Eyes I Dare Not Meet in Dreams
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
“Blunt, isn’t it?”
“Yes. You are Clive Bell’s son.”
“My undeserved fame has spread, I see.”
“Your father’s work is known to me, that is all.”
“You know art?”
“It is my study.”
“At Cambridge?” Bell asked incredulously.
“Among traditionalists, it is known as French literature.”
“By traditionalists, I suppose you mean imbeciles.”
Blunt smiled and changed the subject. “How do you find Cambridge?”
“At this hour, it rather resembles Bloomsbury about four in the afternoon.” Bell’s amusement was darkened with a hint of distaste.
“I cannot say I am much of a light at these affairs.” The pop of a champagne cork startled him - he jerked his head around and visibly relaxed as the source of the noise became evident. Nervously, he smoothed back a curling lock of hair that had come loose.
“You prefer teaching?”
“Hardly. I attend the student functions for a reason.”
“The shriveled don is not your destiny?”
“It is merely a stopping place that allows me to write and seek an alternative. Perhaps your father could be of assistance.”
“I barely know him, to be perfectly frank. But your article on Rivera is making the rounds at home. I have been ordered to read it before I return, though I daresay they will be on to the next intellectual bauble by the time I bother going back.”
“High praise indeed.”
Bell caught the faint trace of amusement in Blunt’s voice and laughed. “I suppose it is, in truth.”
“Have you an interest in art yourself?”
“As long as it is neither my mother’s nor Duncan’s.”
“If you like, I’ve some interesting work in my rooms. Original canvases and drawings, not just prints. Current European work.”
“I would be interested.”
Drunken, excited voices pelted them. “Bell, there you are! How is Virginia?!”
“You can’t call her that. She is not your aunt; she’s Julian’s. You must call her ‘Mrs Woolf’. How is your family, Julian?”
“Quite well, quite well.” When Bell managed to disentangle himself from the melee, Blunt had disappeared.
I am not certain he can understand what I gave him. I am an aberration in my family, not a sterling example. I do believe they have all fucked each other, not to put too fine a point on it - all except my mother and Aunt Virginia, of course, though I would not put it past my mother. One builds one’s reputation by being unusual, especially by being incorrigible.
But I am not one of them. I think it disappoints them, but what can I do? I am something too coarse, or too fine. Why must I feel I must dare to say I prefer women exclusively? And not only that, but one woman at a time. It is all well and good for them if their permutations make them happier than they act, but I want nothing of their false freedom. They are all slaves to each other and to convention: because they must be unconventional, they are as tied to society as anyone else. I would rather be conventional. One woman at a time, and one day, one woman forever. My father could never have one woman forever, and my mother could never have one man, and Duncan could never choose if he wanted a man or a woman, so how could he select one human being with whom to spend the rest of his life? It is, in many ways, a wonder that I could have come of their blood and their ideas.
That is why I have to go, really, why I always have to go. To Cambridge, to Spain. I need my freedom to be conventional. To be a conventional rebel who takes mistresses and becomes a socialist. A conventional rebel who goes to Spain to fight fascism on its first battlefield. I break my mother’s heart because I go to war. To war - not because I might be hurt, but because I go to fight. I come from a family of lovers in all senses. We do not fight the fascists - we shag ourselves to death in their faces and prove that to be unconventional is to be destructive rather than creative. I promised her I would merely drive an ambulance, but I shall never shirk my duty to my fellow man. I will do what I must, and my mother’s sensitivities be damned. I am my own man, not her little boy.
And yet, despite everything, I am most myself in his arms. He listens to me. He feeds my pleasures. He twists himself about because I want to see his face when we make love. We do not fuck each other as my parents fuck their circle. We have no desperation. We do not crave salvation from each other. We are merely pleasant together. We talk, we kiss, we spend hours in bed. I will miss these evenings terribly.
But I am not like him, either. He is discrete to the point of froideur. He is, generally, quite masculine except for some of his gestures. One might not take him for a homosexual right away - I did not when we first met, though after five minutes, I did rather suspect. After all, that habit he has of smoothing is hair is quite telling. But he is not at all like that young protégé of his, that completely mad Burgess who turns to a blushing debutant whenever I cross his sight. He is in no way subtle. Amusing, and with a sort of kindness, but not subtle. Anthony is subtle. He apologised for the utter snub his friends gave us at the rally and the party. Well, Guy did not snub me, entirely, but he cannot be open with me anymore. I was pained because I did not know what to believe. Anthony ignored me entirely, so I was disappointed that night, and I was cross when he came to me the next, but something grand is going to happen for him and his set, and he apologised so prettily that I had to allow him one final kiss. And that final kiss became a final night spent together. And that isn’t me at all. That is Duncan and Bunny, not me. Except that I do not regret that we went to bed one last time. My greatest fear is that I may never see him again.
And so here I stand, bound for Spain with Luisa, and yet I think only of him. I have become like my parents after all, with two lovers at a time, of two different sexes. I try to look at him objectively, as I stand next to Luisa with her incomparable beauty, for there must be something different in him that can create these desires I never have for other men. I cannot answer: he is not effeminate, he is not handsome, he is not earnest - and yet those perhaps are the answers. Anthony is such a cold fish and quite a genius in public, but in bed, he is neither cold nor experienced. I suspect that as he is mine, I am his. We both have no experience of other men, and his tentative grasp of romance and service is entrancing. His emotions, unlike those of my family, unlike those of women, are reserved for me alone. Well, perhaps for me and his set - after all, Burgess and Philby must receive something from him other than his genius. Neither of them could care less about art. But I feel the full range of his emotions is reserved only for me. I have seen him laugh and held him as he cried.
I stand next to Luisa, watching the English coast fade into the mist, but rather than my childhood, or my future, despite myself, I think of Anthony.
“I feared you would not see me.”
“Why are you here?” Julian stood blocking the doorway, arms crossed, his delicate features creased by a scowl.
“I wanted to apologise.”
“Apologise. I hate your set. Guy, fine; I see the affinity. And between him and a man like Philby. But join MacLean and you all turn cold, except within your little set.”
“I’ve neglected you.”
“You’ve neglected yourself. You won’t even give money to fight fascism when a month ago, you agreed with me that we have to help the cause of freedom everywhere.”
“If I have to choose between betraying my country and betraying a friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.”
“Don’t you dare quote Forster at me! You, with your royalist pretensions. I know the man! He’d be appalled to hear you. Am I no longer a friend? You’ve just lumped me in with ‘country’!”
“Julian.” Anthony looked down. “I can’t talk about it. May I please come in? I can try to explain better in private.”
Julian stepped back, but it was left to Anthony to lock the door.
“Important things are happening. For all of us. For the cause. Freedom. Security. An end to class and poverty. Throughout Europe. A renewed England. Isn’t that what we want?”
“The fascists are gaining. Even here. Don’t you see the rainstorm sweeping away your friends? Philby gave up Miriam Block.”
“That was a fling, like all of Philby’s women.”
“No great affinity, then,” Julian replied archly.
“Are you trying to imply that giving up a woman equates to giving up an ideology?”
Julian was silent.
“I wish I were allowed to explain. But I can’t. I’m not allowed. We’ve been chosen to do grand things. But to accomplish them, we must not appear radical. My friends do come above everything. We should not have been there at all, either at the rally or the party last night. But I had to see you, and Guy had to see you. Especially last night, to say goodbye. You were right not to speak to us after the appalling scene we must have made at the rally. We were all sick over it. I wish I could tell you why our neutrality is so important.”
“Neutrality?” Julian interrupted hotly. “Guy and Philby are turning fascist!”
“A necessary guise only so that when they come to rest in the middle of the road, it will be believed. They are needed for positions of importance. I should not have said even that.”
Julian already appeared calmer. “I shan’t tell a soul. But I don’t know what to believe of you anymore.”
“We will never change sides. That is all you have to believe. ‘Humanity above politics’.”
“‘Freedom and plenty for all’,” Julian finished the oath they had made to each other years earlier. “I’m not going to understand it all, am I?”
“In years to come, I hope everyone will know and understand the whole truth of it. I wanted to bring you with us, but a poet is of little use in this decaying age.”
“The son of Bloomsbury is too disreputable, anyway, regardless of his own merits.”
“It’s all right. This venture will, I hope, finally put Bloomsbury behind me.”
“You deserve to shine on your own.” Anthony paused as if to say something important, but he merely finished, “I should go. I must be disturbing your woman’s sleep.”
“Luisa is staying with Miriam Block.”
Anthony leaned in and kissed him softly. “How ought I to say goodbye, in that case?”
“With the fortitude of an Englishwoman of decent heart and stout bosom.”
They both laughed. “I should regret having introduced you to Guy.”
“His attentions are flattering, really. Obnoxious, sometimes, but flattering. I deserve the punishment for having denigrated your work when we first met.”
“You deserve nothing of the sort. Had I known he was quite so keen, I would never have encouraged him. You’ve enough flatterers in those who heap adulation upon your parents’ generation. But you have not actually answered my question. I fear I am not an Englishwoman of decent heart.”
Julian wrapped his arms around Anthony’s solid frame. “But you are an Englishwoman of stout bosom.” He kissed Anthony again. “Very well, how did the sweetheart say goodbye to her soldier in the last war?”
Anthony licked slowly along Julian’s jaw. “How did the nurse say goodbye to her sweetheart in the Home Office?”
“As if you can compare reader at University College to the Home Office!” Julian exclaimed, clearly implying the superiority of the university. “If she were worthy, I suppose she might do this.” He grabbed Anthony by the necktie to direct his mouth back for another kiss, firmer and wetter than the last.
When they at last broke, only to begin again, Anthony found his fingers at Julian’s throat, fumbling blindly for the button to his limp collar. Julian broke away to help him, and soon the sofa was strewn with coats, collars, and Anthony’s necktie. The door to the bedroom stood open and Julian took Anthony by the hand to lead him inside.
The bed was soon rumpled as shirts and trousers gave way under continued fondling. Socks and drawers soon joined the pile obscuring the bedside carpet. Naked, the speed increased, and Anthony groaned as Julian teased his navel with his quick tongue rather than his cock. He grabbed at Julian but succeeded only in mussing the dark hair. The resulting effect was rather charming, however, when Julian looked up to grin cheekily at his lover.
Julian finally moved lower, his tongue caressing the head of Anthony’s cock. Anthony’s moans grew louder and higher pitched. Julian left off in order to stifle the noise with a kiss. “I haven’t got any oil,” he whispered. “If you want it complete, you must help me.”
“Must you stop?”
“It is up to you. Oh, don’t look at me like that!” Julian exclaimed in response to Anthony’s pout. “Anyone would take you for Guy!”
Anthony broke down in a fit of giggles at the image. “Never! Come, come, I’ll play along like a good lad. But must you stop, truly?”
“You are incorrigible. No one else would believe it of you. Slide down. If we are to do this, I need some room for my legs.”
Anthony was less experienced than Julian, but it had been months since Julian had felt any tongue around his cock. Luisa was not forthcoming in that way - since it only pleasured the man, it was merely a form of service to the faltering patriarchy. Anthony’s ministrations lacked variety, but he was a willing servant when necessary, and his methodical in-and-out motion was comforting and familiar. When he felt nearly ready to burst, he pulled out of Anthony’s embrace in order to slow down and prepare for the finale.
Anthony instinctively raised his legs to expose his bottom, a contortion no missionary would have accepted as typical of the proper position. Julian wet his fingers and began to carefully stretch Anthony’s muscles. As he pushed himself inside, Anthony began to moan again. In unison, they rocked and cried, Anthony completely filled by Julian and Julian feeling complete in Anthony’s arms. Wordlessly, they shouted their highest praise of each other, crying in pleasure as feelings could not be contained. Anthony climaxed with an arching spray across Julian’s chest, and Julian spent his fury soon after.
They lay side-by-side, breathing heavily. Julian reached over to stroke Anthony’s cheek and was not surprised to feel tears streaming from the closed eyes. He buried his face in Anthony’s shoulder and began to cry silently. He felt each jerk as Anthony tried to contain his sobs, but he was too overcome with his own emotions to kiss away the tears as he had once been able to do. They clung to each other, blinded by tears, grasping at skin and hair, both trying to take every possible sensation to memory as if the night might be their last.
Anthony was the first to return to the soft kisses that reminded them both of their first night together. Julian was the first to break the silence. “I shall miss you,” he whispered. “You have all of them, and what will I have?”
“I do not have them, not in this way. What of Luisa?”
“She has my body, but she cannot comprehend my soul.”
“None of us can. You are baffling. An enigma.” Anthony kissed him again. “I cannot find another enigma.”
“You are the other enigma.” Julian swiped futilely at the tears on his own cheeks. “I keep expecting the Picasso to stare at me. Or the Poussin. It feels wrong to be in my rooms.”
“They are in different places now. I’ve taken a house with Guy and his new friend. The light is different there, so the Picasso will go near where the Poussin is now, and the Poussin will be in a different room entirely. How will you go, since you are not allowed to go to Spain?”
“Through Paris. If there is time, I will send you something.”
“You needn’t think of my entertainment when there are lives to be saved.”
“I should like to. If there is time.” Julian kissed him softly. “I must leave early. Did you wish to stay the night?”
“I shan’t let you go. Not yet.” Anthony reached down and began to tease the sensitive flesh of Julian’s thigh, the back of his hand lightly brushing his cock, his mouth clamped into a devastated semblance of a smirk.
Julian grabbed the hand and kissed it. “No. Not yet. But not again. Let this life end with a bang, not the whimper we all know will come later. Stay the night. But stay as a friend.”
Anthony looked away. “I cannot. I should not have come at all.”
Julian kissed his cheek. “At least come shower with me.”
“No. I hate goodbyes. I wouldn’t have come at all had you not been angry with me. I just wanted to see you happy one last time.”
“I must get up. Promise you will be here when I return?” Anthony did not reply. Julian went over to his suitcase and removed a pair of socks. “A recent present from my aunt.” He placed them carefully on the bed. “You will appreciate them more than I. Promise me you won’t go just yet?” Still Anthony did not answer, his eyes screwed shut as he faced away from Julian. “I will only be gone a moment.”
But when he returned from relieving himself, he heard the click of the door latch. The socks remained in their place on the bed, showing blatant tearstains Julian had not dropped on them.
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.
Fiction ~ Home