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Tommy's Tale
by Alan Cumming
ReganBooks, 2002

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Chapter One


You know what I really hate most of all in the whole wide world? More than people who don't bother to vote and then carp on about taxes and how all politicians are the same? More than people who think that if you're bisexual it means you'll fuck absolutely anyone (especially them)? Much more than the concept of circumcision (female or male)? What I hate most of all in the whole wide world is that feeling. The feeling you get when you wake up one afternoon and the first thing you think of is some hideously embarrassing incident from the night before. (Let's just call them H.E.I.'s from now on, shall we? It sounds more chic and is easier and less painful to repeat.) It’s the absolute pits. And it’s always happening to me. This one, though, is a stonker. Last night had started so well too.

What happened the night before . . .

There was a massive queue for the club. It was a Friday, I suppose, and we should've known better, but still. I used to enjoy a queue too, but ever since Charlie told me his club-queuing theory, all the joy of the anticipation and the camaraderie had gone out of it. Now I feel like a helpless and abused pawn in the cynical game of nightlife commerce. Here's why: Charlie says that queues outside clubs are only PR devices. It's not that they’re absolutely jammed to the rafters inside or anything, it's all about making the people who are driving past in their cars think they're missing out on something really exciting 'cos hey, look, all those people standing around in the cold wouldn't be doing it for nothing, would they? He's right, you know. In all the thousands of times I've waited in long, nonmoving lines in the freezing cold, there has never been a single time I've got in and the club has been full enough to merit making me wait for that length of time.


And last night was a case in point. It was absolutely brass monkeys. That's the thing about clubbing in London -- the bloody weather. And tonight I'd miscalculated yet again and was wearing just a skimpy little vest. I persuaded Charlie that we should take our e's while we were waiting, and miraculously he agreed. He was normally more into wandering round a club, getting his bearings and feeling settled before imbibing anything stronger than a Corona, but I reasoned that with a queue of this length we were wasting a lot of potential off-our-faces time inside, and if we dropped them now we'd be coming up and starting to fly just as we paid the hugely inflated entrance fee and ran to the bar for bottles of overpriced water to quench the dehydration. Also it would take our minds off the cold. So we did.

You just never know with an e what level of experience you're going to have. It can be anything from an "Oh, that was nice" to a "Jesus, what happened?" This one was pretty intense. As I'd hoped, it started outside, a sort of tingling and an overwhelming need to stretch and yawn. Then everything started to get a bit blurry, but I do remember the glowy feeling, that sensation of warmth and the imminent and unstoppable euphoria. Oh yes, it was a particularly vintage glowy feeling actually. And by the time we made it to the dance floor, wave after wave of chemical benevolence was seeping outward from my tummy and washing over my entire being. I was up, I was off, I was high, call it what you will, but I was still me. I was just a more vivacious, smilier and happier me than I had been an hour or so previously. I felt at my best like this. Content, carefree and yeah -- hackneyed though it may be -- full of love.

You know, people who don't do drugs like this think they're really scary and violent experiences, but they're so not. They're what the word sensual was invented for. And last night, Dame Sensuality came down from the clouds and sat on my face and I drank hungrily of her.

It got a little too intense at one point and we needed to have a little sit-down, so we went off the dance floor and through to the chill-out lounge with its less fit-inducing lighting and more trancey vibe. We fell into a sofa and watched people. The e was playing tricks with my eyes, and I was enjoying the strobing effect. A girl was swaying to the music near me but leaving a little trail of herself behind her with every turn. It was like one of those effects they used in pop videos from the early eighties, and I liked it. Then suddenly I seemed to be in the middle of a conversation with Charlie that I didn't remember starting:

"I couldn't believe it," he shrieked.

He was shouting in my right ear hole, spitting tiny gobs of beery sputum against the side of my face. (Actually, it felt amazing.) I turned my head to face him and the music suddenly seemed twenty decibels louder. Wow! That was weird. I turned back and . . . yes, much quieter. I turned to him again . . . boom! Wow. It probably had something to do with where I was sitting in relation to the speakers, and the changing position of my head meant that either one ear or two was in direct fire of them, so therefore, depending on a very delicate movement of my head I was going in and out of a sort of weird speaker sound-cusp thing! Or maybe it was just the drugs? Whatever, my aural preoccupation prompted Charlie to bawl even louder. I was having major rushes, and I knew that my F.B.M. wouldn't be far off. That's nearly the best thing about ecstasy for me, the F.B.M. It stands for Fabulous Bowel Movement, and if the e is good I have one about forty minutes or so after I've taken it (depending on when and if I've eaten, obviously). But I digress. Back to Charlie . . .

"I couldn't fucking believe it! She took me into a dark corner, stuck her tongue down my throat and then she said it."

"What?" I shouted too loudly. I didn't really care what she had said, whoever she was. But I was quite enjoying the feeling of Charlie's breath up close, his smell and his bristles.

"She said," and here Charlie paused for maximum effect, "and wait for this, she said she wanted to make love to me!!"

Eeeyyooaach! The two of us rolled around on the arm of the clapped-out sofa we had plonked on to wait for the e to kick in. We hate that phrase. Making love. It disgusts us. It appalls us. We knew we would never make love to anyone. And if we ever said we had or were going to, we each had carte blanche to execute the other on the spot. Our lives would be over if we made love. We would never make love. Sure we would love, and we did, often. Especially on nights like this. And we would easily have sex, or fuck, or screw, or shaft or whatever other verb I'm not going to grapple for. Oh yes, we'd do all that and then some more. We were party boys. We had fun. But never, ever ever ever did we make love! Not with each other or anyone else. No sirree Bob.

Making love sounds like a hobby, don't you think? Like a kit you'd buy from B&Q. It sounds like a Marks and Spencer frozen meal. It sounds like death, and if you didn't get it you were out of the picture. Anyone mentioning that dread phrase was instantly non grata, relegated to the bottom of the pile of weekend-cardigan-wearing, barbecuing, trying-for-a-family young couples that we so despised because we were scared we’d turn into them. (But the way we were going, fat chance when you think about it.)

Nobody makes love. Love either happens or it doesn't. And if it's just a euphemism for fucking the arse off someone, then what's that all about? Why can't we be more honest, more graphic about our animal urges? Let's drop all the crap, we thought. We all fuck, we all like it, so why wrap it up in tissue paper and call it making love?

And finally (I know I've banged on about this one -- pardon the pun -- a bit much so early on, but it is important) what, if anything, do we actually make when we are engaged in this activity? I'll tell you . . . moany noises, messes on the sheets, stains on our pants. That's what. So fuck off, you love makers. May your genital organs turn to sugar icing, and your visages to those of John Boy Walton and Jane Seymour.

You see, Charlie and I are a sort of self-appointed sexual truth police. Any whiff of dishonesty or pretense is outed and pilloried immediately. As is, equally, any attempt to suppress openness.

But now, reliving last night's H.E.I. and realizing why the light of day is cold, I wish I had broken my much-vaunted rules, suppressed some openness and shut the fuck up.

Actually, I lied . . .

Even worse than the feeling of an H.E.I. is the seeing. The seeing of the person you had the H.E.I. with the previous night lying next to you in your bed, snoring. And even worse than that, Charlie was not just with me for the H.E.I., he was the object of it.

(Incidentally, I know I'm prevaricating about telling you what this H.E.I. actually is, but be patient, please. When you find out you’ll more than understand my reticence.)

Isn't it funny how you can hate someone in a second? Just like that, they're dead meat. You despise them. You want them as far away from you as they can go, never to return, when the night before, hours ago only, it was love! Big love! The love that oozes from your pores and every bit of your body shudders with it.

That's what I felt that day about Charlie.

It was a rainy London Saturday. There was a little girl murdering some old Spice Girls hit in the playground at the end of our street, so I knew it couldn't be a school day.

As soon as my eyes were open my ears were ringing with the things I'd said to him. God, what happened to me? My toes were literally curling with the embarrassment. But, you know what? I pretty much still meant what I'd said. Yeah, that was just it.

With all my heart. All my body. All my cock.

And there, I'm afraid, we get to the most worrying aspect of the matter. Because here is just a little selection of some of the things said by me, Tommy, to Charlie, last night, in the Heat of the Moment:

"I love you, Charlie. I want it to be like this always" -- not too bad, I suppose, though a little daytime soapy.

"You're the best thing that's ever happened to me" -- starting to get scary 'cos first of all it's not true, I don't think, and secondly it's the title of a song by Gladys Knight and the Pips.

" can't remember ever feeling like this" -- technically true, yes, I'll give you that, but surely one of those phrases that should be banned when you're on drugs. But all this was nothing whatsoever compared to . . .

"I'm yours, you know that, don't you?" and finally . . . oh Jesus Christ . . .

"My cock is yours."

God, I can't believe I said my cock was his. What was I thinking? Did someone hypnotize me and ingest my thoughts with soft-porn vocabulary?

I mulled it over for a moment more, and then realized that it was also in the light of last night's conversation about lurvemaking that the above proclamations left me feeling so shameful, and weirdy, and like the wrong music was playing to the video of my life.

So let's get it all straight (as it were)

Here's what happened: Whilst coming up on a class A drug I laugh with my friend about a girl who was trying to shag him using the phrase "making love." I come home with the same friend and in the course of having sex with him, spout phrases equally as naff as the ones we had earlier scoffed at, culminating in me telling him that my primary sexual organ now belonged to him. He doesn't seem to notice anything wrong with this and maybe even quite likes it. This morning I hate Charlie and want him to go away.

But not just go away, I practically want him to die. Now my stomach turns at the very thought of even touching him. He looks like shit, he's breathing fumes that could wither a hardy annual right in my face, and I wonder if I pretend to be asleep for long enough he'll just get up and go, and only bother me with a sloppy kiss on the forehead and a few mumbled endearments about how I was right about the water thing. (More about the water thing later.)

How can this have happened? What's wrong with me? Why did I need to say those things? I'm not that kind of person. It's not that I'm afraid of intimacy, I don't think -- although I suppose it depends on how you define intimacy. Me, I'm a rimming-on-the-first-date sort of boy, and that's pretty intimate, but I suppose it's been a while since I've needed to do the other kind of intimate, the harder kind, the kind where you say things. So I may be a little out of practice, but even so. Normally, rather than word it in a porny version of a Hallmark card, I'm usually pretty frank and honest with people when I have to tell them how I feel about them. And in this case I didn't have to, it was all voluntary! Charlie hadn't said a word! I just spewed out all this stuff about how I was his, and so was my you-know-what. And what makes it even more disturbing, if that's at all conceivable, is that I will never be his. Not Charlie's, not anyone's. No part of me. Uh-uh. 'Cos even if I felt it and really believed that I wanted it, my experience has taught me that nothing is forever.

And I am a man and therefore a bit of a dog.

And why commit myself to something that I know I'll never be able to keep to because of biological accident (being a man) or just plain old can't-get-away-from-it desire (being a dog)?

Besides, I like being on my own. I like not having to tell someone where I'm going and what I'm doing. I like not having to remember to call if my plans change. I like being able to shag who I like, boy or girl. I like being able to hide if I want to. I like not being owned. Don't I?

Millions of little thoughts were whizzing around my mental periphery. Some of them quite scary.

Scary thoughts

1. I am in love with Charlie, as in properly, as in not just like I love him like I know I do, but in love. With Charlie! (This is the most scary.)

2. I have lost all the senses of humor, irony and wit that I ever possessed in some bizarre drug-related incident. (Not beyond the bounds of possibility.)

3. I am imagining it all. (Please, God.)

And less scary . . .

1. I have done too many drugs this week and I was a bit more out of it last night than usual, and anyway everyone says stuff like that on e and especially when they've been caning it a bit all week (though not the cock-possession bit), and this morning I'm a bit grumpy 'cos of all of the above and so I'm crashing and I just need to clear my head and have a little bit of time for myself and so Charlie has taken the brunt of it all. Yeah. Must be.

I turned over and had another good look at him. He was stirring toward wakefulness. I watched his eyes twitching beneath their lids, his lips slowly parting and closing, his tongue scraping the roof of his mouth in a desperate attempt to encourage some saliva into that dry place.

Poor bastard. He's really dehydrated. How many times have I told him? I can't understand how people let themselves get into such a state. Mornings like this could so easily be avoided by the adherence to a few simple rules. Let me rephrase that. Charlie's dry mouth, dehydration and potential headache could so easily be avoided by the adherence to a few simple rules, on a morning like this. Spot the difference?

Tommy's water rules

1. Drink water all the time.

2. Carry a liter bottle around with you all the time to encourage the above.

3. Especially drink water when you're drinking booze.

4. And even more especially when you're doing drugs.

5. Drink loads before you go to bed.

6. Have bottles by your bed so you can sip in your sleep.

Everybody should do it. Princess Diana swore by it. It's good for your skin, it stops you getting headaches, it's brilliant. I think of a bottle of water the way I think of my backpack or my fags -- it's one of the essentials I can never leave the house without.

But Charlie? Oh no, not even at 4 a.m. last night when we'd finally collapsed onto the bed -- sweating and spinning and shouting (God, I must apologize to Sadie) -- even then he'd refused the offer of a slug of my Volvic.

"You know I never touch the stuff," he'd said, his eyes straining to focus on the bottle I was waving in front of his face.

Then there was one of those time-lapse things where you are actually carrying on the conversation, but you've left so long a pause the other person thinks you're onto something new, and so completely misinterprets your next statement.

"You'll regret it in the morning," said I.


Charlie seemed immediately sober for a second or two, and then his eyes opened a bit wider and really pierced into me. (It's at moments like these that I think Charlie wants a bit more from me than I want from him.)

There was another pause. Slightly awkward this time. I filled it with:

"Not drinking water, you stupid fuck," and we laughed a sort of slurred laugh and started to take each other's clothes off.

We always did it a certain way: sitting up, kneeling, on the bed, foreheads together, arms round the bottom of the other's back. Then one of us said "Go," and we grabbed the bottom of the other's shirt and pulled it off as quickly as possible, whilst continuing to keep our heads pressed together as hard as we could -- thereby making the bit when the neck of the T-shirt flew up past your nose and over the top of your head really, really sore.

But sort of amazing if you were off your face.

And we always were, 'cos who'd go out of their way to experience that sort of sensation when they were sober?

Oh God, Charlie was totally waking up now. He started to rub his eyes maniacally. It was a habit he had that I was sure he was going to regret in later life. He rubbed so vigorously he was bound to be damaging something -- his retina or his iris or something. And sometimes he did it when his lenses were in. Anyway, this morning his eye-rubbing ritual was a sign for me to close mine. I'd decided the best way to deal with all this was to pretend none of it had happened, and sleep it off. Well come on, wouldn't you? I said my cock was his, for fuck's sake!! I'd snooze through till about five, then get up and have something to eat with Sadie before she went to work. Then a nice bath, a spot of telly and Bobby would be home from his studio and we might have a joint, then go and join Sadie for a couple after her show comes down. And then decide what to do for the evening. But today, with the way I was feeling right now, a quiet night in and a complete avoidance of chemicals was starting to look like the best plan.

Okay, sorry. If you're going to stick with this, I've realized I'll have to clear up a couple of things . . .

Things you need to know so far

Hello. My name's Tommy. I'm twenty-nine. I've got green eyes and brown hair, but you'd hardly know 'cos I keep it really cropped. Just had it done on Friday actually, so it feels like a baby hedgehog right now. I'm skinny. Everything else about me is sort of normal, but then of course I suppose that greatly depends on your idea of normal. To me, I'm pretty normal. I live in a flat in Islington, London, with . . .


Sadie is thirty-three and mad. I've known her since art college, where we literally bumped into each other in a corridor on our first day, both lost, both late for our first ever art history class. I've loved her ever since. She's little and has dark hair and when she smiles her little pixie face looks like it's doing what it was meant to do. Sadie did textiles at college, and since then she's had loads of different jobs but she's never been totally fulfilled in any of them and it's really starting to bother her. I told her I'm not fulfilled either but then I don't look to my job to provide fulfillment, but she doesn't listen. She's on a sort of quest. She's been an assistant designer at a carpet company (as our hall and stairway can testify), a stylist for various photographers, an arts and crafts counselor at a drug-rehabilitation day center and a personal assistant for a TV newsreader, amongst many other jobs. The latter was a little detour from her previous career trajectory, but really juicy on the gossip front because it turns out Mr. Serious Foreign Affairs Correspondent keeping us all abreast of the horrors in Bosnia and the like spent most of his free time exhorting strangers to perform horrors on himself in a sex dungeon in Vauxhall! Sadie had to have him paged there once when his boss from the TV station called her in a panic because they needed him to comment on a big earthquake in Guatemala. She works in the wardrobe department of the Almeida Theater just down the road at the moment, and has done so for a while. Dead handy, but she wants to get out of the world of wardrobe and do something she really wants to do, except the thing is, of course, she doesn't really know what that is. But she'll sort it out, Sadie. She's the best. Every good laugh I've had for as long as I can remember has involved Sadie. People thought for ages we were a couple, and we could have been I suppose, but we loved each other too soon and there was never any time for sex to get in the way. We're inseparable like a couple, and Sadie swears the reason she hasn't got a boyfriend is because everyone thinks she's spoken for by me. I tell her the reason she hasn't got a boyfriend is because she's in her early thirties and doesn't hang around enough straight men. She's even the reason I'm lying in my bed having a stupid panic attack about telling Charlie my cock is his (wait till I tell her, she'll die). 'Cos it was through her I met him, at some showbiz party she'd been invited to at Planet Hollywood. Anyway, I also live with . . .


Bobby, I think, is thirty-five. (He's a wee bit cagey about the specifics.) He has shortish blond hair and goes to the gym a lot. He's ostensibly the most normal of the three of us because his job is making lamp shades, but the interior design thing is just a ruse because he’s really mental. Sadie and I saw him in a club one night and because he was dancing so madly and making us laugh so much we went over to him and told him we thought he was great and he had to be our friend. It was as simple as that. Sometimes you just know with people, don't you? You just know when someone's going to be really sexy, or you just know if someone’s really clever, but most of all you just know when someone is really kind. Bobby, it turns out, is the kindest person we've ever known. He is one of those people who genuinely gets more pleasure giving than receiving (but enough of his sex life, ha-ha) and ever since he has been in our lives Sadie and I have sort of relaxed somehow. It's as though with him around we're complete, we're safe. If anything goes wrong, Bobby will be there and his very presence makes things better. It's a special gift he has.

Anyway, soon after we met him it turned out he was being turned out of his flat and we just happened to have a room free in ours due to Stinky Eva Braun having moved out (an anally retentive former flatmate named Heidi who we found via an ad in Time Out, and who turned out to not only have a cleaning fetish that she expected us to share, but also b.o. -- a terribly unfortunate combination because the benefits of the first affliction were cancelled out by the second one, BIG time. We eventually forced her out by being so untidy that she practically hyperventilated every time she came home. And so sweated more too. Yuck).

But Bobby fits in fine, and has done for about two years now. He's really self-sufficient too, you can take him anywhere and not worry that he won't find anyone or anything to talk about. I love that about him. It's such a relief to have best friends who are low maintenance, don't you think? He was an army brat, you see, and quite used to being the new boy in the playground having to make friends or sometimes even learn a new language, so chitchat at parties is a piece of cake for our Bobser. His peripatetic childhood also means he has an amazingly unsentimental attitude toward possessions. He told me once that because his family would always be moving to some other army base in some other country, the things he held precious kept disappearing. It upset him so much until he realized they couldn't have been that precious in the first place, and then he felt much better. His room, apart from the furniture, contains only clothes and books. Not a knickknack, not a Mermaid Barbie, certainly not the tons of junk I have strewn around mine. Sadie once made him a sash that said "Perfect Flatmate" on it, and he is. We just love him. Except we've made a new rule that if he's going to bring back men and do weird sex stuff with them, he can't leave them tied up in the bathroom anymore. Sadie nearly shat herself once when she got up for a pee in the middle of the night. Bobby had gone downstairs to get a drink and left some poor bloke on his own! He says that's part of the whole thing -- tying them up and then leaving them there for a while so they don't know what's going to happen next. Apparently he's really good at it. I must say being tied to the radiator in a stranger's flat and then said stranger pissing off for a fruit juice isn't causing stirring in my loins. I want them there.

What else can I tell you about him? He's a great.

Excerpted from Tommy's Tale by Alan Cumming. Copyright © 2002 by Alan Cumming. All rights reserved. Excerpted by permission of ReganBooks. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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