Moose’s snoring is quieter than a mass shooting in a shopping mall, but not by much.
Tiny shakes him. “For goodness sake, I can’t sleep.”
Moose rolls towards Tiny, kisses him on the shoulder and slides a hand down his naked body. Moose’s breath stinks of beer.
Tiny pushes the hand away. “Sorry, I’m too tired tonight.” He turns over and buries his nose in the pillow.
“If you really loved me…” Moose begins, muttering something about a bloody wimp, and grabbing the sheets angrily around himself so cold air rushes in on Tiny.
Tiny closes his eyes and dozes. Words are shadows of meaning, silence is crushing, feelings come and feelings go. Nothing lasts.
A slender male figure floats across the room towards Tiny. His hair is golden and cascades over his shoulders. He hovers by the bed, lips parted in a smile. His face seems to glow.
“Ahem,” he says, “My name is Mee.” He touches Tiny lightly on the brow.
In the morning, when Moose stirs the porridge on the stove, it splashes onto the element. The kitchen fills with smoke and the stench of burning. Moose kicks the kitchen cupboard and turns on Tiny, eyes bloodshot and the pot of porridge held perilously close to Tiny’s face.
“You have huge bloody problems,” he shouts. Tiny flinches and backs away. “You need to see somebody about your intimacy issues.”
At work, instead of going with the other staff to the tearoom, Tiny wanders outside to the smokers’ area, though he hasn’t smoked since he was fifteen. Pregnant Dolly Botham from IT is slumped against the wall, clutching a lukewarm cup of tea. Tiny is struck by her expression. “You look so sad,” he says. “What’s wrong?”
“Haven’t the office gossips told you?” Dolly snaps. “I’ve got breast cancer!”
Tiny’s jaw drops. He hopes his glasses hide the tears that spring into his eyes.
“May I give you a hug?” he asks.
That night, Tiny cries out for Mee in his sleep. The curtains rustle and he appears. There’s something very familiar about Mee that Tiny can’t quite put his finger on. ‘It’s like looking in a mirror twenty years down the track,’ he thinks. ‘He almost has family features. Could be an older brother.’
Tiny stretches and sighs as Mee, perched on the pillow behind him, massages his neck. ‘He could even be an older, wiser me!’
“How’d it go today?” Mee asks. His touch is soft and warm.
“Not good. Dolly Botham at work told me she’s got breast cancer. I felt incredibly sad for her. She’s having a baby soon. I asked if I could give her a hug.”
“And what did she say?”
“She said fuck off, gay boy.”
Mee nods. “The healing potential of human touch in our society is obliterated by our warped taboos that sexualise most forms of touch. It’s like a social cancer, creating a race of untouchables, afraid of real intimacy and lonely as a result.”
“Dolly made me feel like I was some kind of predator or pervert.”
“You just reached out with compassion to a fellow human in distress.”
“I’m a human being, nothing more, nothing less. I’m sick of being categorised! Why does everybody have to have a label? And I’m tired of Moose treating me like crap!”
“Why do you tolerate it? Stick up for yourself! Take a risk.”
“You know what Moose is capable of.”
“I know what YOU’RE capable of.”
“No more buts.”
“No,” says Tiny, next evening, his voice trembling. “I’m not going to bed yet. I want to see the end of this programme. I reckon it’s that younger guy that did it. I bet the psychic will come up with a name.”
“So you can avoid me again, eh? That’s what it is, isn’t it? You know I’ve had a shower.”
Moose’s mouth twitches. “Think it’s funny, do you?” The tip of his nose turns white. His nostrils flare.
Tiny braces himself against the back of the chair.
Moose springs forward and an arm locks around Tiny’s neck like a cobra that wants to squeeze him to death, drags him to his feet, pins his shoulder against the wall, and punches him again and again. Tiny’s head swings wildly until, without a sound, his body goes limp and he slides down to the floor. Moose bends down, calling his name, then lifts him into a chair. Fetching brandy from the liquor cabinet, Moose tries to force some into Tiny’s mouth, but Tiny chokes and splutters, spilling it down his chin. He begins to convulse, then jerks back his head and stares at Moose.
“It doesn’t matter what you claim Tiny did to provoke you,” the male police officer growls, glaring at Moose, “violence is against the law, whatever kind of relationship you have.” He grimaces and turns to Tiny. “Purely as a matter of interest, what did you do to make Moose react like that?”
The female officer interjects. “You can’t assume he did anything. And it’s not our business. Not relevant.”
“Just trying to be helpful, so he’ll know not to do it next time.”
Tiny speaks up. “There won’t be a next time. Moose and I are finished. I slipped out from under his thumb and he couldn’t take it.”
“Oh, crap.” Moose groans into his hands.
“Serves you right. It was you that said I oughta talk to somebody about intimacy issues.”
“Oh, I get it! Some bastard’s been putting ideas in your head!”
“You did that yourself, you prick, the way you were treating me. I just needed someone in my life with a gentle touch, to talk things over with. All it took was a little imagination.”
Bruce Costello lives in the seaside village of Hampden, New Zealand. After studying foreign languages and literature in the late sixties at the University of Canterbury, he spent a few years selling used cars. Then he worked as a radio creative writer for fourteen years, before training in something completely different and rather weird and spending 24 years in private practice. In 2010, he semi-retired and took up writing. Since then, he’s had over a hundred stories accepted by mainstream magazines and literary journals in seven countries.