Vancouver
3 min

Absolution

The healing power of touch

Credit: Xtra West files

On Valentine’s Day, Will and Sharif decided to see other people. And not to see one another.



Will was amazed by this proposal, but bored also, saying to the space over Sharif’s head, “I don’t know why I even bother.” He whiled away the impossibly long talk by peering into his hands and, once Sharif had finished explaining the why and wherefore, he swallowed a bit of air, concisely replying: “You bastard fuckwit.”



This was on a couch in the Student Union Building, in the middle of midterms. Will detected the scent of stale urine rising from the cushions. “I’ve got class,” he said, getting up.



“Today’s Saturday.”



“I know that!” snapped Will. A faint pause, to regroup. Finally, the alternative presented itself: “Studying. I have to go to the library.”



Sharif ran his hands along the inside of his thighs, a nervous habit of his, and asked Will to stay-to stay and talk some more. But an exit was all that was left him, dramatically speaking, so Will plodded off. It’s funny, he thought, I cry during life insurance commercials. But not this. See? I didn’t love him after all.



In a waste bin, he slipped the Valentine’s card-now nauseating with sincerity-and imagined that a homeless person might read it and feel momentarily, bizarrely, loved.



Mulchy leaves were everywhere, ideal for kicking at. Until, of course, one slips and lands on one’s ass in the wet muck of a path. Standing, Will brushed at the backside of his jeans, his butt-cheeks now resembling mud flaps, and growled quietly at the whole fuckity fucked-up world.



What use is the marzipan pretense of a relationship anyhow? Just gets in the way of schoolwork. Only precludes the option of countless other fucks. Keeps at bay all those bones from his biting dog. What was a relationship but a convenient bank account from which one might withdraw the occasional, cheaply bought, orgasm? Relationships, concluded the rant in Will’s mind, were the bathhouse of the timid. Bastard. Bastards all!



Besides which: midterms require the utmost concentration. Silly boyfriend thing, surely, an acceptable loss when compared with stellar scholastic record. Valentine’s, reckoned Will, is only a Hallmark holiday after all.



Much better to concentrate on school. Eschew love in favour of learning. Hell, half the books on his reading list were about love anyway (and grander love at that). The quota was full. The companionship of good books and good conversation-the steady hand of friendship-were the important things.



And friends! Where were his friends? What was Ryan even doing lately? He hardly knew his own roommate. Surely this called for a night of cigarettes, martinis, and loud tirades-the world needed more manifestos against the perils of love!



Will hunkered into the tomb-like stacks of Main Library, his bag slumping onto a carved up desk.



“Will! Thank God.” Ryan’s head peered nervously around a grey shelving unit. “Did you pay attention to your route? I can’t find the exit! I’m gonna die in a library, alone and unloved! And on today of all days!”



Once confronted with the high-pitched reality of his roommate, Will mentally crossed ‘friends’ off the list-just books then; books were the best companions. He showed Ryan the way out.



“Okay then,” said Ryan. “Nothing else to tell me, then?”



“It’s nothing, Ryan. I just want some privacy.”



“Nothing, then?” A waiting whistle.



“Ryan, just fuck off, will you?”



“Fine. Fine. I’ll see you at home.”



Back to the quiet text. A line, a staid paragraph, when suddenly Will’s face came up to the window.



Only then did he remember, with awful chords of guilt: today was Ryan’s birthday.



With a rustle of bag and coat-reading could wait-he jogged along the library’s lanes to catch up. He could still, given enough cake, make it up to him.



But he made a wrong turn somewhere and found himself in a darkened, occupied, corner. Two entangled boys, bare-chested and rustling, looked up from their embrace with a bird-like start. One of them Will recognized from class, and he nodded toward him, laughing.



Only a moment’s uncertainty wormed between embarrassment and desire-Will felt beckoned. So he came.



Four hands! Will had never known four hands before. They drew red lines over his skin. One boy turned Will slowly, unbuttoning the top of his jeans. The other lowered before him, biting at the pants. And all through this, the hands.



Anonymous hands are light! They travel the body without any trace of memory’s weight. Electric and novel, they teased Will’s skin till it burned. But who knew there was such awesome intimacy in strangers?



Anonymous heat was the finest of them all, he now understood.



It felt like absolution.