Tyger, tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
- William Blake
People think there is more to him than there is, some hidden tenderness, I suppose. But there isn’t. He is precisely what he appears. But when they hear we have slept together, they jump to conclusions they oughtn’t to do. The euphemism is highly inaccurate, in any case. One does habitually fall asleep in a lover’s arms, but lover is not the appropriate word for our relationship. It implies love rather than mere pleasure. Even if it is not the burning love of which greater poets than I sing, there is still love of some sort, a care for the emotions of the other. Such intimacy was never a part of my dealings with the man who calls himself Grantaire.
I do not know his Christian name. Is that strange? I was never properly introduced. I am certain I was told at one time, but I have forgotten, and it never mattered. When we first met, I was engaged in the most complete debauchery, and one of my partners suggested a ménage à trois with another of his acquaintances. As I had never considered it myself, and I was quite far gone at the time, I consented. Or I must have done, because it happened.
People think he has hidden tenderness. They don’t think I have hidden desires. Love and tenderness are written on my face, as plain as day. I didn’t know I had hidden desires until he awakened them. Oh, I knew that I had leanings, curiosities, but that is not the same thing. I have contemplated a variety of sexual positions with women, but I have never quite cared enough to perform any of them. I prefer men, bigger men than I. The control, the pressure, the fear they may well break me and the overwhelming desire that force incites. But thought and desire are not quite the same.
That night, as I entered Lionel, I felt the most horrid and yet most wonderful pain. He had entered me without so much as a warning, and would you believe I had never liked being the bottom? I want to see the pleasure I give others. I want to hear their groans and cries and know I am doing what I ought. But I do not know what Lionel felt that night because I could see nothing but blinding white pain, and I could hear nothing but my own screams. And when he pulled back, I was spent so completely that I could barely breathe. I had gone limp - a complete failure for Lionel. He was forced to take the initative and bring me back to myself. But Grantaire helped, too, and to this day I do not know who it was who began the insidious work.
They tied me to the bed and took turns teasing me into desperation. There’s something better about being tied. I don’t remember Lionel very much. I remember Grantaire slightly, just that the whole thing was terribly maddening and when they finally untied me, I was disappointed. Exhausted, filthy, and needing to go home to wash up and sleep, but disappointed that it all had to end.
I started seeing Grantaire alone after that. I found him at the same café where Lionel introduced us. We never went to his flat. Mine was more convenient, more private, he said. He let me pleasure him, but usually orally, and he would often pull my hair something cruel. I didn’t cut my hair for a year so he would have more to grab onto. If he ever kissed me, which was rare, I could feel his teeth pressed against my lips.
There’s nothing poetic about it. Pain, blinding pain, is a pleasure accepted only by a few. A blow is always a blow, and that is not the sort of pain I mean. Men who beat their women do not do it in love. Men who fuck other men senseless do not do it in love, either. But begging, release withheld, tension, exhaustion are all terribly, wonderfully erotic, and he knew his craft well. Did you know there is a delirium from asphyxiation that amplifies erotic interactions? One’s brain goes and everything is a whirl, a dizzying spiral of pleasure that one cannot see, cannot analyse, cannot comprehend beyond the intensity of the moment. He taught me that.
He never beat me. This you must understand. Pain is not a pleasure in itself. It is a special kind of pain, a pain that leaves one more exhausted than bruised, that is the most intense feeling. There were bruises, of course. There always are. If I am tied to the bed, I pull against my bonds in the intensity of my pleasure. My wrists were usually sore in those days. They are delicate, and they bruise easily. The second time is always better than the first, as the bonds rub against the fresh bruises, quickening the pace, making the pain go deeper and last longer. I still wear high collars and carefully tied cravats. I try to be good, but my velvet rope gives me pleasure when I feel too guilty to seek out others.
The relationship did not last long. It was not a love affair. But neither was it a flash in the pan. We did not wear each other out in a couple of weeks because we shared each other with plenty of others. One must have variety: a stale affair is worse than no affair at all. I would use him every night for a week, then we would not see each other for a month. If all the days were put together, we spent less than four months in each other’s company. But that was spread over perhaps a year, maybe a bit more, and that relationship was a defining aspect of my life.
Until my father came into the city. Terrible stories had reached home, stories about my dissolution, my reprehensible lifestyle. I was spending time in dens of revolution and artists’ garrets and was generally becoming a decadent wastrel, or so the letters said. So my father told me. He took the key from the landlord and burst in on me, luckily alone, though I had not been alone all night. I had been playing the molly, and so spent was I that I had not bothered to finish removing either my rouge or the remnants of my gown before falling asleep. He slapped me, and there was no pleasure in it, only shame. He waited until I had washed my face and changed my clothes, then he forced me to watch as he burned my silk dress and petticoats. He marched me down to the barber for a proper haircut. I was lectured to and watched like a hawk. He stayed for a month. When he left, others kept watch on me. I could feel them even when I could not see them.
I couldn’t go to my cafés anymore. No more artists’ garrets and public exhibitions of male flesh. I had a few acceptable acquaintances, young men who took their studies seriously enough that their fathers did not keep coming around, who took mistresses rather than masters. In an effort to make the watchers think they had succeeded in their task of reform, I spent more time in Courfeyrac’s company. He was an acceptable young gentleman because his political views were not known to my father or the watchers. And so I spent more and more of my time in the hated dens of revolution because they were inhabited by gentlemen rather than tuppenny whores.
Imagine my surprise when one day Grantaire turned up at a meeting. He did not acknowledge me, so I did not acknowledge him. He never took his eyes off the leader unless it was to pour another drink. He had not changed a bit - he had always smelled of liquor, usually of absinthe. To this day, I associate the smell of liquorice with intense sexual pleasure. And the leader is worth looking at. Alabaster skin, eyes of lapis, hair as blond as raw silk. His features are as chiseled as a Greek marble, far smoother than the Roman copies. But I do hate to be ignored. Still, there is nothing I can do.
I have to be a good boy now. I would die if I were taken home. Not from shame, but from sheer boredom. I belong in Paris, with people of my own sort. If I cannot consort with them, then I can at least know they are there and remember that I am welcome. I can take the small pleasures of my velvet rope and remember better days. I suppose overwhelming pleasures of the sort to which he introduced me are too strong to last.
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