Relationships

by Bon Snow

Relationships

By A. Sham'ed

The fairy-tale romance part of my relationship with Chester ended about a half a year into it. That's when he moved in, and the rigmarole of our quasi-marriage began. After he unpacked which was really just seeing all the new clothes and things I had bought for him for his new life - I carried his light body over the threshold. But with the morning came the mundane and that sense of wonderment became a distant memory. How can it be that intimacy is really love's greatest challenge?

We met for the first time at Chester's local park. There was a small playground with swings and a slide. He didn't recognise me at first, coming through the small wooden gate. I did though, having masturbated enthusiastically over a picture he had emailed me. "Chester," I called from one of the swings. I was slightly hurt at his startled reaction. Sure, I had probably taken more artistic license in my chat-room profile than most. I was a divorced postal worker living in a bungalow in Chepstow: I think I had good reason. He was, thankfully, reassured by the Action Man I had bought him. This was a penchant of his: a detail I had discovered during one of our many internet conversations, which went long into the evenings. I was amused by Chester's inquisitive face as he took the gift. "Why doesn't he have any clothes on?" he asked. He hadn't picked up on the miniature replica dildo I had placed in the figure's grasp.

In the next few weeks, we met more and more often. Chester's parents finished work late on weekdays, meaning he could spare a couple of hours at the park, which was on the way back from school, before walking the rest of the way home. It became pretty clear quite soon that we were made for each other; as though God himself had deliberately factioned two souls, each deficient without the other, whose fates would be forever intertwined. But like in everything, obstacles are thrown up, and it would be more than a mild understatement to say that, in our case, they were abundant. Number one was that Chester wanted me to meet his friends - I wanted to take the relationship further; this wasn't the direction I was looking for. He reassured me that they would like me, that he had told them how cool I was. I diverted Chester from the subject as best I could, explaining how I had never been that good at social situations.

On a late Friday afternoon, we met in McDonalds, where I took him quite regularly. I was always the one to pay the bill, which I didn't mind - most of the time. I spotted a secluded booth over by a gaudy mural of Ronald McDonald, and we took our seats. Biting into my Big Mac, I watched Chester enjoying his Happy Meal: noisily sucking the milkshake from the straw; tucking away fries into his tiny thin lips. "Hello Ches", came a piercing voice from somewhere outside my concentration. "Hi Sam. Hi Toby", said Chester to the two new visitors at the table, whose sudden presence made me shudder with an intense fear. I turned to Chester, paranoid, as he asked his two best friends he had spoken of them frequently to sit down with us. I budged up with discomfort.

"This is my friend David I was talking about", said Chester. "What?" exclaimed Sam, the freckle-faced one, "We thought he was your dad!" The relief that the meeting hadn't been a ruse on Chester's part was short-lived; it was overwhelming embarrassment that gripped me. Sensing my flushed face, I made a wry smile and looked downwards. For what seemed like an age, I remained inconspicuous, as Sam told Chester about a warning his dad had given him about meeting people on the internet. I peered admiring at my other half as he defended me, conveying to his peer the many virtues of whom he called, in his innocent way, his 'friend'.

Next they argued about who was the best Power Ranger. It was a discussion in which I could make little input, much to my frustration. For a moment, I even envied Sam, who seemed to have so much more in common with Chester. I quickly scolded myself for being so weak, remembering the truism that it's opposites that attract. In truth, it was no contest: I observed Sam's undeveloped body it was a brittle twig compared to my sturdy form. For the duration of the conversation, Toby, the other one, had been intent at gawking at me, his mouth agape in blank curiosity. When Sam at last conceded that the Red Ranger had a capacity that was, if not necessarily equal to White's, at the very least worthy of commendation, there came an abrupt silence. Everyone turned as, without warning, Toby spoke up: "But he'she..," stammered the gormless voice, "he's a man!" Seized by humiliation, I rose to leave, banging my knees severely on the low toadstool-shaped table. Chester followed me outside, and we had our first argument. I explained to him why people wouldn't understand the two of us; that our love was forbidden.

That night, unable to sleep, I realised just how much I loved that little guy. I would have to do everything in my power to make sure I didn't let him go. Besides, playing the field was a bitch. A day later I managed to persuade him to come to my house. It was much harder the second time: he could hear all kinds of rationalising voices telling him that something wasn't right - but then, love isn't rational, is it? These words resonated deeply with Chester the promises of unlimited boiled sweets and video games were a mere bonus and the bungalow became a second home to him. This was much to his parents' chagrin, he told me, but their initial concern was soon appeased; I figured their own memories of being in love were a factor, more so than a subsequent incident that would rock their own relationship, sending them into a dizzying downward spiral of depression, alcoholism and, eventually, ritual suicide. Chester and I were a testament to the maxim that love conquers all.

A couple of months later, Chester consented to what were not aggressive threats, but patient requests, actually, and moved in. It was a heady transitional period for Chester, but we got through it. His constant tantrums were easily mollified with a small remedy I had picked up from a chemist friend, and it wasn't long before he became accustomed to the kick of red wine, which I served him regularly. Of course, the neighbours gossiped, being ever-ready to scrutinise a new arrival to the street. You'd go to the newsagent and there'd be whispers from the next aisle. Sometimes people would look nosily at the wooden boards nailed to the windows of the bungalow; there for Chester's security. I think we may even have been topic of conversation at the last neighbourhood watch meeting. They were, predictably, concerned about the age difference; but what could they do? Still, Chester cried a lot. I couldn't blame him; it's tough sometimes how mean some people can be.

Just before Christmas that year, in the evening, there was a knock on the door. It was Angela, my ex wife. I told her to wait for a second and shut the door. She hadn't met Chester yet. I knew this would be uncomfortable for all concerned so, for his sake, I let him hide in the cloak cupboard. "Why didn't you call?" I asked, opening the door to Angela. She said she had, but the phone seemed to have been disconnected. I gave her my mobile number. She wanted the old photo albums. I took her coat and threw it on Chester, keeping the cupboard door half closed so she didn't notice the secret lurker inside.

I made her a cup of tea she looked strangely at the mug's crude farm animal illustrations and retrieved a box marked "Photos '96" from a draw under the bed, where I stored all the old stuff. I handed Angela the box she was waiting in the kitchen and asked her how she had been. A genuine desire to hear how much she had been enjoying her new life with her perfect new family was, in fact, the farthest thing from my mind. Regardless, she persisted in telling me about their Christmas preparations. There was, apparently, quite a lot to tell; she couldn't finish her tea slowly enough. Peter had hired a cabin in the Alps and they were taking the whole family over. "That sounds great", were the words that came out of my mouth, my watchful eyes anticipating that final gulp from the mug.

Eventually, it came. She didn't ask me how I was, something that bothered me just to the point where it registered - but no higher. Leading her towards the door, I was suddenly gripped by panic. I had completely forgotten about Chester, and Angela was opening the cloak cupboard door. "Hey!" I called. She turned to me slightly bewildered. Meanwhile, I noticed with great relief, a small hand furtively reached from the cupboard and handed Angela her coat. "What's the matter?" she asked. "Ju...just...," I stuttered, "be careful skiing, won't you?" She shut the door and put on her coat. "I didn't think you cared, David." Boy, did she have some gall! "Of course I care", I said pitifully; anything to get her to the door. Before she left, there was a moment where she dropped the box of photos, struggling to open the front door with one hand. The box fell on its side and a few of the photos fell out. We both knelt down to collect them. On top of the pile was one of our dead son Michael.

You get into the most enraged arguments over the pettiest things; it's pathetic. Like, you want to watch the six o'clock news, but he'd rather put on the DVD about the talking fish. It's not that I have anything against talking fish, per se; I just don't really know any. Or you'd be shopping at the supermarket and all he'd be putting in the trolley is junk food, just completely ignoring your advice about taking care of his body. He won't even try your lasagne, after you've been spending two hours slaving over it. And don't even get me started on the housework he says he doesn't know how. Pretty convenient. I even have to prepare his lunch for him before I go to work for goodness sake. You spend all day at work only to come home to a carpet ridden with jam and breadcrumbs, and all you get is a pitiful complaint about wanting to go outside. It's wearisome, but then you need a bit of compromise if a relationship's going to succeed.

On a cold evening in February, we went to see Dr Gardiner. He was a relationships counsellor that me and Angela had visited in the dying months of our marriage. He was still bald, I noticed, but had upped his extortionate prices. I scheduled us for a single hour-long meeting; I had to employ the most surreptitious means of persuasion to get Chester into the car as it was - sometimes I doubted his commitment to our relationship. The doctor's office was a small but homely room. We sat facing Gardiner who, in his gentle way, enquired about the malady that had invaded our home. Chester remained silent, sulking about the black-eye, so it was I who relayed the painful events of the past few months. "Don't get me wrong, the sex is great," I said, "it's just the rest of the relationship that can be tough, well, most of the time". "Are you concerned about the age-difference?" asked the doctor, picking up on my obvious frustration at my narrow-minded neighbours. "Well I don't think he's after my money, if that's what you mean," I replied.

Despite having exhausted everything I had to say on the matter, much to Gardiner's plaudits, it was all for nought: Chester hadn't said a word the entire meeting; he had merely sat there with his arms crossed, faced turned up. The meeting culminated with Gardiner breaching the uncooperative subject. "And how do you feel about David, Chester?" he asked. "I just want my mum," sobbed the boy. "Please just," he continued, drifting off into incoherent monosyllables. Was it really too much to ask for a little maturity, just this once? I grieved internally, as the precious hour came to an end. As we were leaving, Dr Gardiner rooted in a tub from a nearby cupboard and handed Chester a lollipop.

I don't know when it was exactly that things went sour, and I know that it's a clich to say it was the other person who changed, but Chester did. And it wasn't the dramatic physical developments that bothered me so much as the fact that this seemed to be coupled with some vague, inexplicable sense of him losing spirit; some nameless characteristic that I had fallen in love with. He had lost it. I don't know; it's hard to put it into words. It wasn't working though - I was losing interest. And when you don't have that spark in a relationship, well, what else is there? He would have to move out. I was, after all, still paying rent, not to mention all the bills. On a grim Friday evening, I asked him to sit down, and performed the same horrible duty I had been on the receiving end of only a few years earlier.

Since Chester, relationships have been transitory, empty, lacking the sense of adventure and of danger that I had in my first days with that brown-eyed scamp: riding the swings; watching cartoons together; sodomising him as his limp body flopped over the duvet, his head pushed into the pillow, his mind striving to tear away from that last beam of consciousness. Last I heard - this is three years later - Chester was on the streets, a sixteen year old heroin addict. It's a shame how people can throw their lives away.

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