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Basic Black Has Gone Out

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“She can help us with our plan for when we both quit the priesthood."

Karras looked at Dyer sharply. “ Who's quitting the priesthood?”

“Gays. In droves. Basic black has gone out.” William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist .



Joe got his laicization and formal dispensation from celibacy through first. They were lucky, although they didn't know it, to be leaving the priesthood when they did - in just a few years, John Paul II became pope, and laicizations ground almost to a halt. But for Karras and Dyer, the process was, if not quick, at least relatively smooth.


“No more black for me,” said Joe, deftly twirling across Karras’s carpet, arms outstretched, to display a blue sweater and tan pants. “I was starting to feel like Johnny Cash in my old get-up.”


“Come on, Joe, we've always had casual wear,” said Damien, observing Dyer fondly.


“Yeah, but this isn’t just casual, Damien. This is bona fide layman’s wear.” Joe moved closer to Damien. “Hey, you know some of the laity have kinda got a thing for priests? I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t got a touch of that myself.” His eyes twinkled at Damien questioningly.


“No,” Damien answered the unspoken question, “Not while I'm still a priest.” Dyer shrugged and dropped sprawlingly into an armchair.


“We'll always be priests, Damien,” he says. “Didn't they drill that into you in seminary? They did me.”


“You know what I mean, Joe,” replied Damien with equanimity. Dyer yawned, stretched his arms above his head.


“Don’t I just,” he said ruefully. “Don’t I just.”




It was a rainy day in late April when Karras got called in to the diocese office to receive what Joe had so irreverently called his release papers. That was the wrong metaphor, though, as Dyer himself had pointed out. There was no such thing as being un-ordained as far as the Catholic church was concerned: you could be laicized, sure, and even get married, and no longer perform a mass licitly (although it would still be valid - an interesting distinction), but you were still a priest. That was forever. So he wasn’t being released; he was being placed on parole.


He didn’t call Dyer as soon as he got back to his flat. Instead, he paced back and forth, hands deep in his pocket, trying to feel different, trying to feel free, trying to feel anything at all. He failed. There was a curious emptiness where all that should be. He looked out at the pattering rain, making the Georgetown sidewalk slick and shiny, and wondered what he’d do now. Where he’d go. The death of his mother had left him with no family ties that he cared about. His friends had all been priests, really. There was only Dyer. Only Joe. He called him.


Waiting for Dyer in his flat, Damien wondered, in what felt like a very detached way, what the encounter between the two laicized men would be like. There’d been a tacit acknowledgement, hadn’t there, that Joe and Damien were in some sense leaving the priesthood together ? They hadn’t really talked about it. But the assumptions were written in every small touch, every cigarette shared, passing from Joe’s lips to Damien’s and back again, every time they’d almost , but never - they’d slept together once, actually slept , that is, not had sex. Squashed side by side, in the narrow beds they gave the priests, not really sleeping very well at all, in a semi-embrace. It hadn’t happened again, and they hadn’t talked about it, not explicitly. Perhaps, Karras thought, he was wrong about what was there between them. It was easy to get swept away in the tide of Joe’s flippancy. Or perhaps it was Joe who was mistaken. Perhaps he, Damien, wasn’t really interested, and was about to run to the other end of the country and leave Joe behind. In that moment, he really wasn’t sure. He was free, wasn’t he? Anything could happen.


Then there was a quick cheerful rapping at his door, and Joe burst in, red-gold hair dripping wet from the rain.


Mr . Karras, I presume?” he said, grinning boyishly. He tripped lightly across the carpet to Damien and grasped him tightly by the arms. Damien could sense, he thought, Joe’s desire to hug him, and his uncertainty over whether an embrace would be welcome. Thirty seconds ago, he would have been uncertain himself. Now, though, with Joe looking up at him, eyes dancing and hands warm on his arms - everything was suddenly very different. Acting on pure impulse, he put his hand (a hand which seemed to him clumsy and ugly) up to cup the side of Joe’s face, where he felt again the warmth radiating from his friend.


“Joe,” he said emotionally. “Joe.” He pulled Dyer roughly towards him and kissed him, for the first time. They were both unpractised, but it seemed to go pretty well. All Dyer’s flippancy was gone. He kissed Damien back with a gentleness and seriousness which somehow surprised Karras, but also delighted him. “Let’s go to bed,” he said, pulling back from Joe for a moment, but keeping his face cupped in his hands. Joe smiled, raised his eyebrows.


“Making maximum use of our dispensations as quickly as possible, huh?” he said. “Very efficient, Damien. That’s the kind of entrepreneurial approach that’ll stand you in good stead as a layman.” Damien kissed Dyer again, feeling his desire increase. He wanted to be as close to Joe as possible.


“Well come on, then,” said Joe, as this embrace drew to an end. “Let’s get sinning.”


They lay together afterwards, sharing a cigarette, uncomfortable but uncaring tangled in a mess of sheets and sweat. Damien propped on an elbow, surveying Dyer’s slighter body. His younger body - there were twelve years between them, he recalled.


“Where will we go?” he asked, plucking the cigarette from between Joe's lips and taking a drag on it. No doubt now that wherever they went, it would be together.


“Oh, I don't know,” said Dyer, stretching. “Where do gay priests go when they stop being priests? San Francisco?”


“Damned if I know,” said Damien.


“Oh, I hope not.”


Damien smiled, and rested his hand on Joe's hip. They lay silent for some seconds. Then Damien stubbed the cigarette out in the ashtray on his bedside table and leaned over Dyer for a kiss.


“More to the point,” said Joe, as if there'd been no break in their conversation. “What are we going to do? We're not under a vow of poverty, so I wouldn't actually object to earning a living.”


“I've got psychiatry,” said Damien vaguely, for now more interested in tracing Joe's collarbone curiously with his rough fingers. “In one way or another. I could lecture - write, maybe, I don't know.”


“Yeah, that’ll do,” said Dyer lazily, reaching for Damien’s hand. “I’ll be your housewife. Or a cat-burglar. One or the other. Both, maybe. Or I could work in a bar. I mean, when you think about it,” he continued, kissing Damien on the palm of his hand, “There are a lot of jobs other than ‘priest’.”

“Joe,” said Damien, suddenly wanting Joe to be serious again. Dyer lapsed into silence and looked at him steadily. Damien suddenly found that he couldn’t say what he had meant to say - it was too soon, perhaps, too earnest to be said without embarrassing both of them. Talking man to man now, and not priest to priest - things were bound to have changed between them.

“I know, Damien,” said Dyer quietly, responding to Damien’s silence. Karras felt himself relax again, as he had when Joe had entered the room earlier. Perhaps, after all, they had time.