When Angels Fall
The black whores in tight body stockings hang in doorways, prowl outside bars, snarl like wolves defensive of their territory, lip gloss glowing in the fluorescence of the city night, teeth bared. The smell of lust in the air.
When no one calls he hits the streets, winds in and out of alleyways, hanging outside the gay businesses watching drunks stumble past. He does some coke and hustles stoned. His body aches from a feeling of being trapped within itself. A heaviness. He has visions of being weightless, an angel, a stoned archangel in brilliantly lit stained glass. Stoned mindless. Busses whir past. They are real. His connection. His body is real. His bottle of gin.
He needs to remain straight enough to make some bucks. He enters Touché’s. The smell of leather intoxicates. Some know him and are blasé; others find him extremely hot: leather jacket, curly black hair, tight levis, practiced swagger. It takes all of ten minutes for someone to find him. In a dark corner it is all over. He is too stoned tonight. Too stoned to make a buck.
His mind dies in his brain. And shrivels. But his body burns. He knows only his body. He knows two things well: his body and his vision of the archangel (some sense of purity and purpose) though trapped in glass.
Morning. Dreamless. Spring heavy with its sap. The change of seasons doesn’t affect him much. Nothing seems to lately. He rubs his eyes. A haze in his mind filters the sunrays as he lifts the shade and sees tree branches, buds pushing themselves outward, their vulnerable tips, a phallic rising, an energy that pulses and pushes without control, despite itself, like his daily routines, his lust. He rubs his chest and flops back naked on the bed. How can it be? His body still desires as if he is apart from it but goes with its flow, like buds stretching and stirring only to lose themselves.
Centered so in this world, he never considers how one commits unconsciously to a life, however dull or destructive. There is this feeling of something forever slipping through the spaces between his fingers. He begins to feel panic. As he smokes a joint, he realizes he hasn’t eaten in two days except for snacks at the bars. He feels weak. Sadness closes his eyes and he remembers:
Midnight. The lights of a city aglow with the energy of millions of lives, of peoples’ dramas: brilliant, miraculous, violent. He cruises into Sidetracks checking out the men lined up along the bar. Music pounds intensely, caught in a repeating loop like the hours of his days. Insistent. A reggae song slows things down and he proceeds to the bartender rubbing against the eager men. He stands sucking on his straw watching the men on the dance floor, the traffic to and from the men’s room, the whirling lights captivating him and he forgets.
He hears a voice, “And another for my friend here.” A guy presses close beside him. Michael gazes at him through the smoky haze.
“Come here much? Never seen you”, Michael asks.
“Just got into town. Been on the road for a while.”
“Oh yeah, where from?”
“L.A. Ever been?”
The two letters enrapture him. The freedom of sun. Hollywood. Warm sand on bare skin. Foamy surf splashing the beach. Sex at sunrise or on the beach in the middle of the night. No one is a prisoner there, he thinks.
The man has a model’s well-defined features: square chin, long lashes, soft skin, curly blond hair. His unbuttoned shirt reveals a muscular build. He presses against Michael lowering his head to his ear asking him to dance. The room pounds with vibrations. A slow electrocution. Pain and pleasure. Eyes on crotches. Hands lost in their own caresses up and down thighs. The smell of poppers.
The man takes off his shirt. A rare slow song begins. Michael heads off the dance floor, but the man puts his arm over Michael’s shoulder and pulls him face to face. He is sweating. Half-naked. Insistent. They fall into and out of the rhythmic beats. Music pours over them in erotic waves. Michael sees the dance ball whirling, the man’s blond head, the sun on the ocean all as one. “What’s your name?” he whispers.
He stirs to lips sucking his nipples, slow, wet, erotic. Running his hands through Eric’s blond curls he mumbles, half-asleep. The morning has passed them by like an early bus. He hears birds. They fly like tiny angels through his mind. Traffic hums.
“I’ll fix breakfast. Do you have eggs?” From seeing the looks of Michael’s apartment he knows the answer before finishing the question. “Well, I’ll come up with something. You never answered by the way.”
“Have you been to L.A.?”
The images reappear. The sun hangs suspended over the warm city of angels. Surf roars. “No, but I will.”
“Did you grow up here?”
“Well, we moved around a lot. My mom was always moving away from her old man. He beat the shit out of her. I moved here when I finished high school.”
“Don’t know if I can last through a winter here, but I’m gonna try. “I’m sure I’ll stay warm, right?” He kisses him on the lips wet and hard.
He knows there will be no getting over him. Like knowing what one wants to eat when one’s hungry or like a dog senses danger. It slows him down; it speeds him up. Golden down of skin, muscular thighs. After sex he gazes into his blue eyes as they massage one another, silent. A different kind of touch. He pours wine into his eye sockets and licks them out. The center no longer holds. Directionless in space. A disembodied fragment of a spaceship falling. Stars and space. Wheel without spokes.
Last night they had been listening to jazz in Washington Street Underground. Old ceiling fans. Summer’s heat. Emotional overload. Like a fire or riot could start at a spark’s notice. They were languid. Melting of limbs and soft touching of lips like kissing the soft spot on a baby’s head. That delicate in their approach. He had looked into Eric’s eyes and been afraid.
Today as he strolls along the lake he feels the same sinking feeling his stomach had felt the night before. He drags the weight of his arms along, surprised they don’t leave grooves in the sand. The water is rough. Small craft warnings. He stands along the pier and gazes at the lighthouse. It’s the most solid thing he has ever known. Fixed like the points on a compass. This is some comfort. But he is not a lighthouse. Or a compass. Just a point not fixed. A grain of sand on the beach.
People sprawl everywhere. He steps around them—mines ready to explode. Lightly. A form of prayer in his head. This delicate approach reminds him of their touching last night. A tentativeness like walking through this mine field. As he walks, he sees the waves peak and splash upon shoreline. They are the thoughts in his head. The movement of his feet.
He walks and walks, sees children playing. They have made a channel in the sand and diverted water to form their own tiny lake. A little girl drops stones into its center at timed intervals like a mechanized toy. He sees the concentric ripples. They mesmerize. People he had loved had widened in circles like these around him and vanished. He sees everything now as suspended in time. He sees the young boy push the girl aside and splash wildly in his usurped lake. The circles gone, the spell broken.
Michael glances at the lighthouse over his shoulder, feels a chill even in the burning sandy heat and heads out for the strip.
After the break up with Eric some part of Michael gives in. Collapses like a building for urban renewal. Without the renewal. This is not the same loss he knows. It’s his own death. He goes on but sleepwalking. He is depressed and doesn’t eat for days. He stares out the window, seeing and not seeing the busy street. He awakens in the night sweating and shaking. He feels bodiless, the core of his body a heavy weight apart from himself.
Then he feels better one morning. Not the same person. He will never be him again. The part of himself that had collapsed is restored. But it is hard. Made of some very solid, some very durable material.
Michael enters the theater. As he takes a seat, he sees the familiar images of flesh upon flesh, hears the familiar sound of wet lips on flesh around him. He isn’t in the mood (active or passive) but he needs some funds. He is bored. This is part of his life like children are a part of so many adults’ lives.
He heads into the lobby and picks up the latest issue of Gaylife. The headline reads: “Rapists Claim Fourth, Maybe Fifth, Victim.” The article is about the latest of several reported rapes of men on the north side. In his neighborhood mostly. He has never thought of this. It takes three men and a van to do it. Why go to all the bother, Michael thinks. It is out of violence, hate. Sex is easy to get. They call the victim “faggot,” knock him over the head, drag him into a van, tell him they are going to show him what it’s like to be with real men. Afterwards, they dump him in an empty lot. Semi-conscious. If he’s lucky.
He begins the day hanging out at the train station. North Shore line. Ones with money and a lot to hide. Fifty bucks a blowjob. Often more. He tries to make eye contact. Takes his cruising stance. Hip thrust forward. A loitering look but not so much so as to be noticed by police. There are always interested men. He wonders what the rest of their lives are like to have to do this in a men’s room. For that matter what was his life like?
Standing in the crowd he sees the woman’s open purse. An oversight. She looks wealthy. Probably usually very cautious. Probably didn’t carry much cash. He sees the sandy beaches. Feels the sun’s heat. He moves beside her. She snaps the purse shut.
He stops by a cafeteria and has some soup and a hot dog. Watches traffic. He doesn’t hear all the honking of horns that he hears in movies and on TV. as urban realism. A grey day. He feels some tide rising in him like that at Malibu. It does not recede but continues to rise.
Later that day he takes a trip to the suburbs. He hates them but he has a chance to make a couple hundred bucks from an old fairy with a PhD. Advertising has helped. He feigns interest. The man needs to be convinced he is somehow still appealing. He isn’t, but anything Michael can do or say will help. He wishes he had had a few drinks before this one.
On the way back to the city a tired calm overtakes him. A beautiful, young woman in a long, grey coat sits across from him. A man of about thirty comes and sits beside her. They immediately look like a set of something. He is gorgeous. Meticulously trimmed beard. Stylish, layered hair hugs his scalp as he runs his fingers through it. His deep set blue eyes avert easily. Both of them read books. Michael notes how the woman eyes the man, noting his beauty. The train hits some very rough track and the man pauses in his reading and raises his eyes. She smiles as she reads. Michael recognizes that look either from a lost part of himself or movies he has seen or people he has known. A woman will keep on reading, he thinks, but a man, well, it must be smooth sailing.
The two of them seem to shine clean and bright. Like angels in a blue sky. So unlike his world. It is time for her to get off. She stands in the aisle waiting to exit. The man keeps looking at her back hoping she will turn around. She doesn’t. Even after she exits, he gazes across the aisle and out the windows to see her figure walking along the platform. He smiles in his seat alone except for his eyes. He glances back at his book. He can’t read a word and puts it in his black valise.
Michael looks at the man as he gets off the train. For the rest of the way and all that evening he sees the man’s eyes and the woman’s smile. He thinks of Eric’s eyes and how the men at the train station had once felt about their wives. The old professor paid for such a pair of eyes, not really sex. It gives him a warm feeling to think about the couple on the train. Like a beautiful dream one thinks about all day.
He feels anxious on the bus all the way to the Art Institute. Listless. It is the dead of winter and everyone, everything, shows it. Worn. Withdrawn. Waiting. He checks his coat and saunters through the corridors. He is early to meet him in the men’s room at 2:00 o’clock. Like every Thursday. No questions asked.
Being here is like church. He looks forward to it. His life slows down. He feels serene. The echoes of high heels in huge spaces. Other sounds muffle like piano hammers striking a sounding board without wires. Audio draped with heavy, velvet cloths. Everything is orderly, arranged, and clear: Renaissance, Modern, French impressionist. Some people huddle in organized groups. Others pause in thoughtful reflection, alone. He overhears the guide:
“The Last Judgment was painted by van Eyck, a Flemish painter of the fifteenth century.” Michael’s eyes are riveted to the painting. The background of the upper half is blue. Hands clasp in prayer. Flying angels blow trumpets. Midway down an angel stands guard over Death’s wings, a skull with bat wings keeping those in Hell from the light of salvation above. Below unfolds a nightmare of naked, deformed bodies and writhing flesh—Hell’s concentration camp. A porcupine head on a black voodoo face. Eyes peer out of black, between bodies crisscrossing, flesh against flesh, in every direction. This bottom half haunts him.
Above, angels rejoice. The angels he is used to seeing. He comes here to see them. They are the good in his life. His hope. But he knows buried somewhere below at the bottom of the mass of damned bodies lie the fallen angels. The first in a line. They will not rise triumphant; they will suffer endlessly. God didn’t make deals. Once an angel or a life falters, there is no getting over it. But they had been so holy and good, he thinks regretfully. He wishes that someone in the group will point this out, empathize with the damned, the fallen angels, buried under others who are also buried, some nearly invisible.
No. The group sees the folded hands. The angels triumphant. The blue sky. He stares at the bottom half. He remains after the tour group departs, their sounds muffled as if receding through clouds.
“Hello?” He stretches, yawns, collapses on the bed. “Yeah, what is it?”
“Yeah, whatcha need? A hundred bucks a…
“This is Tim.”
“Where are you?”
“At home. How about taking a trip out to the sticks?”
Michael watches the countryside, patches of green and black, as it passes by his train window. Another world. This motion is conducive to thinking. As he watches the images appear and disappear, he relaxes a little, closing his eyes. The train rocks him to sleep. He dreams a city of night and perpetual darkness. Inside and out. Superimposed upon this sleeping vision are patches of green hills. He feels the moist, dark fields like one feels things in dreams. Is the train moving out of the darkness and into the light?
The conductor is shaking his shoulder. He gathers his bag and walks down the aisle half awake. Tim is waiting. He throws his arms around Michael. His arms feel different than other men’s. This gives him the same good feeling he had in thinking of the couple on the train: warm earth, sloping green fields.
Tim said how good it was to see him.
“It’s nice to get away.”
“How’ve ya been?”
“Alright. How about you?”
“Why don’t you move up to the city?”
“Don’t know. Used to it here. It grows on you.”
“No, really. At first I thought I’d go out of my mind. But it’s been good for me. I’ve changed.”
This kind of discussion made Michael nervous. What does that mean? One changed a tire. Or deodorant.
Tim fixes dinner while Michael sits on the back porch watching the sun descend. It does not sink. Ships sink. He thinks this as he inhales. The sun is too graceful to sink. It’s a dream of harvestable fields somewhere like forgotten parts of himself. After dinner they sit and talk. The sun has warmed the room. Plants hang everywhere. Deep, dark wood surrounds them.
They talk of old times. Michael is evasive about his life. But Tim senses immediately that Michael’s life isn’t his own. That one can’t possess what one is not fully aware of. Something in Michael has been used up and not replenished. That’s why he looks older. They talk late into the night then sleep together, Tim holding him most of the night. Michael dreams, curled up, safe. The sun warm and bright in his dreams.
Before Michael leaves, Tim asks if he needs anything. “Really, if you ever need anything, let me know. I’ve been able to save some money. I’d be glad to help.”
“Thanks, Tim.” They embrace again. Michael boards the train. The sun through the tinted window puts him to sleep. He has a sinking feeling in the pit of his
stomach. About halfway home he awakes. It is dark. He sees a city of night in his mind’s eye. A city of perpetual dark. Inside or out. Day or night.
It’s nearly three in the morning when he decides to give it up for the night. He shivers a bit clutching his leather jacket tightly. The surf continues to rise inside him. He will make a clean break. Go to California. Turn blond and wear sexy dark glasses and speedos. He is lost in thought. He has hardly had anything to drink, just a few hits off a joint. He hears a voice ask, “Hey, buddy, how about helping a fella out?”
He turns and sees a man leaning against a building in the alleyway. Michael slinks into the alley. A voice inside tells him not to. He ignores it. “Listen, I’ll make it worth your while. How’s a hundred? Look.” The man shows him his wallet thick with bills. He must be vice Michael thinks. He is hesitant, afraid. The light from the street casts eerie shadows upon the sides of the brick buildings.
He approaches the man grasping him by his belt. Seemingly out of nowhere appear two other men. The first hits Michael in the face. Pushes him into one of the others who knees him hard in the thigh. They drag him to their van which is parked in the alley and throw him inside. One of them takes off his belt and puts it around Michael’s neck. The last thing he remembers is lying on his stomach clutching the shag carpeting, riding it like a wave, grasping tufts of it like swatches of hair torn from the men’s scalps.
Corridors buzz with activity. Men and women in uniform scuffle. Voices on radios and scanners create a static that’s unnerving. Calls click on and off. A sense of urgency is lacking, just a sense of efficiency, or attempts at it. He hasn’t thought out what he’s going to say. He just feels he should be here now. He is nervous and shaky. Again he has not eaten. What should he say?
He can’t go through with it. He fumbles in his pockets for coins for the vending machines. For coffee. He sits and stares at the floor. After a while he approaches an important-looking desk with a large black woman seated behind it. What should he say? “Excuse me, Miss? I’d like to talk with someone.”
“Is it regarding a crime?” She eyes his ragged appearance and asks, “Are you alright, honey?”
“I think so.”
“What kind of crime?”
“Well…” He froze, hesitated.
“Don’t be shy. I’ve heard it all. Was it a robbery?”
“Honey, I can’t help you out if…”
“Rape”, he interrupts.
She looks puzzled. “Okay. Rape. Did you bring the victim, honey?”
She tries to rise above it. After all her training… She guesses him to be about 5’10.” “Rape?” She will be efficient, concerned. She calls over an officer. “What’s your name, baby?” she asks.
“Well, Michael, Sergeant Collins is gonna get some information from you and make sure you’re alright. Okay?” She staples a couple of forms and her preliminary intake report together and heads with Michael across the huge, fluorescent room. Metal desks and metal waste baskets. He hurts as he sits among file cabinets and metal clips and miles of forms. And starched uniforms. Starched smiles. His mind begins to race. This is all a mistake. Before he realizes it, he is talking with the sergeant.
“So, you’re reporting that you were raped by three men. Sorry to hear that.” His voice betrays him ever so slightly. The starch has failed. “Tell me more.”
“Well, I was walking along Clark Street…”
“What time was this?”
“I don’t know exactly—around 3 or 4.”
“In the morning?” Michael nods. “I see.” The sergeant lowers his head to jot down a note.
“I was walking along when a man by an alley called out to me.”
“What did he want?”
What should he say? A blowjob? Sex in an alley? This is a big mistake. The cop glances over the top of his glasses, waiting, a bit impatient.
“He came on to me.”
“I see. Go on.”
“Well, I went into the alley…”
“Excuse me, but what for?”
“I… he had a lot of money.”
“So when I got inside the alley a couple of other men came up and started to work me over.” He continues until he has told it all. All that he recalls. The sergeant listens like he has heard it all before. The rest is routine. Descriptions of the assailants. And so on. No mention of the other rapes Michael has read about. Then the cop says, “You’re aware accepting money for sexual favors is illegal?”
He says no more. Just goes across the room where a young officer sits working on a report. The young cop glances at Michael as the two of them have a short conversation. When the sergeant returns, he is a bit cooler. Matter-of-fact. “Follow me.”
Now the probing hands. A gentle pressing on his side and stomach. Starched people in action. The room is cold. They send him for a specimen. He overhears some officers talking… “two-bit hustler…” The comments come in bits and spurts like an audiotape that has been erased in spots… “bunch of fags.”
He walks back to the examination room. He feels heavy, then light, cold and shivering. His sense of balance is off. A part of him gives in. It feels like the last part. He feels dizzy. The metal and starch all around him no longer support him. The room swirls and he loses consciousness.
First the smell. A clean smell. His eyes open. “You must have been tired boy.” She flattens the sheet over his chest. “Been sleepin longer than old van Winkle. How ya feeling?”
“I’ll say. The doctor’ll be back shortly. Get your rest.”
She bustles out. He feels odd. Like he has just dozed off from his life for a while. The doctor examines, lectures, and questions him.
“Have any family or friends you’d like me to contact?”
“No, really. There’s no need.”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”
The doctor leaves. He looks around the room. White and enamel. Metal. Hard surfaces. Nothing to give way against his breathing skin.
“There’s a reporter and policeman who would like to see you. You up to it?”
“Yep. What do ya think?”
“Send ‘em in I guess.”
The reporter crowds in first. Harried. Self-important. A bag over his shoulder and notepad in hand. “Hi, I’m Lee, from Gaylife.”
“I’m here to make others aware that we must report such matters to the police. We have the right to be protected too. You did the right thing. I’d like to get some information.” His pedantic manner is annoying.
The police official enters. Plain clothes. “Hey, I’m Captain Pat McCloskey. How ya feeling?” He speaks of a task force. Accountability to the gay community. A good P.R. man. This could make his career. Nationwide attention. Help everyone’s image. Chicago. City of progressive, not club-happy, cops. McCloskey and the reporter get in a heated argument. Michael tunes it all out. Where did he fit in? Where had he ever fit in?
He must be stronger than the surfaces that surround him. He dozes off. The nurse peeks in and escorts the men out. He sleeps. She feels somehow solicitous toward him. One of those short-lived moments when sentiment rises high within us. She is touched as she tucks his sheet around him and shuts off the light. Doing everything softly. The kind of silence you listen to. The sound of padded-sole shoes in a quiet hallway.
Something must matter. If not a great passion, something. After the assault he is morose, silent, even worse than in the days after Eric’s departure. The intent of his assailants is always with him and this alters something important. He knows that they viewed him as something less than themselves. Anything is then possible, he thinks.
He goes there because he feels he has to. A kind of farewell. To himself. He presses through the crowd and stares at the painting. People bump against him. Oblivious. This time he focuses on the top half. Its visionary brightness. When he walks away he is crying. It has been awhile. He goes to the bathroom and washes his face, staring at it head on. It just takes resolve, he thinks positively.
He is glad he had called Tim and told him he was leaving for California. Tim’s word had been good. He wouldn’t starve. He boarded the bus for the train station with his tattered luggage. He feels he has some knowledge he can use should he choose to. He had reached out. This must count for something. Like learning to walk again.
He hears coins dropping. The bus is nearly full. Coins and tokens ping as people board the bus. This reminds him of someone once saying that such sounds mean another angel has gotten his wings. He would not hope against hope. He had seen. He knew.
Marc Frazier has been widely published in journals including The Spoon River Poetry Review, ACM, Good Men Project, f(r)iction, Slant, Permafrost, Plainsongs, Poet Lore, Rhino, The Broome Review, descant, Wilderness House Literary Review, Connotation Press, and Kentucky Review. He is the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Award for poetry. His book The Way Here and his chapbooks The Gods of the Grand Resort and After are available on Amazon as well as his second full-length collection titled Each Thing Touches. His website is www.marcfrazier.org.