The clock strikes midday. Mark Lee heaves a sigh, his bones sagging with the weight of a hundred bedsheets piled up in the laundry room. It’s a constant waiting game between him and his tasks for the day. The very same tasks that ensure he eats more than a loaf of spoilt bread every dinner — most of which are mundane enough to warrant any of his autobiography drafts flat-out rejection.
He cleans and sometimes staggers around the reception desk, waiting for people to check-in and ask for their room. The chair he sits on creaks, the door-handle creaks, and the entire motel creaks, ready to be pulled off its hinges and flung into the distance.
Everything is silent, as usual, because their town doesn’t qualify getting a dot on any maps.
The radio drones on, as usual again, with rickety voices mourning the loss of someone a little ways from the street Mark’s favourite convenience store is located on. The eighth one this year and it’s just August.
He prays and sends silent condolences to the dead man’s family, then goes back to staring at the wall clock. Dying isn’t a big thing here. It happens, sometimes closeby, sometimes far. Many forget that everything in a kilometre’s distance is already as quiet as a man buried six feet under, that they’re already bystanders of irreversible ruin. It’s five past noon, and he should get started on his tasks before the night crowd trickles in.
He measures the detergent in a cup and tosses it into the machine when he remembers he hasn’t changed his own sheets yet. It would be no use waiting another week to wash them, not when it is a blazing Wednesday afternoon, the third one this month, and his skin erupts into goosebumps at the thought of what happens on these days. It is the highlight of his month. By the time the third-Wednesday moon hangs high in the sky and innocence is asleep, Mark writhes in his bedsheets oozing with the aftershocks of pleasure, just like everyone else in the motel, for once.
‘The Little Lady’ would be better off if it weren’t meant for little ladies to stride across the hallways in six-inch heels with skirts that barely hide lace thongs and breasts on show. He fears they will walk one wrong step and their nipples will jiggle out. Perhaps, it is fine. They get to look fancy — who knows what he would do to buy himself some more glitter, his little tub of golden is almost over — and all grievances they may have had are lost in the stains Mark has to wipe come morning with gloves sticking to his hands with sweat and cleaning fluid. Fingerprints on windows. Lipstick on bed-frames. Torn satin stuffed under pillows, oftentimes dripping. Once in a while, as he pulls off the room keys from gnarled hooks, he sneaks a glance at their faces. Expressionless. He shudders at their might, then murmurs a little thank you to the heavens that he doesn’t like women. Women are fierce. They scare him to no end.
His room is the last on the second floor, well-located. The rusty fire-escape staircase is a meter away, the regular carpeted stairs nobody uses — because elevator — are another meter away, the hallways stretch a little to the left to give him his own space and everything in the world is fine because he doesn't sleep at night and during the day, this part of the building is deathly quiet.
The keychains tinkle as the key turns smoothly in the lock, and he leaves the bunch hanging there, certain that with his arms full, he won't be able to fish it out of his pockets again.
With the day curtains pulled, everything is dowsed in filtered light. Mark is glad he didn't leave the windows open again because the last time he did, pigeons had broken in and pecked his feather pillow till it was tattered beyond recognition. He uses a foam pillow now — it's cheaper — and it leaves his neck aching for hours after he wakes up. The only benefit that comes out of it is when placed under his hips as he is pummelled into the mattress, almost as if his body was meant to melt and soak through the springs.
Mark best remembers nights with torrential downpour — a rare occurrence — when the sounds tearing through his throat are louder than the thunder of raindrops splattering against the windows.
When he walks over to the other end of the bed and prepares to battle it out with the linen — three thick sheets — he catches sight of the bedside table. A single long-wired charger lies there, abandoned because Mark has no use for it. The pin doesn't fit. It's been making the rounds of his room like a second roommate, sometimes in a wall socket, sometimes in a drawer, and on days when the shaky concrete seems to be collapsing inwards, Mark places it where he can see. Johnny left it a few months ago. Surprisingly, he's never taken it back.
It all started two years ago. Mark had been penniless and the motel was willing to hire anyone who knew how to keep their lips sealed. The first few nights had been rough, all with the noise — loud moans, screams, headboards banging — he knew was coming but wasn’t ready for, the occasional boner he had to rub off dry with cotton stuffed in his mouth, and the news of a certain amount being deducted from his salary as rent. It was unfair. Truly. His search for a roommate lasted all of two weeks before Johnny Suh showed up at the reception, sans lay for the night, hair slicked back and arms bulging with muscle. How Mark lost his virginity to the suspicious man is a different story altogether, the only memory of it: a sunflower tattoo next to his face. But it does tie into how Johnny became his roommate.
He never stays for long. He comes and goes like busy whirlwind, oftentimes just to have sex with Mark and pay his share. He never leaves behind anything. Not even a single piece of underwear for Mark to breathe in as he jerks off. But he never takes his charger, and it seems to have become his bodily replacement.
It is ridiculous to pay even a meagre amount for fucking charger space, Mark thinks. Although every time he thinks of plush lips stretched into a smile his stomach drops with the realisation that he might as well be Johnny’s personal whore. It makes him shiver. With disgust or the tingly feeling in his abdomen? It’s between him and whichever God forgives him for sinning naked in places where anyone can see. He always makes sure to clean his desk well. Even the underside.
Mark doesn't know how to explain himself. He throws the pillows onto a rugged armchair then tugs at the corner of his sheets and pulls harshly. They refuse to budge. He's lazy, hasn't eaten yet, and now with inanimate objects rebelling against him, he pouts. Society’s paradigm of a conscientious man is exactly who Mark once desired to be, a chauvinist, a perfectionist, a man with a white picket fence, two dogs, one wife, one mistress and a child he doubts is of his bloodline. He scoffs at his younger self now. What a shitload of dreams. He lives as the innocent gatekeeper of a poorly disguised business and he is gay. The elders of his old church would crucify him till the cathedral floors would mould in the remnants of crimson.
Thoughts of Johnny swirl in his head whenever he lies down on his bed — slumping with exhaustion, curled in on his side, flannel shirt caught under a hurting arm. It is weird. In these two years, he’s roughly met his absent roommate about fifty times (the number of times he’s had sex, because he’s a prude like that, and everybody else in town thinks he’s like the men who devour women that aren’t theirs). Every time, there’s sizzling in his chest, heat pulsing in his veins, loud grunts ringing in his ears.
If Donghyuck were still around, they would talk about boys, and Mark would say he has the hots for this person who makes his knees pop and sink to the floor. A husky voice in his head complains why a loser like Mark gets to sleep with someone like Johnny.
It’s a fucked up life. Mark has spent most of his years fearing people. Now that he can look them in the eye and trace his gaze over the impassionate curves of their tongues, he wants to have nothing to do with them. Perhaps, inexistence is grand.
Whenever Johnny shows up, he brings the scent of oil and grease, and a rush of adrenaline that diffuses through his skin and into the heat of Mark’s desires. There’s soil stuck to the shell of his ear once in a while and Mark rubs it off tenderly, brown flaking underneath his fingertips. Johnny’s skin tastes like sweat — always — and Mark wishes he could swallow him whole. The bruises that bloom overnight feel like taut satin under his teeth. When Mark gets the opportunity to take the reins, he pushes Johnny down and scrapes his nails over the scars left over tattooed pecs. Exquisite. Dangerous.
When they talk, a senseless void filled with longing crashes into an overarching shadow that looms over earth. They whisper of how fast time flies. Mark knows that Johnny likes baby lions because they remind him of someone, he knows that Johnny doesn’t like the taste of water further south, too muddy even though he is an enigma who shows up in half suits on finer days, and in sleeveless tees on others. They know each other — and daresay, Mark sometimes feels more than smells the stench of blood from Johnny’s fingers, covered with Mark's spit, rushing to the extremes of his body, and dripping from his eyes. Words bubble up in his throat where saliva gathers in a ball and threatens to choke him. Like the long wire of a charger could. He doesn’t ask.
Mark twirls his fingers around the clefts of fabric, drawing patterns that disturb the ridges. He’s thought about this before, about why Johnny doesn’t speak more than he needs to. He’s trying to make peace with it.
It’s a stretch to say that Mark is generally horny — how wouldn’t he be? Sometimes, handsome men make a pass at him when their women aren’t looking and he swoons — but it isn’t wrong. Most teenagers get the chance to discover themselves, with fingers prodding against bundles of nerves or light teasing in places that are forbidden. Mark didn’t have the time to be hormonal, and now in his raging mid-twenties, he is somehow coquettish without knowing how. There needs to be no reason, he concludes some nights, lonely with his mouth gaping open against the harsh rhythm of his own fingers dragging slowly across his prostate, and he remembers how it feels when Johnny’s cock twitches heavy on his tongue and paints his skin untouchable.
Many things drive past the dusty taverns that peek through the fences along the roads. Many things, and some specific things that shouldn’t be spoken of because those who have departed ought to be prayed for in memoriam and never become the first consonants of excitement dripping off swollen tongues.
Mark notices. It is part of his job to notice dirt. He notices little capsules strewn across the floor when a lady refuses to wake up and he has to spend the evening scrubbing his skin raw. He finds powder in the grooves of his soles, white against black. He’s learnt how to bleach clothes, and bleach hair, and bleach skin, and bleach his existence too because whenever the sheriff shows up he has to pretend and turn a blind eye to the condoms spilling past pockets with silver badges and guns he knows will soon have a little less weight.
Mark isn’t decidedly blind. He is ignorant. And as they say, ignorance is bliss.
That is how he thinks of Johnny. How can it be a coincidence? Every static-filled condolence comes in like the chime of an ancient clock, like the notice of a shroud lain and a promise kissed to the teeth of whoever hovers over the deceased. A signal that Mark gets what he wants — what his lustful core wants to be slicked up with, unheeding and drenched — and that everything that comes shall go. Memento mori (always, because Donghyuck said that before the reaper claimed him).
Johnny. Johnny Suh is different. He never seems tainted in ways Mark wouldn’t willingly dirty his hands with. He fucks like a demon and his voice smooths Mark’s breaking back with a few words like a magician. He is inviting, resembling some inscrutable television character, doing something now, doing something else the next moment, but always following a prey with focsued eyes and stopping by to let Mark have his moments to shine.
The way his tongue spews lies works the same way it rubs against Mark’s: wet, hot, sliding with an ease that threatens to cut Mark’s existence into a million pieces. His weight is enough to ground, to feel like there is a reality within the multicoloured mess of hallucinations that life slowly slips into, because what is real anymore, what is not, and why does he have to bear the consequences of a rotten world by himself. Mark gasps, quivering. He was only here to gather his bedsheets, but maybe just one more. He can push past and spill over freely one last time without shame before he returns to ignoring everything. A glide of his thumb across the tip of his fattening cock sends sparks behind closed eyelids. This will be fast.
The keys rattle and the door swings open. Mark jolts and sits upright, trousers still unbuttoned, shirt riding up the planes of his stomach, cheeks and neck flushing a violent shade of red.
At the door, stands a dishevelled Johnny with a sheen of sweat on his forehead and the curves of his thick neck glistening. Mark gulps, embarrassed but not. They stare at each other — eyes, then lips, then exposed collarbones, then a naked pelvis — and for a second, Mark thinks Johnny’s eyes are glassy as if a single word will reduce him to tears, or worse, break him and turn him feral. Mark doesn’t know what he wants. Johnny closes the door behind him, silent. It must be somewhere near half-past noon. It takes an hour for the radio stations to be alerted of shocking news and another half to announce it. It takes about two hours each way whenever Mark is plagued by the urge to leave his shitty livelihood behind and indulge in some modern pop music under working air conditioners while choosing between the cheapest possible ramen flavours. The time frame matches. Mark’s breath stops in his lungs, stays there till it turns everything black and dim spots appear in his vision.
He extends his arms, an unanswerable question in his eyes. Johnny doesn’t hesitate. He never does, built of guts and a tangy sourness Mark can only peg as something between rebellion and hunger, and his shoes leave no prints as he walks over to the bed. The springs squeak as Johnny's knee sinks next to Mark’s thighs.
He wants to be ravished like the dreams that haunt him on the darkest of nights, like he witnesses through unclosed doors when he tiptoes, and Johnny is here. He breathes and the warm breath kisses Mark’s neck, his nose traces across strong pulsing, then settles in the jugular notch. In some other universe, Johnny would make a wonderful vampire — Mark almost giggles — and he would never go cold-veined even if his heart would never beat. Mark would make sure of that. He sneaks a hand under the back of Johnny’s shirt, intoxicating, while thinking of how teeth could leave unhealing imprints in the dips of their bodies, making him shudder at the phantom sting of broken skin.
He closes his eyes, fingers scrambling to take hold of brown hair as he is pulled into a ferocious kiss. Mark’s back hits the mattress, soft yet hard, and he pulls Johnny closer, murmuring words where they will never be heard. Johnny murmurs back, then grins, and his shirt is on the floor because Mark wants it there. This time, he’ll wear it to sleep, and keep it, because it makes his ribcage constrict just that bit tighter. Perhaps, it will make Johnny stay. Teeth, spit, lots of tongue, more teeth, heat, heat, heat.
And the lingering scent of what Johnny always smells like: oil, burnt asphalt, stricken fear and the barest hint of blood.