Literary Issue: Espiritu Santo

by Marty Beaudet

Only gradually did he recognize that he was not lying on the cold, hard stone of a lightless dungeon. And his hands were not tied behind his back. He’d only dreamt that.

But the numbness in his right arm was not a dream. He’d been using it for a pillow and it had gone to sleep. When he raised his head, letting the blood flow once again into his unfeeling limb, the throbbing between his temples revealed itself to be every bit as real as the numbness. A lead weight seemed to roll from one side of his head to the other. He returned his head gently to the pillow and waited for the pounding to stop.

Early morning light stained the room’s dark, heavy curtains, but failed to illuminate the interior. Only muted sounds stole through the windows from the awakening city outside. He was in his own apartment, in his own bed. The fetterdecke was partially thrown back and… he was naked! Was he still dreaming after all? He never slept in the nude.

Just then he thought he heard something—a shuffling in the dark. The creak of floorboards; footsteps coming closer. Before he could be certain, a hand touched his shoulder and he started in fright.

“Sorry,” whispered a voice. It was Jassim! To Kevin’s astonishment the Kuwaiti, also naked, slipped into bed next to him. As Jassim wrapped his arms around him, a sudden mix of horror, bewilderment, and—most frightening of all—ecstasy washed over Kevin. This was no dream!

The memory of the previous evening came flooding back with a brutal clarity that paralyzed him with fear. Did it really happen?

They had gone to dinner together at a cozy local joint called Espiritu Santo. Jassim had quipped, “‘Holy Spirit’ seems like a good place for a little Mormon angel to fall from grace.” Kevin thought the remark had been made only in jest, but it was all too accurate. The events that followed were as a fulfillment of prophecy.

Kevin had agreed to try his first alcoholic beverage last night. In Vienna, friends spent an inordinate amount of time—often an entire afternoon or evening—at either a bar or café, socializing over alcohol or coffee. He’d never thought about it before leaving his insular Mormon culture back home, but the world outside the Church seemed to run on caffeine and alcohol. When people got together after work, they went out for a drink. When they met for an afternoon chat, it was over a cup of coffee. How curious, he thought, that beverages played such a significant role in people’s lives.

What was the Mormon alternative? Milk and cookies? The ubiquitous red punch that flowed at every church function? Pop, punch, cookies, ice cream, Jell-O, fudge, pie, cake, s’mores, Rice Krispie treats; no church social event was ever without these things. Maybe sugar was the Saints’ drug of choice. And, he rationalized further, if the Word of Wisdom was meant to be a “health code,” as the Church taught, how much unhealthier could an occasional beer or coffee be than a steady diet of sugar? Was it really such a big deal? Could Heaven or Hell really revolve around something as trivial as one’s choice of beverage?

So, despite some lingering misgivings, he’d accepted the half-liter of beer that Jassim ordered for him. It was a Weißbier, because, Jassim said, wheat beer was smoother and more flavorful than a Pilsner. It would go down easier, he had assured him.

Jassim watched with an amused grin as Kevin braced himself for his first sip. Kevin couldn’t deny that the wheat beer had “flavor” as Jassim had said. But he wasn’t sure that was the same as tasting good. It took a little getting used to. Still, it was less bitter and did go down a heck of a lot easier than the sip of Budweiser he had stolen on a dare from classmates when he was twelve years old. At least he told himself it did. After all, that was nearly ten years ago.

What Kevin hadn’t been prepared for was how quickly he began to feel lightheaded and giddy. By the time the half-liter glass was half empty, the noisy buzz of the tiny restaurant had already receded to a distant hum. Only Jassim’s face was in focus; the rest was a blur. His features became curiously sharper, his voice warmer and more sincere. Even what he was saying became more earnest, more important, and rife with significance. Kevin wasn’t sure if Jassim’s drinking, or his own, was responsible for this phenomenon. He tried to assess the situation objectively, but found it difficult to keep his thoughts focused.

A second beer followed. It went down much more easily. In fact, it actually tasted good. Or at least he thought it did. It was like a warm, magical nectar that opened up his mind and made his thoughts clearer and more intense. And then there was wine with dinner. Kevin protested that, or did he? He’d meant to, anyway. One glass? Two? He had no idea really.

After that he was only vaguely aware of his surroundings. He thought he recalled two—or was it three—trips to a restroom behind some velvet curtains. By the time they finished dessert, he was completely dependent on Jassim to get him home.

He remembered now feeling a mix of guilt and exhilaration at his own decadence. He was researching an acting role, he had reminded himself, until it no longer mattered. Somehow this gave him the permission he needed to give himself over entirely to the new sensations he was experiencing. All of his strict Mormon inhibitions had floated away on a river of alcohol.

When they reached his apartment, he suddenly grew afraid. The warm fuzzies he’d reveled in earlier were beginning to subside, replaced by growing dizziness and lurking paranoia. He begged Jassim not to leave him there alone, insisting that he stay a while—at least until he was feeling better. It hadn’t occurred to him that it was already past midnight and that Jassim might be needing sleep as well.

But Jassim agreed without hesitation. He was so kind, so caring. Kevin found his warm smile and boyish laughter comforting. As Jassim helped him up the stairs, his touch seemed somehow electric, sending a tingling up and down Kevin’s spine. Once inside, Jassim led Kevin to the edge of his bed, sat him down, and helped him out of his jacket.

Now Kevin remembered the night more clearly. It hadn’t seemed real. His inebriated brain had processed the event in slow motion. A brush of soft, warm lips against his own. A warm breath of wine enveloping him. Was Jassim kissing him? Kevin had started to protest, but Jassim had put a finger to his lips hushing him, “Ssss, Ruhe, mein Kleiner”—Quiet, my little one.

Kevin had then closed his eyes and felt the back of Jassim’s fingers, still cold from the chill night air, stroke his cheek, the hand coming to rest at the back of his head, tousling his hair. Kevin remembered feeling a flood of tangled emotions, but in his drunken state he hadn’t been sure just which ones they were.

Whatever he felt, it was not enough to compel him to move beyond Jassim’s grasp. Before he knew it they were kissing and embracing again, this time with more fervor. Helpless, he felt his own tongue yield to Jassim’s. Panic threatened as he realized that he was getting an erection.

After that Jassim laid Kevin back on the unmade bed, as his tongue began to gently probe the corners of Kevin’s mouth. Kevin continued to yield to him, as though he hadn’t an inhibition in the world. He was too confused, and drunk, to protest. He wanted to cry. Maybe he did. But he wasn’t sure whether it was from fear or exhilaration. Jassim pulled back just inches from Kevin’s face and the two stared into each other’s eyes for several moments, not speaking. Then Jassim leaned forward, gave each of his drooping eyelids a soft kiss, and rolled onto the bed beside him.

By then Kevin’s mind was awash with a torrent of muddy thoughts. Was it togetherness or abandonment that he feared? As if in answer to this unspoken question, Kevin felt a sudden, almost primal need to hold Jassim. He rolled onto his side and closed his eyes, pressing himself against Jassim’s firm, compact body. It seemed a perfect fit, as though two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle had been happily reunited. He rested his head on Jassim’s shoulder and… that was the last thing he could remember.

This story is an excerpt from Beaudet’s book, By a Thread, available at byathread-thebook.com

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