February 2000

chapter two

from the short story "wondrous strange" by joshua weiss, published here in serial format

2 -in which we meet the child of no one, he wakes, and the universe comes crashing down around him

It was 9:59 in the morning, and Benjamin was still asleep. His hair, like a fine mist, was floating gently in disarray on the pillow, and a single ray of light escaped from the curtains and shot down to the long, bleached-blonde strands, illuminating them gently like a small ember just dying out. His face was extraordinarily thin-he had not eaten anything substantial in weeks. His chin and nose were slightly pointed-his lips slightly open with a tiny drop of saliva gracing the corner of his mouth- glinting in the rose morning. Next to him slept the boy who had recently come to be called Sebastian. Benjamin wasn't entirely certain his love even had a real name-he had only known him as Sebastian. The truth of the matter was that Sebastian's real name had been lost to the ravages of time for so long that even he was no longer sure he could remember it, if an occasion arose where it would be necessary to introduce himself to a god, or some such personage of authority. Nevertheless, he lay there, naked on his belly above the sheets, the bright scar of a burn received many years before in the small of his back.

One minute later, the small clock radio at the side of the bed clicked on and began to play an old Sarah McLachlan song that Benjamin found always had a knack for bringing tears to his eyes. He woke slowly, as usual, groggily reaching down and fumbling to shut the alarm off (which he was never able to do successfully), and brushing away the sleep from his eyes. It was indeed a new day, although the boys had planned nothing particularly exciting- Benjamin had rehearsal that evening, and Sebastian was to spend another day looking in vain for suitable employment. But they were together-that was what was important.

Benjamin finally succeeded in rising quietly, careful not to wake Sebastian, and entered the rather disgustingly filthy bathroom, drawing his morning bath.

As he was bathing, Sebastian continued to sleep soundly, and Sarah, via a radio station not well-liked in the East End, continued to sing:

-I forgot to tell you I love you.

After the bath and morning shave was finished, Benjamin pulled on an old pair of jeans and a ratty sweatshirt.

-I'm going out for a fag, love. Be right back, he said.

But from Sebastian there came no response.

-I said I'm going out for a fag, love. Be right back, he repeated, the second time with a bit more volume and slight emphasis placed on the last three words. Still, there came no response from the sleeping boy.

-Ah, go on an' sleep your life away, then, said Benjamin with a turn, and a few moments later he had left the building.

It was unusually cold for London at this time of year, but Benjamin took advantage of this bright new day to take a walk that took him past Limehouse station and the Old Ship-his favorite pub. It was a two-fag walk this morning, for Benjamin was now accustomed to gauging time in the consumption of cigarettes, but when his walk took him back to the flat, he allowed himself one more in hopes that the extra time he was taking would assure that Sebastian would be awake by the time he returned. But as he turned the key in its lock, Benjamin knew that something was wrong.

Sebastian was indeed still asleep, and despite Benjamin's screams only inches from his ear, he continued to doze as peacefully as though there were complete silence in all the universe.

-No, thought Benjamin simply, when he finally realized he could not wake his lover. No, this cannot be happening. This must be some sort of horrible dream; yes, that's what this is-nothing more. In a few moments I'll wake up and he'll be cooking me breakfast and we'll sit down over a cuppa and laugh about the silly nightmare I had last night.

But back in the dark of his mind Benjamin knew that Sebastian wasn't going to wake up. And as he sank down to the floor weeping in front of the sleeping beauty, the London sky began to cloud over in a hazy shade of winter. Benjamin had no options, he knew. They could not afford a doctor, and neither of them had any family-just each other. And then, suddenly, as though he had always known the answer to the problem, but had simply forgotten it over time because the problem hadn't shown itself until now, Benjamin knew what he had to do.

-Mad Hettie, he said simply, and stared fiercely out the window as the first few flakes of snow began to fall.

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