Friday 8 October 2021

Stay in Touch



by Henri Colt

a nice glass of Takaji wine


             Imre was the illegitimate son of a destitute Hungarian priest, presumably descended from King Stephen and Giselle of Bavaria. I was the son of an Orthodox Jew who escaped to a secular life in Paris. We met in high school, or rather, at the music store next to the school, where my heart fluttered while we played guitars instead of doing math.


            Discovering our musical talents, we hustled microphones from a street artist and traded money for an amplifier. Imre’s knack for melody and the emotional expression of his falsetto made my lyrics, secretly written solely for him, surreal.


            After graduation, we rented a flat near the river. Our reputations grew, as did our success with women. My curly black hair and eye shadow sparked a bad boy image that rivaled my friend’s angelic blond and blue-eyed disposition. They treated us like community property, and we played along.


            “Maybe you and I should have sex,” I said one evening, gathering my courage and pouring Imre another whisky after the girls left. We weren’t drunk yet, I thought, so we couldn’t deny personal responsibility.


            He looked up from the couch. “I thought you would never ask.” His outstretched hands beckoned me to sit.


            I emptied my glass with a gulp. Whatever hormonally-induced surge of desire makes coupling inevitable suddenly vanished. “You mean, like now?”


            He looked surprised. “Why not? But, I need to tell you, I think homosexuality is hereditary.”


            The alcohol’s smoky sweetness lingered on my tongue. “Sexuality is fluid,” I stammered, “and ever-changing.”


            Imre stared at my crotch. “Performance anxiety?” He laughed and reached for his guitar. “Don’t worry....”


            I pulled mine from behind a chair and joined him in a complex set of chord progressions, wondering why I felt relieved and disappointed at the same time.


            We drifted apart after that. I moved out and found work writing articles about musicians. Imre traveled abroad and became a virtuoso. The years passed. When I heard he lived in a famous art-deco building on the outskirts of town, I looked him up, thinking there might be a story. 


            “Hey,” he said after opening the door. He patted me on the back, and I shivered as if we had never parted. 


            “Do you still play?” he asked, nodding toward a cluster of acoustic guitars on either side of a baby grand piano. The apartment had high ceilings and a library filled with ceramics. Opulent 1920s furniture with muted colors and shiny metal accents squatted every room. He offered me a glass of chardonnay.


            I sat on the couch and tried to sip my wine. "Not much," I said. "I mostly write for magazines.”


            “Huh,” he said. “Sounds boring.”


            I watched him gather his golden hair into a ponytail. His eyes were like the sky, and there was a tenderness there that I suddenly remembered. Kiss him, I thought. “It pays the rent,” I said instead, “and I’m writing a novel.”


            He crossed his hands behind his neck. “I live with a guy,” he said. “We’re lovers.” 


            “My girlfriend is pregnant,” I said, “but I wouldn’t call her my lover.”


            He plopped into an armchair. "We're cool about it. He's older than me, and he bought this apartment, so maybe it’s serious."


            “I’m happy for you.” I wondered if he sensed my resentment.


            We filled the time talking literature and music. I trashed my idea of an interview, and I couldn’t help thinking about what might have been. “I need to catch the train back to the city,” I said.


            He walked me to the door. “Stay in touch,” he said, then hugged me with that one arm hug guys use sometimes. We shook hands too, as if we knew it would be a while before we would see each other again.


            And that’s how it was. 


            Twenty-five years later, I saw him on television. Having separated from my second wife, I was in Budapest, researching the Vatican’s influence on Sebastian Bach. Someone told me Imre lived in Eger, a medieval town founded by King Stephen only ninety minutes to the east. I found the number and made a call. We agreed to meet after breakfast.


            I drove the scenic route through the Bukk mountains, a heavily forested region of the inner Carpathians, and parked my car at Eger’s train station. Narrow, cobblestoned streets lined with bookstores and gaudy souvenir shops led to the Basilica of Saint John the Apostle, guarded by six massive Corinthian columns. Flanked by statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Imre stood at the top of a long flight of stairs,


            “You’ve returned to your roots,” I said, breathless. I greeted my friend with a hug.


            He smiled. “My 11th-century namesake, Emeric, was killed in a hunting accident in Romania, but he was buried in a town not far from here, in Székesfehérvár.”


            “How do you pronounce that?”


            “Szé-kes-fe-hér-vár. Don’t try to spell it.” 


            He beckoned me past an ornate, cast-iron door leading into the church. I was surprised when he crossed himself with holy water from the stoup.


            “The frescoes are beautiful,” he said.


            I looked up at three lavishly decorated cupolas high overhead. Behind me, a pipe organ loomed from the balcony. A painting of the Archangel Michael spearing Lucifer towered over an altar made from white Carrera marble.


            “It’s been a long time,” I said after a minute. I put my hand on Imre’s shoulder.


            “Too long.” He patted my hand and breathed deeply. “You know, after I became famous, I left my lover, got married, and had three kids. Now I’m having an affair with someone twenty years younger than me. How’s that for a fuckin’ life’s work?”


            I suddenly felt as if we were back in our small apartment together. “Do you love her?”


            “You’re assuming a ‘she.' Well, it's just a final spurt of testosterone, not a fatal wound from Cupid’s arrow. But, to answer your question…no.”


            The decades melted. Oh, God.


            “Anyway, I’m a musician, right?” I heard him sigh as he crossed himself before the altar.


            “Imre?” I squinted through my suddenly wet eyes, whispering now, “Imre…I loved you.” 


            We stood in silence. “I know,” he said, finally. I loved you too. Always.”

About the author

Henri Colt is a physician-writer whose passions include mountaineering and tango. He is the editor of Picture of Health: Medical Ethics and the Movies (Oxford University Press). His stories have appeared in CafeLit, Rock and Ice Magazine, Adelaide Literary Magazine, and others. He has also been a Pushcart Prize nominee. 




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