The following is a story by Samuel R. Delany featured in the Boston Review. Samuel R. Delany is the author of Times Square Red / Times Square Blue, the bestselling novel Dhalgren, and a book-length autobiographical essay, The Motion of Light in Water, which won the Hugo Award.
Newt was not a little man. He was thick, hairy, and hulking, and after an astonishing experiment at seven, which had left him confused for almost eight months before he tried it again, by the age of eleven, he was jerking off between three and five times a day.
Thirty-four years later, Newt—in New York City for almost seven months—had been riding the subway end to end for almost three months, during which time he had not had a shower and, for two weeks, had had no shoes.
Most of the day, he’d been sleeping, till he got hungry. Then he’d come out and try to panhandle up some food, but that was a few hours off. And he’d managed to find somewhere to beat his meat between five and eight times a day. He’d done it between the cars, about an hour ago; it had run down the far side of the door, and he’d returned to sit down to drift off again almost immediately.
When he blinked, a dark-haired kid—Seventeen? Eighteen?—was sitting across the car from him, beside a backpack. Newt opened his eyes a crack, saw the kid was bending forward and, unlacing first his left sneaker, then his right, fingered them free of his feet, sat up with both of them hooked to one hand, and shoveled them into the backpack. Barefoot, the kid stood up, unbuckled a wide leather belt, thumbed apart the button, unzipped his fly, and dropped the pants (from the rivets and the change pocket, Newt realized they were black jeans; his own were a pair of green workpants, with some white and orange paint stains, he’d found in a trash receptacle, which someone had left and gratefully he had taken), awkwardly stepped out of them, pushed down a pair of black briefs with “FELLINI” in broad white letters, slipped them down over his knees, and, hopping on one foot, then the other, got out of those as well. The briefs were set on the knapsack; the jeans were pulled up and buckled. He sat once more and shoved his briefs into the sack after his shoes.
Newt glanced to the near, then the far end of the subway car. They were the only two on it. The kid had not been circumcised, and Newt felt himself shifting inside his own pants. This wasn’t going to be some sort of absurd sex dream of the kind that had occasionally bewildered him during his 124 weeks in Leavenworth out in Kansas—that was almost 15 years ago. Since then he had managed to get to Miami’s Biscayne Blvd. and three other cities, all of which had Market Streets, one of which was San Francisco, one of which was Philadelphia, before he’d ended up in New York. He moved one foot an inch over on the gritty subway flooring. A couple of shadows from the beams outside the elevated train streaked through the car. No, this wasn’t a dream. At least he was pretty sure it wasn’t.
He closed his eyes, then slitted them enough to look around the car once more. The train was coming to a stop. The doors to the left of the kid opened, and nobody got on. Newt opened his eyes and glanced down at his stained pants. It wasn’t all just paint; there was a lot of dried semen left over from a project he’d thought about perhaps a month ago, when it had occurred to him that that might be a way to get somebody’s attention, till finally he’d decided he was probably just too old and not the sort that anybody was really going to go after the way sometimes it had happened in jail or, since then, a few times when he’d been man- aging to get between here and there—wherever “there” happened to be. Newt lifted his big hand to his mouth and began to gnaw on his thumbnail.
The boy was blinking, staring . . . which is when it hit Newt that in getting rid of his shoes and underpants (and the kid had not zipped his fly), the kid was . . . imitating him!
Newt was confused—but not stupid. He had been a bum long enough to learn that some guys, yeah, liked to blow him, which, if they had some dirty pictures or something, he could get into. But the habit of owning nothing had eclipsed any habits of buying himself extras of any sort, especially disposable ones that were so ephemeral and expensive. He opened his eyes and frowned.
Across from him, the kid swallowed.
Without moving, Newt said over the mechanical thunder that started up again with the train: “You want something?”
The kid blinked, shrugged, looked sheepish. . . .
Newt smiled. “Come on over here—if you want.”
Without even looking, the kid grabbed his knapsack and was across the aisle between them to sit beside Newt, who was still gnawing.
Newt looked toward the far door between the cars again and put his arm around the kid’s shoulder. He squeezed in what he hoped was a friendly way, though he was somewhat frightened. He was not sure of what. He’d done enough weird things in his life, but he also felt too tired and disoriented to get kicked off a train right then. So far, though, there’d been no sign of a conductor to put them out. He frowned back at the kid beside him, who was not looking at his face: Of course, he was staring down at Newt’s half-gaping fly.
“Hey—wha’ do you like me or somethin’?”
The kid said loudly but with no inflection: “Yeah . . .”
“Ya wanna suck my dick—or somethin’?”
Still without looking up, the kid nodded.
Looking down, Newt realized the kid was grinning; or was he about to cry . . . ?
“Yeah. . . !” The kid’s face came up. It was a grin in a face somewhat unshaven, which made Newt wonder if he wasn’t older than Newt had first thought. “I wish you had some pictures or somethin’.”
Immediately, the kid pulled his sack into his lap and went in with one hand and tugged out two magazines with colorful photographic covers.
By the time we left the movie, I knew Newt didn’t know how to read.
“I’ll be honest—” Newt chuckled—“I prefer the ones with the women.” On the cover of the top one was a curvaceous, large-breasted, and wholly uninteresting blonde. Again, Newt frowned. “I mean, I guess, you know . . . darker ones.” He shrugged.
The kid pulled the magazine behind the first out and put it on top. “Like this?”
With a falling inflection, Newt said: “You got everything, don’cha?” Then he frowned and started gnawing again. The women pictured were not only black, he realized, but she-males. During that nebulous time of experimentation right after release from his second and last term in prison, he’d had intimate friendships with Alyse (four years his senior) and Ginger, but even though, up until a few years ago, he’d still sent Ginger the occasional postcard—the only person he’d ever sent postcards to—he hadn’t had actual sex with either.
He hadn’t had sex with anyone, really, except guys. He just wasn’t used to them being younger than he was. That was really confusing. The kid put the two magazines back and pulled out a third— Dark Surprise! Newt felt the kid’s foot up against his own and lifted his enough for the kid’s to slide under and pushed his own down.
That seemed to have settled something, though he was not exactly sure what. “Does that feel good?”
The kid said: “We can do it here if you want. I don’t think nothin’s gonna happen, but we should really get off and go into the john if you wanna get serious.” He did not pull his foot from under Newt’s. Newt took the magazine with his free hand and looked at it without settling it into his lap. The kid let the knapsack fall over onto the seat, and his other hand was underneath it, slipping into Newt’s zipper-less fly, where, beneath the kid’s fingers, Newt felt himself stiffening.
“If that’s what you’re looking for, man, I’ll suck you off right now. But next stop’s Fordham. There’s a good movie house right down the block from the station. We could go in there and nobody’d care if we fooled around.”
By the time we left the movie, I knew Newt didn’t know how to read. He wanted me to read the words at the head of the movie and was surprised to learn it was the title and the names of the stars, the producers, and the director. He said he’ d always wondered how people found out the names of movies and TV shows and things like that.
Newt had been living with me for three months, and whenever he thought I was even vaguely horny, he’ d lie down on the rug or the couch and beckon me to get down on top of him.
“Man, that day on the subway, when we first went to that theater, whatever the fuck its name was—”
“—I never figured you had your own place. I lived with my dad right up to that time the police come dragged me to Leavenworth. I know that’s in Kansas, but I still don’t know what state we was in before that. And I ain’t never had my own place in my life.”
(It took me a week of him coming by my place every day to bring me half the money he’ d made panhandling to learn not only that, while he could copy down someone’s address, he didn’t really read; he didn’t know what state his father had raised him in, or what his last name was, and that he’d learned how to jerk off by sitting on his father’s lap in their cabin while the old man brought himself to orgasm—but no he wasn’t particularly eager to find out where he was or if he was alive. He’ d eaten better since he’ d left, but hadn’t learned much of anything at all. I also knew his jail nickname had been Newt the Brute, which was the biggest joke I think I ever heard. But in jail they hadn’t thought so.)
I grinned and got down on my knees and lay down on top of him. I got my dick out of my fly and into his that was still broken and began rubbing—that man was always hard and ready to have me rub off on him. He wrapped both arms around me, then released one, brought his hand up to his mouth, and began to gnaw on his nails.
Newt opened the magazine at random—and, wouldn’t you know, there was a nude picture of a black woman who actually looked like Alyse, a little, but after a roll-and-tuck job. “They actually do stuff in movie houses up here? Somebody said some- thin’ about that to me when I was hitchin’ in, but I thought they were kiddin’.”
“Other than the Fordham up here in the Bronx, just some of the places down on Eighth Avenue—somebody told me there were two out in Brooklyn I’ve never visited. This Turkish exhibitionist brought me up here once, and it was actually pretty kicky. I’ve been there three or four times, and nothing bad ever happens. It’s not as hot as the Eighth Avenue ones, but it’s better than nothin’.”
“You mean like a peep show?”
“No, it’s a movie. You don’t have to stick your dick through no glory hole—except in the basement john, between the stalls. If that’s what turns you on.”
“No kidding . . .” Newt was surprised. With three-quarters of a year in New York, he hadn’t been to any movies at all yet. “Well, I don’t got no money.”
“If you want to fuck around for an afternoon, I’ll pay for us goin’ in, get us a couple of sandwiches, or some sodas or some beer if that’s what you want?”
“Hey, I ain’t been to a movie since . . . ?” Had he been in a movie since there’d been those movie nights, back in jail on Fridays back in Leavenworth?
“It’s the Fordham. There’s a deli at the end of the block.”
“Nobody’s gonna mind if we do shit . . . ?”
“It’s dark in there,” the kid said. “Besides, that’s what everybody’s doin’ in there.”
Newt found himself intrigued. “Well, okay . . .” It sounded like something he wanted to see.
The train was slowing.
The kid stood and hooked his knapsack by one strap.
They pulled into the station, stopped, and the door pulled back. (When you had doors like that in a house, Newt thought, they called them pocket doors, but in a subway they were just sliding doors.) He followed the kid out to the platform. “You in school someplace?”
“Naw,” the kid said. “I got a job. Down on 47th Street.” Since there was no one around, they pushed out the swinging gates beside the stile and past the change booth, then started out and down the steps.
Newt reached into his broken fly and tugged out his cock. “I’m glad you like this thing so much.”
“Yeah,” the kid said. “Are you an exhibitionist? The Turkish guy who first brought me up here after I met him in one of the places downtown hangs out in the Fordham. He likes to wave his meat around like that. He says it gives him a hard-on. What kind of a sandwich you want? The pastrami’s pretty good. There’s not a lot of people out on the street up here, but you should probably put your pen in your pocket until we get inside.”
“Huh? What—? Oh.”
“I wanna get a chance to suck on it, and I don’t want you to get in no trouble before we get in.”
“Hey, you’re a good guy.”
The kid laughed. “Naw, I’m just fuckin’ horny.”
“Hey, how do you get off?”
“If we can sit in the front, I can hump your leg like a dog. You stick your fingers into my mouth or something, and I’ll shoot.”
Newt chuckled. “My dog used to do that when I was a kid at home. I could even get off on that. I wonder if I could still get off that way with you.”
The kid said, “Hey, as long as, you know—you give me somethin’ to suck on. Like, you know . . . your fingers.”
Newt laughed, raised his thick hand to his mouth. “My fingers . . . ?” He took his hand down and looked at it, then began to gnaw again. “Yeah, I bite my nails all to shit. My dad and my teachers used to tell me forever I gotta stop that.”
The kid said, “Probably if you had, I wouldn’t have sat down across from you.”
“Shit . . .” Newt said, again surprised.
“Come on,” the kid said. “Put your dick away.”
“Oh, yeah . . .” Newt slid his cock back within his broken fly. Three more steps and they walked onto the pavement, warm in the sunlight. Again, surprisingly, the kid put his foot down on top of Newt’s. Newt looked up at him, stopping.
“You walk around the city barefoot, and everybody just thinks you’re crazy. It’s a good way to get left alone.”
“Yeah?” Yet again Newt chuckled. “Well, maybe whoever told you that was right. Hey, I hope you got another subway token so when we finish, I can get back on the subway.”
“Don’t worry,” the kid said. “I got you taken care of.”
“Well, show me this theater.”
Without saying anything, the kid started walking again.
At the street’s end, a sign—“FORDHAM”—hung down the upper stories of the building to the top of the marquee. Underneath they could see the bulbs that were on even in the warm July morning. A couple of weeks later, they went to the end of the 50th Street subway station and, with the kid’s iPhone, made some porn videos of Newt jerking off in the station and coming on the grating up against the tiled wall (the kid had a three-day-a-week part-time job at a warehouse on the edge of Marble Hill), which they sold on PornHub for $25 a piece, though PornHub asked them to remake them so that you couldn’t see Newt’s face, though Newt said he didn’t mind. A few months later, they sold some more and only curbed it when Newt’s income started to be high enough that they had to think about taxes.
–June 24, 2019
Excerpted from Allies: A Literary Anthology, which can be purchased from Boston Review for 20% off and free US shipping using checkout code “ALLY20”. Copyright © Samuel R. Delany 2019. Reprinted with permission of the author.