Sunday, May 28th, 2023

Bath Night: Part 2

Bath Night

Part 2

Fiction by David A. Johnstone

Originally published in Tangents 1.10

July 1966, pp. 7–9.
(See part 1)

John Cobourne sat back into the comfortable warmth of his chair. Home…warm and cozy. That had always been his dream. Even when he had lived with Gordon, who was born in the city of London, who came to work in the pits, unsuitable for such hard work. And then the dreadful accident that had robbed Gordon of his life and had crippled John. He looked at his stepson as he washed boyishly, his limbs sticking out awkwardley [sic] over the rough sides of the tin bath. How like Gordon’s back…how white those shoulders. John’s mouth felt dry, like sawdust….

When Mabel was here bustling around he wouldn’t have looked at Ken, yet now…being alone with Ken made the past come rushing back. He tried hard not to notice the dark hair curling in a spiral to the navel. The sparse hairs on Ken’s chest. John heard the voice of devils whispering. They tempted, they suggested. These dark evil devils crept into the musty cobwebbed passages of his mind. Opened long locked doors. Crept like beasts through the corridors of his brain. “Touch him” they tempted. “Just feel his skin” they whispered….

Ken passed the sponge over his body happily. He loved bath night. Although he dreamed always of his own bathroom. His own house even. With a bathroom, white tiled, curtains with fishes on them. Jars of bath salts. A little nail brush….

Through his half closed lids his eyes took in the staring figure of his stepfather. John was white, his eyes burning strangely. Davy’s voice came back to him. “He likes young boys.” Ken sat upright. He opened his eyes wide and said.

“You get a kick out of watching me bathing don’t you, John?”

“Wwwhat-ah-yes, Ken lad, you’ve a fine body” John stuttered, embarrassed. His hands trembled a little as he picked up the paper.

“Tell the truth John” said Ken “tell me about your boyfriend, the one you had when you got crippled. The one you lived with before marrying my mother”.

“Who has been talking to you” John shouted, his face red. Who’s been telling you about me? It’s true I lived with another chap for a year but what the hell’s it got to do with anyone?”

“Then you did live with him. Did you… did you Oh god this is difficult. Did you make love to him like you would a girl?” Ken looked away. John felt tears start picking the corners of his eyes. Damn this blasted boy and his questions….

“Yes . .” He screamed “YES I DID! I LOVED HIM!”

Ken felt powerful. Seeing the man’s tears. He suddenly wanted to hurt this lame man. The bloody homo who had married his mother. To think of John in bed with a man made Ken feel strange. Not disgusted but, well, weird. He looked at the man.

“Please, John, I’m sorry. Here. Wash my back for me.”

John took the flannel. He began to wash the bent back. Ken whispered “John, what is it like?”

“What is what like Ken lad?” John asked.

“Making love to another fellow.”

“Ken why do you ask these questions. I’m a happily married man now. I love your mum very much. It is possible to love a man in the same way. I loved Gordon. It was a sincere love. A love between two men can be as wonderful as a love between man and woman. Sometimes more so.”

Ken looked up and whispered “John do you fancy me?”

“Stop it Ken. Shut up.”

“Well you’re queer. Don’t you mind being called that?”

“No, I don’t care. Now for Christ’s sake leave me alone.”

Ken felt his own temper begin to rise. But in it was another, stranger desire. He reached up and pulled John closer and kissed him. Why, he couldn’t say. He knew he wanted to do it. He kissed the startled cripple. Kissed him not like a son. Kissed him as if it had been Freda from next door. Freda who smelt of lavendar [sic] and body odour. Whose blouse was ringed under each arm. Who chewed gum in the cinema. Ken kissed her but hated it. When he kissed John it tasted fresh.

John pulled away, his face white. Eyes brimming with tears. He slapped Ken across the face splashing water everywhere. Ken’s head rocked back. For a moment he wanted to spit in John’s eye. But instead he laughed.

“Go on John kiss me back. That’s what you’d like to do. Here, touch me. Put your hand down here.” Ken made the suggestion raising his buttocks from the grey water. He was slightly excited. John got up. He limped to the door. He stood with his head against the cold woodwork.

Ken stepped out of the water. He grabbed the towel. He dried his body. Neither spoke. Ken felt mean. Yet somehow that kiss had affected him. He looked at the man. Saw the shoulders shaking. He’d been real mean to his step father. Everyone had a past they wanted to hide. He said softly “John, please, I’m sorry. I hate myself for what I said. Please forgive me. Come on and dry my back for me.”

John limped over. He took the towel and began to slowly pat the shoulder, thighs and buttocks. Then Ken turned. He looked into John’s eyes.

“Am I forgiven?”

John smiled “Yes of course.” This time he kissed Ken, gently on the forehead. Ken’s arms went around the man. He hugged him. John dropped the towel not knowing what to do. His hands hung at first over the white flesh. Then gradually they touched Ken’s back. Ken looked up and said. “Oh God John, after all that talk, I think I’m queer too.”

“No you’re not. You’ll forget it.”

Ken smiled. Outside came the sound of footsteps. Father and son drew apart guiltily. The steps went past the house.

“I thought it was Mum,” Ken laughed. John smiled. “Yeah, so did I, lad.”

“John I’m glad we are friends again. Your secret is safe with me. If anyone else tells me stories about you they’ll get a punch in the mouth.”

“Thanks Ken lad.”

“Promise me one thing, John,” Ken said, pulling on his underpants.

“What’s that?”

“That you’ll tell me more about this friend of yours. You did try to save his life in that mine didn’t you?”

“Yes lad,” John admitted. “That’s how this leg got crippled.”

“You must have loved him a lot then?”

“No one will ever know. But now, lad, let’s get summer laid. Your mum will be back soon.”

. . . . . . .

Again the sound of footsteps. Weary footsteps. The door opened. In the doorway stood Mable. She smiled fondly at her son. What a marvellous [sic] boy he was—twenty-two in a few weeks’ time. She felt proud of him. And in the armchair her husband, John. She went across and kissed him lightly on the forehead.

“Hello dear,” she said sitting down beside him. “How about a nice cup of tea for your poor half-dead wife?”

Ken laughed suddenly and John got up. He laughed too. “Yes, my dear—immediately.” “Come on, Ken lad, get this mess cleared away.”

“Okay Dad” Ken said. It was the first time he’d called John Dad, it sounded strange. Mabel sat back, kicked off her shoes. Happy in her own home. Proud and content.

©1966, 2018 by The Tangent Group. All rights reserved.


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