Every story has two centres. In Bradford long ago, under punitive laws, one centre was in North Park Road, where Werner lived. The second was in a district called Daisy Hill, home of Luka. These centres are less than two miles apart, a pleasant walk, tree-lined alongside large houses once inhabited by mill-owners’ families and their servants.
Round the two centres draw a circle, then slide them towards each other so they intersect and form a common area. Let this area represent shared social life, where people overlap or consort with others. This is where Werner and Luka met by chance one early evening. Released from their private lives they crossed in the same hour in a public place.
The duration of their connection was so brief it was no more than a glimpse. In Werner’s case the glimpse pierced him deeply and he was changed forever. For Luka, no such thing, merely a passing sally, a sniff, scarcely a wink.
Werner’s true centre was inside his family. He went to work every day; he was a good provider, young father and husband. He led a full and rewarding life, any observer would confirm. He knew his circumstances counted as fortunate. He lived contentedly.
Luka’s centre was more dispersed. He went at his studies every day. He was a research student and for some of the year stayed in his family home to take advantage of the comfortable conditions. He was fortunate to be able to do this. His future was bright.
Being contented, like Werner, and having a bright future, like Luka, is fine but insufficient. Something else is necessary. It might be excitement, a new project, an unforeseen novelty. It might be an experience that neither could name, even something that does not have a name.
Luka lived a quiet life during his home visits. He was short of his Bradford friends who had moved away. He read over the hours, entered libraries, worked up his notes like a conscientious researcher. And every day he craved an alternative and would wander parts of the city looking for diversion or entertainment. Walking itself was a kind of sustenance after his immersion in books and ideas and it refreshed his mind. But he was also on the lookout for sexual adventure, with his eye on men loitering.
He knew the hot spots. He knew they were dangerous. Danger has its attractions. Quick fixes thrive on them. Luka had a taste for this. Fill up the mind with heady matter during the day and unload the equally weighty matter from the body in the evening. He managed his living according to this plan.
Werner taught at the university. He knew the minds of students and something about the lives they led. He liked both. He had said that student life, immersion in thought and knowledge for its own sake, was the best. And he liked to be among them, so quick in thought, liberally open to ideas and possibilities. He preferred student minds to his colleagues’ minds.
Luka and Werner had much in common. Their territory also was similar. They occupied their separate lives but in the course of things they could easily overlap. Their circles of activity intersected, as in a Venn diagram, and on one fine evening their lives mingled inside it.
Luka had intentions in the extensive Lister Park whose nooks he knew well. His mind was sharp with expectation, full of it. The heavy reading of the day fell away while he drifted along the generous walkways. He looked out for like-minded strangers. Men he already knew, sometimes visible at a distance and lurking, meant less to him, though he kept them in reserve. Novelty attracted him. Novelty excited him. Novelty re-enacted his earliest experience of pickups, its terror and intoxication of body and mind.
Werner walked homewards. His house bordered the park and overlooked it and the road was calm and leafy, of suburban quietness even in the thick of the city. He carried his briefcase, dapper as a dentist. He cut through the byways of the park where scarcely anyone was on view. The working day was done and he looked forward to a quiet evening in the usual manner.
Then a youth in a linen jacket and ankle boots appeared round a corner. Werner wondered if he had seen him in the library, but so many of them looked alike at a distance. This one was a graceful mover. Werner thought, dancer. Gymnast. They converged step by step and each of them in the casual way took sightings of the other.
When the youth spoke, saying, ‘I’m a bit lost. I’m looking for the exit by the monument,’ Werner was ready.
‘Ah,’ replied Werner. ‘Yes. I’m going that way.’ The teacher and the student walked along without speaking. To any observer it was an inconsequential stroll, just the two of them side by side in a park in kindly weather.
‘You’re not local then,’ said Werner, and stopped.
‘Yes and no,’ replied Luka. They stood in silence, sizing each other up as if they were in front of full-length mirrors. ‘Are you free now?’
In Werner’s past there had been such chances, a small number before his marriage acted upon, and he had once as a young student been the instigator.
‘I live nearby and I would like to invite you over. But I can’t.’
‘I know a place we could go, in here. It’s safe.’ It was as safe as the law neglected to notice it at this time, and the penalties grave.
But it is how things happen, an accident, unforeseen. Out of nothing, a test pressed into the moment and it is taken, as if all the rest of living is a sham.
Luka led the way. The surge in Werner’s mind and body alongside the self-possession of Luka reversed their status, student become teacher. Luka knew what to do. Werner was in his hands. The protocols were familiar, and the intensity, but never so close to home, and already this meeting had entered him unlike the others.
There was a bench in a horseshoe alcove secluded under laurel. Luka took a step to kiss Werner deeply, then advised him to put his briefcase on the bench. Werner wished to look closely on him but the minutes were too short. Luka was greedy and rapid. His practised hands did their work, unzipping, standing close. Werner wished to talk to this stranger, with a craving to know him better than anyone.
His steady life under the eye of his house, all at once sunk under his waywardness here in these acts with a random youth, was a cruel mockery. In another season of the year, or a different place this hour might have been kinder to him. Despite Werner’s hesitations Luka worked on him, and their proceedings went the way of desire until the end with Luka’s face ethereal in his pleasure. Then silence between them.
‘Tell me your name,’ said Werner.
‘I am Werner. It’s German. Will you tell me where you live?’
‘Daisy Hill,’ Luka said with a shrug.
This unexpected contact, no more than a glimpse of this passing male, made a strong impression on Werner, took him to the edge of his perception, over as quickly as it had started before he adjusted himself to what it might mean and how it would leave him, as if he been freed like a kite from all earthly considerations into a condition which bewildered him.
Daisy Hill is an attractive suburb of the city, with steep climbs and spectacular urban night views. At home Werner studied the map as if it would present him with an answer. He had the one clue. A circumference of possibility could be drawn. It consoled him in his sudden estrangement from Luka. One half hour with a pickup and he was in turmoil.
He began purposeful visits to Lister Park. And the stalking of Daisy Hill.
To find the house was as important as to find Luka. To know what contained him and had formed him grew inside Werner. He wanted to apprehend the inner life of this student who had intersected his life and caused him to dwell to the point of distraction on their minutes together. The paradox of the squalor of their meeting and the awakening of his imagination occupied him as a conundrum.
He wished to discuss his state of mind with Eva, his wife, but how could he go about this delicate task? If only conditions applied that would allow such a conversation. She was his closest confidante and never had he been in such need of it. What had happened remained silent, inside him like a stone he had swallowed that he could not digest.
Instead he walked the streets hoping for the sight of Luka or the disclosure of his home. Home is the source, the story of origin and destination. And Luka’s home embodied him. His inner life was expressed in its presence. Never, Werner thought, had knowledge been so necessary. Luka had lifted Werner out of his mind. His scrupulously cultivated mind had been exposed as shallow self-indulgence.
Because Daisy Hill held Luka the whole district was transformed. Its proximity to him touched Werner as if it had been infused with his essence. And Luka inhabited one of the houses day by day. If he found it he did not know what his next move would be. But the prospect beckoned and accompanied him.
He feared what he might find if he ran into him. Luka, he guessed, played the scene; he was given to one-off pickups; settling into a relationship was dull. This made the house even more important. It was permanent, manifest, inarguable. Werner thought he might have to break in like a burglar to find Luka’s room, to be beside his possessions and to breathe his air. This prospect excited Werner deeper than sex. It would place him within, where he could know his inner life. Such thoughts possessed him walking the streets, his family far off, reduced to mere abstraction.
After days of stalking, one evening ahead in the dark, with eyes like an owl, he detected Luka emerging through an iron gate under an arch of a thick and immaculate hedge leading to an imposing Victorian house. He followed him along the street. His mental state had altered so much that he was now an authentic stalker, keeping his distance like a roué up to his tricks, his heart hammering, his eyes soaking up detail. He saw the dancer again, light on his feet, the slender boy, the lavish hair, the poise. He knew that he himself made a poor match and that he was demented. But there is no arguing with love, if that’s what it was. To bear such a passion in this period of social history threatened his whole life, family, career, liberty itself.
Luka walked on, down the hill, along the main road, past the hospital, with Werner his stalker gratified even with this scrap of proximity ahead of him. He knew this boy’s body that had been under his hands, he had heard his moans of ecstasy, and Luka had exchanged semen with him. The two were, therefore, under the regimen of biology, united, Werner reasoned, and the thought encouraged his steps.
When he called his name Luka turned sharply and lingered. Werner stood beside him, submissive as the lovelorn, waiting for a mark of recognition to cross the tense face that met him. Luka said nothing.
‘Hello. Luka. How are you?’
‘Listen. I’m busy right now. I’m meeting a friend.’ He made a face of bafflement.
‘We were in the park, Wednesday before last. You must remember.’
‘Really?’ His eyes scanned Werner. ‘I’m off. No time.’ And he was gone.
Werner had the house. Nothing could remove that. It was No.10, his to consider.
He was a cautious man but he took up loitering. He solicited the property, passing, slowing, watching. He was aided by the custom of the household to light up every room and seldom to close the curtains. Its numerous rooms were available to his hungry gaze. He saw a girl of Luka’s age sprawled on a sofa watching TV and he wondered if she was Luka’s twin, a speculation that thrilled him. Others came and went in the bright and welcoming spaces, open generously, like their minds, Werner decided. Inside them Luka had his being and their dimensions were imprinted in him.
The three-storey stone house with a first floor oriel window stood in its own cultivated grounds. If our surroundings determine what we are this was a house to shape a person into graciousness. It stood like a lure. It stood like it meant it. This was the house that had made Luka.
Later in the park, despite himself, Werner was looking for him. He needed just to know, just to see. He had no confidence in their liaison: he was merely a hopeful viewer, a debased groupie. From a path near their nook Werner could see through the early autumn leaf-fall branches his own bedroom window and it made him flush with shame. The line from rectitude to licence was short. But if he could he would repeat it with joy.
He saw two or three men loitering. They were either bold as the military or slippery. One nodded at him, in a familiar signal. Werner’s loins were dull and his mind on other matters. He was nursing a fantasy of taking Luka to his empty house, into his privacy, feeding him in his kitchen and watching him eat, then to his study as if it expressed himself, then the bedroom where he would fellate him lingeringly.
It crossed his mind that he was losing control of it. But he knew that thirty minutes is enough. The history of lyric poetry is about moments and thirty a large number. He knew too that it is chances missed that torment a life and that is why he was here circulating and offering himself recklessly.
Then he saw Luka at a distance. Werner needed to absorb the maximum from this sight. It was extraordinary that Luka was visible to him in the fullness of his life and that he, Werner, had touched him in his deepest privacy. His mind was disordered by this fact.
Luka changed course. A furtive man walked towards him then turned out of sight and Luka followed. Werner should have felt that his own time with Luka was cheapened by the commonness of the experience about to be re-enacted in the bushes, but rather it was confirmed, Luka renewing with this stranger the continuity of his profound need. It was, Werner felt, only a form of humility in the face of human desire. Luka was leading him to experience such as Werner had never considered as a proposition.
Such as breaking and entering. He shrank from the breaking part but entering would be a deeper thing than love itself. No.10 was now his target. A house is an organism; this one nurtured Luka. It held his secrets. It was the site of inwardness, sheltered from the elements and it was the nursery of his mind. Within, Werner considered further enclosures such as room, drawers, wardrobe, as if they were numinous states.
Meanwhile he staked-out the house. He learned about comings and goings and who composed this house: the girl, putative twin; mother, an elegant, handsome woman; a tall, brisk man. He was able to chart Luka’s return home late one night and a room high up under a gable lit up before he closed the curtains. There lay Werner’s whole purpose, not only in his criminal record but in his life.
He gathered himself together for this act over several days. He drew Eva closer to him while his mind stretched to the opposite extreme, his whole being distended, on the rack. He intended a hazardous crime that was at the same time a devout act.
Austere men sometimes lose their moorings as if their subconscious has had enough and breaks free. Werner’s was doing this at the same time as his brain calculated dispassionately. His nerves were steel.
On the scheduled day he entered like a visitor under the beech and hornbeam arch, at noon, under cloudy skies. He walked round the back and picked up a stone for his task. He was more secluded than he had been in the park. He broke a window, turned a key on the inside and was in.
The sudden access was overload. He walked about like a lost soul that could not distinguish between bliss and annihilation. His brain had cancelled caution. Like a votive he felt a door handle, touched a light switch, a table cloth, mugs, and left his fingerprint in the corner of a mirror. In a laundry basket were clothes that must be his. He saw all the accompaniments of life in this house, objects that lined Luka’s mind, remnants of a past that were securely his. Werner’s heart gave as he moved like a sleepwalker, then up the stairs, nearer to his room. Never had he been so indifferent to consequences.
The door knob which Luka had grasped countless times was loose. Werner eased a screw from its fixing and put it into his pocket. He had entered not only a room but a space in his imaginative life hitherto unknown. He had no vocabulary or means to think it. Like a child he looked about him at thing after thing, and arrangements of them, each a mark in Luka’s mind. He bent down to smell his indented pillow, and ran his hands over the chair at the desk which held neat stacks of books and papers and saw his handwriting. At the wardrobe he examined the row of shirts that Luka knew one by one and from which he selected each day of his life. As Werner stood, transfixed by the commonplaces of daily living, his heart pumping madly, he knew that no thing in his life had exceeded this. His minutes of trespass united transgression with the sacred. In this they mimicked the thirty minutes in the park.
Werner returned home to Eva and his children. He needed seclusion and his family beside him in order to collect his mind into its constituent parts.
While he worked, as a man must, he maintained and loved his family but throughout the years there remained the fact of Luka, never uttered though it filled him, their minutes together in the park, one autumn, where unwittingly he entered into a covenant, and for all time.