4 min

The reddish ulcer

Ian catches more than a good fuck

It’s only a few minutes walk from Lee’s Trail to the seawall. At night the moon will point a yellow rod at you across the waves. Singling you out. It seems like a miracle, but it can happen to anyone.

Ian was waving his feet over the high-tide water. He checked his watch-late. He brushed his Levis and pushed himself up.

Maybe he could still get one in.

Ten minutes later, he was edging up to the trail. Bodies moved gently in the shadows. He wondered if he knew anyone. He stopped, cupped his hands around his mouth and breathed out. Popped a mint, checked his breast pocket for the Trojan and headed in.

Three weeks later, Ian was wacking off in the shower while his roommate Tommy made breakfast for the both of them. Near climax, Ian glanced down, not wanting to miss the show. What he saw down there made him give a little shout, and he dribbled what he was going to shoot.

From the kitchen, Tommy was setting the table and pouring coffee. He looked up at the bathroom door. “What’s wrong?”

Ian shut off the water and emerged, cupping his member like a dying bird.

“What is it?” Tommy stood up and came around the table.

Ian offered a view of a reddish ulcer. Something like a vampire bite. Tommy screwed up his face and squealed “gross.” Then, with affectionate concern: “You’re going to the clinic.”

Ian put his dick away with a sigh of resignation: “I. Hate. Needles.”

Next day, Ian’s roommate dropped him off at the Centre on Bute Street, promising to be back in half an hour and buy him an ice cream.

Ian flipped blindly through last month’s Vogue in the waiting room, tapping his feet and chewing gum. Ian hated needles.

The nurse eventually called his name and he went back, like a boy sludging off to the principal’s office. It didn’t take long for the nurse to get to the point.

“Have you ever had sex when you couldn’t see your partner’s genitals?”

Pants around his ankles, Ian felt he may as well be honest.

“On the trails, yeah. At night.”

“You were unable to check your partner’s penis for sores, blisters?”

“I could feel it. I mean, like, I touched it.”

“You can pull your pants up now.” Ian did as he was told.

The nurse started talking about syphilis, and Ian’s mind was bouncing between random scenes from And the Band Played On. Syphilis? Wasn’t that what 19th century poets died of? Who gets syphilis?

Ian interrupted the nurse: “I always use a condom. It can’t be syphilis.”

The nurse smiled. “Condoms don’t necessarily help . . .”

Now Ian was looking out the window, down on Davie St. His mind was racing: But condoms stop everything. . .

“You could have had a partner with sores around the base of his penis. Without actually checking each partner with your own eyes, you’d never know.”

Ian let the nurse take some blood-enough to get checked for everything, and was even convinced to drop his drawers again and allow a tiny Q-Tip to swab the inside of his dick.

“Breathe out,” said the nurse as the prod went in.

“I can’t do it!” shouted Ian, reaching for his pants.

“You already did,” said the nurse, holding the Q-Tip up like a magic wand. “You have a very large urethra.”

Ian’s face went a little red: “Um. Thank you.”

He made his way home under the cherry trees then, and practiced his worrying for a few days. He watched every episode of Six Feet Under. Twice.


It was syphilis. The nurse was right. Another needle. This time, instead of blood coming out, penicillin went in.

Ian clenched his teeth and looked furiously at a poster, mumbling “I. Hate. Needles.”

The nurse cooed, and said he was done.

That night, Ian’s roommate came home with a tub of neopolitan ice cream.

The following week, Ian was brunching with his favorite dyke, Sian, and explaining things over orange juice.

Sian took off her glasses and looked Ian in the eyes. “Syphilis, huh? Well, now you’re fucked.”

“No, I’m fine.” He made the action of a needle squirting. “Shot of penicillin and I’m good to go.”

“Baby,” Sian was looking out the window at the traffic on Commercial Dr. “Be careful. Could be worse next time.”

“I’m not gonna get anything. Besides, it’s not like I’m about to ignore a festering canker on my dick if I see one.” Ian leaned back in his chair.

The table next to them looked over with looks halfway between judgement and amusement. Ian smiled back.

Sian crossed her legs and lit a cigarette: “Listen numb-nuts: as much as I do think you’ve got your head up your ass, I doubt you’d discover one of those sores if it was lodged there.”

“Hey!” Ian leaned in. “I happen to be a top.”

Sian blew smoke out the corner of an incredulous smile. “Okay. But, last time I checked, syphilis was versatile.”

The table next to them was now making no pretense of ignoring the conversation. An elderly man even leaned in and related how his grandpa had died of syphilis after going insane from the disease. “But now you’ve got these clinics, all these new tests!” he cheered, making a fist in the air with a wrinkly arm. “Just go get a test once in a while!”

The man nodded gruffly at Sian, obviously connecting with her unwavering gumption. Then returned to his plate of sausages, mumbling something about ungrateful kids.

Sian made clucking sounds and rubbed Ian’s hand between hers. “Just promise me you’ll get checked once in a while, okay?”

“Okay, okay.” And he ordered more coffee.

“Good,” said Sian, “‘Cuz I’d hate to have to come by your house every couple of months and shove a flashlight up your ass.”

* Syphilis has reappeared on the Vancouver scene. Condoms offer only partial protection. Take care of yourself. And get tested at the Centre, 1170 Bute St. 604.660.7949.