I don’t want to be here.
Louche screwed his eyes tight shut. He pressed his fingertips into his eyes and tried to chase the lingering orange blotches away from the darkness. For a few seconds he could still see the strip light until its glow slowly faded into nothing. He was lifted on to the kitchen units while the voice, his voice, kept repeating I don’t want to be here , I...don’t...want...to...be...here.
BRING IT ON BABY, LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL.
Louche heard his father singing, an off key rendition, a vibrating sore that pulsed and throbbed, burrowing deep into his head. The tape was blasting in the empty kitchen and although he couldn’t see him, Louche could hear his father’s dance steps, tapping and scraping at the vinyl floor. His father was a good mover. Sometimes when Louche’s eyes were half open, that frightening slit of light searing his world, halting for a moment his voice, he had seen the quick steps, the body swerves and hip sways. His father was in no doubt of his own abilities. In half vision Louche saw him linger in front of his image in the long mirror which hung on the wall. He swerved and veered in front of it, checking his step every so often to twirl then sweep a can from the floor, a swift drink that didn’t break his tempo.
LET’S SHAKE, SHAKE, SHAKE.
Louche kept his eyes closed even when he heard his father tap his way closer to him, his hands keeping time with the rock n'roll beat, drumming an insistent rhythm on the kitchen surface, a vibration that rippled his skin and made the hair on his arms stand up.
COME ONE BABY WON”T YOU DANCE WITH ME
The words were both in the air and in Louche’s face. His father took Louche’s bony arms which hung limply over the edge of the kitchen unit and swung them from side to side but still, he kept his eyes shut, not letting one ray of light into his head. The voice inside was still there, he didn’t have to check to make sure. It never seemed to go away.
I want to be somewhere else.
He didn’t offer himself far flung places or warm, curled up spaces. Not wanting to be somewhere didn’t mean he knew where he wanted to be. He had a map given to him by his father who had pinned it to the bare wall and tried to get Louche to investigate it with him, to look at incredible islands, like dust on paper; to look at vast swathes of desert where hardly anything could live.’ This is your world, Louche. This is your world.’ Louche felt his neck get sore and his eyes go blurred. It was too painful to look at it after a while. His father had pins ready to stick in, ready for Louche to choose where he could possibly be with a leap of faith, a huge step into the unknown. The pins remained gathered at the edge of the map when he sank back onto his bed. His father sighed and marooned the pins on island so distant there was no name for where they were.
In the kitchen, the music stopped suddenly and he felt his father raise himself on to the kitchen table to be head height with his son. His words were whispered, a long breath taken in and slowly released.
“Son, you have to learn to enjoy yourself.”
“C’mon baby, come closer.”
Louche’s eyes were wide open in the pitch black. And he could see nothing. She wasn’t talking to him. Louche knew that. But for a strangely dark and sparkling moment he thought she was. Who she was talking to, who in fact she was, Louche had no way of telling in the blackened arch. He sensed her close to his body, not just her scent but that sense of movement that doesn’t require vision - like his own voice which didn’t need to be spoken. Of course, he could have reached out and touched but his heartbeat quickened and a voice in his head surged.
Take a step back, move away from this corner, get back into the open.
For a moment he hesitated, just enough to feel another presence close to him, brushing past his near - naked body. Scent, movement and yes, expectation told him that it was a man. Louche pressed himself tightly against the wall he knew was behind him and the woman’s insistent encouragement first faded then became muffled, her voice swallowed by a kiss, the sound of flesh against flesh, the sigh of release...
Inside, Louche could hear a voice again, its tone pulsing with threat, its persistent echo refusing to fade until he listened, obeyed and once again squeezed his eyes half shut and groped his way along the wall and into the next arch.
It was a little brighter, illuminated by the lash of candlelight. Here, the dozen or so figures moved as though exercising some kind of penitence. A slow walking monotony weighed down their steps, their bodies rigid and shackled by chains, but their heads and particularly their eyes were alert to their surroundings. Their clothing was elaborate but not particularly sophisticated. Stretches of rubber held by stretches of skin. Some men had rubber masks, some women thigh length boots. It was uniform. In front of him an overweight, middle aged man was led by an erstwhile dominatrix, chain in one hand, a whip dangling limply by her side. The entirely neutral look on the man’s face terrified Louche, galvanised his own self-reproachment into a frenzy, dragged him over burning coals, each with a spike that drove deep into his flesh, making his skin pop and sigh. If you tore your skin you might feel something; if you cut away there might be a chance of taking hold of something even yourself; even yourself would do. You are not at home here. It would be different. This is but once a year. C’mon!
Near one of the elaborate candlesticks that lit the poor brickwork of the arch a man leaned against the wall, his hands behind his head, his eyes tight shut, a grimace of something on his face. On her knees a woman dressed as in Victorian times was sucking his penis, her quickening, thrusting movements dislodging her emerald green hat, the veil temporarily shifted to one side. There was a strange routine not only to their action but to the others in the room, single men mostly who watched with tight lips where lips were visible, with concentrated stares where eyes could be seen. But for the distant thud of music there was silence in the room broken only by the metal links of the dominatrix’s chain.
What is the point of this ? I should be the point of this. Wallflowers die in the shade, Louche. You already know that. C’mon!
The other voice inside him, the one that rose above doubt’s persistent echo flashed like a torch in darkness. It reminded him why he was here. For a moment, just for one teasingly succinct moment. Until he felt overwhelmed by hope’s bright glare, until he felt as though he was suffocating and unbearably hot, despite his near naked state. Clothed only in rubber shorts and leather boots he felt restricted and, at the same time, both under and over-dressed. He shut his eyes completely, not wanting to be part of the silent stare, not feeling he had anything to share.
“Come on let it fly, let it go...”
His father gave him the kite just as it gained some height. He was jogging backwards up the hill, struggling and fighting with the string, both laughing and cursing as it dipped then soared then dived towards the ground, its brightly coloured tail close to the grass. As it climbed again, Louche closed his eyes and hung on to its tail, feeling the lift and rise into the air, his own dangling legs becoming part of its tail. He was jogging half-heartedly alongside his father who was willing and wishing the kite into the air. For one moment his father unexpectedly lifted him up off the ground desperately trying to give the kite a chance to fly in the light wind. When he lifted him up, Louche opened his eyes just the tiniest of fractions and saw the ground rush away from him. For that moment he too was airborne, the grip on his skinny hips gone, it’s safety forgotten. But then the kite nose-dived and he too found himself back on the ground, his father huffing and puffing beside him dragging the sadly grounded kite back up the slope. Some part of him was still soaring yet another part was buried deep in the ground, lungs struggling for air, his eyes filled with earth. Louche sat beside him and watched through half open eyes the sorry winding in of the tangled string . His father whispered into his ear, the words laboured, tense.
“You could maybe try a little harder, son.”
There was a peep show in another arch. Here there were more people than Louche had seen all night. They were two or three deep in front of the cage, which had been draped in black cloth. Around ten or so slits had been torn in the fabric, and the viewers, some with their hands on someone else, watched the participants of the peep show. There was both a sense of concentration and strange distraction as these bodies pressed against each other. Louche joined the viewers. Of course, inside his head a voice gushing with enthusiasm was veering from one suggestion to another - that he should be on the other side of the cage, that he should be running wild and feverish, that he could have been dipping and sucking and entwined, sublime amongst the assorted bodies splayed out in every stage of coitus. He worked his way to the front of the cage and shut his eyes letting the thin wire of the cage press into his face, gently then forcefully. Then, another voice rose inside him.
What are you doing here if you just going to...
Louche sank to his knees, and immediately people behind craned over him to view the orgy inside the cage. He felt a leg at his back, an elbow on his shoulder but these were accidental not intimate touches. When he opened his eyes there was only blackness and the relief that not being able to see brought to him. From open to shut there was no difference. That made sense to him, but again the hopeful voice in his head came back to him, forced open his eyes like rusty hinges and made his hands tear at the black material in front of him. A small gap opened and straight away his eyelashes brushed the hairs on a man’s arms which were pressing against the cage. Contact. His wildest dreams had never been this abstracted. His wildest dreams had him on the other side of the cage, his rubber shorts just another skin in a pile of limbs. His wildest dreams had brought him to this club of freedom, to set him free, to silence the undiminished voice in his head.
What are you waiting for, this is your chance...?
The arm moved away from the cage, to be replaced by the smooth skin of a woman’s thigh that suddenly buffeted the side of the cage, a rhythm growing ever more insistent. He tore more of the fabric away and more was revealed. He was so close he could smell something so personal that he scarcely believe it, he could see more than he had ever seen before. Louche put his hands down to his rubber shorts but his body felt numb, his nerves and senses blunted by the stimulation all around him until finally the persistent voice in his head reminded him what he already felt, already knew.
You are cold, cold, cold...
His father tried music. It was a tried and tested route. It brought on tears and dance; it reached both mind and body. At its most potent it was a panacea for the incipient numb, the fear of feeling so quickly diagnosed as dumb. His father tried. This would be a challenge to one so young. The conductor’s eyes were closed. His head rocked forward then shook vigorously for a moment before jerking back, his wild hair falling around him. His shoulders were hunched but his arms raged around him, tentacles seemingly out of control then suddenly taut, suddenly loose. Louche turned to look at his father sitting beside him. His eyes too were closed, one hand brushing his eyelids while the other rested on the seat in front, his fingertips intermittently tapping the red velour. Using quick, nervous glances, Louche could see other people in the audience in a similar state to his father, all of them reacting to the music as it raged towards a crescendo, the drums thundering through his seat.
At a quiet moment, his father whispered into his ear.
“Marvellous isn’t it”
He took his hand away from his face momentarily to squeeze Louche’s hand.
And it was marvellous, Louche believed what he was told. His first concert, his first experience of live music, it was an evening of firsts. He should be proud. He was the only child in an audience of adults. There was something special about his presence there and yet his eyes remained only half open, his vision squeezed into a loose line of blurred colour and unfocussed bodies. He wanted to rock his head like the conductor, he wanted to run his hands along the harp, back and forward, laughing as the notes slid upwards. He wanted to run on to the stage and leap on to the cymbals crashing his way through the music. But a voice in his head offered no encouragement, teasing him only with the possibility of public humiliation.
How terrible it would to be suddenly on that stage and expected to play...
He drew his body closer in, hugging his arms and legs, gathering his limbs tight against his chest. He needed to go to the toilet, he needed to clench his fists and stretch his legs so taut they would break and then there would be relief, a wash of wonderful warmth spreading over him and he could shut his eyes without thinking they should be open, he could let his voice out without fear of it being heard. He would not have to try anymore.
The Street of Shame, a central corridor of the club, was littered with couples in various states of sex. The light from the candles placed at even intervals along the narrow arch was surprisingly still, with little flicker to move or animate the bodies stretched out on the cobbled, uneven floors. Louche walked through these bodies with stealth, there still remaining a sense of expectation, a desire for invitation. Ahead of him, he saw another man, similar age, similar synthetic look, stop at one couple engaged in the early stages of arousal and kneel by them, out stretching a hand to the man’s head and reaching down with his head to the woman’s bare chest. Their arms welcomed him and drew him into their embrace. Louche smiled. This was what the evening was about. Encounters with strangers, exchanges of brief passion without guilt or long term attachment; a sense of revolution and sexual freedom He’d been told it was an ideal way to explore yourself and lose inhibition about sex and intimacy. His optimistic voice, that hopeful half of him, reminded Louche to retain the smile to shore it up, fix it and anchor it in the face of doubt but even in the shadowy light of candles it was clear to see there was little humour creasing his thin lips.
Don’t you wish that was you ? Why can’t it be you?
The warring voices in his head were the only thing Louche could hear at that moment. Yes, there was music, the sound of boots on cobbles, the grunts and groans of sex all around him but he was both deafened and muted by his own rage, clamouring for him to join in. Or not. He found another dark corner and pressed his bare back and legs against the cold brick. Now he was invisible, a white stain on the wall. He tried to stop all sound within him, to tighten it, strangle the words which kept coming back, on and on until his own breath stopped. Silence, somehow.
All they could hear was rain. The tent had begun to be weighed down by the torrential pour which had lasted more than three hours, just after the sun had set hurriedly at the end of the field. Louche could understand why. The enjoyment of the day had gone with the sun, the light drops of rain coming on as dusk shrouded them. It seemed to Louche that, with the sun gone, the clouds had rolled down from the hills surrounding them, rushing to corral them in their tents, one for the children, one for the adults. His cousins were enjoying themselves. They shed their given skins and let their naked limbs loose, a burst of energy, a smell of earth and breathing skin While in the adults tent maybe ten metres away he could hear the clink of glasses, the flow of murmured conversation erupting into stifled laughs and his father’s ever-present good time boom; inside the children's tent there was a worm out of control, tunnelling its way in and out of the sleeping bags as the other cousin tried to kill it with one of the plastic picnic forks. Out of his squinting eyes, he could see the worm get closer to him but rather than watch the small figure burrowing towards him he watched the fork in the other boys hand, raised and poised to strike.
I need to be somewhere else.
Soon the torchlight began to dim and he felt able to open his eyes. His cousins smothered the light under the material of the sleeping bag and the bright red glow became eyes in the gloom of the tent, their still playful bodies the tentacles of a serpent, the rain outside, was the hiss and spit of its hunger. Louche was so lost to the sensations around him he could barely talk, though when they spoke to him he replied, he told them his favourite games, his best sport, he reeled off the litany of likes and dislikes, but whether they knew it or not he was simply going through his paces. The inevitable rituals. With raucous pageantry they showed him theirs while he hid from his, the palms of his hands pressed together, glued between his thighs. "C’mon" they urged, " it’s just a bit of fun.’ Trace it to this, trace it to anything you want. There was no harm done but not, at any point, was it fun.
He waited for the torches to die, their batteries to deaden, until they were unable to ignite the darkness with their penetrating beams. When at last they were plunged into darkness Louche began to emit low noises, part animal, part machine that came from the back of his throat, maybe from somewhere deeper. They hung in the air with menace. His cousins stopped talking and giggled at first and called him names, half surprised, half impressed. But when Louche continued to vocalise these sounds they asked him to stop, they wanted to sleep, they didn’t know why he was making the sounds anymore.
After ten minutes Louche’s father poked his head into the tent and told them to be quiet. He addressed himself to the cousins and not to Louche and this case of mistaken identity quietened him more than his father’s irritated chastisement. While his cousins went to sleep he lay on his back, unable to curl up as they did, unable to get foetal as they did, unable to soften his grip on consciousness as they did. He lay awake all night, the sounds in his throat thwarted and held.
Near the end of the night, Louche made it to the last arch, a narrow corridor hung with black drapes instead of candles, it was lanterns held on metal poles which splashed tight, yellow spots on to the ground The sound of his footsteps, the throb of music faded until all he could hear was the snarl of a whip.
He had expected to find more people in the arch. Everywhere he had gone that night there had been a throng of people, their desire and urgency, their lust and lingering desperation, being the brightest of lights a beam that penetrated his half closed eyes.
A sign read, 'The Dungeon’ and an attempt had been made to recreate some mediaeval sense of torture. Whips of differing lengths and widths were racked on to the wall as were restraints and other devices, their function uncertain to his inexperienced glance. The lash of the whip had not been a performance to a large crowd but the action of one solitary, hooded man. A strangely angular man who stood in front of one of the walls raising the whip and then bringing it down , sending the dust from the loose bricks flying in clouds around him.
Turn back, turn back, this isn’t for you.
Now or never Louche, now or never.
The voices in his head were of course dominating everything, their ceaseless tussle reverberating as much as the sound of the whip in the empty arch but he swallowed hard and tried to take the voices with it, tried to take the voices and bury them somewhere deep and inaccessible. He didn’t want to listen to them anymore and left alone he would have inevitably heard their insistence; left with no other distraction he might have surrendered and walked back along the gravel trail. The hooded man stopped mid-strike and through the black cloth Louche could see him squinting in the light of the lanterns his eyes meeting his. He quickly looked away but just as his gaze suddenly found a missing brick in the wall his hand was taken and led towards it. The same hand was raised into one of the shackles; attached to the wall; joined quickly by the other.
One, just one voice, like a deep and unwelcome sigh, surfaced quickly.
Is this what you want?
For once the question was left unanswered in the air, swirling incoherently with the clouds of brick dust. Without a word the hooded man stepped back, and Louche heard the whip trail along the floor. He was close to the wall, close enough for him to lick the dust from between the bricks, close enough for him to smell the dampness. He opened his eyes, fully, taking in all the available light, taking in everything within the limited scope. It seemed the richest of views. He waited for the persistent voice to say something, to make him balk and doubt his actions, but he heard nothing. The silence brought forward a surge of emotion, of tears and anger and laughter, rolling and gathering pace with each passing second.