Stay the Night

By: Madison Cole
(© 2008 by the author)

  The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent. Comments are appreciated at...


He was one of those guys that you see and can’t help but stare at, sort of rendered slack-jawed for just a minute, until you remember how much you hate that look of incredible backwoods inbred stupidity, so you quickly close your mouth, hoping nobody saw you lose whatever semblance of composure you think you have. He was also one of those guys that, when he suddenly looks up and finds you staring at him in such a ridiculous fashion, he gives you a knowing half-smile, one that makes you catch your breath and quickly look down at your Docksiders, hoping the flush of your cheeks won't betray you too much further.


I had seen him around and knew him (barely) through a friend of a friend, but he had captivated me to the point that I already knew his name—John. I knew where he worked, where he worked out, and his favorite drink. He was 24, dark-haired, dark-eyed, and confidently swaggered in that almost cocky sort of gym-jock way, but he had the warmest pair of melted-chocolate eyes that also told my soul John had a poet's heart. I was 19, blonde and blue-eyed, still only learning how to dream and what my dreams were made of, and I was consumed with a longing for something that I couldn't even yet name.


It was just sundown, and I was in a music store, absently flipping through the racks when I felt him slip up behind me, silently. I knew it was John, just from the scent of a specific cologne he used that no one else I knew wore or, in those days, could have afforded. It was an unusual smell that spoke of lime and spice, surf, and the clean sweat scent of infinite summer. I caught my breath, but his own was right behind me and instantly in my ear was the most amazing sound—a kind of a half-purr, half-growl that nearly buckled me right at the knees. John said to me, "I want you to come home with me right now." Though we lived in a Southern town that was the buckle of the Bible Belt, I followed him wordlessly out of the store. He reached down and took my hand as we went out into the icy December night. I didn't even care that some phobic beer guzzler with NASCAR decals on his old truck might see us making our way through the parking lot, hands joined, and summarily pound us both into the pavement. At that moment, holding John’s hand was the most perfect sensation I had ever experienced. It was all happening, just as my paint-by-number imaginings had for so long hoped that someday it would.


I rode with him the short distance to his condo on the south side of town, high up on a hill overlooking the city lights frostily trembling in the dark distance, like they, too, were shivering. John took me inside and asked me if I wanted a drink. I spoke for the first time as I told him simply, "Yes." Then I added, ". . . whatever you're drinking."


I knew what he would bring back—remember, I'd found out what he drank. He offered me a glass filled with dark liquid, and he asked, "Do you know what this is?" I told him I did—Cuban rum and pineapple juice, mixed strong. He laughed a bit and told me it was a “signature drink” of his. I smiled and looked down at the heavy lead crystal glass in my hand: he was telling me secrets I already knew, and it was deliciously painful. Of course I had no need for the drink, as I was already twice as high as anyone had a right to be. Something magical was taking place this night in our dreary town, and I wanted always to remember its alchemy.


John was amazing. I don't know exactly which one of us drew the other close first, but I do know that suddenly we were in his upstairs bedroom. Just a bed and bath, loft-style, on the top floor of the condo, and one wall was completely made of glass, so that while we danced together that first dance of courtship, the city lights could keep our rhythm, too. John asked if I minded music while we were together, and I just smiled and assured him I didn't. As he got up from the bed and headed toward the stack of electronic equipment tucked behind a wicker screen, I thought to myself, "God, please don't let it be some headbanger vomit band or some hideous polka hits album." I needn't have worried.


As he walked back toward me, eyes locked to mine, John said, "I don't know if you'll like this or not. But it's my favorite thing in all the world." Just as he slipped his hand into mine again and lay down beside me on the tan down comforter, the speakers (where were they? I couldn't see them at all) flooded the small room with music, and a throaty voice began to sang, snaring my soul instantly in a net of words and music. She sang about trying to swim the North Atlantic ocean, being a traveler on a different kind of train, beckoning someone to love her, to stay the night … Her voice was full of tears and love, and it was palpably, achingly sorrowful.


The room was aglow somehow—perhaps it was the drink, or just the emotions, or maybe it was the light of those winking stars spying through the window to catch the astonishing ballet about to take place. John languidly stretched out next to me, like some kind of sleekly powerful panther. The sweep of his perfect hair burned with a dark fire of its own, shining blackly in the shadows next to my blonde body. As he positioned himself above me and smiled, bringing his mouth to me, everything was suddenly electric and colors and sounding a kind of music that comes alive only as you love, and I was adrift in the sea of the whole experience. I had closed my eyes when he put his mouth just behind my ear, breathing quietly into my hair. My body had gone totally immobile, I think, as I listened raptly to this angel's voice that I'd never heard before, yet somehow knew. Again, my lips parted in amazement. John asked if anything was wrong, and I said, "No, why?"—and that was when I felt his thumb wipe away tears that I did not know had slipped from the corners of my eyes while Jane Olivor sang.


John was smiling broadly, a line of perfect, impossibly white teeth catching the skipping reflection of flickers from the half-dozen or so candles on the headboard of the bed. He nodded and said, "I had the exact same reaction the first time I heard her. Do you want to lie here and just listen to her for a while?" he asked.


I did. And for the next couple of hours, he played for me every note of Jane Olivor that he owned. She sang of love, of both its possibilities and its ultimate impossibility. She sang of loneliness and want, of dancing winds and cattails and willows, and of the first nights of lovers—and the first nights alone without them. And somewhere in the space of that time and the rest of the night hours, I felt utterly, fatally in love. For it was my first night as well—and my heart knew, even if I did not, that I would never, ever be the same again. In the years since that night, I have sometimes pondered just what else my heart foresaw that I could not possibly grasp.


John and I never made love again.


A few short weeks later, John was murdered by a pair of country boys who crossed his path in a diner in rural Alabama. John had stopped there to have a quick sandwich on his way back from a sales call, and it was one of those lethal combinations of place and time. Perhaps John was betrayed as homosexual by his expensive clothes or impeccable grooming, or perhaps by the small rainbow sticker on the back windshield of his car; who can say? But John's remains were found a few days later, thrown into a ditch a couple of miles from that run-down diner, his head caved in, his exquisite body bludgeoned beyond all save forensic recognition. The two young men John met at the diner claimed self-defense in the matter, that John had made predatory sexual advances. A myopic old church organist in the diner for her afternoon tea thought she remembered John smiling and nodding at the pair as he got his turkey sandwich to go and left the diner, but in the end she vowed she could not be sure.


On the morning the trial began, I sat on the front row of the gallery in the small courtroom. I occupied the same seat the next day. I thought the trial was amazingly swift, considering the gravity of the charges. By the afternoon of the third day, the jury was in deliberation. In less than three quarters of an hour, the eight men and four women filed back into the jury box. A tall man in the back row held a sweat-stained cowboy hat on his crossed knees. The woman next to him fanned with an old hand fan covered with angels. The verdict was handed to the judge, and for a second the tall man looked directly into my eyes, but then swiftly turned his gaze away. In that moment I was sure of what my heart had already whispered to me: the good old boys of the county went free.


I walked silently out of the courthouse and across the gravel parking lot. John had never had a chance, I thought. As I pulled the now-hot air of July into my lungs, I exhaled its dusty searing sensation. John probably did smile at the men, I guessed. After all, he smiled almost constantly, laughed easily, and thought that the world was full of possibilities. It was his nature. Perhaps the world is full of possibilities, John, but without you, I am no longer quite as certain of that option as I might have been if we had walked just a ways further down our path together. I am jaded even now by the fact that the night our souls joined was also our sole night together, and on particular days of grey and nights of total shadow, I frequently question the rules by which we play out this game. Perhaps one day those answers will be revealed.


I only know that from that moment until today, whenever I hear Jane Olivor sing, I am in love again, and it is once more a December night full of stars, of an exquisitely clear darkness with candlelight and beauty; the world is once again new and fresh and full of promise. I hear her, and my soul quickens in a waltz that time is powerless to change or rush along, and love—or its precious hope—can perhaps yet bloom, even here in the first frost of my own winter. It is this possibility that keeps me dreaming, that keeps my soul young, daring to cling to the reverie that just perhaps one day a special moment, a special man, will come once again and stay, not only through the night, but forever, and beyond.


I miss you, John.

Posted: 07/04/08

Stay the Night by Jane Olivor
Press start arrow to start music.