LUCIEN was eleven when his father, stout and soused from copious consumption of alcoholic oats, was embedded in the earth. The lad was too callow to comprehend the largeness of the loss, a loss that led to a life of loneliness with his mother, whom he loved later on, but as a bereft boy, berated her so beastly with words so wicked she was wont to wail and would have withered were it not for the confluence contrived by fate of compulsory companionship now visited upon them, just the two of them, in a hollow house lonely and lost.
His mother’s name was Ophelia, a name he loved, an uncommon name that was favored in the early 1900s (and used by Shakespeare long before) and thence faded in familiarity, and Lucien, growing up in his bedroom of beloved books vowed to revive the name, enliven Ophelia, when the time came, when he, Lucien, had a daughter, whom he would name Ophelia.
After Pater passed, Lucien was enrolled posthaste in Pulverius Private School for Boys, a medieval monstrosity of monstrous teachers garbed in black robes and flexing flexible birch rods whose sting awaited any sorry sod who scratched his noggin in a Pulverian panic for answers to the unanswerable, hence to be summarily summoned to the front of the class and be over bending, thou bloody bugger, callow cur, gutless guttersnipe, and receive repeated slashes on thy arrogant arse, thy butterball behind, thy rancid rear, whatever the case may be, as the unanswerable hung heavily unanswered, whereupon the slashed-arse sap knuckled to his knees in whipped whimpering while the other boys cringed and crawled with no recourse to a higher authority, since all of the above and above all was standard practice, condoned by the school.
A school of puerile perfidy and sexual sniggery where lucky Lucien not only escaped the scourge of the slash by the skin of his brain, albeit accumulating a mere smattering of Latin and an ambiguity of algebra, but through artful dodgerness and dodgy artfulness ingeniously escaped the stickly fate of being fellatioed, and further, rambunctiously rear ended and rammed by his Pulverian peccatum Sodomiticum sodomizers.
His refuge, his retreat, his sanctum sanctorum was his grandmater’s house at Back Bay, a settlement south of the city where from the age of eleven he motored with his mater on Sundays and sabbaticals until he was sixteen, when, alas and goddamn, Grandmater gave up the ghost and his sanctum sanctorum was sold for pecuniary purposes—but let us not fast forward to that terrible time but rather tarry here in this house, this haven, such harmonious happiness, no men, just Mater and Grandmater and Lucien, just the three of them in this happy house, a brick bungalow on Butcher Street, the beach through the pines and down the pine cone carpeted hill and Lucien in his room reading, depending on his age, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Saroyan, J.D. Salinger, Hemingway, Henry Miller, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, et alia.
“You should get some sea air,” said Mater on a day wildly windy, whereupon Lucien put a pocketbook in his pocket and pushed through the pines and down the pine cone hill to the choppy curve of the coast where he sat on the sand and watched the wild waves and thence a jetty jutting into the sea, whereon a lusty lad leapt upon the diving board and dove daringly into the surging sea. Lucien was agog at the grace of the plunge and peered into the water waiting for the boy, older than Lucien by a year or two, to surface but still no sighting as the sea surged and Lucien locked to the scene when lo the handsome head whipped from the whirlpool, the body breathless, rising high and Lucien breathless as the beautiful boy breasted back to the beach where, Lucien within reach, their eyes engaged.
Back in the city, Mater parked the Peugeot on Park Lane and walked across the parkland to shop, her blue coat buttoned against the wind, and Lucien in the warmth of the sun through the windshield reading Giovanni’s Room, whereupon a boy he knew paused at the passenger window and tapped upon it and Lucien lowered it. “What are you doing?” said the boy. “Waiting for my mother.” “Mama’s boy,” said the boy and walked on.
Sunday evening, his mother not home from visiting her sister, his aunt, and dinner nowhere in sight, Lucien telephoned his aunt. “Where is she, has she left yet?” “Don’t worry, Lucien, she left half an hour ago, she’ll be home soon.” He hung up and at that moment Mater drove in the driveway and he waited for her to walk to the back door and he opened the door. “I thought something happened,” he said. “Everything’s fine darling, I’ll make dinner.”
In his bedroom listening to Bach, gully winds rushing down from the foothills, his many companions, his only companions, in books everywhere in the room, from A to Z, viz., Austen (Jane) to Zola (Emile). Gully winds, rain. (It was good to be inside like this sentence.) Lucien listened to the comforting commotion of rain on the roof, rain on the roof, rain on the roof. He would never leave here.
Only to Back Bay on weekends did he stray and when Mater next drove them down, straightaway through the pines he ran, swim trunks beneath blue jeans to the beach he ran and there, right there, jumping from the jetty as though Lucien never left, the broad-shouldered boy dove deep and surfaced and swam in the swirl and swam to the beach, walking from the water straightaway to where Lucien stood. “I was hoping you’d come back,” said the boy. “Swim with me?” Lucien’s reply was to strip to his swim suit and wade into the water. “I know a place,” said the boy.
Silently they swam to the place where Lucien had never dared but now ventured and thereat they walked from the water, the lusty lad leading Lucien beyond the beach and climbing a cliff to a secret cave. Silently still, still so silent, Lucien’s heart racing, swim trunks pulled down, the warmth of the boy’s mouth, Lucien’s blood rushing, so sensitive to the touch, suddenly surging, a surprise sudden surging, flowing, lying down inside the sandy cave, inside, pushing against the pulse, pulling back and pushing, surging, swimming in a sensational sea of strength and suspension, suspended, surging, the warmth of mouths, muscles in motion, the moment of motion motionless for a moment and then flowing again, flowing, flowing, the flow of grace, the infinite intimacy of intercourse, clandestine congress in a cave.
They spoke on the phone in the coming days and Lucien listened to the older lad’s lament of the war whereat boys their own age were being butchered and in their final phone call the boy said of the sacrifice of the boys he could not suffer their sacrifice while he, a beach bum whiled away his days diving into a somnolent sea. “What are you saying?” Lucien said. “I signed up.” “Are you crazy! Are you even old enough?” “I turned eighteen yesterday.” “But, but,” stammered Lucien, “we just met, I thought we had something.” “We do, we do have something.” “Then you cannot do this.” “‘Tis done,” said he.
And the connection, the congress, all caved in and Lucien alone, his life in a bedroom of books now barren and the rain on the roof the din of death, the sound of shelling, screams of sacrifice and Lucien’s gut goading him to grow up, grow up, grow up, be a man, a manly man, my God! the bloody butchery of it, boys your own age being butchered, butcher back, butcher the butchers of boys, break their backs, break away from Breakwater Bay and pay back the butchers of beautiful boys, (this is Lucien’s goading gut gabbing), whereupon he dashed off a dispatch to the War Office and offered himself in the current conflict.
While waiting an answer with no word from his warrior, the day, the day he thought would never come finally came, the endless era ended, Pulverian purgatory now putrified in the past as Lucien graduated with a grade grand enough to go to university. “Oh, darling, this is marvelous,” marveled Mater, “you’re on your way now.” And so he was, but not to university. Mater read the government letter and locked Lucien in her arms but it was a stoic son who walked away from the gully as gully winds wailed and he reported for camp wherever he worried not, a warrior himself now training for a war that was not for the weak and whosoever wailed would wither and Lucien at last with a lion heart, lionhearted Lucien, a lusty lad like his lost lover, whither he knew not but with a determination to destine their destiny, enquiring, longing in his lion heart, constantly on the lookout.
Within the month Mater to the camp did come in a bus with other parents, loved ones et alia and she told him how lovely he looked in his uniform and she did not see or did not look at, did not look at, did not look at the carbine against the wall. Another bus scene too wretched to write, but here was Mater looking out the rear window of the bus, looking at him running, running after the bus, waving his arms like a madman and Mater waving back with a look that lacerated his heart and Lucien still running to catch up with the bus, to stop the bus, to stop the leaving.
Yet away he went and the troop ship sailed and silently shipped them ashore to a battle bursting with blood and lusty lads with surprised eyes falling waves washing over them and Lucien’s new lion heart notwithstanding he knew there was no immunity to man’s inhumanity as carbines unloaded and hearts exploded.