Polaroid

It didn’t take long for The Man to become bolder.

After that first encounter, his Saturday mornings are increasingly filled with pornography. He doesn’t want to like it, but his awakening sexuality invites, almost compels him, to take in the images, to allow fantasises to play out in his mind.

The Man watches.

The first time The Man touches him, his body shrinks into itself, a cower of towering fear. But with the images in front of him, it’s easy to close his eyes and imagine it’s one of the older women in the magazine touching him, caressing him, stroking him, loving him. It’s easy to imagine the mouth surrounding him belonging to a woman who just a few minutes ago peered out at him from the glossy pages, her glossy lips slick with lipstick and desire. For him.

He keeps his eyes closed, not wanting to see The Man’s head, lank hair balding at the top, bobbing up and down on him making him feel disgusting and nice in equal measure.

When he comes in The Man’s mouth, it feels like nothing he’s ever felt before and a million times better than when he makes himself come. He begins hating himself even as the waves of pleasure continue to pulse through his young body.

Later, as he is leaving the bookshop, The Man slips a $10 note in his pocket and whispers, ‘see you next week’. He knows he’ll be back.

When he gets home he runs a bath and waits for the regret to wash away in the warm soapy water.

It’s a repeating pattern over the next weeks, like a flocked wallpaper motif, or one of those M.C. Esher woodcuts he loses himself in sometimes, the surreal images repeating themselves into the distance, into infinity, swallowed up by time and space itself. He wishes he could be swallowed up by time and not by The Man’s mouth.

It happens a few weeks after it began. The Man sits him on an old vinyl couch. He is naked but for his socks. In The Man’s hand, a Polaroid instant camera menaces the light between them.

‘Play with yourself,’ says The Man. ‘Make yourself hard for me.’

He is reluctant to touch himself, something he likes to do, but only if no one is watching. He is reluctant to play with himself, something, even at age 11-almost-12, he thinks is deeply private.

‘Touch yourself,’ whispers The Man with gravel in his throat.

He refuses and can see The Man getting angrier. So far, there has been no physical pain, only emotional – although he doesn’t know that yet, won’t know it for years. The Man has left a pornographic magazine on the vinyl couch, the pages opened to a woman with small breasts and shapely lips and hips sitting astride a man. The man’s cock, half buried inside the woman, glistens under the harsh light of the photo studio and he can’t help feeling aroused.

His cock stiffens and he touches himself, tentatively at first, but as the feeling of pleasure envelopes him, his movements become more urgent. In the back of his mind, he can hear the Polaroid camera clicking and whirring as it spits out its instant photos, The Man waving them in the air to speed up the processing. If he feels endangered or violated, he’s not aware of it in that moment.

Only later, when The Man shows him the series of 20 photos of him masturbating – to orgasm – does the horror of shame, and of fear, overwhelm him.

In the images, washed out and flaccid, only his body and cock are visible, The Man taking care not to show his face in the photos.

But, he knows it’s him and the worry of those images burns for years.

Years later, when he is old enough to understand, he wonders how many other men like The Man have seen those images, have masturbated to them and imagined him within their reach.

Years later, when he learns The Man died suddenly of a heart attack or a stroke – he can’t remember which – he wonders if whoever went through The Man’s possessions found those first images. And the rest of the Polaroids taken over the next two years, his face never visible, his body reduced to a mere vessel for someone else’s pleasure. He wonders what they thought. What they felt. He wonders if whoever found those Polaroids was like The Man, and if so, did the cycle began again, photos stored away in a different wooden box in a different hiding place. He wonders.

His face burns with shame all over again, a reddening of skin as lurid as the first time he touched himself for the camera.

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