Although Victoria Giang has been a farmer, director, receptionist, teacher, vagabond, antiques dealer, and painter/plasterer, she has always been and will always remain a dilettante novelist.
My Saint Sebastian
He sat across from me in the magazine library, a cool, subterranean concrete room which functioned as a sort of waiting room for the resumption of productive or social life. Eyelashes fluttered and our gaze connected a couple of times with a spark that failed to ignite. Perhaps it was due to the deafening tropical rain outside or the sterile, museum-like environment which discouraged speech. A war of attrition was silently declared between us, each settling into our padded faux leather chairs. When we would stand to return our magazines and select a new one, we would each walk deliberately close to the other, brush past each other’s chair, and when one of us was absorbed in reading, that was when the other could observe his expression of concentration, the face in repose, a gentle smile of amusement lifting the corners of the lips.
There was no doubt that he was the perfect image of the Greek expression “ephebe,” a beautiful male youth, but the addition of three grey hairs to the top of his head made him irresistible, on the assumption that he would be feeling a tug of desperation at this visible sign that he was nearing the apex of his youth. His oval face framed harmonious features: soft, full lips, a nose with a gently rolling arch like the vague outline of an inviting hill, doe-like brown eyes shaded by lashes that fell thick as a curtain of water over a hidden cave, mysterious and romantic, and skin as clear and luminous as a newly pressed piece of gold foil. Would such a perfectly formed man want anything to do with the company of a woman?
I waited him out, reading volume after volume of Latvian photography magazines until the crucial moment came to depart so that I could arrive at my party on time, unfashionably early as always since I never felt glamorous enough to call attention to myself by arriving late, after fashioning a story of something better to do. So I stood up and took my leave too quickly, without looking back (embarrassed to catch the knowing glance of the librarian), but I paused at the top of the stairs to watch the rain and briefly envisioned my pursuant hot on my heels and reaching the top of the stairs to stand beside me, whereby I would look up from under my umbrella charmingly at him, and our acquaintanceship could trace its beginning to this very moment, but understandably, no such thing happened.
Walking to the party, I stopped by a 711 to buy a bottle of wine, an expensive import from Australia of dubious quality, but with a twist top. An acrid taste coated my mouth in anticipation of the evening ahead. I gazed at the wall of cigarettes, scanning the romantic and exotic names: Boheme, Gentle, Mevius, Seven Stars. My throat burned as I considered the social merits of the pernicious activity that had won me the very friend whose party I was to attend that night. Without cigarettes, I wouldn’t have found the opportunity to approach a strange woman, and my poor life would suffer more in comparison with the distant specter of disease that I hoped miraculously to sidestep.
I imagined my friend’s surprise if I were to appear at the party by the side of my Apollonian beauty. “Oh? And who’s this?” Her eyes would widen.
“Just a stranger who became my friend, same as you,” I would tell her, and my eyes would go glossy as I watched him socialize among my interesting, sophisticated friends, and he would feel delighted at having met me, the cord that tugged him to warmer shores, and how we would tumble onto a bed as inviting as a pink sand beach when I brought him home with me, a whole life condensed into just one night.
Instead, I arrived alone, and opened the door to the sound a cork popping, that unmistakably joyful sound, so I quickly forgot my love, lost to the depths. Joy’s boyfriend led me to the terrace, slinking along like a puppy dog in the garb of a 1920’s Chicano garment worker: wide pinstripe trousers and clinging white t-shirt, perpetually turning back to me with his sly grin, like a doomed Orpheus with skin as clear and white as Dehua porcelain, eyes widened by the thick, circular frames of his glasses, making his expression that of a curious animal.
We drank on the terrace without making toasts as rain sprinkled my back. Joy’s photography exhibition was the primary topic among us.
“The curator should work alongside the artists to develop the concept of the exhibition. It’s an understated role which requires breadth of theoretical knowledge, which is more important than ever in contemporary art,” one woman held forth passionately.
“He used government funding to pay street walkers by the hour, and the compositions he utilized in his photography were quite simple, like that of an advertisement, with text along the bottom which would read something like ‘John, $30.’ In the series, the concept was more valuable than the image. These were men and women who turned tricks on Hollywood Boulevard, failing to make it as actors. To be presented as an image was all they asked.” Someone discussed a photographer’s recent work.
“The exhibition concerns the concept of physical space as it applies to the queer as people, ah, and here’s one of my models now.” Joy turned with obvious pleasure to introduce the new arrival, and who could it be but my Apollo?
“Congratulations,” she told him, and then turning to me. “My country finally says it’s legal for him to marry.” It was the day of a ruling dually historic: both for declaring equal rights and asserting the island’s ability to self govern, a casual yet monumental day, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit possessive over all men, so I was somewhat disappointed by the news’ relevance to him, though intrigued to find him within my ever turning social circle.
“Congratulations, old friend,” I addressed him intimately, and he flashed me an enchantingly intimate smile.
“It’s nice to see you here. Against all expectation.” His voice was clear and confident, and he seated himself at an angle beside me. I poured him a drink, a fizzy lychee flavored wine cooler.
“You’re the one from the exhibition, then? The photos were quite brilliant,” a girl with glittery eyelids complimented him. A few others agreed and proffered their own congratulations. We spent much of the evening between four eyes only, both former students of literature living it out in practical fields – he in banking and me in business. The way his eyes smiled at me, half moons gently turning, it was hard to believe he was a man not for me. His charm was so potent that I could only escape by turning my back on it and making conversation with the two European girls. Still, the warmth of his presence burned the back of my neck.
He departed early, pleading an early day at work, and soon after, promising to view the exhibition, I left as well.
I rode the train with one of the more confident and well-spoken art students from the party and coaxed out her fears for an insecure future, which was followed by my own guilt at having drawn out the revelation before laying a sort of curse by describing my own unfocused post-university behavior. There was no guarantee she didn’t have the vicious, self-serving nature needed to gain funding and moderate success, but her idealism and confident, youthful bluster had created this need in me to tear down the screen and view the bare pedestal for these hopes and dreams. It was a cruel impulse, I realized after following it, a little like lifting up her skirt in public, and I regretted that I had performed this intimate gesture out of boredom rather than love. Now I felt responsible to her.
I came home to my friend’s apartment and cat, ignoring the cat to pass out on her bed. I felt quite guilty as I thought of her cat as well, young and energetic and stuffed in this tiny room, frustrated as a young girl sequestered in a convent. In her black and white coat, she looked a bit like a nun to me.
In the morning, it rained, so I got up only to return to bed a couple hours later. I felt disoriented as I went out to buy breakfast, like I wasn’t supposed to exist and that everyone avoided me as if I were a ghost, catching a glimpse, staring in disbelief before averting their eyes in fear. I lacked the cheeriness to face them with a smile, so I pretended they didn’t exist as well, that I walked among them as a ghost from another plane.
Later, I went out to the photography exhibition. It was held in the basement of the university’s old library, most of which was eerily unlit except by occasional flashes of lightning. The basement space had the aspect of a dungeon; the photos were held on empty shelves, with the partitions decorated with yarn pulled so taut that I also felt the tension, as if the trap door would close, and I would be caught in this basement, between worlds. The idea of queerness was represented mostly as being openly sexual, with scenes of exhibitionism and bondage alongside funereal imagery of lilies and white clothed maidens. This place felt like both a dungeon and a tomb, and the feeling wasn’t oppressive more than it was sadistic.
The images were appealing, but the one that arrested was that of my Apollo, in the typical, confident pose of an ephebe: nude, smirking, leaning against a bathroom sink in a white tiled room. The intimacy he had shown me, he had lavished on the photographer as well in this picture, so that now we could all possess him equally. His sexuality struck me as an expression of his desire to be adored more than to desire another, and this struck me as natural, to adore him.
However, the idea that all the others at the party had seen his beauty in full display and that even more strangers, even those I could see now milling around other pictures at the exhibition, would continue to see it filled me with dread. I was upset to think of others possessing him the same as me, not that they could see his flesh exposed, but that they could feel his obvious charm, fall under the spell of his obvious attraction. Or worse, if they didn’t like him, if they couldn’t feel his beauty as powerfully as I did, if they reduced it to inconsequential phrases. I wanted all of him for myself alone.
Old men love war and blood sports. I understood the reason behind this now. Sending a beautiful young man to die was the only way to ensure that no others could have him, that you would be the final one.