“Dean and I are embarked on a tremendous season together. We’re trying to communicate with absolute honesty and absolute completeness everything on our minds. We’ve had to take benzedrine. We sit on the bed, crosslegged, facing each other.”
Jack Kerouac – On the Road
It was late at night when we finally got back. It had been a long day for both of us and we just wanted to change into our pyjamas and enjoy a glass of wine before getting in bed. I went to the bathroom to wash my face and take the make-up off. Meanwhile, Al had started to undress in the bedroom.
‘Lou… Lou! Where did you say you left my T-shirt? You know, the grey, comfy one. I can’t find it.’
‘It’s just under the pillow on your side of the bed. You know how it bugs me when you leave it lying around’– I replied.
I opened the tap and warm water started pouring out of it, making the old pipes growl somewhere beyond the white tiles. Holding onto the sides of the basin, I looked at my reflection in the mirror, blinked, and took a deep breath. I scrutinised the face gazing back at me in search of the cracks that I knew existed within my soul. I poured some lotion on a cotton pad and swiped it across my eyes to remove the mascara, but it was not strong enough. As I stood in front of the mirror with a dirty cotton pad in my hand, I felt Al’s arms wrapping around my waist as he buried his nose in the hair around my nape and behind my ears.
‘How long has it been since we last had a bath together?’ – he whispered as his lips caressed my right earlobe.
‘I’m not sure, why do you ask?’
‘Come on, let’s take a bath. I want to wash your body.’
Without giving me any time to digest his words and concoct an appropriate escape plan – lately I had become quite skilled at doing that – he had grabbed my hand and was leading me towards the vintage clawfoot bathtub that we had proudly acquired a couple of summers before from an old woman. Her daughter was desperately trying to sell off her father’s possessions after he passed away at the age of 97, and so we managed to get a good deal on it. I thought it must have looked rather sumptuous originally, even though it had endured the neglect of the woman’s untimely arthritis. The gold plated taps and delicately moulded feet were cracked and needed polishing. Although the porcelain enamel was chipped around the edges and had eroded around the drain flange, I had grown fond of it and the endless conversations that Al and I would sometimes have in it, until our fingers had become so wrinkled we could not stand each other’s touch any longer.
I observed Al while he opened the taps and checked the temperature of the water. The gentle lines that graced his forehead had become more pronounced, while his lips formed an inverted crescent as he pursed them outwards and upwards. His eyelids were tense and his pupils fixed on the water flowing from the taps. He placed the plug and water started to fill the bottom of the tub. With one hand, he poured the bath salts while shaking the water with the other. He picked up some expensive bubble from the previous Christmas and poured it directly into the strong jet of water. ‘That’s how you obtain the best foam’, he would inform you. As the tub filled, he turned to me. Streaks of mascara were caking on my cheeks. He looked at me for a few seconds, weighing the process of undressing me in his mind. He decided on a top to bottom scheme. First, the cardigan and then the dress, which he laid down on the chair to avoid creasing. He then removed my shoes, tights, bra, and knickers. I stood there uncomfortably while he observed my body with his green eyes. When I scrutinised my reflection in the mirror it was a harsh, cold, painstaking search to find any imperfection that confirmed I was the ugly, emotionless being that could not receive or give love. But it did not feel like that when he looked at me. I could feel the warmth of his pupils on my skin as they wandered from my right clavicle to my fingertips and from there to my hipbones and the smooth curve of my lower abdomen. As I felt his eyes on my body I realised how distant we had grown recently and how I needed to feel that warmth on my skin because otherwise I started to lose myself in my own obsessions.
He finished undressing and we stood opposite each other for a little while. I looked at his naked body and I could feel that warmth growing inside my chest, expanding through my body as my own eyes traced the edges of his. He had such a beautiful body, I could have spent hours just looking at him and running my fingers over every inch of his skin.
Al turned off the taps and we slid into the warm water. We lay there with our feet against the taps, Al at the bottom and I on top of him with my back resting on his chest. He ran his fingers through my hair, pulling it behind my ears and then kissing them. First the left one, and then the right one. I could not see his face, but I felt his chest going up and down against my back and I tried to adjust my own breathing to his. It only worked for a while, as I needed to breathe faster than he did. I felt soothed; my skin felt at ease in contact with Al’s, and I could feel my soul unfurling and embracing his like two bodies of water coming together. I grabbed his hands and wrapped them around my body, caressing my breasts, my stomach and my thighs with them. I thought about how beautiful his hands were.
‘Do you remember that scene from on the road that I once told you about?’ I said. ‘You know, the one about Dean and Marx sharing everything that crosses their minds while sitting naked on a bed high?’
‘Well, I’d like to do just that with you. Be honest to the point that it hurts even opening my mouth; to the point where I get this knot in my throat and I have to fight to get the words out. I love you so much I feel like I want to share everything with you but I’m scared you won’t like it. I’m scared you’ll see the craziness I have inside me and you won’t want to be part of it.’
‘Hey, hey, don’t say that. We all have crazy thoughts that we keep to ourselves because they’re too dark to tell anyone about. It’s part of what makes us human.’
Al grabbed a sponge, poured some shower gel on it and rubbed it to build the lather. He raised my right arm in the air and proceeded to scrub it vigorously.
‘Yes, but what if we could tell someone else, be honest to the point of madness. Wouldn’t that bring us closer to understanding our own nature and accepting who we are?’
‘Perhaps. All I’m saying is that I don’t need to know your darkest thoughts to know that I love you and want to spend the rest of my life trying to make you happy.’
Having finished with the right arm, he moved to the left one.
‘But how do you know that? Perhaps I have some dark side that will make you realise we’re not meant to be together, or it will be something about me you cannot cope with.’
‘Well,’ he said while pulling my hair up to wash my neck and shoulders, ‘I have some clues. First of all, when I first saw you I instantly knew you were going to play an important role in my life. I just felt it in my gut. I didn’t know in what form that would happen, but I knew it was important. Secondly, I know you’re kind and you’re not a sociopath, so anything you might think is bad about you I’m sure it’s not a deal breaker, because you’re not purposely trying to hurt me; I understand that you’re only trying to understand yourself. Finally, and most importantly, I fell in love with you and I intend to keep it that way because you make me happy, because you’re kind, because you brighten my life and all I want to do is to make you happy. Now, please sit up so I can wash your back.’
‘I’m really fucked up in here,’ I replied, pointing at my head while sitting up so Al could scrub my back. ‘I’ve thought about committing suicide, for example.’
‘Who hasn’t at some point? Maybe you’re having a bad day and you’re on your way home, standing on the platform waiting for the train. And at that very moment the thought crosses your mind. ‘What if I just jumped?’ But then another thought crosses your mind almost instantly after, ‘Will it hurt? What will happen to me? Will I just disappear or will my consciousness travel to another dimension? How would my family feel? Will they be devastated?’ And then it’s gone. It’s just a crazy thought you have while waiting for the train on a shitty day, but it’s not going anywhere. We all wonder about life’s unknowns; that’s how we’re wired, to consider all possibilities.
‘Well, some people do jump in front of trains.’
‘You’re right, but they do so out of desperation or maybe because they’ve got a mental illness that is crippling them. Turn round.’
As I turned around and placed my right leg on Al’s shoulder, I couldn’t bring myself to look him in the eyes. For a moment, it was too painful to face this creature that understood me so well.
‘What about weird thoughts about sex? I once had a dream that I had sex with my father. It was only for a split second and I woke up immediately, sweating, but it has haunted me ever since.’
‘Ah, the old tale of Oedipus! Well, I’m afraid everyone has had that one at some point. It’s funny how we’re wired to disgust ourselves, right? The image of having sex with my mother has also crossed my mind, but it doesn’t mean I would. I guess we have those thoughts when we start to discover our own sexuality, and since our parents are the closest people to us, it kind of makes sense to have those thoughts about them at first, while our bodies are adjusting themselves to these new hormones running through our blood stream. But then our peers become our centre of attention and I guess that our bodies realise that all of those urges and feelings are not directed at our parents but at our peers, at other people out there. And then we start detaching ourselves from our parents and becoming adults.’
Hearing Al talk about this as if it were not a big deal was strange and intoxicating at the same time. He was now washing the inside of my right thigh and looked very concentrated on doing a good job of it. I was resting back on my hands so that my breasts looked up and my stomach was flat. I raised my eyes towards the ceiling, thinking about all the other crazy ideas that I had had throughout my life. I wanted to share them all with Al. I wanted him to see all of my imperfections and I wanted to see all of his so that I could love him even more.
The steam from the bath was condensing on the ceiling and tiny drops of water shone as I tilted my head from side to side. I was wondering whether they would actually drop on us at some point when I felt Al’s hand reaching further up my thigh. I looked back down and our eyes met as his fingers moved closer. We stared at each other while he started stroking me.