issue 42: May - June 2004 

 | author bio

by Neale de Sousa


The first time a man is going to fuck you is the week before you turn thirty, an age that offers you no choice other than to make some rushed assumptions about love. The man is going to fuck you in one of America’s safest cities, a suburb with a good school district, its coded and zoned skyline dominated by the glitz of an evangelical church. As you drive to his home, the clean sidewalks look like shelves on which houses have been arranged. Growing up in India, the song "Little Boxes" made you think of small New York apartments. Now, after a decade in California, you know better. But you just know, it still signifies nothing. The school, the church, the cars waiting obediently at the four-way stop—mean nothing. For all you care, because this is the first time you are getting fucked, this is your prom, this is your altar, this is your first muscle car.

As the man lubes you and his dick gets hard in your fist, the French window curtains that his late wife fashioned from Egyptian fabric are limp in the still, warm afternoon. It’s so still, it’s the exact opposite of being drunk. It’s cold sober still. Your every sense is primed. You take in the black misshapen rings printed on the curtains. He wants to see your neck, the man says, so you hang your head over the edge of the bed. The valley below his hillside home appears upside down to you, as does the freeway overpass, like a concrete serpent lunging.

Over lunch that he painstakingly cooked, the man explained how he worked hard to survive in America. He had left Jerusalem with his wife and young son. And although he didn’t need to, he nevertheless recited his immigration saga to youabout the paperwork and the waiting and the wheezing attorneys. He feels nothing for Israel, he insisted. You didn’t believe him. His only regret, he said, is leaving behind his mother. She refused to leave the land where she has lived for over sixty years.

Mother, land, mother, son. You can feel the man’s futile attempt at breaking this pattern, as much as you feel the rhythm of his thrusts.

Besides his mother, he also left behind a daughter. Rebecca had turned eighteen when the American visas materialized. It was her chance to make an adult decision. She decided to stay back in Jerusalem and graduate from university. The man had been drizzling liqueur on a glass of cherries as he talked about his daughter. There are no photographs of Rebecca in the house. There is only a painting of herblack and wild frizzy hair, a long nose, laughing eyes, her skin darker than you imagined. She strikes you as a person who could be at home anywhere.

Rebecca’s father asked why, despite the poverty, education is so central to you Indians and you had started to say something about survival and focus and you stopped because all you wanted was to get fucked, roughly, and maybe find love. Carrying the plates to the sink you heard the squeal of a neighbor’s child. At first you thought it was some bird, but there are no birds in a Los Angeles suburb.

And maybe if this man uses more fingers right now, you believe it is possible to get there, that blissful place where wanton fucking is supposed to get you. Within striking distance of love, you want to believe. Instead, screwing the cap on the tube of KY, this man tells you how, leaning over the brown sofa, he had fucked a Colombian architect who no longer replies to his poetic e-mails. Now, there’s an oxymoron, you thinkpoetry and e-mail. Then the man suggests you turn over. It’s then that you spot a photograph of his son, a young man hanging on the side of a train carriage. He sports a T-shirt worn over a sweatshirt, and his shoulders slope.

Over lunch you’ve learned that this son rides trains up and down California. My son the hobo, the man said. You always thought of hobos as men whose wives had left them, men in stinking overcoats and dirt in the creases of their faces and tennis shoes. The man said he is sure his son does not take drugs, and you hoped the man was gaining some solace from that assumption. You learned more about the son, who looks like the front man of a Sunset Boulevard band. To your surprise you discovered the sonDamien? Josh? You try to remember if the man has mentioned a nameis a Berkeley dropout with a Muslim wife (the man draped a paper napkin over his head at this point), who mans a flower kiosk at a Los Angeles mall. My Ephraim and his Fatima, man and wife, Jew and Muslim, that’s how I raised them, the man said. Me and my late Olga raised them to tolerate, not to ride trains without tickets, he lamented.

And you wonder about the relationship between his late wife’s tolerance for pain, his tolerance of a daughter-in-law’s headscarf, your tolerance for the stories replaying themselves with a hard cock in hand. And only because he has stopped talking about serial fucking on the house’s various couchessomehow now this word tolerance seems like a noble word, a word you have hung your coat of hope on as a lonely homosexualright then you want to hold the man, in a selfish way, like you can find some part of him to keep in your wallet, somewhere to bury your thoughts along the side of his face and neck where they will rise from within and someday make sense. You inhale the smell of his rakish cologne, feel the rough of his hasty shave. But among these man-made smells there is the smell of something salty and damp. You are tuned to the smell of sweat on the skin of his scalp and his neck. Is this the closest we come to cannibalism, you wonder? In the next instant you want nothing more than to stand in the shower and take in his breaththe taste of salmon and salad and a vinaigrette dressing. You are not content to make love to the water. Because with your senses awakened so is your power of analysis. You are seeing, feeling, hearing. You are processing. Now it doesn’t make sense. Now it does. So, you wish the man to step in the shower and enter you from behind and you want the water to flow. The man will say something about the moon and his lawn and how he wants to fuck you under the stars, and enveloped by the affectionate smells of antibiotic soap and talcum powder you follow him.

You are running a hand up his cotton robe, and its hieroglyphic pattern reminds you of the checked lungi a neighbor wore, the broad-shouldered middle-aged bank clerk who read the newspaper sitting on his front steps as you walked to school in your native India. The man spreads his legs. You look. You lean in. The neighbor is shaking out a newspaper. You let the image in your mind and the body in front of you merge. You are playing God, mixing a remembered face and an available body. You are surprised how easily your mind trips when you allow it to. Tripping is illogical, against your grain of habit. You kneel down on the fresh cut grass and the cool cotton, and the man’s hot penis is in your mouth. The man’s dog is slurping water from an aluminum bowl and the cars pass on the distant overpass, and without turning to look, you know that in the fading light the mass of headlights appears like a candlelit procession.

The evening sky is stained with gray cloud, and he has a firm grip on your head. You touch a scar running down the side of his left thigh. He tells you, hurriedly, that he was knifed by a burglar in his divided Jerusalem. He will never go back, he says.

You had run the garbage disposal while he complained about his wife’s medical bills still dropping in the mail. The man has retained a lawyer who is going to screw Kaiser Permanente. And you think about big corporations and white men in blue shirts carrying on only what dead white men in blue shirts have done before them.

Now you are being mouth-fucked by this man, who is somebody’s grandfather, who calls you cinnamon-skin. At this moment his white cock in your brown mouth seems like some textbook chapter on racial and generational integration. A single bark, like a flying saucer levitating, escapes from the valley and the man’s dog looks up, but only for a moment. You savor the man’s sperm, a shade aromatic, as you walk back into the shower. You notice the man’s meticulously folded towels in the guest bathroom, the long line of jet-black ants against the sparkling basin. As if some girlfriend had broken a necklace of tiny opaque gems. You know you will be back, just as the ants will be in the heat. But for now, you cannot stand it anymore and you need to leave.

Getting a parting drink of water, you consider the vacant space above the man’s stove. It’s the space created by a husband’s rage. This man starting to uninstall his microwave while the family doctor’s voice was still hanging in the air. His wife was driving home then, diagnosed and broken. You dress by the bed. Arriving home from the doctor, did his wife ask him for love? Patience? Hot coffee? None of the above. She wanted to fuck, Olga wanted to fuck, he told you. And something about his tone told you he had no choice. Even if it was to make one afternoon pass. One afternoon. Spent on this bed you are picking up your socks from.

The man holds the door open with one hand, a towel loose around his waist. Family photographs line the mantel. You, on the other hand, have none on yours; you have no stories to tell. You are tired of talking and explaining. You were tempted to give your camera to a street urchin outside Bombay airport. Now it lies in the back of a closet. Still loaded with the pictures you took on your mother’s seventieth birthday. She’s seventy-five now.

Being fucked has felt like being opened up. This much you now know. But you are thinking—what about love? Perhaps sex only curdles to love when someone takes a long look at what’s inside. But you are no apparent mess. You drive a nice car and pay a four-figure rent. You never buy Dockers on sale. You haven’t missed a day of work. But what about the evenings you make scrambled eggs with seven random spices? The mornings you arrive at work with stained fingers because you have been mixing rice and curry and force-feeding yourself. Can this man understand why you flip the television channels between Namaste America and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert ? As if nothing short of someone holding you can keep you from bouncing from thought to doubt to analysis.

You have spent only one night in bed with a man. Ever. Someone you cruised at a volunteer meeting in support of a public library. You were both wearing random name tags. He had picked the name Keith. You invited Keith over. Keith followed you home down Santa Monica Boulevard. It was the night you came closest to being fucked. It was a Saturday night, the night you usually make a weekly call to your mother in India. But you didn’t call because Keith would awaken. Still, you missed your mother. Something about the library and books and the families and reading together, silently. So your crying awakened him. And Keith, the stranger, said, "She’s there, you are here, it’s your life now." And you just stared at him, your big black eyes brimming with disdain. Keith was becoming stranger as you stared. Keith, whose come was still drying on your chest hair. He would ask you to stop staring. And you wouldn’t. Because . . . all your mother wants to talk about is how her knees are killing her and that there being no elevator she takes an hour to go up and down the stairs of her apartment building. You pictured her holding the phone a little away from her ear as she usually does. Adding more distance. And maybe he was empathizing, or lying , or both, but fake Keith said his mother has arthritis too. And then you laughed. Because then Keith, stranger who sported a "Free Tibet" sticker on his Miata, said "What about Para Access?"

First time fucked, you pull out of suburbia, the evangelical church now ringed in neon. You can sense it is some sort of beginning, but you are not sure of the direction. You call an Indian friend as you drive home. The talk is easy, almost girlish in its give and take. You decide to meet for papads and beer.

A couple jogs past your car at the freeway on-ramp, the woman’s blond ponytail bouncing. The two of them appear confident. Do they never court disappointment? Under the bright street lamps you notice that their calves are smooth and well formed. Pumping.

You drive to a Jack In the Box, some place anonymous. Bending over the sink you splash your face. Drying your hands, you read the graffiti on the toilet seat, the angled scrawl like the camp sign in a jungle movie. You walk back into the fluorescence. The restaurant is swirling with flying and dive-bombing bugs, a cloud that is harmless but thick, and the few customers are ducking and waving but no one is leaving, and a Hispanic girl, looking apologetic behind the counter, is handing out wet napkins so the customers can swab their tabletops. Since you are in line, you take one too, but you wipe your face and you feel better. Good enough to look around and watch a high-school couple in America’s safe city threaten to throw fries at each other. They are giggling, their faces smooth and acne-free, their braces of space-age plastic.

Maybe these kids are the best students in this good school district and maybe they have loyal teachers and clean, well-lit classrooms and they will leave and go to college and drop out or win Nobel prizes. And maybe the boy will like to suck dick and love sucking—it will happen naturally without someone reminding him not to bite the lily-white host, like a nun reminded you and your junior choir buddies every Sunday, and it was always Sunday morning in the sacristy where someone had stacked fresh garlands of marigolds, their color soon making a turmeric pool at the saints’ feet. The sacristy, where you and your childhood friends were supposed to practice receiving communion but instead launched those wafer-thin hosts at each other like Frisbees while someone warmed up the jalopy of a church organ, and outside the coconut trees, always the coconut trees, bowed and looked in through the dusty windows, like attendant babysitters.

You and your friends were thin and clean, studying machines, and you were all bent over laughing as the hosts flew fast and furious. Till you heard the priest’s cough as he approached. And now you picture the priest, at the moment the vestment slipped over his head, how he looked like a KKK brother, although you didn’t know about KKK then, nor the pain of trust gone bad. Not the evil of boys and what grown men they trust sometimes do to them. That is an exact evil. You were swept up in the scam of religion and reward. Be a good boy, you were told. Reminded that your life had to be studded with sacraments if it was to mean anything. Those priests in their vestments describing the world in black and white, while all the while you wanted to explore the gray, the gray of your attraction to men. What you wouldn’t have given to see a man unclothed! Just naked, standing.

You once told a therapist you’ve seen more rainbows than erect penises. But you have seen some since.

You know that next week it could be another man or the same man but it will be fresh, these bouts of fucking without any apparent connection. This time you will end up spending the night because you remind the man of an Arab he once fucked in Haifa. You consider being insulted by the comparison. Then you say, Fuck it, and snuggle up to him.

The man, now several years a widower, removes his wedding ring and puts it on his nightstand, and in a few weeks it will be your books on his nightstand and you will fool yourself into believing that you are in love, or some sort of caring relationship, although logic does indicate that a man who has nursed a sick wife and raised kids is probably running low on supplies of care and kindness. And all this while you will be wonderingwhy not just lay back and get fucked? But you have been trained to multi-process and analyze. Back in India, after all, studying to escape. It’s what you know well. So you will persist, because you will exchange Hindi and Hebrew phrases for dick and fuck and cunt, and what you have in common is what you both hate about Americathe guns, the bloated ignorance, the insularity, the dumb refusal to pronounce your name correctly. But it’s inevitable: it will wind down. And the last book you will lend this grandfather is a copy of David Sedaris’ Naked, the one he will complain doesn’t have enough sex to justify its title.

You have been absorbing. First it was tradition. Then sheer knowledge. You arrived in a city that pretends. And after a while you fit right in. You haven’t seen the inside of a public bus in Los Angeles. Imagine! But you believed you were cultivating profound insights into India and America by distance and proximity respectively. Like a spice island, you imagined the men you picked up savoring your observations on exile and immigration. This is before you discovered people rarely talk in bars. But you were not convinced yourself.

One afternoon you are reduced to reading magazines in the man’s living room while he is busy on the phone. From what you overhear, it concerns Kaiser Permanente and corporate fucking. Eventually, the man suggests hauling some buddy over for a threesome and the only reason you say yes to the idea is because you have been drinking wine all the hot afternoon. Then you stop. You stop because you have spotted an advertisement for corn in an open magazine. And the cob is plump and yellow, it glistens on a shiny plate. And it strikes you: this is not real. You learned to eat corn from a roadside vendor. Standing in the shade of a bus stop the vendor dipped half a lime in chili and salt and smeared the corn. You picture the thin vendor, his shoulders hunched, the chili and salt caked under his nails. You couldn’t wait for the first bite to sting your weak gums. The grit wedged itself between your teeth. You enjoyed it. You tossed the naked cob at your friends. You kicked it around.

At this point, the man explains that the friend in question has full-blown AIDS and that the least one can do for a dying friend is allow him to watch. You have no place for charity or two dicks. So the man ends up fucking you. You sit on the edge of the bed and squirm into your shoes. More importantly, you feel spooked by the widower’s mixed-up sympathies. Some sort of overlap between his dead wife and his ailing friend. A spook that has been hibernating ever since he fucked you one afternoon while you were facing the bedroom wall with the wedding photograph. So, you leave.

You stop at the Jack In the Box where the Hispanic girl is holding up a copy of La Opinión. There is now some kind of hissing and steaming thing keeping out the bugs. The Hispanic girl watches you as you leave, pulling out of the suburban parking lot for the last time. And it strikes you that, from a certain angle, she reminds you of your sister, brown and black-haired, teeth crowded together. And at this moment you think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to talk to a cinnamon sister. Just talk, or run your fingers through her hair. But your sister is oceans away.

Some high schoolers exit after you, pushing and shoving, their hands hidden in the sleeves of their Adidas tracksuits. And you think about the girls, probably named Michelle or Brittany or Jessica, how they are running headlong into this glass wall called love, and would you warn them, you ask yourself, if one of them happened to ask your opinion. An American suburban teenager asking for an opinion about love from someone whose accent reminds them of a shopkeeper on The Simpsons. Duh! But then this teenager could choose to have her filters turned off. She might listen. Because unfiltered is rough and coarse and ultimately closer to the real thing.

You sleep in on Sunday.

The hissing and steaming thing behind the counter must still be hissing and steaming, and you wonder where the bugs go in the daytime, when the mornings come shrink-wrapped in California sunshine. The hours when you are wowing the suits at work, when the kids are at chemistry class, when a grandfather is babysitting his only grandchild, while the father hops trains, while the wife-mother sweats under her jihab in a fragrant stall in the Valley.

There was real sunshine in your life. Warm oceans. There were blue skies. Squinting black eyes. That was while you were in training. In training so you would be able to question. Now you are trained and full of doubt. But you are good at learning. So, the next time a man fucks you doggie style not even the shadow of puppy love will cloud your thoughts, because next time you will be up front and ask for it. Ask for it and get it. Get it, rough. Rough. Because rough is the only way you can remember.

© Neale de Sousa 2004

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author bio

Neale de Sousa
studied Electrical Engineering at Bombay University. He has published his poetry in Slipstream, Chiron Review, and Pearl Magazine. He currently lives in Los Angeles, where he works as a computer programmer. This is his first published essay.

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issue 42: May - June 2004 

Short Fiction

Oscar Casares: RG
Ron Butlin: Colours
Kathryn Simmonds: This Little Piggy
Bruce Henricksen: The Celebrated Stripper...

Barbara F. Lefcowitz: The Luminaries of Marienbad
Neale de Sousa: Dromedary

picks from back issues
Frederick Barthelme: Driver
Dorothy Speak: The View from Here


Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald
answers to last issue’s quiz
19th-Century English Literature

Book Reviews

The Gravedigger’s Story by Ged Simmons
The Hollywood Dodo by Geoff Nicholson
Handsome Harry by James Carlos Blake
In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami
Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin by Marion Meade

Regular Features

Book Reviews (all issues)
TBR Archives (authors listed alphabetically)

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