Conversation: Julian Howard and Alleyn Wallace
Jul. 18th, 2007 @ 12:26 pm
When I wake up in the morning I do not immediately know where I am, but I do know that my head is very, very angry at me. I shake myself out of my stupor and roll over, trying to get my eyes to focus on the room. I blink once or twice, trying to understand, as it seems I am in Alleyn's bedroom, on his bed, under his covers.
After straining my aching head I can vaguely remember him putting me to bed there the night before. For the moment, though, I'm not sure I want to try to remember anything else.
I close my eyes; when I open them again the light makes a fresh assault on my headache and I put my hands to my forehead in an effort to hold my skull together. "Bloody hell!"
When I wake, he is still asleep. Cham has always disturbed my sleep, and in any case, the situation is so bizarre I am not certain I would have slept well had I been completely sober. I wrap myself in a robe, wash up a bit, and put on the kettle to make some tea. Whilst it is steeping, I hear him moving around a bit more - he must be waking. I mix some asprin powder and plenty of sugar into a cup of tea and bring it in to him. "Drink this. I've put some asprin in it, so be sure to finish it off." He looks like death warmed over.
I take it and start drinking immediately. The idea of aspirin is sweeter than the idea of heaven right now. I get down about half of it then have to put it down; I'm starting to feel ill again. "Thank you," I say. I sit up fully and put my fingers to my temples. "Oh, God. I am so sorry." I try to think for a moment. "Oh, no..." There are very definitely some pieces missing from my memory, and that realization makes my head hurt even worse. I start drinking the tea again. "Did I do anything too idiotic?"
"If the police come, it will be for me, not for you, since they won't know where you live, and Sam can probably take care of it for me." I let that sink in for a moment. "You kissed me in the cab. The driver noticed. You also promptly vomited the moment I opened the door, so he knows you were dead drunk." If I sound severe, it's because I'm not keen on discussing my social life with the police again, even if Sam could probably handle it.
"Oh. Oh, hell. Damn it!" I put my face in my hands. "Alleyn... I..." How does one even begin to apologize for something like that? It is inexcusable. I've put us both in danger... especially him. And I kissed him, invaded him. My only goddamn friend. I remove my hands from my face and look down at the bed. "You should've left me in the gutter"
I sit next to him on the bed and rub his back. "You were drunk. I'm more concerned about that than about what you did whilst drunk. I told the driver you probably thought I was Violet Simms. If I were him, I would be grateful you managed to wait until you were out of the cab before vomiting. No reason to go to the police. Things are not at all well with you if this is the result of a party."
I give a little guffaw at the idea of my ever wanting to kiss Violet Simms, then fall silent. I choose not to answer his comment about my wellbeing; I think my sad state is enough of an answer. It seems things truly aren't well with me.
The warmth of his hands through my shirt makes me aware that I am clammy and a little cold. I lean into him and close my eyes; he feels solid and imperturbable against my own aching, upset body. Now that the feeling comes on me again, I can remember wanting to cry several times last night as he took care of me. I sit silent for a moment, absorbing a bit of comfort and reassurance from his presence and his care. Then I sigh, and it comes out shakier and closer to a sob than I expect. "Why are you so kind to me, Alleyn?"
I instinctively hold him close. "I don't know. I don't know why I do most of what I do. But there's something in you worth saving."
I crumple into his embrace, curling up inside his arms. I look up at him a little, though not so much that it would mean moving my head off his shoulder. "Thank you," I murmur, and then I put my head back down. He holds me in silence for a long time, and I surprise myself by calming down, so much so that I am brushing close to sleep again.
We sit for what seems like ages. I don't know if he needs a lover or if he needs a family, but he certainly needs a different sort of attention than anyone has been giving him. "You should probably clean yourself up. I'll take you to breakfast. You need to eat something."
I nod and sit up as he lets go of me. I stand up, feeling a lot more steady on my feet, and go into his WC. I piss and then freshen myself up as best I can. I scrub quite hard at my face, neck, and arms. Though I am unable to quite shake the feeling of residue from my retching fit the night before, I clean up fairly well, despite the obvious hangover written across my face. Alleyn seems to have done a good job of keeping my hair out of the way. Something else to thank him for, if I can ever list everything he has done for me in the last twelve hours.
I go back into his bedroom and look around for the rest of my clothes, now that I am awake enough to have noticed that I am only wearing an undershirt and my trousers, which were unbuttoned the whole morning. "Better?" I ask, displaying my slightly damp, cleaner self as I go to pull my shirt off the door of his wardrobe.
I dress while he washes up. "Better," I smile. I give him his shirt and one of my own jackets. "There's a fairly wretched coffeeshop down the way, but you don't want to show up in tails."
"I was just worrying about that," I say, and I button up my shirt then pull on his jacket. It is not too ill-fitting; I suppose our builds are not dissimilar. It does not match my trousers very well, but I can forgive that. "Good?"
"Good enough." I take him to my usual coffee house in the Grey's Inn Road. It's fairly awful, especially the tea, but the one thing they manage well is toast, which is impossible when you've only got a gas ring as a cooker. Over eggs and bacon and mugs of the swill they call tea, I ask, "Is everything going to be all right?"
I chew thoughtfully on my toast, staring down at my eggs. I'm having a little trouble eating them all, as my stomach's a bit upset still, but I am feeling better. That is not what he is asking about, though. I become aware I am likely making an odd face, thinking about this, so I look up and give him a noncommittal smile. "It... should be, I think... I hope."
"Would it be better for you to leave London for a while? Go home to your family, or maybe go back to Italy?"
"I don't know, maybe I do need to escape. But I cannot go to my family... If there's ever anything to make me feel unwell, it is going back to Southampton. And I don't have the money to go to Italy, nor do I think I really wish to... I like being in London, for all its problems. I chose to come here, rather than stay in Rome." I rub at my forehead; I still have the remains of a headache.
"Maybe something does have to change, though." I take a sip of my rather awful tea and stare into the air between his face and the tabletop, trying to think but not coming up with much of anything.
"Would your parents pay for the Royal Academy? Would you even be interested in studying at the Royal Academy? I think you need a better circle of acquaintance than you've so far found here. People rather than Forsytes."
"My grandfather might, but I couldn't say for sure. I have already asked him for so much - he sent me to school, and to Uni, and then to Italy after..." I pause, rephrasing myself, "after I left Oxford."
"I do not know if I truly wish to study there, either, though it is an idea I have entertained. What I want to do, more than anything, is just to hide myself away with my paints and canvases and work and work, without interruption. And yes, I would love to meet people who are not, as you put it, Forsytes." I shake my head. "They are, aren't they? Especially Penelope."
"Penelope is awful, but I think Lowell is worse, and being American is not an excuse. If you had the money, I'd send you to stay with my friends in Paris. They're nearly all musicians, but they understand art. Come to think of it, have you any experience with the Old Masters? At least they did Old Masters twenty years ago, business may have changed since then. I know people who may have contacts at Goupil if you'd consider a rather better job as a means of supporting yourself."
I fear I am gaping at him. "Goupil? I'm not sure I can even let myself believe that, Alleyn. That would be... ideal." I shake my head and fall silent for a long moment. "If... if it isn't too much trouble, I would so appreciate your looking into it." I laugh. "I fear I am getting myself very much into your debt very quickly, Alleyn."
"You are," I smile, "but it's my choice, not your imposition. No promises, mind - Tamara's father worked for them, but he died nearly fifteen years ago, so the business may have changed. David says his uncle would not have approved of anything beyond the Signac, but then most of the business was Old Master drawings, if I remember rightly what David told me. I'll ask Tamara. You'd have a good reference from your current employer?"
"I think so, yes. Mr. Tyler may be a tasteless old fool when it comes to art, but he rather likes me."
He seems to be finished eating, and I am too, so I drop a few coins on the table and escort him back to my flat. I have him sit next to me on the sofa. "What went wrong at Oxford? Is that what's really haunting you?" I ask as gently as I can.
I nod a little but do not look at him. "Somewhat. I had to leave uni because I had an emotional breakdown. And it was not one of those fainting spell, 'bit of bed rest will do you good' emotional breakdowns you hear about ladies having when they receive a shock. I was close to going mad... or maybe I did, I don't really know anymore. But I do know I am scared to death of it happening again, and that it was not an isolated occurrence. I was not normal, emotionally, before hand, and I am not now... so, it is what bothers me, somewhat, but there's sort of a larger problem of which it is the most extreme case."
I run a hand through my hair and sigh, still not looking at him. This is not
something I like to tell people... this is not even anything I like to tell myself.
The poor boy. I find myself rubbing his back again. "This life cannot be good for you. I suppose the specialists fed you a load of rubbish, too."
"Of course. No one could quite seem to decide what was wrong with me, and I was not able to help them much. The doctor they brought in at Oxford said I was drunk, and then a day later he accused of being a malingerer. I only got worse after that and they had to call my parents to come up and fetch me. And then more doctors saw me... One of them said I was obviously an opium addict; another said I had been over-exerting myself, and then in private he told me to stop seeing women so often - he was convinced I was sexually exhausted. Finally one said it was neurasthenia, and they left it at that." I laugh under my breath. "I'm not convinced. Half the advice that doctor gave me was wrong. I think the best thing he did was convince my parents to let me go to Italy. He said art would be a good relaxation, or something."
"Was he at least right on that? Was it the art? Or was it simply getting out of this country to a place where you can breathe without fear?"
I sit back, leaning on him, and close my eyes. It helps to feel that someone is there when I delve into these things. "Some of both. Painting always helps; it makes me so much happier. And being somewhere full of color and light and life was good. And Bernardo, he helped greatly. Though I was already getting better when I met him, he managed to heal things I did not know needed to be healed. He was so Italian, and so pragmatic, always telling me to do what I loved, to find release where I could, whether it was painting or fucking, no matter if the painting was bad or the act was immoral. And yes, there I could breathe without fear, as you put it. That was one of the many things that broke me down when I was at uni - discovering my irrepressible desire, and then being so afraid both of what it caused in me and what it could cause outside of me."
I sigh and let myself relax a little; I am feeling tired again. It is a lot to say.
He is far more fragile than I had first thought, and yet there's a certain comfort in having him in my arms, knowing that at last he has someone he can trust. "My experience is really no help to you. Oh, I saw more specialists than I care to remember, trying to cure myself, but that was out of anger at myself for having given in to the desires, not out of fear of the desires themselves. I gave up when I went to Paris and could breathe at last. You've learned to breathe, but you're suffocating yourself again. I think that's what we need to cure you of, this avoiding what makes you happy. You're not happy being manipulated by two lovers; you're just more comfortable when someone else holds the strings, is that it? Falling back into what you are used to rather than what you need?"
I nod a little. "It's easier... But I don't like it any longer. It was good with Bernardo, but even he wouldn't approve of what I'm doing here." This is the first time I've realized that, and it is also the first time I have let myself admit that this business is making me unhappy. The thought makes my stomach drop out a little, and I burrow further into Alleyn's arms.
"It's not your job to fix me, Alleyn," I say after a moment of reflection on the things he has just said. "But I am glad you seem to want to do it, anyway. And I am sorry I've been such a child for you today - I am not normally like this."
I stroke his hair. He is a child, but I can't say that. "It's fine, really. Though if you were normally like this, I daresay it would solve the problem of Mr Lowell. I don't think he'd be terribly sympathetic to anything."
I smile at the soothing feeling of his fingers in my hair, and then I laugh. "You know, I think for all his faults August could be sympathetic if he cared to; the only problem is that he does not bother. But I think the 'problem of Mr. Lowell' has already been taken care of somewhat. He is still a terrible annoyance, and a bit of a danger to me, I suppose, but I do not think our involvement is going to go any further. He has other concerns now, and for all I know, he's found someone with whom he will be sympathetic."
"I hope that's true." Without thinking, I find myself murmuring Verlaine as I stroke his hair. "Il pleure dans mon coeur / Comme il pleut sur la ville ; / Quelle est cette langueur / Qui pénètre mon coeur ? / Ô bruit doux de la pluie / Par terre et sur les toits ! / Pour un coeur qui s'ennuie, / Ô le chant de la pluie ! / Il pleure sans raison / Dans ce coeur qui s'écoeure. / Quoi ! nulle trahison ?... / Ce deuil est sans raison. / C'est bien la pire peine / De ne savoir pourquoi / Sans amour et sans haine / Mon coeur a tant de peine !
"as Mme B
: If Julian should understand the French, I'll tack up a translation, just let me know.
I look up at him as he recites. My French has never been very good, but I recognize some of what he says, and even the parts that I don't comprehend sound very nice. "That's pretty," I say. "Who is it?"as eclectictastes
: That happens to be one of my absolute favorite poems. Good, good choice!
I feel my face grow hot. "Paul Verlaine. Part of the first set of poems he published after he met Rimbaud. One of my friends in Paris introduced me to their work." And David and I used some of it as foreplay.
I nod. "I thought I recognized it - 'It weeps in my heart / As it rains in the city,' correct? It's a beautiful poem, even in English. I have some of Verlaine's works in translation... Rimbaud, too. They were a pair, weren't they?" I look up at him and laugh, then poke his cheek lightly with my index finger. "You are blushing." I am instantly embarrassed, though I cannot pinpoint why, and I think my own face may turn a little red.
I fear I redden still further. There's nothing for it - I sit up straight and pull away slightly. "I had no intention of saying that out loud. Other works of theirs are intensely personal, and I did not mean to bring that into our friendship." I can't bear giving him such a stiff explanation, however. Not looking at him, I finally admit, "I don't love you. I don't lust after you. Stéphane gave me Verlaine in the first place, but that body of work was of particular importance between David and me. I like you, and I feel a desperate need to save you from the follies of life, but that's all it is." But I feel my voice break from emotion.
I stare up at him, knowing why I was embarrassed; I had already realized my mistake before its effects were seen. I did not mean to illicit a response, expect maybe a smile, but now he looks like he might cry. My stomach drops and I sit up. I reach out and hug him; he is very stiff, and he may not like it, but it is the only thing I can think of to do. He would do the same for me.
"I'm sorry," I say. "I did not mean to upset you. I'm a bit too physical, I suppose... I do not lust after you, either, Alleyn; I'm sorry if I gave you that impression. " I pull away a little so I can look at him and see if he will meet my eyes. "I like you very much, and your care and concern mean more to me than I can express. But I don't love you; not in that way."
I don't think so, at least; I've never felt it to know, but I am fairly sure that this is not it.
I turn to look at him and nod. "Thank you. I - I need to go to Golders Green." I pull out of his embrace and attempt to be a bit more businesslike, taking some writing paper and a pen from the desk in the corner. "Please put down your address. I'd rather not discuss future employment prospects before your current employer. It's not that I want to hustle you out the door, it's just - I need to go to Golders Green."
I watch him in silence for a moment before bending over the paper he has handed me. "I'm giving you both addresses, studio and flat" I say as I write. "I think that you'll be more likely to find me at the studio... I don't believe I'll be wanting to spend much time in my flat. And the studio is safer, anyway."
I finish writing and take my eyes off the page. He is standing about halfway across the room, watching me; he looks all at loose ends. I hand the paper back to him in silence, unable to think of a thing to say.
"Thank you." I lay the paper on my dining table. "I'll - er - walk you out. Need to go to Euston, catch the tube." I take my coat from the the hook and realise he is still wearing my jacket. "And you need your clothes back." I hang my coat back up, retrieve his tails from the bedroom. "Your tie is in the pocket." I hand it to him.
"This would be loads easier if David were here," I burst out - that's certainly a non sequitur. "He had all the useful connections for you. And other than falling in love with me, he had a knack for staying sane that I never fully mastered. If I had done, I'd have a wife and an inky office job by now. So I suppose that's for the best, but he would have had much better advice for you."
I stand to receive my clothes and am half out of his jacket when his words make me stop. I look over at him.
"I'm sorry he's not," I say. "I would have liked to meet him. But
you sell yourself short, Alleyn. Your advice has been perfect - and you are sane enough for me. Even if that isn't saying much."
I look down as I shrug off his jacket and pick mine up. "Just think," I say towards my shoes, "With me as your friend, you can seem far more skilled at staying sane by comparison." I pause and then look up, momentarily enlightened. "I think that may be what I meant last night when I said you are braver than I am. I did say that, didn't I?"
I can't help smiling. "You are mad. Bravery and sanity are opposites for men of our sort. The sane thing to do is always to find an inky office job and a profoundly boring wife and spend your dreary existence in hiding. The brave thing to do is to live. David kept at Rothschild in an attempt to split the middle. And until me, he gave in to his illegal urges only when in Europe. Him having the balls to tell me he loved me was the bravest thing I'd ever seen, from him or anyone. Him agreeing with my suggestion that we rent a house together was about the maddest thing I've ever seen." I slip my diary into my coat pocket and lock the door behind us. "No, bravery and sanity are hardly the same thing at all. It's accepting the madness that keeps us seeming sane. But then, I think everyone is rather in that position these days. They aren't exactly the easy Victorian times of childhood, are they? Well, you wouldn't know, you're too young, Edwardian through and through."
Out in the Gray's Inn Road, I ask, "Where are you headed? Nearest tube is Kings Cross, that'll get you Metropolitan, City and South london, and Piccadilly Railways; I'm headed over to Euston to pick up Hampstead." The wind has picked up - quite cold for going out to a cemetery today, but we do what we must.
I pull a face. "I am no good at this. But... oh... I need Piccadilly! Yes. Lord, I'm dull today." I shake my head and shiver a little. We are getting close already, and there are people about everywhere despite the cold. I look over at him as we walk; he is gazing straight ahead. "Alleyn," I say, getting his attention. "I've already said it a thousand times, but... Thank you."
I stop when he thanks me. I am painfully aware of my own behaviour and of the number of people out and about. I offer my hand. "I'll say goodbye to you here. There's no need to thank me. I'll talk to Tamara when I get the chance." My own voice sounds false in my ears - it's the acting voice, I can hear it. Projection. Displaying the business-like nature of the exchange to everyone around. And that makes me feel even worse.
I take his hand and we shake. It all feels almost unreal; everything that existed in his home is gone, either hidden or flown completely. - on another day I would possibly be able to tell the two apart. I try to resist my urge to stare into his eyes, looking for answers.
"Well," I say quietly. "Goodbye, then."