It isn’t real. Pablo is coming. To Brian’s flat. In one hour.
Pablo. Flat. One hour. Pablo.
Brian moves aimlessly through his flat. He feels a little sick so he pours himself a drink and takes imperceptible sips. His heart beats Pab-lo, Pab-lo, Pab-lo.
He’s swept the floors already but goes round again, picking up stray hairs and fluff. It’s too much to think of a moment being ruined by a crumb stuck to Pablo’s knee. Pablo’s knees are like little planets with their own orbits.
When he’s finished, Brian stands before the mirror and finds that he’s still attractive. Not compared to Pablo, but the lines of his body seem to point the right way, to be the right length, and so on. It must be the first line kicking in on time, as always. His eyes harden.
He listens to silence. The flat is empty, his housemates are away. He takes half his drink in one go. Then he drains his glass. He checks his phone and wishes he hadn’t.
To stave off hunger, he does another line. He pulls a chair to the table and delights in the newfound compliance of physical objects. He wants music, so gets up and puts it on and there it is! It wanted to be heard. He sits down again but suddenly knows there should be different music and a different drink, something fruity to take the edge off, and the curtains drawn, and then enough time will have passed to check his messages again.
He perches on a chair as on a rock. The half-full cardboard boxes precariously piled around the edge of his room no longer seem an embarrassment. He will share their stories with Pablo.
When he looks at Pablo’s picture, Brian is afraid.
He isn’t sure he’ll be able to touch him and, if he touches him, he isn’t certain he’ll be able to feel him.
It’s been a year since they first exchanged messages, while Brian lay awake, unable to sleep. ‘Hi.’ He’d never seen Pablo before. Brian: ‘hey,’ and then, ‘how’s it going?’ A few minutes later came ‘u’ and ‘?’ Brian was confused but asking for clarification was dull. Messages had to slither quickly, over and under and inside one another. He tried ‘lol’ and ‘where u from’, but it was too late. Pablo had moved on or passed out or, possibly, been airborne the entire time.
Six months later – earlier this afternoon – Pablo had messaged him. He was in town; should he come over?
Brian is scared because Pablo is beautiful. He is scared that Pablo will run away from him, from his room and all of his cardboard boxes.
He wants to be incapable of distinguishing between beauty and ugliness. He wants to please Pablo. He wants–
The magic third line, it’s here. Yes. (!) The window invites him. So many windows, brightly lit. People sat around tables like his, only bigger. People turning and mixing, passing by their windows as if searching for him. I’m up here! He feels their hands on his hips, tracing his V-lines. This moon is his childhood. He sits back down. Checks his phone. Pablo left late, won’t be there for another hour. Anything might happen; will Brian still be sexy in an hour? His body might weaken. He could get cramps or a migraine or cut himself on something, and he doesn’t remember having plasters anywhere. An hour isn’t good. Sustain the mood. Stay on the edge. Make drinks. Change music. Do another
Every time Brian checks his phone, there are messages on the app from people who aren’t Pablo.
Later, to stay in the mood, he flirts. Replies bubble up while he prepares drinks, and he pushes each conversation as far as it will go as fast as possible, having palpitations and drinks between rounds of messages to keep the dry taste from his mouth. When a conversation goes dry or trails off, he hunts new ones, spraying a trail of blunt opening lines across a five-mile radius. When they don’t reply, he circulates, tapping arbitrarily, and stares intently at their pictures trying to imagine what they’re doing rightthissecond that’s so important.
He stands in the middle of the room and drinks long and straight from the bottle because he wants to feel like he looks as though he doesn’t care about anything.
Brian worries about scenario five.
Scenario 1: Pablo turns up and uses Brian, narrating the process in real-time.
Scenario 2: As above, but as if he is addressing Brian and not some imagined third party.
Scenario 3: After finishing, Pablo starts crying. Brian is filled with just enough love and generosity and tenderness after coming to hold him in his arms and rock him gently, so long as that’s all he has to do. Pablo’s tears hint at a better kind of loving than he is used to.
Scenario 4: Pablo does several lines in quick succession and they spend the whole night and much of the next day talking. Very little happens outside of their heads. Brian pulls things out of boxes to narrate his potted life story. At some point, they run out of coke and Brian is paralysed by the sight of so much rubbish covering the floor. The story of his life is mess everywhere. Pablo has to leave and Brian goes to bed and doesn’t sleep.
Scenario 5: Pablo doesn’t come. Brian hunts for someone to come over at short notice and settles for someone who asks if he wants ‘fun’ and ‘what u into’ and says ‘oh baby’ repeatedly, even though they’ve just met.
Ten minutes, Pablo had said. Brian tries the drink again. It tastes weaker. He makes another one, stronger. Drinks it. Coke-sober.
Brian is wearing a light film of fresh sweat.
Reduced services on all lines. How is Pablo getting there? Does he drive? He walks to the other side of the room to stop feeling sick. He still feels sick. He knows that, wherever he stands, he’s going to feel sick. If Pablo would just say he wasn’t coming then he wouldn’t have to do this other line–
–and, at three-quarters past, Brian’s body won’t relax. It moves around to avoid thinking.
Brian 1: You okay?
Brian 2: Yeah.
Brian 1: If Pablo was here right now and you could do anything you wanted with him – anything at all – what would you do?
Brian 2: Um.
Brian 1: I mean it. Anything at all. Even if it’s anatomically impossible.
Brian 2: Oh god.
Brian 1: You sure you’re okay?
Brian 2: Uh. Yeah. Shall we do another line?
Brian 1: Answer me first.
Brian 2: I have to use the bathroom.
In the bathroom, Brian (2) still can’t do or think anything. He has nothing to say. There are too many words with which to say anything. In the mirror above the sink are someone else’s eyes.
Brian 1: Do you remember when [SEARING MENTAL IMAGE] and [SEARING MENTAL IMAGE] and…
Brian 2: I have to go to the bathroom.
Brian 1: You’re already there.
Brian 2: Shall we do another line?
He doesn’t want Pablo to be disappointed. He doesn’t want him to be satisfied either.
He wants Pablo’s clothes to just sort of just sort of d i s s o l v e from his body without having to be removed.
He doesn’t know what he wants. He hopes Pablo has a plan that never fails.
He wants Pablo to smile. He doesn’t want to see Pablo smiling.
If he’d walkthroughthedoorrightthissecond.
Pablo’s coming through the door. He’s coming through the door. He’s closing the door behind him. He’s closed the door. Brian’s afraid that if he opens his mouth… but it’s already too late: yeah these boxes / sorry / oh baby / your coat / shall I take these off / should I have done that already / do you want my clothes left on / does that turn you on / this one time I / and / wait / here / there’s pictures / somewhere / look at me / see / god / do you wanna / should I / what if / imagine / and then we could / I love this song / I can go all night baby / let’s do it now / don’t speak / I know what you want / you here / me there / like that / no, wait / I know / like this / actually do you have / be so good if / like this one time / you can film it / film me / then later / you can see what I’m like / when I’m like that / doing stuff / what do I look like / let me see / look at me / look at these messages / when I couldn’t wait / this one / this one / oh god this one / cause you made me / cause you’re so / and I’m so / look at me / oh / one sec
Brian is sitting in one room, Pablo in another.
Brian is sitting on a bed, his flatmate’s bed, with the lights off, in the glow of his laptop screen.
Pablo is sitting in a chair in the front room, holding a drink.
Brian flits between webpages in search of _____, each image barely registering.
Pablo hears the ice in his glass when it moves.
Brian hears dozens of strangers at the point of orgasm.
Pablo puts his head through the door.
I just need five minutes okay five minutes please I’m nearly there and then we’ll OKAY –THANKS
Pablo finishes his drink in the front room.
In the other room, Brian has Pablo’s profile in front of him. There are five pictures of Pablo. He clicks through each picture and then goes back to the first and cycles through them, accelerating on each cycle in case his five minutes runs out. Something is missing. Each picture, by itself, isn’t enough. He wants to see all five pictures simultaneously – not all on the screen at once, but all seen somehow as one picture, and until this happens he won’t finish.
Pablo’s head is at the door. He can’t see what’s on Brian’s screen.
just five more minutes what an hour already sorry but I’m nearly done just five okay and then we can oh BABY OKAY
Pablo’s head disappears. A minute later, Brian thinks he hears the front door slam. He speeds up, come on come on come on if I can just before he I can just still get there come on maybe if
Pablo’s hands appear above the screen and close it. The room goes black. Brian doesn’t stop immediately and continues staring where the screen had been seconds before, like a phantom limb.
okay alright I’m sorry okay let me do you want to shall we are you or I could what if
Brian feels the mattress dip under Pablo’s weight and feels Pablo’s arms.
oh yeah well right shall I is that nice do you wanna how should I are you
Brian feels Pablo’s arms encircle him, pulling him gently back so that his head presses to his chest. When he blinks, coloured clouds and broken shapes flash in the dark.
oh that’s nice oh but we can still ah you’re so you’re so ahhhhhhh nice
Brian feels Pablo’s right hand slowly stroking his crown down to the nape of his neck and his little spinal gully. He hears a soft kissing sound on his scalp.
One of them is ssshhh-ing the other.
Brian holds his breath and, in the quiet, hears Pablo breathing. Each breath a steady, rhythmic iteration of the one before.
is it Christmas yet
About The Author
Sam Burt is a bookseller and editor based in east London. His fiction has appeared in Popshot Quarterly and Ink, Sweat and Tears, and non-fiction in 3:AM Magazine and The London Magazine. He hosts the East London Indie Book Club, which meets once a month and is open to new members.
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