Nipples
Charles Lambert

I love men’s nipples, the brown-pink circles with their little nubs of flesh that stiffen when they’re rolled between the fingers. I love those teatless nipples, as flat as coffee-stains, which need to be teased with the tongue. I love the way certain black men, and adolescent boys, have nipples like swollen buds, where the aureole and the point are one, a single mound. The aureole is another word for halo, but the halo of a nipple is not so much the pigmented circle of skin as the outer ring of hair. I love those nipples that have to be searched for beneath the hair of the chest, like cranberries ripened in the dark, welcome as winter fruit. I love the way nipples shrink and swell. I love them pale and small and self-denying. I love the little milk chocolate buttons on the ribbed chests of boys. Their nubs. Their little knobs. Their niblets.

I’ve read that nipples on men are redundant, like the appendix, or tonsils. But that’s just another proof that books know nothing. It’s obvious that nipples are as necessary as colour, or love, or the sense of loss.

* * *

I saw him again a couple of days ago. He is older now, much older than I must seem to him, I imagine, but he doesn’t see me. He rides on, importantly, with a satchel of letters. His moped is old and covered in dirt, with the back mudguard dented and practically stripped of its paint. This is deliberate; it’s a moped no one would steal. He’s wearing a shabby padded jacket, with the name of his courier company on the back. Speedy Boys, I think it is. One of those fatuous names for people who are neither fast nor young, who have simply lost out in the job market. I watch his back for a moment as he revs off. This is the second time I’ve seen him since he came home with me. It must be eight, even nine, years ago by now.

I took him back to the flat on my moped, bumping over the tramlines, his wine-dark breath in my nostrils. It was hot that evening, I could feel the sweat running down between us, where he was pressed against my back. Perched on the front of the seat to give him room, I felt his hard dick pushing into the base of my spine. I edged slightly back toward him, while the moped bumped against the kerb. His hands started off round my waist, dropped down into my groin to check it out, then moved up to my chest. He’s forward, I thought. After fiddling unsuccessfully with the buttons, he pushed his hands up beneath the shirt and began to rub them over my nipples, roughly, as though he were trying to rub chalk off a board. I wriggled and the moped lurched across the road. He giggled in my ear. That was the way we worked, I thought, a picaresque merger of risk and fun.

He looked like a skinny, ungainly adolescent then. His shoulders, I discovered when he took his shirt off, were flecked with spots, like red spider mites. As soon as we were on top of the bed he tried to fuck me, pushing my legs apart and up, brutally and without warning. I was startled; I hadn’t expected his violence to be more than playful. I writhed beneath him, my muscles clenched. He took my nipples and squeezed them until I twisted away, his shoulders jammed up against my thighs. “Come on,” he said under his breath, coaxing me into submission. “Come on.” His cock was stiff and red, sticking up between his thighs as he crouched in front of me. Pointed and slightly curved, like the angry, single-minded cock of a dog. As I reached round to take it he grabbed my nipples again, then bobbed down his head and took one in his mouth. My thighs, glistening with sweat, slid off his shoulders onto the sheets. I was lying beneath him, pinned down by his mouth. I could feel his tongue rasping where his fingers had squeezed, a sensation that was almost pain, followed by the needle-like touch of his teeth. I tried to pull away, but his mouth fastened onto me, and I was literally held by the fear that he would bite my nipple off. Suddenly his head came up and kissed me, his tongue as harsh and penetrating as his teeth. I was pushed back down onto the bed by the force of his mouth. That’s when I decided to call him Terrier.

* * *

They’ve been showing the trial of the Monster of Florence on Italian television all week. Someone killed a series of couples during the seventies and eighties, all of them mixed except for a pair of men, one of whom had long blond hair. The man they’ve arrested is squat and rough; he looks the type. The type who would watch, and then murder, lovers. The Monster used a pistol to kill them, then a knife to take souvenirs of the women’s bodies. Neither of the weapons has been found. It seems that he carefully excised squares of pubic skin, though these haven’t been discovered either. Sometimes a scrap appears through the post and the Florence police turn cartwheels of investigative joy, as parts of a body are reconstructed into clues. Then they discover it belongs to someone else and the story seems to end, as though a new story, which is never told, weren’t beginning.

* * *

I don’t know how I felt the first time I saw him after that night. How I felt about him, that is. He was on a motorbike at the corner of Via Veneto, and I thought for a moment that he was waiting for me, although I had no reason to be there. It was pouring with rain and I probably wouldn’t have noticed him if a lunatic hadn’t leapt out from some clothes shop doorway into my path, and screamed directly at me, as though he knew, and hated, me. I was rigid with fear for a moment. Then, without even listening to the man’s shrieked abuse, I closed my umbrella and thrust it out before me. The man came nearer, edging toward me with sideways movements like a beaten dog, his face contorted by rage and the dragging effect of rain. I stared around me, looking for someone to help me, to tell me what to do. What could I have done to make him so angry? I wondered irrationally. With the rain beating down on my head and shoulders, I darted across the road. The lights changed, and my attacker was stranded by traffic, splashed with fallen rain as taxis swung round into Via Bissolati, round past the Alitalia office. I was too scared to run. Perhaps I thought that running would attract him, or suggest a strategy of pursuit.

That was when I saw Terrier. He was sitting on his motorbike in the rain. His hair was plastered to his skull, and I saw just how small his head was, the head of a midget, I thought. He was wearing a leather jacket and jeans, dyed black by the rain. I was shaking with fear. I almost went over to speak to him that time, but something stopped me. It was only a couple of months after we had slept together. He looked much the same. I felt as though we had nothing to say.

* * *

After we had woken up together, when I was feeling warm and relaxed, Terrier set to. I was still half-asleep. I felt his razor-edged teeth at work on my right nipple. I stroked his head, gently at first as if to teach him by example and then more firmly, until he lifted his head up for breath. I’m having a shower, I said, and he followed me into the bathroom, reaching for corners of skin to scratch or bite as I walked, turned on the taps, adjusted the flow. I felt that I was being fed to fish. As soon as the water was the right temperature, we were suddenly both beneath the shower. I held back my head as he reached for the soap and began to rub it urgently between my buttocks. The next thing I knew his hand was on my back and I was being simultaneously pushed down and swiveled until my arse was in line with his jerking, soap-covered cock. He was inside me before I knew where I was. I turned my head up into the flow of water, trying to open my eyes to its stinging, while he had his way with me. His hands were round at my nipples, still sore from the night before.

* * *

The man they say is the Monster of Florence sits next to his lawyer. It could be the effect of the television—he might even have been made up?—but his face is unnaturally red, inflated to the point of explosion, a balloon with watery slits for eyes, which miss nothing. His hands are hidden beneath the table, but the sleeves are alive and twitching. He might be throttling pheasants. He whispers constantly to his lawyer, a weasel with a beard and gelled-back Bela Lugosi hair. You can see cogs working beneath the bloated mask of the accused. His lawyer stands up to cross-examine each of the prosecution’s witnesses, whose faces we are almost never allowed to see. He tries to discredit them with intricate stories of buggery, clothes being washed in streams, torn knickers, the lascivious daughters of the gamekeeper, things that the Monster has invented there and then. It’s another world.

* * *

Terrier told me over breakfast—he wouldn’t eat, he just heaped sugar into his coffee until it turned to syrup, then spooned it into his mouth—that he worked in television, in PR. I had a moment’s doubt, then thought, Why not? Why shouldn’t he be telling me the truth? The night before he told me he’d fucked a cardinal that afternoon, and that rang true enough. He was someone else in the kitchen, as though his aggression had been channeled into social liveliness, an almost dapper charm. He named a few closet gays in television, and I was curious but doubtful; I wanted proof. I always want things to be literal. I’m the kind of person who would never say “love you to death.” When I was young I read a story about a boy whose every lie came true, and I remember a drawing of him lying on a wall while a crocodile devoured someone in the garden. It served him right, I remember thinking. That’s what should happen when you lie. Then we’d know who had killed those couples in their cars in the woods of Tuscany, the landscape you see in Paolo Uccello’s paintings of battle, the calm green fringe behind the raised lances. Now all we know is who the victims were, the trivial details that made them up, the bathos of dates and jobs, holidays and betrayal.

* * *

I don’t remember now if he left me his phone number or if there was that tacit understanding, at best an act of wary mutual respect, at worst of damage-containment, that what we had had was over. My nipples were sore beneath my shirt, but I had begun to enjoy the constant sexual awareness evoked by that soreness. I was almost sorry to see him leave. From my balcony, I watched him walk toward the bus stop, not expecting him to turn and look up. He didn’t even know I had a balcony. I hadn’t shown him round the flat, after all. I hadn’t planned on marriage. When he had gone I went to tidy the bathroom, make the bed. There was no evidence he had been there, except for a brown smear on the towel, where he had wiped his cock. That would be enough, I thought, to convict him. That would be more than circumstantial evidence if he had left me dead. That, and the reddened skin around my nipples, like a rash.

* * *

No, I’m sure we didn’t exchange numbers. Otherwise, I’d have called him. I was watching television maybe a month after we’d met when one of the people he’d claimed to work for appeared on a chat show, and my cock stiffened. It took me a moment to work out why, to recall the connection. I imagined the man with his calves forced up round his ears, the stiff red cock going in and out, the teeth of Terrier working away at his chest, until his nipples were charged with blood. Yes, I’d have called him then if I could.

I wonder what would have happened. He had the kind of hunger that fanned out to involve others, a lust that transformed itself into playfulness. Perhaps we’d have ended up in one of those involuted erotic circles, the kind that exchange home-made magazines and videos and talk about the dignity of roles. Homo ludens. The language of game. Isn’t it odd that we call them sex toys, those deadly serious implements of rubber and steel, buckles and butt plugs, as erotic as weapons? Perhaps what we mean when we call them toys is that we only pretend to hurt each other, and that all we have to do, for the bonds to fall and the cuffs to spring open and our love reveal itself for what it is, a pure and gentle thing, is to utter the pre-established secret word. But, with Terrier, there was no word. There was no secret.

* * *

It isn’t true, of course, that Paolo Uccello’s landscapes stand away from the violence. Chromatically, the olive green of the hills seeps down among the tangle of thighs and weapons. Even the farmland of the Rout of San Romano, apparently so far from the battle, is dotted with oversized soldiers and animals in flight. It’s a landscape to which violence is intrinsic. So when I hear that the man, accused of murdering lovers, also raped his daughters, and then I see them on television, grown women now, photographed from the waist down, their legs swinging nervously inches away from the ground so that they seem to be children still, I’m horrified but not surprised.

* * *

The last time I saw him in the flesh, two or three days ago, I hated him. I didn’t say that before because I didn’t even recognise what I felt as hatred. At first, I thought it was pity I couldn’t handle, pity that he had aged, pity that he was nothing but a trumped-up delivery boy and that all his talk had been bullshit. But it wasn’t that. I don’t have time for that kind of pity. It was only later, when I’d seen him for the final time and had time to think, that I realised.

I was watching the news on television. The Florence trial had come to an end and the Monster had been sentenced to life, or whatever. He was red-faced, apoplectic as usual, his weaselly lawyer fidgeting around him. The journalists were hovering outside the courtroom door, to get the beauty of him hot, pushing their microphones between each other’s heads like beaks for food, with all the sad ghouls who gather at these events straining behind them to get a glimpse of the Monster. And that was when I saw him.

Terrier was staring into the camera in exactly the same way that he had stared into my eyes eight, nine years ago. I saw him behind the journalists as they jostled for a place, as though my thighs were still pushed up against his shoulders, and I saw that same avidity, and I felt his sharp humourless teeth against my skin.

* * *

I had a dream last night. I was in a room I knew was his. It had the smell of Terrier. There was no sign of him, but I knew that I had to hurry because he would soon be home. In the dream I was looking for something; I knew that was what I had to do. I searched through wardrobes, under the bed; I had no idea what I was looking for. Then I saw a chest of drawers.

I don’t know if I slowed the action down, or if some dream director took over, but it took me forever as I moved across to the chest and opened the top drawer, and I knew that even though Terrier was coming I couldn’t hurry things. I looked inside the drawer.

At first I thought they were corn plasters, the kind you see in chemists, but used, each one with its little point of blood in the centre. But then, as I moved my hand among them, and felt them rustle, I saw that they were nipples.



“In ‘Nipples,’ I wanted to set up a series of resemblances rather than correspondences that link not only Terrier to the Monster, but also Terrier to the narrator, the narrator to the ‘lunatic’ and so on, not to mention the world of Paolo Uccello to the one the narrator lives in, which is not a ‘different world’ at all, but a place to which violence is as intrinsic as it is to Tuscany today.

“I started with the purple paean to nipples that opens the story and the scene of the dream that closes it. I had to connect the two. The Monster came from nowhere and surprised the whole thing into depth.”

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