The regulars filtered onto the platform. It was comforting to see them: the old eastern European man with the full head of white hair puffing on the cigarette in his left hand and carrying parcels under his right arm; the young Jewish guy in a cardigan leaning against his favorite wall to read the morning news; the Italian woman holding her purse under one arm as she delicately opened her coffee and added sugar with the other hand. Arnold stood there watching, his dark skin topped with a short "natural." He caught the Italiana's eyes. They greeted each other with an exchange of smiles. Each continued as before.
He looked up the track, not impatiently, as he knew that it was still early, but lovingly. His train was due soon. Its arrival would signal the beginning of another day: the routine which he so longed to maintain, to regain after a further furtive night of autoerotic gratification; a night of what-could-have-been bliss under other, more conventional circumstances. Another night of forbidden rapture. He shivered at the recollection: "forbidden rapture." How could he have fallen into this? Why had he returned for more?
He struggled not to remember:
to deny what lay within him. But the visions of the physical pleasure were too
crisp. He could feel the tender hands skating over his body; sense the warm exhalations
caressing his neck, back and thighs. Oh, and it tickled, no, it tingled in such
a way as to. NO! He whispered to himself, "This isn't right."
Rudy spoke as he opened the apartment door, "You must be Arnold, my new English tutor."
"Yes, I am," Arnold nervously twirled the string on his book bag. "You're my first pupil."
"Ah-h-h, a virgin," Rudy laughed. "Come in, anyway." Rudy escorted Arnold in, took his coat and showed him a chair. "Make yourself to home. I need your help with English. I must improve . . . quick." Rudy rested his hand on Arnold's knee.
Arnold's knee twitched reflexively at his touch. He shook the unwelcome hand off by consciously wagging his leg, "You already speak well. Do you want to learn technical jargon?"
"No. Just good grammar. I am weak there."
Arnold sat rigidly, sifting through pages of English lessons. Rudy cheerfully prepared and served lemon tea with obvious delight at his own domesticity in the presence of this young man.
Arnold shifted in his seat as Rudy moved efficiently, pouring the tea with more grace and precision than seemed appropriate for a physicist (male). The hospitality made him uncomfortable. Why couldn't Rudy be just like anybody else: just give me a lesson and see you next week.
"How many sugars?" Rudy asked.
"Two. But I can get it myself." Arnold jerked forward toward the table.
Rudy gently pushed him back into the overstuffed easy chair. "No. Not this time. Maybe next class or the one after. Polish hospitality is strict: when guest first arrives, must himself not lift the finger." He smiled then looked thoughtfully away, "In your case, except for to turn pages in English book." Rudy broke into a chuckle that left Arnold all the more unsettled.
"That's very kind of you," Arnold sat arrow straight and lifted his tea cup at right angles as if "eating a square meal" would relieve his discomfort. "What part of Poland are you from?"
"Warsawa, of course. All scientists congregate there." Rudy sat, sank into an adjacent chair, "But, let's talk about you instead."
"There's not much to say. I'm from the Midwest. I'm a Sophomore here. I'm on scholarship, have a student loan and tutor math and English to get spending money." Arnold looked nervously at objects around the room.
"What about your social life? What is there for young people - or slightly old, young people like I - to do around here?" Rudy's eyes glimmered above his effusive smile.
Without realizing it, Arnold stopped breathing and stalled before answering. He sensed accurately that there was an underlying, hidden question - some curiosity between the words. Yet, he wanted to deny what he had surely perceived correctly, "Not much," he exhaled. "Football games; walking around; some mixers - that's what we call dances; sometimes a movie." His voice trailed off as he tried to remember what else could be done.
"Have you a girlfriend?" Rudy was blunt.
"That is good." Rudy was itching to ask Arnold if he had a boyfriend, but decided enough ground had been covered for a first meeting. "I'm sorry . . . . But it means that you will not be distracted from your work," he lied. Rudy sat forward, portraying the exemplary eager student. "Let us start the lesson."
handed Rudy the lesson.
The single bright headlight of the
electric locomotive glistened in the corner of his eye. The train stopped at his
platform. One door lay directly in front of Arnold, just as he had planned. He
jumped in and got settled. Someone had left the day's newspaper. He skimmed his
way through a few pages and thought: Boring. Is this a reprint of yesterday's
paper. He looked incredulously at the date printed at the page top.
"Now you have taught me three lessons. You have taught me a great deal." Rudy was emphatic and warm.
"Thanks, but you've done all the work. You're a good student." Arnold withdrew into himself. Giving and receiving praise made him suspicious.
"Now, I teach you another Polish custom. It is only fair exchange, No?" Rudy paused for an affirmative response. "It is not too good to work, work, work without some play. Do you not agree?"
"I guess," Arnold managed, melting into the deep sofa. Rudy's ebullience overwhelmed him.
"Vodka! Stolychnaya!" Rudy raised the bottle high. "A colleague from Moscow brought it for me last week. I have saved it to share with you. I have prepared, uh, hand foods - Polish hors d'oeuvres. We eat and drink. Then I drive you to dormitory. No?" He smiled.
"That's very kind of you but I don't drink alcohol." Arnold was terse, frightened.
"Oh. But is custom. Pleez join me for one drink." His eyes begged deeply into Arnold's. "I'll show you the small glass." Rudy stood up. "Only a small glass." He rushed off to the kitchen and quickly returned with a tray of appetizers and two shot glasses. After setting them on the coffee table, he casually plopped next to Arnold and jovially bumped his shoulder. "Relax, young professor. I will show you." Rudy poured two shots and handed one to Arnold. He then popped a cube of boiled, parsleyed potato into his mouth, chewed a little and tossed the vodka shot back in a single gulp. "If you sip it, the vodka will burn your mouth and throat. If you don't eat small food first, you get very drunk, quick!"
"Can't you give me half a glass?" Every muscle of Arnold's face pleaded.
"No. Try it. If you don't like, there is no need to have a second." Rudy patted Arnold on the back.
"Here goes." Arnold ate potato and gulped vodka for the first time in his life. "It's burning!" he choked, "My throat." He struggled to set the glass on the coffee table.
Rudy pushed the glass into the center of the table, "Have something more to eat."
Arnold collapsed back into the deeply upholstered sofa. Rudy moved to collect the snacks from the table. In order to offer the tray to the reclining Arnold, he leaned over him balancing his weight by putting one hand on Arnold's leg.
"Here, eat some more. Food will soak up the vodka." He urged Arnold. He fanned the aroma of the hors d'oeuvres into Arnold's nose, "You will feel better."
Arnold sat up suddenly and tried unsuccessfully to shake off Rudy's trespassing
hand. Rudy left his hand, in fact, he lightly squeezed Arnold's thigh. They looked
into each other's eyes. Rudy rubbed the inside of Arnold's thigh. Arnold's face
tightened into an expression of fear, amazement and denial but he didn't protest.
Rudy rubbed Arnold's crotch, slowly, gently and with intent. Arnold's eyes glazed
over. Shocked, he resigned himself to the inevitable and closed his eyes as he
fell, once again, back into the couch.
The train jerked as it pulled out of the station. The familiar screeching of the train wheels comforted Arnold. The day had now officially begun. The Italiana sat directly in front of him. They didn't know each other's name, but they were comforted by each other's presence.
As the train left the station, a sunny day surrounded it and its passengers. The rays warmed him and let his mind soar. Arnold greeted a tree with a smile.
Trees, tracks, trains, a dog, houses, stores, people passed in
an increasingly blurred montage as the train sped west. Colors merged: images
blended into a single color - pastel shimmering with many hues.
"Hello." Rudy opened the door wide. "Come in, come in. You must be freezing." Rudy reached his arm around Arnold's back and pushed him into the apartment. A dense fog hovered at ceiling height. Rudy helped Arnold remove his coat, hat and sweater. "You won't need these clothes in here. I have made it very warm tonight."
"What's all this mist?" Arnold looked through the apartment. "Won't it crack the paint?" He continued to survey the apartment. His observing face turned to a disapproving stare as he watched the cloud clinging to the ceiling. "It's like a sauna in here." He fanned himself.
"Not sauna," Rudy bellowed, "Steam bath. Come see." Rudy led Arnold by the arm to the bathroom. His long terry robe billowed between them. When Rudy opened the bathroom door, a mass of hot steam rolled out. "Let's bathe before class. I wash your back . . . ."
Arnold blinked in disbelief.
Rudy didn't wait for his response. He pushed Arnold into the makeshift Turkish bath and undressed him. With Arnold ensconced, Rudy took his clothing into the living room. He tossed his robe aside and returned nude to the bathroom cum steam house.
It was as if two innocent boys frolicked in the tropical spray: touching each other playfully, smiling and laughing. Rudy scrubbed Arnold with a loofa. Arnold reluctantly reciprocated. He felt it was too romantic, not like clowning around. Bathing each other was just too intimate, too queer.
The steam dissipated to reveal two spotless students. They wrapped up in giant towels. Arnold darted to the living room and sought his clothes. Before he reached the threshold and the safety of clothing, Rudy caught him gently, laughing and led him to the bedroom. Rudy kissed Arnold on the neck. Arnold resigned himself, despair etched on his face. He didn't resist and chastised himself silently for not putting up a fight: I knew this was coming. This guy is serious.
"I have thought of being in bed with you ever since our first lesson," Rudy turned to Arnold. "I have always wanted a man like you in bed next to me. I will make you feel good, better than any of your girlfriends."
Arnold remained silent, neither agreeing nor fleeing; certainly not kissing on the lips or letting Rudy get any ideas that he would play the female role. Somehow Arnold rationalized silently that if he were simply to lie passively on the bed, Rudy would lose interest: If he keeps on but I don't contribute, just lie here and let him hold me in his mouth or sit on me, then I won't really be having homosexual sex . . . . Not really.
Rudy did everything Arnold had feared and hoped for and more. Arnold's soft moan betrayed the ecstasy he felt as he climaxed. He dared not smile or verbalize the physical satisfaction that he felt. That would have made him a willful participant. He considered claiming: "Boy, was I drunk." Then he remembered that he'd not had a single glass.
Rudy was genuinely enjoying himself. Happiness beamed across his face as he slumped next to Arnold to recover. Arnold stared blankly at the sweaty ceiling, denying that he had anything from which to recover.
Arnold's mind raced: As far as I am concerned, nothing has really happened. I taught English to Rudy as usual.
He feared that he must forget the rest of what
had happened for one of his roommates might read the unsuppressed truth on his
face and in his mind. That could get him labelled a "fag." He'd never
live that down. He looked despondently at a bare tree outside the window and shrugged
Rudy's head off his shoulder.
The train stopped at Central Square. The familiar Italian lady got off. She smiled goodbye. Only one more stop to go. He looked at his watch, a Russian alarm watch traded for a Timex. He'd make it to campus with time to spare. He'd stop by his dorm room.
The watch, Rudy's watch chimed and Arnold thought: I really should return it. But that would mean he'd have to see Rudy again. That's what he had been avoiding, fearing.
The train arrived at his stop. He got off, scurried upstairs and walked/skipped to his dorm.
Pinned on the wall in the common room were several messages for him. He'd not been there for days, preferring to hang with his cousin in Roxbury. That was his rationalization, at any rate. In truth, Arnold knew he was hiding, running from the unavoidable confrontation.
Several of the messages, in fact most, were from Rudy. Oh well, he thought, I guess that I'll have to talk to him sooner or later. What will I say? He tossed the notes into his book bag and headed for the john. Once there, he squeezed tooth paste onto the first tooth brush that he found, not necessarily his. My roommates are healthy, he assured himself.
There was a knock at the door. Arnold turned to the sound. Who could it be? His blood pulsed. Everyone knows that we're all in class at this hour, or at least that we're supposed to be in class.
He gargled, "Come in. It's open!" After rinsing hurriedly, he went to the common room and arrived there just as Rudy entered.
Arnold stopped abruptly, "Oh, hello," he tugged at his shirt tail. "How did you find the room?"
"Surprised to see me?" Rudy's eyes bulged as he attempted to restrain his anger. "Where have you been? I'm two weeks behind in English."
"Oh, yes." Arnold looked at some lint on the rug. "I meant to call you but . . . well . . ."
"Why didn't you answer my calls?"
"I haven't been here. I went to stay with my cousin in Boston." Arnold recognized doubt in Rudy's expression. "I just got your messages a few minutes ago when I got back." Arnold retrieved the handful of notes from his book bag and offered them plaintively to Rudy. "See?" He didn't know what to expect from Rudy. He shifted his stance.
Rudy's lips tightened. His knees locked.
Arnold recoiled from his anger.
Rudy grew roots as he fumed suppressed rage. Then an unexpected smile crawled crooked onto his face, "I see that you still wear the watch. It is working?"
Arnold nervously fingered the watch, "Yes, just fine." He raised his arm to display the watch. "I set and reset the alarm at least three times a day just so that I can hear it to be sure that it's still working." He pushed a button and the watch chimed. "I get a real kick out of it. It sounds like a small bird chirping." He turned off the alarm. "How's the Timex?" Arnold relaxed.
"It keeps the time well." Rudy took a single, purposeful step toward Arnold who backed off a half step. Rudy forced his expression into a full, open smile. "You understood what the exchange of watches meant? Didn't you?"
"It was a trade. Friends trade things all the time." Arnold clenched his fists involuntarily and looked Rudy in the eyes to demonstrate his honesty.
"Yes. A trade . . . a trade of loyalty: loyalty between special friends. Or do you receive massage and sex from all of your students?" Rudy glowered at him.
"No, of course not. You're the only one. The first . . . the only . . . I, I, . . . I . . ." Arnold glanced away, looked out the third floor window. A lingering leaf snapped from a barren branch. "I don't think that I can tutor you anymore. This is going too far. Besides you already speak English well and . . ."
Rudy interrupted, "No, it's not going too far. It has already gone far. And you allowed it. You helped. You let me fall in love, then you disappeared." He exhaled, like a horse snorting. "You knew I'd be waiting for you, waiting to see you. You knew that I wouldn't force you to do anything you didn't want. You just ignored me. What were you trying to do to me?" Rudy fought back the tears. "Do you hate me enough to kill me . . . worse: to let me die of loneliness; of a broken heart, as you say in the United States?"
"I couldn't come see you. I wouldn't have been able to resist you. Yet, I knew that I didn't feel about you what you said you felt for me. I couldn't say 'I love you' the way you told me." He paced to the window and then returned to face Rudy. "All I could manage was to remain silent. Then I saw that you took my silence as consent, as a confirmation of my love for you. It wasn't that. I was afraid. I didn't want a fight." Arnold took a deep breath, "I don't. I don't love you." He raised his shoulders, offered his empty palms as evidence of his truthfulness, tried to remember some dear John letter he had heard about in high school or dialogue from an old black and white movie to help him out. Rudy waited, staring at him intently. Arnold had to continue unassisted, "I couldn't go back, couldn't make it worse. I thought you'd figure out I couldn't go on. I don't know what to say . . . . I like you." He looked unflinchingly at Rudy. "You're a very good student, a good friend and we had fun some of the time. I . . ." Without blinking, Rudy landed a hard right punch on Arnold's chin. WHUMPH!
Arnold's head and neck twisted with the force of the blow then swung back like a toy propeller on a rubber band. His jaw fell open. He looked Rudy deep in the eyes and sighed as he closed his mouth. Rudy flinched at his friend's glare. He eyes welled up with tears. They stared at each other, each one's vision blurred with feelings and confusion.
Arnold finally allowed the tension to drain from his shoulders in one slumping movement. "I guess that I deserved that . . ." He took a deep hesitant breath. "Do you want your watch back?'
"How about you?"
"I like the alarm watch."
"Then, I keep the Timex. I shall remember the good times." Rudy flicked away the tears from the corners of his eyes, inhaled Arnold's scent and drew in his sight one final time then made a precise about face, marched the endless three yards to the door and left without another word, glance or touch.
Arnold stood, planted to the spot where he had been slugged and stared at the closing, the now-closed, door through which his innocence had just departed. He couldn't stop the silent chant inside his mind: Rudy. Rudy. Rudy. Loyal and caring friend.
He looked out the window at the frozen river beyond the tree tops and muttered, "I wonder if I will ever see him again? No I guess not. No. Of course, not. I blew it." He looked at the bookshelves and the desk, searching. "No. I ended it." The tone of his voice betrayed irresolution.
Arnold gathered his books and threw them into his book bag. The previous few minutes played over and over on his mental screen: punching him again and again. His psychological fast forward was stuck. The memory looped and looped. He wagged his head to unlodge the coil. Arnold shook violently and roused himself back to the present moment, to reality. He stretched then drew a long, determined breath. Collected, he slung his book bag over his shoulder and walked out the door to class.
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