Authors: Nancy Huston
The Trinity boys cluster in the tacky foyer with limp lace curtains at the windows—but only at the
of the windows—leaving the main pane brazenly naked.
Should I be seen, Good Lord, should I be seen! Should my father drive down Talbot Street in his carriage! Or Father Wolf, the roly-poly preacher who christened me at age six weeks and has kept tabs on me ever since!
As if in a bad dream, Neil watches his friends select the pretty girls in swift succession and vanish, so that within thirty seconds he finds himself alone with the one remaining harlot—an old woman! Forty if she’s a day, grinning up at him with tobacco-stained teeth, then grabbing his hand and pulling him after her down the hallway. He winces at the sight of her lumpy rump jouncing beneath her brightpink satin housecoat, gags at the thick mix of strangers’ body emanations in the bedroom she draws him into . . .
Having divested him of half a pound, the woman slides her hand into his breeches and pulls at his member with ghastly efficient know-how, then hikes up her petticoats and turns her back on him. Poor he, meanwhile—heart thumping in temples, eyes starting from head, sweat tingling on forehead, breath speeding malgré lui—loses sight of his own hands amidst the woman’s flouncy mess of petticoats. He moans.
Good Lord, where are my hands? And is she not diseased, will she not have warts and sores, will I not
ta, ta-da DA
, will I not
ta, ta-da DA
, will I not
die—this in the capoeira rhythm as he pushes, a
with every push—
yes, for certain I will DIE
“Goodness, luv, you’re scared stiff! You’ve just now left off wearing short pants, is it? A blushing virgin! Don’t worry,
darling, I won’t keep it. You’ll go home to mummy in one piece. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!”
The woman laughs at him even as she wiggles to hasten his spurt, force his body to express, in two dizzying breathless seconds, all it can express.
And now, as he stumbles home in the misty Liffey dawn a mere three hours and six Guinnesses later, Neil is energetically rewriting the night’s script, carefully crafting the future tale of his erotic initiation. He needs to boast.
I’m as proud of having crossed the threshold of a Talbot Street brothel as that of Trinity Law School. Yes, dear Mother!
For man is made of cock and brain
and never never never never again
shall you lead me down the little rabbit hole
with your insipid tales about the soul!
. . . The soul God loveth, the soul God maketh and putteth into the flesh in order that we may resist temptation year after year and drudgingly trudge through this vale of tears to everlasting bliss or brimstone in the Beyond. No, Ma, no, Ma, no, Ma, no. Never met a soul in my life, Ma—never did run into a single soul. I do, on the other hand, have a cock and a brain, and beg to inform you that I intend to put both to good use. Never shall I set up a respectable household like your own, with a white-capped maid serving meals at appointed hours and dark-robed priests droning Mass of a Sunday morning. Done with all of that. It’s the 29th of April, my first year at Trinity is drawing to a close and my future stretches ahead of me, green and lovely as a meadow. Oh, I shall cut capers in it, believe you me!
He dances on the bridge. Hop, skip, trip, delighting in the clack of his soles on the wood in the quiet dawn.
—he smirks, no doubt about it—
the sole exists
CUT to an hour later. Still running off at the mouth, Neil staggers up the shrubbery-bordered walkway to his parents’ house in one of Dublin’s wealthier surburbs.
Flagstones in the grass, grass wet with dew, don’t mind if I dew. Mustn’t wake them now—if I can simply, noiselessly jiggle the shaggin’ key in the shaggin’ lock, tiptoe into my room, slip between the sheets and lumber down to slumber without drawing maternal or paternal attention to the hour at which I returned to their fair abode . . . Ah, success. And so, though it be day, good night. The downy white pillows willn’t tell on me, nor will the slut who got her wad. Ah, and a fine fuck she was, too, wrigglin’ down below while gigglin’ up above . . .
OKAY, ASTUTO, THAT
brings us to . . . what, seven minutes or so, would you say? So we’ve got three minutes left of our precious ten to bring the final strand into existence, after which we can begin to braid. Over, under, in between, over, under, in between . . .
My mother once told me that the day she noticed how much I loved braiding her hair, as a kid back in Buenos Aires, was the day it first occurred to her I might be gay.
• • • • •
Awinita, March 1951
CLOSE-UP, MAYBE IN
black and white, of ugly, cold, wet, gray, garbagey slush in the gutter of Saint Catherine Street, Montreal. A harsh sight. A woman’s high-heeled boots walking in it—black and shiny, made not of leather but of some thin cheap leather
substitute that lacks all of leather’s essential qualities: suppleness, strength, especially impermeability.
Through the woman’s eyes, we glance up at a streetlamp. It shivers whitely on as the gray daylight, after a halfhearted attempt at illuminating this March day for a few hours, gives up and dies. We go banging into a bar, where the light is even dimmer than outdoors. It’s only four
but Awinita, dressed in a shortish red dress and those high-heeled, shiny black boots, hikes herself up onto a red stool at the bar.
We are Awinita, we are the woman; always in her sequences we will be she. Now we catch sight of ourselves in a mirror above the bar. We are blond.
The barman (seen both in the flesh and reflected) serves us a Coke without greeting or even glancing at us. Our face being in shadow, he can’t see it and neither can we. An indefinite amount of time elapses.
In the mirror, still from Awinita’s point of view, we see a man enter the bar, tracking slush and depression. The door slams behind him. When he takes in the sight of a lone blond lady seated at the counter with her shimmering red back to him—young, from the curves of her—his eyes squint in surprise.
Emerging from the penumbra, the stranger resolves into a young man with red hair cut short and a face too gaunt for freckles. Our gaze flicks downward—the young redhead’s cowboy boots are neither new nor clean—then back up to his face, now decked out with a smile.
“Mind if I siddown?”
“Free, my ass.”
She laughs shortly. Pleasant surprise for him. Nice, low laugh the girl has.
He tries again, repeating, “Free, my ass,” and succeeds; she laughs better.
“Happy to free your ass for you, sir,” she mutters in a husky, jokey voice that shocks and excites him coming from such a young body or rather such a young face. He hasn’t yet checked out either in much detail but he does so now and gets another couple of shocks in quick succession: this blonde is an Indian, and this child is with child.
Instead of doing a double take, he orders a double whisky. Oddly enough, the fact of the girl’s pregnancy relaxes him, maybe because it implies she isn’t underage (though of course you can knock up a twelve-year-old if you set your mind to it, or whatever that thing is called). The barman clunks his glass down into their silence just as, simultaneously, the girl and he decide to break it.
“What’s your name?” says she, and “What you drinking?” says he.
“Declan,” he answers, just as she says, “Rum and Coke.”
Again they laugh and he can sense how, already, even before the liquor hits his brain, their laughter greases the cogs of their conversation, making it easy.
“Bring the lady another rum and Coke, if you please, sir,” he calls out, lighting a cigarette and offering one to the girl, who takes it . . . and because of her instant acquiescence to drink and smoke he realizes she meant what she said earlier about his ass and that there could be other acceptances. A hard thrill rides through him from balls to toes and he wonders about the difference between the price of her body and the number of singles in his wallet. The second figure is probably higher than the first, though not by much. He’ll need to sip his drink slowly and pray she’s not a lush. Bad for the kid in her, too much rum. Quick, a sentence, anything . . . but all he can come up with, raising his glass, is a lame “And yours?”
just as Awinita thanks the barman for handing her what she knows to be a second glass of rumless Coke.
“Nita. That’s nice.”
“Weird name, Declan. Hard to remember.”
“That’s okay. I’ll say it to you again if you forget it.”
“I can say it again right away, if you like: Declan.”
“Didn’t forget it yet.”
“Yeah, but now if you do, you got an extra copy in storage.”
“Do my best.”
“Declan. Sound like a brand name. Some cleanin’ fluid or someting.”
“Good old Irish name my dad gave me. Know about Ireland?”
“Whoa . . . Got anoder fag?”
“Got a dime for de jukebox?”
He fishes a dime out of his pocket, still doing subtractions in his head: he’ll manage without his coffee tomorrow morning, and anyhow, no two ways about it, he’ll have to swallow his pride and head back up to the farm later this week.
“What’s your pleasure?” “Lady Day,” says Awinita at the same time, and this time they really laugh.
She slips off the stool and struts over to join him at the box. Despite the curve of pregnancy, her whore-strut is touchingly childlike, so much so that he surmises she might be underage after all and his heart wrenches with wanting her. “Love it,” says he, and as his left hand inserts the dime and punches in “Baby Get Lost,”
his right hand slides around the girl’s thickened waist as though it were home. When, turning, she smiles up at him and murmurs, “Hey, baby, you’re sweet,” he pulls her close.
We can CUT here . . . find them together later, after the payment and the act, naked amidst a tumble of dirty bedsheets in a cruddy little bedroom above the bar? No . . . Be with Awinita in the thick of it, her eyes widening in surprise as Declan, having gotten things under way in the traditional galloping-stallion manner of human males under the age of twenty-five, slows down, withdraws and moves to do her good. We see his head bobbing just beyond her belly swell . . .
(Yeah, you’re right, Milo, that could be tricky to get past the MPAA—don’t want an R rating, to say nothing of an X—well, we’ll cross that river when we get to it, hey? Dream first, cut later, you always used to tell me . . .)
We slip into Awinita’s mind.
A huge bird flies across the sky with a great rushing noise. It touches the sun and bursts into flame. It tumbles over and over in the air, burning, dropping away, until it vanishes behind a distant hill
. . .
When we open our eyes, Declan has moved back inside of us, gently but passionately.
“You’re so lovely,” he murmurs. “You’re so lovely . . .”
They are dressed again and sitting on the bed side by side. The spaces between their sentences are huge. Awinita strokes the back of Declan’s neck with one finger.
“Never done it wit a Indian girl?”
“Nope. Specially not with a pregnant Indian girl . . . Who’s the poppa, Nita?”
“A gone guy?”
“Well, how far along are you?”
“Ah . . . baby s’pose to be here like in May or June. Got a fag?”
“Sure . . . You’re nice, Nita. You’re amazing.”
“You’re not bad, too, Mister Irish Declan.”
“Not everyone would agree with you on that.”
“Some people tink you bad?”
He laughs. “Plenty of people. Guys up at Bordeaux, to start with.”
“You been in de jug?”
“Just got out yesterday.”
“Yeah? In for long?”
“What dey nail you for?”
“Said I stole a car.”
“Nah. I just . . . you know . . . borrowed it.”
“Sister of mine.”
Awinita releases her low laugh.
“Nah . . .”
“You take your sister’s car and she call de cops on you? Some broderly love!”
“I got a whole slew of brothers and sisters. Unfortunately Marie-Thérèse is the only one owns a car, and she’s also the meanest.”
“Marie-Thérèse? Don’t sound Irish.”
“Our ma’s French and our pa’s Irish, so in our family the girls got French names and speak French and the boys got Irish names and speak English.”
“Why not Irish?”
“’Cause the British occupied Ireland for six hundred years and made us lose our language.”
“Why not British, den?” mutters Awinita, but Declan doesn’t hear her because the drink is making him voluble.
“Point is, the boys gotta work. Can’t get a job worth shit if you’re francophone.”
“You got a good job den, Declan?”
“Nah, you kiddin’? I got a black-sheep reputation to live up to.”
She barks a laugh; he pulls her to him and revels in the feel of her firm, round tummy pushed up against his rib cage. “Wouldn’t be caught dead with a good job,” he adds, and she laughs again, though not quite as loudly.
CUT to the bar, which has filled up with customers in the meantime.
Elated, Awinita purchases real drinks with one of the two five-dollar bills Declan gave her. The barman glowers at her when he sets their glasses on the bar but she turns her back on him saying, “Keep cool, Irwin,” and spins her stool toward Declan.
“I don’t get how you can call the cops on one o’ your own family.”
“Marie-Thérèse wants me
of the family. She’d kick me off the family property if she could. Says I’m a good-for-nothing.”
“You good for
“Ah, but she doesn’t know about that, eh? She’s already married and a mom, goin’ on for thirty. I’m twenty-four, how ‘bout you, Nita?”