ARIZONA BLUES BY KEVIN ESSER
The following short story by American writer Kevin Esser was published in the eighteenth issue, May 1984, pp. 15-17, of Pan, a magazine about boy-love, published by Spartacus in Amsterdam.
The illustrations, besides the magazine cover, accompanied the original story.
Stay tuned, brother for traces of a happy ending.
But for now ... I moan. Occasionally I whimper. Always I stare in light-headed amazement as boys saunter past, heedless of my reverence, my adoration ... my pain.
“But why,” you ask me, “do you like them so young?”
“Because,” ricochets the reply, “I recognize beauty when it slugs me on the chin ... don’t you?”
So ... alone now, for a moment, I have time to remember them. All of them. An odyssey beginning in Nogales brought me, first, to Nathan. His name was stenciled in white across the back of his red cherry-bright T-shirt tucked neatly into blue gym shorts tight-tight-tight over plumply muscled buttocks. White knee-socks and sneakers ... left his heartbroken admirer ogling two sturdy legs bare and sun-browned from knee to mid-thigh. Standing beside him in the lobby of our motel, I heard his mother informing the desk clerk of his age: fourteen. The boy stood drumming his palms against his hips, grinning, his light brown hair streaked blond by desert sun and falling soft and straight over his ears ... and when he turned, vaguely noticing my gaze, I stared astonished into eyes blue as gas-flame, brilliant as sapphire frost, icy hot, melting me as they burned colder.
“You got a bathroom down here. Ma’am?” he asked the woman behind the desk, his voice a husky croon, a delicious velvet drawl thick as caramel and ripe with Southern charm.
No, Darlin’, she sure didn’t, so I stepped forward, rushing in where angels etc., and offered my services ... upstairs.
May I, Lord, be allowed to follow this boy up a stairway that winds forever into the clouds? … near enough to see the golden puppy-fuzz on the back of his thighs, the flexing of gristle behind each knee, the thin thread of sweat etched down the seat of his day-glo blue shorts.
Usually, yes, I moan ... but smiled now in dreadful joy as he stepped in front of my door and turned with a nonchalant grin, brushing his honey-goldened hair behind first one ear, then the other, leaving one strand to fall back soft as a yawn against his cheek.
I raised my hand like an obsequious doorman. “Pasa.”
“Sorry, sometimes I lapse into Spanish.” Nogales sun-swelter scrambled my brains. I could feel the jellied convolutions bubbling like a hot broth. “Come inside.”
Then listen, listen to the splashing melody of micturating boy.
“There’s more to life,” I hear you saying, don’t deny it, “than listening to youngsters answering nature’s call.”
Oh sure, I suppose ... there’s watching them, too, and I did, discreetly, through the slyly co-operative mirror that caught light like a descending Paraclete above his head as he glanced around and he must have known, he must have known, but said nothing as he let his shorts snap back up into place,
“You sound like you’re from Texas, Nathan. Am I right?”
“Yes, sir, from Dallas,” and he smiled (hold me up, Doc, I feel faint), once again brushing back that unruly strand of silk the color of maple syrup sparkling with sun. “On vacation with my mama and daddy. We bin all the ways out to San Diego.”
But enough. I prefer whenever possible to live happily ever after, but today I died an agonized little death as Nathan bounced down the stairs with gazelle-nimble skip and waved a griefless farewell over his shoulder.
“So, what did you expect? This is life, chum, not one of your raunchy little fantasies.”
Maybe. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
From Nathan I whimpered abjectly to Keith, who appeared beside me at a gas station near Tucson beneath a furnace-blasting sky of phos-phorescent blue flame. There seemed no limit to nature’s cruelty as I pushed up my sunglasses and let my eyes roam up and down and up again over this exquisitely tanned little imp leaning against the pop machine and sipping from a sweaty can of Coke. He posed in nothing but brown leather sandals and denim cut-offs rolled into narrow cuffs around dancer-slim thighs burned red as Arizona clay. Each rib stood out in sharp relief around the cavity of pubescent belly. He had to be twelve, an age that clubs any connoisseur over the skull like so many pounds of granite. But of course I’ll never know, because this is, as you will recall, the torture chamber dubbed “reality”, and I must content myself in heat daze with the recollection of his name — yes, Keith — shouted by his impatient father through the rolled-down window of their neon-orange Buick, with the wonder of aqueous green eyes bright as the emerald-shimmer of tropic lagoons, with round pixie face toasted almond-dark beneath a sweaty cluster of lemon-blond curls ... and as he passed by, nearly brushing my arm, he also waved a griefless farewell but without lifting a hand, his lean little behind swinging a supple adios as he strutted pigeon-toed back to the car.
There comes a time to call a halt to any and all affairs of madness, and I do ... constantly. But my lunacy carries its own imperative, an addiction to illicit passion that sends me staggering in pursuit of death-angels like a droop-eyed junkie fumbling with lethal hypos.
... then buzzing suddenly with a sweet-hot rush I saw a bicycle skid to a stop beside me in the parking lot of my Phoenix motel. A boy drizzling sweat leapt off and sprinted inside to the office, returning with a can of spray paint before I could complete my obligatory sighs.
“Slow down, you’ll get there faster.”
The galloping lad pulled up short, his mouth open as he gulped for breath and cocked his head. “Say what?”
He was Mexican, with exotically slanted obsidian eyes, café-au-lait skin and sweat-damp black bangs plastered against his forehead.
“It’s an old Gypsy saying. Meaning haste makes waste and all that jazz.”
“Yeah, right,” and he swung his leg up like a pup taking a leak and hopped onto the bike. “I gotta go.”
“It’s a party,”
He shoved off with his foot as if launching himself in a canoe, then bore down on the pedals and streaked away in a blur of pumping legs, his hair whipping like the soot-black mane of a little colt. Off to his party. With a can of spray paint. I didn’t understand — until later, when he returned, and I waved to him from the doorway of my room, where he joined me with his hair tinted a mossy green.
“It was a dress-up party,” he informed me, “and I was the Incredible Hulk.” He grinned with a soft sniff, his nose wrinkling as he grinned wider and touched his verdant monster hair.
“Could be a problem.”
“Getting the paint out.”
“Aw, it’ll be OK.” He touched his hair again and rolled his eyes up in a futile attempt to inspect his own bangs.
“You’re thirteen, right?”
“How’d you know that?”
“It always amazes me, too.”
He ended up on my bed watching a Three Stooges rerun and alternately sipping and munching from a can of grape soda and a bag of corn chips obtained from the vending machine outside. His name is Jeff, and his mother runs the motel ... and after he popped the last chip into his mouth he accepted an invitation to shower in my bathroom. Five minutes ago I handed him the shampoo, feigning indifference as he pushed upon the frosted glass door and stood bouncing on his toes, every naked inch of him toffee-brown and glistening and flecked with soap lather. I now await his appearance in the doorway, when I will offer with a cheerfully avuncular smile to dry his back. I dare not probe any further into the future than that. No visions of drawn shades and crumpled sheets and warm, sleek-soft boy flesh. Reality threatens always to creep slyly into daydream. But I refuse to indulge it. Nathan and Keith and Jeff deserve better than the treacle of fantasy. Only the truth can hint at their splendor.
Then Jeff appears, a painfully beautiful creature of drenched black hair and brown skin and lean adolescent sinew ... and we share a secret smile.
If you would like to leave a comment on this webpage, please e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org, mentioning in the subject line either the title or the url of the page so that the editor can add it.