For Your Eyes Only
by Eliot Moore
Chapter 11 (The cusp of May)
Saturday mornings are special. When I was just a kid it meant waking up very early to play a video game in the living room before my brother’s woke up. Until I was seven and was pushed into Jasmine’s room that meant slipping past Peter without waking him. I never had sleepovers back then. I tried it just once. After Justin and I kept Peter up with our endless giggling and chatter, he soundly vetoed any further visits. Then I was given Jasmine’s room. It was odd waking up without his familiar presence. I adjusted to that of course and by the time I was fourteen I came to understand why Peter clung so tenaciously to sleep. While our friends lingered in bed, the Wallace boys, each in their time were rousted out of bed to serve their time at the store. Still the magic clung to Saturday mornings.
Back in my new room, Peter’s room, I woke half expecting to find my eldest brother sprawled across the bed that used to flank the other wall. Only that would have been my bed. I was lying in Peter’s. The morning after kissing Pino I woke with a cat-like contentment and the same undercurrent of anticipation I had felt as a small boy. I was eager and the day seemed too good to waste in pointless sleep.
Things were chaotic on the second floor. I was into the bathroom before I remembered that Peter and his crew had dismantled the plumbing while they tied in the new bathroom for the third floor. I ended up in the downstairs bathroom trying to ignore my mother’s toiletries. My thoughts were on Pino naturally. Our kiss had been so brief, almost furtive. It had a dreamlike quality that threatened to evaporate in the Saturday morning sunshine.
Peter stopped in while I was spooning Harvest Crunch into my mouth and staring at the telephone propped like a sentinel beside my morning coffee. He grabbed a mug and leaned against the counter. “I’ve got a job in Vimy so I need you to sand the tape this morning; think you can do it?”
“What about Jordan and what’s his name?” I asked referring to Peter’s crew. He saw my irritation. “Dad’s expecting me,” I added.
“Get over it Simon, I told dad I needed you. The place can manage without you shop boy.”
I glanced at the phone. “I had plans for this morning.”
“They will have to wait.” Peter eyed my bowl, estimating how much longer I would be. I had an impulse to linger and nibble, but it would not be fair to Peter. “It’s got to get done Simon.” He sat down across from me to take the edge off his words. “I figure another week and I should get it finished.” His eyes shifted to the phone centimetres from my fingertips, “Waiting for someone to call?”
I moved the reproachful phone from between us and deflected his question with one of my own. “You and Emma should move in when you are finished.”
“I’m around here too much as it is.” He drained his cup and rose to put it in the sink. He checked the clock on his phone and glanced at my bowl again. “Mom and dad need the rent and I need to be out of here.”
He might have been voicing his impatient desire to head down the highway to Vimy and whatever job he had lined up. I took him to mean something else entirely. “You want to go to the territories?” I made it more of a statement than a question.
“Maybe not; things there are good here right now, but it would not take much to change that.” I wondered how much of that echoed Emma’s sentiments. “The work is steady here.”
I felt a sense of relief. It was comforting having Peter around. Without him, I guessed everything would fall on me. “Yeah, maybe,” I stood with my dish, “So show me what you want done.”
“Get some stuff on,” I followed his eyes down to the sweats hanging off my hips. I was conscious of my thin hairless torso. I was a shred of gristle compared to my three burly brothers. Peter followed me up the stairs and paused in my doorway while I toed through my wardrobe around the floor searching for the right pair of jeans. “You haven’t done much to the room.” I had not. It all seemed so transitory to me; everything still in a state of flux. “I guess you miss your room.”
“Jasmine’s,” I stopped fingers on the zipper, “Not really, it doesn’t matter. When are you going to get the bathrooms done?”
“The plumbing is roughed in now. I can get it inspected Monday. Don’t worry; things will be back to normal around here soon.”
“Back to normal sucks”
“We all have to move on. She’s gone and we can’t change that. Mom was right to push for this.” That made me shrug, I had not been thinking about my sister Jasmine. I had been thinking about dad pushing for an early retirement and simplifying his life at the expense of my dreams. I need time to grow up and time was against me.
“I wish you would help out at the store Peter,” I said voicing my concerns. “Dad would take the place more seriously.”
“He does Simon.”
“You could get things done there, help make it work.”
“The building doesn’t have to be falling apart. Never mind, you just don’t get it.” Peter was all hands on practical. All my brothers were. I was shop boy to them, but I didn’t really mind that. They could have the rigs in the territories. Wallace Books was a place that could be for me.
“Not true, Dad switched things around like you suggested. What more would you do?”
“Well to start with, I would clean up that slum he has going on upstairs. We could fix it up like you are doing here. What is this good for, maybe some college students? If we fixed up the second floor down town, make it like it was when granddad and grandma lived there, then you could make some decent money I bet.”
“Who would live down town in that neighbourhood?”
“Maybe; it’s a thought Simon.”
“Talk to dad about it. He listens to you.”
“We have to finish here first. Get your skinny butt in gear. The guys are waiting for me.”
Minutes later I was up on the third floor carefully sanding the strips of dry plaster. Peter stayed long enough to see if his crash course in sanding had taken root in my mind, and then he disappeared with a blunt threat regarding my potential to reproduce if he could see tape when he returned. As I worked, I thought about our conversation. I had complained to dad about the people slumming on the second floor of my building many times. He had always dismissed my concern. It was the first time I had mentioned it to Peter. Frustration swelled and on an impulse I threw the block across the room and cursed. It hit the far wall and bounced back. I considered it a moment and then slowly retrieved it. Renovations we far more complicated than I had imagined.
After dad agreed to rearrange the store I had fumed for weeks. It seemed to me that all my brother had to do was move some simple pipes. Drill a few holes in the floor, cut some copper pipe, glue some PVC pipe in place; after I saw the actual work I was certain I could have done it myself. It seemed to me the pair of them were not very serious about the changes at all. I had my first inkling of Peter’s problem when he sat down with my dad to talk about the house renovations. It was exciting to look at the plans and imagine how things would look. After that I lost interest. Peter and dad dithered with forms and phone calls, Peter making lists in a small notebook he always carried. It was all codes and permits, added costs and fees. I came to realize that transforming Wallace Books might be complicated. I needed Peter’s knowledge.
The work on the walls went on steadily for half an hour. My mind drifted. Instead of the third floor room, I imagined I was restoring the suite of rooms above my own coffee shop. The second floor would be a private place I could bring Pino to; not the rough dark basement, but high ceiling rooms filled with light and old woodwork. My hand stopped moving. The thought of holding Pino brought me back to our restroom kiss. This was not the way my Saturday morning was supposed to go.
I dropped the sand block and pulled the mask off my face. I had just gotten started and there was already a light dust of plaster on my t-shirt and the dryness tickled my nose. The phone was where I had left it on the kitchen table.
The phone rang longer than I would have liked. It gave me more time to revise my opening line. Glyn reached the phone first. I could hear the smile in his voice through the phone. “Hey Si, what’s up?”
“I’m just slacking off here; wondering what you were up to today.”
“Really, you have to work, don’t you; still have the morning off?” I thought I could hear Pino’s voice in the back ground. I told Glyn about my task. “So you phoned for someone who knew what they were actually doing?” I passed over the jibe. That had not been my thought. Glyn’s voice radiated the warmth
I needed from his brother. I was anxious to talk with Pino. I needed to hear his voice, let it reassure me that the quick kiss meant as much to him as it had to me. I shook my head reflexively and feeling trapped followed it up with a half hearted plea for Glyn’s help. “Sorry Si, I promised Tony I would come over. I figure Pino could help out. Do you want me to ask him?” That prompted some sort of side conversation I could barely discern. I expected Glyn to relinquish the phone to his brother. Instead, Glyn shot back a rapid, “Pino’s heading over. Talk to you later Si?” he didn’t wait for my answer, “I’m glad you called. See you Monday morning man,” and then the line was dead.
I stood a holding the receiver for a short while suppressing the wave of guilt. Glyn had become a good friend, but I could well imagine the warmth shifting to a disappointed chill if he learned I was attracted to his younger brother. Glyn had staunchly defended Anthony’s right to be gay, but I was sure he did so from the security of a life wrapped in the safe boundaries of heterosexuality. When I shattered that illusion he would shy from me with the same hurt awkwardness we had shared when Brittany left me for greener, blonder pastures. It would hurt when the companionship ended and the silence began. I thought about that as I returned the phone to its cradle on the kitchen wall and went back up the stairs. It would take Pino time to organize himself for the day and travel the distance between our houses. I decided it was best to work on and not think too much.
The dust mask still looked good, so I put it back on and attacked the sloped ceilings with the sander attached to the end of a stick. Fine talcum filtered down on my head and added to the fog blurring my safety glasses. I paused frequently to check the professional line of plaster, always fretful that in my haste I would strip it down to the tape. The time passed more quickly than I had expected.
“Wax on, wax off,” The light tenor of his voice interrupted my thoughts. I found my heart pounding, but managed a few additional strokes across the plaster before turning in his direction. “It looks like you have everything under control here,” he added, which might have been true of my sanding, but was far from true for what was between us. I was sure of my sexuality now. Voicing my feelings for Pino had been a release but I was not clear where things would go next.
“It’s coming along,” Pino came further into the room, scanning it curiously. He stood self consciously in the center where the triangular planes of the cathedral ceiling met. The nearer wall of the new bathroom concealed the spot where Pino had stood gloriously naked months before. I pulled my mask down and when my fingers simply smeared the dust on my glasses I pulled them off as well. Pino turned back to me and then shoved his hands deep into his shorts. It should have come easier to both of us and I was not quite clear why we stared at each other with such timid eyes.
“It’s going to be okay; lots of stairs to get up here, not very big when you do, but pretty good for some university student.” Pino hadn’t move. His eyes shifted behind his glasses and then they returned to mine. I tried a welcoming smile, but it didn’t come. He cocked his head as if he might hear me better. All I could manage was a shrug. I realized suddenly that like the room around us the geography of our relationship was shifting by degrees. Instead of struggling with the moment, I cowered behind practicalities. “You can work on the walls while I finish the ceiling.”
“Okay,” Pino obliged me. I finally tore my eyes away from his bright eyes and surveyed his wardrobe. It was too cold for the basketball singlet, but Pino was wearing the same shorts from our first meeting in the park. He filled them better now and I stripped the clothes away with my eyes. Nine months, I remembered thinking he was just a kid. My hands remembered his body, the strength beneath the soft skin. The conception of our relationship in Robbie’s basement had lead to this and I did not know how to follow through.
He cast about for some equipment. I found him a mask and a sander. It was all new to Pino so I assumed a voice not unlike Peter’s and gave him a crash course in smoothing the soft plaster. He was close enough to touch and we did as we passed the soft block between us. I finally stepped behind him and watched as he started on his own. Pino paused from time to time to run sensitive fingers over the wall feeling out the roughness. “That’s good,” I finally commented, “That was the last coat of plaster. Once it is cleaned up we paint.”
“It’s not so bad, sort of fun actually. Do you work with your brother much?”
“Nope, dad keeps me busy, but I would like to know how to do it. I want to get Peter to do the apartments downtown. You know, clean them up so they can make some money.”
“You could live there someday.”
“Yes,” I focussed on Pino’s neck and the flexing muscles of his shoulder.
His arm stopped as he brought his fingers back to the seam. Then he paused, hands on the wall, “I could help you do it.”
“I’d like that.” He nodded and then returned to work. I watched him, less than an arm’s reach away, and then turned back to where I had left my own tools. The silence returned between us as I lifted the sander to the ceiling and Pino tackled the far wall lost in his own thoughts. I glanced Pino’s way from time to time, but mostly I knew his presence from the soft sounds of the fine screen passing lightly over the wall and his figure shifting in the corner of my eye. I would have been content to pass the morning as we were. There were things that probably needed to be said but I preferred to avoid trying to put my feelings for James into words. Keeping my own counsel had worked pretty well for me over the last few years. It was hard to break the habit. Pino had kept his own counsel for some time too. Unlike me, Pino was ready to burst.
I worked my way up to the peak, a fine talcum drifting down to clog the mask, and started down the opposite side. Pino had moved on along the wall toward the stairs. When I stopped to wipe the dust from my safety glasses I ran a hand over Pino’s work to satisfy myself. “Looks good,” I commented.
Pino turned toward me, yanked the mask down and folded his arms. “Did you mean it?” I searched his eyes, but the light film on his lenses masked them from me. From the set of his jaw I knew he was not asking about his dry walling job. I pulled my own mask off before replying. Pino suddenly looked young to me, or perhaps it was the fragility I had first seen when came in the basement of the store.
“Yeah, I did,” I whispered softly.
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