East O the Sun, West O the Moon
Hotel showers are a rare pleasure these days, I am sorry to say. Ah, but sorry for which element of the statement? That I rarely sleep or shower in a hotel, or that I find the water -- sluicing endless and hot and loud over my body -- pleasurable? That, I could not answer with any certainty. There was a time when I never thought of such "civilized" amenities with anything other than calm dispassion, when I would find myself standing at the window, even in the loveliest and most comfortable of public rooming establishments, watching the play of moon on icy roads, counting the hours until my heavy boot would sink into snow again with a crunch that I could hear and feel, that connected me with the landscape, the land, my homeland.
I was younger then. Hardier, perhaps. And the Yukon was a world back then; I needed it with the intensity that only someone who has never known any other world can summon up. I was also lonelier, and the sounds my own feet made in the snow were sometimes the only auditory evidence I had for weeks, months on end of my own existence. How could I not have craved the contact, the proof that this uncivilized, unchangeable country felt my touch, knew my tread, answered back to me in animal cries and the noises of frost and snow? She was my only love in those days.
No longer. As I reluctantly slide back the textured, plexiglass door of the shower and step onto the synthetic robin's-egg rug on the tile, I can hear the noise of the television outside the bathroom door. My current love, my unquiet, half-civilized, endlessly changeable Stanley Kowalski. I know that the wind is harsh outside, an aging harpy who thinks that her threatening cry is still seductive, but in this hotel room, all I can hear is the spattering of water on porcelain behind me, the laugh-track dim through wood in front of me.
I lived like this once, too. The noise of appliances, utilities, music, voices, traffic - insatiable, needy sound. The sounds of Chicago never came in response to me, not like a boot on snow. No matter what I did, Chicago remained ravenous, starving, full of want and sadness like a great, hungry Grendel returning night after night, taking more, unsatisfied.
In Chicago, it was the same with me. I wanted so much, and the more I had, the less alone I became...the less it was enough.
With the heavy, white hotel towel around my waist, I open the bathroom door. He is on his feet, as always, shuffling them in unconscious patterns, his eyes fixed on the screen but, I think, not seeing it. "I left the water running for you," I explain, lest he begin teasing me about wasting valuable natural resources. "The plumbing here is very delicate; I had trouble getting hot water that wasn't too hot."
Now he looks at me with that very same expression, bright-eyed and alert, but not attentive, as though his mind is deeply immersed in something that I remind him of, but not me per se. He has already stripped out of most of his traveling clothes, down to sweatpants and a t-shirt. "Sure, Frase. Thanks."
I can't help frowning at him. Where does he go when he gets that look? Somewhere else - Chicago? Nowhere else - hibernation? "Stanley."
It snaps him back to the present, and his head jerks up sharply. He shakes it off, a quick shiver through his shoulders and neck, like Dief drying his fur, and the bright, distant look becomes mysterious, deeply intimate, his gaze wrapping in tendrils around me, his smile a conspiracy.
Foolishly, I have not moved fully out of the bathroom. He eases up to me, his intensity backing me up another step or two, and he smiles again, wickedly, and puts his hands up in a defensive boxing pose, takes a few lightning-quick jabs that could connect with my chest, but don't. "Hey, c'mon, Frase. Get outta my way."
My heart is racing from some combination of his distinctive scent and the phantom suggestion of a fight; I am the stage, as are we all, for so much delicate interplay of memory and chemistry. I want to kiss him, but this fierce playfulness makes me shy and awkward. Most of the time, I don't know what to do with Stanley's moods. I doubt I ever did. I hesitate, and smile at him, and his arms comes down across the doorway, fencing me in. "Wastin' valuable water, Fraser," he says - somewhat predictably.
He wants me to take his arm, push it away. I don't know why, or even how I know this, but I do - perhaps because he is my partner, and we respond to each other on those subconscious, physical levels as a matter of survival. His arm is paler than it used to be, and thicker with lines and layers of muscle. We lead hard lives, and he has risen to the challenge better than I dared to hope; he is stronger than before, leaner, more resilient. He moves me not just with mere beauty now when he puts his arms around me, but with pride as well. Arrogantly, I give myself credit for bringing him here, for daring him to have an adventure and to become more than he imagined that he was.
Stanley's eyes become even darker, probe even deeper through me. Shoulder to the doorframe, he twitches his head again, half a shrug, half a chuckle. We are all alone in the world, suddenly; sound doesn't matter, doesn't have any effect on us at all.
Instead of reaching for his arm, I lift my hand to his face, see the surprise in his eyes as my palm strokes down his cheek and my fingers trail through his beard. It weakens him, and his arm falls away easily for me to step past. "Shave," I tell him.
Not to be defeated entirely, he steals my towel as he slips through the door and shuts it, leaving me standing, damp and naked, in our hotel room. I am smiling vaguely, senselessly, and Dief gives me a look of superiority from his nest atop Stanley's clothing.
The telephone rings as I am buttoning my long johns, flattening my good mood. No one but my Inspector knows exactly where we are, and I think he would only call me out on a night like this, with the wind chill so low that traveling further than half a kilometer on foot could be a health risk, for an emergency. I turn the television off on my way to the telephone - so many tools, so many machines that I have not seen in a month. "Constable Fraser."
"Do you have any idea how hard you are to find?"
The span of a month suddenly dwindles into nothing; how long has it been since I've gotten a call like this? A year, two years? More than four since there has been anything more than a voice, but that's too much to think about. "I - I - no. Never having tried it."
He laughs, and the sound is a little strained. "No, I guess you wouldn't. God, it's good to hear from you, Benny."
What can I say? What could I ever say to this man? Nothing that mattered. Nothing but the most elliptical, inconclusive hints at the truth. I have always been such a coward; only Stanley ever realized that and took it upon himself to be brave enough for two. "It's good to hear from you, too, Ray." Again, the surface of the truth, its image, but not the truth itself. His voice makes things rise in me - pain, pleasure, hunger, heat, aching tenderness. I loved him so long ago that the despair has taken on a gentle ambiance of nostalgia. Remember when we worked together? Remember when you taught me how to go undercover? Remember when I thought I would lose Diefenbaker? Remember when we almost froze to death -- suffocated -- starved -- drowned? Remember when I wanted you so badly that I didn't think I would live through it? Weren't those the days, Ray?
"Listen, Benny, I need you to come to Miami."
"Ray, I-" Miami. The word has almost no meaning to me, except for a few glimpses of tropical blues and whites in some photograph. "Ray, I - live in the Northwest Territories."
His voice is both impatient and beseeching; could anyone but Ray Vecchio combine those tones? "So pack up the wolf and the wife and get on a plane."
"To what does this pertain?" I hear myself asking primly, formally, as though I am interviewing him, screening my calls.
"It's about..." He sighs, and I can hear the stress again in his voice. He has my sympathy now, which only adds weight to - whatever I still feel for him. Loyalty, at the very least. "Look, I don't want to go into it over the phone, okay? This is family stuff, and you should be here for it."
Family. Mine? Impossible; Diefenbaker and Stanley are my family, all that I have in this world. Ray's family, then. His mother, his sister - his wife. "I -" Whatever I want to say is so weak that I cannot even vocalize it. Of course I will go. Of course I could never forgive myself for turning him away when he so obviously needs me to be with him.
Or am I reading more into his words, his voice, than Ray himself would imagine? Coloring his request with a need that was always more my fantasy than his feeling? And even more importantly, what does it mean, now, if he really does need me? Now that I am home, now that I have shaken the last dust of the United States off my feet long ago, now that it is Stanley for whom I reach every morning as I wake, not Ray Vecchio? Stanley whom I find. Unlike Ray.
"Of course," I say. My courage may not be equal to this, but then again, it may be. I have not seen Ray - have not loved Ray - in many years. Sometimes the past really is all in the past. And sometimes not. I cannot know, without going to Miami. "I'll be there."
When he comes out of the bathroom, Stanley is still in possession of my towel, drying his hair with it, pushing a corner in with his finger to sop up the water in his ear. There were other towels above the towel rack; either he likes the one that holds my scent in its fibers, or he is too lazy to pull down a new towel when there is one closer to hand. Or maybe he was distracted, in that far-off place, and had no conscious knowledge of such mundane things as towels. He did shave his beard off, and he looks almost surprisingly familiar. Why should it be a surprise to see my own lover and recognize him?
Realization sluices over me, hot and loud like running water. This man is all but a stranger to me. I have known him for years - the better part of six years - and I cannot predict his changeable moods, can only speculate what wild and alien thoughts crowd his head, making his eyes glassy and his speech circular and opaque, do not even know what makes him prefer one white towel over another. Stanley is pure instinct - or so he would say in explanation. I have learned, in the wilderness, that instinct is the most exact of sciences; it rarely allows for digression or mutation. The wolf is always the wolf, and its behavior, instinctual at the level of sinew and bone and genome, is thoroughly knowable.
Not so the behavior of the Stanley Ray Kowalski, tuft-crested North American variety.
"Fraser. Hey, Fraser, I'm talkin' to you."
"Ah." So often I have stalled in order to obscure my true meaning, but now I am playing for time, wondering what my own meaning is. The meaning of it all. Why am I here, now, like this? Why am I his, and he mine? How did this strange love begin, that passes understanding, as my grandmother might have said? I remember her saying that often, with her lips pressed together in a tight, displeased line. It passes understanding. A surrender, but one under protest. A mystery, but one only grudgingly tolerated. My grandmother did not care for mysteries.
"How're we gonna get our laundry done if it stays like this outside?"
"I don't know," I say simply. His eyes widen at that, and he lets the towel drop forgotten around his neck. Such admissions, from me, are usually ringed in with a veritable catechism of other facts that I do know. My vanity, my Mountie-perfect Mountiness, as Stanley would say.
Slowly, he shakes his head, scratching his scalp. "Fraser, I'm hungry, but you're delirious."
He still calls me Fraser. Always - when he teases me, when he yells at me, when he yells for me, when he is discussing laundry and the weather and the condition of the sled, when he is mumbling love into my ear. Fraser. That flat, long "a" sound, always pitched high to drop into a growl of annoyance, or possessiveness - an unfinished transformation much of the time, when the informality of long friendship and the casual contempt of familiarity strip off the final, responsive syllable. Truncated, denotation without connotation - Frase. His feelings are in the sound, in the shape of what he calls me. Fraser, Fraser, Fraser.
I love him. I need him.
Benny, Benny, Benny. What was in the sound of that, in the shape of the name that means Ray to me even more acutely than Ray does? Ray Vecchio - it became a front, a ruse, a prop for a lost and lonely man and a diversion for the Chicago Police Department as much as for the Iguana crime family. A meaningless identity, inhabited by people but not a person itself. There was no Ray Vecchio, not that I can remember. I remember Stanley, answering the phone with that light, almost disrespectful cadence: Vecchio - long, then down, then down again. There was another voice, another name, smooth with indulgent laughter, sly ambition, easy, earthy, uncomplicated affection - Benny, Benny. Aw, Benny. C'mon, Benny....
No, no. He and I were never - were nowhere - were nothing. Nothing.
I know this is unfair even as I think it. We were something, just not...everything. Just not what I wished that we were. What I still wish we had been... Is it wrong to admit that, now? That I would like to be able to look back over my life, in the occasional nostalgic mood, and count Ray and I among my memories? They would only be memories, after all....
Las Vegas, Stanley, Stella - these things were not merely quirks of fate, random happenings in a chaotic universe. They came along when we needed them, because we needed them. Las Vegas to put badly needed distance between us. Stella to want him, the symbol of his ultimate victory over poverty and meaninglessness. Stanley to need me, Stanley to need me, Stanley to sneak up on me in the dark of my heart and never leave. These things have the weight of will and must behind them; they were part of our stories, part of our separate adventures. No matter what, we would have ended...just where we are now. We would have ended.
But to have begun... I would still rewrite history if I had the power.
Stanley casts a leg across mine, sinks onto my lap with his nose all but brushing mine. Fraser, Fraser, Fraser his eyes say, alive with all the shades of green and grey that always did make me think of something much wilder than he claimed to be. I raise up my hands to his back; the skin is wet and warm, his and mine both.
He kisses me with lips, and I return the kiss with tongue. This is our kiss, length and breadth of the us, friction - which is Stanley's gift - interlocked with pressure - which must be mine. Our kiss, which has kept us warm through many endless winters, kept us caught up in each other though the whole world lay on our horizon.
I was lying on my stomach, which was not usual for me, head pillowed on my forearms, one eye hidden by the crook of my elbow. He touched my back in the darkness, stroked its length with fingertips, rested his hand lightly on it.
There was no period of questioning between us, no time when we asked with eyes or voices what this meant, where it would lead, whether or not it was wise. I think he must always have known. I think I knew so clearly in that endless moment with his hand on my back that I instantly paid the bill in full for years of blind self-absorption.
I rolled over. We never spoke. We found one another, and then we learned to kiss. From that day forward, we never spoke of that night in terms of a beginning. It was the seal, the coda, happily ever after.
"Fraser," he said with his lips on my neck, but what I heard was I love you.
"I love you," I said, but I suppose there is no real way to know what he heard.
Like his arms, his chest has gained definition over these last years. He is no longer "skinny," as he used to say - if indeed he ever was. Stanley was always lean and tough, his endurance compensating beautifully for a relative lack of pure strength. Now he can chop and lift and climb. He rides almost as well as I do. He handles the sled dogs better than I do. He fights, when he has to, with more power and efficiency than anyone I know. I lie back on the bed so that I can stroke his chest, and he leans down to take my little finger into his mouth, then to kiss my palm. The way he moves, the sight of muscle under pearl-gold skin, makes me glad that he does not expect me to speak.
I close my eyes.
I regret it.
Old fantasies are not bound by the laws of time and space. They never age. They shadow you, wherever you go.
I used to dream about his long legs, twining through mine.
I used to run my hands down my own chest, replacing them in imagination with a narrower, longer-fingered, more graceful pair.
Long was a word that came often to my mind, when I used to indulge in fantasies of my partner Ray. His fingers, his throat, his legs - oh, his legs. The full stretch of him, long on my bed from the head to the foot, his arms upraised and crossed at their slender wrists. Long around me, like ivy, like the curl of a ribbon that binds up the one gift you want.
Long nights. God, so long without him.
So long without Ray Vecchio.
I pull Stanley down to kiss him, trying for that kiss again that is so perfectly us that it will drive out whatever else is inappropriate.
It is too late. The thought of him - those thoughts of him - have made a murky, poisonous stew of my mind. He sprawls everywhere, tainting the feel of Stanley's hands burrowing under the backs of my thighs. Tainting even the memory of that night, that harder, less classically proportioned hand on my back. His silence - Stanley's silence. So different in meaning, denial versus bittersweet shyness, but both silence, leaving a still, nothing spot inside me that can be filled with anything. The worst, most unfair and unnecessary of thoughts.
Terrible, but not surprising, how naturally my long-buried desire for Ray makes itself at home in the stillness. For so many solitary nights, there was nothing but lonely stillness and a foolish, treasured dream of Ray.
One thought that comes new and unexpected to me - and unwelcome. Perhaps there never was silence, not from Ray, not from either of them. Perhaps the silence was entirely inside me.
I push Stanley away by the shoulders. I need his voice now, his teasing, his inarticulate tornado of random words and wordless sounds. "There's a restaurant downstairs," I tell him. "If you're hungry."
"Told ya that." He seems unconcerned by this interruption. He rolls away and begins to look for missing pieces of clothing.
The hotel restaurant is only a restaurant by virtue of a menu, consisting mainly of red meat and sandwiches. It is primarily a bar, complete with jukebox and pool table, although it seems to wish it were a pub. I wonder if it thinks about the mother country, the green rolling hills of rainy Britain, while fishermen and eighth-generation North American homesteaders track frozen grime and snow onto its warmly burnished floorboards.
It occurs to me that I am anthropomorphizing this establishment out of all recognition - and to what end? Because misery loves company, and I, too, am lost in a green dream of something I never knew?
Florida - and Ray.
Stanley makes quick contact with the other dozen or so patrons, giving them each the benefit of his twitchy nod or an ambiguous, flickering hand gesture that means hello, I see you, hello, how are you, peace. He was not like that in Chicago; he did not make eye contact with strangers, unless it was to challenge them. Hey, what are you looking at, hey, I'm not afraid of you, keep your distance.
How Canada has changed my Stanley Ray. I see it in his walk, free, with the slight, heedless swing of a dancer or a boxer. His eyes are brighter, and he laughs his braying, gawking laugh more often without hiding it behind a nasal snort. When we take our seats, he doesn't pull his chair around backwards and press himself up against that unnecessary fence, as though there were some strange need in him to have something blocking him, something he can strain against. He just leans his chair back on the two rear legs, balancing with perfect unconscious grace, and orders a Canadian beer.
I try to imagine him walking on a beach, under palm trees and a white sun.
Pack up the wolf and the wife and get on a plane.
Diefenbaker would love to go; in some strange way, although the difference is nothing I could describe, I think that he has never stopped missing Ray. They were close. They seemed to share some private language - both dogs, Stanley would say, and grin that charming grin that means he is pleased with his moment of cleverness.
"Yes, Ray?" Ray, not Stanley. He doesn't notice, or doesn't mention it. Of course, it certainly sounds normal to his ears; it was his name for most of his adult life. I don't know why he let me change it without a single complaint. Because he was in love with me, and accustomed to indulging my inexplicable whims. Because he was tired of taking another man's place, ready to go his own way at last. Because he saw something in my eyes when the three of us - Ray Kowalski, Ray Vecchio, and I - were together that soured the sound of it for him.
"Have you ever heard of this?"
He rolls his eyes dramatically. "Earth to Fraser. I'm saying, Polish sausage in the Yukon. I mean, this isn't like some trendy Yukon dish, is it?"
"Polish sausage? Oh, I rather doubt it, Ray." This time he does quirk an eyebrow curiously, but then seems to forget about it, literally or figuratively.
There is a moment of silence, and then, "That's it?"
I look up from the menu I can barely read, up to my lover's sharp, winter-pale eyes. I feel a pang - guilt, desire, longing. Longing to be rid of the burden of my emotional investment in another man, to be Stanley's completely. Who better to have by your side in the empty north than that rarest of creatures, the non-native who has adapted to the landscape's demands, learned to love its harshness with the fervor of the convert? Who better to have by your side in the empty dark than - than Stanley Ray Kowalski? Words fail me. What else could I call him? What else could he be?
"I mean, no historic background? No inside scoop on the hospitality industry in the Northwest Areas? No Polish sausage anecdotes?"
"None appropriate for mixed company."
"I mean, jeez, Fraser, if it only takes you- Hey, was that a joke?" He seems appalled and delighted in almost equal measure. "Was that, like, a dirty joke, Frase?"
I shrug, keeping my face as neutral as possible.
I have never seen a beach. Only in pictures. No ocean at all but a brief stay by the edge of the Bering Strait once.
Ray has a beachfront house; he told me that once. He sits on the back porch - I think, most likely - in those brightly colored shirts he always favored, wearing sunglasses, drinking brightly colored drinks in oddly shaped glasses.
As little alike as they were to begin with, it still amazes me how different they have become. Raucous, aggressive, exuberant, fiercely resilient Stanley, who found himself when he slipped the leash of the civilized world, giving up pretense and politics for the life of the dog pack, helping me shepherd the lost souls in this lost country back where they belong. The brittle and proud one, the one with the warrior-poet soul.
And Ray Vecchio, who always had more than a passing familiarity with the good life. Whatever his situation, he always managed to work the angles, as he himself would say, and find the hidden vein of wealth and comfort. Fine clothes, fine dining, a high taste for romance and for friendship as well, for whatever added that extra touch of luxury to an otherwise brutal and solitary life. The survivor, and the one who was never content with mere survival, but demanded to flourish.
It's hard even to believe that the same sun shines over them both - here above the Arctic Circle, there on the cusp of the Caribbean.
Harder still to believe that the same man ever loved them both.
From across the room, a short, burly man has caught Stanley's eye. "You two play?" he asks, tapping the side of the pool table with his cue. I see the spark of competitive passion flare up behind Stanley's carefully cool exterior.
"You play, Frase?" he asks me, as though relaying the message. Of course, he knows the answer.
"Not well, Stanley."
"You mind if I...?"
"Please do." He just sits there, staring at me. Eventually I realize what he is waiting for, and fish into a pocket for his glasses. I carry them everywhere. God knows he was always haphazard at best about it.
He approaches pool like other men approach hunting or police work, with a cold and measuring eye, with caution, stealth, and cunning. It fires my blood to watch him; I am seeing him at his most raw, everything in him narrowed down to the fight, the challenge between himself and the laws of physics.
He approaches pool like he approached Canada, as though it wanted to defeat him, and as though there were no room in him for anything but victory. He once said to me, in a rare moment of words and warmth not long after we began the search for Franklin's hand, that he felt "maxed out" on failure, and although I struggled with the idea for some time, wondering how to assure him that his failures were inconsequential in comparison to the totality of the fine man I know as Stan Kowalski, eventually I came to understand what he had tried to tell me. Eventually I learned to let him be. Stanley is not the sort of man you can hold in your arms and breathe words of love into and expect the shadows simply to dissipate. Falling in love with
Stanley is frightening and exhilarating, because it forces you to stand quietly by while he speaks with his regrets, burns his bridges, and chooses the hardest path possible. He earned this impossible beauty that now belongs to him doing just that. His freedom, his grace, his balance, his strength, his pride -- they were not gifts from me, much as I might have wished to be the giver. He built them in ice and blood and courage, and he wears them well.
The way he eyes the angle of his shot, the way he leans low over the table with his head down. I have never been flexible like Stanley is; my spine could not possibly snake that way, not after so many years in an RCMP uniform, which has a collar that the slightest slouch or slither will drive deep into your throat. It is as effective as obedience training. You will become iron and upright, or you will torture yourself to death. He wears his typical indoor uniform of blue jeans and t-shirt, and he looks...flexible. Chicago in his "style," even now - how could he be otherwise, with that hair, the bracelets, silver and leather, that clutter up the artistic line of his wrist, the edge of that tattoo glimpsed from under his sleeve, that swagger in his walk that only comes from being observable by hundreds of strangers every day of your life - but Yukon from his soul. Being native to this part of the world means being implacable in your resolve, immovable in your faith. It means knowing that you belong where you are, even when all of heaven and earth seems to disagree in the strongest possible terms. Oh, yes, Stanley is native to my country now. I brought him home with me in more than one sense.
Urban and wild, flexible and instinctual, gentle and predatory - all of these things at certain times, in certain senses, but wedded to none of them. He is so elusive, so hard to know. He is my nomad, my creature of the horizon.
Nothing at all like Ray - the other Ray.
As Stanley stands up, settling his grip firmly around the pool cue and planting it on end against the floor, my mind flashes powerfully back across the years. That pool table - that voice, weary with good-humored wisdom - but he sure could play pool.... That glimpse, that shivered me with the intimacy of it, into the dark attic of Ray's past. He held the cue exactly as Stanley does now, a strange echo of similarity in these two dissimilar men.
I am the one who is dissimilar, though, in the most profound of ways. I have lost all similarity to myself. This is like the silence, all over again -- seeing something in one or both of them, only to realize that I am its source.
This new thought has the weight of revelation behind it. The lingering strangeness, unfamiliarity, between Stan and I - that is my own, too. He is no stranger to me, but I am to him. There is so much I have never told him, so much that I never tried or wanted to confess. The change in me over the years made it easier to bury that old, dissimilar self in favor of the new Benton Fraser. The one who is happy.
The man I was back then has been gone for so long that I look back on him now like an alien or an archaeologist, wondering what it must have been like to be him. How could I have been so hungry, so unhappy, so full of self-loathing and that ruthless depression that followed me for so very many years, always threatening to become despair but never quite taking mercy on me long enough to just do it, just let me sink into the cold sea of madness and silence? How did I get up each morning and go on, and how did I hide it even from the man who knew me in some ways so very well?
Duty, I suppose, although duty was much too weak to comfort me in the depths of my sorrow. If Victoria taught me nothing else, she taught me that. There is no solace for me in duty; I will live all my life knowing that when it truly made a difference, I called my duty a poor excuse and meant it.
Hope, maybe. Blind, confused, tenuous, but ultimately persistent hope. I felt it that day, alone in the quiet, sun-filled dining room with Ray and his ghosts and his father's pool table, and I chose one more time to go on, to cling to my life in the hope that it would not always hurt this much inside.
Of course, it came to hurt even more. Very quickly.
Stanley is grinning; it is his turn again, and he is very well placed to win. He looks over at me, and his focus narrows. I am all he sees now, and he presses his lips together in what I have always secretly thought of as his "how badly do you want me, Fraser?" smile and cocks his head. I nod, confirming his high opinion of his chances.
For the first time, it occurs to me that I have promised to leave Stanley behind or drag him to Miami. I am ashamed that it has only now occurred to me that I might have asked his opinion.
There is a selfishness in me that is profound. I think of the day I helped Ray Vecchio move his pool table, how deeply I fancied myself in love with him on that afternoon, how thoroughly I betrayed him less than a week later. I would have done anything, I am sure, in the desperate hope that it would take that loneliness away from me. In the desperate hope that someone could know everything dark and shameful about me and want me in spite of it. That someone, of course, was Stanley Kowalski, but once I thought it was Victoria.
I look at Stanley now, drawn up tall like a bird displaying for a mate, his champagne-sparkling eyes sliding constantly over to me, his small, contained smile a rigorous seduction, and I want to hide all of this from him. Miami, Ray's voice on the telephone again after so many years, my sins, my hell, my secret fantasies.
No. He is my partner, my prince in mousse and thick glasses, the only thing I ever held in my arms and felt good enough to accept the happiness. He deserves to know - he has to know eventually, but more than that, he does deserve it. To know that I am going to Miami. To know that there is a space in my past that is black like the grave and that I am forced to visit again and again in the private prison of my mind. To know that I see now how spurious my claim to have closed the book, as they say, on Detective Ray Vecchio really was. Fleeing from him was not the same as putting him behind me.
He wins his pool game. His days of failure are behind him. Flush with the competition and the victory, his hunger has fallen by the wayside, and he eats his sandwich without seeming to notice it, eager to retreat from the public sphere again. "Somethin' dogging you, Frase?" he asks at last, though his leg is twitching, ready to get up and move.
"I wouldn't say 'dogging,' Stanley."
That makes him smile broadly. "No, I guess you would not, you being you. So, what should I make it? How about, somethin' preying on your mind, Constable Fraser, my good friend?"
"I referred not so much to your choice of words in the strictest sense as to what they seemed to connote."
"Yeeow. Back that truck up, Fraser, huh?"
"Nothing is preying on my mind. There are...a few things I'd like to talk with you about, but we'll get to them in due time."
He shrugs. If there is still insecurity left in Stanley - and doubtless there is, as there is in almost all of us - it is not bound up in our relationship. He trusts me to tell him the important things, and if I say I am in no hurry, then neither is Stanley. We have time to finish our supper.
But somehow, I find as we climb the stairs back to our hotel room that time has run out. There is no advance warning; it is a frighteningly swift change from neutrality to upwelling love and need for this man, my life partner, and I have neither the power nor the desire to shut these feelings out. He is only a step above me, and I reach out to hold him by one shoulder, the other hip. Like waltzing, I turn him and lead him, and now we are pressed together, chest to chest as our breathing deepens in unison.
Stanley tilts his head back, rough-shorn hair scrubbing against the wood paneling of the walls, and I kiss the offered neck while his arms perch atop my shoulders and his thigh makes small circles against mine. "Can't resist a pool shark, can you, Fraser?"
I want to touch him, everywhere I can reach. My hands pull possessively at the backs of his legs, cup his buttocks, show me in a language deeper than speech or sight what I have in him. "I apparently cannot."
"Yeah, well..." His back arches, driving his chest more firmly against mine, ignoring the buttons on my uniform that must press painfully through his thin shirt. "I think they let me win."
"Now, why would they do that, Ray?"
"You keep calling me that."
"Whatever. A person talks as much as you, he's gonna say almost anything at least a couple of times." I interpret that as a request for a kiss, and he takes it readily, running his hands through my hair and letting my tongue find its way through the familiar territory it encounters. When I pause for breath, he speaks against my parted lips. "Good Canadian boys, they probably don't want to show up a Mountie in a game of pool."
"You are not a Mountie."
"Yeah, but they saw me come in with you. They probably thought I was."
I consider the idea, but it takes a massive leap of imagination. "I would doubt that."
"Well...that, plus I told them I was one."
My head jerks back. "You told-" Ah. I see by his smile that I have been, as they say, had.
A part of me that rarely finds voice says quite clearly, make him stop talking. I would never phrase it like that, not to Stanley, but there is a perfectly reasonable impulse behind it, and one of which even he must approve. I kiss him with everything I have, savaging his mouth as my hands continue upward, under the cotton of his shirt and across his warm back. I feel as though I could wrap literally around him, be on all sides of him at once, make him a piece of me. In fact, my arms seem to be trying to do just that, gathering him in closer and closer, until I can taste his shortness of breath. Still, he makes no attempt to complain. This is the best of us - not the kissing, heady as it is, but the heedlessness, the need we have to be together that never seems fulfilled. Oh, but the lack is sweet; the impossibility of perfect union gives such value to moments like this that I think someday it will shatter me into pieces. Having him, being tied to him and tangled with him, without caution, without limits.
"Upstairs," I manage to gasp before his teeth clip my lower lip. As soon as I give him room, he is out from under me and running. I keep up.
Outside our window it looks like Ragnarok, and I can't imagine anything surviving in the open, although I realize of course that many things do. I can't imagine, for my own part, being anywhere but in this warm place, neither entirely civilized nor entirely wild, that will serve, for tonight, as a tiny, horizonless world. Our earth, our home - as anywhere that Stanley and I are together cannot hope but be home.
He spares not one single glance to the window or the bed; he sees nothing but me. One-handed, he pulls the shirt off over his head, and the glasses drop forgotten to the floor. I cannot wait for his fingers to navigate the button and zipper of his jeans; I do the work for him and impatiently plunge my hand inside, wanting to see his face as I wrap my hand around his erection. He groans, expressive in his pleasure and his impatience, and begins to work on my Sam Browne and my brass buttons indiscriminately as his hips take up a lazy, subtle rhythm.
Too much time, it all takes too much time. I want him, and I use the only other tool I have at my disposal. "Stanley," I say, hearing my voice rough but strong. "What did I ever do to deserve someone like you?"
"You're a freak magnet, baby." His voice is flippant and liquid at once, a purr of contentment rolling out around a chuckle. "Oh, yeah," he groans, finally through enough layers of my clothing to make contact, palm to chest. "Yeah, more of this. This is the good stuff."
I taste his skin, and the sweat that is beginning to bead in the hollows of his collarbone. Now we are almost gridlocked, barely able to move with enough agility to continue undressing one another, grinding together in a counterproductively intimate embrace. But I don't care. I can't release him, can only keep trying to make him weak with my voice. "We have more passion between us at this very moment than I knew all my life before you."
I feel his spine weaken; he is letting me hold him up now, which I am glad to do, and the movement of his hips, back and forth against my fist, is no longer subtle. "God - God, yeah - baby, ohhh yeah."
"You taste - so perfect." I cannot stop kissing him, over and over, even though my lips are nearly numb with it and his mouth tastes no different from my own by now.
"Christ, Fraser!" He slams against my hand, his fingers digging into my shoulders. "I have to - I got - Fraser, Fraser, stop. Stop it."
Reluctantly, I loosen my fingers around him. "What's wrong?"
He is flushed, glittering - on the knife's edge, or perhaps he is the knife's edge. I shiver, thinking of that, of the speed and lightness and deadliness of a Bowie knife in my hand. "C'mon. We got this, this bed, right here, regular bed, like. Gotta do it right, huh? Do me right, huh, Frase, y'know? Gonna fuck me, yeah. Fuck me. Fuck me..."
I am tempted to swear myself, try out his words on my tongue as I fight his jeans over my fist. This is too difficult - fuck. Why can't it be the way it is in my fantasies, everything real falling away from us, nothing between us but the feeling, the need? Frustrated, I break the deadlock between the zipper and me, shoving him down hard to the bed, kneeling over his legs, working the zipper with both hands now and stripping the jeans off of him roughly. Now, at long last, he is entirely naked, arching underneath me and gripping my legs. He smiles, a surprisingly slow smile for a man so obviously beyond patience. "Frase?"
"Go across the room for the lube in the suitcase and I swear I'll fucking kill you."
"Understood." And agreed. This has to happen here and now; fortunately, our lifestyle has required us many times in the past to be inventive, and we both know how to do this. I give him my fingers, slip them inside his mouth and into his throat, and he uses his tongue on them, making the act not a preface to sex, but part of the sex itself. I am shrugging out of my suspenders, willing my uniform to behave itself and obey me, and perhaps the guardian angel of the RCMP is the romantic sort, for the pieces come off, more or less off, without much effort at all.
My fingers fit easily inside him, slippery with his own saliva, and even though he is snarling in impatience, not to be satisfied with any substitute for me buried deep inside him, I take the time to do it right, rubbing against his prostate until he is growling and yowling, his fingers dug painfully deep into the muscles of my arm. I am already thrusting, and the underside of my cock rubs breathily back and forth across his pelvis, the top of his thigh. It is a light, sharp, excruciating pleasure, and I could not stop now, not for anything. It is, to be as blunt as humanly possible, come or die at this point.
There is nothing in all the world like being sheathed completely in the heat and pressure of Stanley Kowalski. A fit of uncontrollable shaking almost overtakes me; the pleasure is too intense, so awful and so necessary that for a moment, as always, it seems I have to fight myself to accept it. But once I manage it, and I am in him with his legs over my shoulders, the fight is over. Now I am of one mind, with one goal, and I begin to thrust.
Manic as always, Stanley sets up a delirious, half-intelligible soundtrack to our desperate lovemaking - "Crazy like that nail me baby Jesus wanna yeah Fraser my baby wanna best ever one I want you're it greatness real deal do me please Fraser yeah need you bad fuck me my Fraser" - and I want to kiss him but I can't be without the sound of his voice, not now, so I settle for holding his hips to me and running the flat of my tongue over the freshly shaved skin on his cheek and jaw.
I must be hurting him - I must be. I am almost hurting myself, the pleasure trembling on the edge of excruciating, the desperation in our primal thrusting raking me over hot coals. My voice makes a sudden harmony with his, no words, just a thick, deep sound. It is almost unity, almost perfect fulfillment. My voice over his words, my orgasm in his flesh, my body weakened and trembling in the warm, living trap of his arms and legs. I kiss him as soon as I have my breath back, and pressed down over him, I can feel the slick evidence of Stanley's own orgasm making our stomachs slip against each other.
He exhales on a mild groan as he moves his legs, stretches them out flat on the bed. He is flexible, much more so than I am, but he is rather past the most resilient days of his youth. He is a man in his prime, my Stanley Kowalski. My fears of earlier this evening seem nothing short of absurd now. This is a good man at his best, and our passion is a power that makes the impossible unavoidable. It overturns civilization, it subdues the wilderness, and we live it, day in and day out, embedded in the constant, essential now of the two of us. We will be here, just like this, forever, with sun and moon circling around us, north and south and east and west arrayed about us, and Stanley and I in the center of it all.
My kisses have been coming softer and more slowly for some time now, and I roll onto my side, letting my fingers trace across his chest. Stanley smiles that suggestive, satiated little smile and folds his hands behind his head. "You are so beautiful," I say, my voice unexpectedly low and shy.
His smile becomes a grin, boundlessly joyful. "As art, I would not stand the test of time."
"But who wants to live forever?"
I think his question is rhetorical, so I continue to touch him without an agenda, just maintaining the connection between us. Something nags at the back of my mind....
Ah, yes. Miami. "Stanley," I say. His eyes are half-closed in pleasure, and he ignores me. "Stanley. Stan-Stanley."
"There was a telephone call while you were in the shower."
That gets his attention enough to make him open his eyes. "No kidding? Who called us?"
He snorts, but not disdainfully, just from the unexpectedness of it. "Wonders never cease."
"He wants - that is, I need to -"
"Ante up, Fraser. What's going on in that head?"
I take a deep breath. "There's something I need to do. In Florida."
Sometimes, after all these years, I still forget how wholly different Stanley is from ordinary people. I may be the freak, but there is something decidedly peculiar about the way he thinks, as well. Almost anyone else would ask me what I needed to do in Florida, but that question does not seem to occur to Stanley. "I always figured the next time I saw the States it would be Chicago. I haven't been to Florida since I was eight."
That simple. I need not take this any further; I could let it rest here, having received his tacit approval for the trip, and forget all about it for the night. Stanley can easily make me forget for the night, I know.
But that is a violation of some unwritten rule. I see that now. I see so clearly, if not exactly in words, why it was wrong all along to conceal the things that matter to me from Stanley, just because I might not want them to matter to me. "May I make a confession?" I say, almost in a whisper.
I close my eyes, rest my cheek gingerly against his arm, and I say it for the first time in my life. "I was in love with him once. With Ray."
"Yeah?" No expression at all.
"Well, do I get to do confessions, too?"
"If you like." Now I am beginning to be suspicious that he is not taking this seriously. Does he think I use words like that lightly?
He drops his voice to a sly mimicry of mine, but something in the softness of his relaxed face keeps it from being a slap. "I use to be in love with Stella."
"Really, Stanley, I don't-"
"Yeah, well, really yerself. You're putting me on, right, Frase? You don't expect me to - I don't know, get all shocked or upset or something because you had feelings for someone other than me before we even met?"
I don't like the pettiness of it, in the way he says it. "Well, I..."
"You're such a fuckin' romantic." His warm tone makes it a caress, a tease, almost a compliment.
"I love you." I don't know if I am putting up a defense, or thanking him.
Stanley smiles at the ceiling. "I'm not as dumb as I look, Fraser. I know that. And you were - what? thirty-six, thirty-seven when I met you, and I wasn't that much younger, and who the hell am I, of all people, to get my shorts on backwards because you didn't spend all that time hanging around and dreaming about some spiky-haired, freaky Polish guy you didn't even know existed?"
Something in me wants to argue with him, but there is a disarming, if simplistic, logic in his words. I think I may not be expressing myself well. The magnitude of my unhappiness in those days - the way my love for him sustained me, maybe even saved my life - surely that makes it different. Surely....
If I can only find the words. If I can only open the door for him. There is so much that I have to say, so much that I cannot carry any further than this by myself. I trust him completely. It has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with me, this choking, brutal impulse toward silence, toward aloneness. Once I needed it, needed the ability to be enough for myself and need no one else, but now after years of labor, I think - I think I am done with it, done completely and forever.
My heart starts to beat lightly and rapidly. I am so close to the end of this long journey, so close to accomplishing the impossible. If I can only find those first words, the magic words that turn like a key in a lock....
They come to me both slowly and suddenly, in the same way that dawn comes up over the horizon. I open my mouth, shy away once, and swallow the butterflies in my mouth. I shift my position slightly; I will be awake all night, I think, talking to him.
"I came to Chicago on the trail-"
"Aw, Christ, Frase-"
I put my hand gently over his mouth. "Please. Please." When I move my hand, he just nods.
"Of the killers of my father...."
I have all night to tell him my story.