I’m thinking of a movie.
I can’t remember the title.
I saw it in a theater in Brixton.
One of the old dark theaters down there.
The ceiling was painted to look like a starry sky.
I didn’t recognize any of the constellations.
Trees were painted on the walls: Myrtle and Boxwood, Cypress and Oleander.
The movie was about a group of young people.
One of them, a young man, was so handsome.
He wore his hair long, like they used to. He was the leader of the group.
I remember I liked his voice. I liked to listen to him.
Tom, I think he was called. Or Tod.
I’ll call him Tom.
I remember that the young people made their way together through a forest.
Tom told them he had some destination in mind.
The whole group followed him because they liked Tom so much. They admired him.
The destination was somewhere Tom had visited as a child.
A cave or a lake.
Let’s just say it was a lake.
Tom talked about the lake as they walked.
He talked about an event he remembered from his childhood.
The group asked questions.
Tom said he couldn’t answer the questions. The lake, he said, pulled memories down. It hid them away in dark waters.
One of the other members of the group was called Bill.
Bill had short black hair and wore a black t-shirt, even though the sun was shining.
Bill was in love with Tom.
It wasn’t a crush.
It was love.
Bill had felt this way about Tom since they were boys.
He’d always imagined what it would feel like to kiss Tom on the mouth. What Tom would taste like.
I should add that that I’m not sure how Tom felt about Bill.
Tom had a way of looking at everyone in the group.
Not with lust exactly.
He had these large eyes, expressive.
They were some wonderful color, something between the sea and the sky.
Tom would run his fingers through his long hair and gaze thoughtfully at his group of friends.
They all gazed back at him.
His beauty seemed to form a circle of protection.
That’s what they thought, at least.
There were other characters in the movie besides Tom and Bill.
I don’t remember most of them.
But there was one other character who seemed important.
Her name was Jane.
Jane was smart.
If anyone had a question—something that Tom couldn’t answer—they asked Jane.
And Jane always knew what to say.
I remember, early in the film, Jane tripped on a branch in the forest.
There was a loud sound, a sort of snap.
Jane said something had happened to her ankle.
Everyone gathered around Jane. Tom examined her ankle carefully. He said it might be broken. Jane said it wasn’t. Tom asked if she wanted to go back to the car. They’d all come together to the woods in an old brown car. Jane said no. She could walk if someone would help her. It was Bill who offered to help. Bill was like that, always kind. As long as the kindness didn’t take him too far away from Tom.
So Jane leaned on Bill and hobbled along.
They all made their way toward the lake.
Tom told a story.
It was an old story.
Something he’d read in a book.
It was about a group of young people who went out into the wilderness to see something.
They didn’t come back. Not in the way people usually come back.
The story went on for a long while.
Bill got lost in the story. He forgot how much he loved Tom.
And Jane forgot about the pain in her ankle.
I suppose I shouldn’t dwell too long on this walk through the forest.
But in my mind, the walk and the story took up most of the film.
Eventually, the group arrived at the lake, or what I’m now remembering as a lake. It might have been a cave, as I said, or even a stream. But likely it was a lake. A big dark lake in the middle of the woods.
Jane sat down on a log because her ankle hurt so much.
I remember the actress who played Jane was very good at portraying suffering.
She could do it without even moving her face.
I remember Tom asked Jane if she would be all right there on the log while the rest of them went to explore the lake.
Jane said she would be fine. She spoke firmly. She always spoke firmly to Tom, as if he was a child.
Tom nodded. Then he looked at Bill.
I remember this was the moment in the film where I believed that Tom might actuallybe in love with Bill, just as Bill was in love with Tom.
The look that passed between them, it meant something.
I wondered if Tom and Bill might kiss before the movie was over. I hoped for it. I wanted to see that.
The group, five young people in all, moved toward the lake.
When they arrived at the dark edge of the water, they all began to realize, one by one, that it wasn’t a lake at all.
They’d been mistaken.
It was, instead, a tall figure, standing in a grove.
The figure was draped in gray robes and as tall as the tallest of the trees.
Its skin was the color of marble.
The figure did not look at the young people.
Instead, it stared into the far distance, as if it was remembering something.
Bill spoke first. He didn’t speak loudly. He said, “Tom, what is this?”
Tom didn’t answer. He seemed to be remembering something too.
And at that moment, the giant figure standing in the grove began to lower its massive head to look down at the youths in the field.
From Jane’s perspective, it looked as though all of her friends had waded waist-deep into the lake.
They looked like they might go deeper still. And this worried Jane. Her friends were still fully clothed. Their clothes would fill with water and grow heavy.
Jane stood. Her ankle hurt.
“Tom?” she called.
But Tom didn’t turn to look at her.
Bill didn’t turn.
I remember I didn’t look back at her either.
Jane began to limp toward the lake.
“Don’t go any deeper,” she called.
But we’d all gone deeper already.
We were up to our chins in the water.
And the tall gray figure spoke to us.
It said: How vain are these thousand years?
It said: I remember when the trees were white and full with blossom.
And the water of the lake grew deeper still.
And I knew then that Tom would never kiss Bill.
And poor Jane would never reach us.
The gray figure would continue to speak.
And we would all wonder how we’d gotten ourselves here, so many years in the past, so many years, in such a strange and flickering light.
Rome, 38 CE
The colors of marble: blonde, lilac, green, rosy yellow and white. It happens in the forest. Late evening. The ilex are dark here, like tarnished mirrors. There is a ruin. A place of sacrifice. Asphodels grow, glowing, holy. The men, for they are all men, come silently in soft raiment. There is wine, a great deal it, from the cellars of the one who calls himself Il Sodoma, the Sodomite. Someone whispers that he knows what dying would feel like: a return to a place where one is wanted. The men are red lipped by the time it begins. Their bodies are pale in the ancient light. We might imagine they are all pieces of moving statuary. Their roles are not announced. But such things are understood. Some men are penetrated. Others are not. All of them kneel in soft blankets of pine needles. There is a sound in the forest, a crying. In their collective thoughts: flights of black stairs, blue wind flowers, a song, complex yet primitive. Semen is spilled. Afterwards, the men lay together. The gods go walking.
Adam McOmber is the author of My House Gathers Desires: Stories (BOA Editions), The White Forest: A Novel (Touchstone) and This New & Poisonous Air: Stories (BOA Editions). His work has appeared recently in Conjunctions, Kenyon Review and Third Coast. He lives and teaches in Los Angeles.