The Coming of the Nightby John Rechy
“The question Rechy asks is still potent: Would you die for sex? Rechy’s sizzling literary response . . . is as exciting as it is chilling.” –Pamela Warrick, Los Angeles Times
When it was first published, John Rechy’s City of Night created a sensation and became an international bestseller. In The Coming of the Night, Rechy returns to some of the themes and scenes of his now-classic first novel. A stunning evocation of gay desire in the moment just before AIDS, this book confirms the author’s position as America’s preeminent gay writer.
It is 1981, a hot summer night, and an unscripted ritual is about to take place. Jesse, “the kid,” is celebrating one year on the dazzling gay scene and plans to lose himself completely in its transient pleasures. Clint has fled New York with a sense of unease in the wake of a vicious gay-bashing and a night in the sexual underground. Buzz, Boo, Toro, Fredo, and Linda are cruising the city looking for danger, and so is Dave, a “leatherman” devoted to S&M and testing limits. And a priest is searching the streets for a young hustler named Angel, determined to bring him to Jesus. In this city of night we meet, among others, a black cowboy, a bodybuilder obsessed with his sexual prowess, a hilarious drag-queen porn director hired to rehearse her stars for a closeted Hollywood mogul, and a middle-aged romantic hiding in memory and fantasy from a new gay world increasingly obsessed with youth and beauty. As the Santa Ana winds, renowned for stirring up desires and violence, breathe fire down the hills of Los Angeles, this cast of characters circles ever closer to the night–and to a confrontation as astonishing as it is inevitable.
The Coming of the Night is as much an ode to the golden age of promiscuity as it is an unflinching exploration of the dark side of desire. Tightly constructed, beautifully executed, humorous, and compassionate, it proves once again that as a novelist and trenchant chronicler of gay life, John Rechy has no parallel.
“The question Rechy asks is still potent: Would you die for sex? Rechy’s sizzling literary response . . . is as exciting as it is chilling.” –Pamela Warrick, Los Angeles Times
“A remarkable fusion of taut writing and unapologetic sexual energy.” –Jameson Currier, Dallas Morning News
“An elegy of a lost era.” –Lester Strong, Arts & Understanding
“With his ground-breaking City of Night in 1963, Rechy wrote the manual for gay representation in contemporary literature, and. . . . With his latest, The Coming of the Night, the author comes full circle, having narratively mapped the entire span of modern gay consciousness . . . [His] style has a lyricism and emotional content that belies its simplicity . . . There is no escape from the coming night.” –Flaunt
“A rhapsody of odd, quirky, hilarious people trying to find meaning and chaos in Southern California . . . The ending to the novel is frenetic, sweaty, almost religious.” –El Paso Times
“An erotic, passionate, somewhat violent tour of over twenty gay male lives during the summer of 1981, complete with pre-AIDS, uninhibited sexuality. Already making waves for its brazenly controversial content and unabashedly candid prose, Rechy’s new work is nothing short of combustible gay erotic fiction.” –Metrowest Daily News
“The Coming of the Night follows a cast of colorful characters as they confront the dangers of being gay and passionate . . . Rechy creates a stark, stinging, and anxious atmosphere in which desire makes people do awful things, and lust commingles with promiscuity, obsession, self-hatred, depression, and narcissism.” –Library Journal
“Rechy doesn’t skimp on plot, character or action, and the ingenious ending takes an unanticipated but thoroughly logical turn. In its gritty evocation of time and place, the novel goes beyond its narrow subject matter, reaching for a broader and deeper understanding of an era.” –Publishers Weekly
“One of the most talented writers of his generation. His latest novel, The Coming of the Night, may be his most astounding . . . The book’s climax is an apotheosis of simmering violence and pressure-cooker sexuality . . . The plot . . . unfurls in the reader’s mind like good cinema . . . slowly and expertly meld[ing] into grand gestures that proclaim sex as delight, as danger or as self-hatred . . . Its trip into darkness is dreadful yet alluring. Read it, if you dare, in one long session.” –Bruce Benderson, Paper
“Complex and discomforting.” –John Sanchez, San Antonio Current
The park in West Hollywood is small, attractive, no more than two blocks square. In the morning, parents roam about with their children, who often stop to play in sandy areas. Other strollers, alone or in couples, walk their dogs. Still others wander along flower hedges or sit on benches under trees, some of which sprout Japanese orchids. A scattering of palm trees among ficus and pines reminds that this is Southern California.
Today, Saturday, there is an added reminder that this is the City of Lost Angels. A Sant’Ana is blowing. Each hot arid season, these winds–known as “devil winds” because of their destructiveness–invite fires. They spread flames that twist this way or that, depending on the whim of fierce currents.
Jesse–”the kid”–woke with one thought on his mind. Today he would do something wild to celebrate one glorious year of being gay–and it was great to be gay and young and good-looking and hot.
Of course, his designation of “one year” was not exact. He had been gay from the time he became aware of sex–early–and he had turned twenty-two three days ago, but the celebration he planned came from the fact that he had been able to go into gay bars only for that long. Not that he’d been idle before that. He had had his share of sexual encounters. This special day, his strategy formed, he would charge himself up from morning to earlier night. He would not come until deepest night, and then he would be the hottest ever.
In his bedroom in his neat apartment in a court of units surrounding a pool in West Hollywood, Jesse became hard thinking about the prospect. He sat on the edge of his bed wearing only white briefs, now being punched by his aroused cock.
Depending on how he dressed, combed his hair, he could look eighteen, if he wanted. Often, in bars, he would be asked for identification. He was very good-looking–and, even better than that, spectacularly “cute,” a description he welcomed, along with being called “Kid Jesse.” That made him sound like a young outlaw, although, someone once pointed out, he must be confusing Billy the Kid with Jesse James.
Still boyish, but not in the least bit “fem,” he was neither tall nor short. His blue eyes were rendered clearer by dark eyelashes, and his streaked blond hair was just long enough to allow an occasional strand to fall over his forehead. Thank God femmish long hair was going out of style among gay guys. Checking himself out in the mirror of a bar, he knew he looked sensational.
An expert gymnast in school, he did not work out with weights, like other gay men were doing. He ran, biked, swam. That kept his body tight, fabulously defined. He ate only good healthful food, didn’t do drugs, and he slept a full eight hours each night, except, of course, when, real late, the cruising just kept getting better. He had a natural glow that courted a perfect tan in summer–now. The tan accentuated glistening hairs that coated his legs, which he showed off by wearing shorts as long as the weather allowed, into the beginning of winter, and even during winter in Southern California.
He was usually alone. By choice. Sure he had friends, lots of them, lots of invitations to parties, but that often put him in a bad situation. Guys he was not attracted to were attracted to him. Those he did have sex with wanted to get together again, and he preferred variety.
There was another reason for his choice to be a loner. He didn’t want guys he went with to know more about him than they needed to know, and that was that he was hot. All he required of his sex partners was that they be lusty–he liked that word–and want what he wanted.
Existing only as you appeared to be–that was another great thing possible in the gay world of cruising. You didn’t have to waste time talking, except to make arrangements about getting together. He loved being a terrific fantasy figure. So why mix things up with identities that didn’t matter? Yes, he’d figured life out–gay life, there was no other.
Jesse welcomed the perspiration that had moistened his shorts and outlined his cock–and especially, he knew as he stood, his buttocks, indenting the crack. He touched himself there and closed his eyes–imagining.
He forced himself not to think now about tonight. He didn’t want to ruin his plan by getting too aroused alone. That would be a waste. Ugh.
What had triggered this huge desire?
It wasn’t unusual for him to feel horny, especially on weekends. Had his plan originated last weekend when he met two hunky guys and went home with them? He had been fucked by both, several times. They took turns entering him, assuming a wonderful rhythm, a couple of thrusts, and then it was the other’s turn for a few more thrusts. There had been hardly a moment that he didn’t have a cock in him, and the brief seconds without added even more sensation when they ended. The two guys had lain back, prone, face up, legs spread, butt against butt, cocks pressed together to form one doubled erection, and he’d lowered himself over it, tantalizing the two guys into believing he would attempt to take them both into him–and he thought about it–but he just remained there, two straining cock-heads quivering at his ass, titillating the downy hairs there. He pushed himself into one of the cocks and then immediately into the other and both guys came in him–wow!–but when he left their house, he felt lustier–and went with another guy and kept wishing for two.
There was also this to account for the sexual demand he welcomed. The day itself–the impression from last night had been confirmed–was ready for celebration, heated with those winds that were supposed to arouse tensions, and–he’d heard this–violence, but who wanted that? Whatever the truth, Jesse knew that the Sant’Anas charged the night with sexual fever.
And sex was everywhere!
There were hunky guys on every corner. You didn’t even have to go home with a guy, if you didn’t want to. There were cruisy places all over where you could make out, right there, all hours–bars, baths, even some streets–and you could move from one person to another, have several at the same time. Not that he wouldn’t ever want to go home with one guy again. Sure, that was fine, having sex several times with one person–or two–but there was a time for that, and a time when you needed more.
Music–that’s what would start this magical day on its way. He riffled among his collection of albums. Van Halen–which song? “Everybody Wants Some.” True, and more than some. “Loss of Control.” Yes!
The agitated strum of a guitar, a howl or a siren, laughter–a bomb or a roaring motorcycle. His sweat-stained briefs pasted to his body, he gyrated to the record’s opening explosion. Who needed control?
Without altering his fast rhythm, he let the next song play out its funky tune, about–what else?–love, love turning tragic.
Tragic? Who needed tragic.
He stopped the record abruptly. He needed something else to set this special day on its way–the song he’d danced to, and shouted out phrases from, when it first came out last year, the beginning of the eighties, the beginning of his life. The song’s words had seemed to announce the vista opening before him–of bars, sex, dancing, sex, great times, sex, partying, sex, great sex, sex– Ugh for straight music, with all those sappy songs. The stuff they played in gay bars said something, really told it, knew what it was all about. He found the album, the song he was looking for, Kool and the Gang and “Celebration.” All right!
Although he hadn’t heard the record in a long time, his body responded from memory, swaying into the rhythm before the alerting beat started, announcing a long-lasting party that had just begun.
He tossed himself into the drumming pulse, which electrified his young body, connected him to invisible partners, lots of them, lots!–all fusing within the same current surging between them, among them, through them, commanding their bodies in reckless synchrony. His head, arms, hands, hips thrashed–exhilarated. Perspiration dampened every limb, his growing excitement contoured on the white shorts.
Wow! That was enough of a charge, for now. He turned off the stereo.
When tonight ended, right before dawn, he would have the best orgasm of his life, so far, because it would contain all those he would withhold throughout the day. He had to plan everything, to make it all possible–and it sure was possible.
He stood up and looked out at the pool. A man was lounging there. From here all Jesse could see were his long bare legs. The man stood up, to oil himself. From the back, he looked fine–broad shoulders, tapered waist, dark hair. Masculine, so far. Sometimes you couldn’t tell until they started talking and, ugh, what a surprise. Safe to assume, too, with that bikini he was wearing, that the man was gay. Gay guys weren’t afraid to wear brief trunks. Straight guys wanted to cover themselves up and most of them should. Did the man have a mustache? Jesse didn’t much care for mustaches–they made guys look like cops. Still, so many gay men were sporting them that you couldn’t avoid them. Just wait, though, soon the fad would pass, and the only ones left with bushy mouths would be cops.
How old was the man?
Jesse went with no one over thirty, although sometimes he couldn’t be sure because good-looking gay men in shape often appeared younger than they were. He preferred guys slightly older than him, because he liked being “the young one”–the kid. Old guys depressed him. Old guys who really depressed him–why didn’t they stop cruising, who’d want them?–were the ones who looked old but dressed like kids, brief shorts over sagging butts–ugh–and then there were the old guys with grizzly stubble, decked out in the same leather stuff they wore ages ago, as if that would keep them young. He winced when he saw them. Sometimes they even acted fem.
The man by the pool turned in Jesse’s direction.
O-kay! Make him his first “conquest” in preparation for this night that would be like no other? He could hardly wait for the coming of the night.
But he would, and that would make the sweaty night even hotter.
Buzz, Toro, and Linda MORNING
Buzz tried to leave the house before his mother could detect his absence. That way he wouldn’t have to listen to her bitching about his staying out of trouble. He was, after all, almost eighteen, and he knew more than she did about all kinds of shit. These hot winds excited him, made him feel mean.
When, in a few minutes, he joined his friends, Toro and Boo and Fredo, he’d talk them into getting some booze, picking up some street chicks, maybe gettin’ a little rough. Toro–he called himself that because of his bullhead and because, he boasted, he had a cock like one, a cock he constantly groped–was only nineteen but because of his size he could buy liquor, easy. Boo was tiny, but you’d better never tell him that–tiny and tough, with tattoos crawling over his skinny arms. Fredo–”the crazy one” because he shaved his head daily and never did anything first but always went along with what anyone suggested–constantly scratched his shaved head. He, Buzz, was the “sexy one,” the one who approached girls–punkies, druggies–on Hollywood Boulevard. He had a vague “Valley” drawl and a sleepy look.
Now he sat on the far side of the steps that his mother called “the porch.” He would hide until Toro came by. Toro drove a hot Chevy convertible he spent hours on, keeping it bitchin’.
Buzz hated this ugly city, one of several outside Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley, tract houses, stucco houses, mobile homes that never moved, auto-part garages. Along the blocks, skeletons of cars squatted permanently on yards of weeds and dirt, hoods up, bodies propped on bricks. Once he had seen a photograph of the City in the fifties, and it had looked just like it did now. “White trash” and “rednecks”–that’s what they called the guys from this part of the Valley, including even Mexican dudes, tough dudes–not fuckin’ immigrants!–who lived here and hung out with white guys. He didn’t mind the designation “redneck.” It gave him and his friends a ready reputation for being tough.
He heard the Chevy approaching–blasts of Judas Priest shooting into the air from Toro’s tape deck–before he saw the shiny car swerving to avoid a huge tumbleweed, several tangled together, that crashed, bursting into splinters, against the window of a Carl’s Jr. take-out.
Still hunched by one side of the house to sneak away, Buzz prepared a wide smile to greet Toro. That might help when he explained that he and Fredo and Boo hadn’t been able to score the shit they had planned to bag up loose and sell at a good profit to those dumb punkies in Hollywood. “Gee, Toro,” he had rehearsed last night with Boo and Fredo, “when we took a taste from those niggers, it was dummy shit–even for punkies–and the niggers tried to go AWOL on us, but we messed them up–they turned out to be suckers, man. So–” Here he would spread out his hands. Empty hands, wide smile. Then he’d give back Toro’s investment.
Christ, even in this wind, Toro had the top of his Chevy down–and he already had a chick with him. His girl?–the one he talked about but they had never met?
“Wassup?” Buzz answered back, shouting, as they always had to, over the stereo–and, today, the wind–while he sized up the girl next to Toro, where he usually sat, in front.
“Linda,” Toro introduced the girl.
Without answering, she cocked her head toward the music. “I like this one.” While Toro bounced his head to the machine-gunning sounds, she repeated random words. “Crushed–rage–” She turned to Buzz and said, “Hi.”
Dark, a sexy bitch, Buzz evaluated Linda, wearing a brief tight top to show off her tits–look at those fuckers tryin’ to shove out, and look at her skirt so tiny you wouldn’t have to lift much to see her cunt. Fuckin’ bitch. He’d like to shove it into her so hard she’d scream.
Transferring to Linda the smile he had prepared for his explanation to Toro about last night’s deal, Buzz hopped into the front seat, his thigh pressed against hers.
“Hey, don’t crowd me, man!” Linda protested.
Buzz pushed his leg tighter against hers.
“Yeah, man, don’t crowd us,” Toro said, nodding toward the back seat.
What the fuck! Angry, Buzz jumped to the back. Fuckin’ bitch, she wouldn’t be acting so close with Toro if she knew how easy it was gonna be to fake him out about last night and the niggers. Buzz restored his smile at that thought, and waited to speak the memorized words to Toro.
“Hey, Buzz–,” Linda started, lowering the stereo.
“Hey, man,” Buzz objected, “turn the fuckin’ sounds up–I like that part.” He waited for Toro to agree. He always played this tape at a blast. Now he continued to nod his head to the lowered sounds.
Linda didn’t respond to Buzz’s order. “Huccome you smile so much, Buzz–man?” she asked him. Then she raised the volume again.
Fuckin’ cunt. She had just wanted to make sure he’d hear her. Well, so what? “How about this, Linda?” He pulled at his lips with two fingers and twisted his smile into a mean smirk.
Father Norris MORNING
Father Norris had awakened, as he always did on weekends, into the awareness that, very soon, he would be hearing confessions–more than on weekdays, when only beatas–old rigidly religious Mexican women who lived in the neighborhood about lower Sunset Boulevard in the section known as Echo Park, populated mostly by Hispanics–confessed insignificant sins as if they were giant transgressions. Father Norris was convinced that many priests enjoyed hearing sins and passing harsh judgment. Father Terso, old and irritable, was known for the severity of his penances, and some beatas searched him out at confession for that. Father Norris had seen younger confessors pretend not to be aware that the old priest’s booth was available, in order to avoid confessing to him. Father Norris tried to be understanding, and that made him lenient in the penances he awarded. Often he wished that he could absorb the sins of those who confessed, absorb them and thus purify the sinner through his own acts of contrition.
Now, in his confessional, he waited, with his missal, for the next confessor to recite a litany of minor sins. He removed his rimmed glasses. No one would see him without them here. He did not need them, and wore them only in an attempt to thwart the designation he did not welcome–”the handsome young priest.” For a period in his life, he had dieted strictly, to make himself so thin that he would be unattractive, but that only added to the intensity of his moody looks. He tried eating, to gain unsightly weight, but the added food nauseated him, and he stopped, still lean, still handsome. Not that anything could obstruct his devotion to purity. From the first moment in his early life when he had seen the body of Christ wrenching with pain and love on His crucifix, he had known that he would devote his life to Him, serve only Him, love only Him, small token for His extreme sacrifice. Daily, he knelt praying before the crucifix at the altar. Daily he renewed his dedication to serve the tortured figure, “I will be faithful to You, to Your calling, I shall strive to be worthy of You, Your grace and Your love.”
“I have to speak to him.” Father Norris heard a woman’s voice, Spanish-accented, talking too loudly into the usual quiet of the church. “But I was here first,” another woman objected in Spanish. “I know, but–”
Why the urgency? He was the only one hearing confessions now–Father Terso preferred to hear them during the earliest part of the morning, “when confessors are closest to their most grievous sins.” Father Norris cocked his head toward the small screen that would separate him from the woman who would now be kneeling in the adjoining cubicle.
“Father Norris!” The voice, clearly that of the woman who had demanded to go ahead of the other, rose in urgency.
It was not usual to address a priest by his name during confession, and certainly not in that commanding tone. Was she the woman he had seen outside the rectory? She had seemed to be about to approach him when he hurried past her, a strange, sorrowful–ominous–woman wearing a black coat, or shawl, in this heat. Was she in mourning? he’d wondered.
“Bless me, Father,” the woman in the confessional rushed her recitation in accented English.
She had not finished the invocation. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. So he said, “What are your sins?”
“Help my son.”
“You can’t confess for another.”
“He’s a maricon–”
Father Norris knew the designation–a maricon, a “queer.”
“–and he’s been arrested for prostitution–”
Father Norris leaned back, away from the words–and then forward.
“He’s out now and back on the same streets.”
“How do you know that?”
“I went there, to that street, that Santa Monica Boulevard. He was there, he’s always there. He saw me, he ran away. When I returned later, he was getting into a car with an older man, Father.”
Father Norris almost stood to leave the confessional, to confront the woman, tell her that hers was not a confession, that he would not listen to this terrible story, tell her that he–
“His name is Angel, Father.” She pronounced the name in Spanish–Ahn-hel.
“Ahn-hel,” Father Norris repeated the name. “How old is–Ahn-hel?”
An eighteen-year-old prostitute. How was that possible?
“Some of the others on that street, the ones who have been there the longest, they’re already corrupt, young but corrupt–but not him, Father. Not yet.”
“The young can be knowledgeable beyond their years,” Father Norris mouthed words. “Have you extended to him spiritually?”
The woman’s voice lowered. “With all my soul. I’ve seen the power in your eyes, Father, I’ve seen with what love you kneel before our martyred Lord, I’ve heard your sermons, I’ve watched you for very long. I know you. Today I gathered the courage to turn to you.”
Father Norris listened only to words now. He had seen Hispanic boys about the rectory. Ahn-hel–even in his mind he pronounced the name as she had–would have dark hair, yellowish eyes. And a sad smile.
“Is that what he looks like?”
He had thought aloud.
“He’s very handsome, Father. Beautiful, sad eyes. Very sad.”
“If you bring him to me, of course I’ll–”
“No, Father! Listen! He won’t come!”
“But I cannot–” He prepared words to deny the outrageous demand the woman was about to make.
The woman’s next words were such a quiet whisper that he wasn’t sure that was what she had spoken. So he repeated what he had heard. “–naked?”
“–yes, he has a naked Christ tattooed on his back.”
A young man was walking the perverse streets of the City, selling his body, which had a tattoo of Our Lord– “Our Lord is stripped of His clothes, of course. He was flogged–” His voice had grown automatic.
“You don’t understand. The tattooed Christ is entirely naked–everything is revealed.”
Father Norris closed his eyes. The air conditioner must have stopped. He could not hear its whir, heard only the howls of wind rising–and then a harsh scratching at the small window above his cubicle, which was uncovered at the top. He looked up. A piece of a dry palm frond entangled with debris had been thrust against the window. The snarled mass quivered as if attempting to claw its way in. Then it stopped its desperate trembling and remained there. Father Norris watched it in horrified fascination.
“Find my son! He’s waiting for you.”
©1999 by John Rechy. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.