A Telephone Into Which One Does Not Speak
Warning: Drug Use
Length: 1-5k words
A Telephone Into Which One Does Not Speak by Culumacilinte
Rosey was silent. His paintings were completed in silence, his brow sometimes furrowing at the canvas, sharp brown eyes penetrating art as his hands gave it life. The rhythmic scrape of the palette knife, the thick, walnutty smell of oil paints, the curve of Rosey’s lip as he assessed his work-but no words. Had he had a wife, doubtless she would never have entered that room, at least not when Rosey was working; perhaps she would have snuck in later, examined the canvasses with a blank, non-understanding curiosity, wondered what her husband saw in all this. But Rosey had no wife; no woman wanted a strange artist with eyes only for his paints and pencils and no voice to lend to his love. Rosey did not care; a wife would not have suited him anyway, not when there was a Muse to look after.
Bauer spoke entirely too much. Bauer was a Bohemian, and Bauer drank and talked and made love with the relish that characterised his kind; talking much, but saying little. Not that any of his compatriots noticed, or would have cared had they done; it was not the Bohemian way, after all, to care overmuch about such things. When he painted, Bauer talked to himself, and to his painting, to the brushes and oil and colours: No, he’d mutter, that’s not bloody right. Come on, my love; just-a little more-wonderful, excellent. My thanks. People loved Bauer, when they weren’t slightly unnerved by him, by his eyes too blue, his smile too wide, his speech unfocussed and nonsensical but still clearly the speech of an intellectual. They were drawn to Bauer as shavings of iron are to the central magnet, or as small insects to the lamp at night.
They were artists both, Rosey and Bauer, though artists separate before RoseyandBauer came into being. Surrealists, though they never called themselves as much, for it was not their word. That was a word belonging to another man, whom neither Rosey nor Bauer knew yet.
Though of course they would.
It was Rosey who first found Bauer; he found him at a gallery through one of his paintings, hung proud and ostentatious upon the wall. Ordinarily, Rosey avoided such events; what need was there to see others’ art when there was his own to attend to, he thought; what was the point in making polite small talk to people one didn’t know simply because one wanted to examine a painting or walk the room. A colleague of his had been most insistent in recommending this particular exhibition, however, and so here Rosey was, standing on the far side of the room before a great canvas, chaotic with colour and form. It was as utterly unlike his own work as Rosey could imagine, and yet looking upon it he saw himself before the canvas, laying down careful brushstrokes like a caress upon the skin of a sleeping lover. Hello, he thought in vague surprise, and half expected the painting to answer back.
Instead, a voice spoke from behind him, sounding young and pleased and uncultured. ‘You like my painting?’
Rosey turned to see luminous blue eyes and features elven-sharp, dark hair oiled back into a neat horsetail, a small grin tugging at the corner of a very pink mouth. The man looked unbelievably young. It was difficult to believe that he was responsible for the painting on the wall before them. Slightly thrown, Rosey nodded, turning to regard the painting once more. In his mind’s eye, it tasted of oranges and twilight.
‘My thanks.’ Said the man. ‘Still, it is… unfinished.’
Yes it is, Rosey thought, and once more the image of himself before the canvas swam into his brain.
‘But good enough to hang, Maturin thought. I do not know that I shall ever complete it.’
The man paused for a moment, considering the painting before them, before he proffered his hand to Rosey, in his face all the earnest humour of youth. ‘I am Bauer.’
‘Do you speak at all?’ Almost a laugh there in his voice, but stifled so as to be polite, in case Rosey didn’t actually speak; on the off chance that he’d taken some bizarre religious vow or had had his tongue cut out, or something even stranger.
No, said Rosey’s thoughts, but he himself stretched out his hand to meet Bauer’s and nodded at him. ‘Beg pardon,’ he said, soft and faintly embarrassed. In actuality, he felt no shame, but it was the thing to do in situations such as these. ‘I am Rosey.’
‘Rosey. We’ll meet again, I’m sure.’
And with that, he departed, shoes making soft applause against the mirror-polished floorboards of the gallery, honey-coloured wood like a ballroom floor. Rosey could see Bauer’s reflection mirrored exactly in the shining wood, and suddenly his brain was filled with images of wooden men trying desperately to lacquer themselves to that perfect shine.
‘Why did you speak to me?’ Rosey asked later. ‘That day. Why tell me your painting was unfinished, why take an interest?’
Bauer cocked his head to one side in that way he had, the movement that Rosey now found himself imitating day to day, though while it looked serious and pondering on him, it made Bauer look like a budgerigar. ‘You’re an artist,’ he said simply.
But that wasn’t enough, and Bauer knew it. Rosey pursed his lips ever so slightly, lower lip pushing out, the upper curving like a strung bow, and Bauer read the question in his face. ‘I knew you were an artist,’ he murmured, gazing at Rosey in his disconcertingly direct fashion. ‘You were painting my art as you looked at it; don’t think I can’t recognise the look of an artist in the middle of his work.’
And Rosey had nothing to say to that, because it was true. But he tried, for Bauer, who so loved his words. ‘Thank—’
‘—you,’ Bauer finished it for him, and it would be absolutely criminal not to kiss those smiling lips right now. But Rosey had never shied away from the criminal before, so he simply took Bauer’s hand in his and pressed lightly, and they both knew what he meant.
Another gallery, another exhibition; with well-dressed ladies and gents milling about, conversing in sophisticated voices and regarding the paintings through imaginary lorgnettes. Rosey ignored them, in the main; what they thought of his work was not his concern, and in any event, if they were to realise that the mild-looking man skulking about in the shadows was Gui Rosey, then there would be questions and admiration and bitching of every different variety, and if there was anything Rosey was anxious to avoid, it was that.
Bauer saw him though, and slipped up to his side unseen to whisper ‘Monsieur Rosey; fancy seeing you here,’ into the air behind his head. Rosey’s eyes shut once, twice; a slow blink of surprise, before he turned to the other man, his face smooth and unreadable. Bauer perhaps remembered his silence of the first time they’d met, and didn’t bother waiting for Rosey to speak.
‘These are yours, then?’
‘They’re good.’ Bauer looked about them, taking in each painting with a little nod, as if he were personal friends with them all. ‘They’re very good. I couldn’t help wondering though, what’s going on in that one?’
He inclined his head at small painting across the room, and Rosey couldn’t hold back the twitch of his lips that he should choose that particular painting to ask about. The whole thing was a golden brown colour, swirled through with caramels and ochres, and out of the colour came the outline of ranks of wooden men and women, dripping thickly with varnish. They were dull, though, the lacquer puddling on the ground at their feet and dripping off into a glutinous river of blue and brown, where there could be seen the reflection of one perfect man, his wooden hide the colour of honey and shining impossibly bright. It was entitled La Galerie. Rosey shrugged, his eyes still on the painting.
‘If an artist must explain his work… ’
‘Yeah.’ Bauer gave him a rueful grin. ‘I suppose so. Foolish of me to expect an answer, really.’
They stood in silence. But only silence in the sense that they did not speak out loud. Lack of speech does not, after all guarantee silence.
You know perfectly bloody well what that painting’s about, Rosey was thinking. As it happened, he was wrong. Bauer was looking at Rosey, the corner of his lip pulled in between his teeth, and he worried at it as he tried to figure out what Rosey was about.
He couldn’t figure Rosey out.
No more could Rosey.
They saw more and more of each other, until Rosey grew to expect that angular face, that irreverence and strange, humorous seriousness. They both grew to expect it, and finally one day Rosey turned to Bauer and asked him, his voice steady despite himself, if he had ever finished that painting.
A look of puzzlement. ‘Which-oh,’ as he suddenly remembered, ‘No. Why?’
‘Because I think I can.’
Bauer stared. Oh, how strange a thing to say; how taboo, how not done, and most importantly; how intimate. To suggest that he might finish another man’s painting, that was intruding upon the territory of the artist and his Muse; no-one did that. But Rosey could not find it in him to apologise, and so they stared at each other, he and Bauer, and Rosey saw in their eyes art such as he could only ever have imagined. But it seemed real, somehow, and he felt that he might well reach out and take hold of it when Bauer nodded at him.
‘Yes.’ He said, and in lieu of the art simmering in his mind, Rosey reached out and took Bauer’s hand, pressing lightly. Bauer pressed back.
Returning to Bauer’s flat, Rosey tried not to feel like an intruder. It was difficult, after seeing the man only at galleries and exhibitions, to realise that he was after all a man, and not simply an artist. He stared down at the cracked concrete floor, smelling the smoke of something that was not tobacco which permeated the air, discreetly soaking in everything about the place which made it unique from his own place of residence, from every other room in every other flat he’d ever been in.
‘Here.’ The shorter man pulled aside a patterned cloth which hung from a doorway at the end of the hall Rosey hadn’t noticed they’d been walking down, and, bowing ever so slightly, ushered Rosey into the room behind it. It was his studio, and the air was perfumed with the familiar warm scent of paint and oil, the harsh petrol smell of primer. It had the same emptiness as the room Rosey painted in at home, the same quality of waiting, the same clean beams of sunlight hesitantly making their way across carelessly stacked canvasses. It was disconcerting how much he felt at home here.
‘You see,’ Bauer said, and nodded to the painting, sitting against the left-hand wall, atop a crinkled white sheet spattered and smeared with colour-a half-hearted attempt to keep the floor clean. It looked much as it did the first time Rosey laid eyes on it, and immediately his fingers twitched at his sides, tracing lines of burnt umber and deepest cerulean in midair, broad strokes and minute detailings. Bauer grinned at the fingers in question as if he could see the colours forming there just as Rosey could, and went to fetch an easel.
Bauer had an old hookah pipe tucked away in a corner of his flat, and on occasion, he liked to get it out, to pack it with something sweet-smelling and heavy and possibly vaguely hallucinogenic (Rosey could never be sure, as Bauer had never told him what precisely it was, and he was too busy being silent to ask), and sit down to smoke it. Rosey often joined him, and the two of them would sit around the hookah and smoke until the coal burned down to nothing more than a heap of ash with a half-hearted ember still smouldering in the middle. It was not that Rosey had any particular affinity for hookah-smoking, but rather the fact that these were the few times when Bauer would go almost completely silent. He had attempted to explain it to Rosey once.
‘One has to be silent, doesn’t one? To appreciate the experience.’
The experience? Rosey had asked dryly, and Bauer had nodded as though it ought to have been obvious, gesticulated with a hand that even then had held a burning cigarette.
‘Yeah-‘cos, with the hookah, it’s entirely about the experience of smoking it; a cigar or a cigarette or a pipe, you can carry that around with you, smoke it whenever you need to. With a hookah, you have to make time to sit down and enjoy it. And if you sit and are just quiet… pay attention to the taste of the smoke and the way it looks when you breathe it out-it’s that much better, innit?’
Rosey had smirked at him at that. ‘You’d not be saying that if you were sober, you know.’
‘So?’ Bauer had leaned forward, shoulder bumping carelessly against Rosey’s, his smile loose and easy. ‘There’s a reason I’m not sober then, isn’t there?’
And Rosey had had to concede he had a point.
Rosey said nothing.
‘Complete… fucking… bollocks!’
He could not deny Bauer’s words, not in good conscience, as much as he might wish to. It wasn’t terrible, the painting, standing as it was with a kind of obscene pride amidst the chaos of spilt paint and scattered brushes and knives, but it was not good. Bauer could do better, much better. Rosey stuck his hands in his pockets as Bauer tore out the cluster of paintbrushes he’d stuck in his horsetail and flung them uselessly at the canvas. They bounced off, clattering thinly on the floor, useless fingerbones and dead twigs from a burnt-out fire. One left a smudge of emerald glistening wetly in the middle of the canvas.
‘Rot! Complete arse-gravy! My god… ’
Bauer’s eyes were manic as he started to laugh; a horrible, hysterical laugh, and Rosey felt suddenly that if he was forced to listen to his Bauer laughing like that a moment longer, he would surely run mad.
The words cracked like thunder and Bauer did, very suddenly, fall completely silent, his mouth snapping shut like a puppet’s. His arms hung at his sides as he stared at Rosey with a queer little smile. ‘You just yelled at me.’
‘You never yell.’
Rosey always silent; Monsieur Artiste, who speaks only through his paints and his pencils. Le fantasme.
He focussed on the little vee of pale skin exposed by Bauer’s gaping collar, noting absently the agitated sheen of perspiration, the smear of green matching the one on the canvas. He suppressed the urge to run a finger through it, ignoring the sudden impulse to give Bauer a curling green moustache, and shrugged.
‘Sometimes you need to be silent.’
‘Yeah, well, sometimes you need to talk.’
The words were shot back at him with such unerring sureness they might well have been scripted, and Rosey was struck suddenly by the truth of it. ‘Fair deuce,’ he might have said, if that were the sort of thing Rosey said. Instead, he paused. Bauer looked at him for a moment, and then carefully, deliberately, he took a paint-wet thumb and smeared a mouth onto Rosey’s face, all pink-red and smelling of oil and autumn. Rosey blinked at him for a moment until quite suddenly the mouth smiled back at Bauer, and Rosey realised that he knew how to speak. Bauer grinned at him, a pointy, puckish grin that converted his features into those of some sort of mad imp. Rosey smiled hesitantly with his new mouth before twisting it into an amused grimace as he looked at Bauer.
‘What are you on?’ He asked.
‘You’re not sober.’
‘Ah. No.’ Bauer agreed, falling against the wall, the back of his head knocking against the stone. ‘Absinthe, Rosey-Rosey. Muse wouldn’t come.’ He offered as an explanation, and Rosey shook his head, exhaling a grim little laugh.
‘Mm.’ Bauer nodded sagely. ‘Green fairy’s a bitch, you know.’
Waiting for Dali in the bar they had made the regular meeting place of les surrealistes, Breton turned to Rosey and Bauer, whose hands raised above the table were clasped in the most delicate of manners. They looked at Breton, raising their eyebrows in unconscious tandem. Breton puffed thoughtfully on his pipe for a moment as if he could find the words he wanted in the smoke which blossomed from his lips.
‘Breton has been wondering-why do Rosey and Bauer speak together?’
They traded a glance. ‘Why—’
‘—not? Surely it’s more—’
‘—efficient that way. We would—’
‘—say the same—’
‘Ah.’ Another pensive suck on the stem of the pipe and a particularly puzzled cloud of smoke obscured Breton’s face for a moment. ‘Have Rosey and Bauer always done this?’
Neither of them answered. Breton did not seem surprised.
On the other side of the table, Yoyotte chewed on his lip and scribbled something in his ubiquitous notepad, looking sideways at the two of them. ‘I bet they cheat,’ he muttered under his breath.
Next to him, Aragon raised an eyebrow. ‘Well you’re an idiot, aren’t you, Yoyotte? That’s just the way they are, and they’re a damn sight better than an interfering little ninny like you who can’t even paint.’
Yoyotte grumbled something only vaguely apologetic, looking mutinous.
Rosey and Bauer smiled silently at each other. They didn’t cheat. They didn’t need to.
It happened around the time they started finishing each others’ sentences. A logical continuation of their relationship, really; the next step. Rosey had been waiting for it to happen for what seemed like forever; the time he had spent waiting was measured in concentric circles and sewing machines, in the smell of pungent silence.
Coming home from the bar, their veins heavy with green, Bauer fell through the half-open door to Rosey’s flat with graceless elegance, slumped against the wall with familiar relief. Rosey grinned after him and followed him through. A hand reached out, pulled at the fabric of his fine, fitted jacket, and as Rosey followed the impetus of Bauer’s tug, their bodies bumped together. It was accidental and clumsy, but a great blossom of tense warmth bloomed outward where they touched, and Rosey lost his breath. Bauer looked up at him with a not-quite-grin dancing in wide blue eyes, his back almost against the wall in a position that sent all sorts of images rushing to Rosey’s mind. They stood like that for several years, Bauer’s chin cocked up at Rosey, Rosey’s fingers itching to be run through that slicked-back hair and see how long it really was without the hair tie.
Rosey spoke first. ‘I don’t—’
A painted mouth fumbled for words, Bauer-words that Rosey tried to make his own. ‘I’m not—’
Rosey was leaning forward, his fingertips brushing the creases of the sleeves of Bauer’s jacket. It was cream-coloured linen, matching exactly with the shade of Rosey’s tie. ‘Why?’
A pause, pregnant with promises and paintings and unspoken speech.
‘Because, we are our—’
He blinked in surprise. It was beyond easy for them to finish each other’s sentences in public, when they spoke as one person, but together, they almost never did so. No point in talking to oneself, after all. But the word had leapt from Rosey’s lips before he could think anything of it, and Bauer nodded, inclining his head ever so slightly even though confirmation was entirely unnecessary.
‘Is fucking your art a normal thing, do you think?’
The almost-smile split into a full grin on Bauer’s face, and the tension evaporated in an instant, leaving their bodies to go hover in the corners of the room like a mist. Bauer leaned forward, and Rosey’s hands on his arms slipped to his sides, fingers brushing the points of Bauer’s hipbones.
‘We’re not fucking yet,’ he murmured in Rosey’s ear.
Rosey couldn’t find anything to say before Bauer’s lips met his, and then it simply didn’t seem worth it. A light touch, lips soft scraping against Rosey’s own chapped ones, catching here and there. Bauer’s eyes were shut, but Rosey stared in something like wonder as Bauer dipped in and out, his lips becoming smeared with the rose and red of Rosey’s painted mouth until they were both silent.
A hand pulled one of them to the bed, an ancient, lumpy, decrepit affair as likely to have been dragged from a dumpster as bought in a store, and Rosey found himself staring up at Bauer, who was somehow straddling his hips without touching him at all. He stared down at Rosey, his eyes memorising the sight of him pinned to the mattress, his usually impeccable hair ever-so slightly mussed, the strands gleaming with pomade disordered against the bedsheets. Rosey felt like a canvas waiting to be painted.
Bauer’s gaze moved over him in long, smooth brushstrokes, in light, stippling touches, in highlights of colour around his edges, making him shine. Rosey shivered, and wondered if this was what it was like being looked at, how on earth he would manage when Bauer actually touched him.
But then he did touch him, and Rosey stopped wondering, stopped thinking, stopped-everything. He might well have stopped existing as Gui Rosey for all he knew; every part of him absorbed into Bauer above him.
‘Oh,’ he breathed. ‘Oh.’
He mumbled against Bauer’s mouth as they kissed, curses and benedictions in Latin and old Greek squashed between their lips like overripe fruit as slowly, ever so torturously slowly, Bauer’s hips moved against his. Hardness against hardness, there, and the familiar, slow ache began to glow in his abdomen. A groan rumbled between them-it might have been either one-and he bit at Bauer’s lip, impatient, and tasted the other man’s smile.
‘Why all that religious shit?’ Bauer murmured, grinning, his hips still moving slow and firm. ‘If you’re going to speak Greek at me, at least choose something juicy, yeah?’
‘What?’ Rosey groaned as he pulled Bauer back down towards him, his hands firm against Bauer’s absurdly narrow back. ‘Greek love and all that? You want me to quote the naughty bits of the Aeneid? Achilles and Petroclus?’
‘Or Damon and Pythias.’
‘Or Rosey and Bauer.’
Bauer hummed his approval against Rosey’s neck, and a shiver of sensation tingled out from where his lips and wet breath ghosted against the skin. ‘Or them,’ he agreed.
When Bauer came, he was completely silent. There were no grunts or groans, no choked cries or panted names, just a sudden moment of complete silence. Clenched jawline and erratic breathing would relax, and Bauer’s eyes would go wide, wide, his mouth slack as he turned to liquid in Rosey’s hand. It was the silence which made it beautiful. Well, Rosey would amend in his head, not only the silence. By its very nature it was a thing of beauty, but the silence enhanced it, augmented it, preserved it in Rosey’s mind’s eye.
After they were both spent, and that perfect moment of silence finished, Bauer would laugh. He would… giggle. And the look suited his face so well; those incongruous points and angles, that strange nose and huge blue eyes suddenly in perfect harmony, with his thin chest rising and falling, his oil-black hair splayed all over the pillow behind him, getting in Rosey’s nose if he breathed the wrong way.
It was times like this he was tempted to lean in, to anoint Bauer’s skin with his lips, to whisper lowly against the curve of his neck, the shell of his ear-I love you.
But he did not, of course. He was Rosey, after all, and even with a Bauer-painted mouth, he was still more like to stand and watch in silence than to speak. But it was not, of course, as if he needed to tell Bauer as much. He knew, as they both did. They way they made love, the way they spoke in tandem, holding hands even in public, a delicate reminder for the other that they were both there.
Mostly, though, it was in their art. Somewhat ironically, when it came to that; that that part of them that was most in the public eye was the most intimate of anything they could ever have said or done. They could have fucked onstage with baguettes on their heads and called it surrealism, and it would not have been as intimate as their art was. Not, of course, that anyone knew that. That was the perfect thing about art the way they saw it, as Breton and les surrealistes saw it; if you knew how to look, demons and clockwork and melting mountains turned into two men making love.
Or at least making. Whether their output was love or not was a matter of opinion.
‘A crab telephone?’
Aragon’s eyes were hard, his mouth curled in a scornful pah as he looked at Rosey and Bauer, one hand out, fingers twiddling in a hesitant gesture to the twinned phones they held. Together they raised their eyebrows, all cool disinterest.
‘—what we said,’
‘—is it not?’
Sitting at his desk, Breton’s brows too were furrowed, but he looked merely puzzled instead of scornful. ‘Breton has to ask,’ he began, ‘what is the point of Rosey and Bauer’s creation?’
Rosey cocked his head to the left, Bauer to the right, but neither of them answered. From the background emerged the hesitant voice of Yoyotte. ‘I don’t know,’ it said, ‘I think they’re quite good.’
Breton’s lip twitched in faint irritation, and the smoke which slipped out when he spoke seemed to frown with disapproval at Yoyotte. ‘Yoyotte is kind to say so, but Breton would like to hear Rosey and Bauer answer for themselves.’
Yoyotte started, looking guilty. ‘Oh! Of course, yes. Sorry.’
‘So?’ Breton turned, the high chairman of surrealism behind his oaken desk. ‘Explain, please.’
There was a silence as Rosey and Bauer looked at each other, considering. Nothing was said, but after a moment, a smile flickered in and out of being on Rosey’s face, and Bauer smirked at him. A moment more, and then they rose in tandem from the couch, standing straight and alert as soldiers before the desk.
‘It has no—’
‘—point. That is—’
‘—the point. An utterly useless—’
‘piece of machinery.’
Breton scowled, lines etching themselves in his forehead. ‘Useless how?’
‘Ah!’ The one syllable spoken at the same time, and the room itched with discomfort. Rosey began.
‘There are only—’
‘—two of them. They may then—’
‘—be used by two people—’
‘—just as any telephone may be used. But—’
‘—to attempt to call anyone else—’
A slight pause, and then the two men once again spoke together, their voices colliding with whitewashed walls. ‘—folly!’
Aragorn, Yoyotte, Dali, Eluard—they chewed their lips doubtfully or raised scornful brows, eyeing the crustacean-shaped telephones and the two men who held them, standing in the centre of the small room as if on trial. Breton, however, nodded slowly, pensive smoke rings birthing themselves from his lips. After a long moment’s thought, he smiled.
‘Breton thinks,’ he said, drawing out the syllables as far as they could be stretched, ‘Breton thinks that he can understand. They are then telephones, but they are, in their essence, not. Is Breton correct?’
Aragon snorted disdainfully. ‘How in blazes can a telephone not be a telephone? This is rot, Breton, and I for one have not the time for it. Les surrealistes have more important things to discuss than the merits of the twisted creations of these two.’
Rosey raised an eyebrow at Aragon, and Bauer took his cue, taking a pace forward. ‘It is surrealism, Monsieur Aragon—’
‘—The telephone is symbolic. It is—’
‘—between two people—’
As it turned out, no-one besides themselves or Breton ever appreciated the crab telephone, but then, that was never the point, so it hardly mattered. The two crabs stayed in Rosey’s studio, forgotten in a corner, apathetically collecting dust and splatters of paint. Rosey and Bauer, after all, had no need of them.