LUTHER BY KEVIN ESSER
The following short story by American writer Kevin Esser was published in the twentieth issue, October 1984, pp. 17-19, of Pan, a magazine about boy-love, published by Spartacus in Amsterdam.
The illustrations are all from the same issue of Pan.
Luther’s parents insisted that he would eventually be tossed into the Mary Bloom Home for Delinquent Boys, an institution known to the youth of our town as, simply, “The Mary”. I shrugged with a noncommittal smile whenever the assertion was made. They were probably right. Luther was, beyond doubt, a Bad Boy. I knew that from the start. But, if anything, his naughty reputation seemed to me an actual turn-on, an attribute as wickedly titillating as a bulge in the pants.
It’s hard to remember now my initial impressions of the boy. I probably thought him rather homely (albeit in an intriguing, offbeat way). Tall for a thirteen-year-old, he could easily have been labelled “skinny”. Even his hair — dark blond verging on brunette — hung in long straight hanks over his ears and down onto his slender neck. An oval, hollow-cheeked face added to the effect of slightly lunatic emaciation.
At times, his energy would explode in a nova of comic invention pulsating between brilliance and insanity. Kim, the boy who first brought Luther to my apartment, dubbed him “the white Eddie Murphy” in grudging tribute to his eruptions of madcap gutter humor. But his flights of comedic fancy were erratic, often giving way to doldrums of odd calm; he became pensive at times, even sulky, his dark brown eyes staring almost sorrowfully from that gaunt Tartar face: all cheekbones and baleful squint. One moment he might be performing a wildly vulgar masturbatory pantomime, lying on the floor in his underwear and yelping as he bucked his hips and pretended to “glaze” the ceiling. But then a darker mood would seize him and he’d sit alone in a dim corner of the living room, gazing at rock videos on TV and chewing a plug of snuff. (I don’t know where or when he ever picked up that smelly habit, but I never liked it. My displeasure, though, failed to stop him. As always, Luther did whatever he pleased).
During our final week together, a feeling of gentle sadness crept into our friendship. His nomadic family, originally from the hills of Missouri, was on the move again. Our relationship, pursued sporadically for almost a year, was at an end. I told Kim one day in July how much I’d miss Luther. He wrinkled up his nose in a typical twelve-year-old expression of cocky disdain. “That retard!? I’m glad he’s goin’.”
“Why don’t you like Luther?”
“Because... he’s a jerk!”
“I thought he was your friend.”
“Maybe he used to be, but now I’m sick of him.” He punctuated his contempt with a sharp swipe of his hand.
I always found Luther’s lack of popularity hard to understand. Besides the fickle Kim, he had no friends that I knew of. In fact, he seemed to enjoy solitude, cultivating his isolation like a youth aspiring to the monastery. As far as I could detect, he saved his rare outpourings of humor (and affection) for me, doling out his emotions with the care of a castaway rationing provisions.
During that last week, he visited me every day on his bicycle, bringing me farewell gifts of fried chicken and barbecued ribs left over from family cook-outs. Our final day together was, I think, a Friday.
Wearing nothing but baby-blue gym shorts with his white knee socks and high-top sneakers, he skidded his bike to a daredevil stop on the sidewalk in front of my house. The summer sun had streaked his hair gold and given his skin a fine brown luster. He smiled up at me with gapped teeth and shouted his customary “Hey, dude!”... then slipped off his red-and-white Japanese rising-sun bandana and tied it around his slim suntanned right thigh.
Still smiling, he shambled lazily up the steps of the porch. “D’you read the paper?”
I nodded, a bit puzzled by his question. He grinned wider with a flash of crooked teeth before pulling a rolled-up newspaper from the back of his shorts and handing it to me. “Here, I had an extra one after my route.”
In memory, I can still hear the throaty croon of his voice... a voice softened still further by a susurrous frontal lisp that turned all his “s” words to velvet.
He dropped beside me onto the porch swing. “Kim here?”
“Inside, watching Star Trek.” I patted his sweaty knee. “Thanks for the paper, Luth.”
“I thought you might wanna see the sports or somethin’.”
“Well,” and I stroked his warm neck, “I certainly do appreciate it, old pal. Now... how about some dinner?”
The three of us ended up at a nearby steakhouse - one of those fast-food restaurants with pretensions to middle-class chic. Ranch motif: lots of saddles and steer’s horns and paintings of cowboys at sunset. Kim and I had come here often, but never with Luther, who peered about him with the agog air of a gamin dragged suddenly into Maxim’s. “I don’t like fancy places,” he said.
“Fancy? This place?”
Kim laughed. “Shoot, man, this place ain’t fancy! It ain’t fancy at all!” He glanced across the table at me with a look of pride and pleasure that deliberately — and smugly — excluded Luther. “We go to some really fancy places sometimes, don’t we?”
“Sometimes,” I conceded, hoping not to bruise Luther’s feelings. “But this place is nice enough.”
I suppose we all enjoyed our food; I don’t recall. After dinner, and a few sweaty frames of bowling, I took Kim home to his parents (collecting my usual boy-sweet kiss as I let him out of the car); then Luther and I drove back to my apartment, alone in the July night swelter, a moon of molten silver glowing hot above us. Rock’n’roll summer anthems throbbed in feverish succession from the radio.
As we swung into the driveway, the car’s headlights swept quickly across Luther’s bike.
“Nobody stole it.”
The boy looked at me. “Stole what?”
“Your bike, jack.”
“Hey, dude!” He punched my arm in mock resentment. “Who you callin’ ’jack,’ jack?”
I returned his playful punch, then ruffled his sweat-damp hair before climbing from the car. “You coming in?”
“It’s pretty late. I dunno.”
“I’ve got root beer and ice cream. You could have a float.”
“How ’bout a beer, dude?”
We were already inside. I flicked on the lights, the TV, the window fan. “No way, Luth. No booze. Just a root beer float. Take it or leave it.”
“I was just kiddin’,” he grinned, cradling both thin hairless legs against his chest as he sat on the couch. “Sure, I'll have a float. Lots of ice cream.” Suddenly inspired, he grabbed a little pillow from beside him and stuffed it between his legs. “Ooo, baby!” he howled, thrusting his hips up and down and rolling his head. “Come on, baby, come on, faster, faster!” With a mad whoop, he jerked upward and flung the pillow into the air. “Shot her across the room, man! Oh, baby, it was great. Oh baby baby baby!”
During this brief performance, his eyes — bright, cunning, coquettish eyes — never left me.
I brought him his float, watched him drink it, lazed my arm around his bare shoulders as he sucked noisily at the dregs of amber foam. “I’m going to miss you, Luth.”
He nodded, but said nothing. Of course I hadn’t expected him to gush maudlin farewell sentiments. He was a boy, still too young to indulge in such adult follies. Instead, he glanced at me with a smile of gentle, bittersweet affection, his eyes brilliant with unspoken memories, unshed tears.
I kissed his cheek. “You have to leave pretty soon, right?”
“Yeah, in a few minutes.”
I asked him, without words, whether we could make love for a final time, letting my hand play timidly between his legs. And, without words, he consented. I could see and feel the hardness inside his shorts. (He was, very plainly, wearing no underwear.)
“Wait a minute,” he said, pausing to set aside his glass before slipping the blue shorts down his legs. They remained crumpled around his ankles as I tasted the saltiness of his chest and belly and thighs. My tongue explored him slowly, sliding in lazy, playful circles. Luther’s hand touched my shoulder, then shyly withdrew. I could hear the quickening of his breath, feel the deliciously agonized squirm of his hips as his pleasure swelled and burst and flowed.
Outside, a dog suddenly howled. Luther caught his breath, giggled, then imitated the canine yelping and pulled up his shorts. “I’m just an old hound dog,” he sang, “just a dirty old hound dog!” Leaping up to improvise a few lunatic dance steps, he
noticed a damp spot on the front of his shorts. “Whoa, baby, can’t have that!” Still singing and whooping, he danced out to the kitchen and grabbed a dish towel.
“That’ll teach you to go around without underpants,” I yelled.
“Hey, dude, us dirty old hound dogs don’t need no underpants!”
And that’s how I remember Luther: singing, dancing, cracking inane jokes. Before riding off on his bike, he allowed me one farewell kiss. His breath smelled of root beer; his lips tasted ice-cream sweet.
“Be good, Luth,” I told him.
“Don’t worry,” he laughed back, “I won’t!”
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