When the German came over you were expecting someone younger. In his Gaydar pictures – clothed and unclothed – he was a cute guy in his early thirties, tall and blonde and slim. The one picture of his arsehole alarmed you, it didn’t look like an innocent arsehole at all, and you liked that. Tall, skinny, smooth guys with eager arseholes are one of your favourite things. He was the second German you’d had over this month – the first had been visiting regularly, about once a week.
He texted you as he was leaving his house, said he’d had a rough week, asked you not to judge him too harshly, that he was looking a bit rough. You expected the worst – that he’d turn up and be much older than his pictures; that he’d be deranged; drunk, or on drugs – so you called him to find out.
“Oh,” he said,” I didn’t want you to get a surprise when you opened the door.”
But you did. You frowned at him.
“What?” he said, smiling strangely, as you let him into your flat, guided him towards your living room.
“You look considerably older than in your photos,” you said.
Either he didn’t understand what you’d just said, or he chose not to respond. He just shrugged. He peered out your living-room window into the neighbour’s flat, surveyed your bookshelf, walked around and then came to a halt and leaned against the wall by the kitchen.
“So,” he said. “What are you doing for Christmas?”
“I don’t really do Christmas,” you said. “I’m Jewish.”
“Oh,” he said. “My grandmother was married to a Jew.”
You remarked that it must have been tricky, being married to a Jew during the War.
“Oh,” he said. “He was killed in a concentration camp and she took the kids to America.”
“The kids?” you said. “One of them must have been…”
“Yes,” he said. “My father.”
When you were growing up, no one talked of the family members who’d still been living in Europe during the Second World War. The people whom the Nazis had killed – yes, their neighbours, their own people – were somehow not connected to you. Even today, nobody in the family talks of Hitler as if he was responsible for the deaths of anyone with family ties directly connected to you.
“What’s your name?” you said.
Because sometimes in situations like this you can forget about that. You can want someone more than want to know them. What other section of the human race meets up with others of its kind for sex without finding out what the individual’s name is first. Are we unique, us homosexuals? Have we reduced each other to… what? Our pictures? Our bodies? Are we just bodies to each other. Is that what society and we ourselves have turned us into? Ah yes, but it’s a choice. It’s a choice.
“Oh, it’s history,” Stefan says. “Just move on.”
“History?” you say, feeling shocked and disgusted by his ignorance, but also calm in the knowledge that you are dealing with someone significantly more stupid than yourself. “How do you mean history? Your father’s still alive.”
“Yes,” he said. “But why do people have to go on and on about it, just because one crazy person did something. I mean, look what the British did in Tasmania, look at slavery, look what the Spanish did in South America. It’s history. Move on.”
You watched him talk. You sat on the edge of the dining table and dangled your feet above the carpet. You watched him get defensive about that time in history. Neither of you mentioned the H word. Neither of you said Nazi, or SS. You thought about him as a boy in school, trying to make sense of the past, knowing on some level that he wouldn’t have been safe during the War, that his grandad had been killed.
“Are you a normal Jew,” he said.
“Normal?” you said.
“I mean, are you like those Jews in Stamford Hill with the suits and the curly sideburns?”
“Well,” you said, trying to sound calm, intelligent, matter-of-fact. “I’m the same kind of Jew.”
“No, you’re not,” he said. “You don’t have the curly things,” he said, gesturing with his hands on the sides of his head, miming a coiled spring to signify the payes that hang down from the temples.
“I’m a Jew like you’re a Jew,” you said.
“You would have been Jew enough for Hitler,” you said, and didn’t tell him how blonde you were as a boy, that your sister still has blonde hair and blue eyes. You do not want to share any details of your life with him.
“I don’t like talking about politics,” he said. “I never know what to say.”
“It’s not really politics,” you said, and wondered if you should tell him to leave. Your instinct is to say to him: I think you should go now; I’d like you to leave. But you don’t want that kind of ending, to be thought of, to be remembered as the touchy Jew, to absolve him somehow of the possibility that things will nag at him… his own part of this history, his precarious existence in this narrative.
You are also relieved that he is not that attractive to you, that his face is not as pretty as it was online, etc etc. When he’s gone you make yourself a cup of tea and go back to your book, but you find it hard to concentrate. You are stunned by what has just happened, by the way history can barge into your flat like that, the way so many things can be happening at once when all you wanted was a good fuck.