Title: Tenderness Author: chaosmanor Fandom/Pairing: Original fiction Song Prompt: Tenderness, by General Public Rating: R for language Disclaimer: Original fiction, belonging only to the author. Even the poetry is mine, and I'm sorry about that, but it was necessary. Summary: There weren't many people Dave would go to a poetry reading for. Notes: (if any) Um, I seem to have written original fiction.
The rickety stairs, unlit and sticky, led up, above the pub, to what Dave suspected had once been a boiler room. Clint might know, since he had invited Dave along, but Clint was ahead of Dave on the stairs. Dave could see the shape of his arse under his jeans, and the sight made Dave a little dizzy, reminding him of exactly why he’d agreed to go to a poetry reading in the first place. Dave was a sucker for men with hot arses, even if they were poets.
The stairs opened up into a glass-roofed room, and in the twilight, Dave could see the branches of the trees that grew over the room, and the industrial plumbing snaked across the rough brick walls.
The young woman selling tickets at the entrance to the room squeaked and threw herself at Clint, hugging him, and Clint said, “This is Dave, he works with me.”
“Part of the imperial forces of oppression too?” the woman said, and she transferred her embrace to Dave, much to his surprise.
He hugged her back, uncertain what else to do, and met Clint’s gaze over the top of her shaved head.
Clint was laughing at him.
“I’m Paulie,” the woman said. “I’m so glad you’ve come along.” She let go of Dave, straightening her ripped T-shirt, revealing more flesh than Dave really wanted to see. “That’ll be five dollars, unless you’re going to be reading too.”
Dave felt for his wallet and retrieved a five dollar note. “I’m not a poet,” he said, and the woman shrugged and took his money.
Clint slid his hand under Dave’s arm, leading him towards the rows of battered wooden chairs in front of the stage, where several people already sat.
“Thanks for coming with me,” Clint said. “I really appreciate your support.”
Clint’s arm brushed against Dave’s briefly, as they sat down. “You’re shaking,” Dave whispered. “Are you nervous?”
“Terrified,” Clint said, and Dave just wanted to hug the young man.
“I’m sure you’ll be fabulous,” Dave said. “Besides, I thought you did this performance poetry thing all the time?”
Clint nodded, shaking his pale ponytail. “Guess it’s scarier having someone from work hear me read.”
“The forces of imperial oppression?” Dave asked. “Is that what people call the department?”
“That, and the Department of Collective Circuses,” Clint said. “Or You Pigs. Everyone hates the judicial services, until something goes wrong and putting the crims in jail looks like a good idea.”
Dave had to smile at Clint. He’d found his younger workmate’s humour was the only thing that got him through his workdays, just like fantasising about Clint got him through his depressingly solitary nights.
“Would it help you if I confessed to a personal weakness too?” Dave asked. “Something that no one at work knows about.”
“Something as revealing as me being a closeted poet?” Clint asked.
Dave nodded. “But you can’t tell anyone.”
“Alright,” Clint said. “Are you a nudist? A member of the communist party? Opposed to prison reform?”
“Worse than that,” Dave said. “Musically, I’m still stuck in the Eighties.”
Clint shook his head, a look of mock dismay on his face. “How can I bear the shame?” he asked. “My friend likes INXS.”
“That’s right,” Dave said. “I go to sleep at night listening to a classic rock radio station, wearing a Foreigner tour T-shirt. I’ve travelled across the country to go to a Tears For Fears reunion concert. In my dreams, I have a mullet.”
“Is this the real reason you’re single?” Clint said, pressing a consoling hand on Dave’s shoulder, his worried frown teasing Dave. “Are all the hot men too busy mocking you to shag?”
“All the hot men are taken, or are too young,” Dave said. “Remember, I’m old enough to have experienced the New Romantics the first time around.”
Clint lifted an eyebrow at Dave. “What do you call too young? Am I too young?”
Clint grinned, and leant over and kissed Dave’s forehead. “I don’t think you’re too old,” he said. “If that matters. The bar’s open; do you want a glass of goon?”
“You promised me free alcohol,” Dave said, glad his mouth was working again, though it was going to take some time before his brain caught up. “I want free alcohol if I’m going to listen to poetry.”
Clint stood up and held out his hand to Dave.
People had been trickling in, up the stairs, while Dave had been baring his soul to Clint, but Dave hadn’t noticed. Enough people, some clutching sheets of paper, and in one case, a battered acoustic guitar, that the battered trestle that functioned as a bar was hard to get to.
Dave didn’t care, because Clint didn’t let go of his hand.
The people were a wild mix; shaven-headed and dour lesbians, overweight teenagers dressed entirely in black, painted-faced goths, and far too many elderly women in orthopaedic shoes.
“Poetry is universal,” Clint whispered to Dave, as one of the old ladies bustled up to Clint.
“Clint, dearest,” she said. “Have you brought your lovely boyfriend along to hear your poetry?”
“Felicia,” Clint said, letting go of Dave’s hand to hug the woman. “Are we having some of your fabulous cooking?”
Felicia turned to wave her hand across the room. “Bugger!” she squeaked. “The slammers are here, I have to go hide some of the sausage rolls.”
She bustled off, elbowing her way through the crowd of scruffy punks clustered around a table that Dave presumed held platters of sausage rolls.
“Sorry about the boyfriend thing,” Clint said. “Felicia is deeply worried by my single status, it offends her sensibilities.”
Dave grinned at Clint, suspecting they were actually flirting. “I’m not upset at all,” he said. “But I do want to know who or what slammers are.”
The queue at the bar had moved enough that Clint was able to take two of the glasses filled with bubbly that the barman was pouring and hand them to Dave, then to take two for himself.
“I approve of the double serves,” Dave said, following Clint back to their seats.
“It’s important,” Clint said. “Once the reading starts, only the desperate and rude go to the bar.”
“Slammers?” Dave asked.
“Slammers are both desperate and rude,” Clint said. “They’re also mad, engaging in poetry as a combative contact sport. Slam poetry readings involve score cards, interpretative dance and a great deal of audience participation. I find reading to polite and receptive audiences terrifying enough, so I’m not sure how the slam poets do it.”
“Score cards?” Dave asked.
Clint nodded. “That’s right; the audience score the poetry, the amounts are tallied, and someone wins.”
“And slammers eat sausage rolls?”
“Slammers are notorious for turning up to readings, drinking all the goon, scoffing the food, heckling the poets, then disappearing into the night,” Clint explained.
Felicia tapped at the microphone, on the podium, sending thuds through the PA system, over the top of the Enya playing, and someone turned the Enya off.
“Folks, shall we start? I’m Felicia, chair of the Australian Contemporary Poets Association, and I’d like to welcome you all to tonight’s reading of new poetry. Tonight’s theme, as announced at the last meeting, is ‘tenderness’.” She rustled the paper in her hand, peering over her glasses at it. “First reader tonight is Abby.”
Abby, who was one of the dour lesbians, shuffled up to the microphone, amidst a smattering of applause. She pushed her black-rimmed glasses up her nose and cleared her throat. “Tenderness,” she said, her mouth jammed against the microphone, so the speakers crackled. “Fuck me, tender, baby,” she squealed into the microphone. “Tender baby, in my cunt.”
Dave’s eyes widened, and he glanced around the audience, at the little old ladies listening with polite interest, the goths nodding approvingly, then at Clint, whose face was a study in seriousness.
“Tender, baby, with your big dick,” Abby shouted. “Spam my cunt baby, tender.”
Dave drained his glass of fake champagne, then pursed his lips, resisting laughter. If he’d been asked to describe what he imagined a wanky, arty poetry reading to be like, not even his imagination would have made the poetry as dire as the crap Abby was shouting into the microphone.
Clint’s hand found Dave’s, the fingers gripping tightly, and Dave could feel the fine tremors running through Clint’s arm, though Clint’s face was still a study in profound concentration.
It was good to know that Dave wasn’t the only person who thought Abby’s poem was so dreadful it was hilarious. It was even better to be on hand-holding terms with Clint.
Abby finished, with a stream of profanity and a particularly disturbing reference to beetroot, stepping back from the microphone, smiling and nodding at the crazed lunatics who were shouting, “More! More!”
Felicia bustled onto the podium, insinuating herself between the microphone and Abby, despite Abby’s flapping of pages of scrawl.
Clint leant across and kissed Dave’s cheek, then let go of his hand and clambered down the row, then onto the podium, to the same polite applause Abby had received.
Clint, thankfully, didn’t jam the microphone against his mouth. He gave a glimpse of a smile to Dave, and said, “There’re places, people and time, a road ahead of me. Where it rains at night and I watch the drops run down my window…”
Dave let out a silent breath of relief and found himself leaning forward on his creaking chair, to catch Clint’s words.
Dave didn’t understand what the poem meant, but he felt like he could listen to Clint’s gentle voice forever, talking about driving somewhere, and seeing birds swooping, then sleeping.
Clint stopped reading and stepped back from the microphone, and Dave clapped as loud as he could.
No one shouted, “More!” which possibly indicated that poems with swearing and beetroot were more intellectually worthy than poems about driving in the rain, but Dave didn’t care. He knew which he liked.
Clint slid back into his seat as Felicia introduced someone called Pinky, and whispered, “Was that alright?”
“That was wonderful,” Dave said, and Clint beamed.
“Really?” Clint asked, and Dave nodded, just as a dyke in the row in front of them turned around and hissed at them to be quiet.
Dave took Clint’s hand and held it carefully. He felt warm inside, and not from the goon. Clint’s poem, the way Clint was smiling at him, the feel of the skin on the back of Clint’s hand, it was all so good.
* * *
In Dave’s car, the interior light shining on his face, Clint said, “Why don’t you put your favourite CD on? I promise that, even if I think the music is dross, I’ll be polite as you were about Abby’s appalling poem.”
“That poem really was awful, wasn’t it?” Dave asked. “It’s not just that I’m not literate enough.”
“That poem was crap. Was mine really alright?”
Dave half-turned, resting one hand on the cracked vinyl of the passenger seat head rest. “I don’t think I know what the poem was about,” he said. “But I loved hearing you read it, listening to the words.”
Clint coloured, and smiled, so Dave guessed he’d said the right words. He leant forward, so his lips touched against Clint’s briefly. Clint let out a breath, and Dave could hear him swallowing.
“If it had been crap, would you have lied to me and told me it was good?” Clint asked.
Dave chuckled, settling back into the driver’s seat.
“Definitely,” Dave said, reaching for a CD and sliding it into the car stereo. “I wouldn’t want to hurt your feelings.”
“What’s the song?” Clint asked, as the music started.
Dave reversed the car out of the bay, then glanced at Clint. The street lights shone into the car, and someone pipped a car horn behind Dave, hurrying him up.