For Dorian’s Birthday, July 28, 2002
/“Honeysuckle becomes you better than me,” he said. “I'm not the type of person who suits any flowers.”/
Nut brown waving hair and green-grey eyes. Ripe red lips on a pale face like porcelain. From a velvety-looking hand lightly resting on the lap, the horns of the honeysuckles lean against a page of a book. The slender fingers of the opposite hand wound pliantly around the branch of the tree give this picture a graceful air of ineffable coquetry.
The model's name was Jane Morris. She was the wife of William Morris.
One afternoon at the Victoria and Albert museum. Rossetti, “The Day Dream”:
How many years have passed by since the last time I contemplated this picture here?
/“Well, since you are not a woman, you might not like the comparison. However, when you are lost in languid reverie, your expression is just so. Dreamy and beautiful. And I know frail you really are… yes, I know… very well.” /
He looked at me and blushed. In his green-grey eyes, I saw deep buried embers of lust gleaming, which reminded me of the secret sensations of the previous night, of our intimate happiness. I looked down at the floor so he could not see my flushed face. And I forgot to describe each part of the beautiful woman in the picture, and to descant again on the close resemblance between that beauty and him, or on the reason for which I had brought him here.
I looked up at him, smiling with no words. He faced to the picture again, fixing his eyes on it, and then he took my fingers gingerly. At that moment I wished this happiness could last forever.
That was 25 years ago.
We slipped out of the public school to go up to London, and chipped in our pocket money to stay at a small hotel, the Capital. There we let our passions flow freely for the first time.
The next day, we visited the V&A.
I knew she was here. So I took him straight to this fine work by Rossetti. It was the day after my fifteenth birthday. We did not consider what would happen to us next, not the result of my absence from the birthday party prepared at my home castle by my father then, nor the fuss at school caused by our escape.
“Yesterday, I met your sister Mary at the Baroness Radford's party. She was still beautiful, and resembled you. I had just had an unexpected offer from an American company. They wanted a property of mine to develop for a golf course. And do you know, it was her husband’s company. Honestly, I was surprised. James fumed that I shouldn’t have made a contract just because the lessee was an old friend. …Sometimes I think… if you appeared in my life, even accidentally as Mary just did, how blessed it would be,” Dorian murmured, feeling his tears stream down.
Richard was two years my senior, a student at my public school. He was a beautiful Adonis. When we first met, I was just fourteen years old. Still childish, cast out of my father's castle for ‘that incident’, I spent my school days quite alone. I was uncharacteristically silent and withdrawn for my first several months in that rural public school.
The first time I saw him was in the dormitory hall. While my butler, who followed from the castle to take care of the admission procedures and my baggage, went upstairs to find my assigned room, I was watching the well-kept, functional garden from a shabby window.
I can’t forget that face. When an unfamiliar voice called my name and I turned around, there he was, his expression startled. I also was surprised at his beauty, remniscent of the paintings of Rossetti, dazed by his willowy limbs about to grow out. His mien at once inspired in me a strong and ecstatic adoration. I was just a thin kid with narrow shoulders. At that moment, the memory came back to me of the desires that I had been forced to learn by that crafty man. Inevitably it rose up, soaking my brain and body. My whole body reddened, even the tips of my toes.
Richard was to be my mentor. Possibly it was because of my father’s peerage that he, the chairman of the student council, was told by the housemaster to take care of me. There was no student who could best him in scholastic attainments, character, behavior and figure. He looked after the difficult newcomer kindly. However, it took many months for us to become friends.
Probably, this was the fault of my unforeseen stubborn streak.
So, although at the time we met he was a head taller than me, by the time we were intimate enough to kiss at the arch of rose vine behind the school, my curly hair was touching his nose. Looking up a little, I pressed my mouth to his soft warm lips intently, and was comforted by his luscious fingers running though my short curls. I managed to put my arms around his thick chest, clinging to him and savoring that moment of supreme bliss. And I imagined that we would become an objet d’art of two roses with firmly entwining stems, which would go on standing still in the school’s small garden, until the world would decay and perish, and I shed silent tears. Surprised, Richard consoled me, tracing the lines of my tears with his lips. And he promised that we would always be together.
He kept his word. Richard and I were always together as long as we could be. But we were in different forms and rooms, and afraid of the public attention, so that we could not find satisfaction in our dates.
We sketched each other in the art studio, and talked for hours behind the bookshelves in the library. Lingering in the rose garden with our precious secret between us, we occasionally kissed, and tenderly caressed each other’s hard stalks through our trousers.
And at last, delirious as if with a fever, we carried out our elopement to London. On my fifteenth birthday, we were going to make love as adults did in a place nobody knew, and sleep embracing each other. It would be a ceremony to confirm our love. It would be a kind of charm, that we would be together till the next year’s birthday, and the birthday the year after that.
Richard was a late bloomer, and he had no sex experience with either a boy or a girl. And for me, it was the first time that I sincerely gave my love. It was a night that I would never forget, to the end of my life.
After several days, Richard persuaded me to return to school. We received a lot of unpleasant scolding, but the teachers could not imagine or investigate what two boys had done between the sheets at that hotel. It was seen as an escapade of two friends, or as the dutiful honor student going along with Lord Gloria’s capricious son out of concern for him.
Needless to say, all the students guessed almost accurately at the delicious and enviable truth.
Even at the age of 40, having been with many men, I think Richard and I were two of a kind, fated to be together. In those days we would say, ours was one existence from the first.
One day, Richard chanced on a phrase in his Greek philosophy text: “And when one of them meets with his other half, the actual half of himself, whether he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and will not be out of the other's sight, as I may say, even for a moment: these are the people who pass their whole lives together; yet they could not explain what they desire of one another.”
He murmured into my ear in his low husky voice, “Just a reason we wanted to return in one shape.” Sensual delight transfigured into a red flame like the harpoon tongue of Salamander, which kindled in me and let me swoon in Richard's arms. Doubtlessly, that was our most glorious afternoon in the light green shade of the trees.
Looking at the same books of paintings, and reading the same collections of poems, we often discussed what was the beauty of them, and why. And when we found the same sensibilities in each other, we were jubilant, inflated with pride. Meanwhile, we sometimes quite boyishly teased each other, shouting for joy and poking each other, frisking around like kittens.
Those were our golden days. We were happy just being together. Our only real worry was how to deal with our desire for each other. That is to say, when our desires grew beyond the point of containment... when, where and how we could gorge our lust.
It was better when we could avoid the eyes of our roommates. We sometimes made love without a spring mattress, putting up with the backache, or had sex in the shadow of a school-building with our clothes still on. We were very young. I secretly harbored dissatisfaction over having to muffle the sounds I made. We had had no more romantic memory of the act of love than that in the bed of the hotel in London. I always dreamed of a glorious vacation: we could visit my father’s castle and stay all day in my luxurious canopied bed, naked together.
In those days, Richard was the center of my life, and I was that of Richard's.
But the golden days came to an end all too soon.
If I had known that my father would die so early in life, I might not have contrived to do such a thing on the day of my birthday party. In fact, the next summer, I deeply regretted my behavior of the previous year, which had caused my father to lose face and saddened him. So when my father called and asked me to assure him that I would be there for this year’s birthday party, his voice sounding as if he were crying, I promised to return to Cornwall without fail.
“Dorian, I don't mind what else you do, but please don’t break your promise to me. There will be so many guests in my castle who want to see you.” And when my father added that I should bring “my best friend” with me to the party, I was glad. I thought he was the best father.
But Richard was preparing for a university entrance examination, and he seemed reluctant to go to Cornwall. He said disdainfully that he was willing to join the party the next year or so, though he was dubious about attending the party and being introduced as my boyfriend. Richard was the eldest son of a wealthy but not aristocratic family. His mother had been dead for many years, and his father had remarried, to a younger woman. Richard did not want to take over the family business, but to succeed in a career on his own. Even if he attended the party, he could not monopolize me there. The next year I would be able to introduce him as a promising Cantabrigian with a bright future, but now, he was a poor youth who belonged to a different world from mine. He was just a playmate, as it were, of his young lordship.
I protested. The way he felt about our relationship was contrary to all my expectations. We quarrelled, and eventually Richard gave way, and agreed to go to Cornwall with me.
The morning we were to leave, I opened the door of Richard's room and found him nearly falling over the floor, his face bright red. He had a high fever. He said it was just a cold and he would be all right, and I did not doubt this at all. I was worried about him, but I was disappointed at the same time.
I didn’t rebuke him, and I managed a weary smile at his promise to join me later. I said “I love you” with a modicum of affection, just for the sake of appearance, and I left for Cornwall alone, feeling discouraged.
My father was delighted to see me, and my guests congratulated me on my sixteenth birthday. The routine of the party had never changed throughout my childhood. It was neither disagreeable nor tedious, but I waited for Richard desperately and became irritated that the passage of time was so slow. Richard did not show up. I could not endure the pain running through my body at not being able to see him for days.
So, after staying for another four days, I gave my father a few farewell words, I hastened back to the dormitory. I was not going to complain about his absence. Only the passion to see his face moved me. I ran up the stairs straight to his room, and banged away on his door, calling his name.
But he was not in the dormitory. Not even in a hospital.
He was already dead.
I can’t remember how I spent that summer. I was so unhinged that I was thrown out of the dormitory and into a sanitarium. When I recovered enough to feed myself, the season for colored leaves had stolen over us. If the housemaster hadn’t persistently told me that Richard had died of an incurable disease and that it had nothing to do with my making him study hard so that he could take a short trip to Cornwall, I might have lost my senses for good. But even after leaving for the sanitarium, I suspected that the housemaster had deceived me to ease my mind, so I secretly spent money, without bringing the matter to my father, to investigate Richard’s death. And at last I concluded the housemaster was not altogether a liar.
I did not rebound wholly from his death until after entering Oxford University. I could not go to Cambridge University; the memories would have been too painful. When I arrived at Oxford, I had made up my mind: I would never again love someone so profoundly.
After that, my good looks attracted plenty of casual relationships, one after another. I played out dramas of love with many men. I even tried affairs which were not deep, yet looked superficially like close relationships. As I put on years, I came to think that transient affairs with male prostitutes weren’t so bad, or, blasé with experience, I found that the safest way, with the least after-trouble, was to support a particular lover as a wealthy patron. But I had firmly rejected true love, never had loved someone deeply with my whole body and soul.
Never loved anyone.
Not until now.
“Dorian,” someone called behind him.
It was Klaus, wearing an elegant gray suit. Apparently he had just come from the office. “Your men told me you were here,” he said.
Dorian had told Bonham that he was heading to the V & A, but he had not expected to see Klaus, who was in London on duty, so early in the evening. Their affair had started six months ago. Since then, they had enjoyed nights together when occasion allowed.Klaus must have walked along the hallway to the Henry Cole Wing, looking into each room of the museum to find me, in spite of being tired after work. Dorian felt pleased and bashful.
“Getting a preview of the picture before stealing it?” Klaus teased.
Steal this picture? Oddly enough, Dorian had never thought of that. “No.”
“She is a beauty,” Klaus conceded, looking up at the picture.
“She looks like my old lover.”
That got Klaus’s attention. “You had a girlfriend?” he jibed, clearly amused.
Dorian giggled. “No. A male lover, of course.”
Klaus’s tone changed. “I won’t let that pass.”
“Really?” Dorian said with a smile. He stepped back to Klaus’s side, and whispered at his lover's profile, “Relax, lover. He died twenty-five years ago.”
Klaus fell silent and stood still as if with condolence, waiting for Dorian. Dorian lingered in front of the picture for a while. Eventually he turned to leave.
They got on the elevator and walked down the long hallway. Inside the labyrinth of the museum there were many exhibits, familiar to Dorian since childhood, standing silently with eternal beauty. They came into view of a sudden, allowing his mind to ripple gently. Dorian gave himself up to the endless illusion, allured by the memory seared on his mind:
Clawing solid flesh and grinding pale skin, they had poured themselves into each other until the night’s passion had sunk down into the tense chill air of dawn. Klaus had awakened from his doze and looked down at Dorian silently, resting on one elbow.
Dorian could imagine his expression without opening his eyes. He knew Klaus had asked himself any number of times: Why he had fallen in love with someone of the same sex as himself? How could he feel so at ease with him? Why had he met someone – Dorian – who made him want to share his soul? Could he allow himself this joy? What could he do with this relationship?
Just as well that Dorian had kept his eyes shut.
Klaus was a tender lover. He was solemn, seldom engaging in clever banter. But Dorian drew peace and contentment from being cherished by a sincere and faithful man.
Pretending to sleep, Dorian had nuzzled against Klaus's arm, and Klaus had gently pulled the sheet over his shoulder, careful not to awaken him.
Bitter wariness welled up, and Dorian tried not to hope that the warmth at his fingers and this happiness would continue forever. He was afraid to love someone without any thoughts of the future, as he had loved Richard.
Every time they turned a corner, a faint odor of cigarette came from Klaus’s jacket. He was suddenly reminded of Klaus's bullet scar that he had discovered when he had seen his naked shoulder on their first night.
“Don’t leave me alone,” Dorian murmured without thinking.
When they got to the entrance, the sun had gone down and the rain had set in.
“On a day like this, you should bring an umbrella.” Klaus held the umbrella over Dorian's head. After pushing the handle of the umbrella toward Dorian, he moved as if to walk unsheltered in the rain.
Dorian stopped him hastily. “Come back here, Klaus. No one will care if two men share an umbrella. They’ll just think one of us is a dope who forgot his.”
Halfway down the stone steps, Klaus turned around.
“Maybe so,” he said and came back. He grabbed the umbrella and strode off. “Besides, they would regard you as the idiot, and no mistake.”
He means ‘follow me if you want to.’ Dorian chuckled, running after him.
“Honestly, everyone should see that we’re lovers at a glance.”
“Don’t play with me!” Klaus said.
He strode on without looking at Dorian.
“Do you…want to have dinner with me?” Klaus seemed nervous as he continued. “It is your birthday and, ah… I have something to talk over with you.”
“If it’s about breaking up, I don’t want to hear it.”
“I don’t imagine I can get rid of a persistent thief just by talking!” Klaus said in an ill-humored tone, but continued, “Do you remember what we were talking about, Dorian?”
Dorian took a breath. Several times he had mentioned renting a flat in Bonn.
“All right, darling, we have plenty of time today. We could go to your hotel and have a drink. Where’re you staying?”
“Over there.” Walking with an umbrella and lighting a cigarette laboriously, he took a deep breath and said, “ I’m staying at the Capital.”
Dorian halted. The rain, pouring down harder now, wetted his hair.
Klaus stopped and returned back to him and pulled Dorian back under the umbrella. “What’s wrong? You aren’t going to tell me this place holds fond memories, are you?”
“Well, sort of."
A silence filled the space between them.
“Ah, but I’m not staying at your favorite silly royal suite,” Klaus said.
Dorian burst into laughter. What if it’s the same room?
“Don’t be silly. I couldn’t stay at a suite! I was only fifteen years old and my lover was seventeen!”
Klaus laughed too. “Fool! Were you ever a normal boy?” He thought for a moment and said in a serious tone, “If you want the luxury suite, I can change rooms. Or we can go to another hotel if you want.”
Under the umbrella Dorian gazed at Klaus, and found his face faintly flushed. I have seen these green-grey eyes before, he thought.
“You’re so sweet,” he murmured. Klaus shrugged. Dorian continued to look at him. He called his old sweetheart's name in his mind.
He knew it would be the last time he called to him.
“All right. Let’s go to the Capital.”
The rain pattered down on the umbrella above them.
“Let’s eat something first,” Klaus turned and walked on.
Dorian followed him. His shoes lightly splashed, just once.
illustrations by Yuria