one was always inevitably reacting against would disappear like a layer of wax dripping off the face of dummy in a museum to reveal something lifelike beneath.

Inside, only half the seats were taken. There was a DVD of a Bette Midler concert in full swing at the one end of the bar. He was still getting used to the idea that he could enjoy a Bette Midler concert. To say one liked Bette or Barbara or Diana where he grew up was, for a boy, unheard of. He would have been laughed or beaten out of the classroom if such a passion surfaced. But he loved divas, especially the dance floor variety: Martha Wash, Barbara Tucker and India were some of his favorites. It was a new world opening up for him, like the opening of a Las Vegas showgirl’s headdress, all the jewels sparkling in fabulousness.

He approached the bar and ordered a beer. William wouldn’t arrive until ten, but Paul liked to head down a little earlier on the off-chance his illusive Romeo would be waiting for him. He and William didn’t generally chase men when they were together; they were usually having too good a time. Taking his drink in a masochistic manner from the over worked-out, check-shirted barman of the ‘bear’ subgroup variety, he retreated to a little table with a candle on it, anticipating some great happening or other.

Two Latino queens were having a heated debate about hairstyles at the next table. To Paul they were boring and so vicious besides; they could slay anyone with a look or remark. But they had great bodies. He imagined them naked, one or the other standing by a moonlit window in his apartment, his white hand imprinting their tanned torso. Unfortunately he’d nothing in common with either one.

At the bar two older guys were deep in a conversation, neither was listening to. These same two, on a previous occasion, had tried to pick Paul up. Paul couldn’t decide which one to choose, at which point it was suggested they could all have some ‘fun’. Paul refused, for fear of being sent to hell for even thinking of such a thing--though he had thought a lot about it since. It never excited him before, but somehow ‘live’ it sparked his interest. He wondered if they approached tonight, would he? Would he have the nerve? He didn’t look over. If it came up he’d think about it then. He wasn’t going to go looking for it.

Another guy, who gave the impression of being well brought up, sat on his own opposite. He was out of Paul’s league - not that Paul’s family were poor, his father being an accountant - but Paul felt a phony beside him. He seemed so himself: snooty, conservative, self-satisfied. Paul figured he was probably a student in Columbia, probably used his sexuality as an extra excuse to look down on the world. His life had been all ease, not because it was any easier than Paul’s, but because he had avoided being wounded. He sailed above the abuse, placed himself higher in his tower to avoid the attacks, imperiously looking down on the wounded and attackers alike. And there he remains, watching a screen with Bette Midler pouring out her guts for him, compelling him to listen to the words; and he says to himself, ‘She’s a little vulgar.’

Paul decided not to go over and speak with him. He wasn’t in the mood to make the usual effort that was required when conversing with Americans: they were always explaining and he was always understanding.

It must be close to ten.

Chapter 3:

A cold breeze blowing in through Paul’s kitchen window swirled round the apartment, cleaning the dusty cracks with its freshness. He added a little air freshener to it, just enough to kill the scent of boy that lingered in the living room from its bedroom incarnation. He checked the kitchen for provisions. ‘Coffee? Yes. Milk? Yes. Sugar? Yes.’ He shut the window before it got too chilly. It was nice to stay tucked in his warm bed on the days when he worked the evening shift; indeed, he’d probably still be in bed, but for once, on the previous evening, he’d left William to face the witching hour alone.

William had arrived, tired, but in great spirits. Everything was a disaster with the production, but this only drew out the best in him. The more difficult it became, the more he was enjoying he challenge. He seriously doubted if the costume end would come together, knowing full well that it would, and if he had to stay up all night till his hands bled from sewing, those costumes would be a success.

William expected Paul to attend the opening night and gave him a printed invitation. It read:

                    ‘Paul Kelly and guest are invited to the opening night of

‘B’WAY FOIBLES’ At the West Ave Theatre. Produced by; Musical Direction by; Costume Design by William Keogh.

Paul could hardly believe his eyes: his friend up there with the big boys! He took the first opportunity to excuse himself to the bathroom, and cried.

It was an emotional night. He planned to get drunk and forget, but drink only heightened his sensitivities. He wanted to embrace William, tell him how happy he was for him. He wanted to tell him something about himself, about how lost he was, about how confused he was about everything really. But William was on a bender, and got drunker and drunker, and louder and louder, until Paul couldn’t hear him at all. It appeared that, as close as they were, when it came down to it, Paul couldn’t let William into his secret, private part of himself. He felt if he let him in, he might never get him out. He decided it was best to go. It was the kind of scene that could have led to a fight of some sort and he didn’t want to burst William’s bubble. It would have appeared as very sour grapes.

Yes, his apartment was shining. ‘If only his life was like this!’ he thought: steady, fixed, in place. It made him smile to think what an exception to the rule he was if the state of someone’s house is supposed to reflect their state of mind.

His humor had become somewhat perverse. He had failed so spectacularly in achieving his dreams that he couldn’t help contrasting his failures with his expectations. At sixteen, he thought he would be a millionaire at the latest by the time he reached twenty-one. He had never given a moment’s thought to how he’d achieve this; he just knew it would happen. It was strange to think back to a time when he had such absolute belief. Now he wasn’t sure what he was capable of. But then... Back then...

The doorbell...

At eleven, precisely, June Horowitz made her presence felt to another human being. She had spent the morning in bed, a morning’s grace from her demanding schedule. She was due a day off and she either took it this week or she’d lose it altogether. Her little Irish neighbor, Paul, was a cutie–though queer as fuck, she knew that straight off. She could spot gays. Firstly, as she possessed diva-esque qualities, they generally liked her. And secondly, on more than one occasion, she’d spotted strange men entering or leaving Paul’s apartment--obviously one-night stands. After they had chatted a few times, she brought up the subject and asked him straight out: ‘Paul, are you a raving homosexual?’ Paul went the color of bloom and replied that he was. To which June responded that she knew, she just wanted to make sure.

Since then, whenever she was feeling a bit low, she’d call over and allow Paul to console her. To be fair, this hadn’t been very often, but in the last few months the visits had increased. Paul, like most gay men listening to a strong-willed woman, nodded and agreed unconditionally. They shared an understanding where the straight woman is saying, ‘I have to do what I have to do.’ And the gay man is saying, ‘I know you do. Keep doing it. Be fabulous. Put down your foot. Take charge. Do it with style, grace, panache. And don’t leave any survivors!’

June took some pleasure in the fact that Paul was stuck in a dead-end job. It was such a nice change from the crowd she worked with, who often acted like they were the pop stars and not the people they were representing. It was such a fake existence really, all the hoop-la that surrounded the industry - the endless bullshit! To June, Paul was working in the real world. The fact he was a no one lent him a certain charm, like a child failing at some adult game but providing entertainment.

Her own rise to the rank of PA to the Director of Publicity for XZT Records involved her mother ringing the Director’s mother and asking if her Director daughter could get June a job in New York. The Director, who had known June since she was six, subsequently took her on as her PA. June’s plucky confidence (which comes from being the only child of a rich Jewish doctor) and her love of dressing fabulously on occasion, made her a perfect candidate for the role. Though really only a glorified secretary, it wasn’t what she was doing that would benefit her long term, but the people she was meeting.

Paul jumped up and slyly flicked on his computer. He didn’t want to make it look like he was waiting for her.

‘Hi June.’

‘Hi Paul. I’m not interrupting you am I?’ she said, noticing the lit screen.

‘Not at all. I’m just doodling around.’

June, who hadn’t paid a moment’s notice to his computer in the past, now took an interest, now that she wanted something.

‘Nice model.’

‘Thanks.’

‘I’m thinking of changing mine. I must get your advice on what I should buy. I normally just go by the color scheme.’

Her eyes fell on Paul’s marketing qualification that was framed on the wall behind.

‘Oh is this your...’ She wanted to say degree, but she knew it wasn’t a degree.

Paul helped: ‘Certificate.’

‘Yes... are you going to make use of it?’

‘Well, it’s only a year’s course, you know. It’s not a major qualification or anything.’

‘Don’t be so self-effacing, Paul. It’s still something. Can you type and use Windows?’

Paul had spent a year slogging to get up to fifty words a minute. His tutor insisted that the secretarial skills, the boys made fun of, would be one of the most important things they’d learn, that they’d get into a firm much quicker with them, indeed never be stuck for a job anywhere in the world. Paul, who believed like the others he was heading straight for the boardroom, scoffed at this, but persevered nonetheless.

‘Well, God, if you can type and that, you’d have no problem getting something in your field.’

June had shown enough interest in Paul’s life to prove she was concerned for his welfare, the way he should be for hers and do the favor she would ask. She made for the lounge area, as Paul switched on the kettle and began preparing the refreshments.

‘God, Paul, you have such a large collection of CDs. I must borrow some. I get loads in work of course, but they’re never the bands I like. It’s funny, I don’t think I like any of the bands on our label at the moment. I think I’d like to move into A&R, so I’d have some say in what acts we sign. As it is, we end up having to plug bands that, frankly, I could care less about. It would make my job so much easier if I did genuinely like them. At least then, I wouldn’t have to lie when I’m doing their PR!’

Paul loved this kind of talk. It gave him a window on a world he could only dream of. He sensed that June knew he envied her, but that didn’t stop her boasting and blowing her own trumpet; in fact, it encouraged her all the more. Her triumphant dances had an honest ring to them, though. She was saying that she had what he hadn’t, and that he could aim for what she’d got. She wasn’t going to tiptoe around him and try and make him feel great about his pitiful life. She was in and he wasn’t. And that was June: ballsy, honest, annoying, splendid.

To make things easier for her, Paul graciously brought up the proposed favor.

‘Oh yes,’ she said, downing the first mouthful of coffee, following it with a nibble. ‘Nice cookies.’

‘Thanks, they’re Irish.’

‘Oh, in that case, I’ll have another. You must tell me where I can get these. Ted would love them. You know what a sweet tooth he has.’

Paul had met June’s drummer boyfriend once, a little while after he moved in, but he then took off on a three month tour and Paul hadn’t seen him since.

‘He’s due back soon, isn’t he?’

‘He arrived yesterday.’

‘Oh...’

Paul always found it awkward to talk about Ted because he was such a drop dead gorgeous hunk. He wasn’t sure if June would sense the admiration, so he generally stayed silent on the subject and let June ramble.

She continued: ‘Yes, he’s back, but he’s really busy rehearsing for this New York Music Awards gig that’s coming up in The Beacon--loads of stars and all the rest. Maybe you’d like a ticket? I’ll see what I can do.’ This morning he was getting one whether he wanted one or not--more sweetening him up.

June was getting a little desperate as Ted had already refused to do the favor she needed, citing his busy rehearsal schedule. This had led to another row that was still unresolved. Things had been a little rocky between them since the tour, the problem being Ted’s reluctance to call her from the road. The first month away he called her once a week and she received a couple of postcards. Next month, she received a call every second week. Then she didn’t hear a peep for a whole month, only receiving a late night call the day before he was due home: ‘Hey babe, looking forward to seeing you tomorrow.’ Instead of lashing into him, she pictured his brutishly handsome face on her pillow and said nothing. She would sort it out with him when she met him face to face.

Paul was privy to all this as June had been letting out her frustrations for his benefit. Where men were concerned, Paul thought her a touch vulnerable. She put a brave face on everything, but she was a sensitive soul who was likely to bawl her eyes out if she didn’t receive that call. Even after a year together she was still unsure of her ground with Ted, constantly complaining as to how much Ted liked her, how close they actually were.

She was heading out of town for five days and wanted Paul to administer medicine once a day to her cat who was getting over an illness. She knew it would be a pain in the neck but didn’t have anyone else she could ask, one girlfriend also out of town and another on her sickbed. She had, of course, a wide circle of acquaintances in media industries, but to impose on any of these people over a private matter would be to break a professional code. She liked the lights and the thrills, but at times such as these, when she really needed some help, she was prone to think it a shallow, futile existence, a stick of cotton candy compared to a steak dinner.

Paul immediately accepted. He wouldn’t know how to refuse. June, delighted, instead of pitying Paul for once, saw something of genuine kindness in him. He wasn’t being a pushover, she thought; he was being helpful, friendly, decent. Even if it was a damn nuisance, even if she should have had someone else to ask, someone closer who she could legitimately impose upon, she was in trouble and he didn’t like seeing her so. He didn’t make her feel bad either. It was ‘No problem’ and ‘Don’t worry about it’ and ‘Leave it to me.’ A weight was suddenly lifted from her shoulders.

Paul went over to her apartment and received his instructions. He held in his laughter until he was safely back in his own--all that for a cat! It didn’t escape his attention that she was heading to Chicago for a music convention and he was left minding her cat. It was obvious she had what he most importantly lacked: connections. He was going to have to open up and meet people. He seemed to be hiding behind William, behind drink, behind fear. He would have to put himself forward, strike out on his own. ‘Pro-active’, they called it. And still he felt unprepared, like a singer miming incorrectly to his own voice. He didn’t know where this doubt originated, but suddenly insidious words surfaced from the vaults of memory: ‘faggot’, ‘queer’, ‘fairy boy’. Paul Kelly wasn’t fit to be seen with, to be heard, to be alive!

He fell to the sofa, his mind spiraling down into a tunnel of darkness. He tried to focus on some clear instance, a fact or object that would return him to his equilibrium but he just descended even further into the mental abyss. When he finally came to and surveyed his spotless room, nothing seemed to together. The computer looked absurd among the kitchen appliances, the tea cups sat like foreign galleons in the sea of CDs and books, the windows were bright with light but none seemed to enter through them. It was as if a stranger had come in and put each piece of furniture in place.

Chapter 4:

A drag queen was being cajoled back on stage when Paul joined the performance. She graciously acknowledged her audience, then, abruptly, turned her back on them. Strings, as if signifying the death of a bull in a Spanish bullring, cried from the sound system, as she slowly revolved back to her audience, transformed - she had become the bull.

The first verse was controlled, steady, dispassionate, followed by an explanatory, conversational chorus. But then, just as the audience was finding its feet emotionally in the piece, a giant tear, unexpectedly, trickled down her left cheek. The audience was immediately hushed into silence and she launched into the second verse, which was a rockier, more volatile, cliff-edged affair.

Towards the end of the second chorus, the audience sensed she was approaching a tectonic shift in her emotions and spontaneously began cheering. It was all they could do to try to offset her decent into the depths of a broken heart. From that point on, a tragic climax seemed a forgone conclusion. But just before the final chorus, she pulled herself together, preferring resignation rather than some tragic downfall. This was harder for the audience to handle, in that if she had kept up her tearful rendition she at least could be pitied; but by humanising the tragedy in some 'life must go on' strategy, it brought home what was for most people, at some point, a cold reality.

In a final twist, however, she pulled away from that too, realising that she couldn’t possibly continue without the love of her life no matter how she might try to. Like a swan, a butterfly, some symbol of metamorphosis, she had risen up, and then, just before the transformation, she had died right in front of their eyes. There was an appropriate silence - the same silence that follows a coffin to a graveyard - as she took her bow. Then a few audience members began a slow handclap, and, as other joined in, it got louder and louder, until the audience was cheering again, cathartically showing their appreciation and relief. But there was no encore. She was gone, done.

The entertainment over, the crowd dispersed. Paul moved into the adjoining bar and ordered a drink. It had been a long day: first the spring-cleaning, then June and her cat, then the blurry hours of early afternoon, then work. He couldn't face just going home and going to bed, reasoning there had to be more to his life. He thought about calling William to accompany him, but decided he was on a solo mission. He'd say if he was found out, or if he saw William at the club, that he just decided to go out on the spur of the moment and figured it was too late to call him. But why, he wondered, did he feel like he had to make an excuse at all? Maybe he just didn't feel like seeing him.

The East Village hang-out was one of those smaller trendy clubs that attracted a bevy of politically left-leaning beautiful boys, who looked like they’d just stepped out of the pages of Italian Vogue. They tended to follow the glamour of the drag queens ‘round Manhattan, like dolphins pursuing a shoal of silver fish. It was a scene that also enchanted Paul. In fact he was still coming to terms with the fact it existed it all. It was akin to some kind of fairy tale landscape populated by magical, mystical creatures, not men, not women, but occupying their own universe: the drag queen world where lipstick was the currency and fake boobs the government and wigs the aristocracy.

He imagined William would be very at home in this crowd, and yet, when he thought about it, William didn't belong. His idea of success was actual success; these night owls, club kids, hangers on, call them what you like, were bound for something else. They were all desperately trying to seem important, dressing themselves in influence and affluence, yet had neither. Most probably worked in retail outlets and restaurants and railway stations, all doing inconspicuous jobs, and then, at a certain hour, a bell would toll and they'd come from all their little workplaces and congregate in one spot where they might have their picture taken.

He took up a position on the edge of the dance floor. This was a safe place to stand as he wouldn’t look too conspicuously alone in the surrounding crowd. It also gave the impression that he was on the verge of something. He might rush onto the dance floor and sweep some young gentleman off his feet. He may just be grabbed himself and swung into action. He at least was in position should an opportunity arise.

He spied a cutie sipping a cocktail on the opposite side of the dance area and tried to catch his eye, but in vain. He contemplated making an approach; but in other ways it offended his sensibilities, being too direct without some kind of encouragement from the object of his affections. He wasn’t even sure how he normally met guys. It just seem to happen of its own volition, beginning with a smile and ending with a hand to a crotch. He was too late now anyway, the cutie had turned his attentions to a rather attractive blond sitting to his left and asked for a light. The blond supplied, and to the fire added a little light-hearted conversation. Paul decided it was time for another drink.

A group of queens nestled round the vortex of the bar caught his attention. He listened to them bitching, hardly a decent bone in their bodies. Paul just wanted to run up to them and tell them they were idiots, that they were WRONG, that their warped perceptions of the world counted for nothing. He couldn’t understand how they could be so shallow, so narrow-minded, so insecure that they have to set themselves up on some sort of superior platform and take unwarranted strikes at their fellow man. But then again, they were so goddamn happy believing their own bullshit that he envied them. They didn't question themselves; they believed in what they were saying. How, he asked himself, could they be so honest in their dishonesty? He wanted to lie, be untruthful...

But mostly, he wanted answers. This shouldn't have happened him, this… whatever it was… that was bothering him, that was hampering his dreams and ambitions. He needed someone to acknowledge this suffering, to offer an apology for it. Those words would sound so beautiful. He imagined them delivered in a honey-coated voice: ‘Sorry, we didn't understand. We didn't realise the damage we were inflicting back then, what it would lead to. We were ignorant, stupid, thoughtless. Please forgive us. We love you. We love you, now that we know, that we realise, that we understand our wrongdoing. No one's going to hurt you anymore. Can you ever forgive us? Can you?’

No, he couldn't. It was too late and too difficult. They had made his life too painful for him, made him hate himself, made him want to be someone else, anyone other than Paul Kelly. And anyway, he thought, what was the use of fantasising? They weren’t sorry. They continued to abuse and ostracise him. They had abandoned him, kicked him when he was down. His priority now was in healing himself, in getting on with his life. He would have to find his own sunrise, the belief that the sky could change colour, that scorching, burning red could become a gentle, morning blue. And that wouldn't happen until they acknowledged their wrongdoing. Until then he’d be screaming, crying on a wasteland, the cry of wolves everlasting.

Drink in hand, he followed the music back to the dance floor. Only his third, but already his senses were numbing a little as reality became vaguer, more uncertain, easier to cope with. The dry ice cleared and revealed one new addition to the original line-up, who’d somehow availed of the smoke to make an unchoreographed entrance. Paul glanced over and noticed his lack of rhythm, but also his muscled torso and settled lower half. Without missing a beat, sensing the admiration like an invisible sensory light piercing him, the bad dancer glanced back. Paul abruptly looked away, fearful he’d hit the target and what that meant, and also not wanting to appear too desperate.

For a brief moment Paul considered going home. Maybe, he conceded, it was enough to say that he had tried tonight. He had gone out, had stood against a wall, had wanted something to happen, some experience that could enrich his life, that could bring him on to a new level, that could revitalise him, give him an enthusiasm for living, and, as usual, he had come away empty handed. It was already past two. Those whose lives had focus were well on their way to their beds, and maybe, he thought, he should join them for once.

The bad dancer was still looking over.

Like an unrehearsed actor, Paul moved on to the floor. He'd been preparing for this role in his mind, maybe all his life. He didn't have the experience or the skill to bring off a show stopping performance. But he did appreciate the writer's lines, knew them by heart, knew how to intone them. He just wasn't sure where to stand, what his relation was to the other actors in the piece, when the lighting cues were coming in. The authenticity of the text propelled him forward, the raw belief. And crucially, if he didn't show up the production wasn't going to take place, and he'd be relegated to the wings.

The bad dancer spoke first, ‘Can I buy you a drink?’

The unrehearsed actor replied, ‘Sure.’

‘Frank.’

‘Oh, Paul.’

‘I noticed you earlier.’

‘You did?’

‘Yeah, you're very handsome.’

Paul liked the word ‘handsome.’

‘What are you drinking?’

‘Oh, vodka and orange juice, thanks.’

‘You're Irish, right?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Thought I recognised the accent. I'd like to go there sometime.’

‘It's worth a visit.’ Paul tried to sound enthusiastic.

‘Is that why you came to the States?’

‘Is it that obvious?’

‘Well, just a little.’

No explanation was forthcoming. It wasn't the time to drag up sob stories. They were young, the lights were flashing, the chitchat around them added to the energy of their own, the newness of each other's presence opened up windows of possibility.

Frank caught the moment: 'So why aren't you at home in bed?

‘Why aren't you!’

Frank Devin liked this, the politics, the lively banter. He didn't really like getting involved, too close, serious. It was better to pretend it was just a game, something to pass a few hours, something he could lock safely up in the cupboard when it no longer satisfied him. Yet he was born with the yearning of all men for a partner, a soul mate. It was a tricky balance to maintain, the being with and the not being with, as if a shadow had crossed his life stretching him between light and darkness, yet neither sufficed.

‘Ah what?’

‘A doorman.’

‘You're joking.’

‘I'm not... What about you?’

‘I'm a photographer.’

Paul's instincts were awakened by this new encounter, forcing him to play on his wit, intellect, nervous energy. It was a nice feeling for him to feel he might be the object of someone's desires, alluring. He was a romantic at heart. He needed to feel that sense of eternal love, needed it more than anything else, that someone had been waiting for him all his life, and now he'd arrived. He wanted that special once in a lifetime, death do us part, variety; his senses all gravitated towards this end. Could this young man be his Heathcliff, his Mr. Darcy, his knight in shining armour? It was forever or not at all.

Another drink and they were conversing like old friends. They'd nothing really in common which spurred them on to discuss anything at all, the club, the music, different alcohols, movies, TV, rents, apartments, eating out, eating in. It took them out of themselves in a way, and if they could discuss the mundane, they'd never be stuck for conversation.

Frank popped the question. It was hardly a surprise considering how touchy feely he was being; and certainly Paul was no innocent, moving his body into a receptive position on the barstool. They both knew what they wanted, it was just a matter of choosing the right moment to capture the moment so to speak. When a break in conversation occurred, and the bar seemed to go silent for a moment, Frank leaned forward and whispered in his ear, 'I'd really like to spend the night with you?'

There was something non-committal in the question, something that said, 'We're really enjoying ourselves. I don't know if you're right for me. I don't know if there is a future for us. I don't know what the future holds. But I'm lonely and horny and I need a body to hold. I need someone tonight and it's you, and if that's all it is, well so be it.’ It was a perfect Manhattan transaction, the glory of an instant fix: McDonald's, a B'way musical, The Knicks.

Even though Paul lived a few blocks from the club, they decided to take a cab due to the lateness of the hour. As Paul gazed out the window at the other late night stragglers - a couple embraced against the cold, a homeless vet soliciting loose change, a group of young friends in high spirits - he wondered was he a slut? And did it matter a fuck? Who was judging him anyway? The world was a formless, incomprehensible jamboree, a plethora of injustice and irrationality, a mindless, uncompromising jungle. Who would choose a world like this? He decided he was no worse than the person he was with.

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