The sun was just setting over the distant outline of the South Wales coastline, and as the day turned to dusk the lights of Cardiff began to be visible over the water of the Severn Estuary, along with the dramatic red streak of reflected dying sunlight. The stretch of roadway above the little public park leading to the old Victorian pier was dotted with parked cars, the drivers out in the park with their cameras trying to catch the best moment of the sunset.
Alan did not join the photographers, preferring to stay in his car, in the warm, as long as possible. Nevertheless he appreciated the view; from his vantage point he could see the whole vista of mottled orange and red water, broken by the mass of the island that formed the outer end of the pier. Gradually the light faded, pink turned to orange, then red and finally deep blue as the sun disappeared altogether. He tried to focus on the beauty of the sunset, and not on the sordid nature of his purpose.
The photographers returned to their cars and drove off, and little by little other cars drew up and their single occupants emerged, warmly dressed against the evening chill, and made their ways into the park. After seeing three such men walk off under the trees, Alan too got out of his car, locked it and headed through the park entrance. Trying to be inconspicuous, he walked slowly, casually, mostly on the darkest paths, but nevertheless he kept a sharp eye all around. He needed to know the whereabouts of every other person in the park. Even when the last of the daylight died it would not be pitch black because there would be some light from the street lamps that lined the roads at the park boundaries.
As he approached the ornate wood and glass shelter on the seaward side of the park, built in more genteel times and now mostly disused, he saw a man standing outside on the path. Alan saw the glow of a cigarette, but could not see much of the man's face because he had his coat collar turned up and a woollen hat pulled well down over his ears. He seemed to be engrossed in the view over the water below. Alan slowed his pace just a little. When he arrived at the shelter he walked straight past, did not acknowledge the man on the path, that's not how it's done. He caught a glimpse as he passed of two more men in the enclosed section at one end of the shelter. The matching enclosure at the other end appeared to be unoccupied. He walked on, stopped, and looked out at the water long enough to be convincing but not so long as to cause the other guy to lose patience, and then turned and, casual as you like, walked back to the shelter. This time he stepped in under the canopy, and, after looking around, noticing the two men at the end who were hurriedly adjusting their dress he walked as nonchalantly as he could manage into the other end. He turned and deliberately caught the eye of the man out on the path, who did not immediately react, but after a short delay threw his cigarette to the ground, stubbed it out with his toe, and stepped into the shelter. Rather than walking to the end after Alan, he stood in the middle, watching him.
Alan knew the routine. He sat down on one of the benches, clearly in view of the other man, legs well apart and his hand on his crotch. He adjusted himself, just the once, but ensuring the other man saw the action. It worked, and the man approached, came right into the enclosed section, stood for a moment looking out of the window and then sat down with Alan, so close their knees touched. He turned his head towards Alan, who did the same, and they smiled at each other and nodded. No words were exchanged but each now reached out to cup the other man's crotch and massage the bulge he found there.
Alan felt the other man's cock swell under his palm and, after a second grin at the other man he stood and walked to the back of the area where they would be out of view of any walker who might pass. They stood close together and it was at that point that Alan began to feel uncomfortable. There was something familiar about the other man. He couldn't put his finger on it, and giggled because just as that thought crossed his mind he did put his finger on it; the 'it' in question having a long foreskin partially retracted from the head. Alan stroked the skin, enjoying the feel of the silky-soft skin sliding over the steely hard member beneath.
The other man was doing much the same to Alan and soon they were wanking each other steadily. Alan leaned into the other man a little, craving the contact, but the guy flinched back, making it clear that he wanted none of it. He shrugged, accepting the rules of these things – quick, impersonal, anonymous. Sometimes, to his delight, the other man was affectionate, wanted to hug, even kiss, but for most of these men it was just clinical, get off quickly and go. He'd come to the conclusion that this man was one of those, and now he wanted to come to his conclusion without delay. The first to come would go, leaving the other unsatisfied and looking for a second partner to complete the experience. Alan wanted to be first tonight, he was already regretting having come. He closed his eyes, willing himself to get absorbed in the sensation, the other man's hand, stroking, pumping, to forget the situation and the danger. It wasn't going to work, his discomfort was getting in the way. He pulled away from the other man, who let go. He glanced up to gauge the man's expression – bewildered – and that was when it came to him: he knew this man. He stuffed his shirt roughly back into his trousers and zipped up, and left, shaking with the shock of recognition.
He walked briskly off without looking back, willing himself not to run, and when he came to a park bench he sat down and tried to calm himself.
After maybe two or three minutes he began to feel better, and then indignant, sufficiently so to want to do something about it. He returned to the shelter and walked right up to the doorway of the enclosed section where he'd been just minutes before. As he expected, the man he'd met there was still there, now standing with his trousers and underpants around his ankles, with another man on his knees in front of him. Alan stood in the doorway and both men reacted like startled deer. Interrupting their attempts to pull their trousers up and make themselves decent, he spoke.
Advancing on the man who'd been his partner earlier, and who stood where he was, looking like a rabbit caught in headlights, he surprised himself by snarling.
“You. I know you, Reverend Greenlees, you fucked up my life and you don't even remember me, do you? You're the man who came into my school to do sex ed. classes and taught us that homosexuality was wrong. You said we must not be queer if we wanted God to love us. You're the man who told us at the youth club that masturbation would make us weak and self-centred and we would go to hell. You're the man who preached from your pulpit time after time that homosexuality is evil. And I believed you, Mr Greenlees. I believed. I was only eighteen and I believed everything you said.”
He paused just long enough, and Greenlees, pale and shaking, cut in: “What do you want from me?”
Another snarl. “Ha! What do I want? What do I want? How about I want my life back, Mr Greenlees? How about I don't want to be terrified and repressed and in denial of who I am? How about I want a chance to meet and fall in love with someone, someone who'll love me back, someone I can spend my life with? Can you do that, Mr Greenlees? Can you do that for me?” Alan's voice cracked with emotion and he paused to compose himself.
The third man had sat down on the bench that ran around the shelter and was listening intently. Neither Alan nor Greenlees paid him any note.
Alan carried on, relentless. “You, Mr holier-than-thou Greenlees, convinced me that if I prayed hard enough I could be straight, and I believed you. I got married, in your church. Do you remember that? I married, and put my poor wife as well as myself through years of misery until finally I collapsed and... well, the marriage ended. And still after all these years I can't bring myself to be honest with myself, to come out and tell my family, my friends, my colleagues 'I'm gay'. Why is that, do you think, Mr Greenlees? Who was it who fucked with my mind all those years so thoroughly that I can't get past it even now?
“It was you, Mr Greenlees, and it's some years since I set foot in your church but I'll bet you're still peddling your poison, aren't you? How many more young men and women have you screwed up and ruined their lives? Well, I've got news for you. It's going to stop.”
Greenlees reached out for the wall, as though he might collapse. He repeated: “What do you want from me?”
“I'm of a mind to start attending your church again. I'll be there Sunday, you might want to look out for me. And there's something you need to know. The first time, the very first time, I hear even a whiff of homophobia from your pulpit, I'll be sending the photo I just took of you to the papers, together will a full explanation.
“Are we agreed, Mr Greenlees?”
There was a pause, and Alan waited, allowing the silence to work on Greenlees. He had not, in fact, taken a photo of Greenlees, and knew enough about photography to realise that he could not have successfully done so in the gloom of the shelter without flash. But he also knew that Greenlees couldn't know that for sure, and the possibility would be enough motivation. In the orange light from the distant street lamp he could just make out that the vicar had wet himself. Eventually, though, he nodded and said a quiet “yes”.
“Er, which is your church, Mr Greenlees?”
Alan and Greenlees both turned in surprise when the third man unexpectedly spoke up from the shadows.
Greenlees looked around him as though hoping someone else might answer. “All Saints, on Station Road. Why?”
“I'm thinking I might start going to your church, too. It'll be nice to have a local church that's inclusive and tolerant, somewhere the community can go and feel welcome. You might get quite a large gay following. This could be the best thing to happen in this town for years!”
- and he and Alan exchanged a grin.
© Bruin Fisher March 2013