THE NOTION OF MURDER OFTEN BRINGS TO MIND TILE NOTION OF sea and sailors. Sea and sailors do not, at first, appear as a definite image–it is rather that ‘murder” starts up a feeling of waves. If one considers that seaports are the scene of frequent crimes, the association seems self-explanatory; but there are numerous stories from which we learn that the murderer was a man of the sea–either a real one, or a fake one-and if the latter is the case, the crime will be even more closely connected to the sea. The man who dons a sailor’s outfit does not do so out of prudence only. His disguise relieves him from the necessity of going through all the rigamarole required in the execution of any preconceived murder.
Thus we could say that the outfit does the following things for the criminal: it envelops him in clouds; it gives him the appearance of having come from that far-off line of the horizon where sea touches sky; with long, undulating and muscular strides he can walk across the waters, personifying the Great Bear, the Pole Star or the Southern Cross; it (we are still discussing this particular disguise, as used by a criminal) it allows him to assume dark continents where the sun sets and rises, where the moon sanctions murder under roofs of bamboo beside motionless rivers teeming with alligators; it gives him the opportunity to act within the illusion of a mirage, to strike while one of his feet is still resting upon a beach in Oceania and the other propelling him across the waters toward Europe; it grants him oblivion in advance, as sailors always ‘return from far away” it allows him to consider landlubbers as mere vegetation. It cradles the criminal, it enfolds him–in the tight fit of his sweater, in the amplitude of his bell-bottoms. It casts a sleep-spell on the already fascinated victim. We shall talk about the sailor’s mortal flesh. We ourselves have witnessed scenes of seduction. In that very long sentence beginning “it envelops him in clouds . . . ,” we did indulge in facile poeticisms, each one of the propositions being merely an argument in favor of the author’s personal proclivities. It is, admittedly, under the sign of a very singular inner feeling that we would set down the ensuing drama. We would also like to say that it addresses itself to inverts. The notion of love or lust appears as a natural corollary to the notion of Sea and Murder–and it is, moreover, the notion of love against nature. No doubt the sailors who are transported by (“animated by” would appear more exact, we’ll see that later on) the desire and need to murder, apprenticed themselves first to the Merchant Navy, thus are veterans of long voyages, nourished on ships’ biscuit and the cat-o’-nine-tails, used to leg-irons for any little mistake, paid off in some obscure port, signed on again to handle some questionable cargo; and yet, it is difficult, in a city of fogs and granite, to brush past the huskies of the Fighting Navy, trained and trimmed by and for deeds we like to think of as daring, those shoulders, profiles, earrings, those tough and turbulent rumps, those strong and supple boys, without imagining them capable of murders that seem entirely justified by their deigning to commit them with their noble bodies. Whether they descend from heaven or return from a realm where they have consorted with sirens and even more fabulous monsters, on land these sailors inhabit buildings of stone, arsenals, palaces whose solidity is opposed to the nervousness, the feminine irritability of the waters (does not the sailor, in one of his songs, speak of how ” . . . the sea’s my best girl”?), by jetties loaded with chains, bollards, buoys, maritime paraphernalia to which, even when farthest from the sea, they know themselves anchored. To match their stature they are provided with barracks, forts, disused penitentiaries, magnificent pieces of architecture, all of them. Brest is a hard, solid city, built out of gray Breton granite. Its rocklike quality anchors the port, giving the sailors a sense of security, a launching point when outward bound, a haven of rest after the continuous wave-motion of the sea. If Brest ever seems more lighthearted, it is when a feeble sun gilds the fa”ades which are as noble as those of Venice, or when its narrow streets teem with carefree sailors–or, then, even when there is fog and rain. The action of this story starts three days after a despatch-boat, Le Vengeur, had anchored in the Roads. Other warships lie round her: La Panth’re, Le Vainqueur, Le Sanglant, and around these, Le Richelieu, Le B”arn, Le Dunkerque, and more. Those names have their counterparts in the past. On the walls of a side chapel in the church of Saint-Yves, in La Rochelle, hang a number of small votive paintings representing ships that have been either lost or saved: La Mutine, Le Saphir, Le Cyclone, La F”e, La Jeune Aim”e. These ships had had no influence whatsoever on Querelle who had seen them sometimes as a child, yet we must mention their existence. For the ships’ crews, Brest will always be the city of La F”ria. Far from France, sailors never talk about this brothel without cracking a joke and hooting like owls, the way they talk about ducks in China or weird Annamites, and they evoke the proprietor and his wife in terms like:
‘shoot a game of craps with you–like at Nono’s, I mean!”
“That guy, for a piece of ass he’d do anything–he’d even play with Nono.”
“Him there, he went to La F”ria to lose.”
While the Madam’s name is never mentioned, the names of “La F”ria” and “Nono’ must have traveled all around the world, in sarcastic asides on the lips of sailors everywhere. On board there never is anybody who would know exactly what La F”ria really is, nor do they precisely know the rules of the game which has given it such a reputation, but no one, not even the greenest recruit, dare ask for an explanation; each and every seafarin” man will have it understood that he knows what it is all about. Thus the establishment in Brest appears ever in a fabulous light, and the sailors, as they approach that port, secretly dream of that house of ill repute which they’ll mention only as a laughing matter. Georges Querelle, the hero of this book, speaks of it less than anyone. He knows that his own brother is the Madam’s lover. Here is the letter, received in C’diz, informing him of this:
I’m writing you these few lines to let you know that I’m back in Brest. I had planned on that dockyard job again, but, nothing doing. So there I was, stuck. And as you know, I’m none too good at finding the jobs, and besides, who wants to work his ass off anyhow. So, to get off the ground again, I went round to Milo’s place and right after that the boss lady of La F”ria was giving me the old eye. Did my best, we’re getting along like a house on fire. The boss doesn’t give a shit who goes with his woman, they’re just business partners like they say. So, I’m in pretty good shape. Hope you’re in good shape too, and when you get some furlough, etc.
Sometimes it rains in September. The rain makes the light cotton clothes–open shirts and denims–stick to the skin of the muscular men working in port and Arsenal. Again, some evenings the weather is fine when the groups of masons, carpenters, mechanics come out from the shipyards. They are weary. They look heavily burdened, and even when their expressions lighten, their workshoes, their heavy steps seem to shatter the pools of air around them. Slowly, ponderously they traverse the lighter, quicker, more rapid hither-and-thither of sailors on shore leave who have become the pride of this city which will scintillate till dawn with their nautical swagger, the gusts of their laughter, their songs, their merriment, the insults they yell at the girls; with their kisses, their wide collars, the pompons on their hats. The laborers return to their lodgings. An through the day they have toiled (servicemen, soldiers or sailors, never have that feeling of having toiled), blending their actions in a network of common endeavor, for the purposes of an achieved work like a visible, tightly drawn knot, and now they are returning. A shadowy friendship-shadowy to them–unites them, and also a quiet hatred. Few of them are married, and the wives of those live some distance away. Toward six o’clock in the evening it is when the workmen pass through the iron gates of the Arsenal and leave the dockyard. They walk up in the direction of the railroad station where the canteens are, or down the road to Recouvrance where they have their furnished rooms in cheap hotels. Most of them are Italians and Spaniards, though there are some North Africans and Frenchmen as well. It is in the midst of such a surfeit of fatigue, heavy muscles, virile lassitude, that Sublieutenant Seblon of the Vengeur loves to take his evening walk.
They used to have this cannon permanently trained upon the penitentiary. Today the same cannon (its barrel only) stands mounted upright in the middle of the same courtyard where once the convicts were mustered for the galleys. It is astonishing that turning criminals into sailors used to be regarded as a form of punishment.
Went past La F”ria. Saw nothing. Never any luck. Over in Recouvrance I caught a glimpse of an accordion–a sight I frequently see on board, yet never tire of watching–folding, unfolding on a sailor’s thigh.
Se brester, to brace oneself. Derives, no doubt, from bretteur, fighter: and so, relates to se quereller, to pick a fight.
When I learn–if only from the newspaper–that some scandal is breaking, or when I’m just afraid that it may break upon the world, I make preparations to get away: I always believe that I shall be suspected of being the prime mover. I regard myself as a demon-ridden creature, merely because I have imagined certain subjects for scandal.
As tor the hoodlums I hold in my arms, tenderly kissing and caressing their faces before gently covering them up again in my sheets, they are no more than a kind of passing thrill and experiment combined. After having been so overwhelmed by the loneliness to which my inversion condemns me, is it really possible that I may some day hold naked in my arms, and continue to hold, pressed close to my body, those young men whose courage and hardness place them so high in my esteem that I long to throw myself at their feet and grovel before them? I dare hardly believe this, and tears well up in my eyes, to thank God for granting me such happiness. My tears make me feel soft. I melt. My own cheeks still wet with tears, I revel in, and overflow with tenderness for, the flat, hard cheekbones of those boys.
That severe, at times almost suspicious look, a look that seems to pass judgment, with which the pederast appraises every young man he encounters, is really a brief, but intense meditation on his own loneliness. That instant (the duration of the glance) is filled with a concentrated and constant despair, with its own jagged frequency, sheathed in the fear of rebuff. “It would be so great . . . ,” he thinks. Or, if he isn’t thinking, it expresses itself” in his frown, in that black, condemning look.
Whenever some part of his body happens to be naked, He (that is Querelle, whose name the officer never writes down–this not merely for the sake of prudence as regards his fellow officers and superiors, since in their eyes the contents of his diary would be quite sufficient to damn him) starts examining it. He looks for blackheads, split nails, red pimples. Irritated when he can’t find any, he invents some. As soon as he has nothing better to do, he becomes engrossed in this game. Tonight he is examining his legs: their black, strong hairs are quite soft in spite of their vigorous growth, and thus they create a kind of mist from toot to groin, which softens the roughness and abruptness, one might almost say, the stoniness of his muscles. It amazes me how such a virile trait can envelop his legs with such great sweetness. He amuses himself by applying a burning cigarette to his hairs and then bends over them to savor the scorched smell. He is not smiling any more than usual. His own body in repose is his great passion–a morose, not an exultant passion. Bent over his body, he sees himself there. He examines it with an imaginary magnifying glass. He observes its minuscule irregularities with the scrupulous attention of an entomologist studying the habits of insects. But as soon as He moves, what dazzling revenge his entire body takes, in the glory of its motion!
He (Querelle) is never absent-minded, always attentive to what he is doing. Every moment of his life he rejects the dream. He is forever present. He never answers: “I was thinking of something else.” And yet the childishness of his obvious preoccupations astonishes me.
Hands in pockets, lazily, I would say to him, “Give me a little shove, just to knock the ash off my cigarette,” and he would let fly and punch me on the shoulder. I shrug it off.
I should have been able to keep my sea legs or hang on to the gunwale, the ship wasn’t rolling that hard, but quickly, and with pleasure, I took advantage of the ship’s motion to sway and to allow myself to be shifted along, always in his direction. I even managed to brush against his elbow.
It is as if a fierce and devoted watchdog, ready to chew up your carotid artery, were following him around, trotting, at times, between the calves of his legs, so that the beast’s Banks seem to blend with his thigh muscles, ready to bite, always growling and snarling, so ferocious one expects to see it bite off his balls.
After these few excerpts picked (but not entirely at random) from a private journal which suggested his character to us, we would like you to look upon the sailor Querelle, born from that solitude in which the officer himself remained isolated, as a singular figure comparable to the Angel of the Apocalypse, whose feet rest on the waters of the sea. By meditating on Querelle, by using, in his imagination, his most beautiful traits, his muscles, his rounded parts, his teeth, his guessed at genitals, Lieutenant Seblon has turned the sailor into an angel (as we shall see, he describes him as “the Angel of Loneliness’), that is to say, into a being less and less human, crystalline, around whom swirl strands of a music based on the opposite of harmony–or rather, a music that is what remains after harmony has been used up, worn out, and in the midst of which this immense angel moves, slowly, unwitnessed, his feet on the water, but his head–or what should be his head–in a dazzle of rays from a supernatural sun.
They themselves tending to deny it, the strangely close resemblance between the two brothers Querelle appeared attractive only to others. They met only in the evenings, as late as possible, in the one bed of a furnished room not far from where their mother had eked out her meager existence. They met again, perhaps, but somewhere so deep down that they could not see anything clearly, in their love for their mother, and certainly in their almost daily arguments. In the morning they parted without a word. They wanted to ignore each other. Already, at the age of fifteen, Querelle had smiled the smile that was to be peculiarly his for the rest of his life. He had chosen a life among thieves and spoke their argot. We’ll try to bear this in mind in order to understand Querelle whose mental makeup and very feelings depend upon, and assume the form of, a certain syntax, a particular murky orthography. In his conversation we find turns like “peel him raw!” “boy, am I flying,” “oh, beat off!” “he better not show his ass in here again,” “he got burnt all right,” “get that punk,” ‘see the guy making tracks,” “hey, baby, dig my hard-on,” ‘suck me off,” etc., expressions which are never pronounced clearly, but muttered in a kind of monotone and as if from within, without the speaker really ‘seeing” them. They are not projected, and thus Querelle’s words never reveal him; they do not really define him at all. On the contrary, they seem to enter through his mouth, to pile up inside him, to settle and to form a thick mud deposit, out of which, at times, a transparent bubble rises, exploding delicately on his lips. What one hears, then, is one of those bits of the argot.
As for the police in port and city, Brest lay under the authority of its Commissariat: in the time of our novel there were two Inspectors, joined together by a singular friendship, by the names of Mario Daugas and Marcellin. The latter was little more than an excrescence to Mario (it is well known that policemen always come in pairs), dull and painstaking enough, yet sometimes a source of great comfort to his colleague. However, there was yet another collaborator whom Mario had chosen. more subtle and more dear–more easily sacrificed, too, should that become necessary: D’d”.
Like every French town, Brest had its Monoprix store, a favorite stamping ground for D’d” and numerous sailors who circulated among the counters, coveting–and sometimes purchasing–pairs of gloves, of all things. To complete the picture, the old-time control by the Admiralty had been replaced by the services of the Prefecture Maritime.
Bought or stolen from a sailor, the blue denim pants belled over his entrancing feet, now motionless and arched after the final table-shaking stamp. He was wearing highly polished black shoes, cracked and crinkled at the point reached by the ripples of blue denim that ran down from the source of his belt. His torso was encased very tightly in a turtleneck jersey of white, slightly soiled wool. Querelle’s parted lips slowly began to close. He started to raise the half-smoked cigarette to his mouth, but his hand came to rest halfway up his chest, and the mouth remained half-open: he was gazing at Gil and Roger, who were united by the almost visible thread of their glances, by the freshness of their smiles; and Gil seemed to be singing for the boy, and Roger, like the sovereign at some intimate rite of debauch, to be favoring this young eighteen-year-old mason, so that with his voice he could be the hero of a roadside tavern for a night. “The way the sailor was watching the two of them had the effect of isolating them. Once again, Querelle became aware of his mouth hanging half-open. His smile became more pronounced at the corner of his mouth, almost imperceptibly. A tinge of irony began to spread over his features, then over his entire body, giving him and his relaxed posture leaning back against the wall an air of amused sarcasm. Altered by the raising of an eyebrow, to match the crooked smile, his expression became somewhat malicious as he continued his scrutiny of the two young men. The smile vanished from Gil’s lips, as if the entire ball of string had been unrolled, and at the same moment expired on Roger’s face; but four seconds later, regaining his breath and taking up the song again, Gil, once more on top of the table, resumed his smile, which brought back and sustained, until the very last couplet of the song. the smile on Roger’s lips. Not for a second did their eyes stray from the eyes of the other. Gil was singing. Querelle shifted his shoulders against the wall of the bistro. He became aware of himself, felt himself pitting his own living mass, the powerful muscles of his back, against the black and indestructible matter of that wall. Those two shadowy substances struggled in silence. Querelle knew the beauty of his back. We shall see how, a few days later, he was to secretly dedicate it to Lieutenant Seblon. Almost without moving, he let his shoulders ripple against the wall, its stones. He was a strong man. One hand–the other remaining in the pocket of his peacoat–raised a half-smoked cigarette to his lips, still holding the half-smile. Robert and the two other sailors were oblivious to everything but the song. Querelle retained his smile. To use an expression much favored by soldiers, Querelle shone by his absence. After letting a little smoke drift in the direction of his thoughts (as though he wanted to veil them, or show them a touch of insolence), his lips remained slightly drawn apart from his teeth, whose beauty he knew, their whiteness dimmed, now, by the night and the shadow cast by his upper lip. Watching Gil and Roger, now reunited by glance and smile, he could not make up his mind to withdraw, to enclose within himself those teeth and their gentle splendor, which had the same restful effect on his vague thoughts as the blue of the sea has on our eyes. Meanwhile, he was lightly running his tongue over his palate. It was alive. One of the sailors started to go through the motions of buttoning his peacoat, turning up the collar. Querelle was not used to the idea, one that had never really been formulated, that he was a monster. He considered, he observed his past with an ironic smile, frightened and tender at the same time, to the extent that this past became confused with what he himself was. Thus might a young boy whose soul is evident in his eyes, but who has been metamorphosed into an alligator, even if he were not fully conscious of his horrendous head and jaws, consider his scaly body, his solemn, gigantic tail, with which he strikes the water or the beach or brushes against that of other monsters, and which extends him with the same touching, heart-rending and indestructible majesty as the train of a robe, adorned with lace, with crests, with battles, with a thousand crimes, worn by a Child Empress, extends her. He knew the horror of being alone, seized by an immortal enchantment in the midst of the world of the living. Only to him had been accorded the horrendous privilege to perceive his monstrous participation in the realms of the great muddy rivers and the rain forests. And he was apprehensive that some light, emanating from within his body, or from his true consciousness, might not be illuminating him, might not, in some way from inside the scaly carapace, give off a reflection of that true form and make him visible to men, who would then have to hunt him down.
In some places along the ramparts of Brest, trees have been planted, and these grow in alleys bearing the perhaps derisive name of the “Bois de Boulogne.” Here, in the summer, there are a few bistros where one can sit and drink at wooden tables swollen by rain and fog, under the trees or in arbors. The sailors had vanished into the shade of those trees, with a girl; Querelle let them, his buddies, take their turns with her, and then he came up to her as she lay stretched out on the grass. He proceeded to unbutton his fly, but after a brief, charming hesitation expressed in his fingers, he readjusted it again. Querelle felt calm. He had only to give the slightest turn of the head, to left or right, to feel his cheek rub against the stiff, upturned collar of his peacoat. This contact reassured him. By it, he knew himself to be clothed, marvelously clothed.
Later, when he was taking off his shoes, the bistro scene came back to Querelle’s mind, who lacked the ability to assign it any precise significance. He could hardly put it into words. He knew only that it had aroused a faint sense of amusement in him. He could not have said why. Knowing the severity, the austerity almost, of his face and its pallor, this irony gave him what is commonly called a sarcastic air. For a moment or two he had remained amazed by the rapport that was established and understood and became almost an object between the eyes of those two: the one up on the table, singing there, his head bent down toward the other, who was sitting and gazing up at him. Querelle pulled off one of his socks. Apart from the material benefits derived from his murders, Querelle was enriched by them in other ways. They deposited in him a kind of slimy sediment, and the stench it gave off served to deepen his despair. From each one of his victims he had preserved something a little dirty: a slip, a bra, shoelaces, a handkerchief–objects sufficient to disprove his alibis and to condemn him. These relics were firsthand evidence of his splendor, of his triumphs. They were the shameful details, upon which all luminous but uncertain appearances rest. In the world of sailors with their striking good looks, virility, and pride, they were the secret counterparts of a greasy, broken-toothed comb at the bottom of a pocket; full-dress gaiters, from a distance impeccable as sails, but, like those, far from true white; a pair of elegant but poorly tailored pants; badly drawn tattoos; a filthy handkerchief; socks with holes in them. What for us is the strongest memory of Querelle’s expression can best be described by an image that comes to mind: delicate metal strands, sparsely barbed, easily overcome, grasped by a prisoner’s heavy hand, or grazing against sturdy fabric. Almost in spite of himself, quietly, to one of his mates, already stretched out in his hammock, Querelle said:
“Pair of fuckin” faggots, those two.”
Querelle raised his head. His buddy, it seemed, didn’t get it. And that was the end of the conversation. Querelle pulled off his other sock and turned in. Not that he wanted to sleep, or think over the scene in the bistro. Once he was stretched out, he had at last the leisure to consider his own affairs, and he had to think quick, in spite of his fatigue. The owner of La F”ria would take the two kilos of opium, if Querelle only could get them out of the despatch-boat. The customs officials opened all sailors’ bags, even the smallest ones. Coming ashore, all but the officers were subjected to a thorough search. Without cracking a smile, Querelle thought of the Lieutenant. The enormity of this idea struck him even while he was thinking what only he himself could have translated into:
“He’s been giving me the old eye for some time now. Nervous like a cat on a hot tin roof. I got him hooked, I guess.”
Querelle was glad to know that Robert was now living a life of Oriental ease and luxury; to know that he was a brothel Madam’s lover as well as a friend to her obliging husband. He closed his eyes. He regained that region in himself where his brother was there with him. He let himself sink into a state where neither could be distinguished from the other. From this state he was able to extract, first, some words, and then, by a fairly elementary process, little by little, a thought–which, as it rose from those depths, again differentiated him from Robert and proposed singular acts, an entire system of solitary operations: quite gently these became his own, completely his, and Vic was there, with him, taking part. And Querelle, whose thoughts had overcome his personal autonomy in order to reach Vic, turned away again, re-entered himself, in the blind search for that inexpressible limbo which is like some inconsistent P”t” of love. He was hardly touching his curled-up prick. He felt no urge. While still at sea, he had announced to the other sailors that once in Brest, he was sure going to shoot his wad; but tonight he wasn’t even thinking about whether he should have kissed that girl.
Querelle was an exact replica of his brother. Robert, perhaps a little more taciturn, the other, a little hotter in temper (nuances by which one could tell them from each other, except if one was a furious girl). It so happens that we ourselves acquired our sense of Querelle’s existence on a particular day, we could give the exact date and hour of–when we decided to write this story (and that is a word not to be used to describe some adventure or series of adventures that has already been lived through). Little by little, we saw how Querelle–already contained in our flesh–was beginning to grow in our soul, to feed on what is best in us, above all on our despair at not being in any way inside him, while having him inside of ourselves. After this discovery of Querelle we want him to become the Hero, even to those who may despise him. Following, within ourselves, his destiny, his development, we shall see how he lends himself to this in order to realize himself in a conclusion that appears to be (from then on) in complete accordance with his very own will, his very own fate.
The scene we are about to describe is a transposition of the event which revealed Querelle to us. (We are still referring to that ideal and heroic personage, the fruit of our secret loves.) We must say, of that event, that it was of equal import to the Visitation. No doubt it was only long after it had taken place that we recognized it as being “big” with consequences, yet there and then we may be said to have felt a true Annunciatory thrill. Finally: to become visible to you, to become a character in a novel, Querelle must be shown apart from ourselves. Only then will you get to know the apparent, and real, beauty of his body, his attitudes, his exploits, and their slow disintegration.
The farther you descend toward the port of Brest, the denser the fog seems to grow. It is so thick at Recouvrance, after you cross the Penfeld bridge, that the houses, their walls and roofs appear to be afloat. In the alleys leading down to the quayside you find yourself alone. Here and there you encounter the dim, fringed sun, like a light from a half-open dairy doorway. On you go through that vaporous twilight, until confronted once more by the opaque matter, the dangerous fog that shelters: a drunken sailor reeling home on heavy legs–a docker hunched over a girl–a hoodlum, perhaps armed with a knife–us–you–hearts pounding. The fog brought Gil and Roger closer together. It gave them mutual confidence and friendship. Though they were hardly aware of it as yet, this privacy instilled in them a hesitation, a little fearful, a little tremulous, a charming emotion akin to that in children when they walk along, hands in pockets, touching, stumbling over each other’s feet.
‘shit–watch your step! Keep going.”
“That must be the quay. Never mind “em.”
“And why not? You got the jitters?”
“No, but sometimes . . .”
Now and again they sensed a woman walking by, saw the steady glow of a cigarette, guessed at the outline of a couple locked in an embrace.
“Howzat . . .? Sometimes what?”
“Oh come on, Gil, no need to take it out on me. It ain’t my fault my sister wasn’t able to make it.”
And, a little quieter, after two more steps in silence:
“You can’t have been thinking too much about Paulette, last night, dancing with that brunette?”
“What the fuck’s that to you? Yeah, I danced with her. So what?”
“Well! You weren’t just dancing, you took her home, too.”
‘so what, I’m not hitched to your sister, jack. Look who’s talking. All I’m saying is, you could have made sure that she came along.” Gil was speaking quite loudly, but none too distinctly, so as to be understood only by Roger. Then he lowered his voice, and a note of anxiety crept into it.
‘so, what about it?”
“Gil, you know it, I just couldn’t swing it for you. I swear.”
They turned to the left, in the direction of the Navy warehouses. A second time they bumped into one another. Automatically, Gil put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. It remained there. Roger slackened his pace, hoping that his buddy would stop. Would it happen? He was almost melting, feeling infinitely tender; but at that moment someone passed by-he and Gilbert were not in a place of perfect solitude. Gil let go of his shoulder and put his hand back into his pocket, and Roger thought that he had been rejected. Yet, when he took his hand away, Gil couldn’t help bearing down a little harder, just as he let go, as if some kind of regret at taking it away had added to its weight. And now Gil had a hard-on.
He tried to visualize a sharp image of Paulette’s face, and was immediately tempted by his erratic mind to concentrate on another point, on what Roger’s sister had under her skirt, between her thighs. Needing an easily, immediately accessible physical prop, he said to himself, thinking in the inflections of cynicism:
“Well, here’s her brother, right beside me, in the fog!”
It was then that it seemed to him it would be a delight to enter that warmth, that black, fur-fringed, slightly pursed hole that emits such vague, yet ponderous and fiery odors, even in corpses already cold.
‘she gives me the hots, your sister, you know.” Roger smiled, from ear to ear. He turned his radiant face toward Gil.
“Aaahh . . . “
The sound was both gentle and hoarse, seeming to originate in the pit of Gil’s stomach, nothing so much as an anguished sigh born at the base of his throbbing rod. He realized that there was a rapid, immediate line connecting the base of his prick to the back of his throat and to that muffled groan. We would like these reflections, these observations, which cannot fully round out nor delineate the characters of the book, to give you permission to act not so much as onlookers as creators of these very characters, who will then slowly disengage themselves from your own preoccupations. Little by little, Gil’s prick was getting lively. In his pants pocket his hand had hold of it, flattening it against his belly. Indeed, it had the stature of a tree, a mossy-boled oak with lamenting mandrakes being born among its roots. (Sometimes, when he woke up with a hard-on, Gil would address his prick as ‘my hanged man.”) They walked on, but at a slower pace.
‘she gives you the hots, eh?”
The light of Roger’s smile came close to illuminating the fog, making the stars sparkle through. It made him happy to hear, right there beside him, how Gil’s amorous desire made his mouth water.
“You think that’s funny, don”cha.”
Teeth clenched, hands still in pockets, Gil turned to face the boy and forced him to retreat into a recess in the stone wall. He kept pushing him with his belly, his chest. Roger kept on smiling, a little less radiantly perhaps, hardly shrinking back from the thrust of the other young man’s face. Gil was now leaning against him with his entire vigorous body.
“You think that’s a scream, hey?”
Gil took one of his hands out of his pocket. He put it on Roger’s shoulder, so close to the collar that the thumb brushed against the cool skin of the kid’s neck. His shoulders against the wall, Roger let himself slide down a little, as if wanting to appear smaller. He was still smiling.
‘so say something? You think it’s funny? Eh?”
Gil advanced like a conqueror, almost like a lover. His mouth was both cruel and soft, like those movie seducers’ mouths under their thin black mustaches, and his expression turned suddenly so serious that Roger’s smile, by a faint drooping of the corners of his mouth, now seemed a little sad. With his back to the wall, Roger kept on sliding, holding that wistful smile with which he looked to be sinking, submerging in the monstrous wave that Gil was riding, one hand still in pocket, clutching that great spar.
“Aaahh . . .” Again, Gil voiced that groan, hoarse and remote, that we have had occasion to describe.
“Oh, yeah, I’d like to have her here, all right. And you bet your ass I’d screw her, and good, if I had her here, the way I’ve got you!”
Roger said nothing. His smile disappeared. His eyes kept on meeting Gil’s stare, and the only gentleness he could see there was in Gil’s eyebrows, powdered with chalk and cement dust.
He thought: “This is Gil. It’s Gilbert Turko. He’s from Poland. He’s been working at the Arsenal, on the gantry, with the other masons. He’s in a rage.”
Close to Gil’s ear, under his breath which entered the fog, he murmured:
“Oh . . . I Oh … ! I sure could use a piece of her, right now. You, you look alike, you know. You’ve got that same little mouth of hers.”
He moved his hand closer to Roger’s neck. Finding himself so the master, in the heart of the light mass of watery air, increased Gil Turko’s desire to be tough, sharp and heavy. To rip the fog, to destroy it with a sudden brutal gesture, would perhaps be enough to affirm his virility, which otherwise, on his return to quarters tonight, would suffer mean and powerful humiliation.
“Got her eyes, too. What a shame you ain’t her. Hey, what’s this? You passing out?”
As if to prevent Roger from “passing out,” he pressed his belly closer still to his, pushing him against the wall, while his free hand kept hold of the charming head, holding it above the waves of a powerful and arrogant sea, the sea that was Gil. They remained motionless, one shoring up the other.
“What are you going to tell her?”
“I’ll try to get her to come along tomorrow.” Despite his inexperience, Roger understood the extent, if not quite the meaning of his confusion, when he heard the sound of his own voice: it was toneless.
“And the other thing I told you about?”
“I’ll try my best about that too. We going back now?”
They pulled apart, quickly. Suddenly they heard the sea. From the very beginning of this scene they had been close to the water’s edge. For a moment both of them felt frightened at the thought of having been so close to danger. Gil took out a cigarette and lit it. Roger saw the beauty of his face that looked as if it had been picked, like a flower, by those large hands, thick and covered with powdery dust, their palms illuminated now by a delicate and trembling flame.