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Sunday 11 October 2009

Two of a Kind

Posted in: NZ Writing
By Steve Charters - 30th July 2006

1 Carson and Paul

'One day when you are beside me invite me to speak…'
That was all right.
'There's much I've left unsaid…'
He scratched it out. This was hopeless. He could never send it. Thinking about the impossibility, well, the unlikelihood of their ever being together, being 'beside', at least in the sense that he anticipated, was just too daunting. Carson felt the old emptiness reassert itself; he lifted his eyes from the page and looked through the window. Outside, the rooftops, the green lumpy trees along the avenue and the Skytower quivered and slid. He thought it was heat-haze until a tear splashed onto the table. He got a cloth and wiped it away.

When he carried the washing out to the clothesline Carson saw him: Paul. He was next door, working in his garden, kneeling and weeding methodically along the border. He had his shirt off. Carson watched discreetly, hoping Paul wouldn't turn, hoping he would. He positioned himself at the line pegging up the tea towels, the Y-fronts, the floral flannelette sheet, the fourteen grey mid-calf-length socks, piece by slow piece. He stooped for individual pegs and each time he rose he glanced across the fence.

Paul manoeuvred his trowel around the taro; the soil was good. He tossed the weeds backwards onto the lawn; he'd rake them up afterwards. The sun felt like hot wax on his back; he was risking melanoma he knew, but all that was years away yet. There'd be a cure by then. And you needed the 'look' to pull; a healthy tan. He was going for it this summer. Definitely. Before it was too late.

'In the jungle town where the sun beats down…' The words kept repeating in his head but he couldn't remember what came next.
Something…something…something about mad dogs and Englishmen…
The sweat slipped between his calves and thighs, stinging where the kikuyu grass had scratched. He should keep his fluid intake up and he needed a cushion. Dirty knees would not go unnoticed at The Toolbox. Though he could always pass it off as carpet-burn. He stood and stretched.

Carson stood by the clothesline holding the laundry basket across his body like a wicker breastplate.
'Morning!' he said, through the lump in his throat. 'Just putting the kettle on. Won't you join me? I've got Toffee Pops.' Did he sound like a total moron?
Paul turned to face him, grinning.
'Okay', he said.
Carson looked everywhere except at Paul, then hurried inside to make the tea.

The unfinished letter lay on the table. He'd meant to move it but in the flurry of setting out the cups and arranging the Toffee Pops on a doily he'd forgotten. Removing the biscuits from their packet and arranging them symmetrically on the pink Spode side-plate he imagined Paul's lips closing over the smooth chocolate coating. He licked his fingers one-by-one, counted the biscuits and hoped Paul would eat them all; he had no appetite himself. Then the kettle boiled.

When he carried the teapot through, Paul was seated at the table with his shirt on. He looked up quickly and Carson knew he'd been scanning the letter. Why on earth hadn't he tidied up?
'Sorry', he said. 'Leaving things lying about…'
'Not a problem,' said Paul
Carson whipped the writing pad away and placed the teapot down carefully on the stand.
'Shall I be Mum?'

For a while it was quiet. Carson held the milk jug up and raised his bushy brows; Paul nodded and Carson poured, and there was the gurgle and rising steam and the smoky scent of Lapsang Souchong … and more comfortable silence…
They sipped.
Paul reached for a Toffee Pop. 'Tell me what you're thinking,' he said.

2 Jackson and Matt

Once their mornings had been placid and routine; not recently.

Today something delayed Jackson in the shower and while Matt went to hammer on the bathroom door the toast burned. He was scraping it into the sink when Jackson appeared, knotting his tie.
'What kept you?' said Matt. 'Not like you.'
'Nothing' said Jackson. 'What's the smell?'
'Burnt toast.'
'Really?' said Jackson. 'Not like you.'
Matt considered his options.
'Someone fiddled with the dial' he said. 'It should be set on four.'
'Well, I never touch the toaster,' said Jackson.
'I noticed,' said Matt.

They ate in silence: Matt eyeing the clock; Jackson lingering deliberately over his cereal, spooning in the slow mouthfuls, scraping the low-cal dairy blend precisely onto his toast. Matt was dying to say 'you'll miss the bus,' but he gulped his tea instead, finishing his breakfast sooner than he'd intended.
'If you'll excuse me…' he said, and went into the bathroom.
It was immaculate, much to his irritation. When he emerged both Jackson and the car had gone.


Jackson stayed focused all morning. Lois juggled his diary and by mid-morning she'd created a window for an extended lunch. Driving to the surgery he recalled his earlier visit: lying on his left side observing minutely the detail of the woven sea-grass wallpaper and subjecting himself to the clinical intimacy of Cliff's examination: the gloved fingers, warm and not ungentle, and the fear, the shame. Only one other person had ever touched him like this.


Matt pottered. It was a gorgeous morning. There was Stretch Yoga at ten and he was stuck without the car so he phoned Bobby for a lift. He'd got the washing on the line and was just giving the lavender borders a light trim when Bobby tooted in the driveway.

After class they showered and went for a coffee. They sat at an outside table wearing their sunnies.
Bobby eyed the sullen waiter. 'I'd like a long black,' he said, spiking up his blond hair.
'Wouldn't we all', said Matt, 'but how about the coffee?"

The waiter ignored them as long as he dared then brought their order. They sipped from the chunky white china.
'How's your other half?' said Bobby.
'Moody,' said Matt.
'Menopause,' said Bobby, 'with the emphasis on the 'men'. How long have you two been together now?'
'Nine years,' said Matt. 'But it seems like a lifetime.'
'More like a record,' said Bobby.


Jackson drove along the waterfront. He kept his hands relaxed on the wheel, driving carefully. Beside him on the passenger seat the manila envelope shifted with each curve in the road. Cliff had explained the medical terminology; its significance; all the options.

There was a space under the pohutukawas where the tarmac was crimson with fallen stamens and he nosed the car in. On either side other drivers tossed crusts to a grey horde of scavenging gulls. He fumbled with his plastic lunch-wrap then gave up and sat staring. Across the harbour, the dark majestic outline of Rangitoto plastered itself against a pale sky. The tide was receding. He reached for the envelope.


During the afternoon Matt watched Oprah: Wives Whose Husbands are Gay. When the ads came on he folded the washing. Then he prepared a casserole and made some Christmas plans. Later he had a little nap.


It was a perfect meal. They carried their coffee onto the deck and watched the sun burning up the sky behind the purple ranges.
'Light the candles, eh?' said Matt. 'Mozzies.'
Jackson flicked his lighter and the scent of orange peel spread across the garden as the night floated quietly down.

The candlelight trembled over Jackson's face, touching his ears, cheeks and jaw, hiding his eyes. Matt thought he looked tired; he put down his cup.
'I know I can be infuriating, Jacks,' he said. 'But you do mean a lot to me.'
Jackson reached across and took Matt's hand. The warm familiar texture of his lover's skin anchored him.
"Matt', he said, 'There's something I have to tell you.' welcomes short-format writing based on the joy of being gay or lesbian, whether it be verse, essays, anecdotes or personal insights.
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Steve Charters - 30th July 2006