The auditorium is like an underground pool: the great sea of girls surges, subsides, splashes. The noise ricochets off the roof.
Of course, they are not all girls: there are boys, too. Men, Billy amends. But it always seems like they’re all girls. Like the parrot cage at the zoo.
Billy signs the current autograph and smiles for the flash, all teeth.
When the next girl, giggling, hands Billy the t-shirt, inside Billy’s head there is a moment of silence. Something freefalls through a place with no air: in the absence of air, it makes no sound.
The moment after that is newly minted. Billy holds the shirt forth, cuts open a smile in his face, and reinvents speech. He reads aloud, “Pippin is the very finest honorary Gondorian that ever drew breath.” He does not read out the bit below that, which continues, “Signed Viggo (a.k.a. Aragorn, Pippin’s Bitch).”
The sound of girls tittering and shifting in their seats is like thunder.
Viggo is such a nice man. Funny, generous. Yes, the girls agree.
Viggo is such a nice man that there came a time in New Zealand that he asked Billy back to his trailer for a drink, and Billy thought it would be alright. It turned out to be a joint, not a drink. Billy was quite drunk already. He thought that would be alright, too.
Billy meets Viggo for dinner in a diner. He does not know why he does this. He knows he could have said no; he knows that now he has said yes, he could just not turn up. On the other hand, he does not quite really believe either of these things: it is like his blank, seven-year-old’s disbelief when he heard a brash girl at school proclaim that she did not believe in God.
Viggo is already ploughing through a hamburger and fries when his and Billy’s eyes meet across the diner. Billy thinks, not for the first time, that Viggo still eats like a young man, and it must be because he works out.
Viggo’s face tilts toward Billy: the angle between the two sides of his jaw appears to acuten.
Billy thinks how there must be a physiological basis to the tightening in his windpipe when Viggo looks up and smiles at him like that. It must be like the human purring reflex. He thinks how he used to be able to start his cat purring even after he had frothed it into a lather of angry claws.
Billy reminds himself that even now, as he skirts the other tables on his way over to Viggo, he could still change his mind, turn around and leave. It’s the same way that theoretically, when shops have displays out on the footpath, you can just walk off with the things. It’s just that you never do. Never know whether the freedom or the constraint is illusory.
Billy does not turn around and leave.
Billy stocktakes himself as he approaches the table; notes the swivel of the ball of his femur in the cup of his hip bone, the levering action of his elbow.
The front of Billy’s thigh stops a hand’s breadth short of the edge of the table, which has some sort of red crystalline veneer. For the second time that day, Billy reinvents speech. He says cheerily, though his voice seems to sift a layer of grit, “So how’s my bitch?”
“Good,” Viggo says. “Good.” When he is smiling, Viggo has dimples in his cheek and in his chin.
Viggo says, “Sit down.” Billy deduces that some time has passed.
They are walking, and it occurs to Billy that Manhattan is like a densely bristled hairbrush, or like a pine plantation: the lines of sight are north-south and east-west only, and there are no other ways to go, like the farce of a steering wheel when you are a train driver.
Viggo stops by some broad steps and a glass double-doorway, and it occurs to Billy that he does not know where they have been walking to, but in the same instant, because they have stopped, now he knows. With a flash of teeth and a tilt of his head, Viggo says, “Come up!” Billy has become a snag in the fast-flowing river of the footpath: people are welling and eddying around him. He steps out, escapes to dry land, because you do.
As they come in the door of Viggo’s room, Viggo touches Billy’s arm and says, “Check out the minibar.” Viggo himself turns left into the bathroom.
Billy wanders into the centre of the room. He sees a suitcase open on a chair, a roughly refolded newspaper and an exercise book on the table. The crisply made bed has been sat on: there is a semicircle of wrinkles like on a part-deflated balloon. Some loose sheets of paper, written on in blue pen, have been thrown down on the semicircle. The pen itself rests in the centre fold of the paper.
When Billy turns, he can see into the bathroom. The toilet is around a corner, but the mirror on the back wall reflects. In the silvered glass, Billy can see Viggo’s back, head down, arms in front, jeans loosened at the hips.
Billy looks away. He thinks how the minibar stand is like those steep, portable wooden steps they make you stand on for school photos.
Billy hears the hum of pipes flowing. He turns again, and sees Viggo bending over the sink, elbows moving. Viggo does not have long, dyed Aragorn hair any more — Viggo’s hair is tufty and golden in the light of the lamp above the mirror.
The angle of Viggo’s head changes, and Billy looks away. Quickly, he goes over to the minibar. He moves the little bottles around, making them clink.
A footfall approaches Billy from behind. Viggo says, “Find anything?”
A teledex of responses whirs in Billy’s head.
Viggo steps forward to the minibar, and he, too, clinks some bottles. Billy picks up something and looks at it, puts it down again.
Suddenly Viggo is standing behind Billy, which is not right because a moment ago Billy could see Viggo, and now Billy can’t, though Viggo’s breath is warm on the back of Billy’s neck.
Billy says, “Ahah! Mini-scotch!” He holds up a bottle.
When Viggo speaks, his stubble scratches the back of Billy’s neck. He says, “I don’t suppose it has hairy feet? Cause that’s my favourite kind.”
Viggo’s arms are coming around Billy and his palm is rubbing circles on Billy’s belly. Viggo’s tongue is lapping below the corner of Billy’s jaw. Billy’s hip joint petrifies. He has never been so perpendicular to the ground.
At least Billy can see Viggo now, can see the encircling arms, the rubbing palm. Billy saw a documentary about lions and buffalo: how the lion brings the buffalo down by springing onto its back from behind to clamp with teeth and claws. And Billy thinks how the worst bit is over then: when the long grass has erupted a lion, when the lion has sprung, at least the buffalo knows where it is now; the ghosts of yellow grass-lions and tawny rock-lions and stubby bush-lions melt into nothing.
Viggo withdraws the heat of himself from Billy’s back. With a hand on Billy’s shoulder, he turns Billy around. Billy knows that really Viggo does not turn Billy around: Billy turns himself around and he could just have chosen not to turn around.
Billy has already not chosen not to turn around: that was a moment ago.
Viggo steps back in toward Billy, and there is a little clink from the minibar when Billy’s behind bumps it. There is no mistaking where Viggo is now: the frame of him looms over Billy, taller than Billy, broader at the shoulder. Viggo looks steadily, directly at Billy, and Billy watches the starred, blue cartwheels of Viggo’s irises spin, or appear to spin, or appear as though they ought to spin.
Viggo’s hand wanders around Billy’s behind, as much of it as he can get to above where the minibar is digging into it. Billy hears Viggo’s fingernail knock into the brushed aluminium rail.
Viggo says, “Seeing as I’m your bitch.” His hand goes to Billy’s fly, and he fillips the top button out of its buttonhole, and then the next.
He undoes another button, and there are only so many of them before he will be done, like the illumination of the traffic light descending from top to bottom. Billy can hear the barfridge humming. Billy can see the little mushroom-coloured shadow on the inside of the bridge of Viggo’s nose.
Viggo reaches the last button, the green-light button, and Billy sees in a flash what is coming. Viggo’s jeans-clad knees, kneeling at the shallows of the pool of Billy’s dropped pants; Billy’s pale legs practically glowing in the too-bright light.
Billy jerks; his hips twist. The minibar rattles. Escape is sideways, but he is like a lot of sand trying to get through the eye of the hourglass at once. A noise wells in his chest.
Viggo’s hands are off Billy instantly, and he is stepping back. “Hey, hey!” he says, gently and sounding so concerned that the sand subsides back into the bowl, the noise seeps away unvoiced. Billy lays his hands flat on his sides.
Viggo takes Billy loosely by the shoulders, and if Billy steps forward into Viggo’s arms he can finally get his arse off the bloody minibar. He does, and Viggo’s arms go around him, and Viggo is kissing his neck, and that’s not so bad because he can hardly feel the stubble through his own. Then Viggo is kissing him on the mouth, and that’s easy, that’s just open wide for the dentist. Except that Billy is kissing back, except for that.
Viggo says, “What’s up, hmm?”
With a small lurch under his ribs, Billy considers what Viggo means.
Billy says, “I, ah.” Viggo kisses Billy’s jaw, the corner of Billy’s mouth. Billy says, “Um.” Billy says, “Can we just…” The teledex in his head whirs, and whirs.
“Bed?” Viggo says. He runs the tip of his nose down Billy’s.
On the other side of plate glass, Billy is saying, “No, no, I meant…” The glass is completely soundproof.
Billy can feel his pants start to fall down as Viggo backs him towards the bed, and it is like that sickening when sometimes you wake suddenly from sleep and sit up. Viggo is sitting him down on the edge of the bed, and saying, “Just there is good.” He is pushing Billy to lie back, and he is easing Billy’s pants down, and his boxers with them.
Then Viggo is kneeling on the carpet between Billy’s knees. Billy looks at the ceiling, but he is looking straight into the recessed lights, like the black centre of a well seen in perfect negative, and pain slices into his eyeballs. And when he looks at Viggo, Viggo’s tufty, golden head is too bright as it bobs over Billy’s hips. Billy’s hips themselves are too bright, and so are the tops of his thighs where the hair thins out: they are phosphorescent.
Billy looks at the ceiling, and has to look away again. He closes his eyes, and the lights spread heat across his eyelids. He looks down again. Billy’s dick is not too bright to look at: it is striated and darkly ruddy, like sometimes the man-monster in horror movies becomes. Viggo’s lips are the same colour.
When Billy, without quite meaning to, rocks his hips upwards, there is a small sound in Viggo’s throat, Viggo’s hand tightens on Billy’s hip, and briefly the suction is so hard, the tender centre of him is ready to pop wetly right out of its carapace.
Billy makes a sound that comes out something like, “Ungh.”
Billy watches Viggo’s tufty head. Billy’s feet crawl and tingle, strapped into his shoes. Billy finds he is not looking at Viggo any more; he is not looking.
Something has stopped. It takes Billy a while to realise, because the whirring and clacking of tiny creatures in Billy’s veins has not stopped. Viggo’s mouth is not on Billy. Billy thinks about his eyes and makes them work. Viggo is lifting Billy’s feet and taking Billy’s shoes and socks off, and it is like being a little kid in a stroller. Then Viggo is taking Billy’s pants down past his heels and off, which is not like being a little kid in a stroller, or maybe is. Then Viggo is crouching over Billy and unbuttoning Billy’s shirt, his fingers a multi-legged creature crawling down Billy’s chest. When Billy tries to look at the fingers, his eyes ache from peering down at too acute an angle. Viggo’s head blocks the light: Viggo is kissing Billy, and Billy strains to taste something, the way you cannot help it when you think the fish might be off.
Then Viggo is standing and tearing his own, long sleeved t-shirt off over his head, toeing his shoes off, tugging his socks off, pushing his jeans down. Billy looks at Viggo’s light, all-over solarium tan. Viggo steps forward and takes hold of Billy’s shirt and jacket together at the collar, and Billy realises he has had plenty of time to take those off already; he should have done it already. Viggo pushes the fabric off Billy’s shoulders, and Billy pulls it off his wrists and throws it aside. Viggo kneels between Billy’s knees again, and he takes Billy’s hand off Viggo’s warm, bare shoulder and pushes it down; he puts it on Viggo’s warm, bare cock. Billy does not take his hand away.
Billy moves his hand on Viggo, and feels the elastic skin of Viggo’s cock move a little bit along with his hand. Billy thinks that if it were him he would want lube, spit, anything, but it is alright because his hand is not moving very fast; or maybe it is not alright but Viggo is not saying anything. But Viggo strokes Billy’s side; Viggo bumps his cheekbone into Billy’s and breathes loudly in Billy’s ear.
Viggo’s hand is on the back of Billy’s, stopping Billy’s hand from moving, taking Billy’s hand away. “Shall we,” Viggo says, “get up?” He pats the bed.
Billy twists around and looks at the bed. He sees the sheets of paper and the pen further up on the bed, catches the tail end of Viggo seeing him see. Quickly Viggo gets up, goes over and moves the paper and the pen onto the bedside table. Then Viggo puts one knee on the bed and holds his hand out to Billy, and Billy looks at the hand.
Billy gets up and crawls across the bed toward Viggo. They hedge around each other on their knees. It is like a dance. Billy does not know why he knows the steps.
Then Billy is around the right way to lie the right way up on the bed, and Viggo is lying over him, and Viggo’s hand is moving down Billy’s torso.
And now this is the bit that amazes Billy: Viggo is lifting Billy’s knees, he is making Billy into some pinned, inverted beetle, legs in the air, belly exposed. He is saying to Billy, “Stay.” And Billy is staying.
Between his own, raised knees Billy sees Viggo hurry across the room to the suitcase on the chair, sees Viggo rummage. Viggo’s elbow moves as he tears off a small square from a line of a squares. Viggo picks up something else, and turns to come back. When he gets back to the bed, he throws the something else, a small, plastic bottle, on the covers. He tears the wrapper open and unfurls its contents down along himself. Viggo looks Billy in the eye through the frame of Billy’s knees. Viggo no longer seems to be in such a hurry. Billy does not look away.
Viggo is crawling toward Billy on the bed, bringing the bottle. And this is it: the knife between the lips of the closed shell of Billy, prying him open and breaching the membrane within.
Viggo’s fingers fumble.
Billy does not want the hinges of his insides shattered, grit in the fluid of his middle.
Billy loses the ability to see for a moment. With a heavy, leaden slide, Viggo is in, the weight of his hips pinning Billy down. Billy is scissored open, folded clean in half, pressed and helpless as origami.
He is sure that if he were a girl, he would twist warmly inside to hear the way the words, “Oh fuck,” slide so weakly out of Viggo’s mouth, like a slick fish slipping from Viggo’s grasp.
There is the full, flat-faced impact of Viggo’s hips, and here is the thing: Billy’s body is whole and complete and compact as an egg, and he does not really believe there is this hole in it that fits another man’s dick. He does not know where the space comes from that Viggo fills with his dick; he does not know where it disappears to afterward. When the ropes of Viggo’s arms are not braced at either side of Billy, he does not feel like his insides are rattling about, loose and aimless. If there was this empty space inside of Billy, he would know. Surely.
The night in New Zealand when Billy went into Viggo’s trailer, a group of them were staggering back from cast drinks. They came to Viggo’s trailer, and Viggo clapped an arm around Billy’s shoulder and said, “Come up, huh?”
“Yeah, orright,” Billy said. The answer was not unsatisfactory, and another did not present itself. He clapped Viggo’s shoulder back.
When they both veered off towards Viggo’s steps, Viggo’s arm around Billy’s shoulders, someone — Dom, now Billy thinks about it — said, “Oi! Wotcha doing with Pippin?”
“‘e’s just,” Billy began blearily. He tried again. “‘e’s just takin’ me upstairs ta dress me up in fishnets and leather! Not ta worry, fellers.” He flashed a grin at them.
“That’s orright, then,” Dom said cheerily, his voice diminishing as he wandered off.
Viggo urged Billy up the steps first. He reached around Billy to open the door: he had a couple of goes at stabbing his key into the lock. His head began to shake, breath squeaking in and out percussively.
“Think it might be a case of too many late nights for you, young man,” Billy said.
The lock turned over. Viggo pushed the small of Billy’s back, and Billy went inside, gingerly into the dark. He blinked and he could see the table with its bench seats. He made his way towards it, heard Viggo’s feet scuffing the lino extravagantly behind him.
Viggo was against Billy’s back, reaching over his shoulder to turn on the light over the table.
Billy turned around and Viggo put his arm around Billy’s waist, and Viggo grinned at Billy. Viggo said, “My, um.” His breath did the percussive thing again. He said, “My ex-wife, um, dressed like that.” He put his head on Billy’s shoulder.
Billy thought, “Hah.” It was a “hah” to do with wondering what it was like to have an ex-wife whose stockings you could talk about; to do with thinking that Viggo was not as much older than Billy than Billy was older than Elijah; to do with thinking that of all the things Viggo was, now Billy knew he was a silly drunk, too. Billy smiled back.
“You wanna joint?” Viggo said. He pushed Billy to sit on the edge of the table. He reached into the cupboard above the table and brought down a cereal bowl with a pair of scissors sitting in it, and a packet of tobacco.
While Viggo was mixing with the scissors (snip, snip, snip went the scissors, and Billy realised he was ready to be stoned: he had that dulled silence inside that happens after a certain amount of drink and a bit of sitting still), Billy stayed where Viggo had put him.
And when Viggo was done, he lit the joint and, all smiley, stood up and put his arm around Billy’s waist again. He held the joint to Billy’s lips.
Billy did not think anything of it: he thought again, “Hah;” a “hah” that had to do with Viggo being a bit of a bonghead, as well as a silly drunk.
That is not true. He thought the sort of thing you congratulate yourself for thinking and then in the same instant realise you are being a dickhead: he thought placidly, “Yeah, two men can be all… like this.”
Billy decides it is alright to put his legs down. When his thighs rotate past ninety degrees to his body, a burning ache down the front of them surprises him. Carefully, he straightens his knees.
The light catches one of the many planes of Viggo’s bulky shoulder. Viggo’s stubble is rubbing against Billy’s neck again, and Billy thinks, it’s too much for both people to have stubble: you don’t use sandpaper on sandpaper.
Viggo’s voice is sleepy and liquid as it buzzes against Billy’s neck. “How’m I doing?”
Billy forces his throat open. He says, “Uh.”
“As your bitch, I mean,” Viggo says.
Billy says, “Uh.” His voice does not come out right. “Good,” he says. “Good.”
Viggo has a tissue and is wiping Billy’s stomach. “There,” he says.
Billy will only speak to Viggo once more before they go to sleep. Viggo will ask Billy if he wants a glass of water, and Billy will say, “Yes.” His voice will still not be right. There will be a quality to it, a subtle, flinty static to the vowels.
Later, when he is sure Viggo is asleep, Billy will inch back the covers and ease his weight off the bed. He will go into the bathroom and close the door.
The light flicking on under Billy’s finger will surprise an intruder in the mirror, wearing Billy’s face. The tiles all around will be bright and white; Billy’s eyesockets will be blooming purplish-mushroom, the colour the white stalks of the spinach turn when you leave them too long in the fridge. When Billy looks away from his face, he will notice, with curiosity, his shrivelled cock, the top half of it he can see above the line of the bench in the mirror. He will see the cowlick in his pubic hair, the way it all seems to curl towards a point low down on the left. He will look himself back in the face, and notice his hair is sticking directly upwards above one ear.
He will try whispering to his image, “It’s just that I don’t…”
He will stand around for a long time in the bathroom. The cold of the tiles will climb his calves.
When Billy opens the bathroom door again, he will be sure to turn the light off first — and then he will have to grope in the dark for the doorknob. After-images will be exploding against the wall of the darkness out in the room beyond. His toes will clutch the pile of the carpet.
From the bed, Viggo will say, “Billy?”
There will be silence for a while. Viggo will say again, “Billy?”
Billy will say at last, “Hi.”
“Hey there,” Viggo will say softly. He will pat the bed: Billy will hear the impact of a palm on sheets, the feather-faint resonation of the springs beneath.
Billy will be able to see the lights of the city by night make a line around the edge of the blind now. He will make his way over to Viggo’s side of the bed, sit himself in the crook of Viggo’s side-turned body.
Viggo will say, “How you doing?”
Billy will say, flintily, “My voice is wrong.”
Viggo will put his arm around Billy’s waist. “Yeah?” Viggo will say.
They are on the fourth floor, and for the first time Billy will notice the hum of traffic below. “It sounds,” Viggo will say, “very sexy to me.”
Then Billy will not say anything. Billy will be fairly sure that if you do that for long enough, the turn passes back to the other person. But Viggo will not say anything either. Viggo will put his other hand on Billy’s forearm.