I wrote this story about ten minutes ago and in about thirty minutes. It is unedited and very off the cuff, so please consider that. It's not short, but it does not qualify as a full blown story either. It just is one of those things that happened and I went with the flow...my only warning is that it is not short. The title is also off the cuff and tentative. I'll post it in two parts, though they are not equal parts..
The Remains of Charles Thorpe, pt I
by Nitro Glycerine ( lol )
Charles had creaked into his old age with resentment for it and an ever-growing realization, every time he looked into the face of youth, how far he was from his own birth and how close he was getting to being elderly and then dead. It terrified him to his bones.
He was, and always had been, of the belief that the old were as everyone said. To be ignored, shunted aside, and uninvited at all times to any occasion where their presence would be an embarassment. He also believed he was part of a special community of people who were particularly resistant to the natural evolution of Life: the gay community.
It didn't matter if this was actually true because all of his experiences had indicated that they were. He had noticed around his late thirties, that he was starting to feel uncomftorable about going to the gay bars that were the most fun, had the best looking men available, and where he felt at ease. With each passing weekend at this point, his advances were rejected at a higher percentage than they had been when he was very young and very beautiful.
Now, he was in his fifties and found himself revolted by his own reflection so much, he had begun taking mirrors down from around his house. He had the bathroom, the same as anyone else. But the mirrors in his bedroom were gone as well as the mirrors on the ceiling over his bed, on the hallway walls, and next to his front door. The reflection he used to see in that mirror is the one he missed most of all. It was the first and last mirror he checked when coming and going here and there in the wild whirlwind of his youth and young adulthood. The mirror for checking his hair before the club and his clothing before work. The one he could stand in front of with an extreme pride.
Now, he too painfully noticed the thinning, gray hair and the drawn, sagging skin. He'd never made enough to have work done and even if he had it done now he was at that age it looks like the final grasps of an aged queen to hang onto something long since gone. His youth.
As an artist, he'd lived a colorful, wonderful, and experiential life. A long list of loves gone by and a head full of memories that he turned to in the evening as he sat alone with his tea and his orange tabby cat, Chameleon, laying next to him. He'd outlived the dangers of violence and disease that had wracked the worlds of his friends as they came to grips with their sexuality. And he'd buried too many boys before 'the cocktail' had arrived on the scene. Those medications that made living with HIV more bearable and gave one Hope. He'd seen Hope stripped from the lives of so many and secretly hoped he would not endure the same.
But now he was enduring a different type of disease. One that permeates many cultures and all groups; straight, gay, or bi or indifferent. The disease of old age. He felt the crime and sin of it to his bones now. He'd been cruel too. He'd mocked those old guys, the ones past the age of twenty-five, trying to cruise
he and his freinds. Comments about The Aged were comments in The Book of All Available Insults in his circles. It was almost worse to accuse someone of being old than it was to tell them they were ugly or had bad taste.
His last meaningful relationship was with a man too young for him. He knew it, but he'd gone for it.
And as Time wore on and as he grew older, his partner became restless and unfaithful. In order to keep this relationship together, he had agree to an open relationship. The last, desperate deal of an aging gay man to keep Beauty & Youth next to his side. And of course, it did not work. Even with his reputation in the Arts, with all the fawning over he recieved at openings and dinner parties and such.It just was not enough to keep the young mans interest ongoing.
Rather than being heartbroken for his trophy boys leaving, he'd accepted it with a quiet resignation as he now accepted his life as a virtual monk. A lonely old queen with a lonely old cat in a lonely old apartment.
The only salvo to all of this sobering reality for Charles were the occasions he socialized as a result of his artistic achievements or ambitions. But, oh, how he pined inside himself when he saw some smooth skinned, bright smiled, shiny eyed youths in the room. He so needed to be near them but he could sense the same distrust from them that he once felt of the old trolls cruising like vampires, trying to suck the youth of others into themselves. They were disgusting and desperate as they tried so hard to flatter.
So Charles began pouring over the things that attracted and catered to youth. From new cell phones to websites to the old standards such as Fashion and Scenes. He did this not because he was actually interested anymore, but so that in the rare event some handsome lad happened to speak politely with him, he might say something current or relevant and perhaps not seem too archaic, too out of touch and too old.
It began as a ridiculous plan in his mind, but had started with a fundamental question: How do I keep Youth near me? And he'd figured it out. He would pander to the almighty ego of the young. It was in every generation in human history. And he would play to it at every chance.
Recently, he had the opportunity to test the slowly rotting workings of his aging mind during an interview with a local magazine that served as the "What's Happening?" reference for the cities citizens. It was the sort of free circular laying near the doorways of coffeeshops, music stores, and cafes. Youth magnets. He was being featured as a 'Local Pride' person.
Rather than meeting the writer downtown though, he'd asked the woman over to his apartment for the interview and fully planned on impressing her in a variety of subtle ways so her report of him would be glowing and favorable. He'd ordered important little trinkets to have on his tables and made sure his muscial tastes were hip and plain to see. Charles so desperately wanted to be young again that it made him weep for himself as he looked at himself in the mirror before her arrival. Then he had to go and immerse his face in ice cold water to reduce the puffiness under his eyes and the redness of his nose after blowing it several times. As he towled his face off he took a deep breath, pushed his shoulders back, and looked in the mirror. His reflection spoke back to him,"You phoney old bastard.
Are you ready pander and grovel at the feet of the young now?". He turned quickly away from the mirror and walked out just as the doorbell run.
"Oh why couldn't she have been a little late?", he thought to himself.
He did not know the writer but as he opened the door he still felt a litte surprised. She wasn't the empty-headed young college girl he'd imagined her to be. She was closer to his age and probably holding somewhere around forty. And not hold very well in his opinion.
"Hello, Mr.Thorpe?", she asked, smiling.
"Yes, hello. Please come in,"and he stood aside, opening the door wide for her. She stepped in and offered her hand in greeting. He accepted it and as they shook hands she said,"My name is Paula Sandstone." and he said,"Pleased to meet you. Let me take your coat." and he released her hand as she removed and handed him her peacoat styled jacket. Her movements were those of a confident woman, not the insecure pleaser type he had thought might be coming.
"Please sit down wherever you like," and he guided her to his living room. "Can I get you something to drink?". He decided to be as pleasant and charming as he could stand of himself.
She sat down and set her purse on the floor and pulled out a digital recorder as she said,"A glass of ice water would be fine, thank you.". She hadn't even made eye contact with him as she said it, but instead focused on setting something up in the little gadget. He bristled a little inside. It offended him for some reason he couldn't define.
"Would you like a twist of lemon with that?" he asked, and she said that would be 'cool'. "Good lord, did this old bitch just acutally say 'cool' to me?" he complained in his own head. But, he placed the lemon in her water perfectly and walked it back to her with a smile, then sat down in his favorite leather chair. At this point, the cat popped up into his lap.
"He's a pretty cat,"Paula said,"what's his name?"
"His name is Chameleon. And believe me, he lives up to the name.", Charles said with a grin.
"Really? Why is that?", she asked. Charles suddenly remembered that she'd be asking questions. It was her job. It wasn't personal to him. It wasn't because she found him interesting, but because someone else might. His heart cramped in his chest for a second and he felt his blood pressure increase. All those physical sensations that preceed a sobbing session were tickling at him. At that moment he wanted to just be alone and in his bed and crying. In the last few years, this sort of spontaneous sadness was popping up more and more.
"Chameleon has the habit of suddenly changing disposition, so be careful. You can be petting him and he's purring away, and then he'll suddenly jump up and slap at you." and Charles giggled a little, assuming she'd find it funny. She didn't.
"Shouldn't he be called Mr.Hyde instead?" and she stared blankly at him. She was serious.
Charles deferred to her prying by being charming. He nodded and pulled the face of someone confronted with a much more logical argument than their own, and he added an extra dose of humility.
"Yes, I suppose you're right. That would make more sense given my description. I can see where a wordsmith like yourself would be more interested in how words are used than say, a painter, like me." and he smiled at her with so much sincerety. And he noticed how blue her eyes were. They were so naturally pretty. Her eyelashes were still long and dark, her iris nearly turqoise and the outer edge bearing a dark blue circle. She wore barely any makeup, and for a moment he wondered if she might be a lesbian. Then he chided himself for his bigotry. But he was a little stunned to see a woman of her age not laying the makeup on heavily. In fact, she only wore a little mascara and a pale lipstick. But he noticed something else.
He saw a recognition of himself, who he really was, reflected in her eyes. In less than nanoseconds, his brain calculated quickly that though she did not know him, she understood him. And he was being drawn into her eyes, he could feel it and could not stop himself. It was like falling into the clear, blue waters of a beautiful, isolated pool of water set in some lush, tropical setting.
His stare began to make her uncomftorable. She interrupted his thoughts and asked,"Mr.Thorpe, are you OK?" and he quickly recovered himself and said, slightly stuttering,"I'm..I'm sorry. You just have very beautiful eyes and I suppose the artist in me sometimes forgets himself. Please forgive me."
But she was kind and reassured him by saying,"No, it's fine." and she leaned forward and said,"So, how do you feel about us going on with the interview? I ask because the paper lost a writer recently and I have to pick up his piece for him, and then get them transcribed to our website and all before dinner tonite!" and she laughed. He laughed too. He felt himself in the company of an honest person.
He wasn't quite sure how to handle it. How could he manipulate this one? How could he get on with his plan to appear relevant? It required fooling the very young, which he was certain he could do. But Paula was a real woman. Confident, experienced, intelligent and certainly not nieve. Still, she did appear to be rushed and he might use that to his benefit.
He crossed his legs and said,"Certainly, let's begin. What would you like to ask me?"
She started off with the usual questions about his roots, his influences, his prior achievements, if his sexuality impeded him professionally, his education, his peers, and his hopes. Then she skipped to the present tense and asked,"Do you have any showings scheduled in the near future?".
He said,"As a matter of fact I do. My agent has secured one wing in the Modern Art Museum downtown in a few weeks so..."
and she said,"Wow! That's a huge place. Do you have that many pieces to show?". She seemed surprised in a way he wasn't sure he cared for.
"I have a few that I've recently finished, but I'm going to be working furiously from this day forward.
I'm feeling newly inspired.", he said with a hint of guile he could taste on the back of his tongue. It tasted slightly bitter, but it wasn't terrible.
"Are you working towards some specific vision? I'm not sure I understand what you mean by 'newly inspired'." she asked.
This was his chance. This was the question he needed to get the word out to the Youth.
"My new series is going to be about challenging established ideas in Art and in Society. I question the validity sometimes of the Youth being percieved as impatient or ignorant. I think that's just total bullshit. I learn so much from young people, and I adore learning from them much more than dusty old men with nothing new to offer.", Charles said, conveninetly ignoring his own age,"These up and coming artists now are just so much more inspiring to me than the classic artists or even my own peers."
And Paula asked,"Oh, are you hoping to draw younger crowds to your shows then?" and he felt her gaze again. It was penetrating. It made him squirm a little, though he tried to reveal that only as needing to shift position from sitting in the same place for several minutes.
"Don't lose it Charles. Keep it cool." he said in his own head.
"Of course I'd love for young people to come to my shows. Their opinions are as important as anyone elses, aren't they?" as he put a question to her, hoping to take a little control of the conversation.
She sat and thought. She glanced out the window for a few moments and as she did, the daylight poured down on her face but all Charles saw was the ransluscent clarity of her stunningly bright, sky-blue eyes. The light was emphasizing them in such a way that it looked as if someone had hit a light switch behind her eyes, causing them to glow a little. She turned her head slowly, like a cat, and looked at him with a gentle smile. His heart beat quicker again.
She opened her mouth as if to answer, then closed it again and looked down at her lap. The woman was thinking. She was actually thinking about what he asked her. Considering his words and what the weight of her answer might mean to him. Charles hadn't felt honestly noticed by anyone in years.
This woman was making him feel strange, and strange to himself even.
She lifted her head and said,"Mr.Thorpe, I'm sure anyones opinion of any age could be considered important, or not. I'll admit, with hope I don't offend you, that I'm a little surprised an artist such as yourself, with your achievements and recognition, would ever consider anyones opinion important. Particularly someone very young, who has not even begun to pay the dues required for high achievement." and she let the statement rest in his lap and waited for his response.
An expression was on her face though, one he recognized as having seen in his own reflection. An indefinable expression that was a mixture of sadness and wonder, pain and grief and years of experience all infusing the honest shadow of it. It was one that very few young people could manage, unless they'd been forced to grow up excessively quickly. Somehow, he felt a sense of relief in seeing that expression on her face. She was at least fifteen years younger than himself, but she seemed posessed of a similar spirit as himself. And aware. That's what it was, she was aware of him as he is and not as he hoped to paint himself to her. He felt his own falseness and the desperate plans he'd created to manipulate his own image to a group of people he, in reality, no longer belonged to.
Before he could stop it, he felt a warm tear slip down the side of his face. He quickly lifted his hand to wipe it away and hide his embarassment at it. Her demeanor changed instantly and she shut her recorder off and said,"Um..Mr.Thorpe, did I say something offensive? Was I too blunt? I'm so sorry." and worry crinkled her the skin between her brows.
He stammered,"No, no, you've said nothing wrong. I'm sorry." and he shooked his head quickly as if shaking out a ghost, and ran his hand back through his hair. "It's just lately I...I'm sorry, I don't know what I mean." and he looked at the floor and fell quiet. And the room fell quiet as they both raced through their heads hoping to find some salvo to the intrusion of honest feeling.
He had a sudden desire to get up and go sit next to her on the couch. A part of him wanted to be near someone and feel a connection versus his now continual sense of disconnection. He saw himself falling into her arms and sobbing all his pain away. And he felt absurd and lost. The interview was dissolving and his hopes for a new persona, an attractive and youthful one, along with it. But it was evolving too. He sensed that. And he wanted where it was going. He hoped it was going into a new friendship, a new friend in this woman named Paula. Then he felt absurd again. His range of emotions were slightly dizzying to him, as if falling in love.
She interjected his thoughts and the stillness of the room by blaming herself.
"I'm so sorry Mr.Thorpe. I'm not the journalist I'd hoped to be and I suppose the reasons for that are evident to you. Perhaps we should start again?". Her recovery for them both was so full of true grace, so full of compassion and humility, that he felt ashamed of himself. He wanted to hold her.
"Paula, can I ask you a question instead?", Charles asked quietly.She shrugged a little and said,"Sure, go ahead.".
"Do you think it would be possible for us to become friends?", and he felt a little stunned at this sudden act of bravery. He was extending himself and being vunerable to her. She could, at this moment, literally crush him with even a polite answer. Instead, she looked at him with that crystal clear, almost innocent gaze and said,"I don't know." and then looked down at her hands, which were folded together on her knees now, the little recorder almost hidden between them.
Instead of being insulted, Charles knew she wasn't saying,"No". He knew, he just somehow understood intimately, what she meant. But he wanted her to say it.
He stood up and crossed over to her, sat down and placed his hand gently on her knee and asked,"Is it because you're afraid of hurting or disappointing me? Is that why you are hesitant?". Amazingly, he was connecting with her. He was connecting with a woman. He could not explain his attraction, his understanding of her, nor why he was in this position now. But some part of him felt thrilled. He had no idea where this conversation was going, but it was one of the most real, the most meaningful he had in such a long, long time.
And Charles wondered, very briefly, what their reflection in his mirrors might look like.