................ ..................................THE KISS



I'm in New Zealand, travelling. The bus drops me at a remote little town where I'm lucky to find a youth hostel. No one about, so I just walk in. Beyond the entrance lobby is a dark-green ironwork staircase labelled: 'dormitories'. So up I go.

I step out at the top into the centre of a big room encircled with bunks. There’s no-one here either... except a cute-looking guy standing beside the staircase safety rail.

‘Hi.’ I say, ‘I’m Felix.’

He looks up at me, ‘Marcus, hi.’

‘Nice dorm,’ I say, cheerfully slinging my backpack onto a bunk.

He shrugs, then says, ’Just got news my brother's been killed in a motorbike smash.’ Incongruously, he grins as he says this.

‘Hell, I'm sorry,’ I say, suddenly tense, ‘That’s really terrible.’

A heavy sadness comes over me. Normally I’m tough as nails… besides which, who knows if he isn't making it up? He looks about 20, well younger than me... maybe a decade. I’m trying to work out how he can grin like that after what he just told me - maybe he's relieved it's not him?

He tells me the crash happened yesterday, which is when he arrived here from Aussie - where his brother also lived. I guess he’ll have to return for the funeral.

It’s late afternoon and still hot outside. I don’t know what to say to Marcus. I just stand there feeling glum, and a little nervy - on account of his being so 'fit'. He says he’s here to meet a friend of his brother, who’s already late. Does this friend know, I ask. Probably not, he tells me.

I realise my mouth has gone dry. ‘Can I buy you a drink?’ I say.

He nods, and reminds me there’s a bar across the street. We make our way down the iron stairs and out onto the dusty highway. I can’t take my eyes off him.

‘I need something strong.’ I say, 'Your tragedy’s kind of affected me.’

'Sure,' he says, 'Something strong.'

So we sit with our doubles on the porch, the sole customers, staring across at the hostel not knowing what to say. After a minute or so I think of something, ‘A Canadian woman at my last hostel tried to get me into bed… Can you believe that? Not bed exactly, we were out walking, miles from anywhere... without warning she turns to me and says “How about it?” I said, “How about what?”. I well knew what, she made herself clear enough, trying to hug me and stuff; creepy…’

Marcus sips the bourbon. He seems miles away.

‘Sorry.' I say, 'That’s crass of me … I mean, do you know what happened? Can you tell me about him, your brother? ... though if you’d rather I …’

‘No worries, mate.’ says Marcus, shaking his head, ‘He was 7-years older than me. We lived in Brisbane all our lives, always hit it off OK… then a couple of years back he suddenly moved out.'

'Most people do that at some point,' I mused

He nodded. 'They keep in touch, though. Took a while to find him... our dad hired a private-eye. He'd settled in Townsville! Several people we knew visited him after that, but every time I tried, he was otherwise occupied. Turned out he was living with this guy Declan.’

‘Oh,’ I reply, ‘I see.’

‘Maybe you don't,’ he says, ‘I’m kind of the same. So it’s not that.’

Is he telling me they were two gay brothers? It’s rare, but not unheard of. The barman is wiping a table nearby. Marcus raises his arm and clicks his fingers, ‘Couple o’ beers, mate.’ He calls out.

‘We don’t play the lackey around here, fella,’ the barman snaps, ‘I’ll set ‘em up; you come'n get ‘em.’

Marcus turns back to me and continues, ‘Was OK for others, but he didn’t want me meeting Declan. No reason I could see. Not at the time.’

He swallows the bourbon, takes a panatella from a breast pocket and lights it. He tells me how last week he’d gone there unexpectedly and finally met this mysterious Declan. They’d sat together in the garden that afternoon, he says, all three, and drank beers. And Declan had mentioned some old photos of Marcus. At that point his brother had got up angrily, said he should never have shown him, then went to fetch more beers. That’s when it happened.

‘When what happened?’ I say. But Marcus is up going in to get the beers.

He seems a long time conversing with the barman. It’s dark in there, but I can see them. The barman leaning across as if talking right into Marcus’s face and Marcus standing there taking it. He returns with the beers.

‘What was that about?' I say. Then, reflecting, add '...as if it’s any of my business?’

Did he blush just then, I wonder? He puts the beers down, waves dismissively, and laughs, ‘The bastard was only trying to get off with me.’

I’m really not surprised... even if the barman’s straight as a poker. It's an effort just to not stare at Marcus.

‘You could make a good living as a model’ I say.

‘So I’m told. Who wants the hassle?’ He re-lights the panatella and takes a long drag.

His mobile chirps. He lifts it from his other breast pocket and glances at the screen. ‘It’s him.’ he says, ‘Bloody Declan. What the hell, he should’ve been here hours ago….’ He puts the phone to his ear.

From one side of the conversation I make out that Declan knows about the crash and is either unable or not intending to turn up. Having forked out for Marcus’s one-way flight, he'd also agreed to fund other expenses. The accident, apparently, has changed everything. 

Marcus is not into ostentation. He doesn’t need to be. He’s wild, but in a calm, controlled way. A bit of clever talk eventually succeeds in wheedling a bank transfer from Declan for $5000…. ‘In fond memory of my brother… a sort-of compensation.’ There the call terminates. 

‘This is a bad time for you.’ I say.

‘I’ll be OK.’ says Marcus, ‘Dec’s loaded. Five grand’s sod all to him. If he sends that transfer I’ll be set-up for a good while.’

‘So what happened with you and him at your brother's?’

Marcus shifts to another seat, he says so the barman can’t see him from in the bar. He fiddles with the mobile, ‘The bastard’s hesitating...,' he groans, '...having second thoughts.' He puts the phone on the bench and looks up. ‘It was weird.’ he says, ‘Kept staring at me like I was infinitely fascinating. A bit like you've been doing...' I give him a guilty grin. He grins back and continues, 'Anyhow, I asked why he stared like that, as if I hadn’t guessed. I mean, he’s not the first. Said he’d give me a hundred bucks for one kiss. One kiss! I thought, a hundred’s a hundred, but what's a kiss? True, he’s no Adonis, though he ain’t that unattractive either. So I get up and go over and sink my lips into his, all wet and juicy like I’m sucking an orange. After about a minute I hear my brother returning so I let him go. He gasps a bit, slumps in the chair and looks fucked. My brother appears, takes one look and says, “What is it Dec? What’s the problem?” And all Dec can do is shake his head and mutter: “F… fu...ck... Hell … Sod me …“ and so on. All the words... all of 'em. My brother glares at me, “What the fuck did you do?” he shouts. “Nothing.” I tell him, “Maybe he’s having a seizure?”. Suddenly my brother can't get me out of there fast enough. Must’ve guessed something like that might happen. Why else all the effort to keep me away?’

He swallows the last of his beer then looks back at me, 'Don't ask me what happened after that.' he says, 'I just gets this registered letter two days ago from Declan telling me: keep your mouth shut and you'll be well rewarded, and to meet him here like now, today. Enclosed was $200 and the Quantas ticket.'

He picks up the mobile and stabs his thumb around the screen. He grins and nods. ‘YES!'.

A bit dismayed that Marcus is more elated by this new wealth of his than distraught by his brother's death, I nevertheless offer to replenish the beers.

‘Nar…’ he mumbles contentedly, ‘Reckon I'll get something from the store.’

‘OK if I come along?’ I just want to keep looking at him, being with him. I know this is crazy. I know it can’t lead to anything. Not me and him... he's in another league.

‘No worries.’ He says, getting up and flicking what's left of the panatella into the street.

The barman is gone. There’s an old woman wiping the bar. ‘See you boys again.’ She calls.

Like everywhere else, the local store is quiet. Marcus is its only customer.

Back in the hostel dorm – still deserted and where booze is not allowed – Marcus pours a generous slug from his new bottle of bourbon and hands me the paper cup. He pours one for himself. We drink ‘To The Future’ – Marcus’s choice - as if the past, meaning his brother, can be forgotten.

Several swigs later, my confidence has grown. ‘I don’t have a hundred bucks.’ I tell him, struggling to hide the nervous waver in my voice, ‘But I’d truly like to sample that kiss.’

He looks at me all serious, stares into my eyes. I wait, staring back.

Now that grin, and already he's gently pushing me onto a bunk, easing down on top of me, planting those fine lips of his on mine and snaking his tongue deep into my throat. I respond likewise... with subtle augmentations. We feel one another’s arousal. His hands start exploring… he's in my shorts... my brain is dissolving into that state where meaning and sensation merge like water and fire… 

A chaos of discarded clothes spreads across the floor. We clasp naked together like crazed wrestlers getting drunk on each other's breath. Minutes pass. Finally that culminating release... and moments later a motor horn sounds outside. Now it's Marcus who lurches, and several frenzied convulsions later goes limp. We're still entwined when the horn sounds again: two short blasts.

Slowly Marcus is releasing himself. Now he's off me and at the window. He shouts. ‘Two minutes... just two minutes, mate.’

I struggle to take in what's happening. Laying naked on my back, copiously streaked in seminal slime, I look across at Marcus fumbling to get into his clothes; stuffing his gear haphazardly into his backpack. It takes me till he’s about to head down the stairs before I’m recovered enough to speak. ‘You can’t be going?’ I say.

‘Gota keep moving, Felix mate.’ he responds, pausing to check his pockets, ‘It’s what life’s about. Never miss a break. But thanks, I won't forget that. Ever.' He leaps over to me and plants a long gaping kiss... is he changing his mind..? 'A great tongue you have.' he says, suddenly getting up again, heading back towards the stairs. 'Wouldn’t o’ minded you working it around other parts of me too…’ he pauses again, grinning broadly, ‘Just gota keep moving... See ya, mate.’

And he’s gone.

I get up quickly and move to the window. My heart’s going like I’ve just run up a hill. There’s a beaten-up old Holden with a familiar figure standing by the driver’s door looking up at me.

Fuck YOU!’ I yell.

Marcus appears and leaps in the passenger side. The barman smiles smugly up at me, 'It's what I'm hoping, mate.' he says. He gets in the car and guns it. All there is now is dust, settling slow and easy. I feel like it’ll be a lifetime before the flutter Marcus planted in me begins to settle. Aw, the pain of it…

-------------------- // --------------------



Marcus, where are you?