Never have I seen someone so extraordinarily vulgar in their every manner. The mere sight might be enough to demoralise the unfortunate stranger, dare he set their eyes upon this foreign creature. I blame my dear mother for sending me to such a school where I risk being exposed to souls so selfless. There must be a trick in this as I refuse to believe that anyone could be born this way.
He was tall and 17 years of age, his face that of an angel sculpted with the devil's skill. His blonde hair had a natural shine to them as if though constantly in the sunlight, light blue eyes matched this cliché composition by making the heavens jealous. His clothes weren't Italian or French like other students', everything from his unpolished shoes to the blazer which was full of creases was made overseas, his scandalous white smile only matched by his shirt, the top button of which was left open in a messy, condemnable style.
Alfred Jones, "New Money" from New York City was going to be the end of me and I knew it right from the moment I first set my eyes on his handsome face.
He might've been tiptoeing; taking special precautions to remain silent but his absolute lack of grace and sturdy built make it impossible. I opened the door of my dorm and informed him that his nightly escapades are less than appropriate which he greeted with a laugh. I could have sworn he was mocking me but for a strange flicker in his blue eyes which assured me of different intentions.
He promised me that next time he shall walk upon the carpet so that it would devour the weight of his footsteps.
Surely enough I never heard him walking in the night again.
"You must try it Arthur, it is exquisite!" His Yankee accent clashed with the newly acquired sophisticated speech. Still, there was nothing upper class in the way his mouth formed a wide smile as he showed me a bag full of sweets his parents sent him.
"Are English sweets not good enough for you?" I asked and broke off a chunk of his chocolate bar. As it melted in the warmth of my mouth it seemed bereft of flavour.
"It's candy," he corrected stubbornly and pushed up the silver frame of his glasses. "It reminds me of home."
At that moment in time I began to think that maybe there is something more to chocolate than taste alone.
All these old folk stories, as outrageously impossible and fantastic as they can be, somehow remain as one of these ancient components that make us the way we are. They are at the very core of our personality, our self belief and imagination. Such one could be the legend of St George.
As Alfred questioned why the English flag bears St George's cross I told him the story of brave George slaying the dragon. As I finished, he asked me, with an expression that betrayed no feelings, if I believed this story. With growing frustration, against all sense I told him I did so.
"Thank god," he said "Where would the New World's heroes get their inspiration from but Old World's dragon slayers." I didn't dare tell him that in fact I've always felt sorry for the dragon.
"Have you heard of the gentleman who posed the question what came first, the chicken or the egg?" He asked me at breakfast, the most sincere concentration and earnest seriousness painted on his features.
"I think you'll find yourself a much happier man if you don't waste precious time pondering on questions that have no answers. And this 'gentleman' must have been tens and hundreds of philosophers over the ages." I replied coolly, still distracted by taking the shell off the hardboiled egg. I missed the pained look but could not help noticing the way Alfred stared at my breakfast. "What is it now?"
"I think I've got the answer." He said sternly. "The chick. Surely it has to be the chick."
"Well done Darwin." I said, rolling my eyes. "Now consider this, how did the chick come to be without the egg?"
His disappointed face almost made me regret my words.
The grounds around our school were covered in a thick fog- very typical of late autumn. It created an illusion of an enclosed world with nothing beyond but the grey nothingness and dirty white sky which seemed to be hanging heavily above our heads.
The air was damp and even as I looked outside through the mouldy classroom window I could feel the still but chilly air.
"Looks great doesn't it?" the familiar accent chirped inches from my ear. I stared at him questioningly. "It's like the sky and Earth are one and you can be free to walk or fly with no restrains of gravity."
Later that day I watched Alfred wander into the mist, disappear and then come back with a smile as if though he had guessed the meaning of life.
And maybe he just did.
Gutter and Gold
I'm beginning to doubt the world's judgement on things and especially my very own after being proved wrong by this insufferable American on more occasions than I'd like to count. Today we argued over the importance of social class; Alfred believes that they are flexible and even a poorly born peasant baby can and should strive for the American Dream. I angrily told him that these people have no place in our society- one of no manners, no history, no significance can't possibly learn to become something they're not. They might as well stay in the gutter where their harlot mother was impregnated. I've never seen a gentleman so angry before- but Alfred is hardly a gentleman.
"You may want to consider," he said icily, "that a lot of these children are of your own heritage, of mighty, rich fathers who choose to use these poor women's bodies for their own enjoyment."
These things are not talked about- it's not something we like to admit to because we love our world of gold and glitter too much to watch it melt and scald our pure white fingers like a guttering candle.
The old stone walls of the school are steady but hardly keep out the cold wind which chills everyone right to the bone. Unable to spend another minute shivering underneath the quilt in my dorm I headed down to the common room where the grand fireplace was operating over the night- no one seemed concerned by the safety implications. I crouched in front of the fire and warmed my numb fingers, ever so amazed by the simple elegance of the waltzing flames eating each other in that erotic embrace, my hungry eyes followed the rhythm with no choreography. Mesmerised I fell asleep on the dusty rug in front of the fire.
I woke up perfectly warm, my fingers clutching a blanket adored with stars. Initially confused, as understanding poured over me I rose from the floor allowing for the blanket to slide down. I picked it up baffled, unable to comprehend why my teeth were chattering and my body felt like ice without the foolish thing.
Sometimes you don't realise how little you really care about something until you meet someone who's devoting their life to it.
Today I have overheard Alfred discussing in the tone of great thrill and secrecy how he is anticipating spending Christmas time at home as there's a sweet girl named Charlotte who's destined to be his wife. She's born to a farmer's family which made itself rich recently and Alfred admires them dearly. The girl is a beauty by any standards and in his voice full of youthful vigour he described the details of the low cut of her corset- the boys around, embarrassed and aroused listened when Alfred continued his descriptions in a lower voice. I found, that as for myself I could not care less for the two heavy lumps of fat hanging off the female chest and with disgust and sincere distaste I walked away.
"America is the land of justice" Alfred announced after a very long class on international law; he was clearly passionate about the subject and remained alert throughout.
"I thought it was the land of freedom and truth" I replied, almost slipping on the steps as I was still reading the notes. Alfred grabbed a hold of my elbow.
"Yes, but justice as well! If a country is free then it is just!"
"Really?" I replied, looking up from the notes onto Alfred's determined face. "How is that?"
"Well, justice is needed for freedom to be controlled..."
I began to laugh. "What would that be? Freedom in moderation? How would that work? Freedom is a matter of either or. One can't be moderately dead or moderately free. You either are or are not." Alfred considered and to my surprise said that I was entirely right and that justice's place is to ensure that this freedom is for everyone with no bounds.
I still think we disagree.
On a Sunday morning Alfred confronted me on a much unexpected matter. He wanted to know of the scariest man in England. I took no time before deciding and replying it was Jack the Ripper. Alfred listened with disbelief as I've told him about the man's cruelty and the horrid murders of the prostitutes, not that far but only a few years ago. We talked about blood and I felt beguiled when Alfred pointed out that a lady's blood would be no bluer but just as crimson as that of a prostitute. I know what he was getting at but stubbornly I pretended this comment left no impact. Alfred told me that in America they know nothing of the dangers inside of London or any of England's major cities.
"The English," he said with calm conviction "Have always been better at being killers on land which wasn't their own."
I slapped him across the face.
When I thought about this event later I began to wonder if Alfred started the conversation with this ending in mind.
"Arthur for the love of God, what are you doing?" Toris, my dorm mate asked in bewilderment. He didn't dare walk inside the dorm and opted for the doorway. The rich green carpet was invisible, fully camouflaged by the torn pages of books. A piece of paper on the desk had ink spilled over it, the elaborate bottle was knocked over still balancing on the edge of the table surface, black liquid dripping. In the middle of this mess, there was me, sitting on the floor, eyebrows furrowed in concentration, fingers clutching to a half empty back spine of a book.
"Reading about slavery in the New World."
"And what would you be doing this for?" he exclaimed.
"Leisure." I replied and began to gather the papers.
To this day I wonder how long will the shadow of these dark days continue to haunt Englishmen; this shadow that treats every man and child equal, as if to taunt us with the very thing that we are incapable of.
When I was 7 years old I asked my father what it takes to be a man. He told me, with a fond smile that it is simpler for me because I have money. With money I will get education and knowledge, respect and a wife who is beautiful and fertile to bear me a son. At 13 I asked my older brother Hugh the same question and his answer made me not talk to him for days in anger as I felt he was lying to me.
"A real man is always able to protect those weaker than himself and at the same time he seeks no reward for it. It is a man's duty not to beget a child but to create a safer world for his offspring to grow up in."
Yesterday Alfred ended up in the nurse's office, beaten up but refusing to explain what happened to him. I can't help thinking he's more of a man than my father will ever be.
After what I believe to be Alfred's heroic intervention we are talking again. We are back to nocturnal conversing in the flickering light of numerous candles in his private dorm and I find myself looking forward to these talks enormously. I am trying my best to avoid controversial topics and Alfred is trying his hardest to make them happen. Today we talked of intimacy.
"In India Englishmen are known as very impatient." At least he doesn't say bluntly that we're terrible.
"Intercourse is for making children," I informed him sternly. "Having a fiancé yourself, I'm sure you're aware of it." He seemed surprised that the information reached me but then leaned back on the bed, his head resting on the wall at an odd angle, his fingers playing with the cuffs of his shirt.
"I have no desire for children. I plan on sexual closure to have a different aim." His tone and smile were so nonchalant as if we were talking about the weather. Only the electrifying glance I spotted for a fraction of a second made me worried.
My first real kiss was a drugged one, under the influence of rich smells and spices that killed my logic but awakened other senses. We got a hold of it through a Chinese student alongside with vague instructions and one pipe.
After half an hour the room was swaying around us, exploding with a rainbow of marvellous colours. The air was heavy and sweet while all the sounds became sensual murmurs, soon lost with the new sensations of dry lips locked together, awkward fitting noses and blue eyes peering at me from underneath insanely long blond eyelashes. I couldn't distinguish which limbs belonged to who if I tried but in that drunken haze it was the last thing I cared for.
We had the whole of December off and I had spent it in my parents' cottage house outside of Bath. They found my new attitude upsetting and it only got better when the view outside the window was miraged with white snow. They figured the change of weather improved my mood and I let them think that. In reality, snow meant no post which resulted in the final lack of anxiety every morning as I pondered if Alfred would write.
When a letter reached me it was on Christmas Eve and extremely disappointing. It included a photograph of New York and Merry Christmas wishes. I would've kept it if it wasn't for Charlotte's name written next to Alfred's.
I've made a New Year resolution and I will try with all my might to fulfil it. I've promised myself to be more rational and this meant the end of pointless conversations in the candlelight, end of futile silent hopes Alfred would go to a university in England (hopefully stay at Cambridge) and the end of lingering, and waiting for him every morning and being late for class, the end of overeating just to keep him company at the dining room table and finally it meant giving up the hope, the burning desire for Alfred to remember that kiss.
I tore the piece of paper with my resolution to pieces and wrote a new one. "To find a calm state of content."
And this seemed infinitely more realistic and rational than anything I have written so far.
Our school has a lot of mystery and legends attached to it –this is generally the case if it's such an ancient building (older than Alfred's country as some like to tease). We have our own share of ghost stories and one evening a group of boys from the year above prepared us for a late night walk through the school's eldest corridors with their chilly winds and damp smells spiced up with horrid stories.
It was about half midnight when we finished the tour, everyone whispering between themselves excitingly. I was awoken at quarter to 3 by a knock on my dorm door and found a pale faced Alfred, sweat glistening on his features.
"I cannot sleep" he announced in a shaky whisper. I let him take me to his dorm and lit all the candles and the oil lamp. We talked until it was half 4 and Alfred seemed calmer. He told me my face looked pleasing in orange light. I said he should get some sleep because he's talking nonsense.
My grandfather was a renowned musician at London's Opera House. My mother, encouraged by her father performed as a singer until she married. To this day we receive honour tickets to see the shows at the Opera. My father who was never fond of this form of entertainment was glad to send me the tickets that belonged to him and mother for the premiere of the French production of Esmeralda. I invited Alfred to come along and he eagerly accepted. Soon I was to discover that Alfred was much more excited by the steam train than a trip to the Opera. We left early on Saturday morning, dressed in our best suits, wearing velvet gloves and silk bow-ties. I felt like a true gentleman discussing The Origin of Species with Alfred, (a copy of which I received for Christmas) and I was utterly impressed with how mature Alfred acted in public.
When we got to the theatre I discovered the tickets disappeared from my pocket.
We had a night to spend in London with no place to go. I knew my parents' townhouse would be empty and could feel panic washing over me. Alfred asked me if I knew any decadent places and I told him I did not understand.
Soon we found ourselves in one of the narrower alleys at an inn that I'd usually call filthy and yet it was filled to the brim with men dressed as well as ourselves. The place was scandalous. Wilde's wit was cited in the corners, women pulled up their dresses on men's requests and artists produced little haunted sketches under the influence of absinth. Alfred took no note of my discomfort and ordered whiskey. He tipped the bartender and seemed to be barely able to contain his excitement. After two glasses we were talking loudly and passionately about changing this world into a utopian vision and never giving up on life. Underneath the table Alfred's hand clutched onto my lap, his strong fingers digging into the fabric of my trousers inches from my crotch.
We rented a room at the inn to spend the night in. The bed covers had stains on them, the origin of which I was in no state to guess, the window was ajar and early spring air mixed with the damp stench of the room There was a hand washing basin in the corner of the room and in an unsteady step I walked up to it, took off my waistcoat and opened my shirt before splashing water onto my face. It was cold and felt good on my burning skin. Soon I felt a presence behind me and for the first time it occurred to me how wide Alfred's shoulders were, how much taller the man was.
His strong grip on my shoulders turned me around so that I was facing him. The small of my back was pushed against the basin to the point it was plunging into my flesh. Alfred's touch on my skin felt cold and it gave me shivers. His breath stunk of alcohol like my own and when we slid down to the floor, limbs entangled and kisses missing our lips, my senses became like those of a violent animal, claws ripping clothes and flesh, teeth drawing blood out of Alfred's nape.
The morning felt warm or maybe it was just the heavy arm and head on my chest pinning my body to the mattress. My head was pounding, surroundings seemed alien and the slightest noise multiplied in my ears.
Our garments were scattered around the room and our odd teenage bodies were covered with the thin quilt. As I watched the sun play its magic on Alfred's cheek I could see the glistening as the light was bent on the short stubble. I felt my own face most cautiously, to discover only the familiar fluff. Last night clearly didn't make my body mature in an instant but that was just fine- I wanted for this flow of youth to stay with us for days and years to come.
Alfred went on to study at Harvard. From what I've heard his engagement with Charlotte ended in a disaster as she was accused of being dirtied by another man. He is now determined to focus on his education of Politics and refuses all the respectable ladies. I found myself in my first year at Cambridge studying Literature at day and at night writing wicked poetry and discussing beauty with artists. We drink together and allow for women but mostly each other to explore the rich kingdom of senses unknown to humans. I think it is my own way of yearning for the excitement of the college days and throwing it out of proportion. To forget and get rid of that horrid poison Alfred left in my blood.
Habitual antagonism between my senses and Alfred's could have culminated in open hostility. Instead even as a member of the American Congress, never married and childless he comes to England once a year and we share our moments of intimacy and talk. We silently agreed on not exchanging any letters for the sake of us both. We both agree that this short moment was worth so much more without a prelude.
So we meet, at the zenith of our reason and desire to enjoy whatever time we get. This time that no one can take away from us because if they only tried they would run away in terror of what they found.
Most men are not yet ready to understand what love means.
* this particular part was heavily influenced by a conversation in a costume drama 'The Duchess'. I highly recommend it
Notes: I'm guessing it's easy to see it's no normal HS drama. I have to admit I wasn't very keen on any of the prompts (other than HS there was pokemon which I'm afraid I despise and Doctor Who.. and I'm not very fond of the Doctor either D: ) so I struggled until coming up with this. I really did attempt at giving it my best shot and I hope it is appreciated none the less. Also, I'd like to explain some things which may still be unclear:
-The action takes place in a boarding school (British college= American HS) in the late 19th century (1890's). I tried to keep the actual date ambiguous but I hope that it shows through style and mentioned events (premiere of Esmeralda, Darwin, Jack the Ripper). I am a great enthusiast of the Victorian times and hoped to reflect the era's moral corruption in the figure of an initially perfect gentleman Arthur who comes to see this corruption and becomes a decadent. If anyone has any notes or criticism I'm very open to listen/consider/alter
-I decided to go with the a-z format because of a book called 'Anthropology' by Dan Rhodes (again, I recommend it dearly). It also gave me a good structure for the fic and I think it helps the overall slightly poetic and unconventional format. As for why the letter 'q' is missing.. I left it till the end and then did not write a paragraph for it before I had to get the fic beta'ed. I apologise and if the public/the recipient of the gift requests it I shall add it to the story.
At last but not least I'd like to take the opportunity to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year