It was a cold wet night in late November. The sort of night that saps energy from the soul as it gnaws into your bones. Midway between Bonfire Night and Christmas, marooned in dark melancholy. He now understood why Americans celebrated Thanksgiving; it uplifted the spirits and carried you through to Christmas. Not that he’d ever had much to celebrate at Christmas either; not when his parents had disowned him, after he had come out at age fourteen. Life on the streets of Bradford had been pretty rough for an atheist gay nerd of mixed racial background. His very presence seemed to offend everyone in one way or another. At least the frequent beatings and rapes often led to a warm hospital bed and a hot meal that wasn’t left-over curry scavenged from bins.
He grimaced and reached round to rub the small of his back through his overcoat. The cold and damp brought out the pain that reminded him of past kickings. He quickened his pace through the dimly-lit streets of Victorian terraces. The old cobble stones had seen some history. He doubted if this street had changed much in 130 years. Except that the insides of the houses had changed. The outside privies had been replaced by luxury bathrooms and the old coal fires with built-in ovens by gas-fired central heating and ceramic hobs. The people had changed too. The mill workers had given way to several waves of sub-continental immigrant bus drivers; mushy peas to onion bhajjis. Now the street was full of middle-class yuppies who taught at university or worked in city offices. Their wives met for posh afternoon teas.
He pulled his coat tighter as a gust of wind threatened to either blow him over or knife him. He hurried past the closed curtains. In places light or sound escaped to hint at the rich tapestry of family life that was taking place inside. The shouts of squabbling siblings reminded him of the younger brother he hadn’t seen for 16 years. What would Praheed be doing now? Surely he would be married with several children, living behind curtains in a house much like these? That was an existence he could never aspire to, no matter how much he wanted it. He sighed. November always seemed to rekindle these old sad memories and unwanted desires. The persistent drizzle began to increase its intensity. He broke into a trot to try to get home before he was completely soaked. The cold rain streaked his face and camouflaged his warm tears.
Peter fussed. He couldn’t help himself. It was a very special occasion after all, although Pravin wouldn’t remember it. It wasn’t an anniversary that they had ever celebrated; they didn’t have an anniversary as such. Peter hoped that after tonight they would have one of their very own. He checked the oven for the umpteenth time and adjusted the cutlery by a millimetre. He lit the candles and turned off the lights. He opened a bottle of expensive red wine and poured two glasses. He was planning to wait until Pravin got home but his nerves got the better of him and he downed one glass in a couple of gulps for Dutch courage.
Peter heard the key in the lock and a few moments later Pravin stumbled in, out of breath and looking like a dog after a bath before the shaking. His sombre expression turned to one of surprise at the candlelit dining table.
“What’s the celebration? You’ve got the expensive wine glasses out. It’s not your birthday is it?” A frown crossed his face.
Peter laughed. “No, you haven’t forgotten my birthday again. Today is a special day. We haven’t celebrated it before, but something happened on this day in the past.” Pravin shrugged. “Let’s get you into a hot bath and then I’ll tell you all about it.”
Fortunately for the dinner, the starter was cold smoked salmon and the main course a lamb casserole. The wine appreciated the extra time to breathe. It was the golden sheen of Pravin’s slim almost hairless body that got to Peter every time.
As they cuddled afterwards Pravin spoke. “Thanks for cheering me up. I was feeling pretty miserable when I got home. You still haven’t told me what it’s all about?”
“Ten years ago this very night, I was begrudgingly doing my community service.” Peter remembered the out-of-control, heading-for-prison arrogant prat that he had been, shuddered and held Pravin more tightly. “I was visiting patients in hospital that received no other visitors. I met a scruffy, badly-bruised half-Asian guy who changed my life. Something happened when we shook hands and I looked into your eyes. Do you remember?” Peter could feel the tears welling in his eyes.
“Is it ten years? You saved me. I never said thank you.” Pravin’s body seemed to stiffen in Peter’s arms.
“No, you saved me. I never said thank you either.” Focussing on helping Pravin had sorted out his own life as well. Ten years later, the time was right. He’d planned this to be over dessert – home made strawberry cheesecake – but the best laid plans … “We saved each other. We are good for each other. The new laws have been passed. There’s nothing to stop us now. I want to be with you for the rest of my life. I want us to be a real family. We can adopt children. I love you, Pravin. Will you marry me?” There, he’d said it. He held his breath as time seemed to stop.
The silence seemed interminable. The warm body in his arms transformed from rigid to floppy and then began to shake violently as great sobs wracked through Pravin. Peter held his partner tightly and gently stroked his hair. He whispered those three little words again. “I love you.”
Eventually Pravin pushed him off, sat up, sniffed and wiped his eyes with his hand. “Which of us will wear white?” he asked.
Christopher Jackson-Ash is in his late fifties and lives in Melbourne Australia. He has had a varied career in chemical engineering and risk management. Now that his children are grown up, he has returned to bohemia and is concentrating on his first love, writing.
Jackson-Ash’s main focus is on his FirstWorld Multiverse Saga inspired by Michael Moorcock and J.R.R. Tolkien.
His work extends through flash fiction and short stories to novels in other genres, including children’s stories (TrickyTristan). Very rarely, he even attempts to write poetry (as his alter ego Kris the Bard).
Find more of Christopher Jackson-Ash’s stories here: