Chanson de Matin


It was the sun that woke me, because he had looped the curtains back to look out. Tree-lined street, seen a thousand times before, made beautiful by autumn, a touch of gold on the sameness of the city, briefly, before the wind whipped it all away and the trees went the way of all things, into ruin.

Autumn's a funny time of year; you're riding high on what's left of summer, counting the days before the cold sets in. A lot like life. And the one thing that used to really frighten me was time.

I woke easily, blinking at him, but didn't move a muscle. He was sitting on the ottoman under the window, a blanket wrapped about him because it was a bit chilly, his chin cupped in his right palm, elbow on the window ledge, eyes focused on some curiosity far away. The sunlight made those curls of his over to gold, a few shades darker than the gold of his tan, and I smiled; if he'd had a halo and wings the image would have been complete, and it's an optical illusion. He's not an angel, he's a little demon at times, stubborn, bad tempered, idealistic.

But I'm not complaining -- I wouldn't change him. I've had eleven years to learn every nuance of that mercurial nature; against my will, he made me like him, back in the days when he was a scruffy article in rags and leather. Against my better judgement, he made me love him, as he literally blossomed under my nose. What had been engaging became ravishing, what had been attractive became irresistable.

So I endured his moods and stayed on while the girls came and went, while he fell into and out of love, while his one big affair went wrong. I was there when he fought for his life with two bullets in him; and when he looked at me one day and recognised the look on my face... It didn't even surprise him by that time. Five years of friendship, getting closer and closer, sharing everything -- it's not possible to harbour secrets when two people have come so close they're starting to think like one.

I remember every detail about the day he held out his hand to me. He laughed, but gently, fondly. He hadn't been out of hospital very long; he was stretched out on the sofa, half asleep, a book open on his chest, and I was sitting on the floor with my feet in the hearth by the gas heater. Early winter, cold. I had my back against the edge of the sofa, dozing, listening to the rain that was pelting down outside, feeling the warmth of him just behind me. He must have cramped up or pulled his operation site or something, because he gave a little moan of discomfort and I was half awake in a second, turning toward him, all the fretting and worries of the last couple of months red raw under my skin, incapable of hiding it. No, he was fine, just stretching like a big cat, looking at me as if he understood everything... I think he did by that time. I blinked at him and he laughed softly at me, brushed his knuckles down my cheek. And he lay in my arms that night with his head on my chest and his aches and pains soothed away by loving.

Every time it rains I remember that day, six years ago. He'll be forty next year, so soon, but those genes of his are kind. He's hardly changed, and if he has, it's for the better. He's more beautiful now than he was then; still skinny, still graceful, all green eyes and curls, strands of silver at his temples, and smiles that'd woo a schoolgirl of eight or a dutchess of eighty, if he wanted to, but he saves that for me, only me, since the day it rained and I let my love show through the pretense of matey concern. It's a bloody shame I'm such a good liar; I could have let it show years before, so he told me, he wouldn't have minded... That's life.

There's a great melancholy about autumn; something is dying, and though you know it'll be reborn next year, it just isn't the same. Have you ever choked up listening to 'The Last Rose Of Summer?' Life's like that. You hang on to your youth like a creature fighting to survive, because winter's there waiting for you, long and cold and inevitable.

I used to worry about it, about being alone and older, but slowly, after Ray let me into his heart, the worry ebbed away. I'd weather the storms of middle age and grow old disgracefully, I thought, while he went on like Dorian Gray, never changing, or, if he grew old too I just wouldn't notice. But that morning as I lay watching him sitting on the ottoman, I realised he was restless.

And he'd been restless for some time, as if his feet were itching, as if he had to be moving, as if... I wondered, afraid to guess too accurately. I sat up and he stirred, turning from the view and smiling at me, the illusion of halo and wings strengthening. Six years, and I love him so much it hurts! He's an ache, down under my heart, incurable. Not that I want it cured, thank you -- I like it. Call me a masochist. I lifted the blanket on his side of the bed invitingly and he came back to me, dropping his rug and sliding back between the sheets, his skin cool and soft over hard muscles.

But his eyes were distant, as if he was looking at something I couldn't see. "You want to tell me about it?" I asked quietly, hoping for an answer I could understand. He can be philosophical to the point of vagueness sometimes.

"Nothing to tell," he said, soft as a sigh.

"You're restless," I observed carefully. "What about?"

He turned those green eyes on me searchingly and I kissed him. "The Call of the Wild, or something," he said when I let him speak again.

"The what?"

Ray laughed. "There's a whole world out there, Bodie. I've never seen any of it. Sometimes... I'd like to travel, do things. Go adventuring before --" He chuckled again. "Before middle age sets in."

The penny dropped with a resounding clang and I hugged him hard. "So that's what's bothering you. It's your next birthday, isn't it?"

"Not worried, just sore," he admitted. "Maybe I want more out of life."

"More than what?"

"Oh, more than a civil servant's pay and a pension at the end of it. It's not the job, it's not the pay, really. It's the horizon, Bodie. It's too close."

I nodded wisely -- I knew what he meant. I'd been through this myself over twenty years before it crept up on him. I ran when I had to; wild, dangerous years., miserable too. Not to be compared with home and comfort, but then, you have to learned. "Time for you to get up and leave, isn't it?" I said. "Sail around the world, climb the Andes, fly gliders over the Hindu Kush, whatever you want to do."

He smiled at me dreamily. "Will you come with me?"

"Are you kidding? Course I will." I drew him close and kissed his chest. "Can just see us hiking through the Kulu Valley, or Kashmir."

"Riding horses on the Pampas," he added, "baggy pants and cowboy hats. Nah -- rounding up sheep in Queensland."

"Fancy yourself as Clancy of The Overflow, do you?" I smiled. "Why don't we buy a ketch and go island hopping? Where -- the Caribbean or the South Pacific? You'd look a treat in a grass skirt."

He buried his face in my chest and wriggled one leg between mine, chuckling. "The Maldive Islands, New Guinea. Headhunter country. Cannibals, too, so they say."

"You'd be safe enough, then," I said into his hair, "there isn't enough on you to make a decent sandwich. Running cargoes to places out of a Joseph Conrad book." I smiled as he drew his leg up and down, caressing me. He knows exactly what I like, almost without thinking about it, always did. "Or maybe we could scrounge up enough between us to buy a DC-3. There's a great plane. They carry a ton and you can fix 'em with a hammer. We could run air freight between the Windward Islands and Barbados."

"And South America," Ray added, pressing close to me. "They reckon there's still emeralds to be dug out of the ground in Columbia. Lost mines of the Conquistadores."

"You want to romance a stone?" I chuckled.

He dug me in the ribs with one sharp finger. "Twit. What about growing coffee on a plantation below the volcano, ringed around with rain forests? Saw that it a film once."

"You and me and fifty Andean Indians -- and Grace Kelly trying to make a pass at the pair of us, and failin' miserably! I saw the same film." I kissed his nose. "Nah, I fancy the mysterious east. India, or Indonesia. Thailand... The City of The Angels, steaming and green and humid."

"Hiking up to Angkor Wat..." He heaved a sigh that had nothing to do with what he was saying and turned over in my arms, pressing his back against my chest with a moan. "Oh, Bodie."

"Ray." I nudged myself in between his legs and his thigh muscles clamped about me as I reached around and took hold of him in my right hand. His wriggles were nearly unbearable and I couldn't talk any more, couldn't find the breath for it, as I loved him, my lips on the back of his neck, not needing to enter his body, though he would have offered it. He's strong, and his muscles held me, warm and firm and safe. Beautiful.

He rolled over again afterward, sticking to me with the tangible product of loving, and kissed me, and we lay there dreaming, sharing fantasies while the autumn winds blew winter ever closer outside. Inside, it was still spring, still young and fresh, and it always would be. I knew that as we laughed over our dreams; time couldn't touch us. No one who can dream, and who is in love, ever has to be afraid of time.

We weren't going anywhere -- both of us knew that. All we needed was here in this room, in this bed. Not the sex, though, God knows, we need it as much now as when we started. No, sex you can get almost anywhere. It's the love you can't seem to find, no matter where you look, until one day it's there like a belt around the ear, and...

The sun was gone and a gust of wind blew rain at the window. I smiled into his hair as he fell asleep with his head on my shoulder, dreaming with my arms around him. Ketches and mountains, islands and emeralds, all the things we'll never do -- don't need to do. Dreams are always better than what's real -- except for him, and he's better than the dreams I used to have about him when I loved but couldn't touch, before he needed me as much as I needed him, and reached out to me at last.

I closed my eyes, breathing in the scents that rose from his skin, his hair tickling my nose, and dreamed my own dreams. Kashmir, Antigua, Tahiti; scenes out of films, images from books, montages from my own memory, and us. Well, maybe the ketch and the coffee plantation were a bit far fetched, but three weeks in Barbados were definitely within the bound of possibility. I had just enough left from my wild, mercenary youth to spirit him into the midst of one of this fantasies and indulge him shamelessly, and we would have accumulated that much leave by mid-winter.

Rain pattered at the window again, and he cuddled closer with a sigh, not quite waking. I pressed a kiss to the warm crown of his head and offered up thanks for mornings, and autumn, and dreams; and him.

-- THE END --

April 1986

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