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The Other Man

Or, a Mistake Named Mark

Like all great stories, it begun at the party of a friend of a friend. Gabriel had been invited by James, a man of no substance, a man of complete surface. But oh, what surface he was made up of! The kind of man whose eyes you might spend an eternity gazing into, and yet become none the wiser. He was absurdly tall, and beautiful, because they always are, decked head to toe in originality. He was aware that his enemies thought him shallow. In fact, he rather agreed with them. To Gabriel, he was the very thing. The sort of man he might have been, if fortune had favoured the ugly. James had invited Gabriel to this party, and so Gabriel had no choice but to come.

And yet, when he arrived at the venue, James was not there. Hours ticked by as Gabriel sat alone on the sub-bench, waiting to be approached, attempting to look drunk and vulnerable to speed up this process. A man in his late 30s approached. Gabriel readied himself for the inevitable sexual advance he had read about in news reports.

“Excuse me mate, do you know where the toilet is?”

Despite his mother insisting that he would grow into his looks, nights like these were usually spent alone.

It’s not that he was boring—not at all. In fact, he was unusually interesting. Not the “I LOVE Kate Bush” type of interesting. Or even the type of interesting which consists of quirky

Gestures intricately imitated from a handful of select Zoey Deschanel movies. No. Gabriel was the type of interesting to collect gifts from his failed conquests—from the men who had rejected him in the most humiliating ways—and bare them for the world to see. A bracelet from a Syrian at a gay bar who, after sharing a laugh with his friends, had told Gabriel that he didn’t go for children. A rainbow badge from a man who had summoned Gabriel to his house at 2 am… to tell him that he did not find him attractive. The worst thing? Gabriel spent the night on his futon… and made him coffee the next day.

But Gabriel found it challenging to impose himself onto other people. He was buried treasure—utterly worthless until it is found. Minutes turned to hours, gin and tonics turned bitter.

He willed James to arrive, full of excuses and clichés, to march up to him, commanding attention and admiration all the while. He longed to be enveloped in his warmth and the familiar smell of perfume and cigarette smoke that always accompanied a man of such importance. At 11:30 he heard the familiar ping that summoned in the end of the world.

Can’t come tonight. Sorry.

And suddenly he felt himself drowning in disappointment. He allowed himself to be eaten up by resentment. Resentment for James. And for himself. And for the rest of this party, the other guests, for not noticing his brilliance.

Three vodka shots later, he had managed to remove the impossible weight of his own tiny little world.

“You are beautiful. Not in a conventional way. Or even in an unconventional way. In a ‘wouldn’t it be hilarious if we had sex’ kind of way," he found himself saying to the man next to him.

“You’re funny. Did you know you’re funny?” The man replied.

“It is one of the many things I know about myself.”

“Well now I’m curious.”

“I once had an accidental threesome. We met online. I thought they were the same guy, just before and after a dodgy haircut. When I got there I realised my mistake. Regardless, I went with it, because life is short.”

“You are fucking filthy. And legendary.”

“Would you like to be friends?” Gabriel slurred eagerly.

They were complete strangers. And they loved him. Every awful thing he had experienced became a hilarious joke. Nights of humiliation turned wonderful anecdotes. Gabriel saw himself immortalised in their eyes. He felt himself becoming a stereotype… and they fed on it. They feasted on his legendary status. And they were never full. He had never felt so invincible. He did experience a slight pang of sadness, as he realised these people would never love the real Gabriel… but he quickly pushed this feeling side.

A tiny face in his crowd, one so insignificant that Gabriel never would have noticed his existence, found him on his way to the bar.

“Let me buy you a drink...’” he purred. He stood there, imposing in his rib eye steak and Jack Daniels glory. He smelt of musty cologne and homosexual denial.

They began talking in a way that was highly appropriate to two people of their situation.

“I was once mistaken for a lesbian!” Gabriel offered up, attempting to fill the charged silence.

But Mark did not want to watch a performance. He rested his hand gently on Gabriel’s knee and whispered “I want to know you…” Gabriel allowed himself to hear this cliché. For once, he pushed away his sense of superiority, and willed himself to enjoy the moment.

“You’re fucking gorgeous. Come home with me. My wife’s out of town…”

And in that moment, his tiny world came crashing down onto Gabriel’s shoulders.

“You’re married.”

“Yes, but I still want to fuck you. You’re beautiful.”

But Gabriel resisted.

“You’re annoying in a fuckable way”

Still, he resisted.

“You’re fascinating.”

He didn’t know what came over him. It was like some life-preserving force that lunged itself at Mark. And kissed him. And followed him back to his house.

***

The next morning, Gabriel felt numb. He considered the mistake he had made, who was currently lying next to him, snoring heavily.

“What must it be like to live one’s life with such certainty?” he thought, as he stroked Mark’s hair with his fingers. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He gazed at the picture of the happy couple on the dresser.

He quickly got dressed and hurried to where he was meant to be.

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