Friday, May 7, 2010

Gay Expectations VI

Gay Expectations VI

“He emptied his glass,
and stood at the side
of the fire, with his
heavy brown hand on
the mantelshelf.”
—Charles Dickens,
Great Expectations

And so, it was one such evening that it happened—like I said it was one of those dark and stormy nights when it felt like something bad was going to happen. And yet I had no idea what it was or what it would be.
It was simply exhausting to be in such a state of nervous suspense and anxiety that way—as if the tendrils of my poor nelly brain had been reaching out into the darkness and knew something was out there. But what? Here, there, everywhere—but what pray tell was lurking for me out there in the stormy, rainy darkness, waiting patiently for me?

I’d finally got so hopelessly exhausted that I drifted off into a restless half-slumbering sleep sitting next to the fire—reading a strange article in the East London Observer (January 11, 1890). It was about a curious burial entitled—“A Chinaman Finds a Resting Place in Bow Cemetery. The Extraordinary Career of Ah Sing.”

Herbert had known Ah Sing for many years—the wise old Chinaman had been buried on Sunday there in Bow Cemetery. According to Herbert—Ah Sing was "buried most comfortable."
According to Mrs. Ah Sing, or Mrs. Johnson, as she was called more frequently, Ah Sing's various smoking vices and noisome money troubles of which he’d never ever told her about (she said) were now over—and that surely he was in heaven, she felt certain, where happy at last that wicked opium habit was no longer a necessity, and where "that cursed vice of his" would trouble him no more.

Though born in the Flowery Kingdom, Ah Sing was not laid to rest to the hollow and sad sounds of Chinese flutes and dancing girls. No sweetmeats or paper ornaments were laid upon his grave—and no appeals were made to any of the heathen gods, no joss sticks and incense were burned nor any fortune cookies were consulted on his behalf.

For many years Ah Sing had professed to be a Christian—for Miss Ah Sing’s sake. It’s doubtful though that he became much of one though—addicted to reading a Bible like his wife wasn't exactly up Ah Sing's alley. It was much more probable that his real business was somewhat more practical—that of providing opium for those who cared for a "hit" with the pipe which took unto itself wings. Herbert vouchsafed for that and was a regular visitor to Ah Sing’s deleriously laid-back den of inequity.

New Court, Victoria Street was where Ah Sing lived—just to the east of St. George's-in-the-East churchyard between Cable Street and St. George Street. The more common and well-known name that the opium cognoscenti gave it was, of course—the infamous name of the House on Ratcliffe Highway. The 1873 Ordnance Survey map shows that one entered New Court through a narrow covered dark dirty alley between the houses of Victoria Street—and then turning left into a short cul de sac, one entered Ah Sang's home away from home.

According to the journalist Charles Dickens who sometimes whiled away the time smoking and writing there at Ratcliffe Highway House—Mrs. Ah Sang rented Nos. 2 and 3 while her husband, Ah Sing, rented 6 and 7. They were said to have lived there "for about thirty years"—until the place was pulled down "a couple of years" before Ah Sing's death. Dickens mentioned Ah Sing several times—but was less than candid about exactly what the Chinaman was baking there.
There was this entry in Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879—entitled “An Unconventional Handbook: Opium Smoking Dens.”

“The best known of these justly-named "dens" is that of one Johnstone—who lives in a garret off Ratcliff-highway, and for a consideration allows visitors to smoke a pipe which has been used by many crowned heads in common with poor Chinese sailors who seek their native pleasure in Johnstone's garret. This is the place referred to in my novel "Mystery of Edwin Drood." Will I ever finish it? Only time will tell."

A similar establishment of a slightly superior—or would it perhaps be more correct to say a place a shade less nauseating—would be the establishment of one certain Johnny Chang, at the London and St. Katharine Coffee-house, also by the Ratcliff Highway itself.

It was while I was napping and brooding over this strange East London Observer obituary with its dreary drug-induced Drood story subtext—that suddenly I was started from my slumbers by this ominously hard knocking at my door.

I crept over to the door, unlocked it and cracked it open just enough to peek outside at what mysterious visitor was calling on me at such a late hour. A huge hulking shadowy figure—stood in the dark lightless hallway in front of me. Whoever or whatever it was—he was slightly drunk and swaying back and forth very slowly like the somebody very familiar that once upon a time I’d known so well. Intimately...

I started to close the door not knowing who it was—but the tall stranger stuck his foot in the door and said, “C’mon now, Pip. Is that anyway to treat an old friend?”

I recognized the voice right away—feeling the most delicious shivering frissons going up and down my nelly spine. The hair on the back of my neck—stood straight up erect. I felt weak in the knees—overcome by a repulsively repugnant but at the same time exciting animal-like attraction for this stranger standing before me. Somebody I'd never be able to ever forget the rest of my life. Without saying anything more—the stranger pushed the door open, pushed me aside and strode over to the fire to warm and dry himself from the cold rainy outdoors.

I closed the door and locked it—wetting my lips and feeling my nostrils nervously tremble. My heart hadn’t got weak and pounded like that—since way back in that churchyard cemetery a long time ago. Back when thuggish Magwitch the young runaway convict—had surprised me in that place of death and crumbling tombstones. I joined him by the fire—and hugged him like a long lost lover. Because that’s who he was—it was Magwitch all these long years later.

“Get me a drink,” Magwitch mumbled, itching his crotch.

I got him some cognac out of the cupboard and he drank it down without a glass. He leaned closer to the fire warming himself up—with his elbow on the mantelpiece. He was just as sexy, rough-looking and handsome—as he was that first time in the churchyard cemetery. Except he was better dressed and had put some weight on. He was still lithe and muscular—dressed like a sailor. He’d got out of the country back then—and sailed around the world. He’d made several fortunes in Hong Kong and New Zealand—he’d lost them and made some more fortunes again.

“Are you… are you the…?” I started to ask him, leaning back in lounge-chair, feeling weak and gawking at his manly curves.
Tall aloof manly Magwitch smiled down at me—he didn't say anything. He seemed to be in a melancholy mood. But then he'd always been that way. Always such a moody, brooding young man, the moodiest man I'd ever known. And yet that was the mood that always turned me on—as if he weren’t there but always somewhere else and not with me. But a part of him would be mine again that night. And I wanted him bad...

“What’d you think, my pale little pipsqueak Pip boy?”

And then I knew it was him after all—Magwitch had been my benefactor all this time since that day he got me in the old churchyard cemetery. It hadn’t been Miss Havisham at all—although she’d gave me some gold sovereigns now and then. She’d made Mr. Jaggers the haughty, worldly-wise lawyer—my guardian while I’d come of age in London.
jBut it was really Magwitch who'd hired Jaggers separately, making sure I was rewarded and looked after nicely for helping that day out in the moors.

I stuttered to myself—guzzling my drink. I couldn’t believe it—had it been five years that had gone by so quickly? Losing my virginity in the churchyard cemetery—when I was sweet sixteen up against a cold granite tombstone? Done in by a graceful villain so smooth and sleek—tonguing me in the ear, biting my neck, rotor-rootering me inside-out. Cleaning my nelly gutters, making my gutter-spout gush and drool?

“Do me again,” I ended up whispering in his ear. I was such a naive little fool—I didn’t know when to stop. But he sent me away to get a file and some food to eat. Some brandy in a bottle—he gulped it down just like that. Along with some mincemeat, some bread & cheese, some pork pie—all devoured in one big starved gulp. Just like he did with me—in such a violent hurry, as if he hadn't much time left in the world.

And now here we were sitting by a fire—his mind somewhere else, only part of him really here next to me. It was that part that gave me goosebumps—the part of him that was here and now. It was that part of him that that I wanted—like that moody night out there in the swampy cloud-scudding darkness. He’d made me see shooting stars—reaming me inside & out. This time he did me with some expensive sented salve from Paris—instead of the way we did it back then with his slimy spit sticking it in deep...

There in front of the warm fire—stretched out on some pillows on a rich soft Persian carpet. With my chartreuse-glowing bug-eyed jealous cat—glaring at us from beneath her hiding-spot under the delirious divan. For several hours I clung to my handsome benefactor—as he gave me more than I surely deserved. Groaning, moaning, for more of my greedy allowance.

“Well, Pip,” Magwitch finally said.

I rubbed my face down along his chest—flattening my swinish nostrils against his damp armpits glistening in the fire. He had a delicate golden earring like a plundering pirate—piercing his left erect nipple all the way through. Down below—his anchor line running halfway down his knee. When he was hard—it stretched up past his bellybutton and down my throat.

Magwitch had a tattoo, of course—the face of a pretty girl he once knew. By flexing his biceps—her smile would come and go. She made me jealous—and Magwitch laughed. He flipped me over—and did to me what he did to her. The storm raged outside all night—the rain beat against the windows until morning.
But he could only stay a few days—they were unloading The Red Witch his ship down by the docks. Deals were being made—bribes were being paid. His illicit cargo was very hush-hush—there was a friend he wanted me to meet.

“His name is Edwin Drood,” Magwitch said.

“You’ll like him—he’s a lot like me.”

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