Writing

Gaze

The Cinema Edition

This time, we attach wings to him. It’s Amrita’s idea. Once in a while, she hits upon something actually good. Dev looks wonderful like this, spreadeagled on the divan with one wing crumpled under his back and the other brushing the wall, wearing his oversized t-shirt and nothing underneath except the thigh highs. Amrita wanted to go for a full lace pair but that’d be overkill, so the ones he has on are white sheer with a thick border of lace where the elastic snaps to his skin. Amrita’s unhappy with it. If not the full lace, she wanted full sheer stockings. She still maintains that we need to move on from the thigh highs, not ‘stagnate’. She doesn’t realise that what I’ve made him wear isn’t a compromise. It’s perfection.

That’s what Dev told me, when I first propositioned him- approached him, I mean. “Perfection,” he said tersely, then sat back and stared at me. I stared right back. Then did a fluttery, flappy motion with my hands, similar to what Amrita does when she’s being vague with ideas like ‘aura’ or ‘aesthetic’ or even ‘sex appeal’- a less fussy version of that, and I said, “Context?” Answering his one word with one of my own.

I remember him playing with one of the coasters. It was shaped like a slice of lime. Larger and rounder and cartoonier than real lime. He still hadn’t touched his drink. “You modelling industry people,” he said, “you probably think you’re doing something sublime. Striving towards perfection.” He sounded bitter, opinionated. I wanted to coo at him. I let it slip down the straw, hidden, and get crushed under the ice, because it was such a bad idea. But really, his angst, it was adorable.

“We’re not striving towards perfection,” I said, carefully not laughing, “It’s an illusion, the perfection. We’re perfecting the illusion.” Carefully not laughing at my own words despite how stupid they sounded, how pompously full of empty artifice. I wanted to add, “You’re sublime,” but that was a bad idea. Overkill, I always know to avoid overkill. I let it slip down the straw. But it stayed, at the bottom of the glass, a bubble that wouldn’t pop. Dev, sensually sublime.

He grabbed his drink, then; swallowed, once. “And that’s so much better.”

“Well, it’s self-reflexive.” My throat was dry. But I couldn’t drink. I had to tell him something. Anything to make him understand, accede. “So it’s a kind of resistance.”

I used the word deliberately, but perhaps it sounded as casual as I meant it to sound, dropping off my tongue without pause or emphasis. He lit up, like a fawn on alert. Successfully baited. Painfully adorable. I’d have liked to cup his face with my hands, look into his eyes and say, I see right through you.

He still doesn’t realise it, thank god. I don’t know whether he is oblivious to the deception, or oblivious to his own complicity in it, but I don’t particularly care which. He’s perfect like this. Lowkey lighting, so that you can’t see he’s got nothing under the shirt, darkness cast by the hem, filling his thighs; tantalizing darkness like the irresistibility of a black hole- I did not just think that. Whatever, the point is, he’s perfect like this. I knew when I first saw him I wanted to attach wings to him. Large, feathery ones, like amateur photography on Pinterest boards.

Amrita arranges him. She circles around his navel with glitter, her forefinger steadier than mine would be. His stomach tautens. Gentle grooves appear, then shift. He’s ticklish. But right after she finishes, his stomach undulates again and I’m latched onto his collarbones again, even as I’m aware of his wonderful waxed legs and the way his jaw is hinged right above his pulse point and his eyes lashed so lovely spiking shadows on his cheeks like the left wing does on the wall it’s pushed up against, even as I’m aware of his spreadeagled legs disappearing into shadows under his shirt, his collarbones burn, throb in my mind, like the afterimage of a flash. I had Amrita attach the wings with precision to his shoulder blades, because I knew I couldn’t do it.

I knew when I first saw him, a boy on a terrace, looking out at the view of the city, I knew I’d bring out the most sublime of his sensuality if I winged him. Back then, too, there was barely any light on him, and we could see the moon from where we stood, but I don’t remember it. I remember the scattered city lights, though, ghosts of the stars we couldn’t see, coloured bright and surreal, their distances distorted. They didn’t seem astronomical in their outspread. They could be scooped up in the ambit of my gaze. Glitter dust, compared to the blazing tangibility of the boy next to me.

I didn’t get to see his collarbones at that time. But his shoulder blades- the jut of them, now seen, now unseen, as the wind swelled and subsided in his shirt- I knew immediately I had to wing them. I didn’t talk to him at the time, but his eyes were dewy and luminous with the city lights miniaturised in them and I knew I could approach him later without it seeming weird. Not starry-eyed. He thought he was too jaded and cynical for that. I brought that kind of gaze out of him later, with ruffled hair and oversized sweaters with kitty thigh-highs, plopped in the midst of a coffee-house aesthetic with sienna filters, his eyes filled with stars, the image of the softest boy. It’d have been nothing more than a Pinterest-board aesthetic if it weren’t for him, if it weren’t for his air of tainted innocence, of forlorn hopefulness.

I have a vision of him utterly debauched. A vision, not an image- nothing so concrete, unfortunately. But this is a step forward. A pretty little piece from a dazzling dream. Amrita says I can do it. If I pose him naked, and work it all out like aesthetic porn- or work it out with the aesthetics of porn- whichever. Whatever. I told her it wouldn’t work, because porn is ugly. No sensuality to it at all. 

I’m like a child trying to catch a bubble even though I know it’ll disappear if I blink or hover too close to it.

This is the only way a girl like me can like a boy like him. Insidiously. Exploitatively. Shame can never come into it. Shame at how my desire operates will become shame at my desire itself, so shame can never come into it. This is the only way to do it, and it has to be done.

***

He is a vision. Utterly debauched. I told Amrita, once, about when I first saw him, and she didn’t get it. She said, let’s do it, give him big wings and little wings, at every rounded jut of bone. Do you want knucklewings, too? They’d have to be really tiny or overlap. I said, you don’t get it. What was the point of covering those beautiful bones with feathers? Cover one pair of bones in each picture to build torment, and climax at long last with the final offering of every bone beheld. I did this without her, this picture. He’s got nothing on except thigh highs, the classic kind, horizontally striped black and white. The last band, where the elastic snaps to his skin, is wider than the rest of the black stripes. So schoolboy. No wings, but where his clavicles dip, there’s the shadow of little wings, cast by invisible ones, fanning from where each collarbone dips and meets. There’s the shadow of wings licking his heels, cast by invisible anklewings; shadows flowing from the rounded juts of his hips- I’d pivot the heels of my hands on them- into the dimples, little hollows, begging for slotted fingers. Shadow of one wing on the wall, a slice of the other on the floor, sliced by the slight, angular raise of his back. I need to take another picture. One in which he’s facing the other way, with shadows of wings on his back like oddly shaped tans. 

It’s the first time I’m editing anything onto him, instead of manipulating whatever I have to in the shot itself. It feels perfectly legitimate, shadowing a wing along his jaw, a wing that emerges from his stilled Adam’s apple. After it’s developed, I put it under my pillow. I feel very stupid doing it. I feel very stupid wondering if I’ll dream something because of it. But I do have a dream, or at least, I have a dream I remember (my heart twinges at the thought that I might’ve had others I’ll never know of). It’s very, very vivid, as though lighting isn’t even needed for Dev’s silhouette, his profile, to be sharpened, for every hollow and jut to be thrown into relief. I spread his thighs- through the thigh-highs, not gripping his skin directly. I slide between them until we’re hip to hip, and I kiss along his jawline, chain-link kisses from pulse-point to pulse-point. I feel a terrible responsibility. As though I’m shackling him to me by his very life-force. That’s the feeling I wake up to.

By Uma Padmasola

Uma Padmasola is a reader first, especially of Barbara Comyns, and a writer afterwards. She is studying for a masters in English from Manipal University after a liberal arts degree from Azim Premji University. She lives in Hyderabad.

Featured Photograph by Martina Matencio.

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