Dakin reckons he’s thought this through. After all, he’ll be going up to Oxford in a couple of months, and death does funny things to people, even boys fresh out of sixth form.
Not that Dakin thinks of himself as a boy. His balls are right where they should be, for now.
‘Well?’ Irwin prompts him after a moment’s passed. It’s hard to gauge his tone. ‘Here you are, having crossed a threshold. A rare glimpse at a teacher’s private life. Anything to say?’
Dakin shoves his hands into the pockets of his trousers. In one pocket, he could feel the balled up paper that was once a corner shop receipt. It was the best Fiona could do on short notice, and she’d written Irwin’s address on the back. Mostly to get Dakin to shut up. ‘I’m just trying to imagine this - as the “land of lost content.” I think I almost see it, sir. But it gets a bit lost in all this colour.’
‘The place came furnished,’ Irwin said, lifting one side of his mouth. ‘I think this was even the first place I looked. Felix insisted on an immediate start. And I never wanted to live comfortably.’
The sound of a labouring hoover sputters to life again in the next room.
Dakin says, ‘Oh.’
It’d been a repeated topic among the boys, although markedly less recurrent than discussions about sex, how their teachers must live, how oddly they must fit other lives into spare time they didn’t have. Mrs. Lintott and Hector were stalwart Cutlerian institutions, and were imagined to be such. Hector’s house was surely flooded with pages ripped from Auden and Housman, and Mrs. Lintott’s bungalow was rife with the smell of cheesy pizza.
Dakin doesn’t know what to make of Irwin’s flat. It’s an strangely large flat for a man who lives alone, with a wide sitting room and an electric fireplace placed in the middle of one wall. From where he stands, Dakin can spot the small galley kitchen down a step.
Irwin asks, ‘Would you like tea, coffee?’
It’s difficult to look at Irwin without taking in the man’s wheelchair in the same glance. Even more disturbingly, Dakin can’t remember off the top of his head how Irwin looks on his feet. When Dakin opens his mouth to speak, the words catch in his throat. ‘If - you told me where everything is, sir, I don’t mind making a cuppa myself.’
Irwin turns away from him and wheels himself to the narrow mouth of the kitchen. ‘I’m not a cripple. The GP’s even said that my prognosis is good. That I might get around to limping by the end of August.’
‘I’ll still be around then,’ Dakin says, without thinking. Actually, he is thinking - aloud, which maybe he shouldn’t have been. ‘Move-in day’s not for yonks.’
‘ “Years,” or, “a long time,” if you must,” Irwin corrects him. There’s a laugh hidden somewhere in that reproach, but it doesn’t sound entirely unkind. ‘You say yonks at Oxford and they might eat you alive. Anyway, don’t call me “sir.” ’
'Will they? It’s almost as if I’ve not had any practice,' Dakin retorts.
The banter doesn’t feel as natural as it should. A little like stepping into a pair of old dress shoes only to realise that the toes pinch. Irwin starts to get up, and Dakin thinks to stop him although he doesn’t know how. Irwin attempts to leverage himself up, hands gripping tightly at the corner of the kitchen countertop. His expression is strained with the effort, but he manages finally, just about, supporting himself by his elbows. The kettle’s not so far away, but at this rate, Dakin thinks Irwin might crawl to the sink just to make a point. Irwin likes to make a point.
‘Tom? Tom, what are you doing?’
Dakin turns, nearly relieved at someone else’s voice. He sees a woman come out from the back hallway with the hoover in tow - too young to be Irwin’s mum, but too old to be his girlfriend, surely. The woman looks between Dakin, Irwin, and Irwin’s empty wheelchair.
‘I just wanted some tea,’ Irwin says plaintively. “I didn’t want to interrupt you, Connie. I know how that hoover can be.’
Connie doesn’t look convinced. She brushes past Dakin and goes fill the kettle. After that, she fetches two clean mugs and drops teabags into them. It looks like she’s done this before.
‘Connie,’ Irwin starts again, but then she waves him off. Instead, Connie fixes Dakin with a look, one of those looks that snaps him out of his slouch and makes him want to call her ‘miss.’ He gets the feeling that she won’t be impressed. It’s never bothered Dakin before, people not being out and out impressed by him. Perhaps it’s something else Irwin has affected in him to prepare Dakin for Oxford.
‘Get him back to that chair, please.’
Irwin says, ‘I can manage. Just - just give me a minute.’
Dakin has to make a split-second decision but he’s stuck. This is something else he ought to be good at, all things considered, but his parents are of a kind: two people who are very good at living alone in the same house. They hardly argue, but then, they hardly speak, either.
Irwin finally makes it back to his wheelchair, and Dakin doesn’t reach to help him. But when Irwin settles back into the chair properly, Dakin touches him on the shoulder. He’s often thought of touching Irwin, but never so thoughtlessly.
‘Milk and sugar, pet?’
‘Erm.’ It takes Dakin another moment to realise that Connie is talking to him. ‘Just a splash of milk, thanks. No sugar.’
No one calls him ‘pet,’ but Connie does, and she probably calls everyone that on the street, too. Fiona’s mum does from time to time, but only because Dakin hates it and has said so (very politely) to her face.
Connie passes Dakin his cup of tea on her way back to the hoover. She makes short work of wrapping up the wires and shoving it into a closet.
‘I’ll be by Thursday, Tom, with the rest of the shopping? But do give a bell if your milk goes off before then. I think it might.’
‘I’ll be honest,’ Dakin says, looking at Irwin over the top of his cup. He's more relaxed now that Connie's gone. ‘Wouldn’t have thought Connie was your type. But then, maybe? Very mannish hands. Could probably bend you over and snap you in two.’
‘Fuck off,’ Irwin says, and between that spirited ejaculation and a sip of his own tea, Dakin sees it, that snap judgement that crosses his face. For whatever reason, Irwin doesn’t retract it, in the end. ‘Connie used to be a nurse. Doesn’t like it when her patients misbehave.’
‘And are you, her patient?’
‘She thinks so. I just need someone to get my groceries. The lifts in this building haven’t functioned since the seventies. Really a bit hit and miss.’ Irwin nods noncommittally towards the door. Connie lives down the hall.’
‘Are you going to tell me why you’re here?’
Dakin doesn’t have an answer for that. Before Irwin met him at the door in his wheelchair, he might have entertained the notion of saying that he was here to collect on the better offer. Given all that’s happened, it almost seems in bad taste to do that on a Sunday, and he could have said that too. ‘Aren’t you going to throw me out?’
‘If you thought I was going to do that, you could just stand up and leave. You could still do that, Dakin.’
Dakin starts to stand, but then he imagines himself stuck in the subjunctive, pacing the room over and over again until he returns, defeated, to Irwin’s garish sofa.
‘You weren’t at Hector’s memorial, sir,’ Dakin says finally, looking intently at his hands. ‘We all looked for you afterwards. Mrs. Lintott said you decided not to come.’
‘She came by to see me afterwards.’ Irwin nods. ‘Brought me a pizza from Tesco’s. Bit shit, but it could have been my oven.’
‘I get not wanting to live comfortably, sir, but having a shit oven’s like…’ Dakin breaks off, unable to spin Irwin’s oven into - something. There must be something, a lingering couplet about a crap oven, or maybe there isn’t. Such pain is too practical, too domestic to live on in poetry, experienced by so many people so as to not be an experience at all. ‘Has she come to see you since?’
‘Why would she?’
Dakin shrugs. He stands, because he’s itching for a tab. It’s as good an excuse as any. ‘Thanks for the tea. I guess I’ll be going.’
‘You and...who, Irwin? Fuck me.’
Scripps has been spirited away by his parents to Walsingham for about the whole of summer. The good thing about being Anglican means that the family doesn’t have to splash out for a real trip to Rome; it won’t mean the same, anyway. Norfolk will do in a pinch. It’s only two and a half hours by car.
Meanwhile, Dakin makes do, too.
‘It’s a bit complicated,’ Dakin says, sucking deeply from his newly lit cigarette.
Lockwood gives him a sidelong, neatly suspicious look from behind his fringe before reaching to nick Dakin’s cigarette out of his mouth. “No, it isn’t. Don’t be a twat. You just want your cock in his mouth.’
Dakin rolls his eyes towards the ground and thinks very seriously about scuffing the toes of Lockwood’s nice, new-looking trainers. ‘No, it isn’t. It’s…’
Lockwood still isn’t convinced and makes no bones about it. ‘Bet you were never this hung up about shagging Fiona.’
‘Sure, I was. I called her my Western Front.’
For the duration of summer, Jimmy’s working a couple of days a week at a salon in the town centre sweeping up after customers. According to some of the ladies who come in for their weekly touch-up, Lockwood also provided a much nicer alternative to the street view.
Dakin snorts. ‘I bet you like the attention.’
Jimmy inhales a long drag from the cigarette. He turns his neck ever so slightly to glance back into the salon, where said ladies are held hostage by the hairdryers, and watching them with interest through the dirty glass window.
‘S’alright. I don’t mind it.’ Jimmy shrugs, passing the cigarette back to Dakin. ‘But it’s a low bar, innit? Anything’s up from having your balls handled on a bike.’ A knock on the glass gets Jimmy’s attention again and he jerks his chin towards the door in acknowledgment. ‘I have to head in. Let us know if you’re going out later, Stu?’
‘I shall do,’ Dakin says, flicking his tab towards the nearest bin.
The good thing about Lockwood is that he’ll go out on the pull with Dakin without moralising it too much. Cocksucking is just a compound word capable of progressive, actionable possibility, and Dakin knows not to mention it again. They usually end up in Crazy Daisy’s on the High Street. If Dakin doesn’t leave with a bird, he’ll at least get to laugh at some poor fucker who’s fallen down the stairs en route to the bar.
‘Do you ever do that, sir?’
‘Go out on the pull in Sheffield?’ Irwin nearly shudders. Or perhaps it’s just the weather. Outside, it’s pissing it down with no end in sight.
‘Come on, you know we’re not all that bad.’ Dakin says gamely, ‘No. I meant, laugh at other people’s misfortunes. I do it, sometimes. While there’s still time; while I’m still young enough.’
This time, Dakin’s got no real excuse turning up to Irwin’s flat, even though he’s got pretense covered with a bag of shopping. None of it’s essentials, per se, but Dakin can’t imagine Connie doing all of Irwin’s shopping. Irwin’s got no excuse letting him in either, but there’s no telling for what a sad sack might do when company comes knocking. Not that he thinks Irwin is...that. Sometimes, it’s hard to separate a man from his humble abode, that’s all.
‘You’re going to be young enough for a long time,’ Irwin returns, touching a hand to his glasses. ‘University lasts for years, if you let it. So long as you don’t take the piss. Could you put the kettle on?’
Dakin gets up and goes to the kitchen. He fills the kettle and lights Irwin’s stove with his lighter. It takes him a further few seconds to find cups and he makes the slightly shocking discovery that Irwin keeps his teabags in a caddy labelled ‘TEA’ in twee blue font. Dakin can’t help but laugh. “Did your gran get you this when you moved in?’
‘It came with the flat,’ Irwin says with a shrug, and given what Dakin has seen of his flat thus far, he’s forced to consider the less interesting possibility that Irwin is telling the truth.
‘Who lived here?’ Dakin wonders out loud as he stares at the kettle. It’s a dinky thing, and he imagines that it’s been around since the war. ‘Do you know?’
‘Someone’s mum. Possibly someone’s gran. That someone’s probably on drugs.’ Irwin says. ‘I understood fuck all when he showed me around.’
‘Is that why you’ve ended up with such a shit oven? Because you didn’t think to ask the right questions.’
Irwin doesn’t reply. From this angle, stuck in his wheelchair, parked in front of an old seventies telly (something else that’s probably come with the flat) that’s got Countdown on mute, the man seems a million miles away, not that he has anywhere to be.
‘Yes,’ Irwin says.
The kettle hisses and whistles, and Dakin takes it off the gas. He thinks, for a moment, that the impending confession might slip away from him, but then he reminds himself that Irwin has nowhere else to be. The man looks it, anyway.
Irwin clarifies, ‘Yes, I laugh at the misfortune of others.’
Irwin’s since positioned himself by the window, staring forlornly at the downpour outside. It’s probably all he can manage to look away from the telly, where Richard Whiteley is asking Cathy Hytner for a less oblique solution to the latest numbers game - or, that’s what it looks like.
Dakin comes up beside Irwin and puts his tea on the windowsill. He can spy the shape of Irwin’s mouth moving, but Irwin seems not to be speaking to him in particular: ‘When I woke up in hospital. When I had no feeling in my legs and they’d told me I’d suffered head trauma. They asked me if I knew who I was, and I laughed, said barely, just about. I remembered that I was a knob, but I couldn’t work out if it was Friday.’
‘That’s you laughing at yourself, sir,’ Dakin says, holding his breath. ‘That hardly counts. It’s against the spirit of the question.’ He nearly asks Irwin about the last thing he remembers, but then he tells himself that maybe he doesn’t want to know.
Dakin’s not certain what to expect, but even with that, he’s surprised when Irwin reaches for his cup of tea, looking secretly pleased with himself. ‘Ah, so that’s what it feels like.’
‘To have sincerity screwed out of its very guts.’
Dakin leans his hip against the windowsill, so Irwin can’t escape him even in his periphery. Standing this way, he’s about level with Irwin’s elbow that's settled on the armrest of his wheelchair. The nagging little itch that sometimes lived on Dakin’s tongue when he wanted a tab has now moved to the tips of his fingers, but Dakin stops short. ‘Were you being sincere, sir?’
‘Either that.’ Irwin raises one shoulder. ‘Or I was on some very good drugs, at the time. Have I told you not to call me “sir”?’
Dakin shrugs back. He moves to take out a pack of cigarettes, nodding towards the window. ‘Do you mind if I have a smoke? It’s pissing it down out there.’
‘There’s an ashtray in the study.’ Irwin turns away from the window and sets himself off at a terrific speed, all things considered, before Dakin can offer to fetch it himself. As it were, he retreats to the kitchen, where he’s left his lighter.
Irwin’s ‘ashtray’ turns out to be a shallow bowl chipped at the rim, with a few snuffed out filters already scattered at its bottom. He doesn’t excuse it. Instead, Irwin says, ‘Don’t you have mates you should be spending time with? Making the most of summer?’
‘Scripps is away,’ Dakin says, busying himself with lighting a cigarette. The gesture is swift and mindless. As soon as he inhales that first lungful of nicotine, he already feels better. ‘Guess where? He’s gone on a pilgrimage.’
‘Rome?’ Irwin tries.
‘Somewhere more off the beaten track.’ Dakin leans in to tap the tip of his cigarette on the rim of the bowl. ‘Think local. If there was a question on the exam, I might have said that Richeldis de Faverches possibly ate some mouldy bread in 1061 and went on the most extensive - not to mention, expensive - hallucinatory trip in history. It's just a coincidence that her so-called visions are still profitable today. The Church must make a mint.’
Irwin laughs, and it’s a sound that surprises them both. ‘Walsingham. Isn't it all free to the public? They’ve got a great chip shop. Standout curry sauce.’
‘I’ll tell him.’
Without thinking, Dakin extends his cigarette towards Irwin and Irwin hesitates before he accepts. Come to think of it, he does this with Jimmy all the time, and eventually, he’ll convince Scripps to have a tab. How is this any different? Dakin watches him bring the cigarette to his lips, and then looks away. Dakin says, ‘Jimmy works all the time. At a hairdresser’s.’
Irwin raises an eyebrow. ‘As a hairdresser? That’s really off the beaten track.’
‘As a lad who sweeps up afterwards. He also provides a view while the ladies gossip and talk about Coronation Street.’
Irwin hands him back the cigarette and looks away from Dakin. ‘And Posner?’
‘He’s not my mate, really,’ Dakin says, shrugging. ‘He’s too young. And he likes me too much.’
‘Has it occurred to you,’ Irwin starts, and then he stops again. ‘You’re quite young, Dakin, barely out of sixth form.’
‘I’ve decided that literature makes people old. It wells up the soul and makes it too rich for a young, nubile body.’ Dakin polishes off the rest of the cigarette and enjoys it, the slightest hint of a blush that colours Irwin’s cheeks. ‘Which is to say, I don’t feel young, sir.’
Somewhere, the shrill clang of a telephone sounds, possibly from the direction of the forbidden study. Irwin says, ‘I need you to go. The rain’s stopped. You’ll be all right if you’re quick.’
It hasn’t, exactly, but Dakin can’t help but think he’s overstayed his welcome. Subjunctive history threatens him now, again, at every turn, and he strides quickly out of the flat to avoid it, even without saying good-bye.
Dakin thinks he’s told the truth. He’s not mates with Posner, not the way he is with Scripps and Jimmy. But they’re all lads from the same town, and it’s inevitable that they run into each other sometimes.
‘Like you really were just cycling past my house,’ Posner says. Maybe it’s just Dakin’s imagination, here slightly dampened by being dismissed from Irwin’s flat, but Posner doesn’t sound ecstatic like he should.
‘You live near a pub, don’t you, Pos? Everyone lives near a pub. I was on my way to the pub.’ Given that they were in said pub, or rather, out in the garden since it’s summer, the question seems moot and nearly absurd. Dakin gets the first round, almost expecting Posner to order something like a lemonade, or worse, a g&t. But Posner defies his expectations and gets a pint, what Dakin’s having too (this - a relief and not so surprising). Posner’s parents don’t keep much booze at home aside from kosher wine which tastes like vinegary piss gone off, and he ought to practice for Oxford.
‘At least you don’t have to take communion with it.’ Do Jews have communion?
‘I’m not a monk,’ Posner says mildly. ‘Just not allowed to have crackling.’
‘Thought you were,’ Dakin returns. ‘Does that mean you wank?’
‘I do wank,’ Posner says, stringently honest, but not too loudly.
Out of all of them, Dakin’s always expected to get some sort of scholarship to Oxford. The exhibition was in exceedance of his expectations, but still wholly within the realm of complete possibility, as not to be unexpected.
Dakin wouldn’t have picked Posner as a scholarship type; in lessons, Posner, along with Scripps, had been a stringent devotee of the truth.
But still, some truths get Dakin’s attention all the same. ‘Yeah?’
Posner’s cheeks are slightly pink, but it’s a hot day and oddly enough, Dakin thinks the pink is from the sun rather than embarrassment and he’s thought to look for it, learn the difference. ‘Don’t you?’
‘I, erm.’ Dakin coughs into his pint. ‘Don’t really need to, mate, you know me.’
‘I do know you,’ Posner agrees. ‘I know you too much. It’s possibly why I don’t think of you anymore.”
Posner polishes off the rest of his pint and wipes his mouth with a handkerchief he fishes out of his pocket, and seems to ready himself. He gets a look about him, whenever poetry’s about to take the place of good sense: ‘Some lads there are / 'Tis shame to say / That only court to thieve / And once they bear the bloom away /'Tis little enough they leave.’
‘Ri-ght,’ Dakin says, dragging the word out. ‘Are you not bent anymore, then? Suddenly seen the light, the Holy Church of Tits?’
Posner says, leaning back from him, ‘No. Still bent, probably will be for the rest of my sad fucked life. But at least, not for you. I’m beginning to feel well again.’
Now, this is a surprise. It’s shocking, in fact; it’s left Dakin near shell-shocked. ‘I’m not that bad, ‘m I?’
‘I don't know.’ Posner shrugs, and gestures at Dakin’s almost empty pint. ‘Another? It’s my round. I guess Oxford was the inoculation I needed for a lovelorn boyhood influenza.’
‘You again.’ Connie meets him at the door of Irwin’s flat, hands planted on her hips. ‘He’s on painkillers, you know, for his legs. Oughtn’t drink, him.’
‘Probably oughtn’t smoke, either,’ Dakin says, thinking about flashing her a cheeky grin, and then just as quickly deciding against it, as he pictures how it might stick to his mouth when Connie inevitably frowns at him. ‘How’d you know it was me?’
Connie stares at him up and down, taking Dakin to task even without words. ‘You look like one of those lads. Anyway, Tom’s not too good. I keep telling him not to wear himself out. It’s his own fault he’s running a temperature. - Tom?’
‘Yeah?’ Irwin’s voice sounds thin, hollow, and far away.
Connie opens her mouth as if to announce Dakin’s presence, but then she looks at him again.
‘Dakin,’ Dakin supplies helpfully, with a grin he’s pitched as shy. Connie is still not having any of it.
‘Dakin’s here to see you,’ Connie calls back in. 'I’d said you’re poorly. - Maybe you should come back another time.’
‘It’s all right, Connie. Could use someone to man the kettle.’
‘I do make a good cuppa,’ Dakin flashes her another grin - this one telling her exactly how he feels before shouldering past her into Irwin’s front room. Connie looks dressed to go anyway, but she’s not happy about it. She shouts that she’ll be back Thursday to drop off Irwin’s next shop and Dakin is glad when she finally goes.
‘In here. And don’t go into the study.’
‘Wouldn’t dream of it, sir.’ Of the two other rooms situated in a narrow hallway just behind the front room, one door is shut and the other’s ajar. Irwin’s bedroom is possibly more interesting, anyway.
Dakin peeks in before he opens the door to Irwin’s bedroom wider to let himself in. ‘Hiya. Sleeping off a bender?’
Irwin’s bedroom has to be the smaller bedroom of the two in the flat. It’s only got a single bed, and a chest of drawers and a laundry basket with stuff flowing out of it. Irwin doesn’t look like a man who does his ironing all in one go, if at all. A pair of crutches are leant against the laundry basket and his wheelchair is folded up, tucked into the corner beside the chest of drawers.
Despite his apparent poor health, Irwin is still hard at work. One almost wonders if the man sleeps with his glasses on, his dignity intact at all times. A dictionary and some books are strewn across his bed. Irwin doesn’t look like the type to treat his books badly, which leaves the other possibility that Irwin has read all these books a hundred times, maybe more.
‘Connie confiscated all your beer.’ Irwin clears his throat. ‘No. Though, that might have been more fun.’
Dakin wanders out to put the kettle on, and then he wanders back into Irwin’s bedroom, bumping the door shut behind him. ‘And do you, have fun?’ It’s not August’s end yet.’
‘I had to go down to London against medical advice. I managed, more or less.’
Irwin looks up from his frantic scribbling and puts his pad aside. ‘Dakin.’
‘Hand me that water glass?’
There’s a half-filled pint glass on the floor by the bed, Dakin kneels to pick it up, and then he decides to stay that way instead of standing up again. He peers up at Irwin as the man drinks from the glass, staring especially at the steady bump of his throat. Irwin just about chokes when he notices Dakin looking, and Dakin thwacks him heartily on the back. He does feel warm.
‘Get up,’ Irwin says, once he’s recovered. But that doesn't stop him from taking advantage of Dakin’s proximity to pass him the empty glass again.
Dakin pauses a moment to take the glass and place it on the floor by the head of the bed. ‘Theren’t any place to sit, sir. Besides, you might like me on my knees. Given the state of yours, I might even be prepared to be magnanimous about it.’
Irwin says, very thinly, still just looking at Dakin out of the corner of his eye, ‘You wouldn’t say that if I’ve got the flu.’ He coughs, perhaps for effect more than anything. ‘Who knows what I must have caught on the train back up, or just by trawling through the city.’
The notion of flu dampens Dakin’s resolve (although resolve for what, exactly, he still can’t say). He gets up, and fetches Irwin’s wheelchair from its corner and unfolds it. He plonks himself down on it and gives a start when the chair sags under his weight. Dakin recovers, and then adjusts himself gingerly in the wheelchair, lest the wheels betray him and hurl him headfirst into the wall.
Or worse, headfirst into Irwin’s bed.
In any case, it would appear that this little charade has brought him back into Irwin’s good graces, and if Dakin had to guess, Irwin is stifling a laugh behind his hand. He finally gestures. ‘...There’s a pedal on your right by your foot. Press it and it should lock the wheels in.’
Dakin does, and feels immediately, an immense sense of relief. Still, the wheelchair is hardly comfortable, and he fights the urge to squirm. ‘I can’t believe you used to sit in this all day.’
Irwin turns away from him and reaches for his yellow pad; he scribbles something on it, most likely to distract himself. ‘It’s a wonder what man can get used to if he’s subject to it in his daily life. Case in point, if you take away his freedoms bit by bit he’ll hardly notice when he wakes up a serf in a strange land. It’ll be a day like any other.’ He waves a book at Dakin. ‘Hayek.’
‘I can’t believe Felix is letting you put that on the syllabus. He probably thinks it’s fascist. But then again, he doesn’t read.’
Irwin doesn’t reply. He sets the Hayek atop the pad and opens it, running a finger down its worn pages, intently searching for something.
Then Dakin says, keen to grab Irwin’s attention again, ‘I went for a drink with Posner the other day.’
Irwin waits, until the silence between them stretches out to become uncomfortable, as Dakin’s urge to fidget in the wheelchair spreads, much like a catching influenza from his limbs to his head. Finally, he says, ‘Out of altruism, no doubt.’
‘Not that he needs it.’ Dakin snorts, and it doesn’t feel better or worse to make light of it, or indeed, to put it to the test, by pouring onto it, the least flattering light that he can think of - that light being Irwin’s unparalleled, often unforgiving opinion. ‘He says he doesn’t love me anymore. That he’s known me too long. That Oxford has been the inoculation he’s needed all this time.’
Another silence. This one heavier than the first, and Dakin gets the odd feeling that Irwin doesn’t mean for it to stretch out so long, but it’s got a mind of its own so to allude Irwin’s grasp, as the man gathers his thoughts.
‘Inoculation.’ Clearly, Irwin is still biding his time.
‘As if I’m some sort of right disease,’ Dakin says, arms crossed.
‘I see that,’ Irwin returns, and suddenly, they’re back to the sort of banter that is just about barely acceptable for who they are, that is, master and pupil, and that’s...fine.
Really, it is. Or it ought to be. Dakin gets up from the wheelchair, eager to escape from it, and the confines of Irwin’s bedroom. ‘I’ve put the kettle on. I think. I’ll go see.’
‘I hope not. You’ve left it so long that my kitchen’s probably burnt to a crisp.’
So Dakin hasn’t put the kettle on, the way he remembers, but he does everything perfectly the second time around. Even has a bit of a rummage around Irwin’s fridge, enough of one, anyway, to get a sense that Irwin really hasn’t had any real say in his shopping lately. Else there probably wouldn’t be yoghurt, a whole chicken, and a Continental cheese selection with a Save 10p sticker and a bolded sell-by date underneath it slapped across the top of the box; on the back, it says Produit de France.
He returns to Irwin’s bedroom, armed with a mug of tea in each hand, just in time to witness the seemingly strenuous feat of Irwin throwing back his covers, his papers, his books, and manoeuvring his dead legs so that they can touch the floor.
It fucking hurts to look.
Dakin scarcely trusts himself to speak, but he does, barely above a whisper, though certainly loud enough to cut through the damned quiet: ‘What are you doing?’
‘Since you’re here, and since it’s -’ Irwin coughs and steals a glance at his watch. ‘Half three in the afternoon, I’m thinking I might get out of bed.’
‘Sir, I could -’
‘I can do it myself,’ Irwin says, in a tone that is both teacherly and pitiful like some kind of mangled mutt. Dakin hides a wince the best he can and stands rooted to his spot in the doorway. With a series of gestures that turn out to be both laboured but practised, given the circumstances, Irwin begins to move. First, he reaches out with one hand and grasps one of the arms of the wheelchair. And then, as if preparing himself for a monumental feat, he transfers the whole of his body, like a sack of flour, as if it’s lifeless - into the chair.
Then Irwin squeezes his eyes shut, coming to terms with his lot in life yet again. Perhaps this is a helpless cycle the man’s taken to every morning. After about a minute, he appears to have regained his better senses and wheels his way to the entryway, where Dakin is stood stuck.
Irwin says, barely meeting his gaze, ‘How’s that for an inoculation? Thanks for the tea. I’ll have it.’
Dakin hands it over, as if he’s more mechanical cog than human. ‘That’s not very funny, sir.’
‘It’s not meant to be funny. Once you figure out how it could be, then that’s how we begin to live.’
With his tea balanced on his lap, Irwin reaches out a hand to take his. This time, without the pretense of a lingering handshake. ‘Don’t call me ‘sir,’ all right? Once we get past that question, we ought to be able to ask more interesting ones. Do you understand me, Dakin?’
Dakin nods. ‘Suppose I do.’
‘So long as we’re on interesting questions,’ Dakin says, after a little while, ‘why have you got posh cheese in your fridge that’s about to go off?’
‘This a thinly-veiled attempt to get me to feed you posh cheese, is it?’
Dakin shrugs. ‘Might be, a growing lad needs feeding.’
Irwin studies him intently, as if Dakin were a piece of finicky history that needs explaining away posthaste. There’s a change in the air, but Dakin is too paralysed by possibility to do anything about it. Finally he relaxes when Irwin says, ‘Go see if she’s bought any crackers or something.’
‘You mean, you don’t know? Get this man, you put your life in the hands of this woman every week. This woman - who apparently thinks you have enough time and wherewithal to roast an entire chicken. Does she know about your oven? That it's crap.’
Irwin shrugs, probably hoping the gesture would evoke that he’s without a care in the world, might regain him some ground. ‘Did you not go to a port and cheese night when you went up? They still host those after formal, don’t they? In some SCR or the other. Connie thought it might cheer me up. I don’t think she would have bought it if it weren’t on offer.’
Dakin had, though he tried not to think about it. The food had been good, better than any canteen he’s ever eaten in, made fancier by three forks and knives. The cheese had been strange, and one ageing SCR member who’d taken pity on him, asked him where he was from, and for once Dakin says, ‘Sheffield, sir.’ in a tiny voice like he can’t quite believe it himself.
Out loud, Dakin starts, ‘You told her you went to Oxford, too? Out of interest, Jesus or Corpus, this time? Maybe Christ Church? St. John? Just to round it all out.’
Irwin’s mouth is tight with disapproval, but for once he has no defense, no ready, clever twist to ward off the truth.
‘Come here,’ Irwin orders instead, and Dakin goes, as if he’s within the four walls of a classroom again, and the words of a teacher are the end of all things.
Dakin does, standing as close as he dares to Irwin, so close that their knees bump together, and then Irwin reaches to grip a fistful of his shirt, pulls Dakin in so that he bends, but not too harshly, though it still takes him by surprise. Irwin kisses him, and then it happens, a messy mishmash of tongue and teeth. Dakin feels a crick locking in his neck from being bent so suddenly. It’s not anything he would have ever thought it’d be. Not that Dakin thinks much about it.
And with that, despite everything, the inoculation is complete.
‘And how is Irwin?’
Jimmy’s not interested in hearing about Irwin; really, he’s more interested in taking the fucking piss.
Dakin fights the urge to poke his friend in the eyes behind his messy fringe. He loses the will to be polite and decides to be impolite instead, by the way of chugging a quarter of his pint in one long swallow. After, he says, ‘Oh, fuck off.’
‘All right, all right,’ Jimmy says cajolingly, most likely to assuage Dakin enough so that he’ll get the next round. Jimmy tries again. ‘Not going so well, then?’
‘Did you know that Irwin didn’t go to Oxford? Didn’t get in, even. Had to settle for Bristol.’
‘He still turned out fine, didn’t he? He’s got a job, prospects an’ all. Shame about his legs.’ Jimmy fumbles around for a tab, finds one and Dakin holds out his lighter as Jimmy leans in for a light.
Dakin can’t help but think that Jimmy’s missed the point. But before he can open his mouth to say as much, Jimmy’s talking again: ‘ ’M thinking I might not go up.’
‘Up where?’ Dakin blinks. He needs a minute.
Jimmy gives him an unimpressed look. ‘Cambridge. I did get offers from Leeds, Manc. Both of those are much closer, and them lot'll practically pay me to go. Mam will worry about me less. I might still be able to see her at weekends, y’know. Not everyone is a jammy fucker like you.’
‘But Jimmy, it’s Oxford. I mean, Cambridge.’
‘I rather hated it when I was there, like.’ Jimmy shrugs in the general direction of his beer. ‘Didn’t you? All that pomp about not walking on the grass. At least I got into Jesus.’
Dakin says, exhaling, ‘I was a little lonely. And tired of staring at that stupid Lord of the Rings poster in my room. But I thought about it again, and it made me feel better. If a pillock like him could get in, then I was right at home. Or, I could be. Mind you, I was only there for a day. I’ve got three years to prepare for “the long littleness of life.” Not that my life will be that.’ Emptying his pint, Dakin knocks on the table, catching Jimmy’s attention, since he seems to have drifted off again. ‘ - Do you want another or not?’
‘I asked him if he’d suck me off,’ Dakin says, ‘further to a drink. Barring the accident, it could have happened. Would’ve.’
Since it’s not even noon and no pubs are open so early, Dakin’s chosen to meet Posner at a cafe nearby where Jimmy works. It'll make doing his rounds easier. A bit predictable of him, but why complicate things?
For the moment, Posner says nothing. He’s got a poetic thinking face, now that Dakin thinks to look. ‘And he’s - Irwin’s got head trauma. Doesn’t that sort of thing usually come with memory loss?’
‘But he still likes me. We’ve snogged, sort of.’
‘Or perhaps he snogged you to get you to go away,’ Posner suggests, a little smug twist threatening the edges of his mouth. ‘From subjunctive to reality, and it’s not as you’d expect. For what it’s worth, I never thought he’d be a good kisser.’
Dakin’s eyes widen. ‘And you know this from...what? Experience.’
‘No, from long torturous nights of thinking, waiting, “for love that / will hardly seem worth thinking of.” I did say, didn’t I? That I thought. I thought about it especially hard one night, after I’d went to him. For an objective perspective of my life so far.’
Posner shrugs. ‘Yes. He wasn’t any help. But you know, later, I thought...it was only because he hadn’t any help to give. Which, if you think about it, is truly befitting of his station.’
A girl in a uniform stops by with a teapot and asks if they’d like refills. Posner says no, Dakin says yes, and to round it all off, Dakin stares at her arse.
‘Sure you don’t want some more tea, Pos?’
Posner shakes his head. ‘I have to get back soon. Dad’s got a list a mile long of things to do before I leave. This weekend it’s clearing out the garage.’
‘Can’t imagine you faffing about in a garage.’
‘Well, try,’ Posner chides him in an absurd, lilting tone, and then he looks serious again. ‘If Irwin weren’t your teacher at school, would you still want to? Do it with him? If he was just...some bloke who you know next to nothing about. Because, you know, it’s nearly the same.’
‘Dunno,’ Dakin says, without thinking about it, and discovers that it’s the truth. He doesn’t know. ‘Possibly? Yes?’
Posner scoots back his chair and stands. He opens his arms, as if to invite Dakin in for a hug. ‘Come on, then. I’ve got to go.’
‘What’s that for?’ Dakin grouses, but he goes, willingly enough, and feels for a moment, the way Posner’s nose brushes lightly against his shoulder.
‘A check-up.’ Posner grins, stepping back from him. ‘To see if I’m still in good health. I am.’
Dakin stares after him as Posner goes out the door and mounts his bike parked not far away from the entrance of the cafe. He checks his watch and is glad for it being past noon, because he needs a drink. Maybe he can convince Jimmy to take his break early.
The hallway of Irwin’s flat is crammed with cardboard boxes, leaving just about enough room to walk through. Even though Irwin angles to block his view, Dakin thinks he gets the picture.
‘Oh, Dakin,’ is Irwin’s somewhat scattered greeting when he meets Dakin at the door. He’s leaning against a crutch, but otherwise, he looks well. Much better than the last time Dakin had seen him. ‘ - Wasn’t expecting it to be you.’
‘Expecting someone else?’ Dakin winds his neck round to see if there’s anyone else he’s missed coming up the stairs. Or worse, he nearly expects to see Connie pop out of her flat from a few doors down.
Like the stuff of Dakin’s very nightmares, Irwin doesn’t miss a beat. ‘Well. It’s Thursday.’
‘It’s a joke. She’s already been.’ Irwin’s mouth is slanted most attractively in a half-smirk, and Dakin, sod all the poetry he has in his head - and it really is, a lot of poetry - finds it all in a word: tempting.
‘Wasn’t aware you joked, s -’ Dakin swallows it down and starts over again. ‘I mean, I wasn’t aware you joked, Irwin.’
A cloud of something almost recognisable passes over Irwin’s face, and suddenly, he’s the man Dakin knows again. Otherwise, Dakin feels like he hardly does, which might be the point.
Irwin says, ‘I don’t, really. But maybe it’s something I could work on. To make me less dull in the estimation of others.’
‘Whose? Are you going to let me in?’
It takes Irwin another minute to come to a decision, but at least it’s a decision of his own making, not because Dakin’s pushed him into it. After all, Dakin’s here now, proverbial hat in hand at the man’s doorstep. Oh, please, [sir], can’t I have some more?
Irwin steps aside to make room for his visitor, and Dakin doesn’t waste any time taking him up on it. Irwin shuts the door firmly behind Dakin, and there’s hardly any room in the hall for them to stand apart.
Dakin thinks about it, of reaching out a hand, touching Irwin with all of the boyish boldness he thinks he ought to feel. But then he doesn’t, and Irwin turns to go into his front room.
‘I’ll put on the kettle,’ Dakin says. Irwin doesn’t stop him, and Dakin is glad, because at least with a cuppa he knows his purpose. He stays by the kettle as if it offers Godly protection from less Godly things and thinks that Scripps would be proud of his...whatever. Resolve, restraint.
‘Are you moving out?’ Dakin asks, fishing teabags out of the mugs and tossing them into the bin. It might well be a false start, again, but this time, he’ll at least know where he’s going.
‘I am.’ Irwin stands atop the step to his kitchen and just about manages to look Dakin in the eye. He’s balanced more or less on his crutch, having had some practice with it. ‘Thank fuck.’
‘Oh.’ Dakin steps away from the bin and picks up Irwin’s tea. Rather than handing it to the man to test a working hypothesis, Dakin merely sets down the cup at the edge of the countertop, to save Irwin some steps. For the moment, Irwin doesn’t move. Then Dakin says, ‘Were you going to tell me? This, assuming that I’m still allowed to ask interesting questions.’
Irwin shifts uncomfortably. ‘Yes. If you’d asked. And you did, so I told you.’
‘But if I didn’t? Were you going to just steal away into the night.’
Irwin opens his mouth, and then closes it again. When he starts to speak a second time, he says, ‘I need to sit down. Won’t you bring the tea?’
‘I still can’t stand up for long periods of time,’ Irwin says, once they’ve both sat down on the garish sofa. Part of Dakin, the inordinately petty part of him, thinks that it’s a good thing that Irwin is changing addresses because maybe he’d have a less shit couch at his next place.
What follows afterwards is an awkward silence, the most awkward they’d ever shared, possibly because neither knows their place with the other. They can only hazard a good guess, and now, that’s not good enough.
Finally, Dakin grows tired of it. He puts down his cup of tea with a decisive clink and stands up. ‘What are you doing later?’
Irwin looks up at him, alarmed. But then, he gets a hold of himself and clears his throat. ‘Well, these boxes aren’t going to pack themselves, much as I’d like them to.’
‘Are you moving tomorrow?’ Come to think of it, this is another interesting question. One that Dakin probably should have cleared up sooner. ‘And why do you need all of these boxes? Thought everything came with the fucking flat.’
Irwin rolls his eyes. ‘It’s for the study, for the most part.’
‘Can I see?’ Dakin asks, mostly as a lark. After all, he thinks he knows the answer.
‘Will you help me up?’ Unexpectedly, Irwin reaches a hand towards him and Dakin takes it, while trying to maintain a veneer of being grown up. He is no more a boy, and this isn’t scaring him half to death.
Dakin grasps Irwin’s hand and gets him to his feet. Irwin grips his shoulder tight and Dakin manages to get an arm around Irwin’s waist and together, they hobble to the other room like some disjointed thing. Irwin opens the door to the study, but he doesn’t let go of Dakin.
It turns out to be much like the room that Dakin has in mind, which ought to disappoint him, but in the moment, it brings him much needed relief. It’s so relieving that some small part of Irwin is exactly as Dakin thinks, that it (the relief) spills out of him in waves of uncontrollable laughter. He only thinks to stop when Irwin pinches him smartly at the nape of his neck.
‘Stop laughing at me, Dakin, please.’
‘Stuart,’ Dakin corrects him in a breath. Their faces are so close together now, that it’s a wonder how Irwin doesn’t go cross-eyed.
‘...Stuart.’ Irwin tries it out, and it doesn’t kill him. Not by a long way. Judging by the man’s expression, Irwin is surprised at himself too, that perhaps he could grow to like it.
Dakin says, to spare him, and no other reason, ‘Anyway, you’ve not answered my question. Are you moving tomorrow?’
‘I’m not, no. In a fortnight.’
‘That’s ages,’ Dakin exhales. ‘Plenty of time to go on a night out, sir. Get into a bit of trouble. Go on a bender; have some fun. Do you have fun? I don’t remember which way we landed on that one.’ Another perennial question of the boys’ that Irwin’s never bothered to answer. Dakin has always feigned disinterest, because there was plenty of interest to go around. Now, because he’s alone with this question, he’s filled with a burning desire to know.
‘Stuart, I -’
‘Or we can stay in, do something. But maybe not on that couch, God no.’ Dakin wags his eyebrows, and it’s that little gesture that forces a load of tension from Irwin’s shoulders, although he is red in the face. There’s no escaping from that.
Irwin recovers, sort of, and adjusts his glasses; it’s laughable really, as if the man thinks they’re going to fly off his face without his say so just because he’s gave an inch.
Or well, maybe it’s a bit more than that.
‘Supposing that it’s Sheffield, going out on the pull with a bum leg is par for the course, isn’t it?’ Irwin says, with a little smirk of his own.
‘Oh, sod off,’ Dakin almost shoves him away and then remembers to do the opposite. This time, because Dakin’s the one in charge, he’s more prepared as he backs Irwin into the wood of the doorframe and kisses him. This time, he doesn’t really want anything, so there’s ages for them to get used to each other. But Dakin is the type who plays to win, so he waits until Irwin’s got comfortable, sighing into the kiss before he pulls away. ‘I say we start with a drink, hey? See what happens.’
Truth be told, Crazy Daisy’s is a crap place to ‘have a drink’ (or maybe it isn’t, depending on context), but Dakin is determined to stick to the theme of the evening, which is ‘crap decisions.’
Irwin eyes the steep narrow steps leading down to the basement with some apprehension. Dakin stops halfway down and looks up at him. ‘ ’S not that bad, Tom. I’ve always survived at my worst. Come on.’
He doesn’t mean to call Irwin by his name so casually, but if he hadn’t, perhaps ‘sir’ would have slipped out again out of habit. But then that gets Irwin to move, an awkward affair where it’s his crutch, bad leg, and then his good leg. A man coming up the stairs gives Irwin a sort of odd look, but then nearly slips himself. The poor fucker, except not really.
‘I’m not even meant to be drinking,’ Irwin murmurs near Dakin’s ear.
Dakin slings a friendly arm around Irwin’s shoulders and keeps him close. ‘Great, then you can keep me out of trouble.’
In summer, all the nights blur together and there’s already a small crowd huddled at the bar waiting for their drinks.
‘Hey, Stu!’ Their entrance seems to not have gone unnoticed. To Dakin’s mild annoyance, a boozed up Jimmy Lockwood’s elbowing his way through the crowd grabbing the hand of some heavily made-up bird. Then he loses the bird (thank fuck) and can’t seem to make up his mind whether he wants to get her back.
‘Alright, Stu? You should have told us you’re heading out,’ Jimmy says. ‘I just got here.’
‘I was going to,’ Dakin lies. It’s something he’s good at, and it’s something that he’s got to remember to do more often. ‘Just forgot, is all.’
‘Why don’t I buy us a round,’ Irwin suggests, and he shifts his crutch over under his other arm so he could rummage around in his pocket. He comes up with a couple of coins and holds them out to Jimmy. ‘Lockwood, if you wouldn’t mind. You seem to know your way around this erm, queue.’
‘Oh, sir.’ Lockwood’s eyes widen as he seems to notice Irwin for the first time. Then he elbows Dakin so hard in his ribs that he has to grit his teeth. ‘Honestly thought Stu was having me on. A round, sure, whatever.’
‘Oi, Jim,’ Dakin says loudly, ‘I think someone else is snogging your bird.’
At some point, Lockwood disappears into the crowd again and Dakin steals a look at Irwin. All at once, in the absence of lighting and the loud thrum of electropop, Irwin has become untouchable to him again, looking away from him. He grips Irwin’s crutch, and gives it a bit of a shake so that the man looks at him again.
‘Jimmy won’t remember, you know. He’s fucking wrecked.’
‘I wasn’t thinking about that.’
This surprises Dakin, and he likes to think that he manages to keep most of the surprise to himself.
Eventually, Jimmy finds them again and thrusts into their hands pints overflowing with too much head. Irwin looks a bit green and Dakin decides to lead by example, throwing back a long swallow before bumping Irwin's elbow.
'Come on, Tom. This isn't going to kill you.'
In the blinking colourful dark, it's hard to tell what Irwin is thinking. Dakin's going to go with either 'fucked off,' or 'unimpressed.' Irwin says, 'No, that's you. When we have a real drink.'
Dakin lifts an eyebrow. 'Much obliged.'
Jimmy looks between them. Dakin can see him trying to think in that drunken haze, to pick up whether or not they're fucking. It's not as if Jimmy cares one way or the other, but he's always up for good crack and taking the piss. But finally, he seems to give up on the venture and claps Dakin on the shoulder before he buggers off. There's something dragging in his step that isn't drink.
'Alright?' Irwin's voice sounds very close to his ear, so close that Dakin can feel his ears growing pink.
'Yeah. Think so. Maybe Jimmy's decided not to go up. Said he hated it when he went for interview.' Dakin takes another pull from his pint, letting the aftertaste of bitter ale settle on his tongue. He thinks to clarify, after a beat. 'I'm talking about Cambridge.'
'I figured that,' Irwin says, but it's more sombre than teasing. 'I could have taken a gap year and tried again.'
'But nothing.' Irwin shakes his head, distracts himself with his pint. 'I didn't think I was clever, and I wasn't in the frame of mind to be told that twice. And so the chance slipped away from me.'
Some part of Dakin is bubbling with sarcasm and wit, but then he stops because he remembers Irwin is not so good at being sincere. 'That happen often?'
Dakin gets out his pack of cigarettes and points his chin in the general direction of the door and the stairs of imminent death. ‘Want to come for a tab?’
The ever familiar bassline of The Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me, Baby,’ comes on amidst a rousing cheer. Dakin, meanwhile, rolls his eyes and thinks to himself that he’s gotten out of there just in time.
Out of the corner of his eye, as Dakin cups a hand around his cigarette to light it, he sees Irwin watching him with a mild smirk playing about the otherwise flat line of his mouth. Dakin lets the first rush of nicotine settle in his lungs before he speaks, ‘I bloody hate this song.’
‘Hm, it came out when I was just starting sixth form.’
Irwin makes a slightly unkind sound in his throat. ‘You say that, as if it’s so long ago.’
Dakin shrugs, handing him the cigarette. ‘It feels like a long time. Yonks. So does Oxford.’
Irwin takes a slow draw from the cigarette, thinking. But then he doesn’t correct Dakin in the end; instead, he says, ‘I’m sure the song will become a cultural touchstone, like the Carry On films, eventually. It’s too soon to tell.’
‘Did you know that a couple of girls were discovered by the band right in Crazy Daisy’s? Fiona knew them, I think. Or she says he does. She used to go out dancing every night hoping Philip Oakley and them lot would come back.’
‘Did they?’ Irwin asks, probably for the sake of completion.
‘Course not.’ Dakin rolls his eyes upwards towards the dark sky and held out his hand for the cigarette. ‘I never told anyone, you know.’
Irwin waits, and when Dakin doesn’t say anything, he moves to tuck the crutch neatly under his own arm. He says, ‘Come home with me, Stuart. We’ll get a drink.’
‘Thought you said Connie confiscated all your booze.’
‘I lied,’ Irwin says, ‘it suited my purposes at the time.’ From his fridge, he picks out two cans of Kestrel, and tosses one to Dakin, who hesitates, but only for a second, before he cracks the can open and takes a much needed swallow.
It’s late enough so that nothing’s on telly. It’s late enough that Dakin ought to think about going home, even if his parents never notice his comings or goings. It’s late enough that he ought to -
‘Anyway, musical aspirations. Who would have thought.’ Beer in hand, Irwin shuts his fridge with his elbow and makes to hobble past Dakin to the front room. No doubt to sit again on that damn garish couch.
‘Not me,’ Dakin says, following him like a sheep to slaughter, but still upright of his own accord. ‘I never told anyone that...it made me think. About missed chances, about going to the dentist. I’ve awful teeth. But I hate going.’ He stands right in front of Irwin, easily within the man’s reach.
But Irwin does nothing. It’s not so much that he’s scared shitless this time, but that he’s simply waiting, entrapping Dakin in his own boyhood until he can’t find his way out.
Irwin looks up at him, and Dakin is glad to see a glint of that old fear back in his eyes. ‘Yes.’
‘What’s the last thing you remember? Before the accident.’
‘You asked me, further to a drink, if I’d suck you off. I thought you might have been mad. Drunk on the power of your exhibition.’
‘I was,’ Dakin admits, ‘a little.’ His voice has dropped to a whisper. ‘But I meant it. I told you the truth. It was what I wanted.’
Irwin reaches past him to put down his beer, and then he raises a hand and hovers over Dakin’s fly. Now Dakin’s the one being scared shitless, but he’s ever determined not to let on. He does, however, take a swig from his can and sets it down, too.
‘I was thinking that you might forget. That I might get away with it.’ Irwin puts his palm flat against the inside of Dakin’s thigh, the touch full of meaning and Dakin can’t help but make a little noise.
‘I hope you can see that I haven’t. It’s hardly been any time, sir.’
Irwin’s palm slides up against the inside of his thigh, and then right over his groin. When he squeezes Dakin’s cock in his trousers, Dakin lets out a moan that he tries to swallow back down, but enough of it gets out, as to be damning. He can hear laughter in Irwin’s voice. ‘...Or in your own words, yonks.’
It is taking yonks. But Dakin still can’t quite believe that this is happening so he quiets. Irwin’s as far from a fit bird as anyone, but there’s still something endlessly compelling about him, the way he neatly untucks Dakin from his trousers before he undoes the buckle and tugs his trousers and shorts down to his knees. In his imagination, in the grand subjunctive history that Dakin has built up in his head over time, Irwin is bold with his words and shy with his hands.
But Irwin has him in hand, his mouth maddeningly close, and there isn’t a trace of shyness about his hands, the way he jerks Dakin off in smooth even strokes, but not too tightly, lest he -
‘Don’t call me “sir”; just how many times must I tell you?’
‘Just once more, please.’ Dakin opens his eyes to look down at him. Part of him feels ridiculous with his cock out. The other part of him is determined that this not be a missed chance. Swings and roundabouts, more or less. ‘You’d look less teacherly and more like some bloke if you just took your glasses off.’
‘Cheeky sod.’ But Irwin seems to concede this point, because he leans away from Dakin for a second to take off his glasses and put them on the sofa. Far away so that they might not incur collateral damage.
‘I try m’best - oh, Christ.’
Before Dakin can truly appreciate how Irwin looks without his glasses, Irwin hardly gives him the chance. He takes Dakin’s cock in his mouth, until Dakin feels himself hitting the back of Irwin’s throat. And then Irwin does it again and Dakin can’t help but swear out loud as he curls a hand in Irwin’s hair.
Dakin can’t help but think to himself, in a stupidly poetic way, that maybe this is everything he’s ever wanted, for now.
In the morning, a lot of things happen. They sleep in until ten, and Dakin learns firsthand that cocksucking means you gag if you don’t know what you’re doing. But Irwin doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, Dakin’s boyish fumbles appear to have lifted his mood. It’s not something they talk about.
Afterwards, Dakin sits in the wonky chair in Irwin’s study and watches the man shove books into cardboard boxes.
‘Where are you moving to in a fortnight?’
‘London,’ Irwin says, patting down a thick strip of packaging tape. ‘Got a job on the television. I start in a month.’
Dakin grins. ‘That’s a turn on, you know. Some bloke’s who’s going to be on the telly’s sucked me off.’
Irwin weighs a book in his hand - incidentally, his Tudor Economic Documents, Vol. II - and seems to be considering whether or not to lob it at Dakin’s head. But then, he appears to have decided against it and puts the book into a box. ‘If I were a different sort of schoolmaster I'd hit you.’
‘Sir, that’s scandalous,’ Dakin says, thinking aloud for good measure. ‘What happens now?’
Irwin looks at him for a long moment, and then turns away to sort the next pile of books, but not before Dakin catches him smiling to himself. ‘I haven’t a clue. Isn’t it already happening?’