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A Natural History of the Watch

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A Natural History of the Watch

1. Among the Dead
"A historical relation to futurity [has been] restricted to generational narrative and reproduction."

The Wilby cemetery's graves date back to 1795, when Loyalists ran through north through New Hampshire and Maine and turned east, fast as jackrabbits and just as scared. It was just a tiny settlement then on the eastern edge of the island, a few families who died out or left by the 1830s.

Duck paces through the three narrow rows, careful to stay between the stones -- *Beloved Daughter*, *Father*, sometimes no name at all for stillborn infants -- and not step on the graves themselves. Once the cod fishery picked up, a few Basque names, lots of Campbells and McGarrigles, start to appear. Those are rougher stones, unhewn and only vaguely square.

On balance, though, this is the graveyard for just two families. There are almost as many MacDonalds here as there are Frenches.

Duck's the last MacDonald, though. His father died eight years ago and he has no brothers. His dad only had a sister, Jeannie, who moved out to Coquitlam forty years ago and never came back. She only had girls, and even if there had been boys, they would have been Fredericks, after her husband.

After him, no more MacDonalds.

The cemetery's at the top of the rise and he stands at the far edge, arms crossed, looking out to sea. Nothing between him and the crimped, crawling waves but the rocks at the edge of the Watch, the stand of pines gone nearly black in the low evening light.

His tomorrow used to be right down there. Behind the police tape.


2. Melancholy Anatomy
"What is excluded from the body for the body's boundary to form? And how does that exclusion haunt that boundary as an internal ghost of sorts, the incorporation of loss as melancholia?"

More than memory, the Watch is a part of him. After all these years, his body and the place are one.

Balsam needles, sea spray, the particular acid grit of the rocks, the sharp-edged, shaggy bark that peels off in long ribbons from the pines. Sap clotting his hair, ground into the calluses on his palms, pebbling his kneecaps.

The Watch took *all* of Duck's senses, all five and then some. Overwhelming, the texture of rocks, grass, sand, tree and skin. Smells flooded his nose -- the rotten salt stuck into broken shells, the snap of a branch releasing perfume, rain in the air hovering ozone-heavy, *and* him, whoever he was tonight -- cologne, sweat, deodorant, come. Taste, and sound, and *more*, so much more.

Fucking at the Watch was -- *is*, Duck tells himself, always will be -- fucking the whole world all at once.

He became animal again and angel, too, singing and shouting. Perfect moments when the world stood out clear and frozen as the stars above, when nails dug into his hipbones, fingers plunged into his mouth. Rasp and beauty of teeth, cock, shins, toes. The nape of someone's neck gone snow-bright under the moon, eyes streaking dark light as someone thrashes and comes.


3. Local Fauna
"The majority are not interested in a trophy but rather in obtaining a supply of meat for winter. Since only the larger centres have electricity, it is necessary to make a late kill."

Beside privacy and silence, there is the howl. It stands outside the either/or logic of non-contradiction that rules everything else. That's from Grade 11, Mr. Sloper's algebra class, during which they spent more time figuring the probabilities of snooker and learning classical logic than they ever spent on algebra.

Non-contradiction: *Either* you're normal *or* you're queer: I know *I'm* normal because you're queer. Either islander or mainlander, Wilby or The Rest. Either the Watch or "Where?" Either you have your privacy or you're silent.

But the howl cuts through that, escapes both, keeps running.

The wolf, like the moose, is both a native and an introduced species to the island. Both were hunted down to nothing by the Great War. Wilby was barely more than a hamlet then, fishermen and churches, engorged for the September kill by rich hunters from Toronto and Montreal, Chicago and New York. Locals did their moose-hunting in the December kill; meat freezes more reliably then.

By the time the Versailles treaty was signed, there was a single bull moose and an old, one-eyed wolf bitch left on Wilby Island. That would have been the end of the story, but for a harebrained scheme hatched back in Ottawa. To save the local economy from indigence during the Depression, moose were reintroduced in 1938.

Then another war, and hunting declined. By the 1950s, a decade before Duck was born, the herd had grown so big that wolves were reintroduced to cull it.

Duck still shoots his namesakes in December, just like his dad and grandfather did.


4. World Making
"Making a queer world has required the development of kinds of intimacy that bear no necessary relation to domestic space, to kinship, to the couple form, to property, or to the nation."

Duck cannot imagine sex in a bed, every night, forever. Sex is the world, the cold air and the night sky (whether pricked by stars or smudged by fog), the needles, leaves, and sand. Rock and sap. Getting screwed against the fat trunk of an oak, blowing someone all splayed out on the rocks under the retaining wall.

The Watch is intimacy, silent and affectionate and full of trust. There are no words once the path's taken, but there are gestures on gesture. Every movement of the body means something -- the raise or furrow of brows, winks, waves, fingers pointing back into the trees. Indices of desire, suggestion and promise, interest and curiosity: 'would you if I...?', 'You kiss?'. 'Just watch'.

The gestures aren't quite a language, because you can't make up new expressions, but they are token, shards, of the acts they represent. A tongue fattening out a cheek, palm brushing slow across knees, a twist of the waist to indicate his willingness to bend over.

No words, and no names, either. Men he'd known his whole life are there, and men he'd never see again. None had names. There, he's not Duck any more than they are Oz, Joe, or Mike. Names are graves and at the Watch, they rise and live again. They, together, are bodies, and needs, that wove together, made the Watch.

Its space was skin-deep, made from air and gossamer threads. Portable, then, because it was less than nothing and the world. Fragile, too, as cobwebs, torn but lingering on.

It's not going to just fade away.


5. The Werewolf of Wilby Island
"They lie hid most part all day, and go abroad in the night."

It's two summers ago now that the American band rented out the old Haskell place across town. Duck was rebuilding and shoring up the stone wall that wove between the Haskell lot and Mrs. French's property; that's how he met the kid the first time.

Early one morning, he was hauling river rocks off his truck. Flat things, warm from the sun, hard to maneuver even with his monkey-long arms.

"Need some help?" It was a handsome kid, young enough to be Duck's own kid, too pale for July with that dark-red hair. He'd been in London, though, Duck later found out, so there'd been no sun to warm and color him.

Duck said no, he'd got it, but the kid (Oz, his name was Oz: "not like I got a leg to stand on *there*," Duck said and Oz smiled) said he was stronger than he looked. Watching him wrestle a rock down, Duck figured he was right; he was built like Duck himself, all bone and muscle you couldn't quite see unless you squinted, and he was *small*. Even before the growth spurt that came way too late to erase Duck's nickname, he probably could have taken Oz on sight alone, he was that small.

But strong. They worked silently, together in tandem, pitching the rocks and stacking them before the wall. It was well past lunch time when Oz wiped his face on the front of his t-shirt and said he had to go wake the rest of the band up and get down to rehearsal.

The second time Duck met him was four nights later at the entrance to the Watch. Duck wasn't even going in that night, but departing headlights (obviously a mainlander, because all the locals knew to keep the beams off until well past the Watch) struck that small, square figure and Duck pulled his truck over to the shoulder.

"You -- you sure you want to be here?" he asked when he caught up with the kid.

Oz looked up at the sky. There was full moon and his face almost glowed. "Yeah, I'm sure."

"It's --" Duck didn't finish. He couldn't describe the Watch, let alone *define* it. You just visited here, or you didn't; describing it would be about as pointless as arguing with the sea, picking a fight with a tern.

"Show me," Oz said.

So Duck did. All the way down the path, through the pines until they were only three trees away from shore. They walked side by side, heard grunts and saw flickers of moisture (lips, eyes), and kept going, until Duck stopped. Oz stopped, too, and his eyes were brighter than anything, moon on water, as he stepped up against Duck.

Caught fast in the shadows, exhilarated, Duck opened and Oz fucked him to a howl.


6. Tongues Untied
"I am in part telling a story about preserving a boundary between what can be done and said in public, what can be done in private but not spoken of publicly, and what can, patriotically speaking, be neither done nor legitimately spoken of at all."

The Watch was, until very recently, an open secret. Like a worn spot in a carpet that shows its weave and the light when you beat out the dust in the spring. Open, porous: anyone could visit the Watch, everyone who needed to know knew about it, but not everyone came.

Buddy, for example, never visited. Before he got married, he could have gone, but he didn't. He preferred alleys and the backseats of cars, so Duck didn't press the issue. He *thought* about it, sure, because touching Buddy could only feel even better down at the Watch.

But maybe the Watch existed wherever he wanted it to. Maybe -- definitely -- the place was so wrapped up with Duck's desire that he carried it with him. Lying in the backseat of Buddy's mom's LTD, the Watch was *there*, between and around them. In the lines already fanning out from Buddy's eyes and in the depths of his mouth and his grip on Duck's elbow as he thrust, rubbing their dicks together. The soft nap of upholstery became the uncomfortable prick of pine needles and the thunder of Buddy's breath in his ear was the pounding of the sea, and Duck didn't dare close his eyes, watching as hard as he was coming. The sun was behind Buddy, a blinding halo in an electric-white sky.

Later, Buddy went off to Kingston for RMC training, met Carol, came back married, and Duck didn't get to touch him any more. Something about couples -- how they close in on each other, tilt together like the sticks of a lean-to or the legs of an easel, closing out the world. Duck's never understood that, that privacy couples make.

At the Watch, Duck'd learned his body could be the world; why would anyone hide from the world?


7. The Body Politic in the Bawdy House
"Men at last are forced to face with sober senses the real conditions of their lives and their relations with their fellow men."

When he was nineteen, Duck went to Toronto to learn tool and die making; he switched to culinary arts without telling his parents, or his Uncle Gerald, who'd paid the vocational college tuition.

By winter term, he'd dropped out. The obvious reason was that he couldn't afford the knives everyone was supposed to buy. The silent reason, the bigger one, was that the city thrilled him too much.

Men walked together down the street -- *some* streets, that is -- with their arms around each other, necking at stoplights, laughing and talking loudly. In piano bars and shabby discos, men danced together and lesbians with short hair and wide grins threaded through the crowd, shaking their heads at the boys. Everything was out in the open, part of the city, shining. Duck, newly grown to his full height, still uneasy in his own skin, felt as out of place and captivated as a fly trapped in amber.

Then the bathhouse raids came, billy clubs and grunted slurs, the slap of wet feet down fire escapes and the shattering vials of amyl. Duck pleaded down to a misdemeanor, used the last of his tuition for the fine, and went home. Back to Wilby, back to the Watch, where it was quiet and safer for it.

Twenty years later, Oz caught his hand after they were done and said, "Stay." His face was sharp in the moonlight, his lips swollen, and Duck nodded.

He woke the next morning beside a sleeping wolf, snout buried in its paws. Watching the shaggy fur melt away, fairy-tale quick, and reveal a sleeping, bruised boy, Duck knew he'd done the right thing.


8. Human Rights
"These identities are not expressions of secret essences. They are self-creations, but they are creations on ground not freely chosen but laid out by history."

Privacy's something other people enjoy -- that's something Duck learns for real in Buddy's passenger seat when Sandra comes out, blowsy and gorgeous, but he can't say he didn't already know. He's always known that. He's known since grade six, since high school, since he spent that winter in Toronto. Since forever.

Privacy, private life, those are things other people get to have. They get it not by being themselves, not necessarily, but by marrying, having kids, continuing the family.

The Watch was silent, wordless, but never private. Someone might always be watching, hand down his pants, and you knew that sure as you knew to avoid the swampy sand on the northeast corner. You didn't perform, but you weren't alone, either.

Now it's neither silent nor private, and they're all different because of that. Duck never really heard Dan's voice before that morning on the bridge -- until then, Dan was the one Duck thought of as Ostrich Guy, with the soft-*soft* mouth and long, intelligent fingers. But now, Dan's voice is markedly different, rough as the cut rope, threaded with permanent pain.

"Come to bed," Dan says, clicking off the bedside lamp and patting the pillow. He moved into Duck's place over Sandra's garage because where else was the poor, beautiful bastard going to go?

"In a minute." Duck stands at the window, head against the glass, watching the shadows shift and chase over the street.

There's no such thing as true silence. Here, when he turns off the radio, the room fills up with the beat of the sea and the croaking symphonies of crickets and cicadas. In the city, there were always sirens, screams, and shouts.

"Where're you going?"

"Out," Duck says and touches two fingers to his lips, the sign for a cigarette.

Some nights, Duck hears the wolves, still, howling in harmony, and he wishes Oz had bit him. Beyond privacy and shamed silence, there's something else, he knows there is.

Duck chooses his words carefully, but he does not hide. He keeps watching.



sources
1. Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner (2000), "Sex in Public" in _Intimacy_, ed. Berlant. Chicago: University of Chicago, 318.
2. Judith Butler (1993). "The Lesbian Phallus" in _Bodies That Matter: On the discursive limits of "sex". New York: Routledge, 65.
3. Douglas Pimlott, "The Moose in Newfoundland" (ms., c.1955), p.3.
4. Berlant and Warner, 322.
5. Burton, _Anatomy of Melancholy_, Partition I, sub. IV: s.v. "lycanthropia".
6. Lauren Berlant (1997/2004), "Live Sex Acts (Parental Advisory: Explicit Material)" in _Curiouser: On the queerness of children_, eds. Steven Bruhm and Natasha Hurley. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 61-62.
7. Marshall Berman (1982), _All that is solid melts into air_. New York: Verso, 95.
8. Jeffrey Weeks (1985), _Sexuality and Its Discontents_. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 201.