Someone shouted, “Dakin! Get in the car!”, and sounded the horn, for good measure. He’d been thinking, rain like this only happens in the movies—absurd, immoderate, biblical rain—rain fit to wash away the sins of mankind and here’s an angel blowing a horn. Or not. He didn’t care either way —he’d sell his soul to be out of it. He pulled open the door and jumped in, closing it with the sound of a deadfall trap.
“Oh, fuck”, he said, turning to look at the driver.
“Hello to you too. A thank you would have sufficed.”
“Sorry, it’s just my mum told me I shouldn’t get in cars with strange men.”
“I’m hardly that, Dakin. Who were you expecting?”
“I don’t know, the Angel Gabriel, perhaps?”
“The Annunciation? What on earth does that make you?”
“A virgin, Sir”, he smirked.
“Yes... very good. Jesus, you’re actually steaming... and dripping. Wind up the window, would you.”
He closed the window—sending rivulets of water into the car; he knew Irwin was watching him. When it was shut and their Ark watertight, he peeled off his jacket like skin: clothes at a striptease, he had always thought, were rather the point; if the point were the journey as much as the arrival. He threw it on top of the walking stick lying on the back seat, knowing the reach would bring his sodden chest as close to Irwin as temptation could bear. But, turning back, he saw his were eyes shut—praying for deliverance, probably. He sat back down, pulled down the sun visor and peered at himself in the vanity mirror. He was met with a drowned rat version of his image of himself. “Shit”, he said.
Irwin laughed. “Through a glass, darkly, Dakin? I’m sorry you didn’t have time to prepare but I already know what you look like, you know".
He gave him a sideways glance and asked, “And how do I look... Sir?”
“Like the Devil incarnate, as ever.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.” He pushed up the visor and looked around, “This car’s too small for you, you can hardly get your legs in it”.
“I apologise. I thought it might be an improvement on the non-existent bus for you.”
“No, I like it, it’s cosy”, this accompanied by a rather obvious raised eyebrow. “I somehow didn’t imagine you driving though.”
“I don’t suppose you did—I don’t suppose you imagine all kinds of things about me. Try growing up in Nowheresville—you’d learn to drive as soon as you could.”
“Gay and in Nowheresville?”
“Obviously. And, yes, she’s too small for me—well spotted”.
“She? Never took you for sentimental either". He wondered if the rest of his life were similarly Lilliputian and suppressed a self-satisfied smirk. Outside, the rain carried on building up its part and the windows began to mist up and obscure reality. He said, “Your glasses”.
“What about them?”
He made a scrubbing motion near his eyes, “Getting all steamed up”.
“Oh...oh, yes”. He watched with amusement and pity as Irwin turned away to remove his glasses and wipe them on a cloth he kept in the door well. If he were more adept, more experienced, perhaps, at naming his emotions, he might have called it compassion, or even tenderness; but he called it pity. Irwin covered his nakedness out of his sight and, using the cloth to rub a small viewing hole on the windscreen, he said, “Maybe a little less heavy breathing would help. Would you like me to take you home?”
He stared across at him and caught the hint of a smile. The cheeky fuck, he thought—a double entendre. He wondered if he was more au fait with the Carry On oeuvre than he let on. He called his bluff. Grinning and slowly shaking his head, he licked rain water from his lips and said, “Yes please, Sir ...take me home”.
Irwin cleared his throat and rolled his eyes, “Buckle up then”, he said.
“Because I said so. It’s the law now and, if you damage your silly, pretty face on my windscreen, I don’t want you blaming me forever”.
“But that would make us quits, Sir, wouldn’t it?”
Irwin returned him a look so withering that he said, “Sorry”, and put on his seat belt without another word.
Turning on the ignition brought the wipers and radio back in to play. The wipers provided a little clarity but, when the radio sang out, It’s Raining Men, they both struggled to keep a straight face. They failed—and the laughter was both blessing and relief. After a couple of ‘Hallelujahs’, and while they were still laughing, he said, “I’ll turn that off, shall I, Sir?”
“I think it might be for the best, thank you. I feel the radio is conspiring against me and I’m only prepared to indulge pathetic fallacy so far”.
“Sorry, Sir, but that’s personification”.
Irwin called him a smartarse and was unable to mask a grin. He said, “Which is why I’m an historian, Dakin”.
With the tension a little relieved, they drove on in silence. Irwin had to concentrate in the driving rain, giving Dakin a chance to have a good look at him. He didn’t look older. How could he look older already? More careworn perhaps—experience beginning to write itself on his face. And, as recent experience had been painful and lonely, it was there—that was all. It hadn’t been there when they were laughing, he was sure of that—not too late then... never too late. And his mouth—Christ, his sweet, cruel mouth. He looked away.
He asked himself how long it had been. There was the accident and then Christmas and he’d been in hospital for weeks—a couple of months maybe. It was July now, so more than six months. A creeping rust had come between him and Fiona, corrupting the gears and eating away at any hope of forward motion until, one day, it stopped—simply stopped—and neither of them cared enough to do anything about it, though it had been serviceable once. There had been a couple of other girls, shiny and new, but he hadn’t been paying attention and they tired of him quickly. He was always catching a glimpse of Tom Irwin in someone else’s smile or look or turn of phrase—catching it, but never admitting he was searching for it and never answering when asked, ‘what are you thinking about?’ It drained him; it made him brittle and dull. He reluctantly admitted it sometimes when he was alone. But that was just a wank—one in a library of fantasies, dusted off, made use of, and returned. It’s not like it was his favourite... top ten, at best ...top five, maybe—who’s counting?
He turned back to Irwin and focused on the shifts in tension in the muscles of his forearms and the grip of his fingers on the spine-like undulations of the wheel. Impossible not to think of himself under it—the tension and the grip and the almost caress of it. Impossible not to want it. But Irwin was a cautious driver—no, not cautious, not timid—more... considerate, thoughtful, observant. He stopped at a pedestrian crossing and Dakin said, “It’s green”. Irwin said, “I know” and flashed his lights to let a young woman with a baby in a pushchair and a screaming toddler in her fist cross the road quickly in the pelting rain. Having no free hand, she nodded and smiled extravagantly in his direction and he smiled and raised his hand. Dakin hadn’t seen her—he hadn’t been looking.
“Oh”, he said. Then, after a moment, “I’m sorry, sir”.
“I didn’t... after the accident...I should have”.
“Should have what?”
“I dunno, visited?”
“Brought me grapes?”
“Maybe. I should have done something. But...”
“...I didn’t expect you to”. He didn’t say he didn’t want it. But, when he justified it to himself, as he often did, Dakin told himself he didn’t visit so as to spare Irwin the indignity of being seen so reduced. He’d long ago dispensed with the idea that he couldn’t bear to see it himself, or that both things might be true. Dakin made a habit of being right for the wrong reasons.
“Expect things—or, at least, want them, even if you don’t expect them”. Dakin wished he’d ask for things; fuck, he wished he’d demand them. After a long pause, in which he sinuously negotiated the traffic, Irwin said, “Want without expectation? Desire without hope? Even Pandora slammed the lid on hope... the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.”
“Nietzsche”, he replied, and smiled at him then. A real smile—warm and connected—and Dakin thought he was a long way yet from abandoning hope.
He thought about the upcoming traffic lights—when they reached them, he’d know if his gamble had paid off. If they turned left, he was being taken home—to his own home. If right, Irwin would be making a move and he would merely be reacting to events. He couldn’t be held responsible for that.
At the lights, Irwin braced one arm on the top of the wheel and ran his free hand back through his hair from forehead to nape, where he rubbed at an unseen muscular knot. He seemed oblivious to the aching sensuality of it; Dakin, far from that, held his breath as he waited for the interminable light to change. When it turned green, Irwin returned both hands to the wheel at the prescribed ten-to-two position, and turned left.
He considered the truth. He considered that here, in this moment, truth might be the thing. The unexpected thing. The thing most likely to shift the lever and send events hurtling in another direction. He could say—I don’t really want to go home, Sir. He could say—Sir ...no, he could say— Tom. He could say—Tom, please —and, with the merest stretch, he could slip his hand between his legs. A little squeeze, a promise, and he’d capitulate. He could say—Tom, look, maybe this is meant or random or serendipity, whatever, I don’t care. But don’t let’s fuck it up again. He thought—for fuck’s sake, Stu, just tell him you still want him.
But it was too late then. They’d pulled into his street and parked, some way away from his house. Irwin switched off the engine; the windscreen wipers sounded a dying fall and only the clamour on the roof remained. They waited. Irwin drummed his fingers on the wheel. They waited for the rain to form an impenetrable veil, the windows to develop a patina of discretion and to see who would collapse first under the submarine pressure.
Irwin took off his seat belt—he had no intention of leaving yet then—and twisted sideways to face him, looking like he had something to say. But, without warning, even to himself, Dakin launched forward and kissed him. Hard and dry. No finesse. More attack than kiss. In his head, and he’d given it some thought, he imagined kissing a man should be like that—predatory, violent, more power than sex. Irwin pushed him off with a forceful “No!”, shoving him hard enough to throw him up against the passenger door. If he thought kissing Irwin would be about proving something, again, he was right.
Stunned and breathless, he said, “No?” Irwin glared at him and pressed the back of his hand to his mouth as though he were wounded; he gazed at it like he expected blood. Incredulously, he said, “No... no ... well, yes, but not like that”.
Dakin recovered himself enough to murmur, “Then you’ll have to teach me, won’t you, Sir”. Irwin threw back his head in obvious exasperation and said, “Jesus, Dakin, you’re so predictable”. Dakin thought—you're not; you’re really not. But he asked, “Did you plan this?” Irwin snorted, “Dakin, I’m flattered you think my power extends to control of the weather, but no, I did not plan this. Where you’re concerned, planning seems rather pointless”.
Irwin sighed and turned and spread his hands over Dakin’s knees. He said, “Do you think you could drop the ‘Sir’ now?” and began to move his hands slowly forward—thumbs pressing in to the damp denim of his inner thigh. Dakin was lost then, lost and staring at the slow, steady slide; a wave of darkening water advancing ahead of the thumbs. Irwin stared too, as though his hands were possessed. The pressure forced the air from his lungs and it escaped in a long, ragged breath. He whispered, “I thought you didn’t want anything” and Irwin, lifting his head and focusing now on his mouth said, “I lied”.
And then, as though comic timing must be written into a situation so clearly staged by the heavens, Irwin stopped and started to laugh. He said, “Dakin you’ll have to stop backing up like a frightened rabbit—I can't get past the gear stick and I’m in danger of releasing the hand brake”.
Dakin laughed too and said, “Is that a euphemism?"
“No, it fucking isn’t. Could you meet me half way at least?”
From his position backed up against the window, he threaded his hands in Irwin's hair and hauled himself forward—not quite ready to let go of the notion of a power play, of being the one in control. Irwin winced, but he took charge with sweet, soft, almost-out-of-reach kisses and he was coaxed to release his death grip. The warm, wet, passionate tangle that was his reward was nothing like he’d expected; it was everything he didn’t know he wanted. The chatter in his head ceased. He thought nothing. Nothing at all, but that he had a sense of being quenched—a long draught of water on a dusty, dry day.
“I’ll take you home then, shall I?”, Irwin kissed against his mouth.
Stuart smiled and said, “Yeah, I really need to get out of these wet clothes”. And Tom started the engine.
Back on the road, the lights were red. Tom reached and placed a hand on his leg. “You, okay?”, He said.
He smiled, picked up Tom’s hand and quickly kissed it. He said, “Better than I’ve been in a long time”.
“You look worried though.”
“No, not that.”
“Maybe. A bit. More... bewildered. I didn’t expect this... I didn’t expect to feel like this.”
He shrugged. Unnamed and unnameable feelings eluded him.
“But you want this?”, Tom said.
“Yes” He was sure of that, at least.
“We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
“If you just want to sit and drink tea and chat, it’s fine.”
“You know I don’t want that.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I do”.
“Okay, good”. The lights turned green. Tom smiled and said, “I need my hand back though”.
He kissed it again and let go.