amoral 4: No Gratitudeview galleries
I sat in my usual seat, enjoying my view of the pub. Nearly a month since my first visit to this pub and it still feels adventurous to be here. To be out when it is not strictly necessary. Out for fun. Fun is not the way of the twenties. Completely the opposite of the twenties last century, the opposite of roaring.
Or perhaps this is the calm before the storm.
After years of perfecting my stillness of spirit and mind I took action, took control. It started with my message to Martha which resulted in our weekly rendezvous, and chance brought James to our little party. It moved on to my recording the confabs in this delightful journal I picked up at work, in the old stock sale. And now it has moved onto sorting through my boxes. It has been nine years since I moved into my little room in the house share and the wall of cardboard boxes along the side has become a metaphor for the barrier to a possibility of a future to be enjoyed. A metaphor that needs to be disassembled box by box. I have only started my first box. A simple task to discard a selection of pens I did not remember owning, but then the task became onerous.
No gratification in this wicked task.
I smiled to myself in the pub when thinking about the futility of my week's endeavours as I had thought that a clever phrase I would try to use to impress Martha.
I also thought I would tell an anecdote about the young man with whom I did the lockdown dance. I was always prone to it, going left and right and back again unsure which side I am to pass a stranger. But now it has become so much more pronounced as we have to make a decision about the side we are passing a meter earlier. So much more time to change our minds and I am so good at being unsure. So much more anxiety about getting it wrong and possibly touching a stranger. It is not so bad, I was never much of a toucher so it hasn't been too much of a shock for me but I have seen the horror on other's faces when they are touched.
The young man I had done the lockdown dance with was sitting with the kids at the central table. I had been on the way from the bar, he had been on the way to his table. The space was a bit tight. For a moment I wondered if I should just sit in the closest seat, but I really wanted to be in the usual place. Eventually he went left. I did not notice him again until I had sat and taken several deep, slow breaths. I don’t think he was at the table last week, but he might have been. They are all familiar, the afternoon regulars, like they remind me of someone I once knew when I was their age. But I think that just happens as a person gets older, their memories fade and strangers faces remind them of someone they once knew. Though it is quite strange that so many of the afternoon regulars remind me of people I once knew.
"Would you like me to introduce you to Snowy?"
I was flustered, Martha laughed and skipped to the bar. She stopped to chat to Snowy for a moment before continuing to buy her beer. I berated myself for being caught ogling another punter. Martha would get the wrong impression.
"Aesop was asking about my new friend."
"And what did you tell him?"
"You are an old friend who is just venturing forth again. I prefer venturing forth to coming out."
"Hey, not so old."
I was pleased with my reply but embarrassed by the implication of my ogling young Snowy. When embarrassed I tend to become quiet. Martha filled in my lack of conversation with chatter about her colleagues. Once again I worried I should have made notes on their names to be able to show an interest in her life. I have never been quick enough to impress with my wit, indeed on the rare occasions when I have thought of the right line to deliver at the right moment I laugh so much to myself that I am unable to actually deliver the line. So I have to resort to other methods to impress, my stalwart is listening. Listening takes time. It takes a memory for names that I have to pretend I have by making notes after each encounter. And it takes patience to find the moment to show I have listened, I have remembered and, thus, I have cared.
Unfortunately, Martha's words dropped into a swirling sea of distraction, drifting to the horizon and I became increasingly in need of a rescue. As it happened rescue was at hand. The bar door swung open and there stood James. Tall. Swarthy with the dull afternoon light behind him. Like the eponymous gunslinger in a spaghetti western. Casting a steely eye over the revelers, if the sullen regulars could be called revelers. Silence descended on our table as we watched him tag himself into the pub and nod to us as he crossed to the bar.
“So, as I was saying, I just cleared everything from the cupboards. Binned the lot.”
“Yeah. I have been doing that this week.”
“Well, yeah. In a way.”
We stopped talking to watch James come to the table. Beer in hand.
“Hi James. For some reason that was quite an entrance you made. When I come in I am hardly noticed until I actually speak.”
“Years of indoctrination by b-list movies establish me as the hero and you as the housewife. Ironic with a capital I.”
My mind was agog at first Martha’s greeting then James’s reply. Were they both able to see into my mind. Or was my mind so predictable, so malleable, so facile.
“We were just talking about spring cleaning.”
“Not the usual time for it.”
“No time like the present, but you were going to say?”
I realised with sudden panic Martha’s last comment was directed at me, my response was blurted out.
“No wicked for the gratitude. Sorry. No gratitude for the wicked task.”
I had said it all wrong. Not only had I reversed the words I had also had none of the necessary buildup to deliver my clever line. I continued pouring out all my thoughts without structure.
“It is like everything is the opposite of what it is. I don’t mean the new normal and all that. I mean everything. So I have these boxes in which I have stored my stuff from, like, long ago. Then I decide to sort through the boxes which was like bad then I got no joy from that at all. Then when I was, like, thinking about how different life is and when I had to walk past Snowy, over there, on my way to Aesop at the bar, earlier I did the whole who goes left, who goes right and it was all just overwhelming. Like no gratitude. It all is wicked.”
Martha smiled at me.
“No gratitude for the wicked.”
“I don’t think the suggestion was either Snowy, who I assume is that young man drinking at the central table, or Aesop are the wicked.”
I said nothing. I looked down at my beer. Took a sip to cover my not saying anything. I had already made a fool of myself.
“Yes, sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that at all. Rather I had turned it about because there is an Aesop’s fable called No Gratitude for the Wicked about a hunter chopping off the head of an ungrateful snake whom he has taken to his hearth.”
“And if anything Tuesdays are the best days for Aesop’s.”
James said clever things with such ease.
“Yes, and furthermore I am put in mind of a little something that Snowy confided in me.”
“Something that cleverly fits with the fable.”
“Oh, indeed, if I can manage it.”
“I have no doubt in your wit.”
“You never fail to flatter.”
“And you never fail to please.”
Their conversation had the lightness and ease I so longed to perfect. I jumped in.
James looked at me as if shaking his head and I realised I should have been delaying the start of the story not trying to speed its arrival.
“It has been quite a while since Snowy confided this tale. I would ask you to be discrete with it as it involves others and I have not had the opportunity to give them a chance to confirm his memories of the events. As you will know I have a little penchant of exploring people’s firsts. Intimate firsts. A variation of the hackneyed how did you meet? A first came up in conversation with Snowy. I cannot remember the question I asked, or the way the discussion developed to the point where Snowy told me of a dream he had when he was young.
“Snowy was swimming with his cousin Amaro and Amaro’s dad. They were swimming naked. It was not something that they did, they were not part of a nudist colony. But, Snowy said, the nudity did not feel strange. They were cousins who visited each other’s households regularly, though Snowy was more often at Amaro’s as his family were better off. But there was one very unusual thing about their nudity. Both Amaro and his dad had truly colossal penises. Not just well hung, superb schlongs. No, these were ten or fifteen foot snakes curling about the edge of the pool, thick as a fully grown boa constrictor. Though, I must repeat, Snowy felt no danger from the pair of monstrous members. He can’t remember who asked, or if indeed it was one of them or just a general question, as often happens in dreams, the question: where was his cock. After a moment of confusion Snowy answered: I keep it in a jar next to my bed. In his dream it was a satisfactory answer, he even imagined a picture of a snake like cock in formaldehyde. The cock in the jar was much smaller than his cousin’s or his uncle’s cocks but that didn’t matter, as is often the case with dreams.
“Snowy’s dream has a lot of parallels to the fable about the wicked and ungrateful snake that is chopped off, but perhaps the story goes deeper as the dream left a lot of room for exploring. And I did explore it with Snowy. Which led to a wicked little first.
“Under a promise that I would never repeat his words, Snowy revealed that he believed the dream stemmed from those early sexual exploration boys will do together. Amaro is nearly a year older than Snowy and was an early developer in puberty. Amaro was experienced and Snowy was a little in awe, but, of course, did not want to appear inadequately immature. They were in the same year at school, and Snowy was Amaro’s match sportingly, and his better academically. But at that age maturity is what matters. And indeed Amaro was, is, well hung. I asked about Amaro’s father but Snowy could not remember.
“He remembers their contrasting cocks as they sat side by side on the bed. Amaro’s large, circumcised, dark, he even described it as gnarly. His, smooth and thin like a little torpedo. Amaro pinched the frenulum to tug up and down. He squeezed his torpedo between thumb and forefingers. Amaro came quickly and copiously, white spunk on his tight tanned stomach. Snowy had not before ejaculated, but he did with Amaro’s help and encouragement. With his tips and demonstrations. But he also remembers that he often did not come. Their sessions would sometimes end with him giving up. And he remembers that sometimes he was rude and ingracious to Amaro despite Amaro’s encouragement and kindness.”
We all silently looked at Snowy and Amaro drinking their beers.
“It fits so well, no gratitude from the wicked, though fortunate that the only snake to lose its head was in a dream.”
I finished my beer. Unlike James I was a little reluctant to celebrate the story. I was a little uncomfortable with the intimacy I now shared with the strangers sitting at the table next to me, even if the intimacy was only through Martha’s words. Anyway, my beer was finished.
“That is me then, are you going my way today James?”
“No, today I have more time so I can enjoy another of Aesop’s pleasures. And you Martha?”
“I always have time for Aesop’s pleasure.”
“OK, enjoy. Until next week then.”