Due South


This dirty, dingy bar, once again, choked with the broken-hearted and lost, the dregs of a society that produces luckless lovers and hopeless romantics. Roy Orbison singing for the lonely, a jukebox old and tinctured with age and stale cigarette smoke. I wish I still smoked. Be easier than being here alone.

This isnít my place, not really. My place is in the world, the real world of guns and violence and shake, bad guy, shake. Normalcy. This is the bar at the end of the world, the end of any rational world anyway, and all I want to do is find him.

(Find him where? Here? He wouldnít be caught dead here. You know that.)

Sure. Sure I know that. Just as sure as I know he wouldnít be caught dead where I really want him, where I really need him. This is love, I think, though how I can be sure? I thought I was in love once, with a woman named Stella. Maybe I was, maybe thatís who I was then. What am I now? Why am I here?

Hermannn Hesse calls love sweet anguish, and when I read that in school it never stuck with me. Itís ringing in my head now, sweet anguish, love like a hunger that consumes and devours and is never satiated. I wonít find him here, no, but every night I come to look anyway.

Down by the jukebox, that could be him. Maybe. If you squint. ďOnly the LonelyĒ becomes ďIn Dreams,Ē and when the man turns, he becomes someone else. Not Fraser. Not like he ever was to begin with. Not like anyone ever is.

Beer, good, drown it all down. I never gave up drinking and tonight thatís a good thing. Tonight, this bottle is dark with compassion, heady with confidence. God, surely this is blasphemy to ask, surely I will be struck dead for such a prayer, but please God donít let me go home alone tonight. Please God let me be with him, or someone near enough. I donít know if my heart can bear another second without his lips on mine.

(Wet your lips. Come on, drunk is good. Drunk is better. Drunk is forgetting.)

ďIf I know what love is, itís because of you.Ē More Hesse. I should never read before hitting the bars. If this is love, then why does it fucking hurt so much? This anguish is sweet, yeah, but itís bitter. Bitter. Another swallow and Roy Orbison singing ďYou Got It,Ē everything you need, everything you want. Why, God, why canít I be everything he wants? Why canít I...?

Him. In the shadows, standing by himself. Black hair, dark eyes. Red shirt that looks like serge. And the smile, oh Jesus, that smile that hurts my heart and warms it at the same time. More beer, please, and maybe Iíll be drunk enough to pretend itís him. To pretend itís not him. To seek solace in a stranger and know who Iím sleeping with.

ďDonít see you around here much,Ē he says when I approach. I hope itís not a pick-up line. I canít abide pick-up lines, not tonight. Not when my heart is lying on the floor, just ready and willing to be picked up and squashed.

ďIím new,Ē I tell him, and itís not Fraser, of course itís not, it never will be. I canít be here. I shouldnít be here. God, I donít want to be alone tonight.

He tilts his head and in the glow of blue neon, yes, yes I can see him in it. In those eyes and the cast of his face, that proper stance. I can see goodness in him, goodness when the rest of this whole fucking world is so dirty.

(Youíre seeking decency, righteousness in this hell, Ray. What do you even hope to accomplish here?)

ďRay,Ē I tell this man whoís not Fraser. ďKowalski.Ē His shake is firm, strong. I think that if I close my eyes, he could even sound right. Heís not him, he canít be him, but tonight, just tonight, let this man be enough.

He says his name but I canít hear it. The jukebox blares ďI Drove All Night,Ē and when we kiss, for a bare moment, all the secrets that slept deep within me come awake, everything is transformed and enchanted, everything makes sense. Then itís gone. Then heís gone. Loneliness is like a serrated blade, slicing into me, carving me apart.

(You deserve this, you know.)

The thing is, I do. What right, what goddamned right do I have, begging for a companion in this torment? What right...

Then heís back.

ďAre you worth it?Ē the man asks, and I want to tell him yes, I want to promise. But thatís too much to ask.

ďI donít know.Ē If I mouth I love you, heíll take it the wrong way. He wonít understand. I donít understand. ďPlease, I donít want to be alone anymore.Ē

And his eyes, so kind, close slowly and his lips are on mine again. Maybe, just maybe, this can be what I need more than anything. I canít hurt like this anymore. I canít need him anymore. Soon enough, sweet anguish turns sour, and love blossoms into hate. I canít hate you, Fraser. Never that. I canít hate you so Iíll love him. Is that enough?

ďMake me warm?Ē I ask him, and later in the night Iím warm, Iím warm inside, and thatís more than I ever dared ask. I suffer now, but maybe I can learn to love my suffering. To not resist it, to not flee from it. And I can plunge in here, plunge into this man who is not Benton Fraser, because itís aversion that hurts, nothing else. Give myself more than what I canít have.

I love you, Fraser. I whisper it so softly. I love you, Fraser.

And the man who is not Fraser pulls me close in his sleep, and maybe I can start the painful business of loving him instead.