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Episode 43 is A GLITTERSHIP ORIGINAL and part of the Summer 2017 issue!

Support GlitterShip by picking up your copy here: http://www.glittership.com/buy/

In Search of Stars

by Matthew Bright

It starts with a secret place, as many stories do.

On the outside, it is a laundrette. The printed letters on the plate glass are peeling, but still legible: Whites. Below it, a list of numbers is scraped away, leaving the cost of a wash a mystery. Occasionally, I pass it in daylight. During the day, the door is propped open by a rickety stool, and I peer inside. It is filled by graying women with rumpled, dishcloth skin who talk quietly amongst themselves about their children and their husbands.

Once, I dare to take my clothes there to wash. An innocent errand, I reason; no shadow of suspicion could fall on a man simply doing his laundry. This does not prevent the women from eyeing me as if the mere presence of a man amongst them is suspect. To compound this, I am unprepared, and am forced to swap a nickel for a palmful of powder, a foolish error met with sad tuts.

As I empty the powder into the drum, I study the door in the corner.

 

[Full transcript after the cut.]

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip episode 43 for August 20, 2017. This is your host, Keffy, and I’m super excited to be sharing this story with you.

It’s a little bit late (oops!) but we finally have the Summer 2017 issue of GlitterShip available for you to read and enjoy! As before, all of the stories will be podcast and posted on the website over the next couple of months. However, if you’d like to get a head start reading the stories and support GlitterShip, you can purchase copies of the Summer 2017 issue on Amazon, Nook, or right here at GlitterShip.com.

Looking forward, the GlitterShip Year One anthology is now available via Amazon, and Barnes & Noble in both print and electronic editions, as well as for direct purchase CreateSpace(print) and GlitterShip.com/buy (electronic)—which also means that copies will FINALLY go out to the people who so generously supported the GlitterShip Kickstarter way back in 2015.

Today, we have a GlitterShip original short story by Matthew Bright, as well as a poem by Charles Payseur.

Content warning for “In Search of Stars” – some sex and mild domestic violence.

 

Charles Payseur is an avid reader, writer, and reviewer of all things speculative. His fiction and poetry have appeared at Strange Horizons, Lightspeed Magazine, The Book Smugglers, and many more. He runs Quick Sip Reviews, contributes as short fiction specialist at Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together and can be found drunkenly reviewing Goosebumps on his Patreon. You can find him gushing about short fiction (and occasionally his cats) on Twitter as @ClowderofTwo.

 


 

becoming, c.a. 2000

by Charles Payseur

 

he gives himself to the internet
a piece at a time,
in chatrooms and message boards and
fandom pages,
like burning prayers for the next life.
he finds himself there
as cronus must have found his children,
a terrifying future
fully formed and armored
that he is desperate to consume.

 

every day he leans into his screen,
close enough to brush his lips
against the humming glass,
feels the snap of static on skin,
and pulls away
diminished,
the sum of his parts no longer quite
equaling the whole.
he asks friends what they think
but all of them are online now,
scattered like ghosts,
a great ocean of scared boys
in nice houses
and with each question,
each reassurance,
each word of a language
they build to map their desires,
they all find themselves
that much more gone.

 

he is barely a whisper when
he puts the last piece of himself
into a comment
on a garak/bashir slashfic

 

                              more plz

 


 

Matthew Bright is a writer, editor and designer who constantly debates which order those should come. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Tor.com, Nightmare Magazine, Harlot, Steampunk Universe amongst others, and he is the editor of anthologies including Clockwork Cairo: Steampunk Tales of Egypt, Myriad Carnival: Queer and Weird Tales from Under the Big Top and the upcoming A Scandal in Gomorrah: Queering Sherlock Holmes. He pays the bills as a book cover designer in Manchester, England, and you can find him on twitter @mbrightwriter or online at matthew-bright.com.

 

 


 

In Search of Stars

by Matthew Bright

 

 

It starts with a secret place, as many stories do.

On the outside, it is a laundrette. The printed letters on the plate glass are peeling, but still legible: Whites. Below it, a list of numbers is scraped away, leaving the cost of a wash a mystery. Occasionally, I pass it in daylight. During the day, the door is propped open by a rickety stool, and I peer inside. It is filled by graying women with rumpled, dishcloth skin who talk quietly amongst themselves about their children and their husbands.

Once, I dare to take my clothes there to wash. An innocent errand, I reason; no shadow of suspicion could fall on a man simply doing his laundry. This does not prevent the women from eyeing me as if the mere presence of a man amongst them is suspect. To compound this, I am unprepared, and am forced to swap a nickel for a palmful of powder, a foolish error met with sad tuts.

As I empty the powder into the drum, I study the door in the corner.

It takes me several weeks to get the courage to return at night. The front door is no longer propped open advertising itself, but it hangs ajar, distinctly not closed. Inside it is dark, and quiet—none of the machines are awake. But men pass in and out of the doorway with regularity, briefly spilling light from the door in the back across the machines; they are not carrying clothes.

I do not know whatever password it is that would grant me access, and neither do I have the will to ask. Perhaps were I to be bold—simply walk up to the door in the back of the laundrette and go in—I might be able to talk my way upstairs. But when my foot breaks the curb to cross the street, my stomach churns, noxious with fear, and I step back.

Tonight, it is cold, and so I cross the alley to the diner. The waitress there—a pretty girl, like the small-town ones from back home—knows me by name now. “Usual, Albert?” she says, and I enjoy being someone who has a “usual.” I imagine that perhaps she does too—this is not the sort of diner with regulars. I sit in a booth by the window and drink coffee, covertly watch the laundrette, and the men that come and go. I don’t know what I imagine is on the other side of the door, but I know I want to find out. Perhaps the waitress knows—it seems unlikely that she works here night after night and doesn’t have some idea what is going on opposite. The thought makes me uncomfortable, but I remind myself there is nothing wrong with a man drinking coffee—or a man washing his clothes.

There is someone waiting outside the laundrette. He leans against the window-frame, making insolent eye-contact with any man who enters. His boldness—starkly opposite to my own reticence—tugs at me; I dowse the feeling with coffee and look at the chipped table-top. The jukebox is playing music—rock and roll, tinny and weak. It clanks and whirs when the records are changed.

After a while, I can feel—in that skin-pricking way that comes from a sense other than sight or hearing—that the man is looking at me. I chance a look, and meet his eyes.

The waitress is serving an old man in the corner, her back turned. I gather my coat, and step out into the cold. At the end of the road the city exhales a blare of cars, distant music, police whistles, but its cacophony falters at the corner. Our street is still like midwinter, and the man waits for me in the middle.

We exchange words. It doesn’t matter what they are. Suffice it to say, I have spoken similar words before; I am a man who knows their real meanings, just as he.

The walk is a few wet streets away. He talks, and I interject enough answers into the conversation to keep it from stagnating. I keep a proprietary distance from him, glance nervously at the darkened windows around us, any one of which might contain a watcher who knows my face—I saw that scientist from round the corner, they might say, and you’ll never guess what? He tells me he is a musician—saxophone, because all the other boys in this city are playing guitar, he says. I picture the pads of his fingers stroking the keys, and the cold reed leeching the moisture from his bottom lip.

I ask him if he’s ever played inside, meaning the secret place above the laundrette, hoping he’ll say yes so he can describe it to me. He shakes his head. “I’ve never been in,” he says. We are at the foot of my building, and I fumble in my pocket for keys. He leans in close to me. “Have you?”

“I don’t know the password.”

A second, then he laughs. “Password? You don’t need a password.” He looks me up and down. He is mentally reconfiguring me from a man of experience to a naïf who imagines cloak-and-dagger, film-noir secrecy. He hesitates.

“Come in,” I say.

I let him climb the stairs first. With the door closed, my stomach spins in anticipation, as if permission is granted by the cloak of privacy—nobody to see us now, not even if I were to pull his clothes off right here on the stairs. But I don’t—I jam my hands in my pockets and follow his shadow upwards.

At the top, he looks around the detritus of my apartment, and asks me what I do. “I’m an artist,” I say, which is not exactly a lie. He looks for a light-switch, but I point him through the door to the bedroom. I pull dustclothes over my work, then follow him. He is already naked on the bed, his clothes a gray pool by the nightstand.

He tastes of something I can’t describe.

Afterwards he rolls to the cold side of the bed, pulling the damp sheets with him. He looks appraisingly at me, and he is re-evaluating me all over again—perhaps tallying up the number of men that added up to the expertise I had displayed. He looks at me for some time.  An endless parade, he must conclude—all those other men.

My chest congeals into a thick, black, furtive shame, soul-deep.

I offer him a cigarette, but he refuses, rolls onto his back and closes his eyes. At first the lids are tense, like a child pretending to be asleep after curfew, and then they relax. He breathes slowly.

I place the cigarette between my lips, but leave it unlit. Tentative dawn is creeping over the horizon, silvering the rooftops. I left the curtains undrawn when I left earlier, the window fully open—not a conscious choice, but it’s fortuitous: the window grates on opening, loud enough to wake someone sleeping.

I arise quietly, pad into the other room, and pull aside the dustclothes. The paint is where I left it, viscous and silver in its vat. Its clean, sterile smell stings my eyes. I open a drawer, select the right brush—hog bristle, which is soft and delicate, and will not wake him.

On the bed, I kneel, apply the paint gently. I cover him in reverse order of the skin touched by my tongue and fingers, turning it warm pink to cold blue. By the time I have covered his chest and thighs, he is lighter, rising up from the bed. When I cover his arms, they rise above him, as if he is reaching for an embrace. I run the brush to his feet.

When I am finished, he floats a foot above the bed, rising. When I lay my hand on his belly, he is light as a feather, and my touch guides him across the room as if he were a leaf on a still pond. He passes below the lintel soundlessly, not waking even when his steady ascendance nudges his shoulder against the frame.

My hands on his cheeks anchor him, like a child clutching a balloon that tugs against its string. His feet lift, inverting him. His eyes open when I kiss him gently on the lips. He smiles, and I release him.

He turns as he floats up, alternating blue then pink in the watery dawn, and then is higher than I can see any longer, beyond my sight with all the others.

I lie down on the bed, pull the still-warm bedsheets around me, and light my cigarette. The smoke rises in clouds, and vanishes as if it was never there.

 

 

The story continues with the morning after, as many stories do.

Firm block capitals in my diary prevent from lying abed long into the afternoon: I have an appointment to make. I meet Eugene in the foyer of the Mayfair. I wonder exactly how much Eugene has been told about my present circumstances, and whether his choice of venue is a deliberate statement of his success. It would be just like Eugene, though it would be intended without malice.

He presses whiskey into my hand, and greets me as if we have never been apart. “Such a surprise when old Selwyn told me you were in LA!” he says. He ushers me to an armchair, and gestures for the discretely hovering waiter to refill our glasses. Eugene has aged well—with a thin, fashionable moustache that I am pained to admit suits him well. I briefly wonder if our mutual acquaintance—Selwyn Cavor, the starchily British professor who pushed us through five years of boarding school—is pushing for something other than the reunion of old school friends; it is he, after all, who told me about the laundrette.

But then Eugene tells me about his wife—an ice-queen blonde, so he says, by the name of Marilyn, though aren’t all the blondes called Marilyn these days? Perhaps Selwyn is not as calculated as I imagine.

“So, how are you ticking, Mister C?” he asks—habitually, for this was how Eugene had opened nearly every conversation between us since we were both eleven and meeting for the first time in a draughty dormitory. “Finally cracked and come out chasing stars in the city of angels, have we?”

I try to smile warmly, and shake my head. “Not exactly,” I say, and try to explain something about my work. I tell him about the two publications that took my reports. I fail to mention that my laboratory consists of a worktop hauled from a garbage tip, and basins purloined from the ruins of a barbers that had burnt down. Those particular details do not jibe well with the foyer of the Mayfair, or the two-hundred-dollar whiskey.

“And what is it you’re trying to build?” he asks, though his attention is on the whiskey bottle as he tops it up.

“Space travel,” I say, though this hardly covers it.

“Smart boy!” Eugene says. “Space—they’re all at it. Give it ten years, and we’ll get there ourselves. But I tell you what though—Hollywood is damn well going to get there first.”

I think of my saxophonist, turning lazily on the edge of the atmosphere. Out loud, I point out that Hollywood has been going to space for some time. I remind him of the Saturday afternoons we would sneak from school to the nearest town, and the showing in particular of Woman in the Moon, sucking down ice cream floats and salted caramels.

He waves it away. “Oh, Hollywood has moved on since then. Special effects!” He is practically shouting, and heads are turning. I shrink in my seat. “That’s what the studios are excited about. And they want everything to be two hundred per cent accurate at all times. Suspension of disbelief, and all that. That’s why they hired me—an ‘expert consultant,’ that’s me.”

He leans forward. I realize he is already a little drunk.

“Do you know what one of the directors asked me—he asks, ‘What does space smell like?’”

“Goodness,” I say. “Why would they need to know that? It’s only film.”

“Some new technology they’re working on—a full experience, you know? Squirt the audience with water, shake the seats, all that lot. And they want to use scent. It’s what we’ve all been waiting for—not only can you watch cinema, you’ll be able to smell it.”

He looks pleased with himself. The ice clinks in his glass as he waves it.

“What does space smell like?” I ask.

He considers. “Gunpowder,” he says. “By all accounts.”

 

 

Later, I go to the laundrette. The gray women look at me once when I enter, then disregard me. I am an insignificant little man encroaching on their world, and not worth the energy of observation when there are hampers of clothes to be washed. I run a finger along the grimy edge of a washer, and my fingertip comes away blackened. It satisfies me; in a perverse way, the laundrette, with its washed-out women and secret doorways, makes me feel scrubbed clean of all the gilt decadence Eugene has subjected me to that day.

I do not look at the door in the back, although I itch to go through it.

This visit is an inoculation: a brief sojourn in the laundrette during the day and then I will not be tempted to return after dark. I will remain in my apartment for the night hours; a small amount of exposure that defends against a greater illness.

I empty the bag of clothing into the drum. At the bottom are the saxophonist’s discarded clothes. Turning away so as to go unobserved by the women, I press his undergarments to my face and inhale. I half expect the smell of gunpowder but of course that is absurd—his clothes remained with me. I smell only cotton, soap, and the faint linger of sweat.

I drop them in the drum, and pay my cents. The machine starts up, spiralling our clothes together in a wet rush.

In the Lucky Seven diner, I order coffee. By the time it has arrived, I know the inoculation is not enough; I will be returning tonight.

The waitress squeezes into the booth opposite me. “I have a half-hour break,” she says.

“Right,” I say, not quite sure why she’s telling me this.

She bites her lip; I recognize this from movies, the coquettish seduction. Only hers is awkward, as if she isn’t used to being this forward. Perhaps she isn’t: she works amongst bottom-squeezes and drawled darlin’s all day; I doubt she ever has to ask. “I have half an hour,” she says. “I was thinking you could take me home and fuck me.”

I notice a grease-spot on her lapel, just a few inches above her bare breast. It is just to the left of the name-tag: ‘Marilyn’ in uncertain capitals. It makes me think of Eugene’s ice-blonde wife, and his big job up amongst the stars. Eugene would say yes without hesitation.

I could just say no, I tell myself, and then, inoculation.

Afterwards, she looks around the detritus of my room and asks what I do. “I’m an engineer,” I tell her, which is not exactly a lie, and go to wash myself in the dirty sink. She remains on the bed, smoking the cigarette I offer her. Naked, I had been able to feel a week of diner grease on her skin. She tasted of the bitter coffee at the bottom of a pot, and my usual expertise had deserted me.

I wonder if she washes her clothes at the laundrette. I feel the usual nausea arising, though it is a different kind; this is a physical nausea in the pit of my stomach, as if I have swallowed something rotten.

“Good old American filth,” Eugene said to me earlier, as we were leaving the Mayfair, him paused on the curb to hail a cab, me turning my coat collar up for the long walk home. “I’m tired of all the glamour. You know—mansions, cars and movie stars. The whole city’s coming down with a case of shallow—even my Marilyn’s picking it up; won’t fuck without doing her makeup first.”

He wanted me to take him out in my parts of the city, with all the implications of what my part of the city entailed. “Well—you’re here amongst it all, aren’t you? Think it’s about time you and I went out on the town. I want some squalor, you know what I’m saying?”

I imagine he’d be pleased with me right now.

I walk her back to the laundrette with five minutes of her break to spare. On the way, she tells me that she picked me because I didn’t ask. All day long, men suggest things, demand things of her. But I never did, and she liked that. I ignore the bitter irony. We part in the middle of the street, her kissing me quickly on the cheek.

In the washing machine drum, I find my white clothes stained blue. I hold up a once-pale vest and wring pastel water from it. One of the gray women looks at me and shakes her head. I bundle my clothing back into my knapsack, and leave the saxophone player’s articles—dark blue shirt, pants, underwear—in a sopping pool at the bottom of the lost and found basket.

 

 

Two weeks until the itch to visit the laundrette again outweighs awkwardly encountering Marilyn in the Lucky Seven.. Sitting at my work-bench, listlessly tracing paint along a series of pencils so that they float and turn in the air, I reason with myself. If I am to risk facing the woman with whom I have had less than satisfactory relations with—and not seen since—then it must be for a greater gain than watching from afar.

The queasy light of the diner is an oasis that beckons—but tonight I ignore it, although I look long enough to realize that Marilyn is not to be seen. It does nothing to calm me; my hair, still damp from the cold shower I took before leaving, hangs in clammy lumps against my forehead. I feel unwashed—wrapped up tight against the night, I am immediately overheated, sweat springing up in the folds of my body. I cannot imagine anyone wanting to touch me.

“There is no password,” the saxophonist told me. No secret or phrase: just the confidence to walk through the door.

I end up in the diner, breathing heavily to calm my pulse. There is a stinging pain in the palms of my hands that spreads up my arms and worms its way into my ribcage. The laundrette stares balefully at me across the street.

An older waitress materializes beside me. She is dumpy and string-haired. Her name-tag says Marilyn. Eugene was right—every woman in Los Angeles…

She fills my cup and putters on to the next booth to serve a hulk of a man who I think I faintly recognize. He is looking down at a newspaper spread on the table, his face lost in a tangle of beard, but when Marilyn the Second departs, he looks up at me. He is round faced, and despite the beard, oddly boyish. “Not brave enough, huh?” he says to me.

“Excuse me?”

He nods over at Whites. “You go in, you come out,” he says. “Been there, done that.”

The itch in my palm redoubles. “Have you?”

 

 

He is more discreet than the saxophonist; he maintains a respectful distance from me as we pass through the streets, hangs back as I open the door, and remains three steps behind me as I climb the stairs. As soon as we cross the threshold, the gentleman vanishes—his hands are on me, yanking away my coat and scrabbling at the clothes beneath. With my shirt tangled over my head he is already moving to touch my body before I am free; his fingertips are rough on my skin, and as his mouth skates down my body, his beard scratches like the wire wool I use to scrub away paint. His teeth nip at my belly.

I back away, lead him to the bedroom. He disrobes as he follows, revealing a heavy-set body swathed in hair, and a stubby penis peeking from the shadow cast by his bulk. The pale light from the window sweeps around the heavy sphere of his stomach, and I am struck by an absurd image of a fast-motion film of light’s passage around the moon that I dimly remembered from a visit to the planetarium with Selwyn.

He pushes me onto the bed and straddles me. He is commanding, guiding my hands where he wants them, tangling my fingers in the hair on his chest and thighs, and then as he pins my shoulders with his knees, thrusts my hand behind him where my fingers slide, sweat-slicked, into him. I open my mouth to receive him and for a second I picture myself outside my own body looking down on us—the same position as the watchers I imagine at my windows. The image is clear: this beast of a man, crouched ursine on his haunches over me, my head and shoulders lost in the dark shadow between his legs.

Afterwards, he kisses me.

 

 

He does not go as easily as the saxophonist. Firstly, he awakens. None of the others have ever done this. His legs are already several inches off the bed, the room suffused with the anodyne hospital smell of the paint. My mistake is in selecting my brush; still sore and tender, I find poetic justice in selecting the largest, roughest of them.

Secondly, he struggles. I doubt he comprehends what I am doing to him, but he has awoken in a panic to sensations he doesn’t understand, and so he lashes out like the animal I pictured. He strikes a blow across my face, and I fall to the floor, tasting blood in my mouth. The time for gentle artistry is past: I upend the tub. It coats his chest, tiny bubbles bursting amongst the strands of my hirsute canvas. There is blind panic in his eyes as he rises, spittle at the corner of his mouth turning blue where it mixes with the paint. He flails, claws at my sheets, but they can’t prevent his ascent and simply rise with him, a useless tether.

I jostle him out of the window, which stands open as always. He clings to my bed-sheet and we reach an impasse—him upside down, fist wrapped tight around the cotton and me at the other end, pulling back with all my strength. For a minute, we remain connected.

Then his fingers open, and he soars up, up to where the air smells of gunpowder.

 

 

“Pineapple!” says Eugene. “Goddamn pineapple. Can you believe it?”

Six weeks pass—six weeks in which my frantic scuffle squashes the itch to visit the laundrette, though the image of a door opening to a crowd of men waiting for me slowly recurs nightly in my dreams. Six weeks in which I bury myself in work, in which I dodge the landlord knocking for rent, and in which I write three-quarters of a paper on the gravity-negating properties of an as-yet-unnamed viscous solution of my own devising. Six weeks, and then Eugene.

“Gunpowder is too hard to synthesize, apparently, and anyway—it’s not like anyone’s going to know. So according to the head honchos of Paramount Pictures, space will smell of pineapple.” Eugene is on his third Singapore Sling, and already blurring into intoxication. He speaks at great length about his Hollywood consultation business. He tells me I should come advise on engineering, build robots for the flicks. He doesn’t understand why I’m mouldering away in a poxy flat in the cheap end of town. I try to explain what I’m working on—tell him about my three-quarters-written paper—but he doesn’t listen. He starts talking about space flight again.

In each bar we go to a pattern repeats: the girls flock at first to his expensive suit, gold watch and big tips, and then, when his generosity has dried up and he has done little beyond leerily grope a behind or two, they ghost away to search for more forthcoming targets. And at each bar, he complains that the place is ‘too swanky’ or ‘too bogus’ and demands I take him somewhere real.

Deep in a whiskey glass in a honky-tonk bar that still carried more than a whiff of speakeasy about it, I watch Eugene flirt with a sour-faced woman leaning against the bar. She is lit by neon, and has a look similar to his: rich, but slumming it for the night. He won’t pick her, I know, but flirtation is a habit of his. Even in a single-sex boarding school, he had never had much trouble finding women where he needed them—a couple of the maids, girls from the town. Sneaking back into the dormitory at night, he would describe his latest sexual exploit to me in a low whisper, and I would stiffen under the covers.

One night he claimed to have conquered one of the schoolmistresses—new to the school, and on temporary assignment. One of those long evenings in his study I relayed Eugene’s story to Selwyn who laughed quietly, and said, “I don’t doubt. Frightful, really—students and teachers.” We laughed together, conspiratorial.

Not for the first time, I wonder why Selwyn has thrust Eugene and I back into each other’s lives.

If I focus, I begin to wonder if Eugene’s heart is really in it tonight. He’s effusive with everyone we meet, expounding upon his personal theories of life, love and pleasure, and the opportunity to sneak off and spend himself in a furtive tumble has presented itself on multiple occasions. And yet he seems to be dodging every offer, returning to me with freshly charged glasses. As we descend into that strata of intoxication in which profundity insists itself in half-complete sentences, I wonder if perhaps Eugene fears the same as I: that in the post-orgasmic chill the squalor of a back-alley screw loses its grimy glamour and becomes something furtive and shameful instead. And so he postpones it as long as possible—perhaps indefinitely.

Eventually, there are no more bars to go to—or none that will allow two such stumbling fools entry. Early dawn is pricking the horizon, and, like a magnet, I draw us to the Lucky Seven. My waitress is there—Marilyn the First—glimpsed through the kitchen hatch but I am too drunk to care. Besides—it has been two months.

We collapse into a booth. Eugene rests his head on the table. I lean against the glass; it is cool and soothing. Across the road, I cannot tell if the laundrette is open or closed—I am too unfocused to make out if the door stands open or not. I suppose even such a place as Whites closes.

“Usual?” I squint up at her. She doesn’t sound upset. This is good.

Eugene, hearing a female voice, rears up. He strikes what I imagine he believes is a charming smile. “Darla!” he says. “How pleas—pleas—pleasant to meet you.”

I blink. “Darla?”

She taps her name-badge.

“I thought your name was Marilyn?”

She leans in close, ruffles my hair, matronly. “No, darling. I forgot my badge, had to borrow one. But at least you remembered my name—I’m flattered.”

Darla. Somehow the name changes her. Marilyn is a girl daintily upset when a man does not call her the morning after. Darla takes a man home to screw because she wants to.

She leaves to serve the only other customer in the diner, down the opposite end of the window. I lean into Eugene, and tell him—in a whisper that is almost certainly not really a whisper at all—about what Darla and I did in my bed. I don’t know why I did it: I have never been one to brag, but recasting our limp splutter of an encounter as erotic exploit gives me a fraternal thrill I have rarely felt.

Eugene grips my wrists and shakes them victoriously. “Albert, my man,” he says. “I knew you had it in you.”

For a second I see me as he does now: earthy man of the people, slipping it to waitresses on a nightly basis. And then the image bursts like over-inflated bubble-gum as I look past Darla. She is bending over, pouring coffee, and behind her is a noticeboard. Protest march, singing lessons, artist seeking model, poetry reading and MISSING. Below it a photo of a hulking man, round-faced and boyish despite the beard.

Darla sways past us again. “You boys had a good night, then?”

Eugene reaches out a hand to her, pulls her back to sit on his knee. His fingers snag on her sash. “Darlin’, not nearly good enough. Not yet…”

For the poster to be here in the Lucky Seven, he must be a regular. We’ve all been there, he said, as if he too had sat for long hours in this diner, getting up the nerve to cross the road. And then there is Marilyn and Darla, who see every man and every face.

Darla looks at me. It isn’t a look asking for help, to rescue her from my lairy friend, just a calmly assessing look. Eugene’s fingers make it clear what he wants.

I do not ask. I know what she likes.

“I get off in half an hour,” she says.

 

 

The story ends with a decision, as many do.

Darla leaves, and I return to the bed as if she is still there, a cold ghost between Eugene and I. Her female presence granted permission: for our naked bodies to share the same space, for my fingers to touch him, provided mine were not the only ones.

I wonder if this is where he wanted the night to go: his life, so drearily decadent, that the only thing to jolt him out of his drudgery is the taboo touch of a man. Perhaps he had marked me out as an easy target—the sexless boy from school, the one who spent a bit too much time with Professor Cavor.

I realize the room is silent. His snoring has stopped. When I look at him, his eyes are open.

Afterwards, I anchor us both to the bed with the sheets, wrapped around our wrists and fixed loosely to the bedpost. I paint him first, until he has risen, tipped on his side, free of gravity but strung by one rebellious limb to the ground. The alcohol in his veins that deadens him to the feeling of my awkward brush-strokes. He hovers above me, eyes closed, like a statue.

Then, disjointed with my off-hand, I coat myself. I float to meet him, the front of our bodies pressed together, lips close enough to kiss.

I wrestle the knot loose, and we are released. I wrap my arms around him, and press my face into his chest. It is difficult to guide him across the room to the window—I have to kick off against the walls and the ceiling, as one does in deep water.

My feet alight on the windowsill. I push away.

Light breaks across the city. If my phantom watchers in the windows opposite are looking, they will see us as we rise into the sky, one man clinging tight to another as they ascend like balloons that have slipped from your grasp, until the atmosphere becomes rarefied and thin, and breath freezes before our faces. I catch a glimpse of the sun rising over the edge of the world before I close my eyes and rise up, to where the air smells of gunpowder, and men are waiting for me.

END


“becoming, c.a. 2000” is copyright Charles Payseur 2017.

“In Search of Stars” is copyright Matthew Bright 2017.

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Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back soon with a reprint of “The Need for Overwhelming Sensation” by Bogi Takács.