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époque press
pronounced: /epƏk/
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‘I’ll put a nine ball up both your asses,’ was K’s favourite line from the film The Color of Money. When he was younger his parents ran a pub called The King’s Crown. To the regulars it was known as either just The Kings or The Crown. When it was closed, he would play pool with his older brother and his older brother’s friends. Sometimes, in the school holidays, they would go on all night, mammoth sessions from which they would emerge with eyes red raw from all the smoking going on, hands blue and grimy from chalk dust.

     One of K’s brother’s friends, let’s call him P, would get K to suck his cock, lick his bumhole, K on his knees in the pub’s stinking toilets, while the others were busy playing. When he was in the mood P would turn up wearing his old Tom Cruise t-shirt, the one with Cruise’s cocky face on it and the words, Top Gun. P never washed the t-shirt, even though it had cum stains on it. That was the signal, I’ve got my Cruise t-shirt on, I’m going to have some fun with you. K had been a fourteen back then, perhaps fifteen, and now he was in his mid-twenties, working in Australia for an acquaintance of an acquaintance who owned a lift company called Dynamic Lifts. With the Sydney Olympics coming up there was a lot of building work going on and what a lot of these new buildings needed was lifts. It was easy money. Capitalism at its very best.

     Each morning on his way to work K would pick up a copy of the Sydney Morning Herald, grab himself a coffee, a flat white, and let himself into the Surrey Hills office. Slowly sipping at his coffee, he would turn to the tender section in the newspaper, circle any likely upcoming projects and then spend the rest of the morning ringing them to give them his pitch. 

     ‘Hello, I represent Dynamic Lifts. I see you have a tender for an X story lift. We can order, supply, install. Yes… Yes… Do you have a fax number?’

     At twelve o’clock, or earlier, depending on his mood, he would take his lunch break and head out to The Pleasure Chest. Even deducting the time it took him to get there and back he would usually have time to suck three or four cocks through one of the glory holes. If a guy really took his fancy they would go into one of the cubicles together and he might even rim him. But it was more difficult to get the taste of ass out of your mouth than cock and he didn’t always want to taste ass all afternoon. That particular tang would remind him of P and he didn’t want to think of P. Not these days.

*                                                   *                                               *

K rented a studio apartment in Kings Cross. It was a dive, cockroaches on the floor, in his cupboard and even, sometimes, in his bed. But the apartment had a long window that ran its whole length and it gave onto a view of Rose Bay, large houses with pools, outdoor jacuzzis, small Asian men who would come to do the cleaning. It was said that Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman had bought a house there. It was that exclusive.

     Kings Cross on the other hand, like its London namesake, was home to the Red-Light area of the city. Every night on his way home hawkers outside each of the sex clubs would try to entice him in to ‘see the ladies’. Even in the lift up to his apartment he would often find himself being propositioned by one of the prostitutes who rented a room in the building.

     ‘No thank you,’ he would say in that prim British accent of his. ‘I’m fine, honestly. Thank you. Very kind.’

     He never stopped to consider how the verdant polite exterior he presented to the world was different to his scorched inner life. Growing up he had learnt how to be two people. Sometimes, in his youth, P didn’t come in K’s mouth. Instead he would pull out just before climax, push K’s head down, and ejaculate into his hair. Then he would rub the spunk in and send K back out to the pool room.


     As property he supposed.

     P was the only one amongst K’s brother’s friends who had a girlfriend and sometimes they would joke that the P was under her thumb, that when he had to leave early because he was meeting her that he was a pussy. Sometimes P would bring a pair of her worn panties and make K strip off in one of the toilet cubicles and put them on. Those were the only times he would fuck K, using only his spit as a lubricant so it hurt like hell.

‘One day you will have your S,’ he would say, ‘and then you will understand what love can do. Drive you crazy. Up the wall. But for now, you’re nothing but my bitch. Maybe you’ll always just be somebody’s bitch. Tough for you when you’re old. Who wants an old queer?’

*                                                   *                                               *

When K first arrived in Sydney his  regular pub was The Midnight Shift on Oxford Street, which formed the axis of the gay district. Some of the other bars there had nightly drag acts and if you timed it right you could see one show after another as you worked your way up the street. But K rarely ventured up there now. Seen one drag act, you’ve seen them all, and of course, he now had The Pleasure Chest where he didn’t have to worry about being either side of his personality. He could exist there and be no one.

     K had no real friends in Australia and only acquaintances back home, people he had been to university with. And even if he did decide to hang the expense and give them a ring what would he say? ‘Last night I got spit-roasted by two South Sea Islanders.’ This had actually happened to him. He was living the best life he could. Or the worst. The toss of a coin.

     Then one day he fucked up royally at work. He was on site in Parramatta to oversee the delivery of a lift and was checking the dimensions and construction of the lift pit He was supposed to be guiding the lorry as it backed up into position to offload the lift. He must have taken his eye off it for only a second, but in that second the lorry overshot its mark and hit one of the temporary struts holding the awning in place. The whole thing had come crashing down, sending one of the workers who had been working on top of it tumbling to the ground. When K had rung his boss the ambulance was already in attendance, the worker had a confirmed broken leg, possible concussion, and was being taken to hospital.

     ‘The lift is still on the back of the lorry. What shall I tell them to do?’

     His boss, when drunk, was known to relate war-stories of his twenty years in the lift business. The emergency brakes of a new lift failing during a Works Authority test inspection and the lift chassis crumpling at the bottom of the shaft. One of the installation crew having a finger severed during the fitting of a door, blood spurting everywhere like a scene from a horror movie. How, as a new starter back in the day, his boss had been left locked in a lift stuck between floors overnight. Needing a shit he had removed his t-shirt and done his business in that, carefully wrapping up the turds rather than having them on the floor for everyone to see.

That his boss wasn’t angry, or didn’t appear to be, K put down to the fact that this would be seen as one of his future war-stories.

     ‘Look,’ he said, ‘why don’t you take the rest of the day off. I’ve a feeling you won’t be welcome on site. I’ll sort everything.’

     Whilst he was on his way home, and the sun was burning him through the windscreen of his car, he decided to head out to Bare Island Fort. If there were any men there who took his fancy he could go up into the bushes behind the beach and do as he pleased. He didn’t have any swimmers with him but it was possible to swim naked there.

     As he parked up he noticed that there was a large crowd gathered, mostly pressing up against an area cordoned off with ropes. First the calamity at work and now this. He wouldn’t be comfortable parading up and down on the beach in the nude, and even if he did it was unlikely there would be any takers for him. Surreptitious public sex didn’t lend itself easily to a large audience.

     ‘Excuse me,’ he said, ‘do you know what’s going on?’ he asked a young, tanned couple who were passing by.

     ‘Haven’t you heard? Tom Cruise is in town. They are filming Mission Impossible 2 over there towards Bare Island,’ the young man said.  

     K put a hand up to his forehead to shield his eyes and squinted. Sure enough there was all sorts of commotion. Large lights. A camera moving at speed along tracks. And someone around whom it was all centred, just the glimpse of the back of a head, who K thought might possibly be Cruise.

‘Wanker, what an absolute cunt of a wanker,’ he said under his breath as he punched the steering wheel three times, accidentally sounding the horn causing several people to look.

*                                                   *                                               *

K stopped to looked himself naked in the full-length mirror of his wardrobe as he was getting ready to go out. He usually liked to think of himself as just parts. A cock. Balls. Arsehole. Mouth. That was how he wanted other people to see him too. It was easier that way. Seeing himself like this all at once hurt. Because he wasn’t a whole person in his head. He was parts, disparate parts.

     At certain times in his life he had tried to make friends. People did seem to like him, but he always struggled with what to say. He had to analyse every sentence before it came out, and then later he would have to analyse the sentence again. In the end he had decided all the anxiety wasn’t worth the effort.  With P it had been easy. He just had to get on his knees. Say nothing. Have a cock in his mouth. Or his arse. The parameters were clearly defined.

     When K arrived at The Midnight Shift, his back damp with sweat, he found the doors shut and a sign that said they were closed for refurbishment. He turned back to the street, looked up, looked down, unsure of what to do next.

*                                                   *                                               *

That night when K closed his eyes he saw the workman tumbling from the awning. He thought he heard the sound of the leg breaking. Then his boss’s voice. ‘I’ll sort it.’

     Over the following days there were more mistakes at work. After that, there were more mistakes at work. He ordered lift signs with the wrong numbers on them, a mirror that was too small and when he reordered it it came in a size so large four men had had to unload it from the back of a truck. ‘You’ve been in a lift in your life, haven’t you?’ said his boss. ‘Fuck.’

     One afternoon, in The Pleasure Chest, a man came in his mouth and he started to cry. He didn’t know why. He had been in the same situation a hundred times before. Yet this time he found he was sobbing. He pulled away from the hole and pressed back against the wall.

     ‘Mate, are you ok? Mate?’

     An eye appeared briefly at the hole before the sound of the door on the other side being hurriedly opened, closed.

     After two weeks The Midnight Shift reopened. There was no grand ceremony. No fanfare. K just happened to be on Oxford Street one day and noticed the doors open.

     There was the usual barman behind the bar. He was young, had a shaved head, tattoos on both his arms, anchors and mermaids, ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ inked in jagged letters. K didn’t know if the tattoos were ironic or not. He had once since the barman getting sucked off by a vicar in the cinema area of The Pleasure Chest. What it proved he didn’t know. Only that you couldn’t make assumptions about people. K ordered his schooner of beer and turned to find his usual seat at the back and that’s when he noticed it. The refurbishment.

The back wall had been removed and now there were five steps leading down to a new open plan area where two pool tables had been placed. On the wall behind them was a poster advertising The Midnight Shift’s first pool competition.

*                                                   *                                               *

Once, P had stood up from the pool table, turned towards K and accused him of staring at his arse. This was in front of the others and K felt his face flaming up as his brother, John and Frank, two of the other caballeros turned towards him. He didn’t like to be the centre of attention. Usually he would be just there. Not joining in. He had heard them all talking earlier about how P’s parents had made him join the army. His father had been in the army and his father before him and P was being sent to a training camp up on the North coast somewhere. K’s brother had been ribbing him about it. Bunking up with all those men. Don’t drop your soap in the shower. That kind of thing.

     They were pulling an all-nighter and in the toilet later, at around two o’clock in the morning, K got down on his knees ready for P’s cock as usual, but instead P told him to get up.

     ‘I got you something,’ he said. ‘As a goodbye present. I know you’ve heard the news about me going away.’

     ‘Thanks,’ said K as he looked at the paper bag he had been handed, unsure of what to do with it.

     ‘You can open it now,’ said P.

     Behind them the urinal flushed.

     Inside the paper bag was a cassette tape. Software Projects it said. Sinclair Spectrum 48k. And in red, graffiti style, Jet Set Willy.

     ‘You like your computer games, don’t you?’ said P. ‘I’ve heard this is a good one.’

     ‘Thanks,’ said K.

     ‘Look can we be friends. Write each other? Forget about all of this.’

*                                                   *                                               *

K arrived in good time on the night of the inaugural Midnight Shift pool competition. He paid the entrance fee and stood against the back wall with his beer in his hand, eyeing up the competition.

     When he had first started playing pool he’d been too small to reach the table and had to stand on an upturned beer crate, which he would drag around the table between shots. Even later on in life, people always thought he cut a strange figure at the table.

     ‘You don’t look like a pool player,’ one of his course-mates had said to whilst he was over in America on an exchange as part of his degree. He’d just lost fifty or so games in a row. ‘I’ve never met anyone like you. Can’t work you out.’

     Then one afternoon out of the blue the same course-mate had knocked on the door of his room, suggested they have sex together. He was straight but wanted to give it a go. Try it out!  K was ok doing things in groups; in the afternoons he and six or so other students would go and play racketball at the sports centre, but intimacy, one on one, or even in groups he struggled with.  If he was to go at it with his course-mate, then what? Lie on this bed naked. Chat. Reach across each other for a drink from the night table, bodies pressing together. And what if it would then become a regular thing. Spending the whole night together. The following day they would go to an art gallery. Or down to the beach. Rub suncream in each other’s backs. The whole idea of it made him feel sick.

*                                                   *                                               *

K finished his first game with a run of three. It was all coming back to him. The feel of a cue. The rhythm. As he potted the black, rolling it along the bottom cushion and into the pocket, he stood from the table. He wasn’t sure what the etiquette was but he held out his hand and they shook.

     ‘Good game,’ said his opponent, a bear from Adelaide, a regular in The Midnight Shift who had a tall red dog called Tiffany.

     In the next game K was more relaxed. Started with a long pot, bang, into the bottom left pocket. It was important not to look up. Seek acknowledgment. The potting of balls was a spell. Private. And the long pots could seem show-offy. The secret was to make it look easy. Get the white ball in the correct position. Not move too much. And in a few shots you could be close to victory.

     It was only as he got to the quarter final that he felt eyes on him. A number of people had gathered at the rail that divided the front of the bar from the back, where they could look down on the action.  Despite hating himself, the way he looked, K didn’t mind people watching. No one could hate him as much as he hated himself. So it didn’t matter. And besides he wasn’t watching them watching. When he was playing pool he was in a zone. Nothing else mattered.

     ‘Nice shot!’

     The comment had come from a guy on the other table. K looked up. The guy, ridiculously handsome enough to pull off the silly Homer Simpson baseball cap perched on the top of his head, was already bending over to play his next shot. He was on the black. It was right up to the cushion. The trick was to play the cushion and the ball exactly at the same time. The guy swung back, struck, and was turning even as the white hit the black.

‘I’ll see you in the final,’ he said.

*                                                   *                                               *

‘You don’t remember me, do you? I used to come over yours. Your parents had the pub, right? We’d play pool.’

     K was back in his home town after finishing his degree, shopping in the new centre, one bland franchise store after another, when the man had come up to him. He’d put on weight. Lost most of his hair. He was wearing a t-shirt with Tom Cruise’s face on it, from the time he was in Top Gun. It can’t have been the one from all those years ago. That was impossible.

     ‘And then I went off to the army. Well, that went to shit.’

     The man bent, pulled up his left trouser leg to reveal the plastic of a prosthesis.

     ‘Training ground accident.’

     K could already see how it would play out. He hadn’t planned to stay in his home town but now he would. The decision would be taken from him. He would get a job in a call centre, or in a factory, and he would become P’s plaything again. P would be working as a mechanic. Have his own garage. Sometimes he would strip K off, lock him in the boot of one of the cars he was working on. Leave him there overnight. Then as he arrived back at work the following morning K would listen to P from the boot as he went about his work, spoke to clients. There would be nothing he could do until P was ready.

     ‘Daddy, daddy. Where did you go? Daddy, who’s this?’

     The little girl who had run up threaded her small fingers into the man’s larger hand. She looked up at K inquiringly.

     ‘I’m sorry,’ said P. ‘I can’t remember your name. What was your name again?’

     ‘It’s K,’ said K. ‘K.’

     He watched as P and the little girl made off.

     One time after P had fucked him in the toilets of his parents’ pub he wouldn’t stop bleeding. It got so bad he had had to go to the doctor and then there had been quite a palaver. Who had done that to him? Had he been raped? Social Services had been brought in. But he hadn’t said anything. He was good at closing himself off. If he was closed off he was safe.

*                                                   *                                               * 

And sure enough it was K and the guy in the Homer Simpson baseball cap in the final. Best of three.

     More people had gathered by the rail and, drunker now, gave some whoops as K and the guy shook hands. The rest of the lights in the bar had been dimmed and it was just the light over the pool table glaring, their very own spotlight.

     ‘I’m Paul,’ said the guy. ‘What about you?’

     ‘K,’ said K. ‘Like the beginning of a kangaroo.’

     ‘Like the beginning of a kangaroo,’ said Paul. ‘I like that. Like the beginning of a kangaroo.’ And he smiled. ‘I was watching you. Look like you’ve played before.’

     ‘My parents had a pub,’ said K, ‘a long time ago now,’ and just for a moment he was back at. The King’s Crown. With all the caballeros. And P.

     He still thought of him all the time, wished that he didn’t, wished that he didn’t feel him inside of him, wished that he didn’t smell him, wished that he didn’t long for his bumhole on his lips just one more time. Wished all of those things. That he could tell someone.

     ‘Toss you for break off,’ said Paul. ‘Heads I win, tails you lose.’


Drew Gummerson is a Lambda Award Finalist. He is the writer of The Lodger, Me and Mickie James, and Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel. His stories have been on BBC Radio 4, in a number of anthologies, in coffee shops around America, magazines and online.


Of the short story featured here, Drew states:


‘The Color of Money is one of ten short stories I have written, each one taking inspiration from a Tom Cruise film, each one following the love story of K and P, although K and P appear as different versions of themselves in each story: gay, straight, lesbian, alien and android. In The Color of Money P appears as K’s childhood abuser and this story explores how desire can be corrupted and impact an individual's future longing for acceptance, intimacy and love.’

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