John and Jude were like brothers; their relationship was simply the result of the bonding induced by age and proximity. Being next-door neighbours with less than a year between them, their friendship pre-dated school, memory even, and, as sometimes with siblings, only existed beyond school boundaries. It was an instinctive, unspoken rule that in the playground arena their acquaintance went unacknowledged.
Jude, the elder, was athletic, robust, with a winning grin and a minimum attention span. John was considered the Fragile Child. He was quick and creative, and having no remarkable physical attributes had armoured himself with an almost precocious ability to charm. At school he had earned the ironic epithet of ‘ladies man’ amongst the teachers. To the other boys, who like Jude, avoided girls, kicked footballs and would demonstratively show no signs of intelligence in the classroom, he was just plain ‘sissy’.
Behind bedroom doors it was different. Jude’s simple if slightly contradictory concerns were to be admired and entertained. With his superior strength and fresh, open features, John willingly indulged Jude’s desire to be hero-worshipped, yet managed it with a cheeky, unorthodox humour which prevented him from lapsing into fawning, or worse, boredom. They consciously avoided board games which might entail luck or mental agility, opting for more aggressive activities of Jude’s own limited invention. They ranged from the mildly violent: “Let’s-See-How-Long-You-Can-Survive-With-A-Pillow-Over-Your-Face”, to the dubiously sexual: “I-Put-My-Finger-Up-Yer-Bum-And-Then-You-Have-To-Smell-It”. John submitted to all this with a masochistic bliss, the pure act of physical contact being well worth the occasional bruise or humiliation.
Jude’s narcissism developed in relation to his muscles and the onset of puberty. He would demonstrate his virility, posing naked on the bed with exhibitionistic abandon, while John feigned shock and peeked greedily through the fingers he pretended to hide behind. There was a two-fold pleasure in this forced voyeurism. His own family being puritanically inclined, nudity was taboo, shocking. Even taking a bath involved such copious amounts of foam that the body remained decently draped from the neck down. The second pleasure, while tangible, defied definition. John was still too young to tell delight from desire, and his innocence prevented him from gaining experience through opportunism.
Then came the summer that changed everything. Walking home through the woods one afternoon, John had discovered a sodden and crumpled pornographic magazine. This was not one of Jude’s boring girly magazines. This was the Holy Grail of porn, page after sticky page of naked male flesh. After a careful half-hour with the hair-dryer, he had managed to rescue the images from dirt and disintegration, and with chair propped up against the bedroom door handle, dived in.
He began to understand Jude’s obsession with his body, and would spend hours studying his own in a full-length mirror which had miraculously passed his parent’s prohibition. Pale and underdeveloped, he knew now why he had thrilled to see Jude naked. Jude naked. Those two words became a mantra, fantasy-fodder for further emissions.
Any vague hope he had concerning a physical, rather than virtual, inspection of Jude’s body vanished the following weekend. Jude picked up a girl at the pictures and tempted her home for a spot of mutual virginity-losing. John the Admirer, John the Flatterer was no longer required; nature quite simply moved Jude onwards and he was usurped. He felt more like John the Baptist; the guy who had done all the ground work only to have his head chopped off.
His propensity to charm, which had caused such mockery of the small boy, reaped its rewards for the college student who finally found himself among other young men mature enough to hold a conversation. For the first time in his life he was genuinely popular and made the astonishing discovery that he was even attractive. To girls. He supposed girls to be less superficial, and if they genuinely liked someone could overlook him being less Greek god than great geek (though ignorant of the fact that the ugly duckling was becoming quite a passable duck thanks to maturity and a nightly fitness routine). He thought about his own infatuation with Jude and realized the main attraction was undoubtedly physical. Jude had never amused him with one clever or original thought, never once sacrificed himself for John’s sake. In fact their whole relationship had revolved around John pandering to his every selfish whim, and treated as nothing more than a mirror to his vanity. This still did not prevent him from fancying Jude like hell.
John was in his last year of college, and Jude had moved a long time ago, to complete some training course or other. Ever since that day when Jude had proudly and mockingly waggled his first come-filled condom in his face, their relationship had been on the wane, and he tried to convince himself that this was a Good Thing. In a year he would be in London. Lurid London where evil men hung around on street corners enticing innocent young boys into doing naughty things with their willies. Well, hopefully, if his mother was right for once. It was strange how all the information he had managed to gleam about homosexuals had come from the one person who dreaded them most. It was his mother who had divulged the secret of the Park. Some local scandal a few years back had transformed it into a ‘playground for perverts’ or, in John’s case, the garden of paradise.
He postponed his visit there until the very end of the summer holidays. It was an excruciating wait, but by that time if he did get ‘caught’ by someone he knew, he would not be around long enough to suffer from speculative gossip. He dressed down for the occasion. An Indian summer September gave him the perfect excuse to minimize layers, and “just jogging before bed” or “couldn’t sleep in this heat” were perfect, minimal excuses.
The park, though small, was dense. After half an hour aimlessly wandering the well-lit riverside path, he realized from the rustling bushes beside him that formal introductions were not required. Scared and excited, hunted and hunter, he pushed his way through to a ring of trees, with an overwhelming urge to pee. He knew there was a loo nearby, but the absurdity of using a public toilet in a dark park caused him to laugh aloud. Shocked at the sound of his own hollow voice, he stumbled backwards onto bark. Dizzy and winded, his mind teemed with confused thoughts of regret and hopelessness. What had he actually imagined gaining tonight? Sexual experience? Confirmation of his own normality? What was normal about fumbling around for some cock in the dark? Gathering his wits for a speedy escape, he heard the softest footfall and found himself face to face with a tall young man. He gasped in relief and recognition. It was Jude.
Being backlit, it took Jude a moment to recognize him, and he noticed how his blank expression altered first to surprise and then to a kind of unfamiliar tenderness.
‘What you doin’ here?’ he grinned. John’s mind reeled. ‘Your first time?’
John nodded in affirmation.
‘Me too,’ he breathed, and leant forward, reaching his arm over John’s shoulder to grip the tree behind.
Their tongues met and, as they kissed, a tear slid down John’s cheek. It seemed so right, so natural, as his left hand gripped Jude’s hip and his right began to explore the muscles of his chest and stomach. Emboldened, he reached ever downwards and, as his fingers rubbed the promising bulge, Jude flung him violently around, forcing his face onto the rough wood, and spread his legs. A zipper opened awkwardly, and the hairs on John’s arms sprang up. The clink of metal, and his wrists went cold. Jude, pressing his whole body into John’s, whispered warmly in his ear.
They squashed him into the police van with two other soiled and silent victims.
‘Our best lad, that!’ chuckled the officer, nodding back to where Jude was disappearing into leaves. ‘Always catch a poof with a pretty-boy. He’s got a great future ahead of him, that one.’
Originally published in R* magazine Colombia as El Beso de Jude. Spanish translation by Edward Murillo Moreno.