This is my second story on Nifty.
Love will never abide by religion or by law. Love can be punished, but it cannot be cured. Love is the ultimate anarchist. The term "sin" is meaningless in love's language, as is the term "underage".
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THE SOUND OF HIS FOOTSTEPS
"It's all in here."
Elisabeth Olsen slammed the small black book down on the officer's desk.
The officer leafed nonchalantly through the book, opened it at a random page and read:
My body burns, I can never extinguish the fire.
My body burns with yearning and need, I can never satisfy it.
My body burns with hunger and thirst, I can never have enough.
My body burns with God and Satan, I can never know who.
I touch myself.
It is not the same anymore. Nothing is the same.
Because I know now.
MY BODY BURNS. IT BURNS. IT BURNS.
Burns in heaven. Burns in hell.
"And what exactly does this prove?" he asked.
He was getting weary from this fierce and rabid woman. As far as he could make out, she had no evidence at all, just this teenager's dreamy and romantic diary. He wished she would leave. She wouldn't, though.
"It proves that this man, this pervert, has led my son astray and polluted his mind with sick and abnormal thoughts. Read it all, that man has forced himself on to my son and seduced him to commit sins against God, it's clear as water. That man is an abomination and a criminal, and I want that man in jail."
The officer cleared his throat, stacked the book and the papers in front of him, and rose.
"A piece of advice: Stick with the facts, statements like you just made will not help your case. Your allegations against this man have been filed, he will be brought in and met with the charges, and the case will proceed from there."
He looked at his watch. A transparent gesture, but he needed to get this woman out of his hair, there was something profoundly unpleasant and unhinged clinging to her.
"So if there is nothing else, I have a report to write. Good bye."
Elisabeth Olsen glared at him. Leaving the room, she muttered under her breath: "Ungodly man ..."
Hamar, August 1989
Braathen sniggers at his own comment. He decides to let Sander in on more details.
"What can I say? She got pregnant, things just rolled on from there, and suddenly I was married and working in a print shop, without really understanding what had happened. No education, a kid on the way. It all happened without me participating, if you see what I mean."
No, Sander does not see.
"But why? If you didn't want it, I mean? You could have gotten out of it earlier, couldn't you?
"In the sixties? Small town, strict parents, determined lady? Hah!"
"Okay, I get it."
"But then everything started to tighten, the feeling of being trapped, the growing panic in my stomach. She would constantly pick on me, trying to dominate me, wanting to control what I did. What I felt, too. And I felt worse and worse, and I just started to lose my self-control. I would have blind rages, or I would flee the house and go drinking to dull all that shit that boiled inside me. If I got drunk enough, I wasn't so aggressive."
"Were you violent?"
"Depends on you definition of violence. Shouting and arguing, slamming doors, breaking china, all of that. Not a nice atmosphere to bring a child up in. She got worse, I got worse, and finally everything fell apart. And I was just so immensely pleased to get out of it all. The freedom, get it? But I was sort of hooked on drinking by then."
He lights another cigarette with the one he's already smoking.
"After we were divorced, Elisabeth started to hang with those Pentecost people, resulting in her being born again, as they call it. So stupid. I mean, really! Well, I got fined a couple of times for drunk and disorderly behavior, and even got in a fight once that ended up in the ER, and subsequently Elisabeth filed for sole custody and got it."
"Thomas never told me any of this. He just mentioned once that he was scared of your smell. But wasn't it hard to be shut off from him like that?"
"Not at first. I was just enjoying my get-away. I did see Thomas every now and then, I'd see him on his way from school, and I'd talk to him, learn how he was doing, you know. But then I got fired. No surprise, I was fucking drunk all the time. So I moved to Oslo. And I didn't see him anymore. Or his mother."
Sander feels almost astounded.
"This all sounds like one of those really depressing trendy movies. So different, I'm from the most stable background you can imagine. You know, no divorce, lots of understanding, moderate freedom, hardly ever more than two glasses of wine. Almost like a parody. I don't think I ever understood Thomas' ballast."
Braathen sniggers. Then gets serious.
"Ballast or not, Thomas has turned out a good guy. A very good guy. In spite of all those that have tried to break him."
Sander was summoned to the police station. As he left his house, he saw the word PEDO spray-painted in red across his door. He went cold with fear, then anger took over, but in the end he just felt dead tired. He didn't know how much more he could take.
At the station he was confronted with the charges against him and brought into the interrogation room. He wondered for a brief moment if he was entitled to have a lawyer present with him, but who could he call? He decided to let it ride. After all, he wasn't arrested. Yet.
The interview went a lot smoother than he had expected. He had anticipated something like a third degree interrogation, but they didn't push him when he refused to answer some of the more detailed questions.
How long had he known Thomas? Since October. Wait, September. Did he know he was a minor? No. That was never an issue. How long had they had a sexual relationship? Define sexual. Had he kissed him? Yes. Had he touched him inappropriately? Inappropriate by who's standard? Had he touched his genitals? Pfft. Had he had intercourse with him? No!
Suddenly his brain snapped.
"Enough of these questions!" he all but shouted. "I won't answer more of them. But I'll tell you this: I have never forced myself on to him. I have never even suggested anything sexual to him. Our relationship, whatever you think it involved, has been on his terms. His terms only!"
He felt his cheeks burn, his heart raced in his chest.
"Listen, he came to me to find something he needed, something no one else gave him. Understanding. Care. I listened to him, I held him when he felt bad, and yes, I kissed him. And in spite of what people think, I've never, ever fucked him. Yes, that's a deliberate choice of words. And this is all I have to say."
He rose, ready to leave if they would let him. At least I avoided lying, he thought. But if the case went to court, he knew he would have to answer in detail what had happened between him and Thomas. He tried to shake off the darkness that threatened to swallow him.
"By the way, someone has vandalized my door. I want to report it."
The interviewing officer yawned. "You do that at the desk."
He was let out. On his way back, he bought a can of paint and a brush. When he came home, he painted his whole door red.
Thomas lifted one arm above his head, the other hand's middle finger slid up and down his armpit. His skin looked a greyish yellow against the sparse black hairs in the faint light that seeped through the slightly ajar door to the dark bathroom.
His tongue was here, he thought, why do I have to remember it so well? It struck him like hammers, it was all so difficult, so destructive, that neither his body nor his mind could erase the imprint of Sander, as if he was branded for all time. His brain felt lame and dense with fog, tired from battle, blunt from resignation. It's hard to lie to yourself when your naked, he thought. This is never going to work, I am doomed. There is no solution for me.
He picked up his scissors and made a scratch with the sharp point, from the pit of his arm and down to his ribs. The point went a little deeper when it met with the solid background of bone, the pain felt like release. Tangible. Real. He made another scratch. A little blood trickled from the end of it. He clenched his teeth, breathed fast a couple of times. From somewhere in the distance the plucking of guitar strings could be heard along with a girl's voice singing Oh, happy day ...
Thomas studied his armpit in the mirror. My life, he though, is just like the Wailing Wall. A weathered, crumbling and decaying structure where all the cracks and crevices are so full of prayers and despair that all of it bleeds out and drowns everything.
Fred, as Thomas' homeroom teacher, had made several attempts to impede Elisabeth Olsen's overheated decision to send Thomas away. He had insisted she brought Thomas in so he could talk to him; he had warned her against interrupting Thomas' education in the middle of the school year; he had tried to make her see the damage she might do to him by creating so much fuss and commotion. However, nothing moved that fanatical lady. To her considerable discontent her allegations against Sander appeared likely to be dismissed, since Thomas refused to admit that anything untoward had been going on. When confronted with certain entries in his diary, he stubbornly claimed they described his thoughts, not his actions. He repeated again and again that nothing had ever been forced on him, refused to say anything about Sander, except He's my only friend. He's the only one that respects me.
But his mother's aggressive crusade wore him down, and his deep-rooted angst and insecurity, his isolation, and the massive attack from his church, soon broke him down. He stopped talking altogether, let himself be pushed around like a dumb animal; no will, no resistance. With her church connections and their insistent pressure, the fundamentalist school in Hamar blessed and approved of the plan, and within a week Thomas was exiled. To be saved and cured from his sinful nature.
Blinded by anger and deafened by misery, Sander walked around in a stupor. Oblivious to the askance looks, almost unconscious of the whispering voices. The outside world could not penetrate his shield, his rage locked and bolted his mind. Only at night, when his loneliness weakened his defenses of fury and bitterness, did he give in to the hollowness in his chest, to the ache in his heart. He sat for hours, his tears streaming silently as his ears listened in vain for the sound of those footsteps, his soul tormented by the images of the vanished boy in the hallway.
"Talk to me!" Fred said, attempting to draw him out of his darkness.
Sander frowned. His words seemed so inadequate, so far away and unreachable. He had tried to explain everything to Fred once, when the whole shemozzle had started, but he only felt the futility of trying to make sense. He just let Fred come and go, barely noticing the cups of coffee and bottles of beer he provided. Talk to him? Again? Why?
"I think I love him", he whispered to the wall from his stretched out posture on the couch. "No, I know I love him."
"Fine", Fred commented, "and of course it helps both of you a whole lot to lie here until you rot. It's been three weeks, for Christ's sake."
Abruptly Sander got up, sprinted to the bathroom. Fred could hear retching and moaning, then the flushing of the toilet and water running from the tap. A few minutes later a crestfallen Sander came shuffling out, plopped down on the couch and inhaled deeply. Let his breath out in a gush.
"You know my mother is Dutch, right?"
Fred nodded, wondering where he was going with this.
"Everyone thinks the country is flat as a pancake, but it's not. Not the eastern part. I spent every summer of my childhood at my grandmother's house, her garden was one long, sloping lawn." Sander's eyes got a faraway look.
"Okay?" Fred was still at a loss to see the point.
"We used to roll down the slope, my brother and me. In our underpants, so our clothes wouldn't get dirty. And besides, I really liked the way the grass tickled my skin."
"Sounds nice. And?"
Sander got up. Went to the kitchen and got himself a glass of water.
"At the bottom of the lawn there was this pond. And one time, when I was five, I rolled right into the water. It was a shallow pond, so it wasn't fenced in or anything. But it was full of newts, and I felt them crawl all over my skin, and I panicked. I screamed and screamed and screamed. My brother came running and got me out. I was squirming and kicking and my underpants came off in the water."
Fred studied him, those enormous ice-blue eyes alert.
"When we got to the house, my father found a tick in my armpit. He got it out with a pair of tweezers."
Fred's face showed signs of impatience.
"It's how I feel", Sander explained. "Helpless and frightened and my underpants lost in the water. Like the whole world can see my anguish. Like they can see my dick."
Fred sat lost in thought for a while. Sander flopped down and held a pillow to his face.
"Shit", said Fred, "I don't own a pair of tweezers. I wish I did."
→ Sander → → Diary 2018
The audacity of those people! In their ties and their sensible shoes, their pink faces and tidy hair. Asking you to listen to their drivel. I told them I'd hear them out if they first acknowledged the possibility that someone other than them among the seven billion people in the world might, just might, have a different, but equally correct opinion of who God is.
They wouldn't. I shut my door in their faces. Just like I did to that bloody woman. As if that helped ...
Hamar, August 1989
Sander sits contemplating the big yellow painting on Braathen's wall. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, the brushstrokes seem to come alive, suggesting shapes and motions, like horses galloping out from the canvas. And what is that in the topmost corner, a floating body, an angel? How could he not have seen this right away?
"Like it? Thomas painted it."
Braathen has noticed his reaction. The strip of light from the window has crept onwards and finds the side of his face, showing deep furrows from his nose to his mouth; his lips are on the thin side, long upper lip. Beginning bags under his rather large, dark brown eyes with lots of tiny wrinkles at the corners. Thick, black curved eyebrows. Tanned skin. What most reminds Sander of Thomas, apart from his physique, is the shape of his face and his ears. Braathen notices he's being scrutinized. He grins.
"Come on, your turn. Tell me about you."
Sander's turn to snigger a little as well.
"I live in Oslo in a flat I couldn't have afforded if it hadn't been left me by my mother. I also inherited her money, which helps a lot, since I can't teach anymore. So instead of teaching I translate chick lit for an overseas publisher, and I'm one of two owners of a small, but quite prosperous art gallery. That's more or less my résumé."
"That's not really what I meant. I don't care what you do. I want to know who you are."
"Who I am? I'm not even sure myself. Some say I'm the devil, some say I'm a nice guy. Most people agree that I'm easily toppled over."
Braathen now sits bathed in the late sun. Squinting, laid back, expectant.
"I'll tell you one thing, and you can take it anyway you like. I've had one big love in my life this far. Everything else has been peanuts in comparison. This love has never left me, it's been lying there smoldering inside me all these years. And there's no cigar if you guess who I'm talking about. So now you know."
"And so you've come to find him? Why haven't you been looking for him until now?"
"Well, I have! After he was sent away. I found him too, but he didn't want to speak to me. So I tried to wrap it all up and put it away, and just carry on. After that I didn't known where to look, and I still don't."
"You must have found something, if not you wouldn't have found me. The National Registry?"
"I had help. An old friend from my time in Tromsø. When I discovered Thomas was wanted by the police, everything exploded inside me, everything I thought I had put some sort of lid on. I got it into my head I had to go to Tromsø to look for him, it was all I could think of. That was a bumpy ride, to say the least."
Sander again feels how utterly heedless the idea had been.
"But at last I got in touch with a girl he went to school with, one he had exchanged letters with, actually. She told me he had met up with you again. So now I'm here, hoping you can help me. You may be my last hope, but ..."
"And if you find him? What do you think you can do for him? And what if he doesn't want to be found by you?"
Questions, questions. Pressure. And he may be right. What could Sander really do for him? Hold him and blow on his wounds? He leans forward, rests his head in his hands and speaks to the table top.
"Oh, come on, you're not blind, are you? Don't you see I have to do this for me as well? I can't just leave him in the lurch like it felt I did back then, even though it wasn't my fault that all hell broke loose. And if he still doesn't want anything to do with me, I want it from his lips, not some preacher's or his mother's, or yours for that matter."
Braathen rises, begins to wander around the room. Long-limbed, skinny, clothes hanging loosely. Like some text-book example of Mendel's laws of inheritance.
"Now listen. I met Thomas under rather ... well, unusual circumstances. And if it hadn't been for him, we'd never have had this chance of getting to know each other again. We'd both had some tough times, and, to me at least, starting anew with him is the best thing that's happened to me in years. So I'll do whatever I can to protect him."
"Protect him? From what? From me?"
"From anyone. From anything."
"Why do you say that? I really need to get to the bottom of this. All I know is that he was observed in the vicinity when his mother was killed, and that he's disappeared. And now you tell me he needs protection. Have you any idea how disturbing that sounds? What is it I don't know?"
Braathen continues to plod about. Moving things. Watching Sander with traces of wariness.
"You uttered some big words about love just now. How much do you love him? I mean, it's been almost seven years, right? It might just as well be a dream, huh? An idea of something that might have been?"
"How am I supposed to answer that?"
Sander is getting frustrated, vulnerable, his growing anger is threatening to bring tears to his eyes, so he closes them. He places both hands on his chest.
"He is in here! He has been in here the whole time, what else can I say? How can you measure that?"
He feels one single tear escape from his left eye. He doesn't bother to wipe it off. Braathen stops his wandering, rakes his fingers through his hair. Just like Thomas. It stings in Sander's heart.
"Want to come for a walk? I need some air."
Spring dragged its feet across the frozen desert of Sander's existence. He hardly noticed. Mostly he just sat in his flat, suspended from work, suspended in time, all thoughts dulled and crippled, his whole inside an abyss of nothingness.
Fred would drop by, keeping him up to date and trying to bring him out of himself, but to little avail. He was numb to the ongoing witch-hunt that Elisabeth Olsen and her cronies had launched in the local papers and on the radio talk shows, all directed against perverted men who led innocent youths astray and infected them with ungodliness and disease. She chastised the judicial and educational system for allowing these deviant and depraved persons to continue spreading their sins and corruption, when the only Christian moral duty would be to have them removed from society, particularly from schools and kindergartens. With the rumors already circulating, she could just as well have used Sander's full name in her campaign.
She certainly agitated readers and listeners, but the more opposition she and her fellow hate mongers met with, the more rabid they became. Eventually the papers stopped printing their open letters, and the radio station cut their calls, realizing this was a dead-end debate that was turning more libelous than objective.
To Sander all this seemed to happen in another realm. He lulled himself into a trancelike state where nothing was real to him except his loss and his emptiness, and it made him immune to the world and all its insults.
Until one March morning when he had to leave his sanctuary or starve, and he found his door damaged again, this time the word AIDSFUCKER scratched into the new paint with a knife, and a note tacked above it that read Where is Thomas?
It was the note that did it. He woke from his apathy, his fury rose and consumed all other thoughts. He ran upstairs and got his polaroid camera, took two photos of the vandalism, and went straight to the police. At the station he also asked if his movements were restricted due to the pending case against him, and when he found this was not so, he left his mother's address with them.
Back at the flat he wrote his resignation, addressed it to the headmaster, and a note with his mother's address to Fred, posted both of them, and went back to pack his car. Within two hours he was on the road, leaving Tromsø behind.
After the loud and insistent prayers quieted down, after the hands on his head had left him, after the looks that could split stones were gone, after the pain caused by the scratching of his scissors had dulled his anguish, Thomas lay alone in the narrow, white room that was his for the time being. Finally he was on his own, now he could dream and escape into his own impregnable kingdom.
He fumbled his way through his imagined forest of dark and gnarled trees in the rain, fantasized a pathway to a clearing where rainbows suddenly appeared and changed everything from hard to soft.
And he conjured up his dreamy flock of horses, swimming through the tall grass, glistening red coated muscles, flowing white manes. Here and there they danced, in a languid and unending choreography, slow-moving like under water, hooves lifted in undulating rhythm, long penises swaying in time. And among them the beautiful, beautiful cream colored stallion that turned into a centaur, slowing down to a languorous trot. Golden torso with a faint shadow of blond hairs across a defined chest, proud head with windblown locks of hair, bleached white from the sun: Sander's body. Sander's hair. Sander's face.
The centaur fills the whole space, comes to him and lies down in the grass, urging him to mount. He holds on to those shoulders, leans in on that warm, sweaty skin. And then they ride, Sander and Thomas, through sunken cities and past fire breathing creatures, all worry and failure stripped off like apple peel, towards sleep, towards the deep velvet darkness, towards oblivion. He loses control of the warm, floating images and is suddenly surrounded by tall figures who hit him again and again, stab him with sharpened poles, through his arms, into his eyes, up his rectum. But then it's not them doing it, he's doing it to himself, and his body turns into rubber, all joints are gone and everything is bent out of shape and location while he desperately searches for something nameless and faceless, something he must find ...
He woke up in a cold sweat, heart thumping. Lay for a long time, prickly skin and heaving breath, until he finally disappeared into the murky darkness of sleep again.
He was roused early the next grey morning. Then he was back on his knees, the heavy hands were back on his head and his shoulders, and his ears were raped with loud prayers and shouts until he gave in and crumbled with eyes stinging behind closed lids.
(to be continued)