We start at the beginning as all myths must start,
though perhaps you have crossed, already, the path
of this most shady of figures. If so,
do not fear, do not feel shame, my friend
for he has been the deceiver of the whole wide world
even as he breathed his first breath. The fallen one,
the cast out one, blessed to be amongst us mortals
for here there is mischief to be made.
With the first beat, first throb of his heart, he conjured
his mother visions of wedding bands and immortality,
and unconditional, unquantifiable, unrestrainable love.
All was a lie cast to keep her, this host, happy
as he feasted and fed within her soft confines.
As a child he wore many costumes, becoming many fleeting things
all sparkles and smiles and sly little glances because deceit
tastes like full fat cola and cakes and caviar.
He is the spinner of illusions—the dark magician;
the witches’ lover sucking at their teats, transforming
to a familiar when the moon and the sun compete. A fire-side
cat, fat and satiated on stolen milk. A naked figure
dancing in Beltane fields as promises flare
in his amber eyes: wet dreams and hymen-broken blood,
and mouths with no end, and holes always tight.
Take your pick. He offers with a smile.
But never trust that shark smile. Never trust
those amber eyes. For if he’s smiling
then deception is close at hand.
Heed my warning, friend, as you settle
into this ballad of Barnaby White.
I remember when he first noticed me. I remember it in the way my elders remember hearing of Princess Diana’s death and 9/11. I had just turned eleven, one of the youngest in our class. It was the sixth of the sixth month. We were all restless, full and squirming with the anticipation of the coming school holidays; our minds already in exotic places. We were conjugated verbs in a dusty classroom full of slanting sunshine and the air hummed with the pheromones of sweaty boys. I love. I loved. I will love. I am loving, my heart sang as I basked in the afterglow of his fleeting attention.
As we progressed through our teenage years, I used to think he looked at me the way he did because he was shy, coy as a maiden in a Victorian novel. Those subtle glances were like a warm hand cupping the back of my neck, palm rubbing up against the hairs on my neck. Oh, Barnaby White. How I would shiver with pleasure when I felt his gaze on me, me little Archie, though my classmates called me Ye Olde Yellow; a name that stuck with me after my first unfortunate night at boarding school where, scared of the strange bed and creaking floors and too terrified of a scolding by the housemaster to leave my bed, I had an accident. He was always Barnaby White. Magnificent. Lean and slender, graceful as a snake winding across a desert. When the rest of us succumbed to teenage weight gain, gangly growth spurts, and dirty-looking fuzz on our pimply faces, he remained immaculate. His smile was operatic. His name was a dawn chorus.
I could never manage to catch his gaze, not straight on, my surname being Warburton and us being sat in alphabetical order in class. Outside of the classroom, in the wild so to speak, he was too prepossessing for me to dare meet him eye to eye, just like one doesn’t dare stare directly at an eclipse. My anxiety was as irrational as a bird’s during that aforementioned natural phenomenon, yet I couldn’t master it.
At night, I dreamed of tilting his face towards the sun, of noting all the shades in his amber irises as the light played over them. I was Icarus flying far too close to him and I’d awaken to damp and sticky pyjamas before I ever got to marvel at the wonder of his eyes. All those things I would think of in class. During ancient history, I’d see us speaking Latin to each other in a Roman bathhouse. Amo. Amavi. I amabo. I amandum. His face would be on a coin, always in profile, always his eyes slightly hidden from me. I’d have given anything to stare into them and see his soul.
And one day, I got my chance. It was ridiculously hot for a May day, even the insects were too overcome by the heat to move. I was thirteen and felt so very mature, though I was one of the smallest in class and according to gossip the only virgin. He’d written me a letter, which he slipped it to me during Maths. It was the closest thing to a love letter I had ever received. My name, Archie, and not Ye Olde Yellow had been written across a folded piece of lined paper. His handwriting had an arrogant dash to it, reminiscent of his strut: shoulders down, chin up, and a slight sway to his hips that was oh so seductive to my innocent mind. Two of my fingers traced over my name as if they were my feet following his lead during an intimate dance where our bodies pressed so close there would be no mistaking our desire. Inside the words were simple and lacked the flourish that had been given to my name. Meet me outside the chapel before evening prep, he’d written.
Was this true? Was this meant for me? I glanced across at him. His shirt sleeves had been rolled up to his elbow, showing a sparkle of light skimming across the blond hairs on his tanned skin. My fingers trembled as his head moved. Would I… would he…? ‘Warburton,’ my teacher barked. Back to quadratic equations I tried to go but all reason, all rationality had fled my brain and I’d been whisked away on the most delightful flight of fantasy: I was going to meet Barnaby White.
I didn’t want to be early to our meeting and give the appearance of being a keener, yet I didn’t want to be late in case he wouldn’t wait for me so I took small, skittish steps towards the school chapel. He was already there, his face half-hidden by the shadow cast from the chapel’s porch. The porch was a refuge, come to hide us from prying eyes. The air smelt of soil, freshly turned-over soil—all peaty and sweet. Fertile. He was leaning with a certain joie-de-vie that suggested it didn’t matter to him whether I came or not. That lean made him appear more lithe, his legs longer, his stomach flatter. His fingers pointed to the ground where it was safer for me to look, though I yearned to stare at him. My heart beat so fast and my face was already flaming at knowing he was there for me. Waiting for me.
Be brave, I chided myself, glance up. He was smiling that snakish grin and it promised all kinds of mischievous things. Skipping class. Sharing alcohol under our bed covers while the housemaster slept. Carnal knowledge. He was an ancient manuscript written just for me. I couldn’t meet his eyes, though my armpits were drenched from the certainty that I would, I should, before our meeting was over. My steps slowed even though I said to myself, I’m not afraid, not of the unknown, not of Barnaby White. His soft laughter had the peal of church bells ringing for a bride. I clamped my arms close to my side so he wouldn’t see how I’d sweated through my school shirt. Don’t let shame ruin this moment, but I already felt the heaviness of it, like an uncooked suet pudding, in my belly.
‘Are you coming or what?’ he whispered. ‘Come on, little Archie.’
My name gave me a frisson of pleasure, a rush of confidence that sped up my steps. His name tumbled out of my sticky mouth. ‘Barnaby White, Barnaby White.’
‘Yes.’ The word was a question and an affirmation. Confusing. Blinding. Oh, how I imagined him saying that while he was under my hand, and my hand, that imaginary hand, would not tremble or be sweaty or be clumsy. It would be masterful, moved by luck and amazement that he had chosen me. Things between us would be as they were in my dreams only this time I would not wake up before I got to stare into his amber eyes.
His fingertips came for me when I didn’t speak; I didn’t know if I should. His nails were neatly curved. This hand reaching for mine seemed sculptured, so perfect, so unblemished and nothing like my own veiny hand with its podgy fingers that had swollen in the heat. He tugged me closer. I was dazzled by him, even in the shadow. He was illuminated, same as medieval church paintings contain an impression of light within the paint. His eyes were full on me. His smile could only be for me. I’ll wreck you, it warned, and you’ll like it.
‘Yes, yes, oh yes,’ I called back, though he hadn’t spoken. My voice was shrill—ugly and blush-inducing. His head tilted to the side, like a cat watching a wall. His blinks were as purposeful, as artistic as a dancer’s movements. His free hand swept through his blond fringe so I might see his forehead better—the skin there ripe for a tender kiss. The shift of his weight from left to right brought a tantalising touch of his hip bone to my belly. That touch burned through me and I squeezed his hand, in case he’d change his mind.
‘Ouch,’ he said and laughed. He said, ‘Do you want to hurt me?’
I wanted to do whatever he wanted me to do. I didn’t say that though, just continued staring like a village idiot struck dumb by their first sight of lightning. His lips, that smile, shimmered in the half-light. They closed. They made a peak in the middle as he pursed them. Plump. They were so plump in the middle. My hand dampened in his as he moved nearer, as those lips called me into my nightly dream. I felt the rousing in my crotch, like a universe coming to life.
‘Shut your eyes,’ he whispered. His breath smelt as sweet as apples plucked straight from the tree. ‘Shut your eyes if you want a kiss.’
That word sizzled like drops of sweat on a sun-baked stone. My response was guttural, as base as an animal learning to make sound. And my penis was full and throbbing and urging me closer and closer.
‘Hold steady,’ he said, letting go of my hand. He pressed his palm to my left hip and I quivered like a leaf subjected to a tornado. His power was so complete, so all-encompassing that the tip of my penis created a droplet. I pictured him licking it, his tongue easing, slowly, from between his pursed lips. So close. So close. I pursed my lips too. Ready. Oh God, I was so ready.
‘Open your mouth for me,’ he said.
I made an O for him, for his finger, for his penis, for his tongue—whatever he wanted to give me I would take. My breath came juddering through that O.
Something sharp-edged bounced off my temple. A whoosh. The reek of death. Cartons and cans and cigarette butts and half-eaten food rained down and around me from the bin he’d tipped over my head. Sticky drops of cola clung to my face and darkened my school shirt. Dribbles of cold coffee seemed as molten as my shame as I stood there.
‘Did I taste nice?’ He laughed and he laughed and he danced on the spot. The upturned bin now blocked the door to the church. Out from the shadows, like gargoyles cast adrift, came Stanton and Hoskings, braying and clucking and revelling in my humiliation. I did not skulk away. I did not say a word but waited with my head bowed until they grew bored of me and headed off to meet someone called Sam.
Yet still, still, I wanted Barnaby White and I dreamed of us that night making love on a rubbish tip under a baking hot sun.
Here ends our tale of misery and woe, though beware,
do not be fooled, my friend, by such a childish tale
of high jinks, for many more will fall foul of his tricks
as many more did. Some you may have met
between the pages of a book, between the gutters
of a margin, or seen sprawling in this mess we call life,
off pavements, off sidewalks, off raised humps of dirt
where roads were intended to roam before officials succumbed
to his bribes. When you look into the eyes of those touched
by potions, by powders, by purveyed and perverted
chemicals you’ll find him. For he comes for them all,
with offerings of cheap dreams and escapes. The lonely,
the heartbroken, the desperate, and the greedy. And for us,
he hovers ever closer, even as we safely close this page.
Copyright 2021 A Head/Photo
Like this free story? You can read more about Whitie & his cruelty in my novel Asphodel Meadows. It’s available on Amazon & to order from all good bookshops. You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ https://ko-fi.com/amvivian or by buying one of my books (The Waiting Usurper, Asphodel Meadows, The Family Care). They can also be borrowed via Kindle Unlimited.
Extracts are available on my website https://amvivian.com/