Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Frisk

by Dennis Cooper

Frisk is a significant work of fiction. Cooper . . . wants to lead us into the wormy heart of the murderous impulse.” –Michael Cunningham, author of A Home at the End of the World

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 144
  • Publication Date March 01, 1992
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-3289-5
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $15.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 144
  • Publication Date May 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-1-5558-4773-9
  • US List Price $15.00

About The Book

When Dennis is thirteen, he sees a series of photographs of a boy apparently unimaginably mutilated. Dennis is not shocked, but stunned by their mystery and their power; their glimpse at the reality of death. Some years later, Dennis meets the boy who posed for the photographs. He did it for love.

Surrounded by images of violence, the celebrity of horror, news of disease, a wasteland of sex, Dennis flees to Europe, having discovered some clues about the photographs: “I see these criminals on the news who’ve killed someone methodically, and they’re free. They know something amazing. You can just tell.” What they know may lie in bodies themselves. Bodies are unavoidably real; what’s in them must have something to say, even in a society that lives on images and fantasies. An isolated windmill in Holland provides the perfect setting for Dennis to find out more about bodies–of which there are many–and what is inside them.

In Frisk, as in the award-winning Closer, Dennis Cooper explores the limits of our knowledge and the dividing line between the body and the spirit. Frisk is a novel about the power of fantasy and faith, about the ecstasy and horror of being human. The body’s power extends to us all, but what power do we have over it, over its appetites and satisfactions? The answer to these questions is a work of imaginative courage and clarity: a murder mystery that implicates us all and a horror story in which the monster is love.

Tags Literary Gay

Praise

“Destined to classic status.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Dennis Cooper, a disturbing and transcendent artist, enters the mind of a killer and comes out with genuine revelation.” –Michael Silverblatt

Frisk is a significant work of fiction. Cooper . . . wants to lead us into the wormy heart of the murderous impulse.” –Michael Cunningham, author of A Home at the End of the World

Excerpt

WILD

1974

“Wild.” Henry knew it. His feelings, thoughts, etc., were the work of people around him. Men particularly. The first made a weirdly detached person out of his body and mind when he was thirteen or something. The next man corrected his predecessor’s mistakes. The next changed other stuff. The last few had only tinkered because Henry was perfect, aside from some bad habits.

He raised his glass, sipped, and tried to think about one particular “ex.”

He threw the empty glass into the cold black fireplace.

The other young guy in the room seemed unbelievably stoned, drunk . . . something. He sat all the way across an ugly Indian rug, staring out or at a set of sliding glass doors. It sounded like it was raining. Henry couldn’t see anything out there, even the rain.

“I’m so cold I’m a fucking ice sculpture, right?” Henry asked loudly. The guy had said so, Henry was virtually sure. Still, it was hours ago, if ever. They’d squealed at the time, but the sentence was bullshit. It made Henry sound arrogant, which he probably wasn’t.

The guy just stared off at the rain, glass, hallucination, daydream, whatever.

“I’m splitting,” Henry said, stood.

The guy swiveled his head. Crack. ‘don’t . . . ouch.” His head must have swiveled too quickly or something, because it started trembling like what’s-her-name’s . . . Katharine Hepburn’s. He had to grab it with both hands to get it to stop.

This part’s a blur.

“You know, it’s wild,” Henry said. He was fondling his way down a hall behind what’s-his-name. ” . . . but I don’t even remember where we met tonight. I keep thinking “party.” That’s about it. Are you as totaled as I am?”

“Probably.” The guy glared over his shoulder. He still looked cute enough to justify what was starting to happen, whatever that was. “Keep your hands down,” he added. “I mean if you need to keep your balance, use the walls, not my father’s African art collection.”

“I am.” Henry focused on the door at the end of the hall. He supposed they were aimed there, because it was open. No matter how low he reached on the walls he kept touching the limbs of wooden statues, so he gave up and clutched at the guy’s untucked shirt.

“Don’t fucking rip it.”

“I’m not.”

Henry flopped on the bed. It bounced around and squeaked for five, six seconds. The guy stripped. He had tiny red genitals, spider-webby blond pubic hair. Not that Henry cared about defects like that. He himself was a big waste of time from the neck down at this point, thanks to uncountable drugs.

“Get that stuff off,” the guy mumbled.

“Oh, am I still dressed?” Henry toyed with a shirt button, twirling this way, that. Within a second or two he was spaced out. ‘mm.” He felt something sharp, fingernails, a hand, the guy’s. It was yanking his underwear down. The pair got snagged around his feet. The guy left them dangling there. Henry’s feet were huge. He raised up, peered down his chest. But blurry. ‘so, uh, I don’t really know . . . what you, like . . . expect . . . to, like, get out of that.” He pointed at his cock and said “that” again, sort of ironically.

“We’ll . . . see . . .” The guy’s face made a rocky landing on Henry’s crotch.

“Oh, okay, go ahead.” Henry let his head drop.

The guy started painting the cock with his tongue. The room felt cozy. Or the pills Henry took that afternoon left him cozy, and the room was just there, a movie set. He shut his eyes, tried to restart a favorite porn daydream. ‘shi-i-i-it.” His history had been reduced to a simplistic blur, like the trails in the air left by people on fire.

Blur.

“You know what?” Henry whispered, digging his hand into the guy’s Afro. “I was thinking about this a minute ago in the other room. How last weekend I slept with two bearded guys. One of them fucked me while the other guy blew me, I guess. They kept calling me “that.” One would ask, “What does that taste like?” and “What’s the temperature inside that?” and the other would say, ‘really great,” or whatever. It made me feel weird. It made me realize I’m important to certain people. I don’t have to do anything. Being pretty or young or whatever’s enough. Sometimes . . . I wish I could just sort of temporarily die. Guys could move me around, whatever. I wouldn’t have a first name, just a surface. Like pillows. They don’t have individual names. They don’t mean anything, but people sleep with them. I think I’d feel a lot happier, though I despise that word, “happy.” It’s such a lie. When your parents– Hey, wait!” He blinked a couple of times. The ceiling was totally in focus. “God, I’m sober.” He propped himself up on his elbows. “What about you?”

The guy had quit blowing Henry earlier in the speech. His chin sat an inch deep in Henry’s thigh. Henry’s cock drooped down the other thigh, soft, brown, and extremely wet. ‘so,” he mumbled, ‘does your not talking right now mean you agree with me, or that you’re sleepy or something?”

“I think I’m sleepy,” the guy said, staring. His face seemed the opposite of sleepy.

“Not me. But I’m infamous for my energy.”

“So, you heading back to the party?” The guy’s eyes actually pointed at Henry. They were pale blue. Like all eyes Henry had ever seen, but especially blue ones, they were sort of disappointing, apart from the color.

“I guess, yeah. You want to come?”

“Not really.” The guy rolled onto his side, squashed the right half of his face with a fist. There was a Rorschach blot of sweat on the sheet where his crotch had been pressing. Henry looked down at it, thought he saw a satanic silhouette.

“Okay, uh . . .” Henry stood up, walked quickly around the room, bent over, collecting his clothes. “So, did you enjoy that?” He was missing a sock. “I mean was I . . . okay?” He checked behind the desk chair once more. “I know that’s a weird question.”

“I can’t tell yet.” The guy’s voice was distorted because of the fist, so Henry couldn’t quite get what the “yet” meant.

“mm.” Henry made a face that the guy could interpret a hundred ways, or not at all. By that point Henry was four-fifths dressed. He sat on a chair across the room, tying his shoes. “Well, answer this,” he said. “I always ask this question after I sleep with somebody, so don’t get alarmed. If you could change one thing about the way I was acting a minute ago, what would that be?” He quit tying, grinned. “I guess that’s dumb.”

“You talk too much,” the guy said.

“Yeah, I know.” Henry winced. “Thanks. I’m working on that one.” He made a fist and slugged his thigh.

“And you don’t consider what you say before you say it. Or you don’t sound like you do.” The guy slid off the bed, stood. He strolled around the room, stabbing a hand at his own crumpled clothes, which were larger and blacker than Henry’s. “I’ll show you the way out. Because I was really interested in you at first.” He knelt down and peered under the bed. “But when you tried to tell me about . . . well, whatever you were saying when I started to get into you.” He reached into the dark, pulled out an argyle sock, shook some dust off. “I can’t be the only guy who’s turned off by that kind of shit.”

Henry cringed, nodded. The pills were wearing off to a slight degree. “No, no, no, you’re right.” He slugged his thigh again.

“Anyway . . .” The guy held out the sock to Henry. “Get up.”

They inched down the hall. This time it wasn’t particularly treacherous. Henry picked out the floor, statues, their pedestals, the guy’s back, etc. So he didn’t need anyone or anything, though he wobbled around a lot.

Julian nodded. “I completely agree. It’s . . . just . . .” He leaned closer to Jennifer’s ear, got a faint whiff of vomit. “Am I insane or is that guy–long black hair, faded work shirt, by the hors d”oeuvres table–staring at me?” Jennifer squinted. “Actually,” she said, “I’ve been assuming it was me, but I think you’re right.” She asked some other drag queens in their vicinity to move, pointed his way “accusingly.” When he noticed, she flipped him off. ‘me?” he mouthed, looking around. “Yeah, you, asshole!”

Henry weaved through the room, sideswiping every fifth person en route. Their drinks sloshed around. One brunet threw a lit cigarette at his back, missed. Julian grabbed Jennifer’s right biceps and squeezed. “Fucked up,” he said with a grin, “but incredibly appealing, right?” Nod. By then Henry was near enough that they could pretty much tell which of them he’d been staring at. Julian flashed a little teeth in the corner of his sneer. “Leave,” he mumbled. “You mind?” Her arm slid through his fingertips.

“Hi.” Henry came to a kind of halt. His head turned violently to the right, left. Nice neck. “Where’d she go?” He had an out-of-town accent. “Who?” Julian asked. Henry winced. ‘very funny. I mean that girl who was right . . . Oh, it doesn’t matter. Hi.” Julian decided the face was too horsey. When it was saggier that’d be trouble, in terms of attracting guys. At the moment it made him seem rural or heterosexual.

“You from the South?” Julian asked. Henry rolled his eyes. They looked sketchy and smudged. “No, that’s totally weird,” he said. “Nothing against you. People always say that, but it’s not true. They only say it when I’m stoned, which I am, obviously. No, I’m from here . . . Oops.” He slapped a hand over his mouth, opened his eyes so wide Julian had to think about the fact that they were balls. The balls sort of pleaded with Julian. “What?” he responded, not totally interested.

Henry said something, dismembered bits of which filtered through his fingers. “I decided,” or maybe it was “I determined” (unintelligible) . . . “talk too much.” He wasn’t as cute without his chin and mouth. ‘really?” Julian eased his ass down on the windowsill. He started scanning the room for a less wiped-out type. Someone he vaguely liked walked in, hugged someone he’d fucked twice. “You’re saying you talk too much?” he muttered, studying the hug. Henry nodded.

Julian was wondering about the subtext of that particular hug when he remembered Henry. “Oh, I’m thinking about them,” Julian said, nodding, “over there. Follow my nod.” Henry appeared to, then mumbled something about “near the door.” “Exactly,” Julian said, smiling. “Hey, want to try an experiment?” Henry shrugged. “Good. Hug me like you’ve known me forever but haven’t seen me in years.” Julian extended his arms, smirked. Henry blushed, took a baby step forward.

“Gotcha, as they say.” Julian dragged Henry close. Henry opened his fingers a crack and pushed his big lips through. “Ouch. What do you mean?” “I mean,” Julian said, peeling away Henry’s hand, “now that we’re old friends I can ask you for anything and you’ll do it because we love each other.” Henry wrenched back his head an inch or two, peered warily at Julian’s mouth. “Is that a joke?” he asked. Henry looked sort of interesting cross-eyed. “Is what a joke?” “Is it a joke,” Henry whispered, “that we love each other?”

“Christ,” Julian groaned. “Are you one of those guys who think love’s . . . whatever, sacred?” Henry shook his head. “Good, because as far as I’m concerned, love’s what you feel for someone you don’t know very well, if at all. Maybe I was “in love” with your body when you were way over there studying Jennifer and me. Now I’m just, uh . . . hungry, you could call it. You being my . . . meal, or . . . what’s the matter now?” Henry’s face looked too attentive or something. “Yeah, yeah, I know!” he said loudly.

Heads turned. Julian let loose of Henry’s ass. “No, don’t let go! That’s the point!” Henry picked up Julian’s hands, hooked them over his hipbones. “Or wherever you had them. No, see, I’ve been figuring all this stuff out, and I agree! I’m like a thing, or like . . . a meal, or . . . whatever!” Everyone at the party was watching now, however furtively. Julian shielded his eyes, started chewing his bottom lip, mind whirling. The guy was wearing pink deck shoes. Cute. “Er, uh, let’s go outside, okay?” Julian clutched Henry’s hand. They zigzagged through their audience.

They pushed through a door clogged with drunken parents. The house had been built on a hillside. There were some steps carved in it that led up to a tilted vegetable garden. Julian dropped down on the third and fourth steps. Henry remained at their foot, smiling back at the house. Its windows were steamed. In the dirt below one was a puddle of purplish vomit, shaped exactly like Texas. “Now, what were we saying?” Julian yawned. Henry had started to teeter around pretty weirdly. “Oh . . . I forget. I, uh, feel . . . I guess, dizzy.” He hiccupped, sat.

Julian reached out his hand, debated for a second or two, then let it penetrate Henry’s long, slightly tangled black hair around the area of the nape. It was like a little cave under there. That gave Julian chills for some reason. He bunched his fingers and snaked them slowly along the narrow, curving tunnel, trying not to skim against the wall of hair on one side, or Henry’s neck on the other. He managed to get about an inch and a half before Henry’s left shoulder twitched, fucking everything up.

Julian traced the jagged part in Henry’s hair with one fingertip. Back, forth, back, forth . . . Henry rested his chin in his hands, blew some air through his lips. “You want to come over to my place and sleep off whatever you’re on?” Julian asked. The head swiveled a little. “I’ve already slept with somebody tonight.” “Well, then, give me your number at least.” Henry’s forehead scrunched up. “Three . . . eight, five . . . four, four–” “Wait.” Julian yanked out a pen, pressed its nub to the back of his hand. “Again.”

“So he said it again. You know, three-eight-five–whatever, and I wrote it on the back of my hand. You can still see it. Then we had a long, slow kiss with lots of tonguing and stuff, and I left.” Julian glanced at his wristwatch. “Left? Left?!” I said, my voice tinny and sharp at the other end of the line. Julian held the receiver away from his ear. “Yeah, I had to see a client at two, unfortunately for everyone involved. Ugh.” I started to say something. “Gotta go,” Julian said. ‘see you in . . . about an hour?”

He traipsed into his bedroom, undressed, and stood in front of the full-length mirror. Over the past year or two he’d figured out how to look at himself with complete objectivity, at least in the nude. He squinted. His reflection fogged up, disconnected from him. Now he was a john–older, uglier, hornier. Was that cute kid in the mirror worth $100, $150? The cute kid smiled at Julian hopefully. Scratch, scratch, scratch. “What the . . .?” Julian peered over the cute kid’s right shoulder, refocusing his eyes.

His brother, Kevin, was out in the hall, slumped on the door frame, watching. One hand pawed his knee with a spidery motion. ‘so,” Julian said, “what do you think of your bro, Kev?” Kevin blinked. “You do realize you can barge right on in,” Julian added. Kevin’s mouth tilted a bit, but his eyes remained fixed on Julian’s ass, or on that general vicinity. “Hey, are you stoned or something?” Kevin shook his head, stepped in, turned stiffly, and clicked the door shut.

“What, is Mom on the rampage?” Julian said the word ‘mom” in italics. It was one of the two or three words that always woke Kevin up when he spaced out like this. The kid’s shoulders contracted an inch. ‘sort of, yeah.” “Well, sit.” Kevin eased himself down on the edge of the bed, squeezed his knees tightly together, and jammed his fists in between them. “But can we not talk about it, Julian? Can we talk about something . . . I don’t know?” He looked to his left. “About them?”

Kevin was looking painfully at the cover of the latest Black Sabbath LP. As usual, misery focused the kid in some way. Julian wanted to hug Kevin, or he didn’t want to exactly, it just seemed appropriate. Still, he was naked, so that made it inappropriate for reasons too complicated to think about. “What about them?” Julian leaned back on the icy mirror. “Is it good?” Kevin asked. “Yeah, you want to borrow it?” The mirror felt great. ‘sure.” Kevin smiled weirdly.

“Do you want to do your big brother a favor?” Kevin’s smile got less weird. Nod. “Well, first of all, do you ever think about sex?” Kevin brightened. “Think about it, yeah.” His left leg started to tremble very slightly. “Okay, could you put yourself in a mental state where you could tell me if I was sexy or not? Like if you were a girl or a fag or whatever?” ‘shit, Julian.” Kevin clutched his stomach with both hands, tongue out, panting. His eyes looked hypnotized, transplanted . . . something.

Julian: “What?” Kevin drew in his tongue. “I don’t know . . . ouch!” Julian watched him contort and groan, perplexed. Maybe the question was too complicated. It wasn’t like sex was off limits. There were pairs of little Jockey shorts caked with dried come stashed in crannies all over the kid’s bedroom. Julian had accidentally found them when he was scouring the house for drugs once. He’d even stolen a few pairs and given them out to friends as Christmas presents.

“I’m not saying you’re gay, Kev. I’m not imposing that on you. Or if I am, which maybe I am, forget I asked. Really.” That didn’t help. The kid was bouncing all over the place, squawking, swallowing, grabbing at things. Jesus Christ, Julian thought. He folded his arms and walked up to the bed. “Lie down, Kev. Relax.” “Oh, okay.” Kevin fell backward, bounced a couple of times, then rolled over cautiously onto his stomach. He started crawling toward Julian’s pillow.

Julian stood over Kevin and waited for something about him to change for the better. Kevin’s back inflated, deflated more normally. He shut up. The insignia on his T-shirt quit resembling a saddle. Phew, Julian thought. He started fetching his clothes from the floor around the bed. Then he tiptoed back to the mirror and slipped them on, piece by piece. “Kev, you okay?” he asked between socks. The head in the pillow stirred. “We can talk about this later?” More motion.

A half hour later Julian perched on the edge of a chair in my parents’ library. They’d gone out to dinner. The shelves were crammed with Reader’s Digest Condensed shit. I turned the dial of a clock radio, making a rock opera from severed parts of announcements and ads and hit songs. That sounded eerie for a while, but . . . “Enough!” Julian yelled. I stopped at a violent guitar riff. ‘dennis, I have to tell you about this thing with Kevin!” I turned down the volume a token amount. “Oh, gee, thanks a lot!

“Anyway, what happened was, he freaked out like he always does,” Julian yelled. “But maybe this time it was worse. Hard to tell. It happened in my room, so, obviously, it would have seemed worse. Anyway, he was lying on my bed afterward trying to calm down, and I was standing there looking at him, not knowing what to do and everything, and I felt mesmerized by his ass. You could see it through his pants, because of the way he was lying, I guess. So–”

“Perv!” I switched off the radio. Julian smirked. ‘maybe, but not for the obvious reason. Anyway, thanks. It was just . . . the thing was so perfect. It was like a . . . textbook ass. You know, a little boxy with rounded off corners and dents in the sides. Only Kevin’s was so small that I couldn’t have any kind of normal reaction to it at all. It was more like a toy than an ass, although that’s not right exactly. I mean, it was my brother’s ass, sure, but formally it was the ultimate ass, you know?”

I nodded and shrugged simultaneously. “I think,” Julian continued, “it was the thing’s scale. I don’t know what it made me understand . . . that the body isn’t inherently sexy? Partly, for sure. Or how Kevin’s totally fucked up inside, but his body’s so perfect outside, and what does that combination mean? I mean it’s just . . . oh, fuck, I don’t know.” He shut his eyes, baffled. “Well, I think he’s a doll,” said my voice. “Who, Kev?” Julian started massaging his eyelids. That helped.

“It could be the mescaline, though,” I added. Julian was studying the backs of his eyelids. When he turned away from the lamp, he saw reddish dark. Facing the lamp, teensy bits of graffiti appeared, flew about, shifting directions abruptly like UFOs. ‘me too, I guess.” He opened his eyes. I was rocking my chair, knuckles purplish-white barnacles on the armrests. Creak, creak, creak, creak. “Hey, I think I’m going to call this number on the back of my hand,” he said, ” . . . if I can still read it.”

Creak, creak, creak. Julian held his hand under the lampshade and squinted. The last digit was either a 1 or a 7. He made a lunge at the phone and started punching in numbers. Creak, creak, creak, creak. “Are you sure this guy’s cute?” I said nervously, almost hissing. “Because if he’s not . . .” “Yeah, yeah, ssh.” It was ringing. Creak, creak . . . Julian waved his hand at me frantically. ‘ssh!” Click. “Hi.” “Is Henry there?” ‘speaking.”

Henry’s clothes looked too baggy, at least in the mirror. Still, they were close to the stuff he’d been wearing the night Julian liked him supposedly. He took three steps backward, switched the phone to his left ear, squinted.

“Okay, great,” he mumbled. “It’ll be nice to–” Click. ” . . . to . . .” He hung up the phone. ” . . . to see you again,” he sighed, spacing out on his reflection.

Blur.

“Anyway . . .” He walked up to the mirror and unsnapped his jeans, which were so loose they plummeted to his shoes. He lifted the front of his T-shirt and fluffed out his black pubic hair, untangling a few little knots with his nails. “Fine.” He held up his cock by the head, let it drop. Thwap. Again. Thwap. “Hmm.” He turned his pimply back on himself and bent way over, putting his ass in the best possible light. ‘slurp,” he joked aloud. Actually it might look okay, he thought, if the crack wasn’t hairy. He spread the cheeks, eyed his ‘smelly mohawk,” as one “ex” had described it.

Henry leaned there, daydreaming about that particular “ex.” First the memory was general, him lounging around stoned in what’s-his-name’s mansion for weeks, getting tan, watching porn, ordering out. It was heaven. He tingled to think. Then one evening what’s-his-name brought home a hustler. That totally pissed Henry off for some reason. What’s-his-name and the hustler raped, then tried to strangle him. He flipped out, slashed an Impressionist painting worth millions of dollars. The hustler grabbed the knife, tried to stab Henry. He broke away, ran outside, waved down a car. The next day he woke up on his parents’ front lawn with a couple of shallow stab wounds in his chest and a bruise necklace.

“Shi-i-i-it.” Henry raised up too quickly or something. He had to grab onto the frame of the mirror and burp, burp, burp . . . Sweat dribbled out of his haircut and wound down his face in veiny patterns.

When the basement stopped whirling around, he realized how much he loved living there. Too bad there wasn’t a way to leave and enter without going up through his parents’ house. He’d often imagined a craggy, human-sized slot in the cinder block wall between the clock and TV, or, wait . . . Now that he thought of it, how about right here? The mirror could be the door. He’d glue a silver doorknob about an inch from the edge of the glass or Mylar or whatever this shiny stuff was.

He stood there a few seconds, skin bristling at the thought. He raised one arm and sort of studied a few of the zillions of tiny white peaks that had sprouted all over him. The sight made him feel weirdly tense and unliked for some reason.

“Fuck this.” Henry pulled up his jeans, jammed his hand into their front left pocket, came back with a wadded-up plastic bag. He swallowed whatever the fuck was inside it. Seven yellow pills, courtesy of Craig.

He loped up the stairs, down a hall, froze, backed up three steps, and looked to his right. “Weird.” He leaned in the doorway, appreciating the first little signs of whatever the pills were about to compose. So far there was only a slight glowing. But it helped him realize that the room where his parents were sitting was pretty much the same shape as his basement, if obviously scarier and less interesting to think about.

Ring.

“I’ll get it!” Henry tore down the hall, grabbed the telephone. “Hi. Henry speaking.”

“Hey, H., did you take those pills yet?” Craig asked in his crumbly, stoned voice. It made him sound more cute and friendly than he was.

“A few seconds ago.”

“Oh, yeah? Wait an hour. That’s how long ago I took my stuff and I can’t even pick up the phone. I’m on the floor . . . and . . . and . . . and I’m like lying on the receiver. My head’s on top of it. I had to, like . . . this is unbelievable. I had to pull the phone off the table by the cord and drag the thing to me, like in those commercials of old people dying of heart attacks? When they could have been saved by wearing little microphones around their necks?”

“Oh, shit.”

“What?”

“Nothing. It’s just that I’m going out. That guy Julian called. I agreed to go fuck with his boyfriend and him.”

“You planning to drive?”

“I was going to, but–”

“Listen, I’m, you won’t, you wouldn’t believe this . . . I’m so fucked up. The phone is soft. It feels soft. . .”

Henry scrunched up his face, calculating the time it would take to get the car, not to mention himself, across town. “Craig, look, shut up for a second. When did you start not being able to move or whatever?”

“Just now before I called. It’s getting scary. God, the room feels bad . . . uh, thick. It’s kind of hard to breathe. You . . . you remember my poster of Joni Mitchell at Woodstock? It’s, I mean it looks like she’s under . . . I think it’s . . . asphalt.”

“Craig, I need to find Julian before this thing happens to me.” He hung up the phone. Keys, he thought, and patted the lump in his front right pants pocket. “Okay, okay, okay . . .” He ran out the front door.

Unlocking the car was no problem. Starting was . . . different. The key looked like a jewel. Its design was incredibly intricate. He couldn’t stop studying it, even when it was plugged in. It seemed a million times more relevant to his car than the lines on the freeway.

Blur.

He slumped in the driver’s seat by a mansion, hopefully Julian’s, wondering if the lock on the passenger door was down or up. He tried to compare his lock, which was definitely up, with the passenger one, but since his lock was closer, it would seem taller in any case. ‘shit.” He swung himself out the door, kicked it shut.

He teetered around. One hand clutched a chilly bouquet of the ivy that poured off the mansion’s roof. His other hand jabbed at a dot on some antique molding that helpfully framed the out-of-focus front door. Once, twice . . .

(muffled) Ding, dong.

“Listen, Henry,” he slurred. ‘don’t. . . fucking . . . talk.” He tried to read his watch. “Jesus!” He held it right up to his eye. “Why the fuck . . . did I buy one of these pieces of shit with no numbers on it?”

Cre-e-e-eak.

The interior looked immense, dim, though yellowed by lamps in a few ornate spots. Far inside, or maybe not so far, stood a noisy silhouette. It was criticizing the way he looked, Henry felt almost sure. Another silhouette, more to Henry’s left, added comments but they weren’t as harsh. Besides, that one was whispering, whereas the farther one shouted. People didn’t whisper cruel things, to Henry’s knowledge.

“Hi, I . . . oops.” He’d tripped on the doormat or something, but one of the silhouettes grabbed his shirt sleeve mid-fall. “Thanks, uh . . .” Rustle. A chilly hand slid past the band of his underwear. It started digging around in his ass. “I’m sorry, I know my crack is kind of hairy,” he whispered, “but . . . ” He remembered the party. It seemed to revolve in his mind around Julian hugging him. The guy seemed so sensitive then. He glanced over his shoulder, saw a pale, blurry face. Then he squinted and blinked at the other guy, me. I was still too far away, badly lit. The effort to see me made Henry’s eyes water and sting so much he practically punched himself out trying to dry them off.

“Look, either don’t talk at all,” Julian said, rolling Henry over, “or try to say something hot about us, okay?” Henry murmured a word, but the drugs had eroded it. “Because you’re exactly our type. You don’t have to prove yourself.” I splayed my hands on Henry’s ass and pressed down, like he was lying in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The crack opened up. Julian cleared his throat, hocked some milky spit. Using his nails, he combed spit evenly through the hairs down there, reorganizing them into a spiral around the knotty, purple hole. “Yow,” he said, curled his lip, “this guy’s wild.”

Julian positioned his thumbs to either side of the hole, yanked. It flew wide open. One of my ears squashed against one of his. He and I peered into the glittering well. “It’s kind of unbelievably beautiful,” I said. “Yeah, in a weird sense,” Julian whispered. “It also reminds me of something, but I can’t think what.” My head lowered an inch, two, three. “Poor guy,” I muttered. Julian thought I looked psycho. “How so?” I just shrugged. “Oh, because it makes me want to fuck him over even more for some reason.”

“Mmm.” Julian slid two fingers into the ass. Henry’s arms, which had laid very limp and nondescript to this point, started snaking around on the rug. A hand found Julian’s knees and squeezed one of them twice. ‘spooky,” I said. The asshole had puffed up around Julian’s knuckles. It made him think of that famous fur tea cup. “When I met this guy,” he whispered, “I’d never, ever have guessed he was so out to lunch.” He worked the fingers loose, wiping them on his calves. “But let’s hurry before he gets sober and opinionated or whatever.”

I crawled toward Henry’s head. Julian reopened the asshole, spit, pushed in his cock, let the ass close around it. “Mmm.” He looked up. I was eyeing the part in Henry’s hair, or that general vicinity. “What?” Julian asked. “Oh, no big deal.” I grinned. “It’s just the way his hair’s fallen into his face, and how straight the hair is, makes his head look like a lamp shade.” Julian couldn’t quite picture that. “I’m assuming this dent here’s his mouth,” I added, arching my hips. “Unh.” A wrinkle appeared in my forehead. “Oh, yeah.” My head toppled back.

Julian: “Let’s trade.” My head raised. “What? Sure, yeah, fine.” Julian crawled up the body’s right side, and I crawled down the left. Once he’d molded his lower half to Henry’s shoulders and neck, with the head on his lap, Julian could see what I’d meant about the lamp shade. He pointed his cock at the wettest spot. It slid through the black folds. ‘mmm.” Then he noticed me lying facedown in the ass, eyes unfocused, my cheeks inflating, deflating . . . ‘dennis?” Julian cocked his head. Nothing. ‘dennis?!” He snapped his fingers . . .

. . . Julian figured out a way to lift Henry’s face fairly high in the air, then drop it onto his cock, which would end up somewhere in the neck. That felt unbelievable. Plus, each updown motion had a delayed, peculiar effect on Henry’s ass. The cheeks would cave in, then reinflate like lungs, giving Julian goosebumps and, from the look of it, making the route to the anus more pretty and treacherous for me. Even the guy’s back improved. The homely spine and rib cage got swallowed up by the crazy pattern of his musculature or whatever. . .

. . . “Can you rim me? Are you in any condition . . .?” Julian held one ear about an inch up from Henry’s mouth. The guy was breathing, but it seemed a little too gentle and fragrant somehow, more like smoke. Julian sat back and squinted at me. “What if he OD’s?” I was licking the guy’s toes. “It’s weird how . . . when feet are a little dirty . . . they’re spicy,” I said between licks. “But are they cold?” Julian asked. I quit licking. “Oh, I get it. Well, er, slap the guy.” Julian aimed one palm, smacked Henry’s cheek. “Hey,” Henry groaned, “what the . . . fucking . . . ”

. . . “Is he hard?” Julian asked. “Can you . . . reach down?” Most of my face disappeared behind Henry’s ass, and tilted ninety degrees like a sinking ship. “Uh, no, not even close. It feels, what . . . squishy, rubbery?” I raised up. “Have you ever noticed,” Julian said, his voice shaky from fucking the guy’s mouth so hard, “how people don’t get erections with us? Is it that the type we respond to is sort of asexual or something?” I pursed my lips. “Yeah, it’s weird not to swallow their sperm.” Julian shrugged. “I intend to, abstractly,” he said, “but all I ever think about is dumping mine.” . . .

. . . Henry stank, worse or better depending on where Julian licked. He’d had so much sex he could rank body odors. Asshole, profound. Crotch, overrated. Mouth, profound. Hair on head, underrated. Hands and feet, nice. Armpits, too blatant. Julian settled down on the ass. My face was wedged between Henry’s thighs, pupils dilated, open mouth stuffed with wrinkly balls. ‘mmm.” Julian kissed me, imprisoning the balls, which he jabbed with the tip of his tongue. Occasionally I batted one back, as if it were the “ball” in a very crude sport. . .

. . . “Take control, yeah?” Julian let Henry go. The body toppled against me, slid down. I caught it. Hair was stuck to the sweat on Henry’s face in ugly, hippieish patterns. Julian reached under the glass coffee table, grabbed the guy’s discarded Adidas, unlaced one, threw it over his shoulder. He gathered and tied the locks into a tight ponytail. “Better,” he said, sitting back on his heels. ‘definitely. He’s almost perfect now. Hmm. Eliminate one, two. . . two scars, some body hair, an eighth-inch around each nipple . . . maybe a little less nose . . . uh . . .” Julian squinted.