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Huw Lemmey – “Polling”

Radical author Huw Lemmey tells a story of longing, love and housing benefit around this seismic election

This is part of a series of articles on the state of the nation ahead of the seismic UK election on May 7. Check out what we demand from the next government, and don't forget to vote.

I don’t think one could regard my interest in the boys as unethical; it was prurient, but I was fastidious in ensuring I remained an observer only. However, I admit, I did build a new character for my sexual desire, based around the taller of the two boys. I would have put him at 23, maybe; mixed race, hair closely cropped, and seemingly always wearing a new outfit. And I advertised for him, along the usual channels. My disability prevented me from leaving the house, but I can accom, discreetly, and I can say what I want and what I’m into, and I can make a claim for myself, and it is NOT ok to contact this user with unsolicited services and offers. Once a young man who looked remarkably similar did come by. I told him “I wanna top you” and he performed well and he let me ejaculate where I wanted to ejaculate on the boy in the lower flats. It just didn’t work for me. 

Waking on election day with an erection, I lay in bed with the clock radio on and imagined a polling booth where primary colours had been replaced with dusty pastels, and where synthetic rosettes were instead origami roses, formed from softly-folded paper imported from China, and ballot papers were scented with the resin of agarwood and printed on paper so thin a fat thumb could push between the fibres and turn it to flakes. My slippers were right where I left them, heels together on the floor on the left side of the bed, where I always slept. Two years ago, whilst changing my sheets, I had considered turning the mattress round; my physical routine so regular I was worried my tossing body might carve a channel into the bed. So you’ll understand that, as this specific sort of man, a man living this life of specificity, I notice things. 

Warming my small powder-blue teapot, the radio offering asinine religious perspectives on the days ignoble events, I noticed one of the boys arriving home, alone, curiously early. It’s not that my life is so ordered I have the time to notice their routine too; I have my own busy life to live, in its way. And besides, from what I can see from my kitchen window, past the succulents pushing up towards the London mornings, routine doesn’t structure their comings and goings. But still, the two young men behave within comprehensible parameters, and whilst I often see them arriving back from some sort of chill-out (I presume) early on a weekend morning, they’re always together. They are always together. 

I had been stood at this very spot, no doubt fingering at this very tin of loose tea, when the boys had arrived 2 years prior. Over that time the young men had offered me far more to see than the earlier tenant, a lady who was either fast approaching old age, or old age was fast approaching her. Having lived here since the early naughties I had gained a little insight into her family - a single son - but other than that, all I came to know of her was that she can’t have been well off, because I had heard she had left the flat, sold up to a private landlord, when the spare room subsidy had forced her to go. I knew enough about her to parse that chain of events as a crime. But I admit my sense of community has degraded alongside the rest, because I can’t say I was locked in the anger of solidarity when I saw the arrival of these gay boys a couple of months later, in that hot early summer, and bringing all that flesh with them. As I removed my marigolds and let the blinds shake shut I had a clear understanding that I could no longer see myself as a single gay man on this estate, but instead I had replaced the evictee as the late-middle-aged neighbour. On the whole, that was fine, slipping behind those curtains. 

The way the flat was laid out meant their bed was raised to exactly window height, forming a platform if you were watching from the window of a flat opposite, for example my flat, and the curtains were open and the light was on, for example, and you could see anything, if you were looking. I suppose I watched them fall in love with each others bodies. I watched them fuck drunk, harder, and then hungover, softer, and I watched them fry up mushrooms the next morning, and grill bread, and the taller one, who was mixed race, would pour berries and bananas into a blender once the smaller guy, the white guy, had left. They finger-fucked. The smaller one smoked; it seemed an immutable gayness they lived, no different to my life in the late 80s, living in the same borough. Except we were political, then. If it were me the younger man, I’d have been out there canvassing, making sure Labour held the seat, going with my friends to local gay meetings - you know, making a change, trying to build a gay community, trying to support each other. These boys didn’t do that at all; it’s as if they’d fallen from the sky one day and found earth to their liking. I don’t know, somehow that made me sad for them as much as it made me jealous. 

The taller boy paused on the path I watched him as he turned the corner onto the walkway, his head unusually down and his normal stride more a skittering march. The end of the flats forms a sheer cliff face of brown brick. Punched through are overflow pipes, on a slow enough setting watching the white streaks of limescale forming white piss-stains down the wall. Along the bottom floor there are no two doors the same; a mosaic is cracked and cracked again, smashed so much there are more new cracks than original. Some of the doors are heavy, some rattle upon a HGV pushing past on the ringroad. I’m there, on the 3rd floor, in the evening light and warmth, door on the latch. I’m looking for young guys, I can accommodate discreetly. Walk up the stairwell by the newsagents: printing / fax / email / website / posters / flyers / paper / stationery / mobile phones / money transfer. 

The younger boy, from a distance, had a face almost featureless; not a void, but when a painter neglects the detail of a rich fabric, laying on a few fat brushstrokes of clearly-paint, that-which-is-paint, unmistakable in its paintness yet suggesting more the sensual nature of cloth than a painter obsessed with details ever could. From the balcony of the flats, drawing on a fag, I could make out his youthful features blurring into his crisp black hair, his oversized black cotton t-shirt picked out by heavy gold costume jewelry, his face framed by the most perfect eyebrows on the estate. If you’d had binoculars, for example, you’d be able to see that his balls always hung low, even straight out of his tight trousers at the end of a long day. If the taller boy has hurt him, I’d be sad. If this is the end for them, I’d be sad. 

I listened to the suppurating clog of politicians on the radio, their voices like fat peeled off ham, thought about their naked bodies too, at the gym and in the pool, about them looking at each other, unemulsifiable. If I looked up on the edge of each block of flats their faces were pinned as red masks with bloodshot eyes and I thought about those faces leering over you as they got off inside you, Chief Whip Gove and Pickles, so many hunched shoulders. Politicians are erotic but profoundly unsexy; their scandals are named after locations in the city, bricks and locked rooms, to hide the fact they’re obsessed with bodies, that their appearance on the TV news is a fleshwound. 

As the results came in I watched the younger one clutching his iphone to his head like a bandage and wiping his nose on his shirtsleeve, again and again. I thought about the boy who looked like the taller boy and how sweet he’d been, but he didn’t do it for me, not really. Because although he looked like my boy, the smaller one wasn’t there. I think within the cruelty of this city what I got really turned on by was the softness of their touch with each other, witnessing gentleness between two men, and maybe that’s what I had become turned on by. Each time I stood at the kitchen sink, washing out the empty tuna tin, and watching them finish on each other - each time he spilled cum all over his skin felt like they’d bucked every demand the city had made on them. It felt so rebellious, such an aggressive fuck-you to London. As the first constituencies declared I stood in the dark and watched the last of it circle and sink down the plughole.