'Brooklyn, 1927' / Holly Robertson
A recent high school graduate, Holly is beginning a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Queensland, majoring in writing. Her work explores the philosophies of attraction, relationships, love and affection.
What is it that catches people’s attention about one another? What kind of personal authenticity and veracity is needed in order to share thoughts, ideas, time and/or space with someone so intimately?
Brooklyn, 1927 is a short story whose idea originated from the musings of the author with a friend about the LGBT+ community’s broad history, and the lengths people go to in order to keep secrets in a time fraught with repression and persecution. It is a sensitive portrayal of young love, lust, and infatuation, in all its frustration and glory.
It wasn’t a particularly abnormal morning for Thomas. Meandering down, his polished shoes clacked on the metal stairs of the fire escape. It was early – perhaps around six – and paper boys were starting to carve the pavement, hollering and jeering like birds in flight as they managed, simultaneously, to hit their target doors and wake the families behind them. Swinging, Thomas stole a second to compare the young boys to their counterpart. They were soaring, legs pumping their bicycle pedals while arms waved and struck the air. The stair handrail was condensation-slicked beneath his coffee-mug-warmed fingertips. The only thing warmer was Charlie last night, as he leant into the crook of Thomas’ shoulder, crooning, small desperate sounds that raised goose bumps in mountains and valleys all over his body. In memory, Charlie would continue to be almost as beautiful as he was in the flesh.
Charlie had taken such devilish delight in raking through Thomas’ perfectly slicked hair that a pang had coursed through his chest when he tried, with futile strokes of a comb, to tame it just a little. Only a little – he wanted secret reminders of everything that last night was, on every part of him. He hadn’t ended up nearly as marked as Charlie had. It was probably for the best. Skipping down the last few steps, his lips came to blow a faint tone, a swift snippet of a tune he would probably never mark as important. His shirt remained half tucked, another reminder of Charlie and his attempts to help Thomas redress that morning. It was a gentle, protective, fondness that overwhelmed him as he remembered Charlie’s fingers dipping below his waistline, but suddenly removing themselves as the kettle on the stove whistled. Scatterbrained was the best way to describe Charlie, especially in the mornings, when his sleep-fogged brain hadn’t fully awoken, and the bags under his eyes hadn’t quite faded yet. He still smiled so innocently though, with such genuine happiness that Thomas could never help but saunter up behind him and wrap his arms around the smaller man’s frightfully slim torso. Mouth pressed to his neck and moving down to his collarbone, Charlie always laughed, and pushed him backwards with his body, turning to hand him the coffee.
A quiet “thanks, doll,” rolling off his tongue, Charlie’s cheeks would burn, suddenly bashful under Thomas’ eyes. This was when Thomas was sure he loved Charlie most. There was just something about the way his blonde haired honey held himself, such unnoticed care and precision (despite his constant burn for justice and uncoordinated being) when he was around, that it made Thomas sink slightly at the knees to think about. Charlie was golden; pure joy.
Slinging his jacket over his shoulder, Thomas’ creased slacks crinkled slightly with the jostling of his steps. The alley behind Charlie’s apartment smelled of discontent and something wretched, breeding dark places for broken limbs and blackmailed meetings to occur. The dull drone of the city streets beyond these narrow pathways would usually be enough to make Thomas’ head ache, car horns sharpening the pounding behind his eyes just enough for him to wince every once in a while. This morning, though, something about this god blessed morning, had him grinning – nothing detracting from the thoughts of him and his partner last night.
Thomas didn’t know what it was that made him turn- whether it was the memory of Charlie beneath him, eyes half closed and blissful, or the knowledge that if he looked and waited for long enough he might spot him through the fire escape window. Pacing or twirling or dancing to his record player, Sinatra or the mills brothers most likely, he often forgot about drawing the curtains once they had been opened. Thomas could see it so clearly- them swaying in the living room, holding close, foreheads pressed together while he sung too softly to nothing in particular.
“I could write a preface on how we met, so the world would never forget...then the world discovers as my book ends, how to make two lovers from friends…”
But when he did, his heart stuttered at the sight.
Fractured light made any kind of desperate attempt to break through the buildings; it spotlighted upon the back of Charlie’s place, warming the cold brick, livening the space around it. There, in the frame of the window, was Charlie himself – so heavenly, bathed in a holy morning glow. Thomas almost wailed aloud. They were looking at each other now, but passers-by would never take enough care to notice. It was probably for the best. Legs dangling, barely reaching the metal platform below his feet, Thomas could tell the light-haired man was using what little core strength he had to remain seated on the sill, bruised grin saturating his mouth. Even from here, the state of Charlie’s skin was undeniable. Red marks adorned his neck, blooms of purple and blue grew like flowers over his partially exposed chest. Absolutely ravaged: he was covered in sex and adoration and perhaps even Thomas himself.
As much was evident in the fact that Charlie had draped himself in one of Thomas’ old dressing gowns, dark and light blue pinstripes accentuating his sharp features, straw-colored hair and synonymously cerulean eyes. It had been Thomas’ when they were teenagers, nothing but friends with the slight, terrifying suspicion they weren’t quite normal. Weren’t quite men, perhaps. They could always remain boys, but men? Not with their affliction, it seemed. Even still, as young adults now (bodies more grown and affliction nothing more than anyone else’s love) the robe pooled and bunched on Charlie in the same places it had stretched and warped on Thomas. Charlie was apparently fated to be physically small and weak forever. Hunched with poor posture, he cradled Thomas’ unfinished mug of coffee in his fragile hands, coy teeth and upturned lips appearing over the rim. Half-framed glasses slipping down his nose, he took a hesitant sip, giggling as he choked. Struggling to remain within its midst, the bubbles of laughter that shook Charlie almost had him tumbling backwards back into his apartment – his home – and the warm drink sloshed over the sides, dribbling onto his clothes in a mess of fragrant energy. Enigmatic poise forgotten, he donned his usual composure, waving too enthusiastically at Thomas and still quaking with humour.
Looking up, he only flashed Charlie’s favourite suave smirk and waved back with short gestures in return. Any more, and he would be clawing at his own skin to run back up the alley, shoes barely touching metal as he clambered back up the staircase and met Charlie in the middle, mouths colliding, the force enough to make Charlie reel back, but the reassurance enough to counteract that entirely. Relationship open and bare for the world to see: one day, it would happen.
Turning again, he rounded the corner and out of sight. The tension in his chest had him plummeting with weight, but he knew he’d be back tonight, repeating the routine they had built together. He caught glimpses of the fresh-faced businessmen, dressed smartly in their tailored suits, passing him by as he made his way home. They all knew what his disheveled look meant, all knew what the messy clothes, rucked up hair and dazed but satisfied facial expression upheld. The walk of the unashamed – all of them under the same impression he’d landed one of the finest dames in Brooklyn. And maybe – when given the careful consideration of such a surreptitious unity – they weren’t so wrong.