Blessed Be the Merciful

by Rafael Henry

Chapter 17

I wrote again to Alex.

Dear Alex,

Thank you for your last letter. What a fantastic idea of yours!! I didn't know anything like that is possible? I know the government have apprenticeship schemes so maybe we can take advantage of one of those. But I think I have some persuading to do with my parents. I know they would want me to continue at Truro but I think I've run out of steam where exams are concerned. Anyway, the school have only offered me half-fees scholarship for the next year as my results were not that brilliant, and my father's income is pretty measly which is another problem. Leon will continue at Truro on his full scholarship which he deserves. He works so hard to justify his Award. He doesn't want me to leave but he can understand my thinking too. He's clever and will do well. I wish you could have seen him yesterday in his new school stuff. He's taller now and……..well you know how I feel about him and I know I can tell you. Your ideas for new work sound fantastic. Maybe Leon and I can help too. Thank you for thinking about me. I need to talk to you soon. I will get the bus again.


I thought long and hard about signing off my letter to Alex with the word 'love'. In the end I used it. Why not? You only get one life.

Amazingly my parents were very sympathetic to my wanting to leave Truro. I had talked to them endlessly about my needing to go off somewhere and find my creative outlet. Working with and for Alex seemed such an exciting prospect, but St Ives is not next door by any means. The one thing they insisted upon was a meeting with Alex in person. They needed to see him and discuss all the possible arrangements. We had his 'phone number, so when my mother got through to him, he agreed to drive up to the Rectory the next day. I was not to be present at the meeting, at least not initially. Leon and I would go for a walk for half an hour, and then wait until I'm called……..if I'm called.

When I went into the drawing room, one of the few rooms with anything resembling a rug on the floor, all three of them were standing in front of the granite fireplace to receive me. I knew these could be life-changing moments.

My mother is not very happy about my staying in the tiny flat Alex has adjoining his studio. But I'm used to being away from home and I'm a sensible and independent kind of a person, by way of mitigation in her mind, so she has agreed. My father is always content to go along with her opinion. Alex did a good job convincing them.

I telephoned Peter to explain to him, as it was vitally important to me that Leon was looked after at Truro. He cannot be made to feel that he's being abandoned. I spoke to Henry too. He was as pragmatic as ever, offering me any kind of support in this crazy venture he could give, at any time.

It was Henry that drove me down to St Ives that first Monday morning in September. I was to stay in the flat during the week to see how things went, and I would get the bus back on the Friday afternoons to spend the weekends at home at the Rectory. An official apprenticeship has been set up, partly Government funded, to learn Core Foundry Practice. My personal income to cover day-to-day essentials would come from my non-nude modelling for groups of artists producing portrait artefacts, not photographs. Now private work is another matter. The rules for young people under the age of eighteen are strict about this kind of paid or unpaid work. I know from the outset that I will model for Alex in the privacy of his studio. The only consent required to do this is mine. It'll be three days learning the craft of casting in bronze and other metals resulting in a City and Guilds qualification, and for the remaining two days a week I am to assist Alex whilst exploring my own sculptural practice. Fantastic!

Henry can't ferry me up and down to St Ives week in and week out, and my parents certainly haven't got the time to do that. The second Monday morning, rather early for me, I tried something a little different from waiting for the bus to St Ives. It's a fifteen-minute walk from the Rectory to the roundabout on the road that links Newquay to the main A30 highway to the far end of Cornwall. It's a road I know well as there is a turnoff that goes to Truro, and lots of people use it. I know that if I stand just beyond that roundabout, stick my thumb out, I have a good chance of catching a lift westwards, and maybe all the way to St Ives if I'm very lucky. If not, then I may get most of the way there and use the bus for the rest of the journey. This is a plan I'm not sharing with my parents, but it will save me money which is in short supply. For the next two years, if things work out with Alex, I'm going to be poor as the proverbial church mouse, a pleasant little creature often seen around our house.

For early September the weather is fine and warm, so I'm in my shorts as usual. Unless it's very chilly, that's my 'uniform'. For the hitch-hiking project, I should be quite visible with my blazing white tee shirt and pale blue shorts and plenty of brown leg visible up to my armpits. I'm mildly embarrassed about how I look this morning, but I need to get there. The bus to St Ives stops here in twenty minutes, so I have exactly that much time to attract a sympathetic motorist en-route to the west.

Bingo! Several cars had slowed to scope me out, but it's exactly five minutes before one actually stops a few yards beyond me, the driver leans across and the passenger door opens. I have a couple of seconds to get sight of him, not her, and decide what to do……get in and possible get attacked in an isolated layby, or not. Holding the door handle, I ask the question….

'Are you going near St Ives?'

'Yes, I'm going all the way there. Hop in.'

So I do, and seconds later we're off down the road in a large black Volvo Convertible. How about that!

Just after the junction of the main A30, there's a roadside café. There has been minimal conversation between me and my chauffeur. I answer his questions with simple answers that give little away about who I am, what I'm doing or exactly where I'm going, but I now know his Christian name and he knows mine. He wants to buy me some breakfast, and after a bit of arguing from me, I accept. Outside the car, I can see he's casually dressed and quite expensively in tailored shorts and Lacoste polo shirt. Like me, he's tanned with dark brown hair and the kind of blue eyes that make you look at them. His easy manner reminds me of Henry, Peter's father. He's nice. Umm…..yes, nice.

We're sitting at the table, breakfast done, when he fiddles in his shorts back pocket and pulls out his wallet. He settles the bill in pound notes with the waitress, puts the change in his pocket, and then extracts a ten-pound banknote and hands it to me.

'I'm sure you can use this Jamie.'

'What's this for?'

'For you. Take it. I thought we could sit in the car for a while. There's another ten pounds for you afterwards. Have you got twenty minutes to spare Jamie?'

The car is parked right at the back of the large parking area, with no other cars anywhere near it. He unlocks the door, opens it and reaches inside to lower the canvas type roof. He then opens the back door and gestures for me to get in. He follows me onto the back seat and shuffles himself very close to me, and begins to run his fingers through my hair, telling me what a handsome boy I am and how sexy I look. Then he asks me how old I am.

'I'm sixteen…..just.'

That's a lie.

'Really? You like you're fourteen. Are you sure?'

'Yes of course. My birthday was last week.'

'Ok. That's good then. Would you mind if I play with you……and you with me?'

When I finally arrive at Alex's studio just behind Porthmeor beach, I was very conscious of the fact that I have this very morning, not two hours ago, prostituted myself. It's a very strange mixture of emotions, and Alex immediately notices that there's something wrong. I sit down and tell him what I had done. I could have said no and that would have been it, but I didn't.

'I let him kiss me Alex.'

'What else Jamie?'

'It was just his hands Alex.'

'And what else Jamie?'

I told him.

'All the way then Jamie?'

'Yes. Him too. It was just hands, really it was.'

He put his arm around me and told me how sorry he was, and that I was to use the bus from now on. I did.

That incident in the car has taught me several things. One, how easy it is for a boy of a certain age to get into that kind of trouble if you don't put a stop to it immediately. Two, that I enjoyed the encounter. Three, that it's very probably available whenever and wherever I might find myself. Four, that if I should ever repeat such behaviour, I have to be incredibly careful. Five, that I don't want or intend to ever repeat such an encounter with a total stranger, however generous his offer may be. Six, that I've betrayed all my friends and family, and most of all, Leon. Seven, that sex, if and when it happens, goes hand in hand with love.

Alex has never made any attempt to touch me inappropriately, ever. I don't think he's a gay man, and anyway, he wouldn't even if he is. He's had enough chances. As I model for him, nude, for two hours on the days I'm not on my foundry business on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays. He has been incredibly kind to me, checking that my tiny bedroom is as it should be and that I have some decent food in the fridge. We work until eight at night every night, and quite often he'll take me out to eat with him, or cook for me at his miniscule house nearby. It is a little lonely though, and I'm missing Leon horribly, and the others too. I have come to realise too, that school offers a form, annoying as it can be, of security and a warming togetherness which can be a great blessing.

Now and then I think about that Arthur boy. I'm really pleased that I gave that nice little boy, Ellingham-Smith, what I did. I hope he's found a more enduring partner to have a little fun with, bless his little cotton socks.

So time marches on at an alarming speed it seems. Another Christmas has passed, Leon's school career is approaching it's denouement, Alex's reputation as an emerging sculptor is moving in the right direction, London bound, and I'm on the threshold of becoming a qualified bronze founder. Socially, I know every artist in the town now, at least to wave an acknowledging hand in the street, if not to join their table in the Sloop Inn where mariners and artists meet, occasionally one and the same. One can sense the presence of men like L S Lowry sitting quietly in the window remembering the tan red sails in the harbour, not seen for a few years now. So much history pervades this place.

To our great pleasure and satisfaction, Alex's burgeoning reputation has been founded on the piece he made using Leon and I as his models, his take on Rodin's 'The Kiss'. For part of the school holidays, my parents allowed Leon to stay with me in Alex's flat. On numerous occasions we have modelled for Alex, and others too, the painter Francesca Knight being one of them, with her son, Day. Day Knight? Well, why not?

Leon and I are both in love with Day. He is just the most adorable creature on this earth. With Leon and I, Day is the boy in between. It was Alex's idea inspired by Leon's story of his early life, to make a sculpture on the theme of rescue. Alex has sketched a hundred different ideas using Leon and I as the two enclosing, protecting, and comforting the distressed smaller form, that form being Day Knight. To make an almost life-sized piece in bronze from three joined figures is ridiculously ambitious, not to mention the expense. Henry has got involved too, as one of several sponsors of the project. The joy for Leon and I is that we get to rest our hands on the gorgeous Day, almost on a daily basis. The feel of the boy's skin under my palms is intoxicating, as it is for Leon. Although there is an intimate element to our work with Day, inevitably, it is an entirely non-sexual contact and just a job of work really. The piece, as Alex has envisaged it, is indeed intimate.

During our rest periods that all models are given every twenty minutes or so, we three retire to my tiny bedroom. I don't think Day has ever had this kind of exposure to any other boys. Lying naked on a bed with two older boys is a new freedom for him, and he's clearly enjoying it, just as we are. On the bed, Day wants to play fight, to dominate Leon and I as we wrestle him off our bodies, giggling, and as we submit to his tickling, he sits astride us and shows us proudly, innocently, beautifully, how he really feels. I remember feeling like that so well. One knows that there's something lurking behind all that innocent fun.

When will someone just try to understand my feelings… feelings, new sensations rising up inside me, the very beginnings of human passion, of love even, alive now in my body? Who will I learn from…..who will teach me what I am to be?

Alex's sculpture, to be cast in bronze, will take months to complete.

Francesca, St Ives Society of Women Painters, paints me from time to time. I asked her why she never paints Day and I together.

'I hadn't thought of it Jamie, but you're right, it would be interesting. Day would love to. By the way, why don't you have a change from that tiny flat and stay here? You're looking thin darling. You need looking after. You're not eating properly. Would you do that for Day and I?'

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