Noel King

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Noel King

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He’d been tempted. The boy was gorgeous, hadn’t recognised him he was sure, but the risk was too great. He could see the headline –‘Star found with rent boy on the highway, Boy tells all’.

Lorcan watched the boy fade into the night and rammed on the accelerator. The rain got heavier. Snow threatened on the radio. More hitch-hikes like vultures at every turn. ‘No thank you, duty done for tonight, and another duty still to come,’ he said aloud, then laughed.

BBC World Service had nothing but Christmas carols on, he switched to Radio 4 – Dylan Thomas’s, A Child’s Christmas in Wales – he could recite it by heart. Christmas panto’s in school had been fun, that’s when he’d first been bitten by 

‘the bug’.

Thankfully he wasn’t bringing Becky with him this Christmas. They’d struggled at living together, keeping a façade, for six years. It was his address that was most useful to her. She had as much leeway as you can have in a penthouse flat in Kensington. She saw other men now, her latest a Welsh chap. Lorcan hopes they won’t go away together. She still gets seen with him at parties and things, being Lorcan’s ‘other half’ means money to her too.

Lighting a cigarette he made a firm decision to think of something cheerful. His father would never understand him, never. He had thought many times of all the hints he must have dropped unknowingly over the years, but his father still had no inclination whatsoever. He knew he would get the lecture again this Christmas about making an ‘honest woman’ of Becky.

‘Fatherhood, thank God I will never have the privilege.’ He pushed his father from his mind, and concentrated on the road. Pa was a gem though, he was Irish, had worked as a ‘bouncer’ in Dublin, came over to London after his marriage broke up and passed stiff competition to become Lorcan’s minder.

He was solid, sincere, a good bodyguard, didn’t ask questions, knew his job. Pa’d been lost and shyly searching. Lorcan hadn’t even fancied him at first. But they were both lonely, going home together to no one in the small hours after a night at wherever. He never though Pa would actually sleep with him. It was an ambition at first, to seduce Pa. Pa believed everything he said too, including Lorcan’s stories about only having had two previous men. Pa, like a faithful dog, didn’t give a shit about Lorcan’s big career. Pa’s daughter had come to visit once too. She cared less about Lorcan’s stardom, no autographs, nothing. She wasn’t into him, she told him out straight. Pa was cautious about their relationship, but she guessed it for herself, shrewd little bitch. The girl thought it was ‘cool’. 'Great Daddy, she said, we’ve much more in common, we can talk about boys, gosh, my friends and their Dad’s…’ Her father had stopped her there, flushed, sighing, ashamed, but once he relaxed, laughed it off. He’s been laughing ever since, A pact was made though, nobody must tell the ex-wife.

Lorcan didn’t want to hurt Pa’s feelings, but wouldn’t she have been the first to know after twenty years of marriage? He found it incredible that he had actually ended up with an Irishman. He’d listened all his life to his mother going on about Ireland and his Irish grandmother. His perceptions of the place changed with Pa. Lorcan’s only been to Ireland once, when he was struggling, the tough years. ‘The fit-up boy’ was what his mother after the old term for travelling theatre. They’d performed everywhere and anywhere, barns and sheds most of the places.

Some stupid letters had been arriving to his agent, from some little village in Ireland, trying to prove an ancestry, wanting to make him a ‘freeman’ of the place. ‘Freeman’ indeed. He could see it all, the welcoming committee, the chains of office, the local pipe band, and little girls with flowers. Mother would be so proud, she’s cry at the thought of it. He began to think of Pa, wonder how his Christmas was panning out in Ireland? In a way he loved Pa.

August was the last time he’d seen his parents. Next time would be to soon, January 17, his thirty-third birthday. Mother, silly old cow, thirty-three years old and he still had to go to her, or she to him, on his birthday. He didn’t like her or his father coming up to London anymore, the journey was getting too much, and he had to be so careful in the apartment. It would be difficult with Pa and Becky there.

If only he had taken the offer of that cruise, he could be far away entertaining a different clientele and basking in sunshine. Turning onto the M3, he cursed himself for not ringing Barbara, his agent, in New York. She was spending Christmas with her new boyfriend. She’d been a bitch lately, hadn’t found him one interesting project. Sometime soon he’d get rid of Barbara – so bloody mixed up – but she was dangerous, could talk. Christmas; Lorcan tried to look on the bright side. He was free, three days of no phone calls, no fans.

He recalled the rows with his parents earlier on, about he wanting to be an actor. They were proud now, thought he was fulfilled. How could he explain? Pity his sister, Janet wouldn’t be home this year. She was staying in California with her new husband’s family. He hasn’t seen his sister in three years. 'It’s gonna be a di…ffi…cult Yuletide with just us,’ he began to hum to the tune of ‘Cold, Cold Christmas’ by Dana. She was Irish too.

He had chosen the presents carefully, a nice ‘pullie’ and a bottle of his father’s favourite malt whiskey, it would pacify him. Having his father quietly drunk at Christmas relieved the strain of trying to communicate.  Perfume from Selfridges’s, and a bottle of nice sherry for his mother. This was apart from the cheque he’s sent on earlier for the Christmas shopping. The traffic got heavier, fog, bleeping horns, and more hitch-hikers.

Putting the heat on full blast he flicked through his tapes at the traffic lights. He lit another cigarette, may as well enjoy them now, couldn’t smoke at home. There was a pleading look from another young female hitch-hiker. The sound of Patti LuPone from Sunset Boulevard consoled him, Norma Desmond and Joe Gilles, what a pair. That was another part he told himself he was near to getting. He didn’t know who you had to sleep with tough.

                                             Before you play, some dangerous game

                                             Before we fall, some harmless flame

                                             We do not ask, if this is wise

                                             And if the game. is worth the prize

                                             With this wine, and with this music

                                             How can anything be clear?

                                             Let’s wait and see, next year will be

                                             The Perfect Year

He thought back to himself and his sisters’ childhood Christmases and their special nativity show for parents and relations. Bruce Forsythe and Kermit the Frog on television, and Billy Smart’s Circus.  Same house still, full of memories. He longed for his sister, the only person in the world who really understood him. She would phone tomorrow but he couldn’t really talk to her then. Why hadn’t he just taken the parents to California for Christmas, damn it. But he knew what his mother’s reaction would be: 'Nothing like a cold traditional British Christmas, and I mightn’t have many of them left to enjoy.’

He fantasised again about how it would be telling his mother about himself. He wondered if she ever suspected. She would probably blame herself, wonder where she had gone wrong, poor thing. The press would find her for a reaction. They had approached her before, even in the supermarket once. That was difficult enough, but a scandal! She’s probably come to terms with him time, but it was her bloody neighbours, bridge colleagues, fellow committee members.

Lorcan’s old girlfriend, Mary was surely still in town too. Mary married the supermarket manager, Lorcan had never slept with her. Puppy love, his mother had called it. They’d probably run into each other in the pub on Boxing night. Suddenly had a horrible thought: his show would be on telly on boxing night. ‘I hope they won’t want to watch it in my presence,’ he screeched aloud. The car began to swerve. ‘Jesus!’

‘Five years now and it’s still no fuckin’ popular.’ He was going to price himself out of it though next season, wouldn’t be a guinea pig anymore. The falseness of it irritated him, the flashy lights, the big prizes, the girls and the stupid public making their claim to fame on the biggest TV quiz show in the country.

He steadied his hands on the wheel. Another thumbed figure in his headlights showed itself to be male and young. Lorcan flicked his indicator and began to move down in gear.

‘Thanks a million, ‘tis a bad night,’ said the boy in a thick Irish accent.

‘And where’s your family this evening, then?’ Lorcan glanced towards the pale thin figure with concern. A hunger of ambition was on his face. Lorcan smiled and waited for the story to emerge. 

Noel King

Noel King was born and lives in Tralee. His poems, haiku, short stories, reviews and articles have appeared in magazines and journals in thirty-seven countries. His poetry collections are published by Salmon Poetry: Prophesying the Past, (2010), The Stern Wave (2013) and Sons (forthcoming in 2015). He has edited more than fifty books of work by others. Anthology publications include The Second Genesis: An Anthology of Contemporary World Poetry (AR.A.W.,India, 2014).