Door Closes, Molten Trash
After we had covered two old exam papers (calculus and probability) Trevor asked me if I fancied listening to some music. I didn’t recognise any of the records he kept stacked against the wall; the names and sleeve designs gave no hint of what kind of music they were.
‘Here, try this one’ he said, placing a disc on the turntable. ‘This one is banned in large parts of Africa.’ A warm, lonely guitar began to trace a melody, while a man began singing, something I couldn’t follow but which was oddly comforting. My coffee had grown cold as one track gave way to another, then a third, and I remember hearing a distant voice say ‘Are you okay?’ as I lay on the carpet and watched the ceiling gently rotate. Did the room revolve at thirty-three per minute, like the LP; or was it a different angular velocity, governed by the beat of the music?
‘One day I’m gonna live in a place like this’, I said: I was filled with a fierce envy of people who had real lives, with real parents who cared for them and paid for them to go on holiday and real friends to talk with over long, lazy evenings.
He walked me back to the bus stop and I made my way home. The week passed in a blur as I waited anxiously for Thursday night, when I had been invited back to continue studying at Trevor’s flat. I had been careful to annoy the staff and the other residents of the house, by making frequent references to Trevor’s collection of New Scientist magazines, and his slide rule handbook, and the family bible which he kept on display.
So I was washing my teacup in the sink on Wednesday night, when the House Mother collared me, asking if I was going to Trevor’s flat again this week. ‘Yes, I think so’ I answered nervously. ‘Oh, good’ she said, ‘I thought it might be an idea to take Geoff along with you.’
Geoff was Aunt Laura’s son, who, like me, was studying O-level sciences. We maintained a low-level hatred for each other, and he never missed an opportunity to remind me of how enjoyable it was to spend time with a real family in a normal household.
‘Er, yeah…could do, I suppose’ I began. ‘What sort of homework does he want to revise?’
She smiled. ‘Oh, it doesn’t really matter…just as long as he can see what you two get up to, he should pick up some good tips for studying.’ I felt a surge of panic, as this lad would not hesitate to inform the staff that my private tuition was actually a relaxed evening of coffee and folk music.
So I waited anxiously for the next day, when Aunt Laura was due to bring her spoilt brat along to join me at my revision class. She arrived for duty at six o’clock as usual, and I asked whether she would be giving us both a lift to Trevor’s flat. ‘Oh, Geoff decided that he doesn’t need any special lessons’ she said ‘His teachers reckon that he is on track to get great results; after all, we’re lucky enough to live near a proper school.’
I felt anger flare and was about to make an indignant protest about the quality of my own school; but I realised that it might put a stop to my private sessions, so I just said that I was getting some good practice in dealing with exam questions.
I explained this situation to Trevor when we met; he seemed faintly alarmed. ‘You sure you want to carry on meeting?’
What an odd question, I thought. So we arrived at his flat and spent ninety minutes dutifully analysing algebra and electronics. Eventually, he said it was time to rest, and put the kettle on. While he was in the kitchen I began leafing through the pile of magazines on the table: New Musical Express, What Car, and Hi-Fi News. The staples had fallen out of one of these magazines, leaving the cover loose; and as it fell to the floor I saw two black-and-white snapshots slide out. They showed Trevor sitting on a bench along with another young man, both in white shorts and bare-chested.
‘Oh, you found those? I wondered where they had gone!’ I didn’t know he was standing behind me. ‘Cheers’ I said, taking the coffee; ‘Are you a footballer, then?’
Trevor laughed and said he had played badminton for a couple of years. For some reason my heart was thudding and I could feel my hands start to shake, causing the coffee to spill onto my shirt. ‘Hey, what’s the matter?’ he said with sudden concern. ‘Come on, let’s get that top clean before you go back.’ He undid the cuff buttons and tried to pull my shirt over my head. ‘No good, you’ll have to undo them all. C’mon, let’s see those muscles!’ We both laughed weakly at this comment; and I started to unfasten my shirt, keeping my face turned sideways so I couldn’t see him.
He took the shirt into the kitchen and emerged a minute later. ‘It’s on the radiator, should be dry in half an hour. Nothing to worry about.’
I remember clearly, even now, how strange it felt; the idea of seeing a picture of someone and being hit by a sudden wave of desire and longing to speak out about how I felt but knowing that it would cause – what, embarrassment? Anger? Trouble? So I kept quiet, or so I thought; he had noticed my subdued expression and hooded anxiety, and said ‘Are you bothered about the exam questions, or is there something else? You look a bit down, is it ‘cos your friend couldn’t make it tonight?’
‘God, no’ I laughed. ‘He’s not really a friend, just someone whose mom works at our house. She wanted him to come and keep an eye on me tonight.’
‘Keep an eye on you? Why, what did you say we got up to?’
So I told Trevor about the wholesome picture I had painted of our study session, with two devoted students absorbed in the arcane mysteries of O-level physics. ‘I didn’t dare mention anything about your music collection.’
‘Oh well’, he began, ‘You could really upset them and mention that I’ve got a guitar.’ He went into the bedroom and emerged carrying a plain-looking six string. He strummed it four times before slapping the back of the instrument, and handed it to me.
‘But I can’t play…never seen one of these before!’
‘Course you can, it’s easy.’ He showed me where to place my finger on the fret, and made me pick at two of the strings, making a lilting tune. I enjoyed the resonant scraping noise my nails made as they dragged along the string, and I was startled to notice Trevor watching me with a faint smile when I eventually looked up. He walked round the back of the chair and laid his fingers over mine; the record had reached its end and all I could hear was an irregular soft guitar twang laid over the regular dull click of the stylus. Somewhere in the distance I could feel my heart pounding while a strange hand began to stroke my leg.
Perhaps it is true that an infinite number of possible realities are sprayed forwards from each moment of existence; in one of these, I might have told Trevor how badly I craved his meaty frame, glimpsed earlier that night in a photo. I remember feeling hot and confused, aware that anything that happened between us would be seen as wrong. Evil. Disgusting. I longed to feel those sturdy arms and hairy chin – unaware of exactly what sort of pleasure they could summon up in one so lacking in experience as I – and in a moment of cowardice I killed the atmosphere of tenderness, gently asking if I could get the bus home in ten minutes’ time.
It was like watching an expensive vase topple from the edge of a tall cabinet; the slow configuration of light and shade and trembling beauty, accelerating from nothing down to an inevitable smash. The promised possibility of happiness dwindled to a far-off speck, and a surge of loss and loneliness fell against my heart.
I saw Trevor only in my dreams after that night; either he was busy or the weather was bad, so we abandoned the planned session of homework revision. My housemates never commented about how miserable I was looking. Perhaps they were pleased that I no longer had an evening away from them each week, glad to see that we were all once more a gathering of lost souls…