SLEEPING PARTNER BY IAN MCLAUGHLIN
The following short story was published in the fifteenth issue, March 1983, pp. 15-18, of Pan, a magazine about boy-love, published by Spartacus in Amsterdam.
The illustrations are all from the same issue of Pan.
That Friday afternoon I came home rather late. Following a trail of strewn socks, flannel shorts, blazer, school tie - all evidently belonging to my nephew - I penetrated into the bedroom where I found my old friend Dr. Philip Poynter softly chatting with a visibly ailing Robin. Philip looked up at me.
“Ah,” he said, “there you are at last. How very heartless to leave a suffering boy alone without help and care. I thought you’d never turn up. God knows how many patients of mine expired while I’ve been waiting for you.”
“Good lord, Philip, I didn’t know about this. Why on earth didn’t you ask Robin my number and call me at the office?”
“I did ask, old chap. But you never gave him your business number, though you gave him mine. How very strange!”
“Really? Well, nowadays the phone number of a friendly doctor is probably more important to a boy of thirteen than his uncle’s. I try to act modern, you know.”
“Better to act your age. Anyway, be good and get some water boiling.”
“Good heavens, is Robin in the midst of a Happy Event?”
“No, I just want a giant cup of tea and, joking apart, Robin is ill. Let’s leave the poor child alone and have a chat in the kitchen, all right?”
Philip gently stroked Robin’s wavy curls. Robin gratefully grinned.
“Keep smiling, lad. I’m sure Ian will prove to be a nurse who leaves nothing to be desired.”
“Sure,” Robin agreed.
“Tell me,” asked Philip, noisily sipping his tea, “I saw just one bed in there. Do you actually sleep with your nephew?”
I sighed. “Philip, we’ve known each other for more than twenty years – you’re not going to be tiresome now? Besides, I haven’t even learned yet what Robin’s got.”
“Which you undoubtedly had as a child.”
“I undoubtedly didn’t. Not as a man, either, and I don’t want it now.”
“I should think not, considering your age.” There was a merry twinkle in his eye. “You’d better start sleeping on the couch – it’s very catchy, as you probably know.”
“Of course I know. How are his, er ...?”
“As far as I could feel there is no need for immediate alarm.”
“Feel? Philip, you didn’t actually fumble at Robin’s ...?”
“Marbles? That’s what Robin called them.”
“It strikes me that you got quite intimate with my nephew.”
“Oh, come, I’m a pediatrician.”
“And I suppose you never advanced in your studies beyond street terminology and the art of palpation!”
“Don’t underestimate the physician’s touch. As for terminology, I discuss symptoms with my young patients on their own level. They tell me they’ve got ‘sore marbles’, not orchitis. Robin has an inflammation of the parotid glands but so far his marbles are okay”
“All right, Philip, you win. I do apologize and ...”
There was a ring at the door. A young freckle-faced person, wearing a school uniform like my nephew’s, ushered himself in.
“Excuse me, I’m David Spencer. Does Robin McLaughlin live here?”
“Well,” I said, “in a way, yes.”
“I’m invited to stay for the week-end,” said the boy.
“Robin didn’t feel very well this morning. He left the school, actually.”
“He’s feeling worse now. So, it would be unwise for you to visit, dangerous even.”
Philip laughed. “It might be less dangerous for him than for you,” he said, and to David, “Young man, will you please pull your pants down?”
“Beg your pardon, Sir?”
“It’s quite all right, David. This gentleman is a doctor, a real physician.”
“Are you sure?” David hesitated.
“Absolutely,” I said, and to Philip, “Show him your medal - oh, blast, that’s for detectives.”
“Are you both doctors?” asked David.
I could feel the chance of seeing Robin’s freckle-faced friend naked vanishing suddenly into thin air. “Honestly speaking, no,” I admitted. “But I might have been one. Honoris causa, if I may say so.”
“You may not,” snapped Philip. “Turn your back, please.”
Philip raised an eyebrow until I was dutifully staring out the window. So the following I relate from hearsay:
“Your underpants too, David, please. All right. Thank you. That’ll do. Would you mind coming a little bit closer. That’s a good boy. Thank you ...” -- etcetera, etcetera. I’m too disappointed to tell more.
“Well, Ian,” said Philip when the examination was over, “David is very prepubertal indeed, so the chances that he’ll get orchitis are extremely low.”
“Oh,” said David, “so that’s what it is all about: Robin’s got the mumps.”
“How on earth did you know that?” I asked.
“Orchitis is the inflammation of the testicles. It is a not uncommon complication with the mumps when caught by patients after puberty and can lead to atrophy of the testicles. Before puberty the mumps is mostly rather harmless. I should know: I had the mumps - last year.”
Philip left me alone at last with David and a prescription to take to the chemist’s.
“Shall I sleep with Robin, Sir? It’s harmless for me but you’d better keep away from him.”
“I haven’t even decided whether you can stay.” Of course I had. “Now, go and keep poor Robin company while I rush to the chemist’s.”
The next morning Philip called.
“Ian? How’s Robin?”
“According to David’s report, not too much in pain.”
“David? Did David spend the night there?”
“Of course he did. In Robin’s bed. I slept on the couch - like you ordered.”
“Ian! David can’t possibly go back to school now. Mumps is very infectious. I’ll drop by and write him a note.”
I covered the receiver with my hand and said to David, who was just then tucking into a plate of eggs, “Dr. Poynter says you must be quarantined, with all those germs on you. If you returned to school you’d infect your whole House.”
“Isn’t that great?”
“Spread the mumps around?”
“Oh, no! Stay with Robin and you here!”
I uncovered the mouthpiece. “Philip, how long will David be with us?”
“A fortnight, perhaps.”
“I know somebody who’s going to be very pleased.”
“Who? Robin? David?”
Excerpts from my nephew’s diary kept during his illness, published without his permission or knowledge. I haven’t tried to transpose the code words and leave them to the imaginative understanding of the reader.
Dear Diary: Yesterday I was too ill to write. I’m ever so sorry about that. This morning I discovered that D. had been sleeping with me. I hadn’t even felt him. It seems that I have the mumps and that Uncle I. has been sleeping on the couch. He hasn’t had the mumps yet. Is he afraid for his code words? I’m sorry, I feel too tired to write more.
Dear Diary: Yesterday I forgot to tell you the big news: Dr. P. (one of Uncle I.’s mates who calls himself a pediatrician) wrote D. a letter that he cannot go back to school and has to stay here for at least a fortnight because he has the mumps-germs all over him and would infect everybody. So D. will keep me company. Uncle I. is away to his office all day, thank God. But not today because it’s Sunday.
Dear Diary: D. squeezes my code words every morning and evening, to make sure that the mumps has not got down to them. D. says that when the mumps goes down there one cannot code word any more. D. says that one normally can do it about 30,000 times in a lifetime, but when the mumps goes down it is all finished. I still have about 29,600 times I guess. D. does it 4 to 6 times a day but nothing comes out, so he still has all the 30,000 times to go, he says. Good night, Dear Diary.
Dear Diary: This morning when D. squeezed I felt some pain. I’m almost sure it was because he squeezed too hard, but we decided that it was better to be sure than to be sorry. I had some difficulty with doing it with D. staring, but nevertheless it worked, although it took an awful lot of time, which is very embarrassing. In the evening Dr. P. came round. When we were alone I asked him whether it was true that one can’t do it but 30,000 times. Dr. P. laughed his arse off which I think is a very stupid thing to do when a person puts an intelligent question. Tomorrow D.and I will look it up in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica.
Dear Diary: No pain this morning. D. wanted me to squeeze him too and he got a code word, just when Uncle I. came in with the breakfast, which fortunately was hidden under the blankets - the code word, I mean. When breakfast was finished D. still had his code word on and allowed me to touch it and feel his heartbeat. He told me that one can feel it better with one’s mouth but right now I have great difficulty with taking anything in my mouth.
The Encyclopaedia didn’t help much. It doesn’t even contain a decent picture of a code word. D. swears that what he says about the number of times one can do It is true. From now on I will keep a record. It’s safer. Two times I did it today. But I might do it just one more time before going to sleep.
Dear Diary: I finally didn’t do it last night. I fell asleep first and forgot all about it. But this morning D. kept squeezing so long that I had to ask him whether by any chance he was leading up at code wording me. He said yes and he did it well enough, in fact better than when I do it myself. Maybe I’ll ask him again tomorrow. He did himself twice right after me. When he does it he has a little foam in the corners of his mouth but maybe that doesn’t count. Today: 1 time. I guess I’ll do it about 500 times a year: 30,000 divided by 500 = 60, so I can go on like this until I am 73, at a rate of 500 divided by 365 = 1.36986301369 times a day. If I make it four times a day, which seems more sensible, that is 365 times 4 = 1,460 times a year, which allows 30,000 divided by 2,190 = 13.6986301369 years. The end at 26! D. must be wrong. I think it should be 300,000 times rather than 30,000. For 300,000 divided by 2,190 = 136.986301369 and some people live over a hundred, especially whenthey live in Bulgaria and eat lots of yogurt. Or maybe most people do it not more than 1.3 times a day, who knows? Although I don’t see how one can stop after having gone one third of the way. I can’t even stop right after I started working on it.
Dear Diary: I’m much better now and kept my promise to feel D.’s heart-beat with my mouth. But he was moving all the time and pulled my hair. I told him his heart-beat was 74 but he made me count over and over again. It changed all the time. Quickened, in fact. He said I didn’t do it right and gave a demonstration on me. Gave three different demonstrations, in fact. He was not really counting, though. And I guess I have to put these three demonstrations on record. That makes 7 times in 4 days, which is 7 divided by 4 = 1.75 times a day and, Dear Diary, that’s .38 times too much!
Dear Diary: This morning, before Uncle I. got up, I measured D.’s code word. It swells from 5 to 13 cm in just 4 seconds, which brought me upon the idea of calculating its speed. How many kilometres per hour is 8 cm per second? (Note: Robin made a mistake there: it’s only 2 cm per second.) Applying the rule of three like in the running baths problems was indicated here. The 8 cm being 0.0008 km, that makes 0.072 km per hour. D. and I were aghast that it was so slow! And then we realised that we had to take into account the size! D. measures some 1.60 m. Compared to his code word that is 320 times larger, so we multiplied 0.072 times 320 = 23.04 km per hour. That’s about as fast as one cycles. (Note: It must be four times slower, as slow as walking!) So we wondered whether a grown man’s code word swells as fast as he drives a car. Uncle I. usually drives at 160 km per hour but as D. and I kept quarelling [sic] about the presumable length of Uncle I.’s code word we gave up further calculations and played Scrabble. I won.
Dear Diary: Today is Sunday. Uncle I. took D. with him for a walk. The walk lasted the whole bloody afternoon and evening. I had to eat cold stuff from the fridge. Uncle I. said that they’d had a breakdown with the car. Some breakdown and some walk! I didn’t even ask what they’d been up to. All I know is that when I wanted D.to code word me he angrily pushed me away and said, oh come, stop these baby games - and, by the way, you’d better stop writing all our secrets in your diary because your uncle is reading it and it’s very embarrassing, that’s what it is, you idiot! That’s what he said.
Dear Diary: This morning D. packed and went back to school. I have to stay in one more week. I’m feeling very lonely so I did it 7 times today, one time just with my code word between the pillow and the sheet. I don’t believe Uncle I. reads my diary. It’s not like him and even if he did he wouldn’t tell anybody. Never.
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