China Boat

Chapter 27

 … and in Dionysus, we see the antithesis of Apollo; the god given to Chaos, to willful self-abandonment. In Apollo, we have the god of the lyre, that most mathematical of instruments; the embodiment of order, and of grave certainties, all expressed upon an unassailably reasoned, musical line. In Dionysus, we have the god of the Frenzy, of the thrysos and the ivy, of naked dancers filling the night in wild, torchlit ecstasy … 

-W. Enrichs, On The Nature of Reason and Desire
Oxford University Press, 1925

* * *

Monday, April 26th, 1937
2:45 a.m.
S.S. President Hoover
at sea


I think all of us have a capacity to do something stupid, from time to time.

I will go further. I think we all have a perverse capacity to do something stupid … even though we know, perfectly well, at the time, that it is in fact something stupid.


"Are you ready — ?"


Tom and I, in my cabin; lying on our respective beds, fully clothed, except for our shoes, hats, and coats. Both of us, wide awake. I'd barely whispered the question to him.


"Yeah." He whispered it back.


We swung our legs over the sides of our beds, and began putting on our shoes. The process brought our heads close. I couldn't help smiling, to myself.

"I was wondering … " I began; barely breathing the words. "How would you like to go for a swim — ?"

A quick, sideways-look upward, at me.

He must have known what I had in mind; but the question was inevitable, regardless.

"I don't have my suit — ?" It came out in a breath.

I could feel the smile, just spreading all over my face.

"Who said anything about swimsuits — ?"


The S.S. President Hoover is a well-made, and well-maintained ship; my cabin door made no sound, as I opened it; and no sound, as I eased it shut, once we were in the corridor.

I did not lock the door. The click of the lock was a distinctive sound; and as I've said, Father is a light sleeper. I did not want to wake him up.

I most definitely did not want to wake him up.

Down along the carpeted hallway, noiselessly, and into the main lobby; then, up the stairs and out onto the Promenade Deck, with the rush of the wind and the sounds of the ship pushing through the water — 

And all along, it was the same as it had been, on the other nights; brilliantly lit, and utterly, utterly deserted. A ghost ship; a dream ship, belonging only to us … 

Up more stairs, onto the Boat Deck; and then, into the deserted Gymnasium … and into the Locker Room, the scene of our first explorations, together — 


In my defense, I can only say that I'd been thinking of doing something like this, ever since Tom and I had started. I'd wanted to give Tom the experience; I'd wanted to, very much. And I'd wanted to share it with him.

Well, added to that, was the fact that I was sure we could do it, without being caught. It is hard to express how truly deserted, how truly desolate, the ship was in the small hours … 


"Shhh … " I put my finger up to my lips.

Tom's eyes were big. He nodded.

I eased open the Locker Room door; and with just my head exposed, I looked, and I listened — 

Nothing; no movement. Faint creaking, as the ship worked in the gentle swell; the sounds of rushing water, and more faintly, the engine-room fans.

I pulled Tom's hand, and we padded our way across the rubber-tiled Gymnasium floor, to the doorway leading out to the Boat Deck — 

We were both nude. Of course.

It actually went further than that. In the Locker Room, after we'd stripped, I'd made it a point to gently stroke his erection, for some moments; and he'd gasped, and then done the same to me, holding my arm with his other hand, our faces cheek-to-cheek, both of us swaying with the movement of the ship — 

I reached over and stroked him again, now; and I kissed his cheek, as he gasped again, and then I cracked open the door to the Boat Deck proper — 

My heart was pounding. And the part of me that knew we were being foolish, the part of me which was morbidly cautious, at the best of times … Well. It was pretty well drowned out, by the part of me that was so, so very excited — 

More listening, and looking, though the door. More waiting, for thirty seconds, for a full minute; more. A minute, two minutes, standing still and listening, is a long time … 

Still nothing.

"Come on," from me, in the barest breath of a whisper … and I pulled on Tom's right hand, with my left, and then we were outside, out on the Boat Deck, in the air and the night — 

The feelings, the sensations, were utterly wonderful.

The wind played on my bare body, caressing me, flowing intimately on my chest, between my legs, over my erection. It had been raining, a little, warm rain, and I could feel stray drops, cool and sensual on my skin — 

Tom's hand; warm, in mine.

That hand was pulling mine, now, as we moved aft, almost at a noiseless, barefoot-trot, heading for the swimming pool … his body impossibly slender, impossibly smooth, impossibly nude, in the glow of the deck lights — 

My heart just soared, with the joy of the night, the excitement of what we were doing, the excitement of what I knew we were about to do — 

"Wait." I barely whispered it, pulling on his hand; and he stopped, looking back at me, at the huge smile that I knew was displayed all over my face, and I pulled him close, and I whispered it again, into his ear. "Wait."

"What — ?"

"Not yet." I pulled him to one side. "Up here, first."

His eyes grew even bigger, as I pulled him to the stairway leading up to the Sun Deck … and up we went, me in the lead, our bare feet noiseless on the steel steps — 

As I stopped short, my head just over deck level, looking and listening again … I felt Tom's hand; on my bottom, caressing me, and then smoothing between my legs, cupping my testicles, my scrotum, gently — and I jumped, and exhaled loudly — 

"Sorry," came his whisper, in the dark.

"No, no!" I looked back down at him, as I panted; feeling myself flush, in the dark. "No, that feels wonderful!"

My answer was a soft and silent kiss on my bottom, and I shivered, and shivered again — 

And then I looked forward, again; and I gathered myself; and then, with a rush, we were up on the Sun Deck.


Oh, bliss.


The Sun Deck was the top deck, open, exposed to the rush of the air, the stray droplets in the breeze, the ocean surrounding us — 

It was also unlit; except for the spotlights trained on the enormous dollar signs, on the ship's two big funnels — 

Those bright spotlights tended to cast everything else in shadows.

The dark, wet expanse of deck stretched around us, the breeze played over our nude bodies, and my spirits and excitement soared even higher; it was all so free, so sensual, so daringly erotic … 

I grabbed Tom's hand again, and I actually twirled him around the deck a little, trying not to laugh with pleasure; his eyes were still huge, clearly he'd never experienced anything even remotely like this, before … 

There was something else he'd never experienced.

I pulled him a little ways inboard, into the windbreak formed by the aft funnel … and I pulled him towards me, into a full-body embrace, front to front, shock of bare skin on bare skin … and then, back out a little ways, to give him a quick, soft kiss on the lips — 

Our erections thwacked against each other, sideways, as I kissed him; and he gasped — 

And then I went down on one knee, on the wet deck, before him; and I took him into my mouth. I actually had to pull down on it, a little, to get the right angle … 

"OOoooohhh — !"

His voice came soft, and strangled; he put his hands on my shoulders, and I could feel him shaking — 

I could feel it from the testicles I held in my free hand, too.

I had to stop, after just a few strokes of my mouth; although I didn't want to. He was far too close; and I wanted to make it last a little longer … 

"Unnnnghhh — ?" from Tom; a tortured sound, as I pulled away. I smiled at his member, wet in the night breeze; and I gave it a last lick, and then I stood up, and pulled him into another front-to-front embrace, kissing his smooth cheek.

"Let me try that — ?" he breathed into my ear; shakily. He started to sink down — 

"No," I whispered; and I pulled him up, my arms around him, pressing myself so gladly against him. "Next time … okay — ?" I kissed his cheek, again. "Let me try something else, now — ?"

A puff of breath, a gasp, from him.

"Okay … "

I led him, my heart still pounding, my spirits still soaring, right aft; to the after-most limit of the Sun Deck, to the railing — 

I turned him to face the railing. He was going to need something to hang on to, after all — 

And I pressed myself against him; my front to his back. One arm, holding him close, and tight; one hand, roving over his body, stroking, teasing, playing with his nipples, before going lower, circling his crotch, and his intimate gasps were coming more freely, now — 

My own erection was pressed, lengthwise, firmly between the smooth cheeks of his bare bottom … 

Very firmly. And very pleasurably. And Tom knew it; he knew I was there, and as I pressed in closer, below the waist, he gasped the more, and moved backwards against me, there — 

I almost climaxed. I barely stopped myself.

"Wait," I breathed into his ear; and he froze … 

I held him still, for one breath, two — and then, my free right hand was down, holding his erection, softly, lightly — 

"Unnnnhhh — !" from him, in a breath.

I stroked him, then, lightly; once, twice, three times, and he arched back against me — 

And then I stopped; and we stood still, panting, pressed together, in the breeze and the dark … 

And then I did it again.


The third time was enough.


"Unnnnnnghhhhh — !"

The semen splattered out of him, in spurts and spurts; the wind of our passage took it, and whisked it away, to fall God knew where, as he shook and spasmed, warm in my arms … 

I kissed his cheek, and nuzzled against him for a long moment, until he caught his breath … 

And then, with a moan of my own, I pressed my erection closer into him, and I began to rub it, up and down a little, in his warm crevice — 

And Tom, bless him, moved his legs just a little farther apart for me, to give me better access, and I could feel him grasp the railing more firmly, and then, oh God, he moved his smooth bottom back against me, as I rubbed, up and down, and I knew I was rubbing lengthwise against his smooth and sensitive anus, and I knew he could feel it — 

My own climax did not fly into the wind. Instead, it made a mess in Tom's bottom, and back, and my crotch, and it dripped down between us. But I didn't care.

I held Tom tight.

"Ohhhh … " I breathed it, softly, into his ear; the feelings crashing and washing and ebbing through me, the deck moving beneath our bare feet. My bare body, still pressed against his.

* * *

Of course, that was not the end of the evening's madness. Although it certainly should have been.

No. Tom was fourteen years old, after all; and I was sixteen … And we were both still drunk, on the sensations, on the breeze on our bodies; drunk on the freedom, drunk on the excitement, the risk of it all; drunk on our nudity — 

Drunk on our free access to each other's bare bodies.

Drunk on each other.

By the time we'd crept down to the Boat Deck, and the swimming pool, we were both hard, again; almost giddy with our desire, our excitement. As Tom went down the long ladder to the surface of the water, his member bounced, twice, on the rungs of the ladder, making him exhale, each time — 

Well. Truth to tell, I bore some responsibility, for that. I'd kept my hands on him, caressing his smooth body, caressing his bottom, his chest, his sex, all that time, all the way down from the Sun Deck … 

As he had done to me.

Madness; as I said.

"Oooohhh … " from him, in an awed whisper; as he sank into the warm sea-water. The look on his face almost made me laugh. "Ohh … this feels good!"

The underwater lights were on, of course; the water glowed a beautiful, clear, blue. And Tom's beautiful body was perfectly visible in the water, complete with his rampant erection … As I said, the pool is heated; it is kept warm.

I felt my own erection stiffen even more, if such a thing was possible.

"Come on!" in an urgent whisper, from him.

There was no question of diving, of course; so I eased my way down the long ladder as Tom had, feeling the warm water on my feet, first, then my legs, and thighs — 

And then Tom's warm, wet hands were between my legs, caressing, and I gave a gasp, and I almost fell off of the ladder — 

Tom wrapped his arms around me, and pressed his body against mine, from behind, as I eased myself all the way down.

"Serves you right," he breathed into my ear, "for dunking me, that first time." And with that, he nuzzled into my neck, which made me gasp, again … 


Tom thoroughly approved of the pleasures and sensations of swimming in the nude.

Although, in the end, we did not do very much swimming.

Instead, we wound up in the shallow end of the pool — it is a very small pool, and the shallow end is just a little ledge, four feet deep — 

We wound up in that shallow end; mostly-floating, upright, our arms around each other, bodies pressed together, legs intertwined; our breathing heavy, as the water heaved and moved around us, from the ship's motion — 

We were oddly still, pressed together as we were; but we were close, and I could hear his breathing in my ear, and he felt so very good against me, and my mind and my heart were just full of him … 

My right hand, seemingly of its own volition, had crept down his back; and my fingers trailed into the cleft of his bottom … and once again, he held me a little tighter, and pressed his front in closer against mine, adding to the pressure on my erection — 

I pressed the tip of my middle finger against the smoothness of his anal muscle once, and then I paused; and then again, as he gave a little whimper, in my ear, and then I paused, again; and then I pressed some more, and I felt my fingertip slide inside him — 

"Unnnnnghhh — ?" It came out with an ecstatic, upward kind of keen, at the end, and he squeezed me tighter than ever — 

I stayed still, for just a moment; and then I moved my fingertip inside him, just very gently, tenderly, giving him pleasure, and his legs lifted up and tightened around mine, his arms squeezed me, and he shuddered, and he gave another ecstatic whimper — 

A sound from above us. A voice.

"What — ?"

Tom and I flew apart, in a guilty explosion of water. I found myself treading water, looking up, and gasping.

Oh, God. No.

The lights in the pool were bright. At first all I could see was the shape; it wore a uniform, and cap. I panted.

"Um … I, I … "

And with that I froze. I went on treading water; utterly exposed.

Silence, for a long, agonizing stretch of heartbeats.

"You know … the pool's supposed to close, at nine o'clock."

The voice was low; a near-whisper. And I recognized it; it came from Mister Molloy, the young, nice radio-officer. A moment later, my eyes adjusted enough to see his face, in the gloom; his expression was — strained … 

More panting, from me.

"I, uh … " I swallowed. "My friend has never gone swimming without a suit, before." A pause, for two or three endless seconds; then — "I wanted to show him what it's like."

A silent pause.

I remembered how shockingly apparent Tom's erection had been, as I'd looked down at him. As apparent as my own erection must be, now.

He must have seen us, embracing, sexual, intimate — 

Oh, God … 

I saw Mister Molloy's eyes focus on Tom, for a long moment; and then, they were back looking at me … and then, at last, they were looking away, a little — 

"I grew up, swimming like that," he said in a soft voice.

Another long, agonizing pause.

And then, Mister Molloy dropped down to one knee; and his expression grew urgent.

"The deck officer does a walk-around at the end of each watch," he said; and it was in a direct whisper. "That'll be in around forty minutes." He looked at each of us, in turn. "And, any sounds you make down there really echo; so keep it quiet, okay — ?"

I was too stunned to say anything.

Mister Molloy's expression became even more urgent.

"And, don't tell anyone I saw you … Please? It's worth my job." It came out in the lowest whisper, yet.

"We won't," I whispered back up at him. My heart beating, wildly. "I promise."

Another pause. The lapping of the water, on the tiles.

"Okay" he whispered. Then, "Good."

He looked at us, another moment.

"Well; goodnight, then."

"Thank you," I whispered up at him. "Thank you, very much."

Mister Molloy gave us a smile — it was a crooked, and somewhat strained smile — and he touched the brim of his uniform cap, with his fingers; and then, he was up on his feet, and then he was gone, the sound of his footsteps barely reaching us, down in the pool.

I turned in the water, to face Tom.

He was holding on to the gutter, with one hand; and his face was pale, and shocked. He looked at me.

"It's all right," I whispered. "It's all right; he's a friend. He won't tell on us."

I heard how childish it sounded, as I said it; and I tried not to wince.

"He saw us … he saw everything. Everything," Tom whispered. The shock in his face was turning into a kind of horror.

I kept moving my arms, gently, staying afloat.

"I know … He won't tell anyone. He's the nice radio officer I told you about; he's the one Father and I work with." I reached over and took hold of the gutter, myself. "He won't tell anyone."

There was a very good, particular reason why Mister Molloy wouldn't turn us in; I now realized. But there was time to talk about that, later.

"I'm sorry," I whispered to Tom; my face now inches from his. "I got us into this … it's my fault."

My own shock was fading; and the realization of what had just happened — or almost happened — was settling in. Oh, Lord … 

Tom's face in the glow of the pool-lights was still pinched, and strained; but his eyes focused on mine.

"Don't be … this has been the single best night of my whole life." Silence, then, for three heartbeats, for four … and he leaned in, and kissed my lips, gently, and quickly.

A pause, as we looked at each other, and breathed — 

And I took my free hand, and pulled his face closer to mine; and I kissed him back. With feeling.

Another few breaths.

"Now, let's get out of here," I whispered. I looked around us, at the steep-tiled sides of the pool, at the dark sky overhead; then, I looked back at the boy in front of me. "You know … we can still shower, together — ?"

The look of hope on his face, was priceless.

* * *

We did indeed shower together, just a few minutes later.

And we'd satisfied each other, thoroughly, if a bit quickly … behind the safely bolted, steel, locker room door — 

And then we'd crept back into my cabin, as noiselessly as we could; and undressed, and gotten into our separate beds, for what little time was left, before breakfast.

Tom had fallen asleep almost at once; I could tell by the even sound of his breathing.

I was exhausted; but I had too much to think about.


As in, Mister Molloy; for one.


It is our eyes, that give us away … and Mister Molloy's eyes had certainly done that.


But his face, his expressions, had given away much more.

As he'd gazed down at us from the edge of the pool, just about devouring us with his eyes … I'd read a great deal, in his face; in his expressions. I'd seen desire, of course; a kind of desperate desire, I thought — 

But I'd read sadness, there, too; a forlorn sadness, and loneliness, maybe even years-worth of it.

'I grew up, swimming like that,' he'd said; or something close to it. As he'd looked down at us; the two of us, nude, erect, caught in the act — and, I somehow didn't think he was referring merely to our lack of swimsuits … 

I breathed, in the darkness.

Well; I thought.

Maybe he was one of the lucky ones, one of us who can love both boys and girls; maybe he's got a girl he loves back home, waiting for him … or, maybe even a boy; or a nice, older man — 

But I knew better.

That wasn't what his eyes, his face, had said … He didn't have a girl. And the fact that he hadn't controlled, or hidden his expressions, his desires, on seeing us, said even more.

No; no. Mister Molloy was not worldly, or experienced in such matters … He wasn't part of the smart set, the homosexual underground; he was alone.

And we owed him everything.

I'd have to go see him tomorrow; of course. Later today, really. I'd wait until he came back on watch, in the afternoon; and I'd go see if there were any new telegrams for Father.

I wondered what I was going to say. What I could possibly say. But I had to do it … we owed him everything.


If poor Mister Molloy was weighing heavily on my mind just then — there was another subject even more fraught, more explosive, keeping me awake.




I had feelings for him. Growing feelings. I admitted it, to myself.


The night we'd just spent had been about the most exciting, most erotic experience I'd ever had … and it had only been so, because of our feelings for each other. The feelings we shared.

The kind of love, that we shared.

I couldn't really pretend, any longer, that he was just a dear friend, or just like a younger brother to me … although there were elements of all that present, still. But that wasn't what was really going on, between us.


I lay there in bed, in the dark; and I tested my heart.


Jack is the pole-star of my life; he is the center of my world.

But I was sailing away from that world. My old world, my old life, seemed so far away … Farther away, each day.

I tried to imagine … 

What might happen, I asked myself, if Father and I were to stay in Shanghai for months and months; for a year, and then two, perhaps — ? Oh, Jack and I would still write, and wire one another, of course, and maybe even put through the occasional telephone call to each other, if such a thing were technically possible — 

But might it be, that we would slowly grow apart, as we shared less and less of our lives, with each other — ? Might we, very slowly, begin to forget the intensity of our love, of our bond … might we, in short, get used to the separation, become accustomed to it — ?

And in the meantime, I would have Tom, close by; Tom and I would have each other, close by, each of us caring for the other one, loving the other one more each day … 


No; no.


The idea didn't even pass the first test; that either Jack or I would permit such a separation. The notion was unthinkable. I knew that, in my bones.

It is difficult to express the love Jack and I share. It is love, it is profound love, of course; along with the friendship, along with the brotherhood, along with the wonderful, physical connection we have established with each other — 

But it is more.

I can only say, that we are meant to be together. We are a team; but even more, we are two parts of a single whole.

Neither Jack, nor I, is particularly religious … but we have wondered, privately, to each other, if there might be something to the Eastern tradition of re-incarnation. We have wondered whether, perhaps, our souls have been through the Wheel of Life together, before: and whether, by extension, our souls might be fated to travel through the Bardo, again, and on through to other lives, to come … ?



We are a team, we are lovers; and I would find a way to return to him, or to meet him somewhere in the world, soon; I had sworn it, and I meant it, still. Do; or die.

And the converse was equally true.

If I were somehow physically prevented from leaving Shanghai … I knew, for a certainty, that Jack would find a way to come to me. He is resourceful, and comes from a family with influence, and money; he would find a way to come to me, however long it took. If I were in prison, he would come to visit me; or to get as physically close to me, as he possibly could. If I were in a hospital, or a sanitarium, he would come to care for me. If I were to die, he would come to visit my grave. I knew it, for a flat certainty. We would not forget. We would not get used, to separation. Our love would not fade.

I settled myself, a little, in my bed.

I was comforted.


And yet … 


And yet.


The fact remained … that I had become involved with someone, involved with another boy, while Jack was apart from me. It had just happened; I hadn't planned it, and I realized, now, that I'd spent time and energy denying it to myself … 

But it had happened.

The knowledge … hurt, a little. For Jack's sake; for the sake of my own self-respect; and for Tom's sake.

I would need to explain it all to Jack, of course; someday, when we were together again. I would need to lay it all out for him, face-to-face; it wasn't the sort of thing which could be done by letters. Not even in many, encrypted letters.

I did not think the knowledge would hurt him; he would know that he came first in my heart and mind, he would know it for a certainty. And, he had the company of our Charles, at school, after all; Charles, whom we both loved — 

I hoped it would not hurt him. My feelings for Tom were not like our feelings for Charles.

Still; I would tell Jack everything. It is what we do; it is part of who we are.


And then, and then — there was Tom.


I listened to his quiet, even breathing, coming from the bed next to mine.


Well; if there was ever a time for Father's favorite word — 'Responsibility' — it was now. With Tom.


My first responsibility, of course, was to Tom. To avoid any more ridiculous, boneheaded stunts, like the one I'd just pulled.

What had I been thinking — ? The danger, the risk of disaster, to Jack and myself was one thing; but how could I have allowed such a risk to Tom — ? If we'd been caught out by anyone except Mister Molloy — caught in flagrante delicto, two boys having sex together, naked, in the pool — what might his parents, his devoutly-religious parents, have done to him — ?

I winced, and winced again, as I lay there.

What had I been thinking — ?


We wouldn't be taking any more ludicrous risks, like that one; not anytime soon. In the little time we had left, on board, I vowed that we would be extraordinarily careful. Locked and bolted doors, at all times; extraordinary precautions, and a special effort to be discreet, in front of others … 


But that was just for starters, I knew.


I had felt responsible for Tom, before; as a friend; as a kind of teacher, or guide; as a sort of substitute, would-be older brother.

Now, I knew, I had a lover's responsibilities, too. A duty to care for him, as much as, or more, even, than myself. All alongside my life's duty, to care for and love Jack.

And then, as I lay there in my bed, feeling the movement of the ship beneath me — it came to me; in a kind of a rush. That when I finally left Shanghai, by means legal or otherwise — when I left Shanghai, I would deeply, deeply regret leaving Tom.

I would miss him, very much.

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