“I’m trying, I can’t get the rhythm right… it keeps getting irregular.”
“You make it... it has to be…” John slipped into a slow pulsing rhythm, accenting it differently, every important beat emphasised with a sweep of his bow. Lou looked at him steadily, copying him; ran his fingers fast over the strings on the offbeat, creating a screech. John’s eyes lit up. Lou smiled at his approval and turned to focus on his playing. John loomed in the background, watching him, waiting for his signals. He responded to the smallest gesture: his whole body a string stretched taut for Lou to touch into music with a cue. Lou dipped his head down, frowning against the thought. John’s stare intensified, wondering what was about to happen. Lou swung the neck of the guitar up and ground on the strings, causing a crunch and a howl of feedback. There was a wail from John’s viola in response.
“Louder,” Lou said.
“So how come you guys never made it?” Lou said, leaning back on the wooden crate and taking a drag. “Did ya never make the cut?” John scowled at him. They’d had this conversation before and Lou was just goading him at this point. He’d been absolutely insufferable all day and now he was high, which made it worse. To be fair, John was also high but today it just made him want to brood and play music.
“You know why.”
“Whatever,” Lou said. He fidgeted, rubbing his arms, and gave John a piercing look as if to tell him he could see through him. John made an exasperated noise.
“I don’t need this,” he said, and stood up. Out of irritation he kicked a crate so hard the side splintered and it went skidding across the floor. He thought about going to his room, but he wasn’t doing particularly great at standing up and didn’t want to risk walking so he sat back down, aggrieved. Lou glared at him.
“Yeah, I don’t need your bullshit, Cale, but you’re giving it to me anyway,” he said. John glared back, the tension between them thickening. “Come here,” Lou said. John didn’t move, his only response a flash from his eyes and his nostrils flaring in anger. Lou dug into his jean pocket and pulled out a handful of pills. “I guess that means you don’t want any of these?” John glanced at them, the anger going out of his eyes, and shook his head. Lou put some into his mouth and washed them down with liquor. John leant over and took the bottle from him, taking a swig. He grimaced.
“Bloody awful. I need a hit.”
“You’re outta luck. Unless you wanna go out and hustle.” His tone was teasing, light. The corner of John’s mouth jerked in amusement, or annoyance. It was difficult to tell.
“Fuck you,” John said. He flung out one thin leg and nudged some debris on the floor with his foot. His eyelashes were black spikes against the pale skin of his cheeks. Lou edged closer, a malicious look on his face. He punched John in the arm, hard.
“You motherfucker.” He said. John looked up, glowering. Lou smiled and put a careless arm around John’s shoulder. John leant his head back a little, wary and tired of the familiar game. But he didn’t move away. When Lou’s hand slipped down to his waist, he let it.
John watched Lou for signs, as much as he listened to him. And when he listened, it was more to the flow of words than the words themselves, a ribbon of rhythm and sounds, interwoven and in tune with the other sounds in the room around them. Yes- a beat of quiet, then the flutter of notes and the pauses where consonants interrupted the sound… slowly, the meaning of the words filtered into his mind. He interjected sounds like interjecting into a conversation. This was right. “Let’s repeat it,” John said.
“No, that doesn’t make sense… I’ll change it,” Lou replied. John watched Lou think, try out strings of words, let the music flow under them. He took in the slight tilting of his head, the quick looks cast up at him, Lou’s eyes luminous and clear, sharp with concentration. All he had to do was react. A perfect union of movement and thought, though that was a description he could not have thought of himself.
Their eyes met; he lifted his chin a little. They started over.
They had had to run from the bar and down the street to avoid getting killed. When they were safe, they leant against the corner of an alley to catch their breath. Panting drily, John looked at Lou, his eyes dark pits of fear and anger. Lou smirked and cast the odd nervous glance down the street. He ran his hand through his hair. A shower of splintered glass fell out. He giggled. “Shit.” He looked at John.
“Why do you always have to provoke them?” John said. “You could have gotten me killed.” Lou grinned at him, eyes bugging out of his head with excitement.
“Hey,” he said, “I wouldn’t let that happen. If anyone’s gonna kill you, it’s gotta be me.” He reached out to grab John’s face, but John moved out of his grasp.
“If he’d sliced you up you would have deserved it.” John said. There was a quick gleam of bloodlust in his eyes. He whipped around and turned back into the street. Lou followed him.
“Yeah, how about you, with your crazy recorder playing.” he said.
“I wasn’t doing anything.” John’s tone was haughty. Lou shook his head.
“You were late.” John lifted his head, frustrated.
“I wasn’t, I was coming in on the second eighth.”
“Well, don’t, it ruins the emphasis. Then the line won’t work.” John furrowed his brow in thought, moved around in his seat. Really, if Lou was going to be this picky, why didn’t he just sing it himself? He repeated the bars, once, twice, trying to solve what he thought of as a fault in the rhythm, while Lou waited, looking annoyed. They started over, but this time he really was late. He encountered Lou’s angry stare and glared back. They started over, the sound grinding as they both grit their teeth, daring the other to comment. Then as they persisted, slowly but surely, it slid into some sort of harmony.
The night outside was noisy and cold. John sat on his bed, anxiously counting and recounting money. Lou looked on, tapping one foot. “No way that’s right. Let me do it,” he said. He also counted it and frowned. “I don’t know. I guess I’m too fucked up to count.”
“I don’t understand. Maybe I lost some.”
“Aw, fuck.” Lou went through his pockets again, coming up with nothing but some leftover drugs and his notes. “I’ll have to go see my fucking parents.” He sat down next to John, who carefully gathered up the money and put it away before it could get lost. Lou lit up and leafed through the books that were stacked on the floor, scattering them. “My mother’s going to in my face the whole time about how I should be recommitted and then get a job typing or some shit.”
“Mine says if I’m not going to carry on studying music I should go back eeend become a doctor.”
“That ain’t too bad. You can have fun with a scalpel.” John mulled this over, a dreamy, wistful look on his face. Lou pulled some paper and a pencil stub out of his pocket and started to write something. John stared at him as he did it, following the affected little flourishes of his hand. When Lou paused after a line, he glanced up and caught John’s eye. He gave him a challenging look back. There was a flicker of anger in John’s eyes. Lou pressed his lips together and continued to scribble, wondering what had crawled up John’s ass this time. But he wasn’t going to indulge him by reacting. John was getting a big head, anyway. He’d have to do something about that sometime soon. He bit the end of his cigarette and put the notes away. “I’ll teach it to you tomorrow,” he told John, giving him a needling look and nudging him. John twitched away and assumed an air of noble long-suffering, casting his eyes down. He was self-righteously silent for a few moments.
“I’m tired of sitting… talking. We should be doing something. I want to play,” he said suddenly.
“Then make it fucking happen, man.” Lou sounded annoyed. “All you do when we try to get booked is bitch at people.” John huffed, dissatisfied, and rubbed his arms. Lou observed John closely and intently. He flexed the fingers of one hand a few times, considering something. The tendons in John’s neck were standing out and his mouth was working, like a horse worrying its bit. He seemed lost in thought, his gaze turning dark and glittering. He touched Lou’s leg with his.
“I know it’s just to upset me,” he muttered as if to himself. Lou wondered what was going on and what it meant. Anything could happen when John was in this kind of mood. He put out his cigarette on the floor and waited for a moment. Then he made a move towards John, but at the same time John also moved, and he backed off again. He cursed and his eyes became sharp with startled anger. John seemed offended for some reason and leant his head back. They both looked away, uncertain of the other.
Then John pounced on him so quickly Lou could only react too late. But they were too close together for any real fight to be possible anyway. They grappled, legs tangling, their bony limbs pressed together painfully. Lou felt a rush of sudden pleasure under the closeness of John’s body, then grew irritated by it. He grabbed John’s wrist and wrenched it so that John hissed in pain and fury. He never liked to have his hands messed with. John put a hand on Lou’s throat in retaliation and threw a leg over him, pinning him down. Lou spluttered and started to push John away. John slowly lost his grasp on his throat, his hands skimming along Lou’s body trying to find a place of purchase. Lou looked for an angle at which he could punch John in the face, but there wasn’t one, so he instead put his hands on the top of John’s hips and squeezed. John, surprised, forgot to move for a moment, allowing Lou to pull him down against him, folding one arm around his neck and jerking his head down against his shoulder. He rolled him over so he was on top. John’s breathing was loud and fast, his whole body struggling against Lou’s hold. Lou pushed down against him, enjoying the friction.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” John wheezed, writhing uncomfortably under him. Lou barked out a laugh and moved his hips a little. He noticed he was starting to get turned on. So was John. That amused him. Lou wondered what would happen once John freed himself. He pressed down harder against John’s moving body. It was pretty difficult to keep control of him. He was starting to slip, so he moved a leg and kicked John sharply, just for the hell of it. John burst into a flurry of movement, throwing him off. They returned to their scuffle, more serious now. Each of them tried their hardest to get a punch in on the other but without succeeding. They rolled over chaotically, their breathing laboured and hands wandering everywhere, flailing against each other. Jostling madly, John managed to wrangle it so that he came out on top this time. Lou found himself face down, John’s hands pushing down on his shoulders. All at once, they were both edgy: Lou uneasy because of the position he was in, John pawing at Lou angrily and emphatically, as if to prove some point that was clear only to him. Lou struggled under the weight of John’s body. He tried to concentrate on getting out and getting the better of him, but the aggression in John’s touch made his breath catch and his skin prickle in excitement.
“Goddamnit, you son of a bitch,” he snapped. He struggled harder, annoyed by his own response and by John getting the upper hand. He grunted crossly. Why could John never do what he was supposed to? John didn’t let go, but instead bent over him more closely. There was a moment of tension as Lou wriggled under him, waiting. John’s breathing roughened and he ground jerkily along with Lou’s movements, his erection digging into his back. Lou cursed as he felt John’s hands, proprietary and admonishing, on his shoulders, his back; pinching, pushing at his clothes. Lou was exposed. He squirmed violently, unwilling to decide on a further reaction. John grabbed at him, arranged his body one way and another; then suddenly bore down hard. Lou yelped, then suppressed the sound and swore instead. John growled into his ear, leant onto him so heavily he struggled to breathe. Lou held on, jaws clamped tightly shut, not wanting to admit to himself that he liked it or to stroke John’s ego by responding. He measured out his breaths and clawed his hands into the mattress, fighting to keep control of his reactions. Man, it wasn’t right, but it felt good, every time. John shifted slightly. Lou braced himself. It only took a few more thrusts for him to come, hard and sudden. “Fuuuck,” he mouthed, furiously, as the sensation rolled over him, shivering through his body. John didn’t seem to notice. He was making a noise like he was about to fucking die, intent on his own orgasm, which came with a series of deep thrusts, a rough, guttural groan. He slowed down, went heavy and limp. He slumped onto Lou’s body and squashed his face into his neck.
The ensuing silence was deafening, punctuated by the uneven rasp of their breathing, the clang of pipes. John rolled onto his side a little, pulling Lou along. His arms tightened around him. This was more than Lou could stand so he slipped out, leaving John to flop over behind him. He wiped himself off with John’s rumpled up sheets and half-heartedly fixed his clothes, then settled back down. His body felt tired and weak, too wrung out to move. He looked around listlessly and wished he could have a drink. But they didn’t have any alcohol left in the house.
John was sprawled out like a beached jellyfish, hair plastered over his face. His arms were flung open with the sleeves pushed up to reveal the waxy skin, dotted with track marks: purple and blue, yellow and red. Where his trousers were pushed down, the angles of his hip bone showed sharp. Lou’s eyes narrowed as he looked at him. He thought him over for a while, various schemes forming in his mind. He nudged John’s exposed lower stomach with the toe of his boot. John opened his eyes, instantly hostile. “Piss off,” he muttered. Lou nudged his foot lower. One corner of his mouth curled into an unpleasant smile. John’s eyes sparked for a second before he lowered them. He grumbled and turned away.
“One of these days, John,” Lou said.
“One of these days, what?”
“You’ll see.” John’s only response was an angry snort.