In wickedness of pride is lost the light to understand
How little grace is earned and how much given.
Book of Daniel, 1980
Fool that I was, I had gone out without a waterproof, and by the time I got home I was drenched to the skin. By the time I had dried Rasmus my teeth were chattering. I found Kenneth sitting at my desk, head on arms, fast asleep. Grant him his sleep. Last night I had allowed him little.
To warm up, I had a long hot shower. I was still numb from writing off our love, but surely I had taken the right decision. Kenneth was so near but yet so impossibly far. There was a limit to what he could give, and by now he too had surely recognised that. I was towelling myself dry, my body warmed but my mind still numb, when there was a tentative knock on the bathroom door.
“Come in, Kenneth. You’ve seen it all before.”
He put his head round the door. “Sorry, I fell asleep. But I’ve got a rather urgent problem that needs sorting.”
He came in, and I goggled. The crotch of his jeans was dark with a great patch of blood.
“Oh my God! What have you done?”
He smiled sheepishly. “I tripped in the churchyard and impaled myself on a railing round a grave. John Jones who was drownded. I didn’t even know it was bleeding till I woke up.”
Into emergency mode.
“Right. Trousers and pants off.”
He obeyed. Trainers first. Then the jeans, which came off easily. But when he tried to drop his boxers he hissed in pain.
“Sssss! The blood’s dried and it’s glued them to my hair.”
“Pull the waistband down as far as you can, and hold it out.”
I found some scissors in the cabinet, but he needed both hands for the waistband and his shirt kept falling in the way.
“Sweater and shirt off too.”
That done, the way was clear. I reached in and carefully snipped at the offending hair until his pants were free. Off they came. We were both stark naked again.
He sat on the edge of the bath, legs wide apart, and I knelt to inspect the damage. There was a mass of congealed blood centred in the valley of the right groin and spreading over his pubic hair and penis and scrotum and down to the back of his thigh.
“Kenneth, isn’t this a hospital job?”
He looked at it as closely as he could and ran his fingers over it, wincing when he touched the wound.
“No, I think it’s all right. It can’t have cut the femoral artery, or else I wouldn’t be here. And it’s missed the adductor muscles, thank God. And my tetanus jab’s up to date. And it’s stopped bleeding. It just needs cleaning up and plastering. If you don’t mind helping. But does blood, um, bother you? After all, it is another body fluid, like saliva and spunk.”
“No. I don’t mind blood. All right, I’ll clean you up.”
I put a towel on the floor to catch the drips, ran some warm water into the bath and added a liberal dose of antiseptic. Kneeling in front of him again, I went to work. With plenty of cotton wool and great care it took a quarter of an hour to swab the caked blood away, and all the time my hands were on his most sensitive places. Yet his penis never stirred. Finally all was clear. Deep in the groin, where the hair thinned out towards the thigh, was a ragged tear still oozing a little blood, but not nearly as wide or as deep as I had feared. It did not seem to need stitches. In that position it would not be stretched open.
“Kenneth, if I put a plaster straight on that, on top of the hair, it’ll be agony when you pull it off. Can I shave round it?”
“Yes. Go ahead.”
I took my razor and shaved a vertical strip, going as close to the wound as I dared. I dried it off, found a large plaster in the first-aid box, and stuck it on.
“There you go. But it’s an awkward place, right in the fold. I’m afraid it won’t be very comfortable.”
“Can’t help that. Thanks, Cilmin. Thanks very much.”
I was still kneeling in front of him, and he put his hands on my head as if in blessing. He sat looking down at the plaster.
“Might have solved a problem,” he observed ruefully, “if it had got me a couple of inches to the left.”
I was flabbergasted. A couple of inches to the left could have left him a real eunuch.
“What on earth do you mean?”
“Well, it would’ve put us on equal terms, wouldn’t it?”
I was gaping up at him, my head still between his hands.
“And saved a lot of soul-searching,” he added wryly, “for both of us. Look, Cilmin. I love you. I want to live with you, God knows how or where. And you love me, and I reckon you’d like to live with me.”
“But haven’t you read my note?”
“Yes. I have. And Cilmin, it’s bollocks. Or some of it is. OK, perfect love has to be spiritual, but it doesn’t have to be physical as well. You say you can’t love me in all capacities. OK, you can’t. But you can love me in all the capacities you’ve got. I mean, if you hadn’t got any arms, we couldn’t hug properly. But we could still love properly, couldn’t we? Love doesn’t depend on appendages. On what’s between our legs. On your cock or mine. It depends on what’s between our ears.”
“And there’s something else where you’re way off the mark. OK, you’re right that I was hoping for sex. Yes, I was. But you say it’s unfair to expect me to sacrifice my hopes. That isn’t for you to decide, you know. It’s for me to choose. By myself. Well, I’ve been thinking about it all day, and I’ve made my choice. We’re close already, but not close enough. We’re still beyond each other’s reach. Either we get closer, or we part company. That would wreck me. Wouldn’t it wreck you?
“Do we go together or leave alone
With brand new shapes or broken bones?
“You don’t really want to leave alone, do you? Nor do I. And you can’t move towards me ― no blame for that. But I can move towards you. And that’s what I’ve chosen to do. Of my own accord, because I love you. I’m offering you whatever you hope for. Whatever I have to give. No limit.”
“Oh God …”
My mind staggered. Was he offering that impossible sacrifice after all?
“You can’t mean that you’d go without sex? That you could live with a … failure?”
“YOU … ARE … NOT … A … FAILURE,” he shouted, thumping my head in time with the words. “I’d love you if you were short of arms, or short of hearing, or short of anything you damn well like. OK, you’re short of sex drive. So what? What’s the difference? It’s the way you are. It’s part of the Cilmin I love. My cock’s irrelevant. It didn’t show much interest in bed last night, did it? I can live without it.”
“Live without it? For God’s sake! It’s part of the Kenneth I love.”
“But you can’t use it. So I won’t need it. Will I?”
“What the hell do you mean? OK, I couldn’t use it. And I know you wouldn’t offer it to anyone else, not with your ideals. But you’d still need it. For your own purposes. For your own … release. Wouldn’t you?”
He did not answer. He had let go of my head. His eyes were shut and his lips were moving.
Still no answer. In a flash of revelation I understood. He was offering me not one sacrifice but two. The first was mind-blowing, but to my astonishment I found I could accept it after all. The other was simply hateful.
“Oh God, Kenneth. Forgoing sex with me is one thing. But you didn’t think I’d want you to forgo … everything?”
He opened his eyes and stared at me.
“You mean it?” he whispered. “You mean you don’t mind if I wank? You really don’t mind?”
“Oh God, of course I don’t mind.” I was almost shouting in my turn. “It’s part of you. Like your language. Like your jokes. Like your music. Like your philosophising. Like your ideals. I’d never want you to change anything just for me. I told you. Don’t you remember?”
Still on my knees, sitting back on my heels, I was hammering my fists on his thighs to drive my message home. I drew a deep breath and tried to calm down.
“Look, Kenneth. You’re offering to give up sex, with me and with anyone else. Yes, I admit I did hope for that. Selfishly. But I couldn’t ask for it. It was far too much to expect. In fact I expected you to drop the whole thing, once you’d thought it through. But now you’re offering it to me, in love, of your own accord. And because it’s in love, because it’s of your own accord, I accept it. Even if it’s far more than I deserve. But, oh God, I never hoped that you’d give up, um, wanking. Because I’d never want you to.”
“Oh God,” he echoed flatly. We were both calling on a non-existent deity with monotonous regularity.
He too drew a deep breath and shook his head, not in refusal but as if to clear it. Then he shifted uncomfortably on the edge of the tub.
“My bum’s going numb. Let’s get back to your room. We need a proper talk.”
“Let me just clean up here.”
“Yah, you tidiness freak! Hurry up, then. We need a proper hug too.”
I consigned the gory swabs of cotton wool to the loo and flushed it. I took down the shower-head, turned on the cold tap, and began to swill the pink dregs out of the bath. Kenneth was still sitting there, withdrawn in thought now, head down, contemplating his nakedness.
“Oh God!” he repeated. He looked up at me, his face inscrutable but his voice precarious. “Am I glad I met you, Cilmin! I’ve found a friend. I’ve found love. I’ve found fulfilment. And most important of all … those bloody warts have gone.”
It took a second or two before the penny dropped. Then I turned the shower-head on him. He screeched, leapt up, grabbed it off me, aimed, and froze my balls in its icy blast. In an instant we were grappling, dripping, tussling, eight-year-olds shrieking, tickling ribs, feet, armpits, crotches, writhing, farting with the effort, kids at horseplay. We ended up on the floor in the tightest of clinches, skin to skin, legs intertwined, breathless and gasping, aching with laughter, on the brink of tears …
The story was inspired by the article on asexuality in New Scientist, no. 2469, 16 October 2004, 38-43, available online, sadly, only to subscribers. It was much reinforced by the AVEN website (www.asexuality.org), whose membership, encouragingly, has grown from 1,200 in October 2004 to 4,600 in July 2005 when this was written [postscript: and in 2014 to over 50,000].
I am deeply indebted to Ben for introducing me to Robert Hunter’s poetry, to him and to Chris for a great deal of invaluable discussion, and to Charles for unwittingly sowing the seeds of Kenneth’s dilemma in the last two chapters. Ben and Chris have also read drafts, as have Hilary, Pryderi, Neea and Paul, all with their usual helpful comments. And Jonathan has been beside me throughout.