Conversation: Julian Howard and Alleyn Wallace
Jul. 18th, 2007 @ 12:26 pm
"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."