Dusk was crawling up the beach at Kitsilano, a misty presence fingering and darkening first the bleached logs, then the thin line of cedars and finally the tall row of sentinelled buildings with flights of steps leading up to first floor porches which, I'd just been told by my taxi driver, belonged once to the managers of the logging camp in that western section of early Vancouver.
The light, though, was still good enough to see him standing there expectant. He was fair-haired handsome, not so much film star good looks but boyish charm and captivating grin revealing niveous teeth.
"Hi, you must be, Davey, the new tenant. Your room's all ready - prepared by my own tender hands. I'm Gerry McDermott, your landlord."
As our hands extended to mutually clasp I noticed at once that his was cool and dry. Not quite rough but far from pampered or surface delicate. I thought of the last palm that felt like that. It belonged to the hand of Desmond duBois in New York who at the time had been working his way through NYU and had become my lover on disembarking from the transatlantic liner, SS France and cruising Washington Square that very first night.
The similarity between Gerry and Desmond finished right there. We had hardly had time to exchange names and for Gerry to suggest carrying one of my two suitcases I'd extracted from the cab, when I grew aware of a small shape inserting itself between us but at the level of our knees. I looked down to see a small boy staring up at me.
A wild thought, fed by the witchhunt world I inhabited even back then, leaped unbidden into my head. Was this kid clutching my new landlord's thigh and boldly giving me the once over, part of some pedophile presence? Was the rooming house in which I was about to become a tenant...was Gerry himself ...? The bizarre questions were abruptly extinguished when a shrill voice asked: "Is this the new man come to live with us, Daddy?"
"Yes, this is Davey, Tim. He's going to live in Uncle Larry's room."
I looked from one face to another, could discern no resemblance. "I didn't know you were married."
"I'm not. Anymore that is. But I have two kids. There's four-year-old Daryl as well as Tim here, who's five. Daryl's with his Mum right now but you'll meet him when Hilda brings him around. My ex only lives a few blocks away. Sometimes I think that's way too close but it is certainly handy for the kids. They seem to spend more of the time here in the house than with Hilda's parents in Point Grey. I guess they get a bit tired of Grandpa and Grandma van Druten fussing over them all the time."
Gerry seemed quite unaware of his son listening to his every word, his curly head cocked on one side. Then I was soon to learn that Gerry invariably uttered whatever was foremost in his mind and made no concessions whatever for the time, the place, or the recipients of his words. I found that one of his charms, the freshness, perhaps the innocence of it. But right at that moment his charms were communicating themselves at a quite different level. The idea of his youthful fatherhood was part of it. The thigh his son was clasping, another aspect.
"Two sons -- for one so young! You must have started very early."
Gerry laughed. "I guess it was just as well. I was what the British call randy long before I met Hilda. I'm surprised these two little farts weren't born bastards. I shudder with relief when I think I could have had them when I was still in Grade Twelve and that Miss Croager, my English teacher, could have been their mother!"
My eye was centered just some three inches or so above where the kid's tiny fingers were splayed. As I saw (or imagined?) the bulge in the denim of his jeans I had no difficulty in accepting his paternal powers. I was also highly conscious at that moment, as he tousled his son's head, of the attraction of male gentleness.
I was to be allowed no more time for reverie as Gerry took command and went into action. I may say I've never been subjected to quite such an explosion of impetus. Then I was to find Gerry was like that. Either sitting exuding a physicality which made me dizzy -- or leaping into motion with a speed and precision that took my breath away.
He gently but firmly placed his four-year-old aside, grabbed the larger of my two bags, called for me to follow, and bounded up the remaining steps indoors to show me my basement room and eventually to help me settle in.
We stood again out there on the top of the flight of steps looking westward towards the twinkling lights of the north shore on the lower slopes of the coastal mountains. Only it was now three hours, dinner and some peremptory chat with my three new fellow-tenants in the living room later.
I'm not good at estimating booze consumption but it would probably be fair to suggest that I had drunk two scotches and over half a bottle of wine since entering Gerry's spacious house. He had stuck with beer -- which probably explained his next actions. We had stood there absorbing the view on the warm May air with Gerry filling me in on the background of his other trio of renters and the history of the household pet, a brawny boxer dog named Brutus.
I said little, being on the receiving end of valuable information about those with whom I'd I would be spending a good deal of time in the next few months -- until August and Ken's arrival from New York and our renting a place of our own. In any case, as when we stood there earlier, I was quite content to not only listen to him but to feed on his physical features in their closeness to me.
As he talked Gerry looked right ahead, or maybe now and then up at the stars that competed fiercely with the lights of the far suburbs across the night black waters of English Bay. So it wasn't surprising that, without turning, he suddenly tugged hard at the zip of his pants and revealed his large white penis. I was standing a step below him. The flaccid length of his prick was almost brushing my shoulder.
One spurt of explanation. "God, I'm full of fucking beer." Followed by a golden arc of urine that he sent up and down with the finger and thumb he used to hold his member. The piss caught the light. I smelled its pungency and watched it jet from its circumcised carapace and hit the succession of steps until it sparkled finally in the strength of the streetlight upon the tender new leaves of rosebushes in the bordering flowerbed.
I am not what in gay lingo is called a golden shower queen but I certainly was fascinated by Gerry's little show. In fact I suspected it was more than just a demonstration of masculine uninhibition. To the contrary, I felt in my depth that however much it was truly a biological act of relief it was also a gesture intended for my personal delectation. And "delected" I was!
That wasn't the only time that I suspected I was receiving personal signals from Gerry's body language. However, the spell of his animal allure didn't last for long. He followed up his peeing with a loud fart. This latter was accompanied by the grinning explanation that beer had a double-barreled effect: water and wind.
I'm highly neurotic about foul body smells, can vomit so easily in reaction. I quickly removed myself from him by two steep porch steps.
"I guess it's time I hit the sack," I said, using an idiom quite alien to me. "It's been one helluva day."
"You go to bed early, then?" he asked, not waiting for an answer. "Me? I never see my pillow before one or two in the morning. Unless it's for non-sleep reasons -- if you get my drift."
I didn't reply. So here was a second trait separating us, I mused bleakly. First our sexual appetites and now the knowledge he was a night owl while I was an early bird. I hoped there were not too many other factors for I was already strongly attracted to him in spite of his recent crudity.
When I'd made my farewells and lay in the darkness in my new room I wondered further how significant our disparities might be. I had a persistent hope (fed by blithe optimism) that his blatant heterosexuality might eventually yield to my persuasions given the right circumstances. It would not have been the first such time. I was even prepared to abandon my early-to bed-early-to-rise doctrine in pursuit of his manhood if the right circumstances arose when the household was quiet and we were very much alone. Buoyed by that rosy prospect I slowly masturbated.
For the next few days such preoccupations as had fueled my first night in that house were remote in my mind. There were constant calls from my basement room to the phone upstairs in the hallway as I confirmed and inquired over free-lance opportunities with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, visits to the Vancouver Public Library on fact-hunting quests as most of my reference books were still with Ken in Greenwich Village, and further meetings with the other tenants who were to be part of my existence while Gerry's house was my temporary home.
There was also Hilda who arrived the very next morning accompanied by Tim's even younger brother, Daryl. Ostensibly it was to leave Daryl with his dad and for Hilda to take Tim back to her parents' place where he would be spoiled, she frankly informed me, by his doting grandparents. But as with Gerry I felt a subsidiary reason behind her ostensible explanation. I had the impression she was also there to check out the bachelor newcomer to the house she had left when she and her husband were separated. It wasn't long after chatter about the children (whom Gerry eventually took down to the beach on a log cutting expedition) that she started in earnest to case me out.
Unlike her spouse she seemed genuinely interested in me and what I did and fired off a series of questions about what had brought me to Canada, where were my parents living, and what siblings, if any, I had. From those broad topics she moved to my free-lance activity as a writer and, soon relaxed in the warm concentration of her regard over my life story, told her all about the novel I was writing and the failure of my previous and first one which had now been rejected by six publishers in the United States and one in England.
I was mildly complaining about the parochialism of New York editors and how I felt it important to pretend to any prospective publisher that I was still living in New York, when she switched abruptly to the subject of the domestic circumstances I had left back in the Village and whether I intended to return there after my sojourn in Vancouver.
Now I was fairly confident Gerry had an inkling from his old school friend, Ian McGregor, who was my producer, and who'd introduced us on learning I was looking for a place to live, that I was not only un-married but appeared to be quite happy that way. If I put that rather circumspectly it is because I am unsure whether or not Ian knew I was gay or would have passed his suspicions on at the same time he was recommending me as a tenant for his friend. But I was pretty sure that Gerry had summed me up -- correctly -- within minutes of our standing out there on the steps. And I rather felt that his ex-wife possessed similar powers of evaluation. Some straights do even if the vast majority don't.
I felt most relaxed with their kids. But I think most gays would understand that. For one thing children aren't forever checking adults' motives, let alone their sexual persuasion. For another, I think there is a bigger dollop of childhood left in us than in "hets" which enables us to look kids more in the eye and not play games of authority or pretend parental roles which we know nothing about.
Forgive the kitchen psychology! I'm only trying to stress that with both toddler Tim and his kid brother Daryl I was just another man in their parents' universe, even if they did subconsciously treat me more as an equal than they did the others.
The others? Well, you didn't have to be between the ages of four and five to get little joy out of them! Oscar and Leila Wernfeld were husband and wife, both Czech born and both so utterly wrapped up in each other that the world beyond them scarcely counted. They nodded their heads at your words but continued to look each other in the eye. Oscar was a second violin in the symphony orchestra. She was a nurse at St. Paul's Hospital. They were childless although it was rumored she was pregnant and Gerry had even gone so far as to say they'd be moving out when the kid came and that I and my New York friend could then have the larger room the Wernfelds inhabited if I wished. From the outset I suspected Oscar didn't like me as he barely afforded me more than a Slavonic grunt, and a smile as obviously false as his teeth.
When he had been imbibing all one evening with Gerry (while his wife was still on ward duty) and got to know me slightly better, Oscar informed me that in his opinion I was full of shit. This in the context of a musical argument over the merits of Franz Liszt and the fact he'd recently learned from our landlord that I was currently occupied with writing a radio documentary on the operas of Leos Janacek -- a subject of which the fiercely nationalist professional musician hinted I knew next to nothing and never would!
Not that I grew to actively dislike Oscar. He was a bit too myopic in his horizons for my taste and I avoided him for his potential to bore. His wife, though, was something else. A fundamentally ignorant woman she rationalized every gross lacuna in her knowledge to a virtue. If Leila didn't know something it either wasn't worth knowing or was positively evil.
But woe betide the hapless creature who was ignorant of some petty territory with which she was consummately familiar. She was a native of Bratislava in Slovakia and to hear her go on you would think the place was the ultimate culmination of European architectural imagination and civic ingenuity, thoroughly dwarfing Prague. Whereas many a Czech had suggested to me that her hometown was essentially a hick joint that had been properly ignored before the infant republic was created as Czechoslovakia in the wake of World War One and it was forced into the role of the second city of the now joined provinces of the erstwhile Hapsburg Empire.
Then there was the way she used her female status as a moat. I had met her type before -- though admittedly the others had been a distinct notch up the cerebral yardstick as the Faculty Wives of the University of New York.
It was as if the generative state brought with it a rank and dignity that reduced the non-womby world to which I obviously belonged into an inferior state that had to kow-tow at every point, accede to every request and defer to the pregnant opinion, however imbecile or ill-founded -- as most of hers assuredly were!
I soon developed a little protective choreography over her. I would stand listening behind my door down there in the basement until, from the far reaches of the house (for they lived in the spacious attic room) I heard the click of the Wernfeld's door when it was time for her to head for the hospital. A little more wait (and it was usually when I was about to use the bathroom and a bit fidgety at the crotch) and I would be rewarded by the sound of her feet tip-tapping down the hall, followed by the heavy slamming (the only way it would shut) of the heavy front door.
I rarely bumped into her after a first few embarrassing encounters outside the kitchen when I was clad only in my underwear and she was dressed to the nines as her husband informed me that she never wore her uniform away from the hospital but insisted in keeping it there in her locker. So much for our Florence Nightingale in the stiletto heels!
The third tenant under our newly shared roof, was Galston Mansbridge. I have to say something about Galston as he was my rival. Not in an articulated way. But there were a number of icons he had at his disposal to reveal (to me at least) that he was taken with Gerry and that if he ever got his mean little desires, it was he who would end up serving Gerry sexually and not me.
I knew he never had, in spite of the fact he had lived in the room tucked away in the turret for over six months, and in spite of the fact he was never out of the bloody house if Gerry happened to be in. He was aided and abetted in that in working as an artist from home. His constipated canvases of vaguely coastal landscapes -- presumably of British Columbia though nowhere in North America sprang to my mind -- littered most of the walls throughout the house.
I longed for a genuinely abstract Richard Diebenkorn or Vancouver's own Gordon Smith or alternatively, the clarity and affirmation of a bleakly representational painter such as Andrew Wyeth, but instead there were only these tentative blobs that seemed to me in their indecision and vague sense of imitation were more timid attempts at half-baked psychological self portraits than external depictions of the mist-wraithed rocky coastline of British Columbia.
The ways he evidenced his feelings over Gerry were not subtle. He always seemed to be hovering at the circumference of wherever our landlord was standing or working. This might be in the yard (for Gerry was a keen gardener), about the house where he did all the handiwork he could without invoking pricey professionals, or -- if I had managed to lure him into my room for some innocuous reason -- sure enough there would be Galston haunting the doorway.
Another irritating gesture was his propensity to laugh like a lunatic at even the faintest intimation of humor from Gerry's ribald lips. Yet another was his simpering grin whenever our hetero hero bestowed him a passing look.
All these counted particularly with me during the first days and weeks when I was getting to know Gerry and exerting every effort for him to know me. Not that my landlord played hard to get. He might well take Galston cruelly for granted and even when the latter was deferentially addressing him, acted as if he simply weren't there, but he always had time for me and it was my private conviction, openly flirted with me when the mood took him.
Excessive optimism? Exaggeration? I can just hear my fellow queers sniggeringly assert so. But how explain things like this? On my first weekend at the Kitsilano house I was working on my Janacek documentary that Saturday evening when I heard someone outside. Or more specifically, I heard the sound of a shovel scraping on the cement floor of the basement. Of course, after the best part of a week I knew that it was handsome Mr. McDermott at work. I got up from my desk, flitted across the room to the mirror to give my hair a quick comb, and opened my door to greet him. Sure enough it was Gerry and he was busy digging into the mound of sawdust at the far end of the basement where the utilities were housed, and feeding the old fashioned furnace -- a practice that was soon to be banned in the mid sixties because of the growing pollution from the use of fuels like sawdust and coal.
Sensing that his male pride would insist he'd refuse I cheerfully offered to help him. He paused and rested on his shovel. His shirt sleeves were pulled up to reveal muscled arms with delicious blond hairs that flecked gold in the harsh light from the naked cellar bulb. Whether by design or carelessness, the zip of his pants was not pulled up fully to meet his massive leather belt.
It was warm in the red glow from where the furnace door stood open to receive his labors. I watched with interest as a pearl of sweat skirted his nose after leaving his shining forehead and paused at the cleft above his upper lip. I would have licked it off had he bidden me but even though I suspect he appreciated my thirsty look I knew that any such command was unlikely. Such men reserve their faces exclusively for women.
However, it seemed he deemed the time propitious to whet my desire for other realms of his anatomy. Eyeing me straight in the eye for once he scratched his balls slowly. "The heat makes 'em sweaty," he said , adding ambiguously, "then they need taking care of."
My lips were as dry as his face was moist. "It's your house," I said. "You can take your pants off if you like. No one's home," I added encouragingly.
He continued to look at me as he fiddled with that large leather belt. "That's an idea," he said. "Maybe it would cool me off."
I cast around for somewhere to perch. I felt I would swoon if he implemented the suggestion. I found an empty orange crate. There are times when low but steady words can keep an erotic spell intact. This was one of them. "You can leave your pants on my bed, if you wish."
There were a lot of motives involved in those few words. The association of HIS pants and MY bed was the least of them. More important, I reasoned with the speed of light, was the opportunity for him to divest himself of his jeans outside of my scrutiny. (My time for scrutiny and all that would assuredly come later). It also meant that I could prepare myself for his return in his underpants. I had already chosen the old sofa across from my room rather than that precarious crate on which I now rocked with desire.
Gerry now enfleshed notion with action and was already unzipped and beginning to tug at his pants as he sauntered towards my room. I could hardly contain myself. That's to say my own member could hardly contain its burgeoning within the confines of my khakis. He had hardly crossed the threshold of my lair before I had skipped to the old sofa, flung myself down and by a quick finger brush of my locks, unbuckling my belt and a lowering my zip just an inch or two, prepared myself for his return without making myself look like a lascivious slut or even Madame Recamier, a role I was prone to favor.
"Hi, Davey! Did I hear Gerry working down here?"
Sexual ambition crashed about my head as two things happened at once. A gay guy's dream of a straight man materialized naked, save for his underpants, socks and loafers in my doorway, while every queen's notion of a NUISANCE draped herself at the foot of the basement stairs as Galston Mansbridge, obviously in her coming-down-the-spiral-staircase at Tara routine, asked her stupid fucking question.
Who did she think was working there? Paul Newman? Guy Madison?
Gerry wasn't about to lose his cool though, he gave me a quick look and I thought a slight shrug. I hopefully construed it as 'Tough titty! Better luck next time'. "Hey!" he said, "I don't need to work no more. Here's Gerry's favorite little helper. Like to clean up around the sawdust pile, Gally boy, and feed the furnace some more?"
Of course asshole complied and as he picked up the shovel and Gerry returned for his pants I felt I loathed my fellow faggot -- which I vowed I would never do over anyone.
Something to help mitigate my conscience in that respect happened precisely one week later when I was again presented with the seductive power of Gerry's physical self in close proximity. As before, he was the instigator of the scenario. If my heart beat quickened it was because this time I knew that my rival was safely stuck in a movie house with both the Wernfelds -- and it being a Saturday night, the risk of Hilda's visiting her ex-husband was slim indeed. There was a connection, though with the family of his onetime in-laws. Grandma van Druten had sent him a huge bundle of lilies from her garden and I had seen him take them from his wife that morning and stagger with them upstairs to his room. Shortly thereafter, as I hovered about the kitchen pretending to make coffee he came in to collect the bucket that lived under the sink. Shortly thereafter I heard a faucet running in the bathroom and presumed he was temporarily housing them upstairs in his room.
My notions were confirmed when sometime after nightfall when I was standing in the bay window of the living room watching the driving rain splatter on the glass, he approached me. "Say, Davey, you're the kind of guy who'd be good at flower arrangements. Want to come upstairs and help me arrange all those fucking Easter lilies Hilda and the kids dropped off? I've got a whole bunch of really long vases for them. Then we can put them all over the house so that when ole Ma van Druten comes by she'll be impressed. I hate fucking lilies but you don't look gift horses in the ass, or whatever it is, do you? So like to give me a hand?"
He had to say that to my back as I was already headed for the stairs and his room which to that date I'd never entered. Not like "Miss Persistent" who was always slipping in there, I'd noticed, and on the flimsiest of excuses.
It was a warm night. More humid than we are accustomed to in Vancouver. But that wasn't the motive behind Gerry's next suggestion when we were in his spacious bedroom and standing over the score or so stems he had stacked in the bucket and another pail he had unearthed somewhere.
I swear I was taken off my guard when he suddenly proposed we take off our shirts. "Those buggers have a pollen that comes off and will mess up that nice blue shirt. I'd take it off if I were you. I'm taking off mine. Come to that I'm going to take off my pants for the job. Who wants to look as if you've got something that looks suspiciously like shit stains down the front - and that's just what that goddamn pollen looks like, believe you me!"
Suiting actions to words as usual, in next to no time he was standing there, shirt and cream colored trousers flung rumpled behind him on the bed, and kneeling down revealing to my expanding eyes the perfect bumps of his exposed spine as he began to select the Easter lilies for the various vases he'd gathered together.
I carefully peeled off my own shirt and laid it next to his on the bedspread. Modesty or prudery prevented my emulating him with my pants. If he remarked it I had my excuse ready. My jeans were new and more to the point, the denim was still quite dark in its blue - enough to make the pollen stains from the lilies of no real account. But I knew he wasn't about to ask me again. That wasn't his way. He was no supplicator. That had to be my role...
He certainly did his best to keep me on sexual heat, though! It couldn't possibly have been coincidence that time and time again he brought his body so close to mine as we knelt, selected and popped our choices into the vases, that I could feel its heat. Every now and then I could also smell the sweetness of his breath. When I wasn't choosing a lily stem I was dartingly eyeing the parting in his underpants. I swear it wasn't my imagination when I decided that although he certainly wasn't displaying a thorough hard-on there was, after a few minutes of our working together, a perceptible swelling down there: a distinct enough tumescence for me to now discern a slit to the head of his snake as it lay there almost at the mouth of its lair.
The lilies yielded a sweet but pungent aroma that cloyed the air. It reminded me of sentimental Gothic romances I had devoured as a lonely child on a farm. Another association was our village church: High Anglican hazy with incense, and aglow with candles at the main Mass of Easter, when lilies were bunched in special profusion at the base of the candlelit statue of Our Lady of Perpetual Succor.
Needless to say, none of these recollections were congruous with my arousal over the fleshly invitations emanating from Gerry. Matters were further compounded when we were about half way through our task and he turned and asked if I needed a rest -- indicating the clothes-festooned bed with a nod of his head. It was then I came closest to throwing away all restraints and begging him to let me serve his body.
It wasn't the Faith of my Fathers, the Purity of the Lily, or my Celtic caution that saved me from what I am now convinced would have been Gerry's scornful repudiation of my fleshly entreaties -- it was a sudden psychological revelation. As I trembled in every erotic fiber for his manhood, fought trembling knees and sweating palms it came to me as a bursting revelation that Master McDermott was playing with me, playing tricks with my mind as he sought to break down my reserves and hesitations.
It all became searingly clear. From his pissing at the side of my face on the day of my arrival to his myriad insinuations in our conversations and, of course, the blatant arrogance with which he dismissed the mendicant Galston Mansbridge, Gerry showed how he fed his contempt for us gays and satisfied his need for true male superiority.
But that led to the implication that maybe he was somewhat less secure in his sexual role than he admitted or perhaps even knew. My dear departed Dad, I told myself, as I prepared to tell Gerry that I would rather finish the job in hand than dally on his bed, would not have needed to flirt with faggots to affirm his masculinity. Nor would my two butch brothers.
"I think I'd like to get it finished, Gerry. There's a program I want to hear a bit later on the CBC," I lied.
Gerry shrugged and went back to selecting lilies. "Suit yourself, Pal. Just thought you might find this a bit strenuous."
He never used posh words like 'strenuous'. I knew he was put out. I also had the impression he wasn't going to enjoy any different role with me other than that of gay supplicant, however unspoken or unacted. It was only later, in the calm of my own room, that it also occurred to me that my days as a roomer in that house might well be numbered.
But nothing further happened up there in his bedroom save the task in hand. After a while he stretched and turned to put his pants on again, remarking that it was getting a bit chilly. That was bullshit. The rain still poured down but it was still late spring warm making the night unusually muggy. I said nothing of course. By now I was just pre-occupied in ignoring his body and filling my quota of vases with the flowers.
He was still smiling when we finished the job and when I volunteered to help him place them around the house, he agreed -- only stating that he already had a plan with which we should stick. I got the message: even that small assertion of his authority was an assuagement for him; atoning for my refusal to have him half-flirt with me on the scarlet coverlet of his bed.
That incident and a whole lot of subsequent resolutions on my part to avoid even a situation where I might be tempted to make a fool of myself over his indubitable physical attraction for me, led to a quite different resolution of relationship - with Galston of all people.
When I closed off from Gerry's charms I found facets of Galston that jealousy had blinkered. So he wasn't Tarzan and his idea of serious reading would've been Love Story. But there was something attractive if melancholy about his loyalty to Gerry about whom he still would not heard a word of criticism.
Oh yes, he acknowledged our landlord was a prick teaser, even that he was a sadist enjoying Galston's bottomless frustration and often elaborately engineered discomfiture. But he pardoned all that by saying Gerry had had a bleakly impoverished childhood and youth as a drunken logger's son in the arboreal isolation of a company town at the northern tip of Vancouver Island. Subsequent marriage to a social and intellectual superior who still persisted in treating him like a charity case and patronized him wherever and whenever possible hadn't improved matters. Galston also insisted Gerry was a good father and a dutiful son-in-law -- whatever the frequency his idol protested to the contrary.
Gerry's need for someone to pick on and treat as the inferior that Hilda regarded him, made Galston the stronger man of the two in my new-born eyes. Besides he was not only generous in his estimates of his hero but never protested when I embarked on one of my exhaustive harangues of this guy that (whatever Galston said by way of exculpation) I still regarded as a vindictive bastard who, in later years, the gay world would come to describe as a homophobe.
But Galston's soothing sense of forgiving, his persistent adherence to the French axiom that to know all is to forgive all, extended beyond the object of his unobtainable desires but embraced such as The Wernfelds who had frequently provided him with a comforting shoulder and general understanding when Gerry had been particularly unpleasant and reduced his forlornly frustrated suitor to emotional tatters.
On one occasion he admitted that he doubted if he could have stayed there as long as he had if it had not been for the consoling presence of the musician and his nurse wife. I, too, grew to appreciate them far more than I had thought possible, and I must say that my prognosis of ultimate warfare breaking out with Gerry and my having to leave there precipitately proved unduly pessimistic. We settled into a more or less tepid neutrality and although he never ignored me and my comings and goings I certainly did my best to avoid him and made sure that there were no more à deux encounters when he might have weakened my far from iron resolve.
Before Ken's arrival in the city that summer and my actual departure I did get to know Hilda, too, a little better. And I have to say I didn't find her quite the snob or threat to Gerry that Galston did. Then he had his reasons. At one point I thought he might possess an element of gay misogyny -- or at least the jealousy of a sexual rival as, indeed, I had initially experienced with him. But I don't think so. He and I talked quite early in that second phase of our acquaintanceship about our mutual gayness but it was at best brief allusion and never really profound. He just happened to fall in love with a man rather than a woman and seemed to resent Hilda most for not having done better with her marital opportunities with his beloved Gerry when she'd had the chance. There was a chasm between us. I had a gay lover which was a very different ballgame, in spite of my inclinations to stray from my destiny.
When Ken drew up to collect me and my things and I was able to introduce him to my fellow occupants of that house with a turret. I don't think an outsider would have been sensible to the alliances and tensions that obtained under that roof. It was all smiles and handshakes -- with specially sustained ones between Galston and me.
That is not quite the end of my tale, though. Some twenty years after those early months in Vancouver, Ken and I were visiting Seattle: a periodic visit to the city's excellent bookstores sometimes seeking a title we had failed to unearth in Vancouver but more generally for a relaxed browsing.
We were entering the last on our itinerary when I noticed him. Gerry McDermott, now gray-haired, bearded and pot-bellied was working, shirt-sleeved, behind the counter of the store on that warm August afternoon. I made a quick calculation, estimated he was now in his early fifties. Working in a book-store where a quick glance on my part suggested his fellow-assistants were half his age? What had happened to those academic ambitions he used to allude to?
I'd been told by either Galston or Hilda (but had half forgotten) that he had gone to Victoria and married a Chinese girl student who had borne him twin daughters. The McDermott family had then moved on to Seattle. Galston, whom we still saw with certain regularity, (indeed, like Hilda, had become a good friend over the years), still kept in touch with his old obsession by occasional phone calls. He sympathized with his onetime heart-throb over the trials of living with what had quickly turned out to be a termagant of a wife.
So looking at the slightly puffy face housing the still cool gray eyes, acknowledging three rings I counted on nicotine stained fingers I thought his hands were shaking slightly as he took money from a customer. Uglier references stirred for me. I thought I recalled Galston saying something about Gerry once concluding a phone lament by asking for a small loan to pay for the coke he was using. But I may have gotten that wrong and perhaps his hands weren't shaking but just seemed to be doing so from the distance existing between us. A distance I may say I had no inclination to diminish.
Seeing my hesitation there in the doorway Ken asked me what was the matter. I shook my own grey-flecked head. "Nothing," I said. "Except it's very hot. Can we go and sit somewhere outside and have a cool drink?"
I had decided that I would make no mention of seeing Gerry -- who, for reasons of delicacy -- ahem -- never had been a subject I was fond of discussing with my lover. But the minute we were sitting at the white metal table looking out at Puget Sound, he tapped my knee. "So come on," he said. "What was all that about? Ghost from the past or something?"
I looked hard at him. I wasn't sure how much he knew, or even if he'd recognized Gerry. But I wasn't going to risk prevarication, let alone lies, with Ken. Apart from being a whole lot smarter than me he also knows me inside out.
"I saw Gerry McDermott," I told him. "Time hasn't been kind to him."
"It rarely is - for anyone," he commented sipping his iced tea. "It's just easier to see it in others than in ourselves."
I looked out over the bold blue waters of the Sound. "I think that's a ferry on its way to Bremerton," I said, "And those birds, Ken, are Glaucous Gulls...."
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