Thursday, July 04, 2013

Worlds within Worlds #6.2


I have counted a hundred breaths twenty times; still my body refuses to sleep.
Brother Sam sleeps. A while into my count, after we had settled on separate sides of the hot hearth, he had crawled hand-by-knee over to me and shaped his limbs around mine. I had kept my eyes closed and allowed a few snores to rattle from my throat; apparently he was not looking to play for his true snores soon joined my false ones in an offbeat duet.
There is a comfort in his warm skin, but not enough to still the chaotic chants of my silent voice. Oh, how I sing in my head, sound on sound: mum, dad; alive, dead. Nonsense words ripe in their healing pools deep in my lung, begging for release and welcome – day, night; sun, thunder ...
Slowly I shift the weight of the man's leg from my hip – my right hip, I remember – and ease my body from his cuddle. The fire has burned to embers and glowing ash; I should add more logs to it: it had taken me an age to coax flames from the tinder.
Let it burn out.
I step towards the long wall of the house, settle myself down in a gap between the plank walls where my legs can dangle over the platform’s edge high above the waves.
The world I look upon is far darker than it should be. Above me, the clouds are shaking the last of their rain down to the sea's purple waters; only the tightest shreds of mauve sky streak between their grey towers. The – lightning – that so scared me has gone, and the storm no longer bellows in pain. Even the wind is settling back to its true path: as I sit I can hear its gusts ruffle the fronds that stack over the roof; feel them buffet my face.
Mum. Dad ...
I know these words. I know the intimate shape of them in my throat, the lip's kiss of one and the tongue's tut of the other. I know their touch around my body.
I cannot remember them.
This thought pulls another from my memory. A guardian's sharp yellow beak pressing into my flesh as it pushed words into my hidden ear: I know you. I do not remember you.
It has been eighteen sleeps since I broke from the healing pool. I haven't seen a guardian since before my first sleep.
No brothers, no women. No guardians ...
'Are you crying?'
His voice startles me! I have to grab at the wall to stop my body flinging itself into the air. An instant later I feel his hands clutch around my arm.
I stare at his thumbs, his arms; his face. It takes an effort for me to draw air into my chest and, when it departs, it carries a laugh with it.
'Fuck, man! When did you learn to be so quiet?'
Brother Sam smiles, loosens his grip and slaps me on the shoulder as he settles on the ledge next to me. 'Your eyes are wet ...'
'It still rains ...'
'... and red. I didn’t think you were capable of crying.'
As he speaks the words, I realise the truth in them. I can feel the tell of an ache in my face that signals a moment of failure, a memory of grief as when the opposition draws clear beyond the power of my sinews, the strength of my gang mates, to pull level. It is a feeling of undeniable, unalterable loss.
A sharper gust shivers my skin. 'I'm cold,' I reply. 'The fire’s almost out.'
'And that makes you cry, Savage?'
'Another nonsense word springs from your tongue. What does "sav-edj" mean?'
'You haven't told me your name yet. "Savage" is what you do, with your flint knives and spears and digging for eggs in the mud. I don’t know what else to call you.'
I consider these words for a moment. Names are ... difficult ... things. I've learned to my cost that my name in the wrong mouth can tether me as effectively as any stake. But I don't know how to explain this to the man.
I gaze across the bay to watch the waves shatter themselves in the rocks. Thankfully, Sam chooses to honour my silence. I do not move my hand away when he nets it in his fingers.
Again I count breaths: ten; twenty; thirty. The part of me that is not counting is assessing the storm's damage to the trees around the bay: there will be plenty of branches and kindling to harvest when I next wake.
Fingers stroke across my forearm, pinch at my elbow before easing down to the wrist and into my palm. It is a welcome gesture, I realise. My digits need no order from me to spread wide their welcome.
'A man I knew told me, once, about a world with yellow skies. And I heard a woman claim she had walked under skies that turned blue, then black, then blue again – though that sky hosted all colours because there was fire in it.'
When he draws my hand into his lap I follow its tug, letting my shoulder – my left shoulder – rest against his. 'What colour was your sky?'
'Blue,' he answers after a pause. 'When I was alive, my sky was as blue as my Mum's eyes.' His free hand travels as across my back as he speaks, and comes to rest on my hip. I feel the bristle of his chin as it nudges towards my ear.
'Tell me about your "alive".'
He sighs as his head nestles against mine. 'My life? I don't know ... sometimes I struggle to remember it. I was born in a big city called London – it used to be the biggest city in the world ... it used to rule the world, though that was before my time. I grew up there, went to school, then college for a while. I worked and lived there; I wish I had travelled more, now: so much to see ... but then most of the world came to London so I didn’t really need to travel. The kids at my school spoke dozens of different languages ...'
Most of his words are empty gourds of meaning to me, but I enjoy their sound. 'You told me about "ing-lish" – this is a "language", yes?'
'I can say "fuck off" in nine languages.'
When I turn to look at him, he presses his half-parted lips against mine. The shock of the act flicks my head backwards.
'I'm sorry ... you don't want ... this?'
I look into his face and see a whisper of hurt and worry in its set. The angle of his stare begs an answer from me.
'Want ... I do not know your meaning. We have already met ... yet your hands ... they tell of a different thing. They say you want us to fuck.'
'So you are gay – I guessed you were.' My eyes must be crossed in confusion. 'Homosexual. You like to fuck men?'
'Ah!' I say as the sprays of misunderstanding clear from my thoughts. 'You do talk of comfort. I know this now. If no woman is willing to give comfort then yes, there is no shame in taking it from a willing brother. But kisses like that one ... they are a woman's trap!'
His smile is enough to let me know that he doesn't understand my words. How can I explain this?
'Listen to my words. Sometimes a woman will use her lips to – to snap a man from the safety of his gang mates. And yet a woman's kiss is a great pleasure; all men will risk everything for the gift of a woman's kiss, and the greater gifts that follow it. But such kisses can loosen the words in our heads and set our purposes to the flames.'
I squeeze his fingers between mine. 'All gifts have a reckoning. So brothers do not kiss ... well, we kiss to welcome each other, and to congratulate each other on the success of our work together. But we do not kiss like a woman kisses, not for ... this kind of comfort.'
He nods his head, still smiling. 'In my world, it's the other way round. Men may never kiss each other in public. We must shake hands when we meet, and can slap each other on the back for a good job. But kissing is a secret thing, done between men when they're alone.'
'In your world there are no women?'
Now he laughs at me. 'Of course we have women! And yes, they kiss just like men. All sorts of kissing. It's normal. Everybody does it.'
I can feel my surprise stretch my face. 'Normal?'
'Perfectly normal!'
I can only shake my head. 'Your kiss, it was a dangerous kiss! Do you not know that? Women are dangerous: they use that sort of kiss to catch men.'
Sam laughs. 'And men don't like to be caught by women? It sounds like a gay paradise!'
'Not always so happy. Our women are often hungry after they fuck, and they adore the taste of raw man-flesh. That is the reckoning of a woman's kiss.'
'They eat ...? I don't get what you're saying – you're laughing at me.'
'They don't just eat men. They have a use for every part of a man's body: the skin makes good hide, and the sinews ...'
'People mustn't eat each other: that's wrong!'
'How do you mean wrong?' I consider his obvious disgust. 'What else should be done to a man's flesh once his Vital Breath has returned to the pools? Of course, a man will only eat his brother's flesh after a Race has been won. And we always gift our leader's remains to the women afterwards. Though it is true that some women prefer to eat a man's flesh while it still holds the Vital Breath ...' A memory of pain shudders my spine 'That is never a good thing – those women are never to be trusted ...'
I look across the bay to the hill. The trees no longer fight amongst each other, and the waves that lap on the rocks have lulled to a caress. Achoa had very sharp teeth, I remember.
'So ... you love men in a different way to how you love women.'
I give his words time to play in my ears.
'I suppose so. Why else would Fol Huun give men and women different shapes? And you can never turn your back on a woman.'
'But you always fuck a man from behind?'
'It usually ends up that way. It depends on how we wrestle – the stronger will take the weaker, but when two men are well matched they may share their pleasure ... ' I lift our joined hands to my face, pull his thumb to my mouth – in, and out '... like that.'
He brings his head forward, lets his teeth nibble on my little finger. 'So men do eat each other.'
'Maybe we – taste – each other. Sometimes.'
'But you never taste each other's tongues.'
'Only to say "well done" ...'
'Would you let me say "well done" to you? You know I am not a woman ...' Now he is drawing our hands back down to his thighs, then higher, untangling our fingers so he can cup my palm around his growing prick '... and I only want to taste you, never eat you.'
When his – right – arm tightens around my waist, and his fingers stroke their way to my own twitching stalk, my body does what my Inner Voice would not. I shift my legs and relax into his embrace.
'I think you are not from Fol Huun, just like Brother Geit said he came from a different place. Maybe he didn't lie.'
I arch my neck back to look at Sam. 'Geit kissed me once, as a woman kisses, and he didn't eat me – this is true.' I reach up to let our lips brush past each other. 'But I shall keep my eyes open, just in case.'
His tongue is quick between the breach of my teeth; swift darts to test their roots in my gum before rolling under, then over, my own word-shaper. He tastes – salty, and dry: a man in need of a drink, keen to suckle on saliva. He has no fear; I watch as lids slip lazily over eyes. When he sighs air through his mouth I accept the gift readily into my lungs, hug it in ribs and – reluctantly return it.
Raindrops peck on my leg where it reaches beyond the safety of the long-house's planks. When his teeth nip at my lip I tense my toes straight and stiffen the sinews around my – right – knee. I push my – left – shoulder deeper into his chest ... and we topple together; his elbow halts our slow fall.
He breaks the kiss with a grin, his lids half-opening as he pulls back his head until only our nose-tips touch. 'You are eager. You've played this game before!'
An instinct pulls me from the moment: quick glances around the space to check for knives and binding ropes.
'What's wrong?'
'Nothing.' Which is true. Our nets lie beyond the glowing hearthstone, my knife and tools safely hidden within them.
'You want to wrestle?' He moves his hand away from my groin to grasp my shoulder. I can smell my must on his fingers.
I move my own hand and catch his meat-stones, grip the neck of their sack in a drawstring of thumb and finger. 'I'm good at wrestling. I will not hurt you too badly.'
He looks down at his groin, and laughs. 'That must be against the rules!'
'Only the Race has rules.'
'That's not fair!' He surprises me with another kiss, slipping the full length of his tongue into my mouth. I – welcome – his move, loosen my jaw to accommodate the intruder.
I close my eyes and lose myself in the wrestling of tongues. He fights with guile and slippery persuasion, but I am not defenceless. My mouth does not need instruction from me to take advantage of a moment's laxness; soon my tongue-tip pushes at the roots of his sharp teeth.
'My arm hurts,' Sam says after a while. 'Shift up.'
Taking advantage of our shifting weights, my eyes reflexively check the long house as my hand strokes the skin of his thigh.
'You really don't trust me?'
I stare into his eyes and smile my response.
'Tell me your name, savage.'
'Kal,' I say. 'My brothers call me Kal.'
I watch his face slacken. 'Kal,' he repeats.
'Mm.' I reach my jaw towards his face, ready to resume the kissing battle. When our lips touch – he doesn't react.
His muscles are tightening, in his legs, his chest. I know these signals: already I'm flexing my limbs into my torso when he shifts and growls.
'No!' he screams. A foot punches into my back, hard. The other slams into my buttocks. 'Out! Get out!'
I realise without panic that my body has chosen the wrong strategy. I should have spread my limbs, kept my weight low to the floor. Instead I am closer to the edge than my sudden attacker, with nothing to hold on to.
'Get out! Get out!' The kicks come fast now, hard, each one pushing me closer to the gap in the wall. In moments my buttocks balance on the floor's edge.
'Get out of ME!'
... And I fly! Branches rear up to catch me. I reach out my hands – and miss. One bough knocks the breath from my belly; a second sends me spinning. A third snaps my neck back. I reach out again – but my arm will not move. I tumble through leaves, slower now: the wind slows and my heartbeat slows; a noise that has followed me deepens – it is my noise. My scream. Slowly I scream; slowly the ground grows larger, grass over rocks. Sharp, sharp rocks ...
I bounce. I roll. The rock has stolen my scream. Another tumble brings me to the water – cold, vibrant water on my face. It comes to wash the dirt from my scream. It comes to heal me. I loosen my bitten tongue from my jaw and let the water seep into my mouth ...
I cannot close my eyes ...
The water is red ... red like ... mother ... and warm ...

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