Blessed Be the Merciful

by Rafael Henry

Chapter 21

Six months later.

Something rather major has developed with regard to the studio in Tite Street. James has given up the lease on the place which leaves me without a home in London. James has accepted a travelling scholarship to Rome. I think he's sniffing the possibility of Associate Member of the Royal Academy of Arts, as they are the main sponsors of this valuable prize. In terms of public esteem, membership of that august body is the pinnacle of any artist's career, or at least one of them. Getting a work purchased by one of the leading public collections would be another……the Tate for example. No artist in their right mind would spurn that sort of golden opportunity.

I 'phoned Henry immediately, got his answering machine, but a half hour later he called back. His response to my problem was instant.

'Don't worry Jamie. I'll take the lease on if I can. It will be our London base.'

Our London base?

I have seen Henry regularly for some time now, years in fact, although his base remains at his house near Newquay in Cornwall, and what with my course halfway through at the College, I am very much London bound these days. But the leaseholder here at Tite street is James who has his room, and I have mine, so when Henry visits, we are private. If Henry needs me, physically, then I am his. That goes without saying. He still asks if I will marry him, which is very sweet of him, but the question was never too serious in the past, but tonight I think he really meant it. It was about eleven in the evening and we had just made love. He had taken his time about things, and been in me long enough to get me over the line too. We had finished with me astride him and doing most of the work with him watching on. We hadn't been in bed together for a couple of months and this latest encounter had been very good for both of us. I looked into his face. He was excited just as I was.

'Will you Jamie? Will you marry me?'

I lay beside Henry on the navy-blue bath towel spread over the bed. He kissed me gently, and I responded just as he would have liked. The stimulation had kept us both interested in each other and still breathless from all the excitement.

'Maybe.' I said, smiling and twisting his ear. 'If you keep doing that to me.'

'Do you like it?'

'What do you think Henry?'

'I think you still think about those other boys of yours……..Leon…….and that little rascal in St Ives. Maybe even Peter too?'

'You're right, I do think about them. In their different ways, they are all very important to me. Peter was my first real passion. You know how lovely he was…….is. You are his father for heaven's sake.'

'Umm, yes that's true. I never knew with you two.'

'Knew what Henry?'

'How far you went?'

'The answer is 'no' Henry. We just played games.'

'But the other games……they worked didn't they?'

'Oh yes. The usual ones. They did work.'

'Good. I'm glad he had some wholesome amusement.'

Henry doesn't need to know everything. Boys can have their secrets. So can I. Once, and only once, our games went further than they ought to have done, but Peter had no real awareness of it I'm sure. He wouldn't have known and I wasn't about to tell him that we had consummated, so to speak. He was of course aware that I had 'wiped' him, but he would have assumed that that would have been saliva. Peter has a steady girlfriend now, Susan, and I wouldn't dream of upsetting that apple cart.

'And Leon?' Henry asks, after a silence.

'Leon's being Leon these days over there in Bucharest. He totally fixated on his medical career. He put me on the back burner ages ago Henry. My parents hear from him occasionally out of his sense of duty but any thoughts of romance he's shelved until who knows when. He must be nearly qualified by now. Chances are that in his country he already is. He's completely focussed on his life's mission, and you have to admire him for that. He's dedicated his life to saving those that desperately need saving Henry. Naturally I'm sorry he's not here and I miss him terribly. We were in love. Really we were. I still am.'

'And where do I fit in to all this?' Henry demands, his voice suddenly raised and urgent.

'I love you too Henry. It's just………tricky for me. Please don't make me cry.'

'Oh my goodness. Just like a girl then? A woman's trick.'

'You know what I mean. You're being horrible. At this rate I won't marry you.'

'I'm sorry,'

The mention of Henry's son Peter got me going rather.

'How is Peter…..really?'

'He's ok thanks. His last year at Truro thank goodness.'

'Does he ever mention me?'

'Yes he does, sometimes.'

'Do you think he's completely straight?'

'Tricky one. Probably.'


'But you're not Henry?'


'Don't you want another child? You're still young enough.'

'I would If you could conceive Jamie. Just one problem there. You're a boy.'

'Yes, thoroughly inconvenient. But I would just for you if I could. That's because I love you. I would make a hundred babies for you if you wanted them.'

'Me too….as in, I love you too.'

I looked into Henry's face. It's hard to describe his expression, not smiling, gentle, almost questioning. I think that our last few words have moved him somewhat. It has suddenly engendered a longing in me, so I turn my back on him. He knows what that means. It has always been a signal for us.

I can feel his hands on my back. They feel soft and loving hands. The tips of his fingers examine each vertebrae as they move downwards. I turn my face towards his as I settle into his lap.

'Again Sir?'

The transfer of the lease went through in six weeks. I found myself in sole occupation of the studio in Tite Street, with Henry coming up from Cornwall every two weeks or so. My sculpture course was going well as was the final touches to the two hyper-realistic models of Day, one for private viewing only and not to leave the studio, and the other for possible exhibition. The results, not quite identical, are uncannily true to life in every way. It might be the boy himself. I have done all the finishing in the Tite Street studio as I want the finished products to be a complete surprise. Nothing like this has been attempted before. The Dons that run the College are very influential and there's word that they are planning a show at the Mall Galleries next year which is likely to be controversial as all the pieces up for selection test the boundaries of decency in some way or other. Good. My piece might get selected! A naked boy five feet tall, looking down admiringly at his penis, slightly inflated, with a towel around his shoulders looking like he just stepped out of the bath, might just cause a sensation. To get noticed these days, you have to do something to shock. I'm thinking that this image might just do that. Besides, in my mind, I'm on a roll here. I have a veritable cascade of ideas for future work. In two weeks, submissions will be open. I will be ready. There is however the question of indecency, that is to say, is it?

The submission requirements for sculpture requires four photographs of the piece from different angles to allow the judges to assess the work fairly. It cost me twelve pounds to submit my sculpture of Day. Four weeks later I had the result in a small white envelope. It has been provisionally accepted for exhibition with the proviso that the figure has to be clothed, albeit partially. I have the answer to that. There is only one part of the figure that could possibly cause offense.

I 'phoned Francesca down in St Ives to tell her the news of my success with the full-sized portrait of her son Day, and to ask her for the means to make the sculpture decent. She laughed and said she would send me in the post what was required, and I would send replacements in return. I wanted the genuine article from Day, just as they had come off him that evening before his nightly shower, picked up off the bathroom floor along with the rest of his clothes. The next morning I nipped into our nearest Marks for the goods in question to send to Francesca, five in return for her one. A parcel was in the post that evening. Two days later Francesca's package arrived. Inside was what I needed, times two and perfect for the job. Not the sleek and deliciously revealing objects that some boys [and me] ponce about in these days but something a little more conservative, which will give my sculpture a slightly fifties look which quite appeals. I have the two sculptures standing in the corner of the studio, a vast space with the massive window facing Tite Street at one end, and opposite that huge gilded pedimented doorway at the other. Handling the wax figures requires a degree of care, but 'dressing' the replicas of the 'my boy' was quite simple, and the result even more stimulating, I thought, than the nude figure. From the various photographs Henry had taken of Day, the hairpiece looked totally convincing, as did the boy's manufactured glass eyes which matched almost perfectly. Finally, I draped the towel around Day's neck to complete the ensemble. I think the erotic can be enhanced by the element of mystery.

A week later, with my photographs duly perused by the Selection Committee, I had the confirmation that the work has been unconditionally accepted for the Show…….aptly entitled 'Sensations'.

With wonderful timing, I also have had a letter from Leon, quite out of the blue yonder. It had been forwarded by my mother along with a note saying that my father is ailing and now unable to conduct services at St Mawgs. The bell-ringers' Captain, also a lay-preacher, has taken over Dad's duties until he is well enough to resume, something I feel is unlikely to happen. My euphoria has been severely dulled by this news, but what Leon had to say stunned me even more.

The letter.

Dear Jamie. Firstly I have to apologize for the lack of attention I have paid you these past times. My only excuse is that I have had to focus completely on my studies and my ambition to help the helpless in what is my native and beloved homeland. I have so much to be grateful for, for the opportunities I have been given, for the love and kindness so many people have shown me, and above all, for you my dearest boy and my best friend. It is from you that I have drawn my inspiration and the knowledge of where the path is that I must follow. Life in Romania is not easy, but my studies have gone well and I'm proud to tell you that I am now a qualified physician. I know you will be happy and pleased for me, and those that I now care for. Many are a pitiful sight, but I am bound to love and care for them. Most have little hope, not just for a future but for their own survival. I can only care for the few which is breaking my heart. I was born a Catholic, or so they tell me, although most people are of the Eastern Orthodox Church which is Christian, like you my dearest boy. I think and hope that our love is undying. Through my medical practice I have forged links with the Catholic Homes for young people, some just babies. It was not my choice but things need to be done to help them. Some of the priests are kind, thank goodness. They still expect me to be obedient and a good Catholic of course! This can be very taxing. If I am not compliant, they will not allow to me to work there. I have no choice as they also afford me some protection from the Regime too. Your parents pray for me every day, as I do for them and you my dearest friend. Perhaps you do too. Some of the boys, thirty, and two girls, will never thrive, but some will I hope. There is one boy in particular who has a gift. He is very special to me. I enclose a snapshot of him. He has so much love to give, and will achieve well I'm sure in the right circumstances such as I enjoyed in your country. I have been to the British Embassy here in Bucharest to enquire of the possibility of an emigration visa being granted to allow him to travel to England. He may qualify for refugee status or some other reason for asylum and protection from his abusers. His name is Sorin, which means 'like the sun'. Can you not see that Light in his face? I know you would if you saw him. I waited many hours at the Embassy but I was rewarded for my time. The Vice-Consul heard my story. He told me he knows certain people in London. He said he might be able to help. I have many forms to fill in, and to write a letter of explanation on Sorin's behalf. I asked him how long should my pleading letter be? He said 'Long enough to convince me.' Blessed be the merciful. I just said it. He smiled, and then looked at me for some time in thought. I think there is hope if you too will use imagination and wisdom towards solving the problem we have. I will write again as soon as I may know more. Sometime I wish I was a woman to stand a chance of being your wife, my dearest man. With fondest love, Leon.

I'm alarmed by his last remark concerning gender, but I make no mention of that in a hasty reply to the address he wrote on the back of the envelope. There's an excitement in his words that have transmitted to me. Who is this Sorin?

I'm holding the tiny photo of him in my hand now. Just as Leon appeared that first moment I saw him, too thin and pale, this boy is so like him as he stands, long fingers enmeshed, hands together in front of his short trousers, a length of thigh, with just a trace of a smile on his beautifully sculpted head. My reply didn't lack enthusiasm and support for what was obviously Leon's valiant attempt to get this boy out of Romania. Leon must have very good reasons for doing what he's doing. I'll just have to wait.

Leon's second letter arrived on the day of the Private view at the Mall for the 'Sensations' exhibition. I had entitled my sculpture 'Bath boy', as the figure of Day, life-sized, stood in the middle of the largest room, one of three, and directly on the floor with no plinth thank goodness. When I saw it for the first time in this unfamiliar context, even I was shocked at the frankness of the piece. I had already decided to show the one of Day with his erect penis being hidden under a pair of white underpants similar to the 'Y' front, but more of a square shape at the front with access to one side. He's making a tidy impression in those old pants of his! I thought the label at the back sticking up above the drooping waistband, M &S Boys Age 12-13, a nice touch. It remains to be seen, and heard, and written what the critics say about it. I think I'll leave the country before they say it! The whole show is very edgy, with a lot of images both two and three dimensional that may well offend the average gallery goer, but that's the point of it…….pushing the boundaries ever forward.

Henry's come up from Cornwall for the preview. He seemed full of beans and enjoyed making up for lost time in bed last night, and this morning, and is with me this evening to lend me moral support. I showed Henry Leon's second letter. My excitement knows no bounds, not just for the View at the Mall, but for Leon's enterprise too.

My dearest friend, things have been moving fast. Quentin at the British Embassy has approved our application for Sorin to travel to London quite soon. His stay will only be temporary, dependent on finding a home for him and a school who will take him on. Quentin calls him 'an endangered species'. He has met Sorin and I could tell he liked him. Quentin says he will 'find some strings to pull.' Tomorrow I meet him again. I need to ask you something very important. Will you look after Sorin? I know your parents can't do that now. How is your father? I know Sorin will love you as I do. Please think hard about it…….please?

The letter continued in similar vein, but well before the end I had made up my mind. Whatever my circumstances in life are to be, good bad or indifferent, I will do my utmost to care for Sorin. As for Henry…….

'It's a no-brainer Jamie. I'm with you all the way. Is it ok if I stay tonight? I won't be in the way? I've just had an idea.'

Henry and I got finally got into bed around midnight, totally exhausted from the stress and strain of the Private View of my first significant London exhibition, albeit shared with another thirty-two artists. That didn't deter Henry who wanted to express his love for me, the beautiful man. I'll say one thing for him, he knows how to kiss a boy. Kissing is the guaranteed way of exciting my passion. Besides, I was in the mood to put the stressful Private View to one side and concentrate on giving Henry the best time I could manage under the circumstances. When Henry feels in dominant mood, he lets you know. I'm surprised he doesn't make me wear a dog collar on these occasions. Everything in my life it seems is spilling over! These things are sent to both exhilarate and to try us it seems.

Over breakfast at the small table in the studio, Henry expanded on his thoughts regarding Leon's letter.

'It's just a thought Jamie, nothing more. I met the deputy head of a good Westminster secondary school recently, a very good one, and I'm not saying which one. I'm pretty sure he's gay because of where we met. I'm talking the right religious denomination here, if you see what I mean?

'Leon is a Catholic, hence his tangling with these charity organizations. Any boy who is 'lucky' enough to find himself in one of those institutions will automatically be a Catholic I imagine. Will that help this boy Sorin…….if he ever gets here?'

'I would have thought so.'

'And by Leon's tone, in his letter, he's desperate to get Sorin out. There must be a particular reason.'

'That doesn't take much imagination does it?'

'Perhaps not. But it might just be Leon's intuition where Sorin is concerned. Leon became a very competent pianist at Truro. Did you know?'

'No I didn't.'

'And, by the by, what were you doing in a gay bar meeting strange men?'

'I just happened past it as I strolled along a Chelsea street.'

'And got chatting I suppose?'

'As you do. I have his number.'

'Literally, or metaphorically?'

'Both darling.'

We laughed. I'm not worried about Henry. He's not about to do anything silly.

'A younger man was it, I assume?'

'Yes, much younger. He'd eyeballed me while I was at the bar ordering a scotch and soda. I asked him if that chair was free and I sat down opposite him. Our knees touched under the table, and then a few more times. It was just five minutes in the loo, that's all. Him not me. He just needed a little relief. He asked me. What was I to do?'

'Oh the poor dear. And you?'

'No, not me. I have you darling.'

The cheeky so and so, but he's right, he does have me most of the time he here. At least he's honest, but it's not like him to go chasing willie. I asked Henry for a full description of the event, just to spice up breakfast time. He gave it to me. By the time his enthralling tale had run its course, I was tempted to haul him back into bed to teach him a lesson, the naughty man. Sex is just such fun when you can get it from a guy like him. It makes me love him more.

'Well, what would you have done Jamie?' Henry enquires, with that innocent look on his face. I've seen that face a few times, but he's quite right. I would have done exactly the same thing. It was nice of Henry to re-live the event for my benefit, but I will spare you the mucky details that Henry did not spare me.

The thing about Henry is that he so often finds solutions to problems. He's also very funny, intensely loyal, and a good man at heart. It's fair to say that I do love him for all that, in my own way shall we say. He's the only bloke I've ever let into my body, and possibly the only one I ever will.

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