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Of God and Godless Men Alike

the consequences of a queer encounter

By Talbot FinchPublished 3 years ago 10 min read
Of God and Godless Men Alike
Photo by Avi Theret on Unsplash

Something stirred James from his sleep. He’d been dreaming he was in large, labyrinthine stables, frantically checking the stalls. There were hundreds of horses, but he could not find Gambit among them.

Upon waking, James didn’t know where he was. His thoughts were slow, as if moving through mud, and his temples throbbed. Though it was dark, he knew that the bed he was lying in wasn’t his own; it was much too comfortable. He was in a hotel—yes, the Grosvenor Hotel in Chester. He remembered now. What’s more, he remembered that Gambit had won the race at the Roodee the day before and that a celebration had followed with dozens of people and no short supply of spirits.

James wasn’t sure what had awoken him at this hour. There had been some noise in his dream that sounded as if it were in the room with him. He couldn’t recall the noise exactly, only that it had been unpleasant.

Just then, somewhere in the darkness of the room, James heard retching. He sat up quickly, despite his protesting head, and felt for the lamp on the bedside table. As the light came on, he heard another retch followed by a sickening splatter.

Now on his feet, James stumbled to the other side of the bed, holding onto the frame to stabilize himself. There, he saw Ciarán Donavan, the jockey who rode Gambit to victory, his face the color of sour milk, sitting on the floor and hunched over a chamberpot. Ciarán was completely bare, and it was at that moment that James realized that he, too, was naked. He stood there for a moment, trying to make sense of things, when Ciarán leaned over the pot and vomited again.

“What is this? What are you doing here?”

Ciarán said nothing, just stared at the small pool of his sick. James marched over as best as he could, crouched beside Ciarán, and shook him forcefully by his shoulder.

“Didn’t hear me, eh?” Tightening his grip, James demanded, “Tell me what in God’s name you think you’re doing here.”

Ciarán’s eyes met his. They were bloodshot from vomiting and seemed to have trouble staying open. Again, he said nothing.

“Did you let yourself in, did you? Came in while I was sleeping, you bloody pervert? I should like to break every bone in your body.”

“No,” Ciarán mumbled, shaking his head heavily. His face twisted into a pained look, and he began crying softly. He continued to shake his head and repeatedly mutter the word “no” from spittle-covered lips. Seeing the other man cry only served to provoke James further.

“What did you do? Had your way with me while I slept, is that it?”

Ciarán shook his head more vehemently at the accusation, and finally cried out, “You brought me here! You invited me in, and you asked me to stay with you!”

He’d barely finished speaking when another retch overtook his body. He rested his head on the rim of the chamberpot and continued to sob quietly. James sat in silence as Ciarán’s words hung in the air.

“I wouldn’t... I wouldn’t ask you. I’m not—,” James stammered, struggling to finish his thoughts. “You’re lying.”

“I’m not,” Ciarán said weakly.

“Yes, you are. You’re a liar,” James said, though he could hear his own conviction waning. Memories from earlier in the night were beginning to come back to him; a cold sweat broke on his forehead. He stood abruptly. “You need to leave.”

“No, I think I need a doctor,” Ciarán mumbled.

James looked at him incredulously. “You expect me to fetch you a bloody doctor? Not bloody likely.”

“I don’t feel right.”

“I should think not! You drank yourself sick. I’ll not call on a doctor for that. Believe me, boy, you’ll see another day.”

Ciarán vomited in response. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before adding, “I think I might be dying.”

“For Christ’s sake,” James sighed. “Then, you might as well go die in the comfort of your own room. Put on your clothes, it’s just down the corridor.”

“Please, I don’t want to be alone. I can’t die alone.”

“You’re not going to die, and you’re not staying here, you damned bugger. Get out.”

“I’ll tell everyone,” Ciarán said sharply, and spit into the chamberpot.

James glowered and crouched to stare him in the eye. James could smell the sick on his breath. Ciarán struggled to hold his gaze.

“Now, you listen to me, boy,” James spoke in a low voice and placed a firm hand on the back of Ciarán’s neck. “I’ve worked hard to be where I am. I broke that damned colt when no one else could. I trained it to be a racehorse, and a winning one at that. People now know my name because of yesterday. And, I’ll not have some stupid, young jockey spoiling everything I’ve earned, because he can’t hold his bloody drink.”

“Damn it, then help me,” Ciarán said.

“Christ, man!” James exclaimed, standing again and beginning to pace. “How am I supposed to help you? I’ve told you already, I’m not getting you a doctor.”

Ciarán opened his mouth to retort, but before he could speak, his stomach lurched. He lowered his face into the chamberpot again and retched violently. When he lifted his head, his entire body was trembling. It struck James then how small Ciarán looked. He was, of course, built like a jockey, but he seemed especially small now as he sat on the floor, naked and unable to stop himself shaking.

James sighed. “Mother Mary, why’ve you done this to me?” he asked himself.

“I think we’ve done this to ourselves,” Ciarán muttered back before spitting into the pot again.

Just then, there was a knock at the door. They both froze. Beyond the door, there was a cautious voice.

“Sir?”

James found his words and called back, “Yes, one moment.” He crouched next to Ciarán again and whispered. “You are not to make a sound. Do you understand?”

Ciarán glanced down at the chamberpot and then doubtfully up at James.

“If you open your mouth for anything, it had better be to pray, because it’ll be the last thing that ever comes from your damned lips, you hear me? It was chambermaids that testified against that Wilde fellow. Now, lay down, and stay silent.”

Feeling much more sober now, James moved as quickly and quietly as he could. He pulled on his nightshirt and then hurriedly gathered all of the clothes that had been strewn around the room, both his and Ciarán’s. He shoved them into the chest at the foot of the bed and made his way to the door. Before opening it, James gave one last glance toward the bed. From where he stood, he wasn’t able to see Ciarán laying on the floor on the other side. Satisfied, he pulled the door open and saw a neatly dressed, middle-aged man waiting. The man spoke right away.

“I beg your pardon, Mr. Flannery. I don’t mean to bother you. It’s just— Well, we’ve received a few complaints regarding noise from other guests. We only wanted to be certain that you were alright, sir.”

James didn’t hesitate. “Yes, my apologies. I’m afraid I’ve been unwell this evening. I don’t wish to be a bother, but could you fetch me a few things?”

“Certainly, sir. Do you need a doctor?”

“No,” James said, perhaps a bit too quickly. He cleared his throat. “I mean to say, it really isn’t worth waking a doctor at this hour. Just, some warm milk, please. With a spoonful of soot. That’ll set me right.” James paused for a moment and was suddenly aware of his bladder. “And, another chamberpot, too.”

“Yes, right away, sir.

The night porter hastily made his way down the hall. James closed the door, and seconds later, Ciarán retched again.

James walked around the bed to see him. He looked greener than before, probably on account of suppressing the need to purge. Shivers rippled through his body despite a gloss of sweat coating his skin.

“You sound less Irish when you talk to him,” Ciarán murmured.

“I told you to stay quiet.”

A few minutes later, there was another knock at the door. The night porter returned with what James had asked for. He took them gratefully and then asked for a pitcher of water and a face cloth. The porter nodded and set off again.

“Drink this. Slowly,” James said, lifting the cup of murky, grey milk to Ciarán’s lips. “And, keep it down your throat.”

Ciarán did as he was told, barely grimacing at the taste, while James relieved himself with the second chamberpot.

“The porter will be back in a moment. You can rest on the bed when he’s gone.”

The porter returned again with the things asked of him. As he took the pitcher and cloth, James smiled at the man and told him the milk was already settling his stomach.

“There should be no more complaints on my account tonight,” James assured. “You’ve been most helpful.”

True to his word, when the porter left, James helped Ciarán to his feet and laid him in the bed. He propped him upright with pillows and pulled the blanket up to his breast. James inspected the half-empty cup of milk. He took a sip for himself before handing it back to Ciarán and telling him firmly to finish it. As he drank, James consolidated the contents of the two chamberpots and placed the empty one on Ciarán’s lap. At one point, he seemed like he was going to be sick again, but nothing came of it. His shivering was also starting to slow.

“I think you’ve made it through the worst of it, lad,” James told Ciarán, whose eyes were barely open now. “Though, you look a poor sight, still.

James retrieved the basin from the wash stand at the far end of the room and brought it to the bed. He poured in some water from the pitcher and used the cloth to clean Ciarán’s mouth and chin. When he finished, he poured a bit more water into the empty milk cup and brought it to Ciarán’s lips.

“Rinse your mouth.”

At the sound of James’s voice, Ciarán opened his eyes in mild surprise as if he had dozed off. “The way you talk reminds me of home,” he said absently as he sat up. He rinsed his mouth as he was told, spit the used water into the empty chamberpot, and then settled back into the pillows.

“Alright,” James said curtly, wiping Ciarán’s mouth with the cloth one last time. “I think that’s quite enough. You’re fine now. You just need rest. I’ll wake you when you need to leave.”

Ciarán, who was barely able to keep his eyes open, asked suddenly, “Why did you hire me?”

James thought a moment, before answering. “I saw you race at Exeter last year.”

Ciarán furrowed his brows. “I came in fourth.”

James smiled despite himself. “Yes, lad, you did. But, I liked the way you raced. I thought Gambit would take to you, and he did.”

Ciarán hummed tiredly in agreement.

“And besides that,” James continued, peering through the curtains out toward the night, “I remember how it is to be an Irishman at your age. Filled to the brim with enthusiasm and heart but nowhere to put it. Being nobody’s first choice.”

Ciarán was silent.

“It looks like we’ve got a few hours still before sunrise—,” James stopped when he turned from the window and saw that Ciarán had fallen asleep.

James allowed himself to watch him sleep for a moment. Some color had returned to his cheeks, and he seemed to be resting soundly. James gently brushed a stray strand of hair off of Ciarán’s forehead and retired to the wingback armchair in the corner of the room. He tried settling in as best he could, though he knew there wasn’t much hope of sleeping well tonight.

After what seemed like hours of shifting and readjusting himself, James had finally succumbed to his exhaustion. He was sure that he hadn’t been asleep for long, but when morning light crept into the room from around the curtains and he finally awoke, the room was not as he left it.

Ciarán was gone, and the blanket and top sheet had been pulled down to the foot of the bed like a flayed fish. Upon inspection, James saw that the rag he had used to clean Ciarán’s face was sitting in a small pool of dirty water in the wash basin near the bed. On the sheets, there were several small damp spots, almost dried now. It seemed that Ciarán had taken care in cleaning any evidence of the night they had spent together.

In the chest at the foot of the bed, Ciarán’s clothes were gone, and James’s own were neatly folded. Laying on his shirt was a note, written on a piece of stationery the hotel provided to all rooms with a writing desk. James recognized the message as being two verses from a longer, well-known Irish poem whose writer has been made anonymous over the years.

The stationery read:

“Have you forgotten too, my flower,

How often you would tell,

How God ne’er made until that hour

A man you loved so well?

Can you forget your love for me,

Whom now you do detest?...”

The second stanza was incomplete, but James recited the rest of it to himself from memory. “But that’s all one, those times are gone. No doubt ‘tis for the best.”

Beneath the excerpt of the poem, at the bottom of the paper, Ciarán had also written a small prayer.

“Holy Mary,

Mother of God and godless men alike,

Pray for us.”

Historical

About the Creator

Talbot Finch

Hello. My name is Talbot Finch, and I write fiction.

If you're interested, please feel free to take a look at my site:

talbotfinch.com

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