The Haunting of Julian Grey. Part Three.
Talking with Samuels reassured me; gave me new found courage. Clearly I was exhausted, and my imagination - always so pedestrian in its way - was suddenly working overtime, fuelled by anxiety and what: remorse? Fear? A sense of loss? I turned around decisively and looked behind me. The sidewalk was deserted now, the café chairs and tables empty, scattered amid the trees and looking slightly forlorn in the fading light. Again there came a brush stroke of movement just off centre. Someone - a man - was standing against a fire hydrant, lighting a cigarette. I glared at him, although it was hard to see any detail. He wore some sort of dark reefer coat, the collar up. He had black shoulder length hair, but uneven and long at the front, but he seemed too slight for Max; too indistinct. I breathed through my nose, and grinding my teeth, I walked towards him. As I got closer I realised he was also too young - probably mid twenties - dark, like Max, but obviously, obviously not Max. I felt both angry and distressed at my stupidity. What in god's name was wrong with me! The youth, watching me carefully, drew hard on his cigarette. The end glowed suddenly, he inhaled, his face relaxing on the hit, and then he snaked a coil of smoke from his lips and nose. I felt a stab of lust in my groin and stomach. Whoever he was he was attractive - `cute' - as my students would say, an oddly understated, overworked word. He looked at me directly as he fitted the filter tip back between his lips. He had long white, elegant hands, and the inside of his left index finger was stained yellow.
`You ok?' he asked on the exhale. The voice was young - younger than he in fact looked - and slightly accented.
`Yes, yes. I thought you were someone else, sorry -' I had stopped some way from him. Several cars passed by to our left: I wondered how this would look to people on the freeway, a curious, indistinct liaison of some sort: a frisson of sex?
`Yeah?' His tone was curious. His skin was very pale; in someone less handsome it would have made them look ill, almost corpse like. `Who?'
`I'm sorry?' The impertinence of his question surprised me.
`Who did you think I was?' he dropped the half smoked cigarette onto the sidewalk and left it there, smouldering on the wet, leaf patterned tarmac. My mind was working on his accent like a computer program, matching, comparing, discarding.
`A friend of mine, someone I haven't seen for ages. Sorry. My mistake.' I turned round and walked away with fake purpose, curious why I had answered him or indeed apologised. When I crossed the intersection, I glanced back furtively, expecting to find the street empty, but the young man was still regarding with me a sort of animal like curiosity. What was happening to me?
From the moment I physically `experienced' the intrusion into my bedroom, from the moment I actively sought out Samuels, I chose to give myself over to Max like someone abandoning themselves to an addiction or an obsession. I spent almost all my spare time on it, like a huge puzzle. And from the onset, it seemed to be quite obvious that the puzzle had two quite different, but not necessarily distinct, explanations. The first - and by far the most obvious - was that, for whatever reason, after years of careful management and suppression, my memories of Max, my grief at his loss, had exploded from my subconscious mind out into the open - like seeping gas quietly and insidiously builds to an explosion. But, as Samuels had asked, why now? What had provided the spark? This brought me to the second explanation, by far less plausible, but hinted at by the sheer realism of my dreams and the break-in: that Max was in fact alive and somehow back in the US and - for whatever reason - was really stalking me. However unlikely, it was undoubtedly the case that no body had ever been found, and that the investigation into his abduction had been formerly closed without any major leads whatsoever. Despite Samuels comment, someone had been into my bedroom, someone had actually, physically used my bathroom and watched my porn! I knew it was not an hallucination.
I tried to theorise some sort of connection. It was just possible that I had somehow seen Max since his return - perhaps unknowingly - and despite not recognising him, his actual presence had triggered these sudden vivid recollections: Max would be in his late thirties now: the images that haunted me were Max when we were lovers, Max as he had been. I tried to think what he would look like now? How, where, and when I would have casually brushed past him? It was almost impossible to think I would not register him? Almost sense him? Yet I had, in my own professional life, seen this sort of subliminal process at work in countless cases. A chance unknown meeting with an ex, a stray email contact, even a name heard after long years of careful silence: un-noticed but half heard, and all enough to suddenly overwhelm a life time of evasion. Both explanations - touching on each other as they did - required quite separate forms of enquiry, and both left much unanswered, but I set about them nonetheless.
As far as the psychological aspect of the problem went, I immersed myself into the familiar routine of narrating as much as I could about Max while sitting in a rather donnish consulting room at Samuels' house. He worked out from a long room cluttered with books and deep worn leather chesterfield sofas, and to my surprise, he smoked a pipe during our weekly meetings. After our first session, Samuels asked me to bring something I still had of Max's: anything, as if he was a medium and needed to make some sort of physical connection. It was not an easy request to satisfy. So thoroughly had I purged Max from my life that there seemed to be no trace of him at all. Eventually however, while sorting through file boxes in the attic, I came across a series of photographs we had taken together while on vacation in Vermont one Fall, the year before he had left for his fatal trip to Italy. Their discovery was unsettlingly: they had been hidden with great effort behind a series of framed postcards of Hartford College, and the only reason I found them was that a strip of print stuck out of the edge of one of the cards. Prizing the glass off and lifting the back of the frame was almost like an exhumation: Max was squatting, bare-chested, removing a hook from the mouth of a broad, glistening catfish: he looked quite tribal, with mud on the side of his up turned cheek and on his left shoulder. The fish itself struck me as vaguely erotic or obscene: scaled and slick, its white underbelly muscled and strong, and its gaping mouth and gills like a broad piss-eye. Something about Max's pose implied he was consciously making a connection with the length of the fish and his own genitalia, which given his pose, was tantalising snug and bulbous in his jeans. Before I put the photograph into my pocket I noticed that for some reason, the top of the print had been burned slightly. The other photos were of me, sitting on a broad colonial veranda reading something. In some ways these were more disturbing than the picture of Max, since for a while I did not recognise myself at all, and had no particular recollection of them being taken. It didn't look like Vermont. There was too much warmth and heat in the light. In a small patch of skyline there was a hint of sea, somewhere vaguely tropical. Reluctantly I took them all with me to Samuels, and when I handed them over to him I noticed that my hand had been trembling slightly.
These sessions, convention as they were, proved useful. The process of telling, re-telling, remembering, whatever it was exactly I did, kept Max at bay for a time. Initially I spared Samuels the details because I was myself embarrassed by the sheer physicality of my relationship with Max, and also because I feared he would disapprove of the graphic and almost limitless lust we had for each other. When we had finally had sex Max was just eighteen, but the intensity of those three years was in itself bizarre, `inappropriate' to many (that most damning middle class word!) and completely beyond my control. Samuels was, however, deeply professional - he seemed not so much indifferent to the minutia of having sex with Max, but to tacitly demand it; as if he was genuinely curious. And often, if I paused on some particular incident, the curve of Max's inside thigh, the and the deep smooth rind of his perineum that joined his anus to his heavy ball sac and the massive thick cock, he would re-materialise behind a thick bank of peat smelling fug and say `Well, go on!` and I would find myself sometimes excited - almost aroused.
I described Max's arrival at college, the sheer reign of lust and fear that had immediately overwhelmed me when I had found him, sitting in my seminar that first morning; un-announced, a brilliant white shirt casually half undone, hair massed up and still wet from some rushed shower. Max's sculptured, bone filled face and neck had seemed almost luminous, softly greased as if he had just been made or born that very moment. I explained how I had gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid him, his smell, the way he ignored my own physical boundaries, the way he put his hand up to answer a question, the soft, wet pout of his mouth when he was writing something. I described the sheer absurdity of a grown man stammering and blushing when, without warning, Max had appeared in my office one day to discuss his work. He was like a fallen angel or a devil, someone who either did not know his power or simply didn't care. After he had left, I had spent the entire evening finding out more about him, where he had lived, who his friends were, even the brand of his clothes. But most off al I have panicked. Samuels had been amused and had looked at the photo of Max with the fish as if he could sympathise.
`You were sport for the gods!' he had mused.
`Yes. The irony of the whole relationship was that, to my peers at least, I had the power and prestige and could be accused of influencing, even abusing Max: in fact it was the other way around - Max chose me and once he had sunk his teeth into me, I was pretty well fucked.'
`Quite' said Samuels, lighting up again and pluming smoke like an old steam train.
`What I will never understand is how someone so young could be so profoundly sexual.' I had mused, gathering myself together as the end of the session loomed. Samuels seemed to have some difficulties getting the pipe to light.
`Really? Why is that surprising? A seventeen year old boy turns up, conscious of his beauty, probably well into his cock and the sheer gravitation field of his sex. He meets a handsome, fit male tutor; I see it all the time, Julian. In this metro sexual age, young men can tease as effectively - perhaps more effectively - than any girl! Perhaps, even to a dull heterosexual like myself, there is something ultimately erotic about a beautiful boy.'
`But he didn't just tease, that's the point - `
As regards the other puzzle - the possibility that Max was alive and well and indelibly back, I made a few tacit inquiries with the police. The Hartford precinct that had dealt with the case before handing it to the FBI (which in turn had then handed it on to several international agencies) was adamant that nothing new had been reported. They were curious but sceptical as to why I had called. No interest had been shown in reviving a cold case, no fresh clues, nothing. Disappointed but oddly relieved, I was then tempted to contact his mother - who lived now in upstate New York, but despite dialling her number several times I always lost my nerve and put the phone down before it even went to the call tone. Max had been an only child, hence the enormity of the loss. On a slightly different tack, I checked with the administrators of my current institution to see if any new mature students had registered for my classes. Had I taken on any new patients recently? It was a frustrating, bewildering journey. Then one evening I discovered that I was not the only one who had been making enquiries. On perhaps the forth or fifth session with Samuels, it transpired that he too had been `in the archives' as he put it.
`Yes, I mean despite the fact that there have been no more apparitions, we should not rule out the fact that you are in fact not hallucinating!'
We had moved from the study to the hall, and I was hauling on a thick coat. I was glad that Samuels was open to this possibility. I agreed readily.
`I know, I know. I have even considered the possibility that this is some sort of revenge thing - I mean - someone who blames me for Max's abduction and the death of his father, an old friend, even the mother!'
Samuels helped me on with a sleeve.
`But why would someone start to persecute you now, Julian, after all these years? And the dreams started before the actual experience of the break-in. Incidentally, I have been meaning to ask you something.'
We were at the door. It was snowing outside, softly, almost absent mindedly.
`You've often mentioned the fact that Max was abducted, and you've often discussed the fact that there was no ransom, no demand. Oddly the police file reports state he simply disappeared.'
`Disappeared?' I had sounded surprised, as if the word was new to me.
`Yes, I mean it's a sort of incidental detail, but the investigation proceeded on the grounds that Max had not been taken against his will, but had suffered some sort of accident.'
Something in Samuels tone irritated me. It was an old trick, to hold some incidental revelation until the patient least expected it.
`That can't be right - the papers were full of it, there was endless speculation that it was linked to his father's business interests?'
`Well I had a brief visit to several papers, I even searched for the word `abduct' - it was never used.'
I had stood on the top step blinking as the small snow flakes hit my eyebrows and face.
`And your point?'
He had shrugged, bemused, indifferent, as if there was no point at all.