Raphael cherub

of The Gratuity

circa 1974


This story is entirely from memory -- some details so precise I suspect I may have once written them down (that helps me fix memories, even if later unread). Others are vague. Or lost.

I date it, guessing, to a time when I no longer kept a journal; when I had a two-room apartment on Sherbourne Street; when I knew RossAnne, a friend who more often figured in episodes at another restaurant; and by the restaurant here: The Groaning Board, when it occupied a second floor spot on Cumberland Street.

My memory of the place is jogged often, if oddly, by latenight TV: "The Condo Show," host Harry Stinson, famous for whisking prospects around town in a big red Cadillac, "The Condo King" emblazoned on its sides. In an earlier role he was host, and owner, of The Groaning Board.

I was jogged even less comfortably a few years ago, again on TV.

RossAnne and I were at a table in the window, the buzz of Cumberland below us to my left, to my right other tables, most unoccupied, scattered back toward the kitchen. I can't recall what we ate (the place was known for fare vaguely "healthy"), or anything we talked about (though RossAnne was, as ever, good for smart conversation).

I remember our waiter.

He was young, in a white dress shirt but no tie, brown pants I think. And brown hair, soft curls above a boy face: lush, full featured, with big soft eyes behind glasses. A vision -- one I got to witness as he moved through that space; one I relished at his every arrival, smiling attendance down on us.

RossAnne noticed me noticing. Sharp women who hang out with gay men always do. She gave me a sly look. I smiled and said, "Gee, if I had a pen I'd give him my number."

Without a word (but that look, still), she reached into her purse, found one and handed it over. My bluff was called. I scratched my name, just "Rick," and my number on a napkin, folded it once and tucked it under my plate.

When the vision made his final visitation, bringing change from our cheque, I looked up at him, even stood up I think -- and held out that folded napkin. He looked confused. I wasn't sure what to say. What came out was: "This is your tip." (We did, of course, tip him otherwise.)

He took it, looked down at it still folded, looked up at me. A questioning look. Then he opened it, his eyes on it, then on me -- eyes unsure, a bit stunned. (He had, I'd noticed even before, a slight twitch.)

I felt embarrassed for him (and myself) but after a beat said: "Give me a call me sometime." I had no idea what he'd do, half thinking he'd flee straight back to the kitchen. He didn't. After a moment's pause he smiled (I was smiling, after all, and good waiters are always polite).

Then he said simply, a slight rise in his voice: "Okay."

He did. We made a date -- though I didn't call it that, even to myself. I don't remember where we met or what we did. Maybe supper somewhere, or coffee; he was too young for a bar. (But it was surely not The Groaning Board: Harry had been hovering and seemed not pleased).

All I recall is being back at my place on Sherbourne, sitting with him on my bed, double, yellow covered and tucked in a chocolate corner. We talked of course, quite a lot. I remember none if it but the most salient facts. His name was Mark, his last name odd enough not to forget; he was still in school. Some salient perceptions, too: he was smart, gentle, hesitant. And curious.

In time his glasses were off. We kissed, tentative. His shirt too; I can't say for sure if I took it off or he did. (I do hope it was him.) His torso was succulent, smooth. I held him, the moment rising toward what, I thought, seemed obvious. Even presumed: after all, there we were, already on the bed (even if it was my only comfortable seating for two.)

Then -- a different moment rising in him. I felt it. His smooth face crumpled, retreated: his eyes clenched tight, his mouth too, as if trying to check a fierce urge. He couldn't. His sobs burst sharp, choked. His cheeks streamed with tears. He cried anguished, mortified, humiliated that he couldn't contain it.

He cried like a child deeply scared.Which, in that moment, I saw he was.

We sat on the edge of the bed. I put an arm over him, talked quietly. He was embarrassed, apologetic. "I'm sorry. I'll be all right." My touch then didn't mean what it might have minutes before; he knew that, didn't misread my intent. But in that moment I was not, I'm sure, fit comfort.

He did calm down, wiped a hand over his streaked face. He got himself back together, his shirt back on, and his glasses. He didn't flee: a hesitant smile, some affection, still, at the end. But he did leave.

He needed to, and he did. I like to think I hadn't hurt him. But I could only hope then, and now, that I was right.

It was many years later, more than two decades in fact, before I saw Mark's face again. It was that other TV moment, latenight again but this time the news.

The Canadian Forces had been searching for a couple, man and wife, lost on a kayak expedition in the Arctic. Both had finally been found, dead. I heard a name, one that made me look up. A picture, just of the man. His face.

Mark still looked a boy.

Frans, at College & Yonge:
Notorious latenight homo hangout of the day.
But a gang of us hung out at another,
and hardly late at all.

In these years RossAnne was part of my regular brunch bunch, 1:00 pm Sundays at Fran's at Yonge and St Clair Avenue -- where we were sure to entertain the after church crowd. For tales of Fran's see Promiscuous Affections: 1973.

Angel image: More Raphael.

Next episode: VI: Charioteer

Go back to: Preface

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Christmas Day, 2000 / Last revised: July 12, 2003
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