Sixsmith’s friendship with Frobisher transcends anything he can aptly put into words.
Their friendship constitutes a haze of pig Latin scrawled on each other’s forearms, weekend train journeys to Cromer, god-fearing teachers admonishing them for snickering on the Wednesday morning walk to chapel at Gresham. Their friendship is the distaste on Frobisher’s features when Sixsmith botches yet another piece of musical terminology, the satisfied smirk Sixsmith gives after calling his friend a soi-disant ‘composer’ with an ego the size of the once-Roman Empire. Their friendship is Frobisher’s shrug on his acceptance from Cambridge, his offhand sigh accompanying casual protest. It’s a home away from home for the crème de la crème, he insists - but their friendship is the exchanged smile as Sixsmith picks Caius alongside him.
Frobisher remembers his lovers’ names. The contours of their bodies, their smiles, their idiosyncrasies – the things that should, in theory, matter – inevitably blur into a haze under a veneer of time and indifference. Names, though, are different. Each name carries a different tone when spoken aloud, a different rhythm, a different colour associated with it. Occasionally, when Frobisher is alone, he makes melodies from them. Vividly coloured names that mattered, once upon a time, blossom into extravagant symphonies under his hands. Forgettable names create languorous pieces in common time, with artless chord progressions.
Frobisher enjoys collecting people with interesting names. They make better music.
It seems only natural that a name as alliterative as Sixsmith should be next on his list.
Each musky Cambridge summer, the rumour mill works overtime. This year, the name dancing on snide, educated lips is that of Robert Frobisher – and unlike the majority of students, Sixsmith fails to see such a novelty in their vicious (albeit truthful) words. At Newnham, he is a cautionary tale. At Trinity, he’s the vagabond your parents warn you about. He’ll drape himself in all your fineries; your wines, your words, your kisses. He’ll snatch your money, your heart, he’ll take it all. Sixsmith hears this a hundred times over. It’s a contrived interpretation of the Frobisher that Sixsmith knows, that Sixsmith moans about continually – the Frobisher who invites himself through Sixsmith’s window on many an occasion at obscene hours in the morning with tousled hair, swollen lips, and a tell-tale, resigned smile on his soft features. It becomes routine; an explosive situation that Sixsmith avoids with a noncommittal shrug, a my lips are sealed gesture. Adultery, lust, and a sinful amount of enjoyment from it all are boundaries that their friendship respects quietly. Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no lies. Routine, as normal. Nonetheless, Sixsmith feels a dizzying pang of resentment towards popular consensus. Rumours lack a certain dimension to them.
Even the most detailed of accounts cannot quite capture his friend’s likeness.
Stories never mention how fascinating his hands are; treble clefs inked into his palm so vividly they resemble splintered veins. They never mention how every time he appears and reappears, like some otherworldly figure, a new injury appears – careless bruises on the neck, the frail skin around his knuckles fractured and rosy. Stories do not capture his pride in his own work. Frobisher treats his music with an infinite amount of compassion, cradles notes and time signatures with open palms. Sixsmith has never observed a devotion quite so fervent, and often wonders if any lover of his has ever elicited the same response. Rumours do not – cannot – convey his sheer conviction; words are effortless to Frobisher. He delivers them with such belief, such purpose that each one is an affirmation of freedom, of screaming at death, and God, and everything in between. They tumble out of his brilliant, brilliant mouth with such velocity that Sixsmith falls over them – and Frobisher laughs, laughs heartily, laughs at Sixsmith’s incomprehension, knowing that despite their close proximity to one another, they move in different circles, speak in different tongues.
Sixsmith knows Frobisher better than the palms of his own hands. Knows, recognises; but still does not quite understand.
You don’t have to, he drawls. Focus on your chemicals, on your gobbledygook. Infinitely more fascinating, I’m sure. Frobisher’s smile skims across his eyes, and he rummages in his pockets for a cigarette. Don’t concern yourself with questions of ‘why’, or ‘how.’ He relaxes; holds a match up to the light. That way, madness lies.
An answer for everything, Sixsmith contemplates bitterly. With a quote, to boot.
It’s a damnably wet Thursday morning on the cobbled pavement outside Caius, the air pungent and invasive. An expensive-looking Ford passes through the water sleekly, its headlights illuminating a puddle wide enough to see the reflection of Sixsmith, standing alone. A black umbrella shields him from the elements – or at least to the best of its ability – and he exhales slowly, his curiosity piqued by loud splashes approaching from around the corner.
Frobisher tears towards him unceremoniously; the hems of his trousers sodden against the damp streets. He spots the slight hook of his friend’s nose from a mile away, the crook of his hat impractical and simultaneously inviting. He darts under Sixsmith’s umbrella, and sighs, a smile of relief creeping onto his flushed face. His hair is dishevelled, his jumper is threadbare, and a stray raindrop trickles its way down his face towards his red, red lips. He licks it away unabashedly, flaunting his dexterous tongue, and Sixsmith glances at his friend with an anonymous sensation that brings an inadvertent flush to his cheeks.
Frobisher grins in response, and offers Sixsmith a cigarette.
Corsica is glorious this time of year.
The stars seem almost tangible above outstretched arms; almost as tangible as each other’s hair, limbs, each other’s eyes. Frobisher shares his last cigarette with Sixsmith, his body limp against the ground. A stream of smoke issues from his mouth, aligning with the all-encompassing sky. Sixsmith observes it sleepily; for once, he feels just as weightless.
Silence fills the air, broken only by deep exhalations of smoke. Sixsmith turns his head from the view to look at his friend lying alongside him. The dull light presents Frobisher as almost skeletal – light favours the planes of his face, his jaw, his collarbones, obscuring his eyes from view. As Sixsmith leans over to pluck the cigarette from his friend’s mouth, Frobisher’s face breaks into a smile, shadow lifted from the lips that Sixsmith – embarrassingly – so desperately wants to explore, has wanted to since that Thursday outside Caius in the rain. Sixsmith does not move; hovers over his best friend’s face for a minute, for many minutes. In that moment of stasis, months of boundaries, conventions and deliberating suddenly explode into something worthwhile.
They kiss gingerly and briefly, the stars the sole, solemn witness to such a perversion. They kiss, and lie next to each other, a silence filling the air. They kiss, and everything changes. Nothing changes. Change is simply anxiety, personified. They kiss, and shock, relief, contentment flutter inside the damp cavities of yearning mouths. They kiss, and the stars are still watching, the ground as tangible as it was before. They kiss, kiss, and kiss again, falling into each other with a freedom that Sixsmith has feared, that Frobisher has craved. They kiss, for nature remains. They kiss, for the world still turns. They kiss because they are inconsequential – yet in that moment, they believe they can touch the stars.
They breathe a collective sigh of relief. Smoke and lovers’ words intertwine between embraces.
Sixsmith feels like shrieking at the moon with pure exhilaration.
What do we do now?
They lie for what seems an eternity. Frobisher hears music in his ears; looks at the sky, waits for a comet.
Sixsmith sits quietly; provides variations on the word ‘love.’
Love is a product of study, a scientific breakthrough; a labour of love. Love is a tragically doomed idealist ready to follow his lover’s body into the dark, into death. Love is Robert Frobisher, skin musky after a night of dancing together in a smoke-filled room. Under love’s heavy burden do I sink.
Love is just a word, embellished.
Eradicating the barriers between friendship and relationship shines an exposing light on Frobisher’s world of hedonism. He drinks heavily, speaks impudently; kisses lazily, leaves marks.
Perhaps it is blindsided romanticism. Perhaps it is sheer fearlessness. Either way, his existence is dauntless. With Frobisher, there are no consequences.
Sixsmith finds it oddly refreshing.
The next few weeks are a flurry of hotels, bars, and desperate kisses in college libraries, on empty park benches, in the back of automobiles. Loving Robert Frobisher is slowly becoming a full-time occupation. Each moment with him is one of tumultuous hunger, each reprieve from his company a colossal waste of time. If not now, when? he whispers. Nothing is deliberated. No time is squandered.
And Sixsmith – logical, methodical Sixsmith – finds he does not mind at all.
Their bodies lie, intertwined. A distant chapel bell sounds, and sunshine trickles over the tangled bedsheets. Sixsmith rolls over; lights a cigarette.
I can’t help but feel a little responsible for all these… vices, Frobisher says, eyes crinkled with amusement. He pauses; counts on his fingers. Smoking, fornicating, drinking on weekdays. He tuts several times, a grin on his face. Most unbecoming, Sixsmith. An absolute travesty, in fact.
Sixsmith folds his arms, irascibly. And as always, you credit yourself with far too much. I’m sure I could have discovered them without your help.
Frobisher nestles himself in the crook of Sixsmith’s shoulder, soft stubble grazing against harsh collarbone. Poor misguided Sixsmith. He smiles, muttering in-between kisses. That’s a facetious claim.
Well, love’s one you mention a fair bit.
So love’s a vice now, eh? Sixsmith chuckles; resists the urge to roll his eyes. Can’t wait to hear the theories behind that one.
Oh, it undoubtedly is, Frobisher says, shaking his head fervently. No questioning it.
Sixsmith retreats into the covers, allows the warmth to wash over him. Go on then. Surprise me.
Frobisher sits up, gesticulating wildly. Well, love’s addictive, isn’t it? Counterproductive, even. Christ, decades after decades of romantic literature could have told you that. Destroys even the best of men. Splits them in two. He sits for a moment, lips pursed, before placing his head on Sixsmith’s chest, tracing the crevices in his shoulders, his neck, hands, hips. And be reasonable, Sixsmith. Just think of the mess.
Sixsmith arches beneath the covers, breath shallow, hands directing hands.
Think it’ll destroy you?
Loving a man who is as vehement and capricious as a whirlwind proves to be a challenge.
Frobisher’s propensity to offer a conflicting opinion to everything grows tiresome after an impressively short while, exhausting him frequently. Sixsmith sighs, looks down at his notes, hopes Frobisher doesn’t expect any sort of preferential treatment now that they’re – well, you know.
Sixsmith tells him this – you can play bloody Mary, Mary, quite contrary for as long as you like, it doesn’t change a damn thing – and Frobisher scowls, unimpressed. Most unbecoming. Sixsmith removes such malice from Frobisher’s features with a soft kiss, and while it doesn’t quite soothe the cracks in his features, he reciprocates.
Nobody has your eyes, Sixsmith, Frobisher murmurs against the inside of his lover’s thigh.
Sixsmith moans gratuitously, wanting to be purged.
There are only so many hours that can be spent with him, only so many times they can fuck – to use the colloquialism – in one day. Sixsmith knows this. Sixsmith knows, but does not quite understand. This is a recurring theme.
Frobisher’s hands, so practised, so calloused, so sinful, tug at Sixsmith’s corduroys.
Nobody has your eyes, he repeats, skin upon skin. But you already knew that, didn’t you?
This does not stop Sixsmith’s unique eyes from stinging. Christ, he wishes it would.
One evening, Frobisher appears at Caius with bruised cheeks and swollen lips. He wears it well and unashamedly; as if it is a style he has become accustomed to. Sixsmith closes his eyes; kisses Frobisher with a flourish, pretending he enjoys the taste of blood for the beaten man’s sake. Frobisher breathes praise against Sixsmith’s neck, murmuring oh my, Sixsmith, it really was worth it - and with a smile, he has gone again.
He returns later, rapping impatiently on Sixsmith’s window, eager to create new abrasions.
Frobisher looks at the floor; describes the carpet.
Neither of them mention it. Neither of them have to. The word is the dank fragrance in the air, the furnishings of the lamps, the dust gathering on the window ledge. They kiss. It seems neater than uttering insufficient words with half-dashed syntax.
Their nights are usually filled with colour and concertos of sound, insatiable hearts and minds making light work of it. Tonight, it is silent, languorous. Each heartbeat is a solemnly packed bag. They drink, they smoke, they love again. Inertia does not leave.
The lock is suddenly wrenched open. The tale is old, embroidered; a tale of explosions, death, impetuousness, and blood on the first four knuckles. He mentions a brother. He smiles wryly, and pours himself another brandy.
The tale is old, embroidered. Frobisher does not understand why, tonight, it chills him so.
Sixsmith spends the rest of the evening exploring the crevices of Frobisher’s body with his delicate mouth; hoping that each rush of ecstasy through Frobisher’s veins will help repair his weathered body and his tired, tired mind.
It’s summer, it’s suicide, it’s a sweating trench in the fields of Christ-knows-where. It’s warfare all over again, the fragments of shells scattering on the pavements, against the windows, within the pages of stave after stave after stave. It’s love, it’s death, it’s red-white-blue, it’s Caius, it’s Cambridge, it’s God. It’s an exploitative old man with an exploitative wife and daughter in a chateau with a white-picket fence; it’s them playing a perverted game of happy families. It’s one man’s defiance to conform. It’s one man’s words, one man’s tired eyes, one man’s stolen pistol. It’s another man’s smile, another man’s sandy hair, another man’s perseverance. It’s sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt, in the foreign tongue, in the standard rhythm. It’s exactly that. The tears of things. It’s C minor, a damn good key if ever one existed. It’s one man’s capability to love, to dream. To sleep, perchance to dream.
He sees Sixsmith from the corner of his eye. Stepping from the shadows, the light floods his sharp features with animation, and Frobisher bites down hard on his cracked lips to prevent himself from coming undone.
Time hangs, a deadened weight whistling through his hair, leaving his body frozen. He could run to Sixsmith now, pull off that ludicrous hat, kiss him senseless, drag him down to obscurity too.
Could. Frobisher decides against it; his eyes are bloodshot, his judgement is clouded. Falling into Sixsmith’s arms would be sheer, luxurious perfection, the fusion of fire and ice, an issuing of sparks.
He wants. Oh, how he wants. Frobisher watches his resolve clatter to the floor.
He distracts himself; focuses on the view. Orange, red, dazzling white. Purity, stillness, tranquillity. A single moment, amplified. They’ll never have this, Frobisher vows silently. They’ll never have me.
He smiles at a retreating shadow, proudly. But you always will, Sixsmith. Signing my soul away? How quaint. I can almost hear you laughing. Still, do whatever you like with it. Put it in a box, save it for a rainy day. Show it to Pater, dangle it through his bedroom window.
The tale is old; embroidered.
You don’t even have to understand.
This last part is an absolution.
I hope you don’t.
Love is a Luger pistol, shoved unceremoniously into one’s own mouth.
Love is a botched sunrise of red and purple welts. The stars are nowhere to be seen.
Frobisher closes his eyes, instead; sees Corsica. Sees notes on a page.
He waits for the crescendo, counting his crotchet rests.
Love is arriving two minutes too late.