The following story is almost certainly a work of fiction.
If you shouldn't be reading this sort of thing, because of the rules which operate in the place where you live, then your decision to continue reading must be a matter between you, your conscience, and your relationship with whoever it is who makes the rules – be it your mother or your government.
I should address the `playing safe' issue, I suppose. Leo and Michael don't, because they don't need to: Leo was a virgin when the relationship began, and has only ever had unprotected sex with Michael, who had tested `negative' in his most recent test, since when he had not been exposed. Which means they can indulge freely, without having to break off in mid-flow and start scruffing around in search of condoms (remember what those days were like?)
Comments are welcome. There's more to tell, and if there's any interest to hear it, then, you never know...
And, as ever, donations to Nifty are encouraged. We all get a helluva lot of `entertainment' from these pages; give something back. Follow the link on the Nifty homepage to see how you can donate.
Many thanks for your comments. I only hope that it's as rewarding to read as it is to write.
For the brigade of one-handed readers out there, this episode might not be entirely to your taste. It has to be included for the purposes of narrative structure, but – for a change – there's no sex. Apologies, in advance.
Lost Ball: Part 14
It all went horribly wrong.
I don't mean irritatingly, inefficiently, annoyingly wrong. I mean heart-breakingly, end of the World horribly, horribly wrong.
And, I didn't know why. Or, in many ways, even ...really...what.
I only knew how it was from my end of things.
Which ended up being an awful, empty, black pit of unhappiness.
The first week Leo was away was fine. Or, as fine as could be expected, without him appearing in person on a regular basis. I kept myself busy, to avoid dwelling too much on the fact of his absence. He texted me maybe four or five times throughout each day...and each time, I replied...and on a couple of occasions, we arranged that I would call him on his phone, at a time when he was already in bed. And we talked. And more. He seemed to be having a good time, and the days were passing much in the way he'd expected them to. Soon, it would be the halfway mark, and we could start sensibly thinking in terms of counting down the days before he'd be back.
With hindsight, afterwards - during the period when I went agonizingly back over every detail, to see if I could understand better what had happened – I should have noticed a change on one particular day, around the start of the second week. Although, at the time, I didn't clock it. Only one text from him, in the course of that morning...and even then, there was a perfunctory quality to it. I suggested calling him so that we might speak, later in the evening, and, again with hindsight, there was something ambivalent about his response. Which I didn't see at the time, but instead I understood as agreement. And after that...nothing.
My call that evening went unanswered. Or rather, it rang, and I thought it was answered, and then it dropped. And when I tried again immediately afterwards, I went straight to voicemail. I presumed it must have been at a bad moment – somebody else was there, and so he couldn't talk - and I left a message for him that was appropriately anodyne for any third-party to hear, but which he would understand better. No response. I sent him a text, the following morning – but got no reply. I began to worry. Various scenarios began to present themselves. All of them with varying degrees of bad. He'd had an accident. He'd had a row with his parents, and been grounded. He'd come out to them, and the flack was messy. Somebody else had had an accident, and he was too stressed or occupied with it all to be in touch. No version precisely worked.
And the days went by, and the silence continued. I tried calling him one more time, late one evening, but there seemed to be some problem with his phone.
scanned the internet for news of any accidents in
I googled his family name, in case some family tragedy had happened, and although I discovered all sorts of things that were happening to completely unconnected people around the World, there was nothing which attached in any way to Leo.
I worried, and slept badly...to the extent, in the end, that I had to take sleeping pills in order to sleep at all. At least, though, he would soon be home, and then everything would become clear. Probably. Ok: one other scenario which I couldn't entirely dismiss was that he'd met somebody else, been pounced upon exactly as I'd thought probable, and that whatever we'd had between us had just been straightforwardly, brutally superseded. And so, in that case, his coming home would be only that – not coming home, to me.
By the date of his return, I was in a pretty bad way. I suppose the only upside was that the amount of energy which had been focused on the garden, as a displacement activity, meant that it had never looked so ordered, and weed-free, in its entire existence.
And by the third day after that, when still I'd heard nothing, I had to begin to accept that I was unlikely to hear from him. For whatever reason, it was over.
emotion was of anger. At myself. For having allowed
such a situation to develop, and to have laid myself
bare to the unreliable whims of a child. Except that, after the second glass, I
would then hear myself answering back that this hadn't been `a child'...this was
Leo. Leo, who was clever, and funny, and charming, and
sweet...and lovable...and everything that was Leo. By the third glass, I'd
find myself imagining absurd scenarios, such as calling his father's office, in
And at that point, it would be time for a sleeping pill, and – with any luck – the numb nothingness of dreamless sleep.
I'm resilient. I bounce back. Or, at least, I move on, even if it might be without a spring in my step.
I did try one last thing: I wrote to Leo. A letter. An honest-to-goodness snail-mail, printed-on-paper and signed-in-ink-at-the-foot-of-the-page kind of letter; in an envelope; with a stamp. Short, and phrased very carefully. Politely asking that he would be in touch with me. No hostages to fortune, of any kind. Posted to his home address. At the very least, I reasoned that I was owed an explanation.
I didn't get one. Although, in a rather uncompromising format I suppose you could say that I did get a response. In the form of the letter, inside its envelope, torn in two, and stuffed into my mailbox. Along with it was Leo's copy of the key to the gate from the Piazza. The meaning was clear. And uncompromising. And unpleasant.
Where previously I'd had to fight down the urge to find myself `by chance' in that part of town where Leo lived, and where I might `accidentally' bump into him – now, I instinctively avoided that area and even took long and impractical detours when I was driving, just in order not to pass through it. After the start of the school term, I found I was even avoiding that end of the garden which abutted the school grounds during the daytime, just in case I might catch a glimpse of him. Although, often, the knowledge that he was there, somewhere in the complex beyond the hedge, only several hundred yards away, took some dealing with. Until I managed just to block out the thought.
During that period, I blocked out quite a lot of my thoughts, quite a lot of the time.
And I got angry with him, as well – not just for having acted as he had done, but because of the way that he'd made toxic by association so many things which had previously been positives in my life: I couldn't imagine ever again going to the restaurant in the hills, for instance; or sunbathing, on the terrace above the courtyard; even the idea of working in the garden early on a summer's morning was somehow compromised by the memory of the time he'd sneaked up on me, under the plum tree. Thoughtless, callous, destructive, shallow, immature little shit! But, of course, I was blocking out all of those thoughts, and so I never actually got around to thinking any of that. Of course...
After the return of my letter, I finally went round the house and gathered up everything which had become in any way associated with Leo: the various pairs of his underwear which I'd so eagerly appropriated at different times; a couple of books of his which he'd left there; another book, of mine, which he'd been reading, and his bookmark was still in place; a comb, which had ended up remaining in the guestroom bathroom after the evening of our first `date'; the torn bookmark, which I removed from the photograph frame beside my bed; a t-shirt of his which had ended up in my laundry...anything which had been his, I boxed up, and carefully stored away in the recesses of the attic above the office. I couldn't exactly bring myself to throw it out with the rubbish...but I'm unsure whether that was because I was hanging onto any hope, or because to do so might have been, even to me, too obvious - and anyway not credible - an attempt to trivialize what I was actually going through.
Don't analyse; don't rationalize.
Just push through - and try not to get too drunk along the way.
Each year, for about a fortnight from mid-September,
we have a music `event' in town. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a festival,
but it's a series of concerts, most of them in the Duomo,
and some of them are of a standard of world-class excellence. Orchestras and
To finish that year's programme,
the Matthew Passion was being performed, and even recorded live, by the Montiverdi Choir. It promised much. Tickets were difficult
to come by, and in the end, the group that I was going with only managed to get
three pairs of seats, none of them very close to each other. I sat with Elena -
who hadn't yet disappeared off to the
The performance was outstanding! Very, very beautiful. At the interval, the audience stood and milled around, and did what Italians will always do, given half a chance – they found their friends in the crowd and struck up conversations wherever they could. Which is what we did, as well. One pair in our group had seats up near the pulpit, and we all gravitated to that end of the nave, and we stood around and chatted. Francesco started on a long and involved anecdote about some recent idiocy in his department, and I confess I was only half-listening, while my eyes roamed lazily over the elaborate carving on the column just behind him, and at the groups of people standing and moving around, further off in the transcept..
And, then, somebody moved, and the crowd in general rearranged itself. And there, suddenly and without warning, was Leo.
Standing at the edge of a group, perhaps a dozen metres away. Looking smart, in a blazer and white shirt and grey trousers. Politely attentive to the conversations that were taking place between the other people he was with – two couples, middle-aged – but clearly he was not really participating. And then, he turned, casually. And he saw me, looking at him. He froze. Appalled. Transfixed. And then, he appeared to pull himself together, and he looked away. No - he did more than that...he turned away. He turned his back on me.
I don't know how I must have looked to my friends, but clearly they noticed something was amiss. Elena touched my arm, and then, as she followed where I was looking, she also must have seen Leo, and to a degree she understood. She'd made no mention of him, all evening, and presumably had drawn her own conclusions both from my silence about him, and now from my reaction at his appearance. She squeezed my arm, but tactfully made no mention of what she'd seen. In response to their concerned questions, I told my lot that I'd suddenly felt a twinge that might presage the onset of a migraine. And at that point, it was time for us to make our way back to our seats.
Not having previously looked around at the rest of the audience, I now found I could do little else. And, inevitably, I found him. Sitting at the near end of one of the wooden pews, off to the left, and perhaps five or six rows ahead. It seemed astonishing that I hadn't noticed him earlier, and now that I'd located him, I couldn't stop my eyes from constantly straying back to where he was sitting. From my angle of vision, my view of him was in profile, but slightly from behind. I had a good view of his neck, and of the profile of his ear, and, less obviously, of his chin and cheekbone, and the shape of his nose. All of which I had kissed and touched and stroked and caressed, more times than I could count.
He seemed equally distracted, and unable to concentrate on the music. He was glancing around him, constantly, to the extent that the woman beside him bent and muttered into his ear, I imagine to tell him to stop fidgeting. Which he did, for a while. And then, he glanced behind him and in our direction. And he saw me. Which, presumably, was what he'd been trying to do all along...probably without really wanting to. Immediately he had done, though, he turned away again, and a deep flush rose to cover his neck, and presumably his cheeks as well. He bent his head, and appeared thereafter to be resolutely studying his programme. He didn't look up again.
I felt sickened as I recognized that what he was experiencing was a sense of shame. He was ashamed that he knew me...had known me...and ashamed of all the times we'd been together...and ashamed of what had existed between us. Ashamed of me.
I couldn't take any more. I squeezed Elena's hand, in apology, and stood, before making my way down the nave and towards the West Door, to a gauntlet of disapproving glares as I did so. And then I was out and in the Campo, and it was as much as I could do not to break into a run, as I tried to distance myself from the place and from what had just happened.
As I walked, briskly, my left hand was working at my right wrist. Under the cuff of my shirt, I still wore Leo's bracelet. I'd told myself it was because I liked the way it looked, and that the history of our relationship – or, rather, the end of it – shouldn't be allowed to dump on every aspect of my life, and that I should be able to rise above what had happened, and still be able to wear the thing without any baggage, if I wanted to. Which was, of course, complete bollocks, and always had been. It had, all along, been a sign that I was desperately clinging to a last, slim hope.
By the time I was in the small lane behind the Archbishop's Palace, the string was untied, and it was the matter of an instant to open one of the rubbish bins there, and to drop the thing inside.
No. I didn't `drop' it. I threw it. With as much force as I could muster.
And I let the lid of the bin clang back into place with a sound of complete finality.
Only then, was it properly over.
And in the dark and empty streets, as I made my way home, there was nobody to see the expression on my face.
To be continued...