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Excerpt: 'War Damage'

LANGUAGE ADVISORY: This excerpt contains language some might find offensive.

ONE

'How did you get a key?'

Charles slid his smile sideways, but didn't answer as he unlocked the art annex door. The neglected appearance of this outbuilding reflected the status of fine arts at the school. Easels and shelves for paint and brushes left little floor space for pupils, since the studio also functioned as an office, and was furnished with a couple of old wooden filing cabinets, a desk, two bentwood chairs, and a sagging antique chaise longue. A partition separated this studio from a dark room at the back.

Charles locked the door again on the inside, leaned back against it and stared at Trevelyan — Harry — whose eyes widened with fear and adoration. Charles knew it would be all right then. 'Oh God!' he murmured. He took hold of the boy's shoulders, steered him towards the convenient sofa, pushed him down on to it and was about to undo his flies. But then he paused and took the boy's face — so gently — between his hands and kissed him. Charles' heart was beating frantically. His passion was going to kill him. And the boy wanted him too. He was stiff. Charles was shaking as he undid the heavy flannel and his throbbing prick rung a groan from his throat. Trevelyan came almost at once with a little strangled whimper.

Charles left a stain on the sofa. He didn't care. He lay back, breathing heavily. But as time passed a fearful lethargy came over him. He smiled at the boy and stroked his hair. But the obsession that had sustained him since the end of last term and all through the summer holidays had leaked away with his sperm and he was left with a feeling of utter emptiness.

'Hadn't we better go?' Trevelyan was trying to tidy himself up. 'What if Carnforth came in?'

Charles laughed. 'He won't, will he? Everyone's gone home. That's why I told you to bring your stuff — we don't have to go back to main school.' For the annex, located at the far end of the playing fields, was near the goods entrance so that it was easy to come and go without being seen. Anyway, no-one came down here after school; except, of course, the art master himself. And if Carnforth had by an unlucky chance turned up, well ...

'But ... ' Trevelyan dimly sensed that there was more to it than that.

'Actually,' drawled Charles, 'Carnforth lent me the key. I told him I wanted to finish my back drop — for the play, y'know.'

Trevelyan still looked puzzled.

'He's a fan of the ballet, you see.'

'Oh.'

'He cultivates me.'

Carnforth had lent him the key some time ago, when Charles had actually needed to work on the back drop, but Carnforth didn't know that Charles had had a copy made.

'What d'you mean?'

Charles gazed at Trevelyan from under his eyelashes. 'My mother's a famous ballet dancer. Didn't you know? Carnforth thinks if he smarms up to me it'll please her.'

Trevelyan mouth opened. His father, a rich Baptist businessman, took a dim view of the theatre and dance in any form. But this unexpected information only added to the hideous excitement he'd experienced during the past half hour.

'Yes ... darling.' The endearment — daring, unthinkable in this environment — came straight from his mother's world, and the cruelty of it excited him again. He leaned forward and seized the boy quite roughly, pulling his head back and kissing, almost biting, his neck, as he felt for his prick through the coarse flannel of his trousers. The kiss too was unthinkable, almost a kind of blasphemy.

'I'll be so late home.' Trevelyan looked scared now.

'Tell them you had an extra art lesson or something.' But Charles's incipient erection subsided. He was bored again. 'It was an art lesson in a way,' he murmured, and smiled to himself. 'You're right, though. We'd better go.'

'Suppose Mr Carnforth — ' and Trevelyan looked round the untidy, battered room. Charles put an arm round the younger boy's shoulders. 'God — you're shivering. Don't worry. I can twist Arthur Carnforth round my little finger. Everything'll be fine.' And he rumpled the boy's hair.

Trevelyan's eyes were as round as saucers. Charles smiled, but didn't enlighten him, other than to murmur languidly something he'd heard Freddie say: 'Love takes the strangest forms.' Trevelyan, of course, had no idea what he was talking about.

Charles locked the annex and slipped the key into his pocket. They walked to the periphery of the playing fields and through the gate, which gave, unexpectedly, onto the main road. Fortunately Trevelyan lived in the opposite direction from Charles, so they didn't have to travel together, which would have been boring. Trevelyan scampered across the road, and Charles waited for the bus to Hampstead underground. He could have walked from there, but he felt tired, so travelled on by tube to Camden Town. It was a relief to escape the sweaty, smoke laden carriage, but he still felt listless as he walked up Parkway.

He cheered up slightly as he remembered it was Thursday and Freddie would probably be there when he got home. And indeed, he was. He'd brought a red-haired woman friend along as well.

From War Damage by Elizabeth Wilson. Copyright 2009 by Elizabeth Wilson. Published by Serpent's Tail. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elizabeth Wilson
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