A story by Bard Boy [bard_boy(at)protonmail(dot)com]
Disclaimer: The following is a work of fiction about an inappropriate relationship between a man and a preteen boy. One of the boundaries crossed in this relationship is engagement in sexual activity between the man and the boy. If you do not want to read such a story, or it is illegal for you to do so because of your age or where you live, you should stop reading now and go do something else instead. The fictional depiction of an inappropriate relationship between a man and a boy is by no means encouragement to any man who would seek to forge such a relationship for real. This story is not set in the present day, so rest assured every aspect is fictional.
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The dry disclaiming out of the way, I hope you enjoy reading the story (in which ever way suits you best). Feel free to contact me on the email above.
Part Five: A Fire That Burns Everything
I am an architect.
They call me a butcher.
I am a pioneer.
They call me primitive.
I am purity.
They call me perverted.
I hauled the door of the garden shed open. It took some persuasion.
I had no idea why those lyrics had come into my head; I hadn’t listened to them in years. Perhaps they were just an appropriate set of mantras for a planned morning of building.
I spotted the electric screwdriver and picked it up first. I gave a test squeeze on the trigger. The battery was still working.
Perhaps it was James’ fault. Coming here with him had reawakened my long-forgotten passion for music. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had been dreaming lyrically.
I found a heavy tool bag and removed a crowbar, a hand saw, and a measuring tape.
I leaned against a freestanding set of wooden shelves holding a collection of old vinyl and some rotten paperback books, nearly causing the whole thing to collapse. Even now this shed was a dumping ground for useless tat.
I found the jigsaw and left.
Next door’s bathroom was in showroom condition. A young family had moved in after my parents had spent the entire quarter-century of their time in our house living next to the same set of weird old codgers. And I was glad they had, as they’d clearly spent some money renovating the place once they moved in. The bath was white and modern – and therefore, in theory, easier to remove.
James was with me as a helper. He’d carried in some of the tools and materials. Then he had a sneezing fit and nearly put the crowbar through a wall. I set about disconnecting and removing the bath. It was attached to the floor with metal feet that had been screwed down, hidden behind a plastic side panel. Once all the pipes were disconnected, it was a simple task to liberate it from the floor.
I pulled it away from the wall to give me better access to the window. It disturbed a lot of dust. James sneezed again and sucked back a load of snot.
“You all right?”
“Fine,” he said, wiping his nose with the back of his hand.
I removed the plastic beads holding the windowpane in place and used the tip of the crowbar to ease the glass out into my arms. Then I wasn’t really sure what to do with it, so I just rested it against the wall. James examined it curiously. I did the same with the top opener, placing the long, thin oblong of glass down next to the main pane. Then I unscrewed the vacant opener and removed it altogether.
I took the hacksaw to the vertical bar of plastic that had separated the main pane and the opener. Eventually, with only the external frame of the window remaining, I had a hole large enough to fit a bath through.
It wasn’t heavy, but it was big. I had to enlist James to help me direct it through the hole in the wall. I didn’t need him to lift it, just to make sure it was pointing in the right direction and the feet didn’t snag.
“To me!” I cried enthusiastically. He didn’t get the reference.
Once the bath was out on the roof of the rear ground floor extension, it was my turn to follow it. I grabbed a long wooden board and threw it down outside.
“What’s that for?” asked James.
“Spread the weight out. Make sure I don’t fall straight through that flat roof. Go and stand in that bedroom.”
I climbed through the window and stepped out onto the board. James came and stood at the bay window of the back bedroom and opened it.
“Hello in there,” I said.
I wanted to mount the bath on top of the bay window. It came out a good metre or so and was the width of the room, so there was plenty of space, and it was the highest-up flat surface to put it on. The problem was getting the bath up there by myself, without even having use of a ladder. In the end I had to rotate it like a Tetris champion. I leant the bath up against the outside wall, stood on its head. I used the wall to help me lift the tub upwards, then turned so as the top set of feet hooked on the end of the bay roof. From there I could somewhat laboriously slide it diagonally upwards, until the whole thing was up on the roof. James stood hanging casually out of the bedroom window offering suggestions.
“Push it that way. Try with more angle. Be careful because it sounds like you’re ripping the roof open.”
When I was finished, I stood panting and told him to shut up. He stuck his bottom lip out sarcastically.
“Don’t be mean, Jake.”
I had a little rest and then used the window ledge to climb a little higher. Stood half inside the house, half out, I began screwing the bath down onto the rooftop. James was looking up at me while I worked, screws clutched between my lips. I must have seen my dad like this a million times as I was growing up.
“Go and fetch a bit of pipe. A corner piece.”
I’d deliberately arranged so that the head of the bath, where the plughole and holes for taps were, was at the end of the rooftop closest to the bathroom. James handed me a corner piece of pipe and I attached it underneath the plughole, where I’d placed the first of my filters. There was just enough clearance for the pipe to fit between the bath and the roof.
I had James pass me more pipe until I could feed it back through the bathroom window. Then I grabbed my sheet of plasterboard. I measured the circumference of the pipe and used the jigsaw to make an appropriately sized hole in the board. I used it to fill the hole in the window, protecting the inside of the house from the elements. Then I got back to work on my pipeline.
“You’re good at building,” James observed.
“Not really,” I said. “I’ve just got enough brains to fudge it. My dad, on the other hand – he could build anything.”
“Do you miss him?”
“He’s been gone a long time, James.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
I didn’t respond. I clicked the next length of pipe into place.
“I miss my mom sometimes,” he said. Not sadly. Just matter-of-factly.
“I miss her too,” I said.
“Can I help with the pipe?”
“Do you want to put the next piece in? You just have to turn until it’s tight and it clicks into place.”
He nodded and got up onto the toilet so he could reach. The pipe was still quite high up, so he had to stretch, which caused his t-shirt to ride up his body. Naturally, I tickled his exposed belly.
“Hey, stop it!” he said, between grunts and squeals.
“Okay. Carry on.”
I waited for him to turn and reach up again. Then I immediately started tickling him more.
“Guh… it’s not funny, Jake!” James growled.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “You go ahead now.”
This time I let him start screwing the pipe into place before tickling him again.
“I’m trying to help!” he whined, then pushed at my shoulders and stormed off in a red-faced strop.
“Oh, James!” I sighed.
I gave him a couple of minutes then went into the next bedroom, where I assumed he’d gone. This house was a mirror image of ours. It was the same as our bedroom just the other side of the wall, just in reverse – save for the fact that this was quite clearly a child’s bedroom.
James was lain grumpily on his front on the bed. It occurred to me that the last child who had been on that bed may well have died there, but I pushed the thought away.
“I’m sorry, James,” I said.
He ignored me. There was a large teddy on the bed and he focused on that instead, moving the arms back and forth with his fingers.
“I didn’t mean to upset you, mate. I was only meant to have a bit of fun with you.”
“It wasn’t fun for me,” he pouted. “I wanted to build like you. That’s what was fun for me.”
I sat on the bed next to his legs and rested my hand gently on his bum.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to treat you like a baby. You’ve been a big help this morning and I’ll show you how to put the pipe together with me if that’s what you want.”
He sighed and I felt his body untense a little. He finally looked at me rather than the teddy.
“Okay then,” he said. “But no more tickling.”
“Hmm,” I said, stroking his bum cheek and the back of his thigh. “Is there a way I can make it up to you?”
“No,” he said. “You touched me when I didn’t want it, so I’m going to punish you by not letting you touch me now.”
I took my hand off him and was about to speak, when he suddenly pulled a wicked grin.
“In fact, I’m going to give it to teddy instead, and you have to watch.”
The button on my jeans nearly popped across the room.
Who would have thought such a sweet, thoughtful eleven-year-old could be such a pervert?
Anyone who’s ever been or known a little boy, I suppose.
I was sat on a beanbag watching. James was down to just his underwear, dancing with teddy in front of the bed. He pressed the bear’s head to the bulge in the front of his boxer shorts.
“What’s that teddy, you want to see what I’ve got in here?”
He humped into the bear’s face through the fabric of his underpants.
“Not yet, teddy. I have to take my socks off first.”
He pulled a sock off and dangled it in front of teddy’s face.
“That’s stinky, isn’t it, teddy? What can we do with stinky old socks like these?”
He pulled off his other sock.
“Good idea, teddy.”
He put teddy down on the bed and marched over towards me, socks in hand.
“Eat it, Jake.”
He mashed his socks against my face and tried to shove them in my mouth. I regretted not having paid closer attention to his dressing habits and forcing him to change his underwear every day. He must have been wearing them yesterday too. They were very sweaty, and I have never seen the attraction of feet. I wanted to get him over my knee and spank his bare arse raw, but his little show was already threatening to permanently ruin the front of my underpants. I sat impassively.
James let go and the socks dropped into my lap. He gave me a little concerned look to make sure he hadn’t gone too far. I nodded back at him and he grinned. “Jake’s always been a sock-sniffer, teddy,” he said. “He loves to sniff and taste dirty boys.”
That was more than a half-truth.
“Ooh, teddy,” he said, making the bear put its fluffy arm up the leg of his boxers. “You like to play games with boys too, don’t you?”
He made the bear nod.
“We can play some games now, if you want to. Jake isn’t allowed to play though, because he’s been too naughty.”
He held the bear’s arms in his hands and used them to slide down his pants. He kicked them at me.
“Something else for Jake to sniff on. He’s always sniffing my bum, teddy, even when I fart. It’s not right at all. What’s that teddy? You want to sniff my bum too? Well, if you say so…”
He lay the bear on the floor and squatted slowly onto its face. His knees spread wide as he lowered himself and his hard dick pointed straight at me. It looked red and strained and was throbbing furiously. His balls were drawn tight. I think we’d discovered that role play was his thing. He looked like he could burst at any time. He wasn’t the only one. James gave a little gasp as he sat all the way onto teddy. His cold nose must’ve surprised James as it made contact with his ring.
“Mmmm, teddy...” groaned James, grinding his crack back and forth on teddy’s face. “Don’t stop, that’s so good.” He’d even closed his eyes and arched his head back a little. “You want to taste my willy now, teddy?”
He stood up and picked up the bear. “There you go. Munch on that teddy. Munch on James’ stiff willy. Mmmm…”
He’d closed his eyes and was pumping his bare groin against teddy’s face. I could see the foreskin sliding back and forth on his rigid spike. I could smell his excitement from the other side of the room.
“Uh... uh… uh…”
James’ cheeks were flushed, and his hair looked a little sweaty. His chest looked a little pink, too. He was horny as hell, and very close.
“Ungh… teddy… we need to rub willies now. Get on the bed.”
He threw the bear down on its back on the bed. He mounted teddy like a boy who could barely contain himself. He couldn’t.
“Oh, teddy. Oh, teddy. Uh…”
He was pistoning teddy with no shortage of horsepower. It didn’t take long.
James clenched his buttocks and drove himself into teddy. His whole body stiffened, and he had a long dry cum on top of the bear. His dick was twitching for a good thirty seconds or more. He collapsed over teddy, panting.
I got up and stroked his sweaty back and sides as he lay recovering. My erection was still trying to tear my jeans in two. I should have pulled it out and spunked all over his back. James rolled over and spread his arms. I switched to stroking his ribs and tummy instead. His little willy had gone soft and pink and puffy at the end.
“Was teddy good?” I asked.
James nodded. “Not as good as you.”
“You’re just trying to charm me, so I don’t get you back for the socks.”
James giggled nervously. I got up and collected his clothes from their various landing spots around the room. He sat up on the bed and made a grab for his boxers from my hand.
“No.” I balled them into my fist. “These are dirty. You can go without until we get back next door and you put some clean ones on, like you should have done this morning.”
“But it’ll be weird without them,” he whined. “I can’t just put my joggers on with nothing underneath.”
“You sure you want to wear them?” I asked.
James nodded. I pulled my girder-stiff cock out and wrapped James’ underpants around it. It only took a few jerks to unload a dairy’s worth of cum all over them.
“Still want to wear them now?”
“This is embarrassing,” James said.
We were back in the bathroom adding to the pipe. James was still completely naked.
“Hands by your sides,” I said.
“I need a wee.”
“Toilet’s right there.” I gestured with a length of pipe.
James was aghast. “I can’t go right next to you while you’re working! You’ll see everything!”
I laughed out loud. “I see you naked all the time. Have you forgotten you just had me watch while you shagged a teddy bear?”
James blushed. “But… but going to the toilet is different,” he said. “It’s private. That’s why your willy is called your privates.”
I shook my head with resignation and stepped outside until I heard the toilet flush.
I had to do some bashing with a mallet on the crowbar to make space for the pipe to go up through the bathroom ceiling with the other pipes. I sent James back next door – carrying his clothes in his arms – and told him that I’d be checking he was wearing clean underwear when I got back, or else it would be girl pants.
Up in the loft I carried on laying the pipe, now at floor level. I hoped the pressure of a bath full of rainwater would be enough to push water up the tube the short way between high on the bathroom wall and floor level in the loft. I was dismayed that there was a proper brick dividing wall between the two houses even up here, so it took a bit more bashing to remove a few bricks and poke my pipe through.
Back on the more familiar side of the wall, I kept my word and checked on James. He’d instead decided not to put anything on at all because he said he felt too hot, so was wearing just the university hoodie that came down almost to his knees. He watched with vague interest as I climbed from a stepladder on the upstairs landing through a little ceiling hole into the loft, then wandered off to read his book again, an Australian children’s adventure comedy called The Day My Bum Went Psycho.
I examined the water tank in the loft. In an amazing stroke of luck, there was for some reason an unused input where the pipe leading to the solar heating had been added. I imagined it had been intended for an overflow pipe back from the solar array which had never actually been installed. Thank God for plumbers cutting corners. I extended my pipe and then uncapped the vacant hole. It wasn’t an exact match for size, but close enough. I whacked the last filter into the pipe, then I attached and sealed it the best I could and left it at that. We’d see if it had all been worthwhile once it started raining.
I joined James on the living room sofa. He seemed a little listless as he lay sprawled out reading his book, but I thought he was probably still a bit embarrassed. It had been mean of me to make him remain naked in a strange house after the buzz of his erotic performance had worn off. He sneezed again.
“Do you want me to read to you instead?”
“I’m not feeling well,” he said. “I have a headache and it’s too hot in here.”
“Come here,” I said.
He sat up and shuffled over to be beside me. I wrapped my arms around his front and hugged his back to my front.
“You’re really hot,” I said. He felt like he was burning up just feeling his body through the hoodie. I put my hand to his head. He was clammy and far, far warmer than he should have been. I kissed the back of his head and his hair was damp. “I’ll find you some medicine.”
I went to the medicine cupboard in the kitchen and mentally kicked myself. How had I let this happen? He must have been incubating for a couple of days. What if it was avian flu from that fucking goose? Or worse, what if it had just flown down from the north for winter, and picked up something really nasty bubbling out of the thawed-out tundra? Stockpiled ibuprofen would cut no ice if it was.
James was staring into space in the living room. I gave him a glass of water and two pills.
“Take those and drink all the water. I’m going to get some things to make you more comfortable.”
I went to our bedroom and grabbed a pair of James’ undies. Then I went to the box room and took the bedding from the single in there. There was some money on the shelf, which I also grabbed.
I threw the bedcovers and pillow down on the sofa and pulled James’ boxers out of my back pocket.
“Hoodie off, these on.”
I made up a little bed for him on the sofa while he got changed. He stood shivering in just his underpants.
“Brr… can I get under the covers?” he asked.
“I thought you were too hot?”
“I am, but now it’s really cold.”
“Get in,” I said, pulling the quilt up. Burning and shivering is never, ever a good sign.
I sat down and James adjusted his pillow, so his head was supported by my thigh. I pulled the money out of my pocket and handed it to him.
“What’s this?” he asked, then sneezed a couple more times.
“Bless you,” I said. “Your wages, for being my helper today.”
He held the plastic note up with his fingers. “There’s a queen on it,” he said. He turned the note over and ran his fingertips over the back. “Who’s Winston Churchill? Why’s he there?”
“He was a politician, a long time ago,” I said. “There was a big war, nearly a hundred years ago. My grandparents were your age. He became leader of the country in the middle of it. His leadership style helped make sure Britain didn’t lose the war to some people who were trying to wipe out anyone who wasn’t like them. Millions and millions of people died.”
“So, they put his picture on money because he was the hero?”
“Mmm… Not everyone agreed that he should be put on there,” I said. “Some people thought it was wrong that a politician’s picture should be put on money because not everyone likes politicians. And Churchill didn’t particularly like people who weren’t like him either. Earlier in his career, he did some bad things that hurt a lot of people, but he didn’t think much of it because they weren’t people like him. But I guess it was that sort of self-belief and comfort in ordering people around in dangerous situations that made him such a good war leader.”
“He was good and bad depending on how you look at it?”
“Exactly, James. There isn’t such a thing as heroes. Just human beings who have qualities that are good and useful sometimes, but other times harmful. Being good or bad or indifferent is all part of who we are. Nobody is just one of those all the time.”
“You can be annoying sometimes,” he said, “but you’re good when you’re kind to me and look after me all the time.”
I smiled and squeezed his hand. He squeezed back.
“Hey, if we have power and the music player and the lights work, does that mean this TV works as well?”
“I guess so,” I said. “Do you want to find out?”
He nodded so vigorously it brought on another set of sneezes. I turned the screen on and opened the draw where we kept all the DVDs.
What do you watch with an eleven-year-old with practically zero experience of human televisual culture? The Simpsons Movie was on top of the pile and seemed a candidate, but the snob in me refused to let his first experience of Springfield be through the prism of anything outside the first nine seasons. Underneath was Inception – maybe a bit too cerebral for him at this stage. Pilates? As much as it would have been amusing to try to convince James that all TV was just aerobics routines, I ruled that out as too cruel to inflict on a poorly boy. Next out was South Park, but I thought that would be a bit much for a TV virgin, too. Daria and spoof school Science video Look Around You ruled themselves out as there was no way he’d get them. I was starting to despair at how awful our selection of DVDs seemed when out popped the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring. That. That is what you watch with an eleven-year-old with practically zero experience of human televisual culture. They should’ve put Tolkien on the banknote.
James sat rapt watching the first part of Frodo and the gang’s adventure. By this point I realised I could have shown him anything and he’d still have thought it was the coolest thing ever, but Lord of the Rings was a particularly good choice. The look of shock and despair that James gave me when Gandalf gets pulled into the abyss by the Balrog was almost as dramatic as the action on screen.
By the end of the movie, James was absolutely knackered. He was yawning his head off with every other snotty breath. He still felt like a wildfire laid next to me. He’d started coughing huge, heaving, rattling coughs that made him say ‘Ow!’ afterwards. His voice sounded hoarse and painful. The sun had set when the end credits rolled. James was talking about the film with his eyes closed and then, mid-sentence, he stopped. Fast asleep.
I got up carefully, desperate not to disturb him, and turned everything off. I was still petrified that he’d caught something serious. Even normal flu would be bad. Normal flu still kills if you don’t have a hospital to go to when it gets bad. I couldn’t help myself. I went to the fridge and got the Welsh whiskey out. I poured myself a very large glass and went to sit with my sickly boy.
The whiskey was smooth. Ridiculously smooth. James’ bottom smooth. It was going to my head quickly like an early-morning caffeine hit in the office.
I sat in the silent dark and I drank. I drank and remembered.
Drew had called me across to the bungalow from the main farmhouse. The sun had recently set, and the courtyard was deep with shadow. Drew looked haunted.
They’d quarantined themselves in with Cerys a few days ago because she’d come down with a cold and they didn’t want to spread it to the rest of us. Harriet was a medical doctor, so she took it all very seriously. She overreacted. Harry or Cerys would get a sniffle or an itch and it’d be bed for days. Cerys especially. Got to keep the sickly little orphan safe; let her know she’s loved. Ease our guilt that Drew and Harriet are still here with Harry, Nell is still here with James, and I’m still here – with no-one – and Sophie is not. Sophie is not here, and Cerys is.
When we entered the bungalow, Harry was sitting on his own in the front room. His dark hair was even more scruffy than usual; unwashed. He looked like he’d been crying. Drew led me wordlessly to the main bedroom.
The air was heavy like a cliff face. In the centre of the double bed – Drew and Harriet’s bed – Cerys was bundled up in quilts, lank hair plastered to her face. She was alabaster, panting heavily and gurglingly in a faded pink night gown. Harriet sat beside the bed, heavy bags beneath her eyes, clutching with white knuckles a little bowl splattered with crimson fluid.
“She has it, Jake.”
The room was spinning. This changed everything. Ruined everything. It would burn up Cerys then it would burn us all to the ground.
“No,” I said. “No. You have to be able to do something. We can do something. I have immunity, right? You can take my blood now. Give her my blood.”
“It doesn’t work like that,” Harriet said quietly. “You know it doesn’t work like that.”
I pounded the wall with my hand.
“What are we going to do?” I asked, forehead on the wall, breath ragged.
“We have to leave, Jake,” said Drew. “We’ve all been exposed. Nell and James haven’t. We can’t stay here with them.”
Cerys coughed and retched and spat another bloody load of sputum into the bowl.
“She can’t travel,” I said. “Look at her.”
“We know,” said Harriet. “But she can’t stay here either.”
“You need to take her somewhere nearby and look after her,” said Drew. “You’re safe.”
“But what about you?” I asked. “What about Harry? They’re practically brother and sister.”
“Don’t make this harder, Jake,” said Drew. “Please.”
“I’ll take her,” I said. “I’ll take her.” I was pacing back and forth in the small bedroom. “But you have to tell me where you’re going.”
“We’re going to take the Land Rover,” said Drew. “See if there’s enough fuel to get us back over to Wales. We’ve already packed everything we need.”
“Take Cerys as far away as you can manage,” said Harriet. “And stay away as long as you can. You’ll be a risk to Nell and James as long as you could be carrying the bacteria.”
“Get her ready to go,” I said. “I need to say goodbye to Nell.”
“Don’t go in that house!” Harriet called out to me, but I was already racing across the courtyard.
James gave me a big toothy, gummy grin.
“Jakey!” he said, coming towards me. “Will you play cars with me? You’re the best at making the stories.”
“Woah, Jamey!” I said, taking a step back. “Don’t touch me. I’m a bit dirty from being outside. Don’t want you getting your pyjamas all messed up.”
“Are you okay, Jakey?” he said. “You look worried.”
“I’m fine, James,” I said. “I just really need to talk to your mom. Could you go get her for me?”
“Will you play cars later?”
“Stop wobbling that tooth, you. It’ll fall out by itself. Go and get your mom for me.”
He bounced away, still playing with his tooth. My heart was somewhere between breaking my ribs and breaking in half. James had just seen his sixth winter. This would be his seventh spring. Cerys was, over in the bungalow, literally on her deathbed at eleven. Harry was barely much older. Would he be next?
“James said you wanted to see me?”
“Don’t come over, Nell. Don’t even cross the room. I’m going to stay here in the doorway.”
“Why? What’s going on?”
“It’s Cerys. She’s got it. The pneumonic one. We’re all compromised except you and James. They’re getting ready to leave right now.”
“What?” she said, panic behind her sapphire eyes, “Jake, slow down. Cerys is ill? Who’s leaving?”
“All of us have to leave,” I said. “Drew, Harriet, Harry. They’ve all been exposed. They could be next. They have to leave to protect you. To protect James.”
“Okay,” said Nell, swallowing hard and nodding, “Okay, they have to go. What’s happening with Cerys? Why do you have to go too?”
“I went to the bungalow and saw her. I’m going to take her and look after her because she can’t make me sick.”
“Where will you take her? How?”
“I’ll carry her over to the next farm, keep her there for a while.”
Nell was nodding. A tear silently rolled down her cheek and splashed on the breast of her jumper.
“What… what do you think will happen?”
I breathed deeply.
“We’re going to get to a point… a place where we can’t return from. That’s where I have to go.”
Nell understood my meaning.
“And then… after that – after that how long will you be gone?”
“I don’t know,” I sighed. “I wouldn’t dare risk James. Maybe I’ll head south for a bit. See how Jon’s getting on at home.”
Nell was crying. So was I.
“James… He won’t be the same boy without you, Jake.”
“He has an amazing mother. That’s all he needs.”
“I know you, Jake,” she said between sobs. “I know how you love him. How… You will come back, won’t you? You do know this is your home, no matter what?”
I carried Cerys across country. She was like a fireball in my arms, but shivering all the way, drawn up in a thick overcoat over her thin nightie. And she was light. So light she was barely there. So light that I moved with her a couple of miles across pitch dark fields faster than I could move on my own on the road in the day.
I smashed my way into the neighbouring farmhouse. It was dark and empty; abandoned for years. I sat Cerys on the bed and took her coat off her. She’d dribbled a stream of blood down one shoulder. The neck of her nightie had been stretched by the journey and I saw the translucent skin of her chest was one giant rash.
“Jake, I need the toilet.”
“Of course, sweetheart.”
I scooped her up and found the way to the bathroom.
“There you are. I’ll go outside and you give me a call when you’re done.”
She was in fits of shivering when I carried her back to bed. I felt she might ignite me when I touched her.
“I’m so cold, Jake. Why’s it so cold?”
“I don’t know, darling. I’m here to make it better. You be a brave girl for me, okay?”
“Jake, why can’t I open my eyes?”
“Your eyes are open, sweet.”
“No, they’re not. I can’t see anything. I can’t get my eyes open.”
Her eyes were unfocused. Her entire body was rattling with every breath.
“You just keep them closed then. Don’t worry about it. Get your rest. It’ll all be better tomorrow.”
“M… M-m-mommy? Are you holding my hand, mommy?”
“That’s right, your mommy’s here with us, Cerys. You hold her hand.”
I felt Cerys give the faintest of squeezes on my hand. A candle of pink snot was running from her nose and a crimson trickle from the corner of her mouth.
“I… I see you,” her voice was barely a whisper. “I see…”
It was two nights after I left that Nell smelt the smoke and saw, on the dark horizon, the wild glow of a house fire.
I stroked James’ hair. Warm and wet. He was sleeping a snotty sleep. Air whistled through his blocked nose. I drained the last of my whiskey. I felt the rim of the glass on my wet cheeks. I’d been crying in the dark. I felt like I’d been hit by a train.
I stood up, stood over James for a while like a bodyguard. Then I knelt next to him. It was like kneeling beside a fire. I felt his body under the quilt, and he was slick, like touching an amphibian. Like touching a frog being boiled.
I wanted to love him, somehow, anyhow. I worked his pants down his thighs as gently as I could. He was a furnace. His body was molten; sucking his dick was like tonguing a lava plume. He was hot and hard.
He was still asleep, almost certainly. His brain was on autopilot.
“What do you have in your mouth?” he croaked; his voice still asleep. “It’s all tingly. It’s making it tingle.”
I kept going until he sighed a still, sleepy orgasm.
He was unknowing. Unknowable. I willed him to be healthy. I willed it to be just a winter bug. He was my Faramir. I could make him better again. He wasn’t doomed like Boromir. He was no Boromir.
We are as forlorn as children lost in the woods. When you stand in front of me and look at me, what do you know of the griefs inside me, and what do I know of yours?