Le Bel Homme Sans Merci
He lowers his head into the light of my reading lamp. Curls of golden coins, copper coins, the rusty ink of old two-dollar bills—his hair a cap on his head. He’s naked, with curling wealthy hairs in a mat down the chest and belly of a hero.
“Sleepy yet?” he says.
“No way,” I say, and raise my arms, thin dry bones. I draw him down and he kisses my eyelids, cheeks, my wasted, hollow face.
Sunshine, and the kind of day where you yearn to break free of the cage of the office—away from pods of cubicles, thrice-forwarded emails and typographical errors on drafts. My tie strangled me. The clock was my warden. I truly did not care about securities and trust.
Four p.m. Freedom. I cycled to the grocery store with my panniers half packed. Young women watched me select food for my trip—staring at my legs, barely daring to look me in the eye. Moot—I’d never be interested.
He was on the road a while past Gooseberry—stopped to tie a shoe, or get a rock out of his chain, I don’t know. I saw the tattoo on his calf as I wheeled up—not the stylized symbol of our flag but a maple leaf, caught in its gentle spiraling fall to the autumn earth, forever. I nearly rode into him, staring at it. I had to swerve out on the highway. He was startled, and I waved a hand as I kept going. Sorry. Nice tattoo.
He caught up, passed me. I caught up, passed him. We raced through the forested foothills, outdoing each other, slowing down, catching up. We turned down the MacLean Creek road, but when we hit the camper’s center, I stopped to let a monster trucker go by. He slammed his brakes.
“I think I want to see where you’re going,” he said, and followed me on the gravel road less traveled.
He kneels over me so I can touch him. I reach up and part the hair on his chest to see the leaf. One side curls tight; the colors bleed from green to red to a dull dry orange. It’s almost as vivid and as real as the others.
I trace the outlines, the impossible borders of it, so close to his heart. He places a hand over mine and stills my fascination, and I look up to gaze at the planes and angles of his face, the way the soft light strikes them into shape and shadow.
He caresses my nipples in ever-tightening circles, teasing them into tiny peaks. I groan and gasp in great wracking sighs as he pinches them, slowly harder and harder, over the line into pain and cruelty. He lets go and the blood flows back, aching. I’m shaking and weak. I try to pull his face down near mine, but he knows what I want. His lips devour mine, nibbling at the tender flesh, hungry and insistent.
I love it. I never want it to end.
His laugh is low as he kisses a trail down my sunken chest, down and further down.
He kept up with me for the whole seven kilometers of rough, hilly, narrow road, never flinching over the wide gaps in the livestock gates. He figured out the trick of crossing to the left side of the road when the monster trucks roared up from behind us; the sheer sides on the right were too risky. Dirt tracks scarred the green earth, and the roar of dirt bikes echoed across the hills. The spring rains had been good and the world smelled of loam and grass and clean wet earth.
We didn’t talk. Ruts in the road, potholes, deep gravel, soft shoulders that might give way at any moment got in the way of any kind of conversation we could have. I led the way, and he followed over the one-lane bridge, up the hill, and into Fisher Creek campground.
The firewood guy was just pulling out, but he stopped. He looked doubtfully at my mountain bike as he threw the battered orange van into reverse and waited for me to lead the way. I chose the west parking lot. He unloaded a bag of firewood for me and I paid him the outrageous sum of sixteen dollars. He roared away, promising to be back the next afternoon.
My companion looked at me. “Nice campground. Deserted.”
“My favorite. Where were you going to camp?”
He laughed, and the sound echoed off the hills. “Nowhere. I was just out for a ride.”
I looked down, and he didn’t have any panniers.
Down, and down. Over the ticklish sides of my belly, where abdomen meets loins. He nibbles, kisses, traces letters and words with his tongue and blows on them. I’m all goosebumps on my pale flesh when his message is complete: I will always love you.
He hefted the load of firewood easily, still content to follow me, and I led him past the firepit-and-circle-of-gravel sites, down the trail that skirted the bog on one side and forest on the other. I took a fork to the right, through the trees, and led him to my secret site.
Someone had started it, but I worked on completing it. There were even chairs made of the willow that grew in the wetland; I spent days on them and never wondered why I had made two. We dumped the stuff and jog-trotted back, racing the light. He led the way that time, and I watched the maple leaf ripple and undulate over his calf. He moved easily, with the athleticism that doesn’t come from bodysculpting in a gym.
He worked hard, accepting my direction—firewood goes there, wrapped in this tarp, haul that sack of food up in that tree, clear the ground around this firepit for six feet. He started the fire competently, kept it small and built for glowing coal. It was dark by the time I could actually cook—packages of vegetables and fruited lamb in foil. We shared what I had for myself, holding sizzling hot chops in our fingers.
I took him away from the fire to look at ten billion stars. We turned a slow circle in the parking lot, and I showed him Cygnus, Perseus the hero, and the long serpentine length of Draco, its head nearly lost in the eternal stream of the Milky Way. He talked of the thick path of stars as the seed of some celestial night-god, spilled and hanging above us, lost children and lost chances in the sky. When we came back to the fire and built it for heat and light, he showed me his tattoo.
I say the singular, though more than a dozen leaves tumbled and fell on his body, treating his flesh as the canvas of his painting. He stood there in the firelight, his hair a flame, the glowing coals of hair on his body. He wore a triskelion pendant around his neck, strung on a leather cord. It rested at the top of the long valley that led down his chest, and further still.
I had to look away.
“Don’t,” he said, and took my hand.
I can barely even whisper. He’s poised over me, tormenting, smiling as he pushes me to the edge with his breath, this time hot and moist over the head of my cock. He flicks out his tongue, lashes at it, and I try to shove my hips up to take what I need so badly. My hands scrabble and grasp at the sheets, holding nothing.
He sits up and his eyes shine, sunlight on water. He savors my distress.
“Do it,” I say again.
He grins and dives down; he buries me in his depths.
I didn’t care about securities and trust. I didn’t care about passive verbs. I didn’t care about my health plan, my three weeks paid vacation, or my flextime. We spent every minute together. I was—
I was in love. I was drowning in love.
A Saturday morning. The light streamed through his windows and he slept sprawling, face even more beautiful and masculine in repose. I watched him, enraptured.
I saw it then, just barely discernable under the copper-gold hair of his chest—the barest discoloration that resolved into a discernable shape: a ghostly, transparent maple leaf, close to his heart.
I started to cough around noon.
He sits up by the pillows, and my head rests on his thigh. I wrap my arms around his waist and he helps me turn on my side, gentle with the frail wreck of my body. He loves this. I take him deeply; he sighs, brushes strands of hair away from my forehead, undulates his hips to the rhythm of my breaths. He cradles my head and thrusts deeply. The sounds of his groans hang in the air. He stops. I try to take him back.
“Too close,” he says. His voice is hoarse.
I lost weight. I stopped skating, stopped biking, stopped climbing the three flights of stairs to the securities office. Eventually, I quit working. I only had time for tests—bloodwork, examinations, x-rays, magnetic imaging. There was nothing wrong with me, at least, nothing any doctors could find. I was never in any pain, and even the cough left eventually.
He took care of me, cooked for me. He took on all the chores and never complained, never showed any resentment: my need for him made him love me more. When I became bedridden, he carried me to the bath and washed me. I soaked in the tub while he changed the sheets.
The leaf became brighter, stronger. I would trace its outline with my fingers until he took my hand and made me stop by kissing the tips. We never stopped making love.
I suck in my breath as he eases himself down and straddles me with one knee on either side of my hips. I stay still; I barely breathe. I want to grab at his hips and thrust into him, to pin him with the ghost of my strength, ravish him.
He exhales and impales himself; he takes me inside him, surrounding me. He rides slowly; he glides up, he sinks down, so slowly. He takes his fill.
I take him into my hand, warm and stiff; I feel his pulse. I stroke him, an echo of his own rhythm. He throws his head back and his hips dance a little faster. Tremors of sensation radiate through me, overwhelming. I grip him tighter, stroke him faster, and he races me, riding astride. His eyes are huge and dark as he throws his head forward and shakes his angelic curls. He bites at his lower lip, as he rubs and pinches his own nipples. I can’t tear my eyes away from him. Oh God, I’m going to come—not yet, oh please not yet—
“I’ll only be gone four days, and I will phone, I promise. The nurse will take care of you.”
I made understanding noises, but I didn’t want him to leave me.
“And when I come back, you’ll understand why I had to go, truly you will,” he promised. He kissed all my fingers. He kissed my lips. I saw the leaf next to his heart as his sage colored shirt opened, but he wouldn’t let me touch it, covering his aversion by kissing me again.
The next day, I sat up in bed by myself. The day after that, I could hobble across my bedroom and take three dangerous lurching steps across the hallway and into the bathroom. By the fifth day, I opened the door for him when he came home. The nurse left, and we made love in his bed, kissed away joyful tears.
The leaf was—fainter, as if it had receded in the days we were apart, fading into the forest of hair.
I watched it get stronger each day.
I succumb to the wave that starts in the pit of my belly and through me. I moan so loudly, and my hand jerks spasmodically. Control flees and decorum cringes in the face of the orgasm that spills from the frail cup of my body, into him, into the sky and its ten billion stars.
The stars are his semen—they fly in a great arc over me; they leap and splash in great strings. Ophiuchus, Reticulum, Aquarius . . .
He falls to rest on me, and I tangle my hands in his solar hair. There is no time anymore. There is no me anymore. That which is I is diffuse, floating in particles of color and warmth, emancipate.
The leaf is perfect.
Chelsea Polk’s previous stories have appeared in Gothic.net and Clean Sheets. Like many writers, she’s held down a few weird jobs—film make up artist, telephone astrologer, theatre costuming assistant, wigmaker’s assistant, and costermonger. Currently, she lives in Calgary, Alberta, and works with Lepidoptera.
Art Director: Bonnie Brunish