S/M or Sunday Night, Monday Morning

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Sunday Night, Monday Morning by Dale Peck

One year from tonight it will pull you
out of bed. Some urge, call it unconscious rather than instinctual, will guide you to find your
leather jeans and put them on, your white Fred Perry, your tan suede work boots, battered now and
filled with dust, and then, wearing what you wore on the night we met, you leave the house and begin
walking east. Your clothing hangs on you like a

sail on a mast; the night, like the night we met,
is warm but cooled by occasional breeze. When it blows you feel it in your bones, in your joints
especially, an icy ache that makes walking difficult. Still, you persist. Neuropathy causes your
ankles to tingle and buzz, and each time a foot strikes the sidewalk the tingle becomes a shock. Your head
hangs. Your hair, which has become thin and almost without texture in the past few months, riffles
in the wind. When, finally, Mile End Park appears, a wedge of trees lodged between a lawn and a
road, you almost don’t believe your eyes, for at some point in your walk it has occurred to you that
you might not make it. But you have. You cross the canal, you turn off the main road, and with an
effort that seems to you almost superhuman, you lift first one leg and then the other over the low
rail that borders the lawn. The ground is baked hard as concrete, the grass covering it brown and
straw dry. You lower yourself to it carefully and then, for just a few minutes, you sleep. You are
twenty-six, the age my mother was when she died.

* * *

You walked
past me where I stood in a little nook of shrubbery, but some movement of mine caused you to jerk
your head around and you saw me, and stared at me, and then stamped into the forest. I followed, you
waited, we met, etcetera; by the time we parted perhaps two dozen men were stalking the few twisted
paths of the copse. I remember little of you because I paid more attention to the environment:
before you, I’d never had sex outside, and I was distracted by leaves rustling when we moved, people
walking by on a sidewalk fifty feet away, the breeze on my saliva-covered cock. You smoked a
cigarette with me on the lawn, then said, “Well, back to the garden party,” and disappeared into the
trees. I went home, but ten minutes later I was back, and by chance I came across you. You were busy

a group of men, but you turned and saw me and detached yourself from them. This time you
presented your ass to me, and I rubbed my cock against it. You were a pushy bottom, and you brought
my hands down roughly on your skin, and I began slapping you. You were
thin even then, your flesh wasn’t tight, and I wondered if perhaps you had just lost a lot of
weight. I hit you with your belt. I threw you against a tree. As you came a second time, I said,
“Meet me here one week from tonight.” I said, “I’ll strip you and tie you to a tree and fuck you.
Strangers will stare at you. When I’m finished I will leave you hanging there, and the lights of
passing cars will flicker over your body; night drivers will go home and sleep and dream of your
uplifted face.” After that, you followed me to the lawn again. Another cigarette: your name was
Keith; you were supposed to be completing a Ph.D. in Ugandan family history, but in April you had
had pneumonia, P.C.P., and you didn’t know what you were doing now; you had had shingles since then
but anyone can have shingles; you got tired every afternoon at three or four but that was all; you
didn’t really think of yourself as having AIDS. As you told me these things I wondered what you had
been thinking ten minutes before as you begged me to fuck you even though I said I didn’t have a
condom. Did you want to infect me too, or did you just want to disappear? Or had you already
disappeared by then? “Can I say something morbid?” you asked me on the lawn. You were lying with
your head on my chest, your right hand resting on my crotch. “I want to die just like this,” you
said, “lying next to someone I love, outside, while I’m still young and pretty. Before I get old and
fat.” I said nothing. After a while you started to shiver but pretended you weren’t, and I invited
you to my house, where we went almost immediately to sleep. You asked me to hold your ass, and I
did. You clung to me even in your sleep. You were hot all night, and slept without any covers; I
slept fitfully, covered by you. In the morning, as you dressed, you looked thin and sad and
disoriented, maybe a little scared. At some point in the night you had said, “You don’t even know
me, I can tell you anything, it doesn’t matter”; but in the morning you could see these words in my
eyes. Though they pretended only at prophecy, they are really your epitaph, and against them all you
could do was dress quickly and leave, almost without a word.

* * *

When you wake you feel warm, almost weightless, not refreshed, but full of jittery
energy. You rise, brush the grass from your clothes; your fingers don’t notice your protruding ribs
and hip bones. In the woods you move without noise. Again and again you appear in front of them,
behind them, beside them, and they look up startled every time. In the darkness their eyes meet
yours momentarily, but beyond this brief contact none

of them engages
you. By now you have learned not to try too hard, and so, after a few fruitless minutes, you return
to the lawn. You lay down but don’t sleep. Every few minutes a shadow or a pair of shadows creeps
from the stand behind you and walks across the park, but none of them stops to ask you your secret.
The trees are virtually silent now. Leaves rustle, branches whine against each other, the lights and
sounds of cars slip through them simultaneously, like ghosts. When you close your eyes you remember
what you said to me. You remember my chest beneath your head and wish it were there, instead of hard
cold ground. You pull your arms into your chest, roll over, face the ground, use your thin torso for
warmth. The forming dew mixes with the sweat leaving your body. You remember our argument. I said,
“I think the soul doesn’t like being trapped within the body and it aches always to free itself, to
move to something better,” and you said, “I think you lay down in a box and fall asleep and that’s
it.” At the thought of that box your legs curl up. You shiver. You notice then that the air moving
into your body isn’t stopping at your lungs: it travels through them, into your abdomen, down into
your legs, out into your arms, even your head seems to be filling with the cold damp air moving into
your body and inflating it, filling it with the substanceless sky. Slowly you uncurl. You roll over
onto your back, you stretch out. You are as full as a balloon now, a tire. You are as round as
a whale, a beach ball. At last you open your eyes and see the fires of four or five stars in the
lightening sky and feel the soft breathing ground under your head and then, for just a moment, you
know which one of us was right. In the morning, some granny’s dog sniffs at your body, but it
doesn’t piss on you as you predicted. Instead, it lifts its mouth to the sky and as I am doing now,
it howls out its dirge.

©1997 Dale Peck