(European Green Woodpecker, picus viridis)
A domestic comedy (in the Shakespearian sense)*
"If you were gay," I asked, "would you fancy me."
Peter Curtis gave this some thought and then said, "But I am gay."
"OK," I said. "So do you fancy me?"
Peter seemed to consider this for a while. "Well, I wouldn't kick you out of bed."
I looked at him, then said with a slight hint of irritation in my tone, "As far as I can gather, there aren't many you would."
"You've got to exclude half of the population for a start."
"You mean the distaff side."
"And then there are those under a certain age."
I tried to hide my look of disbelief as I knew that Peter liked them young, though sixteen was probably his lower limit.
Peter was wearing pink. Well actually his chinos were cream but his cashmere jumper was pink and the overall effect was pink.
I was wearing rather less as the day was hot and the sun was shining and we were sitting in the garden. To be accurate he was sitting, I was lying, sprawled on a blanket. In fact I had only a pair of speedos, green to contrast with my blond hair and I thought I looked rather fetching. OK and I was wearing sun glasses which hid my eyes from the glare (and from Peter's probing stare).
"And the extremely ugly ones." A pause. "And then the really old ones."
"That's rampant ageism," I said.
"So," he continued as if I hadn't spoken, "really you belong to quite a select group."
We were, of course, just passing the time. Peter was, and had been for some years, my lover, my partner. We'd actually made it legal, going through a Civil Partnership ceremony. There had been, I was sure, a couple of times when he had strayed from the straight and narrow but generally speaking he'd been faithful to me 'in his fashion' as had I to him.
A mobile rang. It couldn't have been mine. I had scarce enough clothing to provide a space to hold it and anyway, tucked into my swimming trunks it would have spoilt my line. I had enough bulges without adding to them. Peter, though, made no attempt to feel in his pockets.
"Isn't that yours?" I asked eventually.
"Bound to be a wrong number."
"Satisfy my curiosity."
He clicked open his mobile and held it to his ear. He said, "I'm sorry, Peter isn't available at the moment. He's probably occupied in some perverse sexual activity. Please leave a message and he'll get back to you when he's finished if he feels strong enough." There was a pause and then he remembered. "Beep."
That was so typical of Peter, always fooling around. Suppose it had been his mother, or a maiden aunt, or the Vicar, not that either of the latter two would have been phoning us. I looked at him. He was still listening, head cocked slightly to one side, the phone to his ear, a slight smile on his lips.
His dark hair was slightly dishevelled, probably more by design than accident, with a curl which nothing would straighten whatever he put on. He was sitting in one of the garden chairs and thus was higher than I was so I looked at him from below, seeing the jut of his jaw, his nostrils, the concave of his eyes underneath his thick brows. I knew every part of him so well, and I mean every part, yet from this angle he looked different, almost a stranger.
He shut down the mobile. There was the almost maniacal laughing call of a green woodpecker, yaffle we call it in our parts, from the trees at the bottom of the garden, often heard, seldom seen.
"Told you so," he said. "Wrong number."
"Whoever it was talked for long enough."
He stood up and came across to me, sitting on the blanket beside me. He smelled of 'Homme Massif'. It was a fragrance I always associated with him. He put his hand on my chest and stroked across and up and down. As he went lower to my stomach his arm and elbow rubbed over the bulge in my speedos. Then he grasped hold of me, cupping me in his hand, leant over and kissed me. I gasped. Peter has very dextrous fingertips and I am extremely sensitive in certain areas.
"The neighbours can see," I sort of protested, though at the same time I opened my legs so that he could feel the full extent of my equipment. His caresses were having their usual effect. He ran his fingers up and down my erection.
Then he kissed me there and stood up. "I have to go out," he said. "I'll be back for tea."
"I thought you were rather overdressed for the garden."
The yaffle laughed again.
I didn't ask him where he was going. We had lived long enough together not to interrogate each other. I knew, when he was ready, he'd tell me. All the same I felt frustrated. He'd excited me sexually and then left me aroused but unsatisfied. I determined to get my own back later.
I gathered up the blanket and started back to the house. Then I noticed Peter had left his mobile on the seat of the chair. I picked it up and took it indoors with me.
There wasn't much to do in the flat (ground floor with sole access to the garden) as we'd already cleaned it up in the morning. Idly I played with Peter's mobile, tapping out 1471 to see if there was a number given for that call which he'd taken. It's possible to withhold the number but the caller hadn't. The disembodied digital voice told me that 'telephone number 01242 5554448 had called at 15.37 today'. It was a local number but I didn't recognise it.
So presumably, as Peter had said, it had been a wrong number. Just out of curiosity I tapped in the number. It rang twice and then was answered.
"Peter, you're ringing back. I assume from the silly message that Kevin was around and listening. I'll be waiting for you."
I didn't know what to say. Peter had lied. It hadn't been a wrong number but a call from someone he knew, someone he was now on his way to see. And there was something familiar about that voice though I couldn't place it. Something about the sibilance of the 's' sounds.
It was difficult to analyse my emotions. Of course I was shocked. More than this I was angry. To have aroused me and then gone off to see someone else were, I felt, the actions of a lowlife son of a bitch. How could he? How could he?
I knew, or thought I knew he'd 'played away' on other occasions but this was so cold-bloodied. If I'd thought about it, it was probably my own fault. If I hadn't tried his mobile, I'd never have known. Or would I? Would he come back smelling of someone else? Back for tea!
The yaffle laughed derisively from the garden end.
Nevertheless I prepared a meal and had it waiting when Peter returned. He was in a boisterous mood, clutching me in a hug and 'bussing' me on the lips. The old word is more accurate. It wasn't a sexy kiss but it did seem enthusiastic. He still smelled of 'Homme Massif' and I couldn't detect any other alien scent but of course it's easy to get rid of one and replace with another, a shower and reapplication is all that's necessary.
He ate hungrily chicken risotto (yes, I'm afraid it was a ready meal heated in the microwave) but I didn't have much appetite.
"Where did you go?" I asked casually. "This afternoon which was so important that you had to leave me in the garden with a hardon?" The 'almost' rhyme sounded inept and I wasn't surprised when he laughed.
"I'll make it up to you, I promise. Later."
I noticed that he hadn't answered my question but I didn't like to be too persistent, too obvious, so I left it for the time being and in fact Peter did 'make it up' later that evening. He hadn't been so excitingly active for some time; we'd got into the habit perhaps of just going into automatic mode after all these years.
But was it a guilty conscience? I knew it didn't prove anything for Peter can 'recover' very quickly and an afternoon's 'debauch' wouldn't have inhibited an evening's bacchanal in the slightest.
Afterwards, in fact in the quiet space between two bouts of highly enjoyable sexual callisthenics, I did mention the afternoon but he passed it off with a reference to a bit of unfinished business that he'd suddenly remembered. Peter has a small Art Gallery in Camden High Street and does despatch so-called works of art to various places around the world. He'd apparently forgotten to post one which the buyer had wanted urgently. Hence the visit to a) the Gallery and b) the Post Office.
It didn't explain the phone message I'd overheard but I was suddenly enfolded in a passionate embrace, an assault with tongue, mouth and those sensitive fingers together with his own special probe which left both of us satisfied, pleasantly exhausted and ready for sleep.
* * * * * *
You may or may not know that I work in the local Library. I am in fact the Head Librarian and I've got a staff of two, Simon and Pamela, two of the nicest people you could hope to meet, intelligent, helpful and hard working. I once rather fancied Simon but he turned out to be straight (before I made any sort of irretrievable move on him so that was all to the good).
They, my two assistants, were chatting at the counter while I was in my little side office attempting to catch up with the correspondence, mostly from Council headquarters with daft suggestions about changing the already perfectly adequate systems to new ones. (Why change anything if it works?)
They, my staff that is, were discussing their respective weekends which was OK. Everything was ready for the off and still ten minutes before we pulled up the drawbridge and allowed the hordes to enter.
"He is so persistent," said Pamela, obviously referring to her latest boyfriend. "His hands are everywhere and I know exactly what he wants to do."
"Why not let him," said Simon. "I expect you'll enjoy it as much as he would."
"Not on the first date," said Pamela, obviously outraged. "Perhaps next time."
They laughed. "And what about you?" she asked.
"Ah now that's something else. I did something on Saturday that I've never done before. . . ." His voice dropped and I couldn't hear the rest of the sentence.
Now I've known Simon for some time, talked to him often of course, but I don't think I've just listened to his voice without seeing him. What struck me then was the way his 's's sounded. It reminded me of the phone call I'd made on Saturday. But that couldn't have been Simon. Certainly Peter knew him. They'd met several times before. Most importantly at the time of Peter and my Civil Partnership ceremony two years before.
But Simon was straight wasn't he? 'Something he'd never done before'. What did that mean? His first gay experience? With my Peter! I nearly barged out and confronted him. Probably that would have been a mistake. Anyway there was some confusion in my mind. If Peter had had sex with Simon, that must mean that Simon was gay. Or if Simon was straight did that mean that Peter was straight too or bi?
This was stupid. I was thinking like an idiot. It was just the shock of almost recognising the voice, Simon's voice, the voice on Peter's cell phone.
I calmed down five minutes to opening time time to go out to ask Simon his phone number.
"Simon, what's your phone number?"
A surprised look. "What do you want that for, Kevin?"
Why indeed? "Because I suspect you of having it off with my partner."
No, that wouldn't work, I would have to be more subtle.
The voices had stopped now. I looked out. Pamela was on her own. Presumably Simon was on his way to open the doors.
"So," I said to Pamela, feeling a little as if I was prying, "I couldn't help overhearing. What was this incredible thing that happened to Simon on Saturday. Curiosity is my middle name."
"You'll never guess. I'd never have thought it of Simon."
But before Pamela could answer, there was a sudden burst of chatter from the entrance which quietened as the first customers came in. There's still an ingrained feeling that libraries, like churches, are places where voices have to be hushed, even if the only people inside are homeless vagrants reading the newspapers and keeping warm.
We were busy until lunchtime when, of course, the staff had time off. Pamela had first shift, half eleven to half twelve, so I couldn't ask her until she came back. It was a comparatively slack time and Simon and I had time to work on the shelves together. I watched him as he replaced books.
He was in his mid-twenties. He wore a dark blue shirt, sleeves rolled up which exposed his arms, tanned lightly from the early summer sunshine, dark baggy pants, showing nothing until he turned his back and bent over when they stretched over two hemispheres of more than earthly delight. His brown hair was bleached at the tips, expertly done so that it looked natural. Dark eyebrows, the left one raised slightly, quizzically. A good-looking guy and one that I could easily see Peter being attracted to.
Pamela returned and Simon went off. "OK," I said. "Now tell me about Simon's Saturday thrill."
"Oh, didn't you ask him? It was ice skating. He'd never done it before. Went with his girlfriend. Apparently he really enjoyed it. Not the sort of thing I'd want to do. Spend most of my time on my bum, I expect."
"Saturday afternoon?" I asked.
"Yes. Why? You fancy it?"
"Not on your life." I felt a fool. Thank goodness I hadn't burst out and accused him of having it off with my lover. And then I remembered that I'd have Simon's telephone number on his profile on the computer where all our records were kept.
I went and checked. Nothing like the number on Peter's mobile.
On my way home at the end of the day the yaffles seemed everywhere, laughing derisively at my discomfiture.
* * * * * *
Peter was just the same as he always had been, or at least and perhaps it was my imagination he seemed even more loving. I rejoiced in that but the telephone call rankled. It hung about like a bad smell and wouldn't go away. Perhaps there was a simple explanation. I could ask Peter. I could ring up the number and ask who it was and why he'd been expecting Peter that afternoon.
But I didn't do either.
And on Tuesday morning when Peter had already left got the Gallery and I was rushing around getting ready to avoid being late for the Library, the telephone rang. It was the distinctive call of the mobile, not mine, but Peter's. As usual he'd left it behind. At first I thought I'd let it ring and allow the caller to leave a message, but as I went towards the door of the flat I passed the cell phone on the small table in what passes for our hall, a tiny waste of space room just inside the door which serves no useful purpose, except perhaps as an adjunct to an estate agent's spiel.
I picked up the phone and clicked on the button. "Hello," I was about to say, 'Kevin here. I'm afraid Peter's out at the moment...'
I got as far as the 'Hello' when I heard the sibilant tones of the caller. "Peter," he said. "I need to see you, soon."
The voice sounded strained, urgent, full of unrequited lust?
What I did say was, "Who is that?"
There was a sudden, shocked silence and then the call was cut. I heard the dialling tone and saw through the window a green bird fly past. A woodpecker. That bloody yaffle.
I tried to return the call on Peter's phone, then dialled the number on my mobile and then from the landline phone. They weren't answered and eventually I got the engaged signal. Either he'd taken the receiver off or was making another call. I didn't leave a message.
That didn't exactly make my day and both Pamela and Simon remarked that I seemed to be in a foul temper after I'd snapped at them a couple of times. "Time of the month," suggested Pamela which I thought was rich from her. And Simon needn't have laughed. It wasn't that funny. In fact it wasn't funny at all.
Nor was my homecoming.
Peter was in a strange mood. It wasn't so much that he looked shifty; it was more that he wouldn't exactly meet my eyes in the frank way that he usually did. His kiss was perfunctory and, when I tried a cuddle, he edged away with the excuse that he had to get the meal ready. Of course it was his turn but I suspected that his sibilant 'friend', whoever he was, had got in touch with him at the Gallery and had told him that I had answered the mobile call that morning.
Why didn't I come straight out and ask him?
I don't know. Perhaps I feared the answer.
"I don't feel like staying in this evening," he said, over a plate of corned beef hash, a concoction I hate and I thought Peter did too. Still it provided a topic of conversation on the lines of:
"This mixture looks disgusting."
"Yes, but it's cheap and cheerful."
"Are we on the breadline then?"
"Not far off."
"You mean you'll have to live of my measly library pittance."
"It won't keep me in the manner I'm accustomed to."
"Hah! Point to me. You ended your sentence with a preposition."
Eventually, silliness over, I reverted to his original remark. "So where do you want to go? We've seen the film on at the local cinema. Pubbing?"
"OK, We'll slip down to the local, have a few bevvies, finish with a curry."
"Are you trying to be straight? We'll go to the club."
He didn't look enthusiastic but I was insistent.
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 often the desperate search for new 'friends'. There's a men's toilet which is used for the more basic relief and often the exchange of bodily fluids, sometimes even with latex protection, and a dance floor for less obvious frottage, two bars, one at each end, which are always well patronised, and lots of conversation often conducted at high pitch. In effect the best and worst of the gay life. You choose which is which.
I was surprised that Peter seemed still a little unwilling to go. Usually he enjoyed Brownies. Even now, as we reached the somewhat unprepossessing portals of the club, he suggested going elsewhere, but I strode purposely in.
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.
Still, even without their company the club was welcoming. The music was loud, the drinks expensive, the laser lights the sort that gave epileptics fits all as it should be. We sat at the bar and were gently fondled from time to time by the clientele who came up to order their drinks.
All of a sudden a voice shrieked in my ear. "My favourite sisters!" Brian and Eddie had turned up.
"As usual, playing wallflowers," said Eddie, or was it Brian? Shit, I still got them muddled up.
"Sitting on the sidelines," said the other one. "sizing up the competition." The tone was jocular but the sibilance was unmistakable. I stared at him and then glanced across to Peter. They weren't looking at each other. Weren't able to look at each other?
I knew this was the guy on the phone. Knew it without a shadow of a doubt. Peter and Brian, or Peter and Eddie. All I had to do to confirm it was to find out his telephone number.
I slid off my stool. "Come on," I said to the other one, "let's dance."
I merged into something sexy, rubbing the relevant bits against my partner's. "Wow," he said, "what's come over you? If you keep on like that, it'll be me."
"I just feel horny," I said and clasped him in a clinch which kept him locked against me. Then I whispered into his ear. "I never knew your phone number, did I?"
"At a time like this, he talks of telephone numbers." But nothing averse, he whispered back a string of numbers.
"And ...?" I waved vaguely over his shoulder at the bar.
"Brian's? You want both of ours? You ARE horny. It's 01242 5554448." It was the number. I recognised it immediately.
I loosed him immediately. "Sorry, sweetie, got some business to attend to."
Peter was in earnest conversation with Brian, their heads together but they sprang apart as I arrived.
"Home, Peter," I said, "unless you want this to be very public."
I preserved a dignified silence on the tube journey home but as soon as we got indoors I could not contain myself.
"So," I said, pointing an accusing finger at him," you're carrying on an affair with that arch slut, Brian. After all we've been to each other, civil partnership and everything, all those promises and vows you made to me."
"But, but . . ." he said.
"And with Brian," ending on a high falsetto, then repeating it an octave lower. "Brian!"
"No, you've got it all wrong . . ."
"You deny you went to see him on Saturday? You say it wasn't him . . . er, he who rang you this morning to say he had to see you urgently. You've been fucking that arse, or rather he's been fucking yours . . ." Then I thought of Brian's little tush twitching around the club. "You've been ploughing that slut's furrow when you should have been lodged in mine. . . How could you?" The enormity of it almost reduced me to tears, but bravely I kept a dry eye.
"Honey," said Peter clasping me and trying to control my waving arms, "you've got it all wrong. It was a secret, of course it was a secret which you weren't supposed to know but there was nothing of that sort between Brian and me."
"OK, So what was going on?" Was I prepared to hear his excuses, his lies?
"Your birthday! Or at least your birthday celebration."
I was pulled up short. Yes, it was my birthday next weekend. A momentous one! I'd reach the advanced age of thirty, the big three oh! While Peter was still in his twenties, though at the top end twenty seven.
"We were planning a big celebration, hiring the club in fact you know it closes on Mondays. Getting all our friends, even those Spanish ones we had such fun with on our honeymoon. Of course I couldn't do the arranging; you'd have been bound to find out, so Brian was doing it. Then I had to be so stupid as to leave my mobile around . . ."
So, it all came out, and I felt a complete dipstick and guilty too, guilty that I had assumed straight away that Peter was carrying on behind my back and wasn't bright enough to hide it satisfactorily.
Well, that was it. The secret was out, but the party went ahead. Christ, it was a celebration and a half! As Peter said, all our friends came, the Spanish boys, Ross, the library staff, Eddie and Brian of course, even a couple of members of the police force that we'd had 'relations' with in the past. There were even some whom I didn't know, friends of Brian and Eddie's I expect, but they acted with perfect propriety which meant, of course, flinging their legs in the air, as did we all, snogging as much as we could, behaving outrageously and enjoying ourselves in the best possible way.
So at last as Peter and I crawled into bed around five o'clock in the morning, I mumbled rather drunkenly, "I love you, Peter Curtis."
"I love you too," he said and sealed it with a kiss.
Then he smiled.
"Stop looking so smug," I said.
I listened in vain for the sound of a yaffle laughing, but then few birds call at night.
*"Comedy" in its Elizabethan usage had a very different meaning from modern comedy. A Shakespearean comedy is one that has a happy ending, usually involving marriage for all the unmarried characters, and a tone and style that is more light-hearted than Shakespeare's other plays.
Patterns in the comedies include movement to a "green world", both internal and external conflicts, and a tension between Apollonian and Dionysian values.
Date started: Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Today's date: Sunday, April 13, 2008
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