The Island

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Gay and Lesbian  |  House: Booksie Classic
A gay man's upbringing transmogrifies into denial, insanity, and violence.

Submitted: April 13, 2017

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Submitted: April 13, 2017



The water around them sleeps too elusively. Alex fears even just bending over to touch its surface. He holds himself on the bow seat like an entomologist's insect pinned down in a glass case of collectibles. He shudders to think that the slightest movement could capsize their boat and send him gorged under. Him, Alex. For certainly his companion knows how to turn himself into some sea-beast, having lived in this part of the world since what time Alex cannot even guess cannot measure cannot grasp!

His companion is perched on the stern seat across him. On the man's massive lap drips a paddle held up in rest from the water. His coffee skin gleams taut and leathery, while his hair growls around, framing a face of concrete. Like some demonic halo, the sight of him casts a spell of nervous embarrassment to his audience. Politely, Alex tires from watching him.

Alex clears his throat and swings his eyes away. To follow the lines rippling on every fraction of the shirtlessness before him would be a betrayal to his civility, which feels already long gone fractured. Barbed wires secure the back of his mind, warning his consciousness against trespassing into his yearnings. They come as real as the weight in his lungs.

The islands around them burn dusty-green under the noon sun. But nothing here bothers Alex more than this moment of being trapped in the middle of the sea with a man whose eyes flicker as pointed as the sweat glinting down his torso. While everything else dozes vivid in the eyes, this man before him glistens awake, a polished alabaster.

A breeze rises. It carries with it the scorching smell of salt and sand and seclusion. Heaving up his lungs Alex desires these details to be locked away in his memory and later be broken down, preserved so readably, in acrid print. The breeze tames down the burning, only to let it rush back on his skin as quickly as the same breeze dies.

From the island far to their left, a crow caws. To their right, close to the bamboo outrigger, sparks a fish somersaulting for the sun, as if the depth of its sea-home offers no solution to confinement.

As the breeze lifts itself and rests again, Alex stares at the pad of paper on his lap. On it he sees nothing but blue lines of empty-headed shock. If he must maintain himself, he has to pry out such feeling with the pen in his fingers. But all he can think of are prepositions. Under being the most dominant, most authoritative; under being the only preposition he has ever lived with.

"Why are you doing this?" the brusque question pierces his ears.

Alex snaps his eyes up at Otilio, for--yes! Strangely he remembers now--Otilio is the name of the man before him--as strangely he remembers too the imprecise timeline of their intimacy. It has been months now since they have known, and been knowing, each other. Otilio still sounds outré but melodic; it resembles Othello of Shakespeare.

"Doing what?" Alex grimaces. The paddle dips back in the water as Otilio sighs, his shoulders roiling like boulders ready to crush them both in that fluid space between sea and sky.

Otilio glares at Alex. "Punishing us this way."

"How can you say that?"

"Because I can. It's honest words."

"You can find yourself a wife, I'll be fine."

"And where do you think that would leave us?"

Alex blinks down on the water. Pulsing out from its depth, a ghostly creature emerges. A primitive heart. Clearer and clearer it nears the surface until it seems ready at any moment to break out to the air, just as wide and deep, just as permeable, less constraining. But of course it cannot! That jellyfish the size of a baby's fist is... what? Alex’s forehead furrows. Confused, he watches the jellyfish reduce (expand?) itself into a tattered story in his mind.

"I can't write anymore, you know," Alex dodges. "I don't want to write anymore. Now you're making my regression even worse."

"You're just scared, Al."


"You're scared about everything."

"Aren't you?" Alex yields.

"It's bothering you without you knowing it." Subconscious--Alex readily supplies in his head. But it isn't that bored Freudian jargon that chainsaws his composure. Blankly, the word escapes onto his tongue in a quivering whisper, "Scared," as if it's a monstrous idiot with a dagger in its hand. How can this islander, so rural and tangent from his history, speak in such a manner that his old preconceptions about him all fall gunned down?

"You're scared to admit what we are."

"You are too."

"We wouldn't ever be here if I am."

Alex risks a gambit, "How long have I been coming back and forth here already?"

"About a year now."

"How long has each visit been?" As if visits can be perceived by miles. Alex pinches the skin on his knuckle as condemnation for the mediocrity of his question.

Otilio pulls down the corners of his mouth, shrugs his shoulders. "Your last one before this was the longest. Took you about a week before you--"

"Is that how short you've known me?"

Otilio laughs. The boat bobs. "That's how long we have known each other."

Alex forces a dry smile. "Yes. A cliché."

"A what?"

"Nothing," it is Alex's turn to laugh. He hears the slow swishing and dripping of water as Otilio, once more, churns the sea. The islands yawn into motion. Alex cautiously leans aside to peer over the gunwale. He expects something insidious to spring out of the water and swallow him. But nothing like it happens. Instead he catches sight of the jellyfish bumping the side of the boat as it glides across the coelenterate's path. He swears he has heard a sound from the accident, and he knows. The poor creature--it's blind!

"I always forget how old you are," Alex mumbles to the water.

"We're of the same age."

"We are?" Alex blinks up in disbelief. He darts his eyes on Otilio's monstrous body. Burned. Well-forged by demanding sun-beat works. Muscles grind against themselves like rocks beneath a rapids. Their hardness marks a contrast to Alex's easy body of no distinct sinews, no obvious strength, raised by upholsteries and deep-soft beds and pampering spas and foods that pervert the mouths of the miserable.

Rivulets of sweat thread like exasperated passion down Otilio's chest, his arms bulging against the water's weight. Or is it their weight? No, Alex shakes his head in horror. How can they be of the same age? Alex squints his eyes in disgust and drops his pen in the water.

They near the shore in fetid silence while the age puzzle throbs inside him as heavily as this attempt to paddle their hearts along. Better leave them then to be nibbled by the ill-fated creatures of the sea! Better matters wait to be done away with, Alex resolves under the loud sun.

Alex wishes now he could have reminded himself to lather on some sunblock. Maybe even flipped on a wide-brimmed straw hat too. That plain kind Otilio's family uses when they farm. Corn. Sweet potatoes. Cassavas. Some watermelon. Some beans and squashes. Dejectedly, Alex guesses neither of those precautions would help cool his blood. It singes his veins, his head, his ribs. Indeed lately, Alex regrets, he has been forgetting about everything.

"So you told your parents about us."

Otilio nods, scratches the lobe of his ear.

"I can imagine their shock."

"You'd be surprised at how they feel about us," Otilio grins. Lines crease around his mouth as lines crease around his eyes. "They said they knew it from the beginning."

"Frankly, O, I can't figure out what that beginning is. I can't remember it. Can't even imagine it."

"You’re not trying."

"I am tired of hypocrisies, O."

"Who wouldn't be Alex?"

"You're not."

"I am!"

Silence. Rotting. A wave laps against the side of the boat. Alex grips his pad of paper.

"Is that how you see them?" Otilio pursues accusingly.

"What do you mean?"

"You think they only pretend to be good to you."

"Don't they?"

"Damn you, Alex! They're in love with you!"

"And you're not!"

"So you think I'm a gigolo?"

"I don't know. We live by what we don't know, O."

Otilio grunts out a breath of impatience. He shrinks on his seat as his movements drag into heavier strokes and then stop. For a vague minute, the boat skims along on its own, leaving Alex blinking down on the water only to hear himself gasp. The shadow of the deep has faded into bluish water and then into a visible seafloor sloping beneath a layer of fluid glass. The bottom looks hazed. Slime-like. Scalloped with shallow ridges. Strewn with bleaching corals loosely scattered from each other. Huddles of urchins as black as the night. Lance-like fishes knife around, the domain they live in nothing more than a ponderous element tolerable of suicide. But the water can't be punished: Alex shakes his head, murmuring to himself, praying, praying intensely he could be like water he can't be punished!

"Why can't you let us, Al?"

"Not that easy, O."

"Then I guess I'll just have to decide for--"



"NO!" Alex chides the clumps of kelp waving beneath them now. But it's the bobbing coconut their boat glides by that pins icicles on his spine. Goosebumps prick his skin. Does it foreshadow something? he asks himself, terrified, shivering. Something--Alex digs in his head--depreciating? But it looks so neutral an object for him to throw himself into a panic of cautions. Half-submerged, half-exposed, the coconut, like a decapitated head, navigates the water with the horrible forest beneath it. And then the forest frays off into rocks. Angular and forbidding, the dirt-brown shapes gather forward to claim the thin strip of land near ahead. Otilio gives the water another soundless stroke.

"We can't just go on like this, Al..."

"Exactly like this conversation is getting us nowhere!" Alex barks.

Otilio glances away, smirking, the paddle across his lap. Alex bites at the inside of his lower lip until a startling piece of skin gets nipped off. A metallic taste bursts onto his tongue. It frustrates Alex that this gesture in front of him should be so indecipherable. Taxing. Depressing even. What does it mean to glance away and smirk at the same time, with a paddle lying dead across his lap?

Alex browses Otilio's body. He hopes to find a fragment of guilt etched on the islander's ape feet, one greenish toenail ridged down the middle. Or on the crumpled scar running down the inside of the left calf like an oddly creased sea slug. Or on the heavy hirsute legs, dirty faded boxer shorts, nipples raised like the eyes of a crab. Or on the massive slopes of flesh where the neck and shoulders meet. Or on the veins webbing the back of the islander's mind as they web the rest of him. How can he be here? Desecrating such sacred simple life this islander before him weaves, breathes!

Desecrate! Alex claws his pad of paper, rips a leaf off, opens his fingers to the air. The blue-lined paleness wings the air. Otilio grimaces.

"What are you doing?"

"Just a page, O." But of course another follows.

"What are you doing!" Otilio gnarls, now anxiously hauling the sea.

"The days are always ready for you, O," Alex sounds dreamy, drugged. "But it's not ready for us."

A page flies.

"Stop looking at life that way!"

"What way, O?" Alex asks vacantly.

"When you--when you look at it, you look at it--look at it as it is! Life is never ready for us, Al! That's the truth!"

Alex's eyes widen over his own abrupt unfamiliarity with this suddenly profound man before him. The emphatic word 'never' terrifies him. Like the preposition 'under' it feels bruising. It hurts.

"I ran away from my name!" Alex remembers it. Cramped in it is the governor, his father. His mother a university research professor. His older brother a lawyer. His sister-in-law an oncologist. His younger sister a leading scholar in the knotted field of cognitive linguistics, she has become convoluted herself yet widely cited, overrated, her eyes now swollen from beneath ever-thickening glasses.

"You ran away from nothing!" Otilio retorts.

"They don't even let me remember the way we've met! The way we've come to know each other, so I can't, O, I can't!" Another leaf flies.

"Stop it!" Otilio yells, shooing another leaf away. It carries with it a memory of the last dinner Alex has had in their house of names. Here then he is. Where he'll exist and not exist, but in either circumstance never to be found, missing. Immediately he comes to grip himself in his palms as he would grip a jellyfish so fragile it melts in the sun. He shrieks at the murderous image flashing in his head. He sees himself in his own eyes.

Otilio curses as another empty leaf flaps to the blue air... And then another... And another... One fluttering breathlessly after the others now. Away into a scattering mad flock they go. And then the boat shudders to a stop as its bottom grinds through red-brown rocks. Otilio splashes out to the surfs. He flings down the paddle inside the boat, pounces at Alex's wrists. The pad slips off his lap as the man he calls O seizes him out of the boat. Alex's feet in the warm clouding water panic against the now soggy pad pleading past his ankle.

Alex flails, hysterical. Otilio drags him towards a bank of sand skirting the foot of a limestone cliff topped with scrubs and overhanging trees. But the sand is a fantasy. Burnt rocks sear Alex's soles instead, while Otilio stays harshly oblivious of their heat. The islander seems to possess his own version of it.

The now louder call of the crow from somewhere in the island can't be heard. Drowned. Harsh notes dying the moment they reach Alex's bewilderment.

"Calm down!" Otilio fights to be heard as Alex thrashes about, steps on a rag of stranded sargassum, slips!

Alex thuds down on his back among the blistering rocks and Otilio gets pulled along. The islander crashes on top of Alex. His lungs explode, his bones jar. Dizzy and moaning he thinks he's dead. The world swirls into a soup. He squeezes his eyes shut and then bolts them back open only to wince at a whorl of hot white. The sky hovers above him like his ambition, clear and bright and blinding, but so full of merciless depth it's impossible and maddening and violent all at once. Coconut fronds twitch over the periphery of his eyes like the rare disturbing sight of an epilepsy in his sister-in-law's clinic. But it's the sky he has learned to be achingly intimate with. The jellyfish beneath it.

Alex sobs. He feels Otilio's breath seethe on his neck as the man wrestles him down. He hears the crow shriek. His heels jerk back from the flaming echoes of the waves. The scent of pandan trees rushes into his nostrils like some toxic-sweet affection merging with the sharpness of Otilio's sweat, odorous with heat, pressing through his cotton shirt. Alex writhes and writhes under the naked weight above him. Countless parts of him cut open and sting and bleed from the razor-barnacles beneath him. He wails. The island stifles his struggle. Otilio's thighs staple his sides like logs, while ham-thick calloused hands pin his shoulders to the rocks.

In that slice of eternity, Alex weeps. "Why are you doing this?"

Otilio croons out a laugh. Vicious and certain and cold. He presses himself down against the body beneath him and nibbles at Alex's ears.

"Calm down, Al, calm down..."

"Stop!" Alex squawks. "I can't breathe, O, I can't breathe!"

But only the crow calls back at him in answer this time. The reeds of the island hiss. Fiery breeze licks the water, sears the island, small and shard-shaped, ripped apart from the others faded into misty-green mountains in the distance.

Indignation boils from the deepest pit of Alex's mind. The barbed wires come snapping loose in his head. Thoughts rage to his fingers as if a floodgate has been wrenched open. His hands fumble around, creeping, conniving with his thoughts for a measure of desperate honesty.

Alex snaps his head on its side then cries from what he sees. Through the mirage of the shore it wavers. A bone-white driftwood sunken among the rocks. On its most distorted finger twisting upward and upward then here and there, a sleek black bird is perched, pecking into shreds a lump of gelatinous flesh snagged in the gnarls of the wood. And when the bird flicks its eyes up at him, Alex cringes from how they brim with knowing malice. The crow croaks. Alex screams. His hand grapples for a rock and swings it.

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