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Slip / Sorrow

Free online fiction by Alex Draven

It was a tombstone secret, that Tell slipped back here on the nights when Mike was working lates. The kind you take to your grave, where you have to believe that everyone else there will keep, and that the people who wouldn't understand would never ever know, or you'd just go crazy worrying.

Tell didn't want to hurt the guy. He kind of half way loved him, sometimes, but out there in the so called real world, with the manners and the regular jobs and the responsibility he could only ever be halfway anything. Everything else had to be crammed down behind a façade of acting right and being grateful, so he came back here sometimes, on the nights when Mike was working lates.

Mike thought he'd rescued him from places like this. This place itself, actually. Mike thought a lot of things, and he was only halfway right about most of them. Mike assumed that, because it was Mike's worst nightmare, that Tell must have hated every minute of it too. Mike thought that it had scarred him, that it had been forced on him, that he'd needed rescuing, and that really Tell was a nice guy, just like Mike. Sometimes Tell half wished that that was true.

Sometimes, though, he had to get back here, and paint himself up, get out there and ride the crowd again, because if he didn't get rid of that bland mask of being nice and being normal, he'd go completely crazy, no half measures at all. He wasn't normal, and he wasn't nice like Mike, and the grabbing hands and the sparkle of sequins and the bass vibrating in his chest and the catcalls and the heat of it weren't the only things he missed. He needed.

He needed the strangers and the spotlights and the show, needed the setting so that he could be really and truly himself. Needed somewhere that didn't just allow dirty fucked up greasepaint dresses and hard muscles balanced on half-penny heels, somewhere that demanded it, with customers who screamed and creamed for him, forced him to know that he could do anything to them and they'd only beg for more. That someone who was quick with hands and tongue and attitude could be a whole person and wanted for it.

He needed somewhere where he didn't have to know the name of the host who kissed him hello to scrape away the normal and leave lipstick there instead, nor what to call the ticket boy who winked and held him hard to crunch glitter out of Tell's hair and make him shine again. Somewhere where he didn't have to know shit like names, because they saw what was his new day-to-day for what it was, and wanted it gone, so he couldn't hide any more.

Nameless strangers who saw more of the real him than the partner who thought that Tell needed rescuing and was a nice guy really. Sometimes Tell found himself wishing he was nice, but other times he knew that for what it was - a role trying to seep in around the edges - and when Mike was working late, Tell slipped away, down the stairs and away from all the costumes, and painted his face and nobody winced when he was all of himself.


It didn't say Tell on the gravemarker. He didn't have a tombstone, and if he did that wouldn't have said Tell either. Or Tallulah. Or Scarlet, or any of the other names Tell had taken on in his few years.

Mike clenched his hands to keep from reaching out. He was crouched down, and after a minute he tucked his fists into his pockets, hunching his shoulders, pretending it was just against the cold.

It was just a slick, smudged plastic marker. Black plastic, grey mud, white typeface.

Stephen Marcus Teller.
1978 - 2005.

The marker only has basic facts, no polite lies about beloved son, and certainly nothing like the reality. It didn't feel like Tell at all.

Tell always had hated being fenced in with facts and realities, when there were stories and fantasies and make-believes to be lived. That's what had torn Mike up inside, in the end, because he'd wanted something real with Tell, and it had taken three days longer than thirteen months for him to realise that that was never going to happen. It had only taken one afternoon, one argument, for Tell to drop out of Mike's life, with only an arch, blown kiss.

Mike drove his fingernails into the palm of his hand and bit his lip, and tried not to remember the smear of red lipstick on Tell's fingers and the dull thud of the door, the last time he'd seen Tell.

Well, seen Tell alive. He'd seen the odd photo in the three years since - flyers and adverts. A poster outside some drag dive he hadn't gone in to. They didn't count, though.

He hadn't come to the funeral, either. He'd known about it, because he was the kind of boring guy who read the local paper and paid attention to the facts, like the hit and run victim reported at the bottom of the third page of the June 2nd issue. But he hadn't come, because Tell was his past, and Stephen Marcus Teller hadn't even been that.

Even now, with the February damp seeping through the knee of his jeans, Mike wasn't sure why he was here, in this place that Tell had never believed in. A graveyard was one place you could be sure Tell wasn't going to be, not even if his body was.

Mike shook his head, and forced down a lung-full of cold, damp air. Fancies.

There wasn't a cross piece to hook them on, so in the end, Mike arranged the cheap, glittering, rainbow beads in a circle around the marker and stood up, feeling the pull of stiff muscles in his back.

"See you later," he said, and then blew a dry, casual, kiss into the air. His hand twisted into a small wave as he turned away, towards the main path, and he didn't look back.

** end **

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Author's note: These two vignettes were written years apart.

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Slip/Sorrow by Alex Draven is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
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