His name was Oleander Faye, and he hated it when people called him Ollie, as they invariably did, in college. The name ‘Ollie’ conjured up images of a fat man with thinning black hair, hurrying to keep up with a tall, slender carrot-haired man called ‘Larry’ – something from the cartoon strips of Laurel and Hardy.
And Oleander was anything but fat or hurrying. True, his head was framed by jet-black hair of so fine a countenance that it seemed to be thinning, but this was purely because it was soft like silk, not threadbare like common cotton. His nose was long and piercing, jagged like a mountain eagles, and his eyes were a terrible pale ice blue. He was fair to look at – white, almost. His lips were pale pink, not the healthy brown-rose that other young men of his age possessed to kiss beautiful women. His skin was translucent, something like bone china, something that you would expect in someone with melanoma or some other skin disease. But Oleander was healthy, perfectly so, if you ignored his perennially bored countenance. He was someone you’d think was supercilious, and you tried to keep out of his way. Yet, you couldn’t.
Oleander Faye had his admirers. The women swooned over him. They imagined all sorts of fanciful stories about him. He could be a Nordic prince brought up by foster parents, at the centre of some great European scandal. He could be the illegitimate son of an American President, being groomed to take his rightful political place. He could be a God among lesser mortals. When Oleander spoke in his precise, clipped words, the women held their breath. Surely some great work of significance would soon be revealed now, even as he spoke, even as his pale eyebrows furrowed, and the satin hair tousled over his icy eyes… surely, surely…
And the men swooned over him too. The hardiest ones called him a ‘pansy’ to his face. Pansy Ollie would sit for hours in the library. Pansy Ollie would wake up every morning at the crack of dawn and walk the grounds, stopping to smell the roses, making such a deep contrast: the crimson petals in the colourless hands of the pale young man with raven-black hair. Pansy Ollie would take a bath in the tub, his room mate would report, and the boys sniggered at this. “Does he also use scented candles, Pete?” And Pete would nod, “Green apple.” So, sometimes, Pansy Ollie would be called Fruity Ollie. But despite the taunts and the sniggers, there were those incidents. When the star gymnast went over to Oleander sitting on the courtyard to ask him about the correct flight angle, and then rub his crotch against Oleander’s palm. When Oleander would walk through the library and the Head Boy would instruct him to climb the ladder to fetch him a useless book, so that Oleander’s shirt would rise, and as he would alight, the Head Boy’s hands would squeeze his ass surreptitiously. When Oleander would walk through the tall arches, and two unknown footsteps followed him, asking him whether he wanted some hot black cock inside him, and Oleander would walk ahead faster, slightly flustered even though he would never admit to it. He would never admit to it, even now, five years later, lying as he was, naked in the bathtub, his fine head resting against the white marble, eyes half-closed, talking to his reflection in the mirror at the far end of the cavernous room.
“This is a medieval setting,” his reflection spoke up, in tones as precise and clipped as Oleander’s own. “Would you like to die here?”
“Not at all,” Oleander murmured dreamily. Now that his reflection was doing the talking, he could be the elegant, sensible one, he reasoned: too much pressure to keep on the beautiful display at all times. “No, I’d like to make lover here, not die.”
The reflection giggled. “With who? That Latino boy? He’s not half as pretty as you would like to think he is.”
Oleander Faye sighed again, a simple exhalation of breath. “Carlos doesn’t need to be pretty. I love him. That’s all he needs to be – Carlos.”
All of it seemed so surreal, even though it had happened just the night before. They were out on a date, surreal Oleander Faye and earthy Carlos Santanna, a walk to the Indian restaurant around the corner. Takeaway didn’t seem very romantic the day after, while lolling in the bath tub, but that time, it had. That time, all that mattered was Carlos’ strength, the aggressive way he extended his hand to touch Oleander’s, the disarming way he smiled (Oleander Faye never smiled, for all his perfection, never showed his teeth, for it would be too much beauty for the world to take), and Carlos talking, talking, talking, the movement of his lips, dark crimson lips that surged and that Oleander had been lusting after all night.
“He was a good kisser, wasn’t he, you little tart?” the reflection squealed cheekily. Was that a blush on its pale face?
Oleander Faye allowed himself the clichéd gesture of touching his own lips, in the memory of his past night’s lover’s kiss.
“Was he as good as the two boys on the football team?” The reflection squeaked again, saucily, mighty happy at the recollection of that event five years ago.
An usual event. Oleander Faye, the beautiful boy, walking home from the library, had been caught by the two husky boys. They teased him, told him to walk with them, pinched at his nipples, patted his arse, and Oleander gave only a token resistance. They pulled him below one of the darkest arches, behind one of the broadest columns, and there Oleander Faye shut his eyes tight, as they undressed him and then went back to their dormitory an hour later to brag that they had ‘buggered Pansy Ollie’. Oleander had hurriedly dressed himself later and limped back to his own room, but was not able to deny to himself how excited he had been, how flushed, how aroused, as the huskies brought him down his knees.
“We shall not talk about that,” Oleander said sharply now, to the dancing image in the mirror of the cavernous room which contained the bathtub.
The imp kept silent. He knew he had hit a raw nerve. But before he could say anything else, Oleander Faye remarked, “You’re not being either very elegant or sensible, you twit. Tell me what they think when they come here.”
And the mirror smiled in joy. This was how even Perfection needed to be sure of itself, he laughed. This was how even beautiful, beautiful Oleander Faye needed to know what his tricks thought of him, when he brought them home, when they washed up after the deed was done, or when they were cleaning up peremptorily before going into the next room to Oleander. The reflection held all the secrets, and Oleander wished he could know everything beforehand, but nevertheless, this would suffice: this ritual of floating in the tub and listening to the monster in the mirror talk.
So there was the married Wall Street lawyer who took his Armani off, thinking to himself that if he let it be, the faggot waiting to blow him outside would rip it to shreds. There was the needy charlatan from downtown, who pretended to hold the key to Oleander’s sleeplessness with the white powder in his pockets, and who rubbed his palms in glee, not quite believing his luck at netting such a pretty boy customer. There was the bald bear from the pub around the corner who was wondering which ropes to use and how long to tie up his prey, before leaving the flat with all his money – not that there would be much of that, in this dump. There was the old man who wished that, as innocent as Oleander’s face was, it would look younger so that he resembled his eleven year old grandson who he liked to fuck sometimes, dropping in to say ‘good night’. There was the serial sleep-over who went about his task of washing his face in cold water with ice-cold precision, keeping his thoughts at bay, focused only on going out to fuck the pale raven-haired boy and never seeing his face ever again.
But then Oleander Faye knew all that and didn’t want to hear about them. He said, instead –
“Tell me about Carlos.”
The imp bowed his head.
“Does he care?”
The imp shrugged.
“Can he love?”
These were difficult questions, all of them, and the reflection in the far mirror was perplexed. Water splattered from the tub onto the earthy floor. Oleander Faye was getting impatient. Faye means ‘fairy’. The golden fairy boy was getting impatient.
“Will he love?”
And the imp considered the demand. Carlos Santanna was the seventh son to Puorto Rican immigrants who had come over with not much more than the faded coats on their back. He had met Oleander Faye while coming back in the train. He had smiled at the pale beautiful boy, and Oleander her been surprised – who was this big, brawny Indian-looking guy smiling at? Me? And Carlos had walked over. With an open, inviting smile that Oleander Faye regarded supremely dangerous. But the more Oleander Faye moved away, the harder Carlos Santanna pushed forward. He would wait at the train station till Oleander would show up. He would come over to him to say ‘hello’. He would never directly proposition him, no, he would wait to be propositioned. And that left Oleander Faye distraught. No one had ever counted on him pursuing the other party. Oleander Faye was always done to – approached, picked up, raped, fucked, dumped. This expectation of action from him was something new, that he was unsure of. But he was curious, despite himself. So, the day after the incident with the ice-cold serial sleep-over who’d wanted to inject him with HIV, Oleander Faye brushed his hair-to-be-swooned-at, slipped on his clean pair of jeans and a vest, zipped up his boots, and went to the train station, when Carlos Santanna stood, grinning at him. And he went over to Carlos, hugged him, and asked him to love him. Carlos was moved: he had not expected Oleander Faye to come to this. So he took him home from the Indian restaurant, undressed him till he was stark naked, put him to bed, and covered him with the moss-green blanket that Oleander never used. When Oleander pulled onto his hand and asked him to fuck him, Carlos ran his hand over Oleander’s feverish forehead and told him to sleep.
Oleander Faye slept.
But when, the next day, Oleander Faye - who was the cause of swooning summer madness in girls when he was in college, who had been fucked by the entire football team, who was known in London’s gay circles as one of the easiest lays of all, and who had narrowly escaped being injected with an HIV positive needle, - when he, Oleander Faye, dipped his tired body in a tubful of warm water that overflowed and splattered onto an ancient earth floor, and asked his mirror the question that held the key to his soul, the mirror’s imp shook its head and vanished away into the depths of silent, secretive glass.
“Will he love?” Oleander Faye wept again.
And then he whispered, when he heard no answer – “I have so much to give. So much to give…”