TWO FORESKINS WALK INTO A BAR

A SERIAL NOVEL

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Contains strong language and references to sex and drug use. Adults only.

With his 10-year relationship at an end and his career going down the toilet, loser British playwright Chris Thompson heads to New York City where he embarks on a journey of sexual liberation and self discovery. But as he searches for connection, he faces up to the harsh realities of city life and the limitations of his own desires. An unflinching and hilarious account of starting your life again when you’re a bottom who has hit rock bottom.

"Honest, raw and fearless. Compelling reading."

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New chapters fortnightly

PLEASE NOTE: THIS NOVEL CONTAINS REFERENCES TO SEX AND DRUG USE AND IS INTENDED FOR ADULTS ONLY

Contents:

Chapter One: 'Two Foreskins walk into a Bar.'

Chapter Two: 'Shitting myself on an A-lister's carpet.'

Chapter Three: 'Man fucks dog.'

Chapter Four: 'Dickquinox.'

Chapter Five: 'Jurassic Park.'

New chapters released every fortnight

CHAPTER ONE

TWO FORESKINS WALK INTO A BAR

Don’t most things end with heartbreak? Or rather, perhaps that’s where they start?

Let’s start here. I’ve collapsed behind the wheelie bins outside my block of flats in Bethnal Green. It’s nighttime. There is a man walking away from me. By my side there is a suitcase. My age is thirty-six. It is 2015.

When you walk away from the man you’ve loved the most and the home in which you have felt the safest, it’s going to hurt. But this pain would pass quickly enough, I was certain, because I had already done my grieving. Sitting opposite him at breakfast; beside him at the theatre, silently secreting droplets of grief, an imperceptible wet patch of pain on each chair I vacated for the last year. No, this agony would be short lived. What I needed was to be a slut in New York.

You can be a slut in New York for ninety days without a visa. I gave myself eighty-nine days just to be safe. Robert came to me at the National Theatre Studio, we signed the mortgage papers, and I told him I was going to New York. He was gracious of course, but I knew he was fucked off. It was through him my interest in the city had been revived. I’d travelled with him for some shows he was in, and New York could have been something we did together, our next chapter. But I was taking it for myself. It was either that or sitting around in London waiting for the work rejections to trickle in. Either way, I was leaving. My career was going down the toilet. My nemesis playwright, _____ ________, was having the career I thought would be mine. I figured, better to watch my career go down the drain from afar with a cock in my hand.

One of my hobbies was stalking my nemesis playwright’s new show announcements online and ejaculating, “that’s my life, you fucker. Give it back.” In fact, everywhere I looked, someone else had my life. On the flight over to New York, in the window seats symmetrical to mine, a young artsy guy with tank top and biceps found himself next to smoking hot DILF. You could tell they both thought they’d hit the jackpot. I watched as they introduced themselves and chatted as we hurtled over the Atlantic . After lunch, the artsy guy got some of his artwork out the overhead bin and showed it to his neighbour, who looked at it, bemused but approvingly. I hoped it was shit. Not for the first time, I got an erection and cried at the same time. This artsy fucker had my life. I should be in his seat, showing my companion the copy of ‘Carthage’ I just happened to have in my hand luggage, dazzling him with my charm, moving him with my words, listening intently to him talk about HDMI cables, grazing my hand over his groin, getting his number, moving into his Upper West Side apartment, walking home with him up 10th Avenue after my Broadway opening night, arranging his funeral, inheriting his wealth. But I was on the other side of the plane, next to Margaret who needed to pee again.

American men are obsessed with two things about British guys. Our accents and our foreskins. These two attributes, I was delighted to discover, gave me access to a constituency of much hotter men than I could ever hope to meet in London. It quickly became my brand, and like many others with whom I was competing, I put the Union Flag on my Grindr profile as my entry pass into this elite gay circle. One night, not long after I landed, I was being spit roasted in a sling by two guys in Hells Kitchen - you can tell everyone’s on drugs because the first thing they ask for when they arrive is the wifi code and a phone charger - and when my top got wind of my accent, he looked down at me with disdain. He was the exotic British guy in this orgy, and this town wasn’t big enough for the both of us. I proposed we joined forces and marketed ourselves to the room as a pair. I made a joke that we could re-enact the musical Side Show, but he wasn’t a show queen. Or it was just a shit joke. Either way, he was there first, so I sidled out the sling apologetically, and went hunting for my jock strap.

I soon found a routine that suited me well. I would walk the streets in the day, sobbing in unremitting pain and misery, and then go to sex parties at night, where I’d cry slightly less. I was very skinny from hardly eating, but I didn’t see it. I turned up to a man’s house and he looked me up and down and said, ‘urgh’ and shut the door in my face. He messaged me as I got on the subway to say I was way skinnier than my photos implied. He was right. But I didn’t see it. On the days I could stop crying altogether, I’d go to Brooklyn library and work on ‘Of Kith and Kin’.

I was writing about changing your mind. Given I’d never offered Robert a full explanation as to why I left him, I wondered if I might answer him in this play. Why does anyone do anything? All three of the main characters change their minds in some way, but in the play I wanted to leave one of the reasons blank. Or at least obtuse enough for it to be an invitation to the audience to imagine. In ‘Carthage’, I never explain what Tommy did to land him in prison. I knew when I wrote it I’d be answering that question for the rest of my life, and happily so. In ‘Of Kith and Kin’, I decided to keep Priya’s reasons equally opaque but the failure to fully explain Priya’s decision was seen less favourably, people felt short changed. I look back now, mortified by the grandness with which I thought I was was writing what would surely become one of the great myths of contemporary theatre. It turns out no one gave a shit.

As the weather got colder, more and more people would take shelter in top floor of the library. I made friends with Lionel, a recovering drug addict from Ohio, who would let me suck him off in the bathrooms on our lunch breaks. Lionel was living in a shelter, but residents would have to vacate during the day so he’d come to the library to keep warm and study. He was fascinated with why I’d quit my career as a social worker as he was training to become one. He spotted straight away my disagreeable habit of thinking I can fix people, or worse, thinking I know someone better than they know themselves after a mere five minutes; Lionel had no truck with that and put me in my place straight away.

‘I quit social work because I was sick of cleaning up straight people’s mess.’

But Lionel hypothesised I was saying that because it was a pithy one liner rather than the reality. He was right of course, but I dug in.

‘Why does you quitting the profession need to be framed with that defensive superiority? What’s preventing you from saying you couldn’t cope?’

‘I could cope. I just didn’t want to do it anymore.’

That was total bullshit, but Lionel was gracious enough not to rip off my comforting mask of self deception. My sister told me I was blocked. But how could I be blocked when I was walking the streets in tears every day? This was her case in point. I was stuck in my grief and not moving forward. I found a psychotherapist specialising in EMDR. Once a week, at a cost of $250 per session, I would sit in Gilbert’s office holding a squishy ball in each hand. These balls would consecutively inflate and deflate over and over as I focused on a traumatising memory. I chose the image of myself collapsed by the wheelie bins with my suitcase packed after saying the final goodbye to Robert . I guess I could also have chosen rifling through the neighbours’ bins as a child, looking for food, or maybe one of the two times I was gay bashed. We all have an embarrassment of riches to choose from, Gilbert said. A treasure trove. I went for the wheelie bins as it was more recent, but no less vivid. Tears welled forth.

I was telling this story to Coach Marlon after our training session one Friday afternoon in Flatbush. I was rushing off to take the subway to my appointment with Gilbert’s misery balls in Midtown, so I couldn’t stay for the cool down.

‘Sorry, I have to run.’

‘Sorry, who?’

‘Sorry, Coach.’

This was another of my new routines. I’d turn up to Coach Marlon’s apartment and strip naked at his door. He would then take all my measurements - inseam, weight, bicep flex, cock, waist - and then he’d put me through a work out before fucking me on the weight bench or the yoga mat. I learned pretty quickly not to break character. Inclined to giggles as I was, Coach Marlon, made it clear that my post scene analyses were unwelcome. Whereas I, creature of the theatre, was keen to do an after show love-in, an out-of-character debrief (“you were wonderful, darling”), Coach was never not in role. A few months later he asked if he could take some pictures of me “for his year book.” I stopped going after that.

But the misery balls seemed to be doing something. There was a shift of some sort. A deepening of the grief, maybe, Lionel offered, and I think he was right. We were walking in Prospect Park, watching the turtles clamour on the rocks to sunbathe. Some of them were fucking, and Lionel said it reminded him of Fire Island. Lionel was thinking about re-establishing contact with his father. The question on his mind today was ought he to forgive his father before he reinstates him in his life, or will reinstating his father in his life facilitate his forgiveness? I bit my tongue because of course I knew the answer. I found Lionel very challenging because he saw through my bullshit and I was falling in love with him somewhat. And I really enjoyed sucking his dick. We’d been working on my deep throating skills which were getting me some call backs from the elite Hells Kitchen gays. My plan was to tackle the city in stages. Conquer Hells Kitchen, then move into the Lower East side before a triumphant debut in Williamsburg.

'Actually, forget it. I don’t want to forgive him. Not yet’

We watched the turtles mooch some more. They looked fat and baffled.

‘Is there a reason why you won’t fuck me?’ he asked. ‘Is it because you’re worried your dick isn’t big enough for me?’

It’s true that the three times I’d tried to fuck Lionel, I lost my erection. And it’s true Lionel was bigger than me. But I liked that.

‘It’s since I left Robert. It just doesn’t work for that.’

‘OK,’ he said. ‘Just don’t fall in love with me please. That’s not what this is.’

Lionel stared at me for a long time then cocked his head. I suddenly wondered if he was writing a dissertation on me, which he gleefully pointed out was typically narcissistic of me. He was very pleased with himself for that one. We both looked down at our erections and agreed to disagree.

A few days later, my friend Theo invited me to a dance party on a boat on the Hudson. There was a good DJ playing and you sail up and down the river for a few hours then get off. We set sail as the sun set. The men on his boat were extraordinarily beautiful. So much so I needed to be drunk in order to be able to speak to them. Looking back on the Instagram photos of that night, I’m the ugly pleb at a meet and greet for IMG. So I drank a lot. Then I decided we needed some MDMA. It was helpful in this sea of terrifyingly hot men to have a goal, a way to approach men that demonstrated that I knew we weren’t equals. I had some success, and having forgotten Theo didn’t touch drugs, I accrued quite a stash. The pours are heavy in New York, but on this boat they were gluttonous. I was very drunk and high. I found myself stood opposite two hunks, swaying from side to side. My hands were clasped in front of me, down by my groin, my feet shoulder width apart, in that pose you adopt when you’re wearing a suit at a funeral or in line to meet a royal. I dared not speak, but nodded along, satisfied to have been granted an audience and grateful to have been spared talking to anyone else.

‘You’re a playwright too?’ one of them said as we sailed past the Statue of Liberty again. ‘Anything I’ve heard of?’

There are no good times to hear that phrase. But tonight I soared. Awash with commissions, blinded by green lights, overwhelmed with ideas. All lies of course. And all an unintelligible garbled mess. My new nemesis walked away in pity with an eye roll you could see from space.

At length it was time to disembark. A heaving mass of euphoria, we were funnelled down a ramp onto the dock. Out of nowhere we were all shocked by a loud smacking sound, a firm thwack of something hitting hard concrete, and then the sound of a grimacing, cringing crowd.

Oh shit, I thought. It’s me.

I came to and found I was face down on the ramp, my right leg swinging down into the Hudson. My playwright nemesis stepped over me, lifting his petticoat as he tiptoed by, as I hauled myself back on the ramp.

I remember my shorts being soaking wet, then there’s a bit of gap. Then I remember eating fries with Theo. Then I was being fucked in the toilet of Atlas Social Club. And then I found some remaining MDMA as I was putting my shorts back on. And then there’s another gap. And then I woke up in Lionel’s bed.

‘Is heartbreak one word or two?’ Lionel asked the next morning.

‘I think it can be both?’

I felt like I had been exhumed. I’d vomited several times, Lionel reported, and I had tried to teach him the choreography to ‘All that Jazz’, but I was always polite and lovely, I was pleased to hear. Although how one could be anything else around Lionel was beyond me. He was hesitant to tell me the next part, but on reflection wanted me to know, that I had spent a good hour rocking back and forth on the edge of his bed, saying, ‘I am heartbroken.’

We agreed this was to be expected given the gin and MDMA and we lay in bed and closed our eyes, each giving himself over to the madman in his head.

CHAPTER TWO

SHITTING MYSELF ON AN A-LISTER'S CARPET

When the spring came, I got gonorrhoea.

In New York, someone flicks a switch and the weather changes from cold to hot in a day. Gays emerge triumphantly from hibernation in sleeveless tops, unveiling the muscles they’ve been incubating over winter. The air is filled with freshness. A febrile horniness underscores every interaction; each stepping out of someone’s way on the sidewalk, or leaning over to get the half and half contains the enticing possibility that it might lead to something else. The skyscrapers seem taller; the city smiles again.

I met a guy named - well, let’s call him Aaron - who came with me to the STD clinic. Aaron was a singer and musician, gigging at 54 Below and performing at Jazz clubs. I watched his stuff on YouTube before I met him. He had an authority in the way he performed that I’d not seen before - an ability to clarify and distill the story of each song. He presented on stage a duality - the character was clear, but it was distilled through him. When he sung I felt I was getting to know two people at the same time. He liked me saying this and asked to read one of my plays.

In the waiting room, Aaron told me that he was still getting over someone else so our relationship could only be sexual. His predicament was that he now understood that he didn’t want to get over this person, it’s a realisation he said he’d come to whilst he was reading my play. Not because the play was illuminating or insightful, but the act of intimacy was misplaced: he should be reading his ex’s play, not mine.

‘Was there nothing in the play that opened up this idea?’

‘No.’

My name was called and I was swiftly injected on my bum cheek and prescribed antibiotics which, I was warned, might upset my stomach. Returning to Aaron in the waiting room, my phone rang. My producer, out of breath, was screaming.

‘Cancel your plans this afternoon!’

He’d sent ‘Carthage’ to ____ ______, who had responded very well to the script and wanted to meet me before he headed back to LA. We had no director, no theatre, so it felt somewhat premature, but there was no doubt, getting the buy-in of an A-lister would open the doors that were currently closing in our faces. Our actor was flying this evening but could see us this afternoon.

His apartment was on the Upper East Side. Aaron got the Subway up with me out of nosiness, and we said goodbye on the corner. My producer was already there, hopping from one foot to the other. We looked up at the apartment and then at each other, the unspoken point being this was the biggest meeting of our professional lives.

If there had been any warning, I’d have gone to the bathroom. There were plenty to choose from in this apartment. In my memory, everything was white, but I’m not sure that’s true. The walls certainly were. The carpet was more off-white, and I remember remarking to myself as I walked in this must be the first carpet I’ve ever seen in a New York apartment. The meeting had gone well. It turns out my producer had lied and said we’d had theatre in New York available, but ____ ______ was still interested and was going to share the play with his team.

We were at the door saying goodbye when I felt like I’d been punched hard in the stomach. I doubled over, and squatted in agony. A huge amount of shit came out of me, with such force it pushed over the top of my trousers and onto the carpet. It wouldn’t stop. A volcanic lava inexorably racing towards a village below. I writhed on the floor and dragged myself to the bathroom. I tried to clean myself up but I kept shitting.

I’m not sure how I’d react if the roles were reversed, If a writer turned up to my apartment and shat himself on the floor, and then shouted through the bathroom door it was on account of the gonorrhoea medication. Thankfully, this man, this beautiful soul, showed mercy, and was kind enough to see the funny side, even encouraging me to laugh too. I guess when you’re rich and famous you can just replace the carpet.

I threw my clothes in a bin on the sidewalk and got on the subway in the jogging bottoms he gave me. When I made it back to my apartment in Prospect Park my roommates were having a tantric sex party. Laila and Zuri were a pansexual, ethical non monogamous lesbian couple, recently returned from aid work in Haiti. They had two cats named after spices, and would always encourage me to join their happenings in some way. After I showered, I sat on the floor of my room in darkness and tried to stop my body shaking. There was knock at the door.

‘They told me you were gay. I wondered if you would like to have sex with me?’

‘I’ve just shat myself on ____ ______’s carpet.’

My gentleman caller, Malik, had once soiled himself on a plane. It helped me a great deal to hear that. He suggested we lay on my bed and do some breathing exercises to help regulate my nervous system. I could feel his erection press against me as we amalgamated our fully clothed outlines into a new, amorphous form. When I woke up he was gone.

The next day, I took the train to Chicago. I had decided to write Robert a letter but I needed to leave New York to do so. I spent several hours scouring stationery stores for the perfect paper on which to write. Nothing was good enough. Not for my words, but for the recipient. I had been planning to write for several weeks but it was only when I found a thick, creamy parchment intended for calligraphy that I felt able go ahead with the plan. I don’t know why I needed to go to Chicago to write it.

Americans talk to you on trains. For uptight British people this can be deeply unsettling, especially when you’re facing down a 24-hour train ride. Once again, the hot guy eschewed me and found his seat near the doors, and I got Christine, the Grandmother from Seattle. Because in America all work is noble, no one hesitates to ask you what you do for a living. Whereas in the UK we might hesitate lest someone replies with a job we feel unworthy of conversation, but here, you may even have two jobs. It’s a country with no safety net, so how you stay afloat can be spoken about with pride. Christine came out strong with the big guns. ‘What do you do? Where are you from? Are you married? Do you have children?’

I think these questions have historically been harder for gays, they feel more intrusive. There’s more at stake if you answer honestly. For all my talk about having processed my gay demons, I still absorbed it like a sponge, and had you squeezed me, I’d have drenched the floor with shame.

But Christine broke me. In my mind I said, ‘listen lady, I’m British, you’re gonna get 24 hours of weather talk.’ But by Poughkeepsie Christine had pulled it all out of me, my deepest secrets slurped out like an oyster. Robert, Lionel, the wheelie bins, work, children, the letter. I always assume maternal grandma types were good mothers to their own children. But I sensed in Christine a distance, not purely physical, between her and her daughters. They both chose to live far from her, which is telling in itself. The evidence base tells us that children of narcissistic and borderline personality disorder parents often move long distances away, and I couldn’t figure out if Christine was enjoying free spirited twilight years or if her flightiness had come at a cost. Was she, as bell hooks would say, an intimate terrorist? I felt myself formulate the question in my head, but I kept it in. She was being a mum to me in this moment.

It was morning. I’d rented an apartment on the 25th floor overlooking the Lake Michigan. In the bedroom was a writing table, or maybe it was for makeup, but I determined this was the sacred place I would write the letter. I’d already done a draft on my laptop, but the task ahead of me was to edit the text and transcribe it onto this parchment.

That night I went to a gay bar across the street from my apartment. It was on the second floor, and could have been a converted office building from the 70s. I picked up a tall man in his 50s and took him back to my apartment. It was a silent, so-so fuck. We both returned to the bar and I picked up a younger guy, younger than me in any case. He was an actor, auditioning for Steppenwolf. I couldn’t stop talking about the letter. He asked to read it and I said no.

When we woke up the next morning I gave him a blowjob, but I cried all the way through it because he wasn’t the man I loved. I stirred again around lunchtime by which time he’d left. On the dressing table he had left me his acting resume and headshot. But Robert’s letter had gone.

Lionel was affronted on Robert’s behalf by what I’d written in the letter and chided me at length.

I’d given him an oral précis. It was the passage where I directed Robert to take everything he’d learned about intimacy and relationships from me - and use it in his next relationship - that particularly aggravated Lionel.

‘Everything you taught him, you mean.’

‘No.’

'You taught him to love, that’s what you’re implying. Have you any idea how patronising and arrogant that is?’

Lionel’s sentences were punctuated by bursts of the vacuum cleaner. He was having gastrointestinal issues and as a result was producing rather mephitic farts. Not wanting to disrupt the flow of conversation, he would pass wind then try and suck up the stench with the vacuum nozzle. We were in his room in Downtown Brooklyn. Lionel had slimmed down his possessions to one suitcase and a pile of books. He could always be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

The last four years of his life were characterised by itinerancy and disruption. For someone who could see things so clearly, and with such critical acuity, it surprised me that he’d lived through so much chaos. When we first met at the library he told me that his motivation for sobriety came to him at a chemsex party, where he overheard two men talking. One of them was a veterinarian and was arranging with the other guy to come to his clinic and have sex with a dog. So horrified was Lionel that his drug use had brought him into contact with such miscreants, he vowed never to touch drugs or booze again.

But by then he was homeless and sleeping rough in various places around the city. Over time he’d got himself into a shelter, and then temporary accommodation, where we now found ourselves, reading ‘Anna Karenina’ out loud, reproaching my audacity with my ex, and sucking up his farts with a hoover. You could smell other residents smoking crack through the air vents. When he thought I was asleep or in the bathroom, Lionel would stand on a chair, put his head against the vent and breathe in deep and slow. Not a night went by where he wasn’t woken up by a neighbour needing paraphernalia, or offering him head in exchange for drugs. But Lionel was resolute. And I loved him even more for it.

I took the Staten Island Ferry with Laura on a round trip. We were sat on deck facing out to the water. A bird flew parallel with us, and for a moment as the sun set, the colour of the sky matched the colour of the boat. I told Laura that I’d fallen in love with Lionel.

‘You haven’t fallen in love with him you just think you have. Isn’t it the perfect way protect yourself from the pain of losing Robert?’

This was an outrageous allegation.

‘I’ve done my grieving,’ I whimpered.

‘And didn’t he tell you not to fall in love with him?’

‘Yes, but he’s not experienced my kind of love before.’

Laura brought her hands to her face, I presume to stop it from moving so obviously as she rolled her eyes. We sat in silence for a time, then sang ‘Let the River Run’ from ‘Working Girl’, which was the purpose of the trip. I couldn’t sing full out, I felt wounded from having been penetrated so cleanly by Laura’s satori.

There can be this thing you know is true. Let’s call it “P.” “P” is true, but it’s possible to convince yourself of “not P.” People do it all the time. A father who can’t see his wife is abusing their son. A mother who can’t see their child is a criminal. It is entirely possible to look at something in your life and say, “this is not what this is.” And some people are masters of it. I read in a book, I can’t remember which one now, that we can only know what we can bear to know.

When I was in Chicago I saw an art installation. In the middle of the room were three screens showing three films that take place in a former Benedictine monastery outside Kassel, Germany. The artist plays with the history of the country’s role in World War II by imagining these fictional tales in different times of the monastery’s past: one screen shows the camp being liberated by American troops in 1945; another shows the building being used by radicals caught up in the social upheavals of the late 1960s; and the third portrays a high school field trip to the site in the 1990s. The same actors appear in each scenario playing different roles. As I walked through it, I realised I could watch one single film or walk amongst the screens, but there was no way to see all three films at once.

I’d been dreaming of this art installation. But in my dreams, the films were of men. But not men I knew or would ever meet. I told Laura about the installation and my corresponding dream hoping she’d see it as the rebuttal I intended. The gull who had drifted along with us had disappeared, and the Statue of Liberty looked small and fragile.

‘What’s your point?’

‘My point is I’ve done my grieving and I think Lionel deserves to know how I feel.’

Laura and I kissed goodbye on both cheeks as was our wont, and I sat down in the corner of Julius bar to catch up with some admin. At that time, for me, admin meant woofing tops on Scruff. I’d been working on a joke that brought together “woofing tops” and “The Whiffenpoofs.” I’d been trying it out on various friends and hookups but couldn’t land it. I was reformulating the joke when I stumbled across a profile that took my breath away.

“I’m looking for someone friendly, flirty, witty and willing…Someone who isn’t afraid to be himself and nerd out. Someone who isn’t afraid to be a good daddy’s boy. Talk to me about: classical music, biotech, your goals and intentions and desires and hopes, your yearning to be guarded by daddy and to be daddy’s little stud.”

I raced into the bathrooms and masturbated. I read and re-read those words, each time feeling tingles down the back of my neck as if he himself were in the room caressing me. The promise of safety, the invitation to be vulnerable. I wrote to him immediately a long, heartfelt missive responding to each of his points in detail.

Rather than take his items in the order he gave them, I wanted to show my creativity. I took them from last to first, ending with my love of Jessye Norman’s rendition of ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix’ as my satisfaction of his first criteria. To ensure my application stood out, I attached a video of me fingering my anus in a jockstrap with the caption: ‘Mon trou s’ouvre a ta voix.” So pumped with adrenalin was I by mere language, I ordered myself another drink and did some breathing exercises. His name was Mike.

I went to visit my playtexts at the Drama Bookshop. On my first visit they had in stock six copies each of ‘Carthage’ and ‘Albion.’ Whenever I felt my career was dying on its arse, which was often, I’d visit my playtexts and remind myself I was still a viable concern. I stood and stroked them, checking my phone intermittently to see if Mike had replied. These playtexts represented an hour glass or a countdown clock. Over time there were fewer and fewer remaining. I was certain they hadn’t been purchased, merely taken out to make way for other writers. I told myself, when there were no plays left my career is over. Like the final petal to fall from the rose in ‘Beauty and the Beast’, when my plays were gone, so was I.

I went to look at my nemesis’s plays. She had a total of seventeen plays in stock. They looked shit. But I nodded, respectfully. Today she felt like a worthy opponent, and I made a private vow to take her down. My phone beeped. My daddy wants to guard me and let me be his little stud! He’s picked me!

It was in fact Harvey. (Let’s call him that.)

‘I didn’t expect you to hear from you,’ he said.

‘Harvey, when you were in my apartment, do you remember seeing a letter on the desk by the window?’

‘Oh, your letter to Robert?’

‘Yes.’

"I threw it away.’

‘Why the fuck did you do that?’

‘You’re still in love with him. Look, I’ve been where you’ve been. I had a really wonderful thing with a good and honourable man and I threw it all away because I had some dumb mid life crisis. You should be with him.’

My mouth was wide open.

‘By the way, full disclosure, I read it. That bit where you said you taught him how to love and that he should use everything he’s learned from being with you in his next relationship. That was so beautiful. But that should be you. You’re his next relationship.’

Silence.

‘Oh and also. You’re not a bad writer, but I have some notes.’

I hung up. I was scandalised. That treacherous little bitch, I repeated out loud as I marched out the bar into the New York night. I resolved to waste no more time and tell Lionel I loved him. I rehearsed my speech.

‘We make each other laugh. The sex is amazing. I feel a lot of joy. I feel totally connected to you. We can be playful or serious and you make me happy; when I am not with you I miss you.’

I restructured it on the subway, bringing the joy further up, placing the missing you part in the middle so it ends more positively with happy. That felt better. I typed it into the notes app on my phone and committed it to memory.

I passed a book shop with an Audre Lorde quotation emblazoned on its window.

I am deliberate. I am afraid of nothing.

I saw myself in the reflection of the glass, emerging from darkness and mingling with the words like Pepper's ghost. ‘Yes!’ I said, ‘Yes!’

The elevator was taking an age, so I bounded, two steps at a time. I ran down his hallway and knocked on Lionel’s door, sweating and breathless, my declaration, now off book, on the tip of my tongue. But there was no answer.

His neighbour poked her head round her front door.

‘Are you looking for Lionel?’

‘Yes! Have you seen him?’

‘Oh, honey. He moved out this morning.’

© Chris Thompson 2022

Chris Thompson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act, 1988, to be identified as author of this work. All rights reserved.

CHAPTER THREE

MAN FUCKS DOG

CHAPTER FOUR

DICKQUINOX

Lionel and I took the Q train to Coney Island. As we talked his eyes flicked around the carriage, counting the passengers. At Avenue M, an older couple with a shopping cart full of beach toys disembarked and we were alone. Lionel got his cock out and we both looked at it. I hadn’t seen it flaccid very often, I remarked. It was like being introduced to someone very close and important to Lionel, a key figure in his life story about whom I’d heard many things, and who I finally meet at a Christmas party. I sucked it briefly but reticently, wanting to savour this new acquaintance before the rush of blood returned it to what was familiar. Lionel asked me to take a photo.

In this photo Lionel is smiling. He is proudly holding his penis, pushing his hips forward to make sure it’s in shot. He is wearing blue shorts and my red T-shirt with the words ‘Ciao Bella’ written in the style of the Coca-Cola logo. Lionel has a moustache. One might look at this image and think it was taken in the late 1970s. In every photo I took that day, but have subsequently deleted, Lionel is smiling.

Lionel was at ease in his body and his body was at ease in space. His temerity and disinhibition were electrifying, unlike anything I’d experienced. He struck silly poses, not caring who was watching; it was an unspoken truth that in all photos, no matter where he was or what he was doing, Lionel looked beguiling.

Conversely, in every image of me taken on this day, I have a deranged, manic grin, and my shoulders are up by my ears. I am strung out. An exhausted, emaciated scarecrow let loose on the town. To this day, whenever the camera is on me, I feel my gargoyle nose grow by two inches, and my ears protract such that I resemble a Lemur. Face of possum, tooth of mouse, ear of bat. Simply put, in all photos, no matter where I am or what I am doing, I am a big nose on the end of a neck.

Lionel informed me that as we age our noses grow bigger and our dicks shrink. It followed that for someone like me, with a big nose and an average penis, an equinox would occur: a day on which both were the same length. Lionel called this my dickquinox and gaily predicted it would occur on my fifty-second birthday.

‘I’ll come find you on that day with my measuring tape.’

We walked along the beach and sang Abba songs at the top of our voices, replacing Chiquitita with Chicken Tikka. Whenever we passed other beach goers, Lionel touched my buttocks, which he informed me, were now his property. I was wearing the jock strap he had requested by text message the night before and the black ripped denim shorts he liked.

‘The word of the year is ‘change’’, I said. We were riffing on what this might be.

Lionel raised his eyebrows.

‘You’re right, that’s shit. Rebirth.’ ‘

My word of the year is U-n-h-m-g-h-m.’

‘What’s that?’

‘It’s the sound you make when I penetrate you.’

I came in my jockstrap. We looked at each other in amazement.

‘I think I’m a little bit in love with you,’ he said.

Lionel grabbed my crotch and squeezed the spunk so it oozed through my shorts onto his hands. He licked his wet fingers and marched me into Ruby’s Bar and Grill where he fucked me in the bathrooms.

Since we were there, we decided to eat. Lionel’s party trick was to recite the kings and queens of England in chronological order, which he did for the waitress. She looked at me and I rolled my eyes, but she wasn’t fooled by my faux ennui.

‘Got yourself a smart one there,’ she said, a reluctant third party dragged into our mating ritual.

After dessert, we held a photography competition, each submitting his best three photos of the day for the other to score. My entrants were all of Lionel; his were all of the beach. The winning photo, we both agreed, was Lionel gleefully presenting his penis to the camera with his hand on his chin like Paul Revere. Every image of Lionel evoked the pioneering American spirit: a man on a mission, consequences be damned.

I was scrolling through these photos on the subway as I headed to Brooklyn Library. It was two weeks since I turned up to his vacant apartment, and Lionel was not returning my calls. No one in the library had seen him. He’d stopped attending his classes. Nevertheless, I was showing up to the library every day hoping he’d come. At night, I writhed with recrudescent insomnia, replaying every single conversation in my head until I found the thing I said or did that turned him away. Of one thing I was certain: this was my fault.

My producer arranged an informal reading of ‘Carthage.’ The goal was to understand to what degree the play would need “translating” for an American audience. Nowadays I’ve declined all productions of the play due to its final line, but back then, we were just worried if the audience would know that ‘trainers’ meant sneakers and ‘suck my pussy’ was not a term of endearment.

One of the actors, a British guy, who we may as well call Marty, had a broken foot. He was a good actor, but I suspected that his most successful performance was his daily feat of fooling those around him that he was coping with life. I detected a fellow loser and made a beeline. Marty broke his foot slipping on some spunk in the showers at the Equinox gym on Columbus Circle. He was about to audition for the part of talking bird in a well known musical but never made the audition.

‘Well at least I’ll be free for your play,’ he quipped.

But I knew full well we’d replace him with an A-lister at the earliest opportunity. _____ ______ had pulled out, I was assured not due to my bowel movements, and my producer was courting several other male leads with box office potential. I decreed Marty and I should become friends. He had a husband so there was never a question of us existing sexually. Though of course I fantasised he would fall in love with me and leave his partner. This was one of my least likeable qualities: assuming people were in love with me when they weren’t.

When I accused Gilbert, my therapist, of suppressing his love for me, he shrieked with laughter.

‘The question is: why do you need me to be in love with you?’

The answer was, clearly, I had a deeply held belief that I was unloveable. But I wasn’t too interested in hearing any of that, so I sacked him.

Marty approved of my dismissing Gilbert and proposed the therapeutic value of dumping one’s therapist.

‘He loved you on a subconscious level, babes, he just couldn’t face up to it yet.’

This seemed reasonable. And I liked the idea of Gilbert using his misery balls on himself at night to process the grief of losing me. Marty grabbed my hand suddenly and leaned toward me.

‘I want to tell you something that no one else knows.’

‘We’ve only just met.’

‘Yes, but I want to tell you, although you can’t tell anyone else.’

‘I promise I’ll be discreet.’

‘I found out my husband was on dating sites so I made a couple of fake profiles that he matched with and talks to. He mainly talks about how he’s missing intimacy and someone to chat with. He says he feels very alone. I can’t work out if I should tell him it’s me.’

Marty let go of my hand and signalled to the waiter for the bill. Before I could speak he said, ’I’d prefer it if you didn’t respond, it’s enough that you know.’

I had an appointment to honour, so I arranged to meet Marty later. I had to be at a hair and beauty salon in Long Island City for 5pm, by arrangement with a French benefactor with whom I’d been having phone sex.

We matched on a muscle worshipping site, whereby men with big muscles who like to be worshipped are matched with people like me, who want to worship them. Silvio was in his early 50s, and had a deep, sonorous voice. It quickly became clear that Silvio would rather have been heterosexual.

‘I’m a man. I do man smells. My shit smells because I’m a man. But you spray perfume in the bathroom after you go and you spend forever in there with your creams and lotions and makeup. I’m waiting by the door and I’m angry with you again because you take so long to get ready.’ This was a typical rumination he’d say in one breath during our evening calls.

It was a condition of us having sex that he take me to his favourite beauty parlour and I have a full body wax and my toe nails painted.

‘You’re my baby girl,’ he drawled on the phone as I jerked off. ‘I fuck you any time I want. Three times a day, minimum, and two times at night. No other man can have you.’

This seemed ambitious but I was prepared to try. By this time I’d developed an obsession with his cock. He’d sent me pictures of it and described it on the phone in such alluring detail that I knew I wouldn’t rest until I’d had it. The full body wax was peculiar, but I was so intoxicated by our evening phone calls that I’d have agreed to anything.

‘You’re older than the others,’ said the technician as she poured wax into my arse-crack.

‘I’m only thirty-eight.’

‘Much older.’

At once she pulled the strip away with a flourish. She soon found her rhythm, repeating the phrase ‘much older’ before tearing the strip away each time. Much older - Rip. Much older - Rip.

My genitals looked like a blobfish: slimy, gelatinous and pink. I put on the women’s frilly knickers that Silvio had slipped in my pocket before the appointment and slithered into the foyer. Silvio was paying. Whereas I wanted throw the cash at them with my last dregs of dignity and take my glabrous genitals out of there as fast as I could, Silvio was putting on a show.

I once saw Helen Mirren provoke a standing ovation in a mediocre play by sheer force of stage presence. She chose her target, most likely a tragic homo, and induced him to his feet with a gracious, sweeping upwards motion of her arm and a wry smile. One by one, picking off the weakest first, she brought the whole house to its feet.

Here, Silvio was doing the same. Deftly, he brought the entire room to him. We held our breath as he thought he’d lost his wallet, but oh, what’s this? It was in his pocket all the time! A collective out-breath through the nose and knowing half-smiles from his enraptured audience - four women in foils, eyes peering over iPads. And now, each bill laid out on the counter one by one. I could see his cock begin to bulge as he handed over the cash, and gave a tip, a gesture that was as demure as it was ostentatious, and that would surely, in any other setting, garner applause.

‘Doesn’t she look sexy?’ he asked the room of me. ‘My sexy girl.’

I had a sudden presentiment that I was about to have a heart attack. I saw myself waking up on a hospital gurney surrounded by medical students cutting open my clothes to find my frilly knickers and bald cock poking through like ET’s finger.

I ran.

I ran so fucking fast. My hairless genitals, swished with frictionless ease. But Silvio was following me in his car. I turned down 47th Avenue and continued to sprint, Silvio gaining on me every second. He swung the car onto the sidewalk in front of me, I rolled along the hood.

‘Where are you, Lionel?’ I wailed to the sky. A pathetic apostrophe, even by my standards. I lay draped over the car.

‘Get in, you crazy bitch!’ Silvio barked.

In one hand he had the steering wheel, in the other his hard, enormous cock.

I have never felt so desired in my entire life. It was around midnight when I left Silvio’s.

I determined to find Marty in Hells Kitchen. He was still on crutches so I figured I could help him in some way. I found him on the dance floor in Boxers. He’d bought some coke and was dancing with one leg in a plaster cast, encircled by supportive onlookers: Titania in her bough, surrounded by her attendant fairies.

‘I’m having an emotional affair with my own husband!’ he shouted above the music.

‘I’ve just waxed my entire body hair!’ I shouted back.

We danced. I was still in a state of manic exhilaration from my melodrama with Silvio. The music pumped through us. At one point I swore the music was emanating from me personally, I, the source of all life. And the men. Magnificent, pulchritudinous men .

Suddenly, all I could see now was potential. I’ve made it to New York, anything is possible. I went big on a dance move. I leapt. If you freeze framed this moment it would be the movie poster of my life: soaring, fearless, free.

I landed on Marty. And broke his other foot.

Chapter Five

Jurassic Park

Mike replied. He had been impressed by my response, noting in particular its humour. He informed me that he was inviting me to an initial assessment. He cautioned, however, that I’d scored lower in the age and looks categories, but my intelligence and wit, as well as my burgeoning public profile in the media, bumped up my score. Nowadays if anyone sent me message like this I’d laugh in their face, but back then, I deputed my entire worth as a human being to outsiders.

In fact, this was nothing new. When I was fifteen I faked having cancer as a means of winning the approval of, and respite from, my school bullies. I was so stupid (this was before the internet), that I assumed cancer always looked like a lump. One Sunday night, I squished up some toilet paper into a cyst-like shape, covered it in a band-aid, then stuck it to my outer thigh.

Monday morning, I limped into school and revealed it, dramatically, to these six boys, who laughed in my face and said, “Good. We hope you die.” But I was undeterred, I needed them to like me, just like in New York, I needed Mike’s declaration of love. ‘But I do have cancer, and I only have a few years to live,’ I sobbed in the biology classroom as one of them threw water on me. The others pinned me to the desk, pulled down my trousers and ripped off my fake lump with a swift, easy tear and derisive, victorious howls.

I would tell this story to Mike one day. He who wanted to guard and protect me, his vulnerable charge, yearning for his nurture and aegis. I would be laying with my head on his lap, and he would be stroking my hair, we’d be on a Disney cruise, and he’d praise me for allowing myself to be deeply known. His biceps would be even bigger and he’d need his cock inside me simply all the time. Each disclosure I made would send blood rushing to his penis and it would throb inside me as I divulged and divulged and divulged.

I called in on Marty. He hadn’t forgiven me for breaking his other foot and informed me he had no intention of doing so anytime soon. ‘Now you’ll have to cast me in your play, dear.’ I apologised again and made him a cup of Yorkshire tea. Marty’s husband, Aamir, was at home caring for his immobile spouse.

‘This isn’t helping our affair,’ Marty said, when Aamir left the room.

‘But isn’t it good you can spend more time together? Maybe fall for each other again?’

‘No, dear.’

‘Or have an open relationship,’ I suggested.

‘We don’t do open relationships in this house, thank you very much. And besides, he’s not actually meeting any of them.’

I asked Marty what his goal was from having an emotional affair with his own husband on Tinder without him knowing. He looked at me like I had two heads and tapped on his empty tea cup.

‘Just brew that tea and don’t trouble yourself with my goals, babes.’

Aamir took Marty to the loo. While they were in there something happened that caused them both to shriek so hard with laughter they fell over. I could hear them through the door, struggling to breathe as they laughed. Eventually they tumbled out, howling and gasping for air. How can either of them be lonely in this relationship, I wondered? If I laughed like that with someone I’d never leave them. A bitter twinge of grief passed through me as I remembered laughing with Lionel at Coney Island. I looked at Marty and Aamir and tried to smile.

Later, in the kitchen, I was washing up the tea cups, talking to Aamir about Lionel and Robert and Mike.

He said, ’At the end of the day it comes down to this: our hearts are palimpsests. Each new lover is always etched over the last, and the previous lover never completely erased. So trying to get over someone is futile.’

I googled ‘palimpsest’ whilst he wasn’t looking. And then looked up at him with fresh, swooning eyes. How could Marty be so cavalier with their relationship? Aamir would never be lonely with me. I was wondering to myself if he found me as attractive as I did him, and if somehow I’d end up pulled into this dysfunctional psychodrama with Marty, or even, in fact, if he would simply leave Marty for me and it would be quick and painless and all my problems would be solved, when his phone beeped with a familiar Grindr notification.

He froze.

I kissed Marty goodbye and promised to come take care of him later in the week.

‘And tell me all about your date with Mike!’

Aamir showed me out.

‘I know you don’t know me and this is a bit of an overstep. But if Marty knew he’d be destroyed,’ he said.

‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘It’s none of my business.’

The following day, I woke up early in anticipation of my date with Mike. I had hardly slept and I couldn’t eat. I paced around my room, rehearsing my ‘go to’ stories, looking at myself repeatedly in the mirror. I douched three times and reminded myself to slip into conversation the word ‘palimpsest’ and say the phrase ‘I want to write the definitive dramatic analysis of…’ Of what? No clue. But I left it open so I could remain responsive to the natural flow of the conversation. Finally, I looked over his Scruff profile and prepared a conversation starter on each of the topics he listed under ‘talk to me about.’ I wore a jockstrap under my black jeans, and my red Ciao Bella T-shirt Lionel wore the last time I saw him. Every time my phone beeped, a feeling of sorrow and dread overwhelmed me, so convinced was I that Mike would cancel.

As I walked to Prospect Park in the spring sunshine, my nose grew by two inches and my dick shrank by the same; my stomach churned. I told myself, if Mike didn’t fall in love with me on the spot I would die. It was as simple as that.

I found the meeting spot and paced up and down. An older guy in his 70s was sat on the bench opposite me. He was so short his feet didn’t touch the ground and he had a face like the back of an old TV set. I hated him immediately for intruding on my nervous tattoo, but soon I imagined inviting him to our wedding, guest of honour, the first person on earth to have witnessed Chris and Mike’s love.

I’d been waiting fifteen minutes when I was tapped on the shoulder. I turned around but it wasn’t Mike, it was the guy from the bench.

‘I’m Mike,’ he said.

‘Are you fucking kidding me?’

I turned away in disgust.

‘I deserve love too. And I have many useful erections in one day. All my erections are unmedicated.’

I stopped.

‘My balls are low, heavy hangers and will slap hard against you.’

A dog walker snorted with laughter. His dog had led him into my nightmare and he had correctly guessed the backstory in an instant. He was delighted. I waited till his dog got the scent of more interesting piss, but the owner twisted and his eyes met mine a he was pulled away.

‘You’re Mike? Mike Mike. My Mike?’

Having had my cancer band aid ripped off a lifetime ago, I saw no reason to repeat the humiliation with Mike. We all have our reasons for doing what we do, I figured, and I like to hear people’s stories. It’s one of the great joys and privileges of gay life. We meet, we fuck, but then we lay next to this man, this stranger, and he tells us his story at four in the morning in a sublet in Flatbush, or in a hotel in Mayfair, a bedsit in Hackney. As the straight world sleeps, gays share their lives. A network exchange of information, firing like neurons, whispered across pillows from one anonymous man to another.

That being said, I didn’t let Mike get a word in edgeways. Revenge of sorts, perhaps, I wanged on about my travails: Lionel, Robert, the ever more embellished motif of me collapsing by wheelie bins, the stolen letter.

‘There’s a cruising ground up here,’ Mike said. ‘Come and kiss my penis.’

He increased his pace and walked three steps ahead. I had to raise my voice lest he miss out on any vital parts of my story.

The cruising ground in the Vale of Cashmere has a formal, theatrical quality. Whichever way one approaches it, one is reminded of a theatre-in-the-round, with cunningly concealed entrances, and fairies waiting in the wings. As we approached, the space throbbed with the magic of its own potential energy. I imagined it at dawn, my consciousness invaded by this vision:

Here, in this cruising ground in Prospect Park, amidst the dense branches and obscurant fog, a man in contemporary dress walks tentatively into the mist and disappears. Now, from that same darkness emerges a man in nineteenth century dress. He passes a man from the nineteen seventies, they hold each other’s gaze before one of them is engulfed by the mist. We enter now, you and I. A soldier from World War II is on his knees pleasuring a hippie. A flash of buttocks, a body pushed against a tree. Spitting into his hands before spitting into the buttocks. Eyes wincing at penetration. Pain and pleasure convene on his face. Furtive, atavistic glances; anonymous, grasping kisses. A breathless, erotic charge; an alloy of fear and desire. Across the ages I am seeing on this patch of ground men have met. Outside their desire is outlawed, legislated, shamed. Inside it is obdurate, steely, absolute.

I watched Mike as he pushed through the branches in search of seclusion, and saw not only him, but every man that came before. I kissed him. I kissed a thousand men. I dropped to my knees and took Mike’s penis in my mouth. Ritualistically, I turned around and let him fuck me. I heard approaching footsteps crunch in the leaves nearby. Good, I thought. I want everyone to see this man fuck me. Ancestors and descendants alike! Let them all observe this solemn rite, let them all witness me take this man’s cock.

I looked up and saw Lionel.