Last of three parts
THERE were four more walk-ins that early Saturday morning — all in quick succession — providing a distraction for which Gideon was thankful: a teenage girl with asthma who could barely breathe despite the nebulizer; a man who accidentally shot himself in the foot and severed two toes in the process; another man who was DOA; and a woman who complained of a mystifying headache and nothing more, and who eventually decided to go home after an effusive display of drama about the people in the ER not caring at all for her medical welfare. The boy had been taken to the Intensive Care Unit — he knew this from Naty — just as dawn was breaking and there was now a shock of deep blue scattering throughout the skies outside the glass walls of the ER. Apparently, Naty said, it was decided surgery could not help the boy, and it was only really a matter of time now. Gideon suddenly felt tired.
“Has anyone told his friends? They’re still waiting for him, right?”
“Dr. Lento has, doc.”
“His family — are they coming?”
“We’re still trying to find his emergency contact, doc. I think someone’s trying to contact the university registrar for his information.”
“I knew him,” he muttered to no one in particular, but Naty heard.
“You did? How come you never said that earlier? Do you know how we can contact his family?”
Gideon shook his head.
“No, I meant I knew him very casually. He looked very familiar. I’ve seen him before.”
Naty looked at him, glancing up from her paperwork with her brows furrowed, but she didn’t say anything.
He shuffled his feet and said, “Duty’s over. Got to go home and get some sleep. Good morning, Naty.”
“Take care, doc.”
As Gideon walked the long corridors back to the doctor’s lounge where his locker was, he thought of that summer night a few months back when he had, out of sheer boredom, succumbed to the temptations of one of those hookup apps and met Dennis Mainit. He might have installed it on his phone only more than a year ago, but he had always kept his Grindr presence discreet, barely checking it for months at a time, believing himself much too worthy to need anything like it. After all, hadn’t he attracted more than his fair share of conquests? When he was in his mid-twenties, two boys barely out of their teens wrote poems about him, but he broke their hearts anyway. He was known among his friends as the one guy in their group who could routinely disappear from the dance floor of some club they’d be in, a guaranteed hookup in his arms. He was a looker in his twenties and a dashing man in his thirties, carefully manufactured from a relentless observance of diet and gym time, but the stress of medical school had gotten to him without the elasticity of youth to put him back together again. The sleepless nights and the constant anxiety eventually took a toll: he had grown a paunch, his muscles turned to jelly and there were now faint lines on his face. The anonymity of Grindr gave him occasional respite, luring most of his dalliances with a photo that was six years younger than he actually was. And when they asked for his age, he’d say, “Thirty-six.”
He could still easily pass for thirty-six, couldn’t he?
“You’re not thirty-six,” Dennis told him up front.
They had decided to meet under the tungsten light of the second lamppost along Calle San Jose, which was convenient enough for Gideon — it led directly to his front door in his apartment in the poblacion.
“Of course I’m thirty-six.”
Dennis gave a little shrug.
“Won’t you come in? My apartment’s just right in there,” Gideon said, pointing to the front door. He found his slightly pleading voice almost an embarrassment. But what had he got to lose? He was already out here on the sidewalk committed to meeting a stranger, and the boy was already outside his own apartment. Carpe diem, he told himself, although carpe noctem was more like it.
The boy allowed himself to be ushered right in — and under the generous light of the living room, where they had entered to music playing on Spotify, Gideon could finally see fully everything about the boy.
He was not tall — perhaps 5’8” — but wasn’t that tall enough for a local boy? He was dressed casually in a flower-print polo shirt, blue jeans and canvas shoes, as if in preparation for some informal revelry his college friends were throwing later somewhere in the party district of Escaño. He was beautiful, even striking, carrying his beauty like it was a privilege he alone completely understood. His skin was a brilliant brown, his mouth was full and his eyes — long-lashed and colored in the deepest pools of russet — had the look of arrogance to them, which immediately electrified Gideon. Dennis Mainit looked like a young divinity pretending, coyly, to be innocent.
“Enya,” the boy said, noticing the music in the room.
“You listen to Enya?”
“No. My parents do. It’s a little too old school for me.”
Gideon frowned a bit, but nodded.
“You live alone, Gideon?”
“Yes, I do.”
“That’s not bad.”
“I like having my own apartment.”
“And what do you do?”
“I’d like to answer that in the morning.”
The boy gave a quick knowing smile.
“Your name is Dennis, right?” Gideon asked.
The boy nodded slowly, looking at Gideon straight in the eyes, knowing full well that the older man could not take his eyes off him.
“And how old are you, Dennis?”
“I’m nineteen. You’re not thirty-six.”
“Fine, I’m not. I’m thirty-eight,” Gideon lied.
“It does not really matter how old you are, anyway. You’re a dad.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I’m a twink, yes?”
Gideon swallowed a bit, and nodded.
“I’m a twink,” the boy said, and he casually took off his shirt, revealing a lean frame, skin glistening in their light brownish hue, young muscles defined in just all the right places. “And you’re a dad.”
“I’m a dad?”
“Yes, you are,” the boy said, taking off his pants. “Aren’t you, daddy.”
Gideon could feel his breathing becoming shallower.
“You’re a daddy.”
The boy was now walking toward him, clad only in his blue briefs, until Gideon could feel the boy’s warm, semi-naked body pressed up against his own still fully-clothed self. The boy’s hands were suddenly all over him, cupping his hardness, massaging his back — and then, when Gideon moaned, he felt the boy’s mouth on his neck, his tongue working on Gideon’s skin, and soon the boy’s lips were on his own, and the kiss was electric and cruel — and all too brief.
It confused Gideon momentarily to register why the boy was stopping, but soon he saw Dennis dressing up. He was fast, and soon he was at the door.
“Are you leaving so soon?”
On Gideon’s face was a look of bewilderment.
Dennis only smiled. “I don’t go for dads. Next time, don’t catfish anyone with an old photo. It just feels a little too desperate, even for me.”
And the boy left.
He would be in the middle of the darkness of the ICU now, Gideon thought as he reached his locker in the doctor’s lounge, in the hum of desperate machines trying to keep him alive. But he knew Dennis was bleeding inside the air-conditioned cocoon of that terrible room, and he knew the boy was dying by the minute, his organs betraying him bit by bit, poisoned by the gravity of the ice pick’s puncture. Perhaps, Gideon thought, the boy must also know there would be no more daylight for him. Gideon gathered his things; he was slow, but soon enough he was at the exit bound for home, the morning light an affront he had to shield his eyes.
ALL is wreckage, Gideon thought. He looked at his reflection in the mirror inside the men’s CR of Barefoot, and surveyed the cold, craggy silences his life had become. Outside the tight shale-gray confines of the CR, he could hear the deep, sustained thump-thump of the music from the dance floor — the hypnotic haze, the peaks and the drops of EDM. He finished washing his face, and prepared to go out again, back to one of those anonymous and dimly lit corners of Barefoot, where Michael was waiting for him, perhaps flirting with the college girls he was sure were around, chugging his third bottle of San Mig Lite.
“What took you so long?” Michael asked when Gideon returned, his voice louder to carry it above the din.
“I was just washing my face!”
Gideon’s voice, too, was loud, fighting back against the persistent push of the music and the chatter of people.
“Just trying to keep myself awake, I guess. I barely had any sleep this morning after duty.”
“But you used to be a party boy, Gids. Didn’t you tell me that?”
“Used to be was ten years ago.”
“So you’re telling me you’re just getting old?”
“I’m telling you that one of these days, all these things you think are so much fun” — Gideon gestured around, indicating the dimness punctuated by a dance of bright colored lights, indicating the thump-thump-thump of dance music, indicating the crush of gyrating, screaming bodies — “wouldn’t be so much fun anymore, you’d rather be home and sleep.”
“I know that —”
“But I’m only young once!”
“Yeah, you’re only nineteen, how can I forget that.”
The boy raised his bottle of beer to him.
“A boy was knifed here last night,” he told Michael, his voice a little too low.
“A boy was what —?”
“A patient I had to attend to last night.”
“What about him?”
“Someone stabbed him with an ice pick here last night.”
“Someone what —?”
“Never mind,” Gideon sighed. “Let’s go home, Mike. I need to sleep. Or you could stay here and —”
But Michael was already on his feet, which surprised Gideon. “Let’s go,” Michael said. “I don’t mind going home. It’s not much of a weekend tonight. There’s barely any people here. I heard someone got knifed here last night.”
In bed, in the growing darkness of his apartment, the hum of the air-conditioning competing with Enya’s plaintive sound in low volume, Gideon felt Michael’s hands snaking around him, pulling him closer to his hardness. “I can’t do another round, Mike, I’m tired,” Gideon whispered.
The boy sighed dramatically.
“You should get a boyfriend your own age,” Gideon said. “I can’t keep up with your energy, to be honest.”
Michael was now a tease, sidling up to him and whispering in his ear: “Just one more round, Gids, please. I need the release.”
Gideon sighed. “Fine.”
He felt Michael fidgeting around in the dark, positioning his body in just the right angle to thrust. Gideon closed his eyes and winced. And when the first powerful thrust came, he felt it like a kind of stabbing — a violation that roiled him. And he thought of Barefoot all of a sudden, its darkness pregnant with music and smoke and bodies, and in the midst of all the gyrations, he imagined Dennis standing in the middle of the dance floor, lean and helpless in his nakedness. With each moaning thrust he felt, Gideon also felt a stabbing pain — and he imagined the puncture deepening in Dennis’ brown flesh, going deeper and bloodier as Michael went on and on. The pain was unbearable, Gideon could only grit his teeth, but Michael was relentless.
And when the boy was finally sated, he slumped on top of Gideon’s withering frame. Gideon could feel tears slowly forming, the pain still raw and radiating from deep within him.
“Thank you, babe,” Michael said, as he snuggled to sleep. “Hey, don’t forget, I need P1,000 for Monday.”
Lying there, spent, Gideon stared only at the deepening dark; Enya had long been banished into silence, the sound of the air-conditioning underlining only a hollow sorrow. He closed his eyes, and he imagined the ghost of his mother looking at him now with the same look of scorn she threw at him which burned so much in his last memory of her. There was only violation, especially among men, she had said, more or less.
You can never find love among faggots, she spat.
You are an ugly woman with an ugly soul, he shot back.
Ha! You’re a faggot with fading looks, and you deserve the worst of all violations.
Was she right?
In the expanding gloom of his room, he replaced one ghost with another —Dennis Mainit alone in the ICU, clinging to dissipating life. Gideon imagined the dark look in Dennis’s once-beautiful eyes, which would have a completely different texture by then; they’d have known the end was coming by the mute sparkle of little, desperate tears.
So much strange beauty, even in the eyes of death.
And so much waste, Gideon thought, the pillow soaking up his tears. So much waste for which beauty could do nothing, nothing at all.