Authors: Tristram La Roche
On My Knees
By Tristram La Roche
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P.O. Box 66
Medford, OR 97501
On My Knees
Copyright © 2011 by Tristram La Roche
Edited by Annie Melton
Cover by Valerie Tibbs
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
First Etopia Press electronic publication: June 2011
~ Acknowledgments ~
I am indebted to Julia Kavan for her constant support, friendship and encouragement, and for giving up so much of her time to help make this story what it is. Also to Susan Roebuck for her detailed comments and suggestions on the original draft. Last but not least, I have to thank my editor, Annie Melton, for enlightening me in so many ways and for sorting the wheat from the chaff.
~ Dedication ~
This book is for all gay men and women who have yet to find themselves.
London, May 9
“For Christ’s sake, Diana, will you just stop your nagging for once?”
I’d barely gotten through the door and we were into the usual evening bust-up. Simply because I’d stopped by the wine bar on the way to the station. Just a foursome: Alex, the guy I shared the office with, and a couple of his mates who’d come up to town for a night in the West End. And me. I’d long ago lost any eagerness to get home early.
“You’re drinking too much.” Diana’s voice was hoarse, her face tight. “How much have you spent? Eh? Show me the bill?” She lunged at me and tried to dig my wallet from my jacket pocket.
“Get off,” I said, wrapping my arms around me. Four grown men after work could drink more than she would ever forgive. “You treat me like a child.”
“You behave like a child.” The neighbors would be able to hear her now. She craned forwards into a posture that would have been threatening if only she’d been nine inches taller. “You’re just…just…”
I hated that. She did it all the time, start a sentence and not finish it.
“And what are you? Little Miss Goody Two Shoes?”
“I didn’t marry an alcoholic,” she said.
“And I didn’t marry a nagging bitch.” I regretted it instantly. “Sorry, sorry. Please can we try to have a normal conversation?”
I was too late. She grabbed the knife off the kitchen work top and lashed out with it. I leaped back just in time.
“You’re mad. Like your mother. You’re unhinged.” I struggled not to let the fear show in my voice.
She lunged at me again, her unruly hair falling across her face. “Well, if I am, it’s you that’s driven me to it.” She missed. The knife flashed by my side and I brought my hand down, knocking the blade to the floor. She squeezed her wrist with her left hand and cursed.
“I’m sorry,” I said, reaching out to her. “Here, let me look.”
She stamped on the floor and turned away. “Don’t you dare touch me.”
I couldn’t win. I took my chance and bolted out the door. “And if I’m an alcoholic, you’ve driven me to it.”
“Where are you going?” She’d recovered enough to pursue me to the top step. “That’s just typical of you. Come back here and deal with it.”
I had no intention of going back. Not then. I swept down the stairs two at a time and turned the key in the outer door.
No sooner had I heard the words than pain spread across my shoulders. I toppled but managed to stay upright. She hurled books down the stairwell at me. I slipped out into the street as another volume crashed behind me.
I knew she was in no mood to give up. Once I was in the car, I locked all the doors with the central locking and put the key in the ignition. Before I was able to pull out of the parking space, she was down the stairs and into the street, running at the car with fists in the air. She grabbed the driver’s door handle just as I accelerated. I didn’t look at her. I eased the car out of the space, hoping she would let go. Half-hoping that the wheel would crush her foot.
“Come back! Come back now!” She beat her fists on the window.
I wasn’t stopping. She leaped back out of the way as the engine purred and the car turned. As I went down the hill, I could see her in the mirror, standing in the middle of the road with her hands on her hips, shaking her head. Well, at least she was unhurt.
The only thing now was where to go. All our friends lived on the other side of town, and considering I’d been drinking, I didn’t dare drive far. Then I remembered that my gym bag was in the boot. The gym was no more than a mile away, and the exercise would help my system break down the alcohol. And work off the misery of another day in hell.
* * *
There was a certain point in the gym, about halfway up the staircase, where the smell of sweat mingled with the aroma of carrot cake, that allegedly healthy comfort food that was ubiquitous in London at the time. Why anyone would locate a café on the same floor as the changing rooms was beyond me. I glanced at the bar area and saw no one. Quiet tonight. Even the hum of the treadmills on the floor above was muted. At least I’d be able to get one without waiting.
The changing room looked like the zookeeper had taken the chimpanzees there for a day out—towels strewn everywhere and empty deodorant cans scattered like pins in a bowling alley. I cleared a space on one of the benches and swapped my suit for my gym gear.
I was glad the changing room was empty. This was the first gym I’d ever been to. The first time since school that I’d found myself changing with other men. I’d been a bit surprised how uninhibited most of them were, but I decided it was just me being weird again. When one of them sat naked on the steps of the sauna in front of me, an old doubt resurfaced. I couldn’t take my eyes off his cock as it hung down and touched the step below. So that’s what they meant by a baby’s arm. I’d left the sauna with a hard on. It bothered me. It was no more than a doubt, yet it gnawed at me constantly, like a hamster chewing on the bars to get out. Since then, I’d tried to avert my eyes in the locker room.
The walls of the warm-up area were mirrored floor to ceiling. The floor was covered with rubberized mats, which, if you got your nose close to them, smelled like what I imagined fish sweat might be. I set about my stretches with little enthusiasm, stopping every now and then to look at myself in the mirror. How did I ever get like this? Three Prozac a day and as many bottles of wine. I’d read that New Yorkers took Prozac as a happy pill. If it had any effect on me, it just stopped me getting even worse. So I drank to be happy. The oldest cure in the book. It had worked for Churchill when his ‘black dog’ of depression was at his heels, had it not?
So why was I so damned miserable? The reasons stared me in the face.
There was, I had concluded, something terribly wrong with me.
I used to be handsome, in a boyish sort of way. They said that being married made you fat, wife’s home cooking and all that. In my case this was not possible. Diana’s food wouldn’t entice a starving vagrant to cross the road. My only hope was to stick to my routine and try to shed some pounds.
Mirrors. They were on the wall at the end of the exercise room, too, so that you could watch the contortions on your face while you pounded away on the treadmills and elliptical trainers. It also meant that you could watch your fellow sufferers at the same time. Tonight, there was only one other person there, four machines to my left and running at full pelt. He was tall with a square jaw and big dark eyes. He saw me looking at him and his eyes brightened. I looked away, pretending I’d not seen him.
The timer on the treadmill saved me, its piercing alarm announcing that my time was up. I grabbed my towel off the handrail and proceeded to the weights. Not that I was there to build muscle, but the guy who did my induction when I first joined said I needed to tone what I had. Ten minutes later and I was back in the changing room, peeling off the sodden shorts and squeezing myself into swimming trunks.
One good thing about the NW3 Health Club was the swimming pool. It wasn’t much bigger than the pool we’d had at home when I was in my teens, but it was stylish and clean. Above all, it was a great way to relax after the strain of the machines and weights. When you had it all to yourself, it could have been the Mediterranean.
I always did twenty lengths. I’d just counted the seventeenth when I heard the door click. As I swam back towards the shallow end the figure standing on the steps became clear. The guy off the treadmill, in up to his waist and splashing his upper arms and shoulders with water. I made sure not to look in his direction as I counted eighteen to myself and turned again. Even if he set off now, we would only pass each other once, face-to-face as it were, and I would be able to avoid catching his eye.
Twenty. I mounted the steps with a dual sense of achievement. I ought really to have taken my towel back to the changing rooms for a shower at that point, but the Jacuzzi looked so inviting, bubbling away all to itself in the corner.
My trunks ballooned with the buffeting of the whirlpool and fizzed when I squeezed them flat. Steam, heavy with the scent of menthol and eucalyptus, rose around me and cleared my head. A few minutes of this and I would be as right as rain. Might even be able to face Diana. I lay back, stretched out my legs and closed my eyes. Christ, she could have injured me—killed me. Was it even safe to go back there? Well, I had nowhere else to go. Even if I had to go down on my knees and beg.
“Room in there for another?”
My eyes sprang open. The guy had left the pool and was coming down the steps into the Jacuzzi, steadying himself on the tubular handrail. I sat up and contracted myself into as small a space as possible while he located the seat beneath the foam and settled down.
“Quiet tonight,” he said.
That accent, what was it? There was a hint of something. What did they call it? Mid-Atlantic?
“Makes a change,” I said, shifting in my seat.
He smiled. I sort of smiled back.
“I’m Attila, by the way.” He leaned forward and offered his hand.
His hand was still cool from the swimming pool, his grip firm. I now noticed the tattoos on both arms, green and orange serpents entwined around swords or daggers. They reminded me of my father’s. How I used to tremble when those arms came towards me, harbingers of pain. I looked away. Time to get out.
“Well,” I said, climbing the steps. “Might see you around.”
He nodded and smiled again. I could feel his eyes on my back as I took my towel and headed towards the door.
The changing room was still deserted, still in a mess. I dumped my wet towel in the bin and took a clean one from the rack, then went into the inner sanctum where the showers, sauna and steam room were. Since everywhere was empty, I took advantage of the steam. I sucked in the hot, moist air a few times to clear my lungs. The only sound in there was the occasional rasp of the steam outlet and the steady dripping of the condensation. Through the misted door I could see that someone else had come through from the changing room.