By: William T. Hathaway
I’m an ad designer in N.ew York — I like it and am good at it. I’ve always loved beauty and try to bring some of it into every ad I design. But my love of beauty has a painful side to it because I’m not beautiful myself. Not even pretty. There’s a certain standard of feminine attractiveness in our culture, and I don’t match it.
That has definitely damaged my relations with the opposite sex. Most men don’t pay any attention to me, and those who do usually use me for a while until someone good looking comes along. Believe me, it hurts to be dumped, makes it harder to take a risk next time.
The model images I work with continually remind that I don’t measure up. I don’t want to go into the details of why I’m not pretty, but take my word for it. I’m not a hag or a freak, not even really ugly. Just not 21st-century USA good looking. Actually I’d like to drop the subject now.
But before I do, I should tell you that my brother’s not so great looking either.
Now finally, subject dropped.
It turns out, though, that we’re both pretty (there’s that damn word again) talented artistically. Zack is a sculptor, really good. The whole family is artistic. Dad is a painter, actually more a teacher of painting, at a college upstate. Mom (they’re divorced now) is a weaver.
My brother finished his M.F.A. last year and figured he was ready to take a run at the New York art world. He was broke of course, like most artists, so I let him stay at my place. I don’t consider myself a real artist, but my brother is, and I liked the idea of helping him.
He slept on the fold-out couch in the living room and set up his sculpture workshop in the kitchen. (Ninety-nine percent of New Yorkers have to get used to living without enough space. The remaining one percent own the buildings.)
Zack enamels little pieces of copper with strange designs, then solders them together into fantasy constructions, crosses between creatures and machines. Small and spooky, quite powerful, they’re visions of a shrunken future. They make me think of humanity rendered inhuman by genetic engineering and bionic implants. Zack likes that interpretation but says they’re just what he dreams about.
Zack is no great hit with the ladies. As a man, though, the problem is not so much looks as finances. The equivalent for a man to being ugly is being poor. He says it happens a lot: A woman is interested when he says he’s a sculptor, then turns off when he admits he’s never sold anything. If he’s not making money, he must not be real. He’s been hurt by that.
So both of us are causalities of the love wars. We get along pretty well as roommates. Instead of paying rent, he does the cooking and cleaning. Some of my friends joke about me having a live-in male maid, but I don’t see it that way. It’s just division of labor. At first I had to put some pressure on him to get him to raise his housekeeping standards above bachelor slob level, and his culinary skills are still in the learn-by-doing stage, but we’ve got a functioning living unit going here.
There have been a few issues between us. I didn’t like it when he wandered around in his underpants. Now I realize I liked it a lot, but didn’t like the fact that I liked it. For some unfathomable reason he didn’t like my rinsed-out bloody underpants hanging from the shower rod. But we found we could talk about those things without it turning into a big deal. We changed our ways to please the other person.
After schlepping his art around to dealers and galleries, Zack managed to get his first show, part of a group exhibit at a gallery in Brooklyn. (Actually it’s a bookstore that displays art, but it’s a start.) I was so proud of him. It did wonders for his self-confidence.
The opening, or vernissage as they rather pretentiously called it, turned into a great night, full of music and wine and interesting folks. I heard lots of good comments about Zack’s sculptures. Some people, though, would say “How cute” when they first noticed them, because the figures are little and toylike, then look nervously away when they really saw them. Cute they are not. Real art ain’t cute.
Zack sold three pieces that evening.
We were still excited, riding a Big Apple success high, when we got home. We drank some more wine, then smoked some grass. Totally stoned, we turned up the music and tried to do the tango. It turned out neither of us knew how to tango, but we thought it had something to do with dancing with his leg between mine and making lots of dips and glides. That was fun so we kept doing it with variations: chin to chin, nose to nose, mouth to mouth. Dancing while kissing was lots of fun, even though we giggled more than we kissed. It seemed like we were the first people ever to try it. Then the dancing became more like wiggle-rubbing together. Maybe because we were breathing so loud, we didn’t even notice when the music stopped. By then his hands were inside my pants and my tongue was in his ear.
We did it right there on the couch without even folding it out. Fucking my brother turned out to be what I’d always hoped sex would be but never quite was before. We were so close, we understood each other so well that mating was the most natural thing in the world.
Over the next couple of months we really got into it. It was like we were kids again playing games. We’d never played doctor or fooled around like that when we were little, maybe because I’m three years older. Now we discovered we had a tremendous curiosity about each other’s bodies. All sorts of long-repressed urges came out, and we gave into them with relief. I loved to playing bad big sister who pulls down her little brother’s pants. His little wee-wee that I used to stare at with a mix of fascination and scornful condescension was now a big hairy cock that filled me up and made me groan. After uncovering it, I liked to get prayerfully down on my knees, take it worshipfully in my mouth, and suck it reverently, even as I was gagging as he rammed it down my throat while he was coming.
We tied each other up, painted each other’s naked bodies with lipstick, smeared each other with chocolate syrup and licked it off, peed on each other in the bathtub but didn’t lick it off.
We let it all hang out, the way artists need to — creative regression. We tried everything. I didn’t like him to put it in my ass, though. That hurt too much.
We got along great even when we weren’t fiddling with each other. It wasn’t a romantic crush, more an intuitive knowing. Our new wickedness was a tremendous turn-on, and at the same time our underlying familiarity made us very patient with each other. We didn’t have any false expectations to be disappointed by. It was so nice for both of us to be lusted for, especially by someone we already loved.
One Sunday morning we called down to the corner deli and ordered bagels and lox to be sent up. Sometimes we liked to eat breakfast naked in bed, then fuck afterwards. Lox was Zack’s favorite because he said it tasted like my pussy. I wish I could say the cream cheese tasted like his come, but that was more like mushroom soup, also a favorite.
Anyway, when the doorbell rang we assumed it was the delivery man and opened the door, only to see our father standing there — surprise visit!
We couldn’t tell him, Go away, come back later. The door to our bedroom was open, showing a queen-sized bed that had obviously been slept in by two people. Even more than that, the stricken expressions on our faces gave us away as we stood there in our skimpy robes. Dad knew us too well for us to be able to hide anything like that.
I thought as a fellow artist he’d be cool about it. But he freaked out, really turned vicious on us, called us all sorts of names and said if we didn’t stop this, move out, and not see each other again, he’d disown us both. (As if he owned so much to dis us with — we’re not talking family fortune here, more like a used Volvo and a mortgaged house.) His face was fuchsia and bloated with rage as he made his ultimatum.
Mom had left him five years ago for another man. Maybe that was why he was so bitter and didn’t want anyone else to be happy.
Zack and I looked at each other. There wasn’t any choice. We both pointed to the door for dad to leave.
I wish I could say Zack and I locked the door and enjoyed a sexy naked breakfast in bed afterwards, but we just sat down on the couch and cried. We knew this was an irreconcilable split from dad, and we consoled each other like orphans, very glad to have each other.
Our father’s rejection was a bitter lesson for us, one we would rather not have had to learn, but it brought us closer. It’s hard to find love in this world, and when you do, no one has the right to try to destroy it.
Zack and I are still together and we’re damn sure going to stay that way.
William T. Hathaway’s first novel, A World of Hurt, won a Rinehart Foundation Award. His new one, Lila, the Revolutionary, is the story of an eight-year-old Indian girl who sparks a world revolution for social justice. Chapters are posted at www.amazon.com/dp/1897455844. He was a Fulbright professor of creative writing at universities in Germany, where he currently lives. A selection of his writing is available at www.peacewriter.org.