慈 — Compassion
— And they say money can’t buy happiness!
Plato wasn’t sure how well the two-headed boy understood his witticism (the language barrier struck him in this instance as a porous membrane, through which some constructions of surprising sophistication penetrated, while others of almost infantile simplicity were repelled), but the boy, or rather boys, were literate enough in their clients’ desires to shower him with laughter before returning to their respective tasks of kissing his mouth and sucking his penis.
The boys, the boy (Our grammar was not constructed for a creature with two heads, one torso cleft in a deep and pliable Y, three arms — the third little more than a shared hand — and two strong but slender legs) was remarkably sensual for one so young1. The kiss that delighted Plato’s lips (with their labia minora of red wine, their miasma of toothpasted steak) had the mesmerising tug of a Mediterranean tide, sucking at his ankles beneath a pastel-crayon sky. Soft hands touched him everywhere, praising with their delicate palpations the hirsute potency of his limbs. Even without the ministrations of the boy's other mouth, it would been enough to drive Plato fucking crazy. But the way those extra lips encircled his cock, moving slowly, incantationally up and down, seemed to Plato to constitute something sacred, a prayer in saliva and skin2.
“To have that intuition,” Plato later wrote in his blog, “that depth of insight into another person’s desires, knowing — feeling — exactly what they want to feel next, amounts to a kind of genius. An utterly undemonstrative, self-effacing genius, as far from the verbal peacocking of our Western intellectuals as”… he gazed out the window, tapping the case of his laptop with his fingernail… “as a Buddhist monk is, at the deepest point of meditation, from an archbishop greeting heads of state in his vestments. How myopic, how Cartesian it would be to dismiss this intelligence as a purely physical, and therefore mechanical, act. All five of my senses were dissolved in the oceanic attention of those conjoined brains.” His fingertips were dancing now, playing the piano of his staccato excitement, rediscovering the crackle of synapses in the clatter of keys. “Two not quite identical copies of me were born, two Platos lived side by side for flickering moments, like the stereo ghosts of binocular vision (there’s dualism for you, René). Which reminds me, their eyes. One pair brown, the other an opalescent, no solar green: a heterochromatic husky…” He paused, forwning; then the cursor skipped a few steps back. “…an heterochromatic husky cleft and cloned. Four ocular gems set in dusky, angelic faces (Parthian? Babylonian? — new delicacies of the silk road). Green eyes looking up at me with an expression both too blank and too complex to describe, some dizzyingly liminal blend of matter-of-fact experience, childhood trust, patience, curiosity, eagerness to please; brown eyes gazing coyly down.” Plato began to stir, inflamed by the cool remembered shade, the ombra of the ombra, of that brown-eyed gaze; and the green sun re-flooding his face. He closed his laptop. The blog would have to wait till tomorrow. He opened it again, trembling with excitement. He had suddenly realised—of course!—that the boys’ uncanny sensitivity, their overflow of empathy, could only come from their lifelong commingling with one another, their shared resources of skin and limb and nerve. They could enter others because they were each other. The idea arced down his spine, a flash of cognitive lightning that forked and re-forked from inspiration to words. Its phosphorescence of intellectual renown (this is it! this is it!) completely eclipsed his lust. “Imagine,” he typed, “if you or I had lived our lives in the permanent company of another mind, if our awareness of the world and presence within it had been welded to the awareness and presence of another since the day of our birth…”
But as soon as the word birth stuttered across his screen his enthusiasm died, and a dull unease settled on his face. I must do my laundry, he told himself, shoving back his chair. Postpone the mundane and the brilliant suffers.
Such thoughts — any thoughts — were far from Plato’s mind when he finally detached from the boy's kiss. He watched the boy’s lips, glazed with his saliva, reddened from prolonged contact, transposing in his mind their wetness and engorgement to the other, singular opening he would soon enjoy. His eyes travelled down the ram’s-horn gyre of melded spines, marvelling at their suppleness (cousin, it seemed to him, to the boys’ emotional flexibility). It was no strain at all for them to kneel beside him on the superking bed, twisting their heads towards his face and groin, steadying themselves against his chest with their bi-shouldered hand. Two drooping daisies sharing a stem. He withdrew from the boy’s other mouth, admiring his soaked patriarchal girth beside the delicate chiselling of the young ephebe. His arousal had reached that pitch, that tingling liquid madness, where the attainment of orgasm was no longer a desire, or even a need, but an absolute physical law.
He lay the boys on their backs, caressed an erection in which he wondered aloud (the old flatterer) if two allotments of flesh were combined. Then he raised their legs over his shoulders: that tender position for which the moniker missionary was never less apt. For all the churning of his senses, his mind, as always, was the true cauldron of his lust. The realisation that the shocks of pleasure he was about to send up the boy’s spine would divide in two, would reach and be reciprocated by two separate brains, was unbearably erotic. It triggered, through some magic of bifurcate sympathy, another storm of inner lightning, equal in intensity but opposite in direction to his later epiphany, surging upwards from the charged aura of specific words to the branchings of ecstatic sensation.
Fifteen minutes later, as he scrubbed himself in the apartment shower, Plato reflected on the instability of human experience. Dark to light, light to dark. Maybe our bipolar moods are the stamp left inside us by the diurnal earth. The sunburst of his recent euphoria was revealed as a blurred and drunken night. The anxious gloom that now oppressed him, that made turning on taps and picking up soap seem as fraught, and as pointless, as juggling knives, was actually a lucid dawn. He resisted the impulse to flee as soon as he dressed. He would do the right thing, return to the bedroom for a polite goodbye. Goodbyes.
The light in the hotel-like room, with its giant bed and barely decorated walls, had not changed: the same muzzy, soft-edged dimness, curtains sealed against the afternoon glare. But he had imported the sun of his unwanted clarity. The conjoinment of the naked boys, far from a miracle of fusion, was unmasked as grotesquely parasitic. The upper half of one spine jutted almost sideways from the middle of the other; Plato could read, in the exhausted tilt of the brown-eyed head, the sadness of life as an appendage. Even the hand they shared clearly belonged to the green-eyed host.
— Well, thank you very much, Plato boomed, that was a lot of fun.
He leaned in to one face, another, for a kiss. Acne and patchy stubble showed through thick makeup. God, he felt dreadful. Not only the pleasure he had just experienced, but every moment of joy in his life was rotting inside him. Every summer day of his childhood — riding a bike through the woods (oh, hurtling through a green cathedral of light and shade), skipping stones on a mirror-flat lake with nothing but circles on his mind — was overcast with senescence and death. Plato you old fool, he told himself, you’ll be happy again in a minute. Happy and horny: don’t be surprised if you’re back here next week. We are all of us more than one person, we mutate from moment to moment, we should celebrate our plurality instead of denying it. The me that hurries away in disgust and the me that rushes lecherously in should greet each other on the stairs, old friends with differing views.
As he navigated the corridors and elevators of the giant apartment complex (did other erotic nightmares lurk behind those doors?), he forced from his mind the absurd sum of money he had just spent. In doing so he also shielded himself from a greater discomfort: the suspicion that a far higher price had been paid elsewhere. He knew, of course, that the surgeon’s knife sometimes created remunerative monsters from the physically healthy but lethally poor. But there was no sense dwelling on matters outside his control. He buzzed open the front door, stepped blinking into the light.
1 “What is it with these young lads,” he once complained to his brother Glaucon, “that they confuse athletics with sex. As if pleasure is a contest to be won.”
“Too much porn,” replied Glaucon, and his reflexive, though far from groundless, response infuriated Plato: the question had required careful thought, the answer should too.
“Was there” — Plato adopted an interrogative tone that his brother recognised with dismay — “or was there not, a time before pornography was widely available?”
“There was,” Glaucon answered.
“And was there a time when youth, and the natural athleticism of youthful bodies, did not yet exist amongst people?”
“I suppose not,” said Glaucon. “There have been young and athletic people as long as there have been people at all.”
“Good, we can agree on that. And was there a time before people had sex?”
“Obviously not,” said Glaucon.
“Can recent phenomena be the cause of ancient phenomena: for example could birds have learned how to fly from aeroplanes?”
“Do you therefore think it possible that the connection between the ancient phenomena of youth, sex and athletics could have been caused by the recent influx of pornography?”
Glaucon had doubts about the validity of that logic, but he kept them to himself: “No, what I said earlier was clearly untrue.”
2 ”None of that ridiculous spitting and gagging, Glaucon — where do you think they learn that?”
Chastised by his earlier defeat, Glaucon muttered, “I suppose it must be an instinct of some sort.”
“An instinct?” Plato boomed, a gleam of triumph entering his eye. “Oho! So you believe that an activity scarcely observed before the recent ubiquity of pornography, and frequently observed thereafter, is due to an instinct that must have predated pornography entirely. Let me ask you, Glaucon…”