by Simon Sheppard
I thought I knew from guilt, until I met Dooley.
It was two days before the Nazis marched into Paris. I'd been to the World's Fair out in Queens. My parents had already been to Flushing Meadows the year before, and once was enough for them, so I'd gone by myself -- rode the subway out there, spent a sweltering June day wandering around The World of Tomorrow, then took the D train back to the Bronx.
I was making my way up 170th Street. I could still smell the heat of the sidewalks, even after sunset. Kids played jump rope beneath a streetlight. Old guys with cigars gossiped in front of the candy store. And there was Dooley, sitting on the stoop of my apartment house, in a sweat-soaked undershirt. I would have stared, but I was afraid he'd yell at me. It had happened before, with a guy on the Grand Concourse. "What're you starin' at?" the man had yelled. So I walked into the building and took the elevator to the eighth floor. Mom had cooked a brisket. "How was the Aquacade?" she asked. But I was still thinking of the curly black hair on Dooley's chest.
Only I didn't find out his name was Dooley till a couple of weeks later, when I saw him in the lobby. I tried not to pay attention, but he was looking my way. He smiled. "You live here, don't you?" he said. "I've seen you around." My knees turned to jello.
"Yeah, eighth floor. You?"
"Third." He spoke with an accent.
"You from another country?"
"So you're not Jewish?" Nearly everybody in the neighborhood was Jewish.
"No, Catholic." I didn't know what to say. There'd been some Catholics at my high school, a few of them Irish. But they had mostly kept to themselves, the way kids do. We'd called them "stupid Micks."
At that moment, the elevator opened again.
"There y'are, Ma. I was beginnin' to wonder what'd happened to you."
"Oh, now none of us is as young as we used to be." The plump woman in the print dress spoke with music in her voice, a music worlds away from the nasal cadences of the Bronx. Fading red hair, rouged cheeks, a look of loving kindness: the sort of mother I wished I'd had, instead of the angular, spiky neurotic who'd given me life.
"Ma, I'd like you to meet..."
The woman half-smiled and nodded.
Her son extended his hand to me. "And I'm Seamus Dooley. Everyone just calls me Dooley." His grip was firm and strong and lingered just a little too long.
Don't get me wrong. I wasn't sexually experienced back then. Whenever I was around attractive men, I just stared and stared, while my aching hard-on struggled against my underwear. But since I'd started commuting to Cooper Union, my world had opened up a bit. I'd become a college student, an art student all the way down in Greenwich Village. I suddenly found myself on the outskirts of bohemia. Effeminate men in berets. Naked models in life-drawing class. Girls with long, straight hair who talked about Marx and free love. But I, a good Jewish boy, made sure I was always home in time for dinner. The closest I'd gotten to decadence was an occasional between-classes beer at McSorley's.
I'd been pretty busy with summer courses. But on my way home or on weekends, I'd sometimes run into Dooley. I began to notice details. The curve of his butt beneath his summer trousers. The deep blue of his eyes. His broad, strong hands, well-chewed fingernails, the dense, dark hair on his forearms.
Back in high school there'd been fights between the Jews and the Irish. But now, with the troubles in Europe, it seemed everybody had more important things to worry about. So I felt at ease when I finally got to talking to Dooley about his past.
"My Pa was killed by the Black and Tans," he began, "right before I was born."
"Black and Tans?"
"British soldiers. It wasn't easy for my mother, raising three of us on her own. Finally, a cousin who'd settled in New Jersey helped us to make the voyage over. My two sisters are still in Derry, married. Here it's just my Ma and me, her a clerk at Macy's, me down at the docks when there's work."
"Well, this war fever should mean more work for you."
"Ma had intended to move to Brooklyn, to be near other Irish. We just ended up living in the Bronx by accident. It hasn't been easy here, y'know, with my accent and all, surrounded by your people. Hard to make friends." He laid a big, strong hand on my shoulder, and kept it there. "No offense."
I felt my dick beginning to swell. My mother's warnings about the goyim
vanished from my mind. "Well, we should do something sometime, then. Go to the movies."
"That'd be grand. There's a Bogart at Loew's Paradise."
"I've a date with my girlfriend then." My heart sank, but his hand was still on my shoulder. "How about Friday night?"
"That's shabbos. The Sabbath."
"Sorry, yeah, sure." He drew his hand away. "Next week, then?"
"Sure, next week." And we exchanged phone numbers. He left the lobby of the apartment house to go heaven-knows-where. To his girlfriend's, maybe. I took the elevator up, repeating his phone number over and over until I got a chance to write it down. And after dinner I went into the bathroom, locked the door as silently as I could, and jerked off, thinking of Dooley. I stripped him down in my mind, made him more and more naked, but by the time I'd gotten him down to his underpants, I'd shot all over my hand, cum dripping down to the white six-sided floor tiles, a stew of impossible lusts.
The phone call, when it came, was a total surprise.
"For you, Sol," my father yelled over the radio. We were listening to Charlie McCarthy. "Sounds foreign."
I pulled the phone as far from my parents as I could.
"Sol, it's my Ma. She's in the hospital. I don't know...I don't know what to do. Could you come over, maybe, please?" The grief in Dooley's voice was a strange aphrodisiac.
"Sure. I'll be right there. What's the apartment number again?" He told me, then hung up without waiting for "Goodbye."
"Irish, Sol?" my father asked, only the slightest reproof in his voice.
"Yeah, a friend from Cooper Union," I lied. "Wanted to know if I could join him for a soda."
"To go all the way to Cooper?"
"No, up here. Grand Concourse."
"You never mentioned an Irish boy," my mother said, switching off the radio.
Well, I don't have to tell you everything.
"Poor Mrs. Silver's heartbroken," she continued. "Her Sophie ran off with a goyish boy. Not just Christian, a Catholic. Irish. Or Italian. Such a shame."
"I'll be back in a while."
"Don't be out too late, Sol."
I'm a big boy, Mom.
"I won't, Mom."
"And be careful."
"I will, Mom."
I took the elevator to the ground floor, then went to the other side of the lobby and ran up three flights of stairs. Making sure there was nobody around, I found Dooley's door and knocked. I wasn't sure just why I was sneaking around.
Dooley had liquor on his breath. His eyes were red. He looked like he might cry again any minute. "C'mon in," he said, draping one arm around my shoulder, leading me from the foyer to the living room. A mostly-empty bottle of whiskey stood on a table with a lace tablecloth. Above it hung a crucifix. I'd never been in an apartment with a crucifix on the wall.
"What's up, Dooley?" I tried to sound concerned but nonchalant. He was
breathing fumes in my face.
"Oh Jesus, Sol. Ma's in the hospital. I've been such a lousy son. If I'd been...if I'd been a better son, none of this would have happened." His arm tightened around my shoulder.
"How is she?"
"The doctors say she'll be all right. They made me go home, no more visiting hours in the ward. But seeing her lying there...I know she...she's suffering for my sins."
"Dooley, that's just damn silly." I knew right away it was the wrong thing to say.
"No, Sol. You don't know what a bad person I am...I...I...with my girlfriend."
He started to sob. I felt embarrassed, then somehow frightened. I glanced around the room. My eyes lit on the cheaply ornate cross. This man, this adult man maybe five years older than me, was crying like a kid. I forced myself to look at him. His scrunched-up, tortured face was more handsome than ever. I wanted to stroke his cheek. So I did. I felt myself getting hard.
"Have a drink, pal," Dooley said through his tears. I was reluctant to
move -- I didn't want him to let go of my shoulder. But he followed me, hanging on, as I walked to the table. The neck of the bottle was slippery in my tear-wet hand.
The whiskey burned like fire. Except for sugary-sweet Passover wine, the hardest stuff I'd ever drunk was those beers at McSorley's. Still, I held on to the bottle.
Dooley grabbed me harder and stuck his face right up to mine. "I'm so
ashamed, Sol. I know that God is punishing me. Punishing me by making me watch my Ma suffer."
I didn't know what to say, so I stroked his face some more. Suddenly he threw himself against me, arms round my neck. I was scared he'd notice I was hard.
"You're so sweet, Sol. Sweeter than my...girlfriend." Nobody had ever
called me "sweet" before, except my mother. He kissed me on the cheek. I froze. And then he clutched me to him and hung on for dear life. I didn't know what to say. How could I?
I ran my hand through his thick black hair. "You'll be okay, Dooley." I
raised the bottle to his full lips. He nursed at it like a baby. Then I took another deep swig, and the bottle was empty.
"Sol..." he began. And then he began to press into me. I knew he'd notice my hard-on now, my shameful secret. And then, to my utter terror and delight, he began to grind his hips into mine, crotch against crotch. "Oh, Jesus!" he moaned. "Jesus, I'm so sorry." And he slumped into my arms.
"C'mon, let's get you to bed." I knew that's what I was supposed to say, what they said in the movies. And, much as I might have wanted to, I couldn't take advantage of his grief. I kind of wrestled him down the hallway, to a bedroom. I could see that it was his mother's room, but he was getting too unwieldy to haul around any more. Once he was sprawled on the chenille bedspread I backed away a bit, uncertain what to do next. Slowly, deliberately, he reached up and grabbed my wrist, and pulled me down on top of him. Fully dressed, we wrestled around on his mother's bed. At one point, I managed to slip my hand between his thighs. He was hard too, now, a considerable bulge at his crotch.
I wanted him naked, as naked as the models at art school, as naked as I
wanted to be with him. I tore at his shirt, but he pushed my hands away. "Hey, lay off," he snarled. "Lay off...fairy!" And he wrapped his arms around my torso, legs around my waist, and squeezed the breath out of me, squeezed so hard I was sure that he wanted to break me in two. So hard I thought I'd faint. I was terrified, but, astonishingly, my dick still was stiff. And his was, too. There was a stink of liquor and violence and sweat.
"Oh God!" Dooley yelled, and his body arched and squeezed and went into
spasms. And then he was still. I stared at the statue of the Virgin Mary on the bedside table, half-burned candles at her feet.
When I brought myself to look at Dooley, tears were rolling down his cheeks. I kissed him gently, the only time I ever kissed him on the lips, and pried myself loose. He lay immobile on his mother's bed, a stain spreading across the front of his pants.
I found the bathroom, stood over the toilet, took my stiff cock out of my pants, and pulled at it till I shot off into the porcelain bowl. Then, woozy with dread and booze and relief, I sank to my knees and puked. When I looked in on Dooley, his eyes were closed. I guessed he'd passed out.
I let myself out of the apartment, making sure the hall was empty, and ran down the stairs, over to Bernstein's Candy Store, where I bought a pack of Sen-Sen. "You look like hell," said Bernstein, bemused. "But don't worry, I won't tell your parents. Just hope that the Sen-Sen covers up that breath."
My apartment was dark when I let myself in.
"Sol?" called my mother from her bedroom.
"Have a nice time?"
"Good night, son," called my father, with a tone that said Thank God, now we can get some sleep.
In a couple of days Dooley's mother was back home. And every so often I'd run into Dooley around the neighborhood, but we never talked about that night.
Every August, my parents went to Far Rockaway for two weeks at the beach. When I was a kid I used to love staying in a bungalow, listening to the ocean, feeling sand between my toes. But now I was grown up. I stayed behind for classes. Four or five times while my parents were gone, Dooley showed up at my apartment door. Each time, we'd talk for a while, him sprawled on the couch, legs spread. Then I'd kneel between his thighs as he unzipped his fly and pulled out his half-hard dick. I'd never been so close to a foreskin before. I'd seen a few in the showers at school, freakish-looking things. But now I was fascinated by it. I slid it silkily back and forth along his cockhead. As Dooley sat there wordlessly, I'd rub my face in his yeasty crotch, the hair of his ball-sac soft against my cheek. Then I'd get his longish dick between my lips, into my mouth, going down on him till my jaws ached and I started to gag. My mouth still full of him, I'd reach up and unbutton his shirt, rub my hands up the thick hair on his belly, his chest, past the little gold cross he wore around his neck, eventually to the damp tangles of his underarms. Touching his pits made me nearly come. Then I'd bring my fingers to my nose and smell him, his dark male otherness. I thought I'd surely shoot off inside my pants. I went to work on his cock, sucking inexpertly but enthusiastically until Dooley filled my mouth with cum, tangy Irish cum that he pumped out with a grunt.
I'd wipe him off with my handkerchief, same handkerchief every time, and he'd zip up, say "Thanks, Sol" and walk out the door. I'd go sit on the toilet and jack off.
Only the final time, when my parents were due back the next day, did he stick around after he came. He looked sheepish. "I told you a lie, Sol," he said.
I knew it, he doesn't have a girlfriend!
"What I told you about my father?" he continued. "It's not true. The Brits didn't kill him. He was a member of the Blue Shirts. They're a bunch of Irish fascists. He went to Spain to fight for Franco during the Civil War. That's how he died."
I could see why he hadn't wanted to tell me.
"That's okay," I said. "It was him, not you."
"And my Ma, Sol, she says that you people killed our Lord. Thinks you're all going to hell." That rose-cheeked woman.
"You know me better than that, Sol."
I couldn't help but ask: "And your girlfriend? Do you really have one?"
Dooley looked surprised. "Anna? Oh yeah, she's for real."
My parents came back, my father peeling from sunburn. And, for one reason and another, I never touched Dooley's dick again. We never even talked about what we'd done. But every so often, I'd take that cum-encrusted handkerchief from under my bed, hold it to my face, and beat off, thinking of the curve of his flesh.
When autumn came, Dooley's mother went into the hospital again. This time she never came back out. Dooley packed up and moved in with his cousins in Jersey. When he phoned to say goodbye, his voice was flat and terse. I invited him out for a farewell beer. He refused.
"Sorry about your mother, Dooley."
"Thanks, Sol." His voice was softening. "Sol, I hope..." And he hung up the phone.
I didn't hear from him again until December, when a greeting card came for me, in an envelope with no return address. "Merry Christmas," the card said. Inside, Dooley had written "Hope this is okay" above his signature.
The next year passed fairly quickly, filled with drawing lessons, war
jitters, and rumors about the German Jews. Nate Roth, who taught painting at Cooper, invited me to his place on 8th Street so I could suck his cock. Two weeks after Pearl Harbor, another Christmas card from Dooley came, this one with a return address somewhere in Chicago. There was a note enclosed. Dooley had gotten married, not to Anna but to someone named Siobhan. They were expecting their first kid. I mailed him back a Chanukah card, not bothering to change the words.
By the spring of '42, I was in uniform. I served in the South Pacific, and lost a leg at Bataan. When I got back to the Bronx, I fought, in turn, with my parents and with depression. Eventually, my self-pity ran dry and I moved down to the Village, where I achieved a bit of fame as a cartoonist for The New Yorker. And every year, and only once a year, Dooley and I exchanged cards. "Merry Christmas" from him, "Happy Chanukah" from me. And always a note with a bit of news. He moved to Michigan, went to work for Chrysler, retired. He married off four daughters, had more than a few grandkids.
Then, three years ago, I received an envelope addressed in an unfamiliar hand. The Christmas card read "I'm sorry to tell you that my husband has passed on. Sincerely, Siobhan Dooley." And that was that.
It's funny how things happen. How the memories of youth remain so vivid. How varied the paths of our lives can be. And how, so many years later, I can recall, in perfect focus, the feel, the smell, the taste of Dooley's dick.