This is the fourth story in a sort of series using the same main characters. Each story though is complete in itself.
Peter and I were happy together in spite of my often stupid behaviour. Sometimes I was jealous, at others I looked at other guys, though I'd never actually played false and never intended to do so.
And then the in-laws arrived and most things went pear-shaped. Mr and Mrs Curtis didn't like me. To put it bluntly they hated my guts, and every other part of my body as well. They thought, and weren't shy of stating, that it was my fault that their son had turned out to be a raving poofter. If he hadn't met me, they said on more than one occasion, he would have been a straight, normal young man who would have married a nice girl from Chipping Sodbury and produced a grandson and granddaughter which would have pleased them absolutely.
Instead I had somehow seduced their lovely, curly black haired son and heir, introduced him into the most sordid, disgusting practices and ruined his life. They hadn't despaired though of wrenching him from my clutches and putting him back on the straight and narrow.
If the truth be known, of course, Peter had been offering his delicious little butt around Cheltenham and environs long before I knew him. If I had had any influence on him it was to persuade him that being an out and out bottom wasn't necessarily the only thing and now we shared positions, discovered new ones and had a variety of sexual pleasures which would have shocked Mrs Curtis's blue hair white and lost Mr Curtis his own few remaining wispy strands.
Example of their attitude to me: Recent phone call. "Mrs Curtis speaking. Is Peter there?" "Hello, Mrs Curtis," I'd say. Immediate drop in temperature "Oh, Kevin, I'd like to speak to Peter." "You both OK?" I'd ask. "Perfectly. Please put Peter on." No questions concerning my health, whether I'd recovered from my nasty attack of shingles (I had but it's nice to be asked) just the demand to speak to her blue-eyed boy (he does have blue eyes as well as this dark curly hair). "I'll get him."
Afterwards I found out that the substance of the call was to tell him that the two of them had planned a week's trip up to London from what they called the 'West Country' though it was really the West Midlands, and hoped to see Peter on a more or less regular basis during that week. I knew that wouldn't have included me, though Peter tactfully didn't mention this.
I thanked that whatever deity there might exist had organised our lives so that Peter and I were comparatively impoverished and the tiny flat we shared wouldn't allow any question of their staying with us. We did of course have jobs, I as a library assistant, Peter as owner of small art gallery but, in spite of a recent discovery of a talented artist and the commission that followed, neither of us could be considered well-off.
I had prepared myself for a week without Peter's constant presence and in fact two days of it had passed when Ross phoned. As I've said before Ross is my all-wise, all-knowing, all-seeing friend who probably works for all the spy agencies in the world well, that's no doubt an exaggeration, but what he doesn't know, or can't find out, is surely not worth knowing.
"I hear you're a grass widow for the week," he said.
I suppressed my immediate 'How on earth did you know' as I knew it would be pointless to ask. Instead I merely said, "Yes."
"Got a little investigation you might be interested in," he said. "In your spare time of course." Spare time I had, Thursday and Saturday afternoons the Library was closed and, although we had a late night on Monday, I was usually free after three o'clock the other days. Normally I would spend the time with Peter of course, but if he was doing the 'in-laws' thing, I'd do something else. Such petty things my life is often concerned with.
"OK," I said.
"To do with Split."
Now those of you who have kept up to date with these chronicles will know that Split was the talented artist referred to above. He'd been on the streets more or less when we 'discovered' him and Peter had promoted his work in his gallery and now Split was a raging success in the art world. No one who was anyone wouldn't have a 'Split' in his or her collection.
Though I wasn't over-enamoured with the guy we'd rather started off on the wrong foot I didn't wish him ill and I hoped he wasn't flooding the market with his paintings. I mentioned as such to Ross.
"I'm looking after his creative energy," he said.
"As well as his sexual energy?"
"That as well." Ross had found out that, despite his initial assessment that Split was rather passive in his sexual inclinations, he had actually turned out to be almost ferociously active, with enormous equipment, which was just what Ross liked.
"Are you two an item?" I asked.
"I don't have 'items', but yes we do see each other quite often."
"For recreational purposes?" I knew I was pushing my luck a bit here. Ross likes recounting his amatory adventures but he's not so keen on being interrogated about them.
"Exactly," he said.
"So, what's the problem?"
"I don't know but there's something wrong."
It was so unusual for Ross having to admit his ignorance on any matter that for a moment I was struck dumb.
He, however, continued. "Don't know what it is. Perhaps you could find out. Chat to him. See if he'll tell you."
"Not much chance of that. We got off on the wrong foot in fact. Added to that I suspected him of carrying on with Peter."
Ross dismissed that with a sound rather like "Pfui. You've got it all wrong. He rather fancies you you know."
I didn't know, and in this instance I didn't believe Ross. However I was happy to have a word with Split. Indeed I rather wondered what had happened to him and how his fortunes had changed since he had become such a celebrity in the art world.
Apparently he had bought a flat in Highgate, certainly an enormous step-up from the squat in Camden Town which was where we'd originally met him.
"Why can't you do it?." I asked.
"Busy, busy, busy." And that was that. Ross was in his own mysterious world.
I wanted to talk the whole thing over with Peter but he was out with 'Mummy' and 'Father' probably visiting some girlie entertainment scene followed by a night club with lap dancers to such lengths would they go. I knew I'd get a chorus of complaints from him tonight but until then perhaps a visit to Split, if he were available, would be interesting, to say the least. I phoned and found him in and apparently would be pleased to see me.
Sean Paul Litterick (hence his street name 'Split') had reverted to his real one for the mundane occupations of buying a flat, paying his taxes, organising his insurance etc. and did not therefore cut quite so romantic a figure as he had when an out of work graffiti vandal.
But seeing him again, after some weeks he looked just the same. Still wearing T-shirt and jeans, both of which he filled provocatively. His features were unremarkable until he smiled when he suddenly became attractive. I noticed again those comma-shaped dimples under his cheek bones.
He was smiling when he opened the door. He certainly had things to smile about talk about from rags to riches. Except in the matter of his choice of clothing all the evidence showed he was now a comparatively rich young man. The flat was in that part of Highgate between the old village and the Edwardian suburbs of Muswell Hill. It overlooked Queen's Wood one of those strangely tranquil patches of 'countryside' which so often intersperse the built up areas of London. In the morning sunshine, it looked particularly attractive and, comparing it with our own tiny flatlet in grimy Chalk Farm, for a moment I felt a twinge of envy.
"Kevin," he said. "Come in."
Split's flat was on the top floor of the three storey house and he bounded up the stairs in front of me leading the way. Nice arse, I thought (quite aesthetically, or course).
He showed me round. It was all a bit too minimalist for my taste but perhaps he just hadn't got round to buying more things. Certainly everything was clean and white, and the sofa and chairs in the sitting room (or whatever he called it) were of white leather, looked expensive though the sort of furniture that I imagined was easy to slip off onto the floor (wood and highly polished) with a couple of beige coloured mats to comfort cold bare feet. All this seemed to be merely background for three of his pictures which, as always comprised great swirls of bright colours with those amorphous, androgynous figures coupling/dancing together amongst the twists and spirals.
He sat himself down on the sofa. I debated with myself whether to sit next to him but finally decided to sit opposite in one of the armchairs. He hooked up his left leg onto the seat and I was therefore presented with a very obvious view of his crotch. I was reminded of how he'd done the very same thing the first time we'd met him and were having drinks in the Black Cap pub in Camden Town. Perhaps it was one of his natural positions and meant nothing but I was slightly embarrassed as the obvious thing to stare at was that well-filled groin the contents of which Ross had described so graphically.
I forced myself to fix my attention firmly in the face.
"No Peter?" he said, which was obvious but gave me an opportunity to converse.
"Peter is shepherding his parents around town where they are trying to persuade him that 'straight is great and gay ain't'." It did not come out quite as epigrammatically as I'd hoped, perhaps a rhyme would have helped but I couldn't think of one.
Anyway Split smiled and I again realised how beautiful that smile made him. I struggled to avoid glancing down at his groin and just about succeeded, beauty is in the crotch of the beholder.
"You don't get on well with your in-laws?"
"I try," I said, "but they're dead set against me or any other gays. Not like my own parents. They're most understanding and love Peter almost more than they like me." I babbled on wondering how on earth I was going to bring the subject round to what Ross said was bothering Split.
"I don't have that trouble. Mine live in South Africa and send me letters on my birthday and at Christmas if they can catch up with my latest address. All perfectly amicable." Well, that was one area of concern I could cross off my list. OK, I didn't have a list but you know what I mean.
There was a brief pause and then Split asked me if it were possible that the Curtis's could be successful in straightening out Peter.
I laughed. "No way. I'm not worried about that. Peter is a dyed in the wool queer. And I don't care who knows it. Especially as it's me he's being queer with."
"You're lucky," said Split, in a particular tone of voice that told me that he'd like my certainty.
There was a line here and I was about to step over it, but I couldn't think of any other way of getting to the Ross/Split problem if problem there indeed was.
"You're quite keen on Ross," I said, more of a statement than a question.
At first I thought he was angry. Certainly his expression changed to one of seriousness but then the smile returned. "We get on well together," he said. "But there's no romance."
That I could understand. Ross didn't do 'romance' and I suspected that Split didn't either. A spectacular release of juices was just what Ross always wanted and no commitment. Despite myself I couldn't stop myself giving a quick glance at Split's crotch which was still on display.
"You don't know what you're missing," I said weakly, as if to reassure myself of my own monogamy.
Split suddenly sprung up. "I'm forgetting my duties as host," he said. "I never used to have anything to offer and sometimes I forget. What do you want, coffee, tea, something stronger?"
"Coffee will do fine."
We went out to the kitchen which was furnished by the latest and most advanced appliances, a hob cooker, a microwave with what looked like a hundred and one separate function buttons, a super cafetiere into which he poured water and ground coffee. The smell of ground beans filled the air. No longer the cheapest instant, this was the real thing.
He was doing something quite complicated with coffee cups, plates and croissants when there was a ring on the downstairs doorbell.
"Shit," he said, balancing cups and saucers and the coffee pot.
"Shall I see who it is?" I asked helpfully.
"It'll be the postman." He continued with the refreshment preparation. "He'll leave the post."
Then the bell rang again.
"Are you sure . . ."
"I'll go," he said shortly. He sounded almost annoyed or perhaps worried. I wondered whether I'd upset him or if this was an example of the disquiet that Ross had noticed.
Split disappeared and I heard his steps running downstairs, then the front door opening. There was a brief interchange of conversation, something about signing for a registered letter and the door shut. The steps came up up again but this time there was no vivacity, no running.
The expression on his face too showed that something was worrying him. The smile had been totally erased. Frown lines creased the skin between his eyebrows. He held in his hands a few letters none of which, as far as I could see, had been opened, yet something had obviously happened.
In fact, apart from glancing into the kitchen, he went straight into the sitting room leaving me to find a tray, load the coffee and croissants onto it and take them myself. I found Split slouched on the sofa staring at one of the letters, still unopened. The others had been thrown onto the seat next to him seemingly of little interest.
Now was the time to don my metaphorical deerstalker and subtly probe. I put down the tray. "What's the matter?" I asked. "You look as if you've had your income tax demand."
OK, it wasn't subtle, or clever, or even ingenious. In fact having said it, I realised how crass I'd been. Not the way to probe secrets at all but perhaps because I had been so blunt, it seemed to do the trick. He held out the unopened envelope, addressed in upper case letters I noticed and registered so that there would be no chance of his not receiving it.
"What is it?" I asked. Though unopened, Split clearly knew what it contained.
"Open it," he said bleakly.
I'd brought a knife in with the tray and I slit open the envelope. There was a single sheet of paper inside. The same capital letters, or so it looked, as the address on the envelope. The message was clear and precise.
'YOU FUCKiNG QUEER. GiVE UP THESE ViLE PRACTiCES OR WE'LL OUT YOU TO ALL THE TABLOiDS iN THE COUNTRY. THEN SEE HOW SUCCESSFUL YOU ARE.'
It was of course unsigned. I read it through closely.
My first reaction was to laugh. The letter was obviously vituperative but badly expressed. I personally had never received anything like that but I told myself if I had I'd have thought 'go ahead see if I care'. Being gay is not considered such a dreadful iniquity these days. Famous people from all walks of life are publicly 'out' and, except in some professions, football for example, aren't damned. Clearly though Split was upset so I restrained my laughter and put on a sympathetic face.
"Nasty," I said. "But who cares these days?"
"It's not the first. I've been getting one every day all week."
"Even so. There's nothing wrong with being gay."
"It's not the sort of thing I want attached to me. I plan on a great career without the tag 'the gay painter' added in the tabloids whenever my name's mentioned."
I suppose I understood that to a certain extent, but I still tried to make my point. "There are artists like Maggi Hambling, David Hockney, Francis Bacon who are known for being gay. It hasn't harmed their reputations."
"Francis Bacon's dead," said Split. "Who could be sending them?"
Obviously that was a question I couldn't answer except in general terms. "Someone you've upset, someone you've dumped, someone who's envious of your success."
"And someone who knows I'm gay." He smiled a sort of half grin and drank some coffee.
Pleased, as I hadn't liked to start before him while he was soul-searching, I did the same and bit into a croissant. I was hungry not having had anything since breakfast bowl of corn flakes and a mug of tea.
"Would that be many people?" I asked.
"Not as 'Split'. I guess there were a few when I was 'Sean', but when I was on the streets, I kept myself to myself, if you know what I mean. Getting close to others can be dangerous."
"Ross, Peter, you. And you only knew because Ross told you."
"He wouldn't blab it around everywhere." Then I thought. Ross's favourite topics were amusing anecdotes of the conquests he'd made and how seemingly the most unlikely of guys would suddenly turn out to be gay (or at least amenable) and anxious to enter into Ross's ever-willing orifice. He didn't usually give names, probably couldn't even remember them they were mostly one-off encounters but perhaps the flavour of the month, golden-boy Split, might have been too much of a catch to hide.
I watched Split sitting on the sofa, head down, looking miserable. I felt sorry for him. I didn't exactly agree with his attitude but I accepted his right to keep his private life private, his sexual orientation hidden.
I sat down beside him, thinking rather inanely as I did so of the spider and Miss Muffett but he wasn't 'frightened away'. Instead he edged himself closer so that our thighs touched and I could feel the warmth of his body.
"Look," I said, "if you won't or can't ignore these stupid letters and just chuck them into the refuse which is where they properly belong, the next best thing is to find out who's sending them. Put the fear of retribution into him and voila, c'est fait."
I squirmed as I said that last bit as I suddenly remembered that Split had studied Baudelaire while at college and probably spoke French like a native, but he didn't comment. Instead he put his arm round my shoulders in what I assumed was a comradely gesture. I turned to face him and his lips met mine. Then he was kissing me with a fervour which was far from 'comradely'. I smelled his scent, a mixture of after shave and 'young man'. At the same time his free hand was in my lap feeling for, and finding my cock through the layers of clothing.
To say I didn't react would be a lie. I'm as ready as any other healthy gay man to get excited when an attractive guy sticks his tongue in my mouth, has his body pressed next to mine and holds my cock in his hand.
I did manage though to let common sense prevail. "This is making things more complicated," I said as well as I could when my mouth was full of tongue and more than anything I wanted that hand to go inside my trousers, and perform skin to skin.
So I stood up, trying to hide how aroused I was and made my way towards the door. "I'll be in touch," I said not realising until afterwards how suggestive that sounded. Despite some protests from Split and with the letter as evidence in my pocket I left leafy Highgate and made my way back to the less salubrious environs of Chalk Farm.
I tried to contact Ross but of course he wasn't in, so I sat and waited for Peter to come back from wherever he and the gruesome twosome had gone. He arrived home rather earlier than expected and, though he didn't say anything, I suspected he'd had a little tiff with his parents. He didn't want to talk about it though he was quite prepared to discuss the film they'd been to. It was 'Moulin Rouge'. Perhaps they thought that lines of chorus girls kicking their legs in the air and showing the crotches of their knickers would turn Peter on. As it was he was quite taken with Ewan McGregor so the afternoon wasn't a total loss. I wondered whether they'd get round to aversion therapy in due course and warned him against any suggestion of medical or psychological intervention.
"The only intervention I want is you," he said which was gratifying, and we retired to the bedroom, me being extremely glad that I'd resisted the temptation offered by Split earlier.
Afterwards, and feeling pleasantly satiated with both sex and food, I told Peter about my visit to Split (suitably edited I left out the bit about the pass), showed him the letter and we discussed possibilities. There were certainly people who would be envious of Split's meteoric success, possibly people he had upset during his time living as a homeless person there was no way of telling this as only he would know. The question really came down to who knew he was gay. Of course if he hadn't been and the letters were just a shot in the dark then it would have hardly have mattered and Split would have ignored them.
"He says only three people know he's gay," I said. "Me, you and Ross. I haven't told anyone. But I wondered whether Ross had happened to boast about his relationship. You know how he likes to tell stories about his conquests."
"But he never mentions names."
"Well, normally they wouldn't mean anything. They're usually just ordinary guys from the streets, builders, electricians, a waiter," I said remembering the latest ones. "The only thing significant about them is the size of their cocks."
"So shallow," said Peter.
We drank coffee and nibbled chocolate mints, a box of which Peter's parents had given him with strict instructions that I wasn't to get any. Well, at least that proved that they weren't poisoned.
"I suppose you haven't told anyone," I said.
"Of course not." Then he looked uncomfortable. I can always tell when something's worrying Peter, even if it's the tiniest thing. His mouth droops at the corner and I want to kiss him and make everything better. "Well, I might have told Mum and Dad. I chattered along about Split being this new find and how I'd sort of made him famous by showing his paintings. I don't think I said he was gay, but it's just possible I let it slip."
I knew Peter. When he's enthusiastic, the words just come tumbling out. Logorrhoea isn't in it. And he'd be hard put to recall exactly what he'd said afterwards.
"Oh well," I said, kissing him, "your parents, as antigay as they are, wouldn't descend to writing poison pen letters." Or would they. I added silently. "Anyway there would hardly be time. Split said the letters started only a couple of days ago."
"I might have mentioned it on the phone." I knew Peter's phone calls to his mother. They were long and usually one-sided (she to him) and I always went out and sat in the kitchen or on the loo while they were in progress.
"Don't worry," I said kissing the worry away. "It sounds very unlikely. Let's cheer ourselves up and do something really gay tonight."
"I thought we'd already done that," said Peter with mock innocence.
"Let's go up West to a club or something."
So we went to Brownies. Now for those who don't know it (you should of course) Brownies is in Old Compton Street, Soho, the gay centre of London. It's all lights and loud music and old friends together gossiping and the desperate search for new 'friends'. There's a cottage which is used for the more basic exchange of bodily fluids, and a dance floor for less obvious frottage, two bars one at each end which are always well patronised and lots of conversation. In effect the best and worst of the gay life. You choose which is which.
Peter and I liked it because it was companionable and, once we'd made it clear that we were a couple and didn't want to split up, people either accepted us quite happily or wandered off to make other arrangements.
We had two friends whom we often met there, Eddie and Brian. When we first met them I could never decide which was which. They were both beautifully dyed blond, both utter and complete sluts who would go off with anyone for a blow job in the bog and both acutely jealous of the other's successful catches. But I knew they cared for each other in an almost sisterly way and they always gave the impression of being overjoyed to see us.
So two high-pitched shrieks of welcome did not come as a complete surprise. We were soon immersed in gossip which, from them at least consisted of who'd had whom and where and what the cock size had been which was par for the course. Charitably though they then allowed us to pass on what had happened to us which mostly consisted of Split (not the poison pen letters of course) but his discovery by Peter and his emergence as a major figure in the art world.
Surprisingly they had actually heard of him. Here of course I may be wronging them as representative of guys whose brains and senses of direction were solely between their legs (both fore and aft). In fact they'd seen it in one of the tabloids that did a 'rags to riches'/'rolling fags to rolling in it' sort of article. Actually I don't think Split ever smoked but the red tops are allowed a certain licence with the truth, or if they aren't, they take it anyway.
"There was a picture of him," said Eddie. "Smiling. He looked gorgeous."
"As if someone like that is ever going to take notice of a common little tart like you," said Brian.
"Is he gay?" asked Eddie.
"Who knows," said Peter diplomatically.
"I bet if he is, someone will 'out' him. Now he's been in the tabloids."
"I wouldn't care if anyone outs me," said Eddie.
Brian laughed. "You gave yourself away when you were in Primary School," he said. "Flapping your arms and bringing a doll in."
"That was 'Ken'," said Eddie outraged. "Barbie's boyfriend though I always suspected. I mean forty-five years without a proposal. What sort of behaviour is that for a straight guy."
"He hasn't got a willy," said Brian.
"I know. That was always a disappointment."
I tried to steer the subject away, but Peter seemed to want to bring it back to Split. "Why would anyone want to do it to someone who was famous?"
"Get their own name in the papers," suggested Brian.
"Is someone threatening to do it to Split?" asked Eddie who was obviously considerably brighter than he pretended to be.
Of course I had no intention of admitting anything but Peter obviously did. "We have no idea who's doing it," he said. "Show them that latest letter he received."
There was some sense in what he said. An outside view might be valuable. I took out the letter and unfolded it. The two crowded round to look at it.
"It's hardly a literary masterpiece," said Eddie. "Of course if you were the police you could test it for fingerprints."
"They'd only find Split's and mine, and Peter's and now yours," I said. knowing it hadn't been a good idea in the first place.
Brian I could see had noticed someone who attracted him and was already bored with the letter. I started to fold it but Eddie stopped me. "Wait a minute," he said, "there is something odd about it."
"It's in capital letters . . ."
"That's obvious," I said dismissively.
"Except that whoever wrote it has put dots over the 'i's."
He was right. Written in ordinary ball-point, the letter had each 'i' dotted. It wasn't obvious as sometimes the dots were not quite as clearly made but as I looked closely I could certainly see them.
"Probably not significant," I said. "Come on, Peter, dance with me."
But Peter seemed preoccupied. "Dance with Brian," he said. "I want to finish my drink."
"You know he'll only try to seduce me," I said, and Brian nodded vigourously.
"I trust you."
"Well, don't blame me if I come back with a raging hardon," I said.
"If you don't, I'll know he's had his way with you."
Brian took me onto the floor.
Next morning at the Library, after I'd despatched Peter to meet up with his parents, I managed to get in touch with Ross on the phone. La Blagstock was at a meeting with the higher-ups and had left me in charge. "Where have you been?" I asked him. "I've been trying to contact you. I found out why Split's in a state."
"Good," he said. "Did he make a pass at you?"
"How did . . . ?" I started, then gave up. "He's been getting threatening letters. Of course I haven't found out who's sending them."
"He's had a hard life."
"You mean the living on the street and the squat and everything?"
"Much worse than that. It really fucked up his life."
"Tell me." I must admit that, like so many other gay guys (or perhaps most people in general) I was an avid listener for gossip.
"Meet me for lunch," he said.
"Of course." Silvano's is a local Italian restaurant though it called itself a 'trattoria'. Another attraction for Ross at least was a brawny-thighed waiter named Luigi.
Silvano's may be decorated in pure 'plastic', its food though is pure Tuscan. Over linguini alla vongole Ross told me the story, which was indeed a sad one. Unusually for him, in fact it was a first, he actually told me how he'd gone about getting the information.
"I just talked to his parents, looked at the reports of the court case yes, there was a court case "
I interrupted. "You spoke to South Africa?"
Ross looked surprised, a forkful of pasta half way to his mouth. "South Africa? They live in Peckham, or at least she does. He's in prison."
"Split said they lived in South Africa and only sent Christmas and birthday cards."
"Split's a very mixed up kid. And I can understand why. His father abused him, both physically and sexually for years when he was only a child. His mother wouldn't believe Split when he told her about it, or at least said she didn't. Eventually a teacher at school noticed bruises and cuts on him and informed the Social Services. Even then it was months before they did anything and the abuse went on."
"How did you find all this? Surely his mother didn't tell you."
It was in the papers. Of course Split. or rather Sean's name wasn't given but the parents' were. He got ten years. The mother was lucky not to get a prison sentence as well. But she was weak and stuck by her husband all the time. Even does now."
"He's still in prison?"
"Not for that. He came out when his sentence was over but then did a botched up robbery on a betting shop. So he's back again."
"Split's always been a bright kid. He was placed with foster parents who were good to him. He went to school, got good grades at both GCSE and A levels and a scholarship to a University, Bristol."
"The Baudelaire connection," I said.
"Not really. He read for a BSc in Economics and Sociology but dropped out after a year."
"But he said he studied French literature."
"I'm afraid our Split is sometimes a little economical with the truth."
"You mean he's a liar," I said.
"Shall we say he tends to manufacture a background and experience which is more acceptable to him," said Ross. "You can hardly blame him."
"And now he's got someone threatening to out him. Yet another way in which he's lost control of his life."
"Ah yes, the threatening letters. Are you sure they're real or just another product of his imagination?"
They're real enough," I said. "I've even got one here. The latest. And I was in his flat when the postman delivered it." I produced the letter, now looking a bit dishevelled from its frequent folding and unfolding, its residence in my pocket and the poring over by sundry persons' fingers.
He looked it over, took two more mouthfuls of food and then said maddeningly, "Interesting."
"Just the obvious."
I refused to ask.
We finished with a coffee. The meal was too good to spoil with the sweetness of a dessert.
"Split said that they must have been sent by someone who knew he was queer."
"Did he say who they were?"
"Only you, me and Peter." I didn't add that Eddie and Brian now knew and that probably that item of tasty news was probably all over London now. Of course the letters had started before we'd blabbed to our gossip mongers. I did feel rather guilty though.
"Must have left someone else out," said Ross.
I didn't like to ask but I took that to mean that Ross hadn't mentioned the name to anyone else himself.
Before we could say anything else, Luigi arrived, asking if we wanted anything else. He put such a wealth of innuendo into the question that I almost blushed. Ross, though, was as usual completely unfazed. "Perhaps later," he said. When do you finish work?"
"In half an hour, after the lunchtime rush." Luigi's english was almost perfect. I suspected his sexual technique was equally polished. His tight trousers showed an interesting bulge why am I so obsessed with crotches? and its proximity to the seated Ross whose face was on the same level was surely intentional.
"Mmm," said Ross "Perhaps then I'll appreciate some dessert."
"Until then, signore."
Unable to cope with such blatant flirting I left, telling Ross I'd be in touch 'when he was available'.
With no instructions from Ross but with a free afternoon it was Thursday I decided to visit Split. Knowing his history, I felt even more sorry for him and hoped that he hadn't received any more of those letters nor was as depressed as he had been yesterday.
In Highgate, Queen's Wood showed autumn at its best. The beeches and the oaks whose leaves, either still on the branches or carpeting the ground were golden brown, the sunlight shining through so that some appeared almost pale primrose yellow.
Split, when he opened the door looked equally pale, the dimples on either side of his mouth were deeply entrenched and apparent even when he wasn't smiling. He looked pleased, though, to see me and immediately invited me in.
"How are you feeling?" I asked.
He didn't answer but beckoned me upstairs and ushered me into that white living room where the only colours were his three paintings. He told me to wait while he made coffee, and then went into the kitchen.
I sat on the sofa but found the whiteness of the blank view opposite unnerving. The furniture, an undecorated cupboard was also painted white. the light from the end window emphasising the lack of colour. I wondered why Split hadn't put at least one of his pictures on that wall. Behind me there were three, their bright and bold colours enlivening the view, the swirls and surges creating movement. And then there were the figures, sometimes partially hidden, at others clear and precise but never quite indicating exactly what they were doing.
I got up to look more closely. Were they male or female? It was difficult to make out. Whether they were dancing or copulating was similarly indeterminate. I looked more closely but I couldn't tell. All three were signed with Split's name in the bottom right hand corner. 'Split'. Or rather in capital letters 'SPLIT'. And then I saw it. SPLiT. The 'I' had a dot over it.
It took me a moment to realise the significance of this but then I did. The 'i's were exactly the same as those in the poison pen letter and that meant I couldn't believe it. OK, they say that genius is akin to madness but surely it wasn't possible that Split was sending himself these letters (or letter, as I hadn't actually seen any others and only had his word for them and he'd lied to me about his parents). Had he become so used to putting a dot over 'i's, even capital ones, that he did it automatically, without even noticing?
Was Split mad? Well, what's the definition of madness? We're all different from others in our own individual ways. Peter's parents would probably say that I was 'mad' in being queer, certainly abnormal, with a dangerous madness that had (in their minds at least) infected their son.
Split wasn't mad in any certifiable way, I reasoned, but he was considerably fucked up and who could wonder after what had happened to him. The only thing I couldn't understand was why he was doing it. Did he in fact know he was doing it? Did he feel so guilty about being queer that one part of him was trying to warn the other part against it? Actually wasn't that a symptom of schizophrenia and, if it is, perhaps he did need treatment.
I heard the rattle of cups in saucers and hurriedly sat down again, though of course I hadn't been doing anything wrong.
He seemed all right as he poured the coffee and even managed a smile. "Keeping in touch?" he said.
"I said I would."
"Do you always do what you say you will?"
"Not always, but I try."
"Peter's very lucky," he said.
I'm the lucky one, I thought, though I didn't say it out loud. Then I had to ask. It was probably not the right way to do it, and perhaps I should have waited and asked for advice from wiser people, Ross or Peter, but anyway I came out with it. "You wrote those letters, didn't you."
For a moment it looked as if he were about to deny it. His expression went hard and stern, frown lines appeared between his eyebrows, his lips tightened into a thin line. Then, it was as if everything collapsed from within.
His whole body drooped and his face collapsed. Suddenly he was ugly. He had a strange face. At rest it could have been considered ordinary with no outstanding features. When he smiled, it was as if he was lit up and suddenly he was beautiful. Now, he looked tragic and old, even his skin had a greyish tinge. His whole body trembled.
I was worried. I moved swiftly to his side and held him. "I had no right to ask," I muttered.
He looked at me, his eyes filled with tears, their green colour washed out like grass that has been tainted by frost.
"I don't know why I did it." He held on to me, not like yesterday's which had been inspired by sexual lust, but as if he needed something strong to grasp.
I found myself trying to console him. "There's nothing wrong. We'll help you. You've friends now." I don't know what else I said but the tone of my voice must have been soothing for eventually the shuddering ceased and he seemed more at peace.
I didn't want to leave him alone so I phoned Ross and he promised to come round. What he could do I didn't exactly know but he seemed to have more sense than I did and I trusted him.
I waited until he arrived, just holding Split's hand while he talked about his childhood which was indeed terrible.
I was late home but I knew Peter would understand when I told him. And he did of course.
I prayed to a God I didn't really believe in that his own parents wouldn't turn him into anything like the mess that Split's had made of him, but I knew that my Peter was much too sensible to fall under their spell. In fact he laughed (and eventually I did too) at their attempts to 'straighten him out'.
"I love you, Peter," I said, looking at him.
My Peter, my golden boy, the collar of his blue shirt open to reveal the column of his throat which I love to kiss, and then just the top of his white T-shirt. I saw him as others would, tall and slim, curly black hair, a serious expression on his face, the jaw line strong, straight nose, nostrils a little flared, blue eyes under arched eyebrows. I know him so well, know every expression from this quiet, contemplative one, through angry and happy to the abandoned openness of unrestrained passion.
"Why do I love you?" I asked, but then answered the question myself. "Because you put up with my stupidities. Because you laugh at my jokes. Because you touch the back of my neck when you pass by." I loved him sexually of course and I thought how open he was, how readily he'd come to me, come with me, come in me, come under me I loved all that, but it was these smaller things that I knew I'd never be able to do without.
If you wish to comment, please write to Michael@tanyardbank.plus.com
Date Started: Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Date Finished: Monday, May 14, 2007
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