First Pages: Willow Song by Richard Amory
Welcome to First Pages on Fridays! Every Friday, we share the first pages from a book (usually vintage), along with a bit of information about the author and the book’s history.
This week’s selection is from Willow Song by Richard Amory, published in 1974 by Freeway Press. Richard Amory is best known for his classic gay pulp/erotica novel Song of the Loon. Thanks to Arsenal Pulp Press, Song of the Loon is now readily available in a reissued edition; but Amory’s other novels have not yet received the same treatment.
Richard Amory was actually a pen name for Richard Wallace Love. As Richard Amory, he wrote at least eight gay-themed novels, including a couple of sequels to Song of the Loon.
Willow Song covers some of the same ground as Song of the Loon, but with a decidedly more fantastical and mystical bent. The back cover describes the book as a “poetic gay fantasy” and “a gay masque.” Read the following pages, and judge for yourself!
Alum Rock Park: April, 1972
Strickland knew who Wilghe was the moment he emerged from the trunk of the old willow tree, near-naked, white-skinned, and twined about with greenly shining ivy. Wilghe stood on the dappled bank above the creek, gripping the dark earth with his toes, and smiling. His skin seemed like bark at times, but wasn’t–there was no telling his age. He could have been twenty or two hundred or two thousand. Strickland smiled, and offered him a cup of water from the fountain. Wilghe drank. Rainbow droplets clung to his bronze-colored beard. Strickland drew a deep breath and sighed “Hello, my love.”
“Hello to you, Alor,” Wilghe murmured. His voice was barely distinguishable from the April wind combing down the wooded slope, and his blue-gray eyes were amused and knowing slits. “Have you been waiting a long time?”
“Yes,” Strickland answered. He didn’t know what Alor meant, but surely Wilghe did, and that was all that mattered. He gazed at the tree man’s smoothly knotted body and then away, up the sea of spring-blooming mustard on the opposite slope. Wilghe was not up there so he glanced back, at the man’s golden-hairy legs; there was a sprig of wild, blue-lavender phlox in the hair behind his ear. “Yes, a long time,” Strickland said, “but I wasn’t entirely miserable. Some days were quite nice.”
The tree man’s smile broadened at that, and he stepped carefully to the old table and helped himself to a bread stick, cocking his head at the screams of the blue jays. There were greenish shadows down the groove of his spine, and below, green shadows where his bronze-haired buttocks met muscular thighs. He crumbled a bread stick for the jays, tossing brown and white crumbs to the far side of the table, then turned back to Strickland with a flash of knowing in his eyes.
Some days, of course, Strickland mused, but mostly not. He lifted his gaze to a smoky vee in the hills and realized with a shock that what lay beyond–the screeching metals of the Santa Clara Valley–were behind him forever possibly. It mattered not in the slightest to him. His mind’s eye filled with memories of frenetic darkness, of hard angles and plain meanings, and he was glad to be rid of them. Not that he understood Wilghe at all or had even the faintest notion of the future path, but he was glad to be rid of certain people on the other side of the vee, and anxious to explore the ways of the willow man, of the alders, of live oaks and buckeyes.
As if reading his mind, Wilghe said “We will go back there now and again,” indicating the road downward with a tilt of his chin. “This afternoon, Alor. You know that.”
Strickland did, indeed, but he wanted to stay a while on the creek bank, gazing at Wilghe’s sinewy, sun-flecked shoulders–and up the slope drowned in waves of yellow mustard. Wilghe held the blue phlox to his nose and glanced at Strickland with a knowing smile. “This afternoon, Alor,” he whispered. “You’d best drive us, about an hour before sunset, and we’ll stay the night and part of tomorrow. Do you want me to?”
Strickland nodded, smiling and relieved. The hair above Wilghe’s ivy-encircled penis was like pale yellow moss. Then, suddenly embarrassed, he turned away and reached for his beer, offering it to the tree man. “Not very good,” he murmured, “but I remember that you drank some before–that time.”
“Yes, I did,” Wilghe said, accepting the beer. “It was pale and shallow and looked like piss, but I drank it with some pleasure.” He touched the beer to his pink mouth and drank, mindless of the amber trickle that escaped down through his beard. “Not at all bad, considering,” he added, and set the can back on the table. “Better than I remember.”
Strickland’s mind flashed with the darkness of their first meeting, and he peered up the stream bed to hide his further embarrassment. Wilghe chuckled softly behind him.
It had been in Santa Clara, of course, at one of those places. Strickland was wearing white-and-lavender striped trousers, and dancing in electric blue smoke like a man possessed. His partner was a darkly cute young man whom he knew only as Dean and who bored him silly off the dance floor, so when the music stopped he returned alone to his stool at the bar.
Sitting there was a golden-faced man with crinkly hair and eyebrows like circumflexes, wearing a tunic of Lincoln green. Strickland recognized him with a foreboding sense of déjà vu, although he had never seen him before in his life. “Hello, Wilghe,” he’d said, and they wished each other good health on amber beer and sat long into the night thinking of willow trees and alders and hexagons drawn in the air with oaken wands. Dean vanished behind a smoky sea of faces.
Wilghe smiled, closing his right eye almost entirely, and added “We will have better beer soon, Alor, and St. John’s Eve is fast approaching.” His teeth when he smiled were as white as clam shells, and he sketched a hexagonal figure in the damp earth with one strong toe. It was Strickland’s own sign, perhaps, drawn once with beer on the Santa Clara bar top. “Less than three months away, and you’ve a great deal to learn.”
“I’m sure I do,” Strickland whispered.
Wilghe stared broodingly at a blue jay for a moment. Then he brightened and pointed to the slope behind them, saying “Wild oats and artichoke shadow the poppies of Wilwe Gleann, Alor, as they do here–you will see for yourself. We have leached many acorns, and stored honey and mead, and found patches of wild garlic.”
“I had supposed you would,” Strickland said.
A pensive smile crossed Wilghe’s face and he took Strickland by the hand, leading him to the hillside of wild mustard. Strickland acceded. The palm of Wilghe’s hand was rough and his bare feet crossed the gravel road as if it had been new grass. Strickland wasn’t in the least concerned with the tree man’s ivy-entwined nakedness and was oddly content to squint his eyes against the flashes of sunlight from Wilghe’s golden calves as they headed up the slope. The willow man held the phlox to his nose again, and dug his feet into the damp earth as they climbed. The oats brushed against his hairy shins in flowing angularity.
A flash of orange grew half hidden in patterned bronze and Wilghe stooped, holding out his fingers to bright petals, and handed Strickland the poppy. “For you, Alor,” he breathed, and Strickland threaded the stem through a buttonhole of his shirt, smiling his thanks. Wilghe turned and headed off through golden stalks. Strickland followed.
The found a red-warm rock and nestled down against it and watched dancing spheres of mustard that swept up toward them with the wind–and beyond, the billowing green of buckeyes and budding sycamores. Wilghe laid his head on Strickland’s shoulder and smiled. Strickland listened for the sound of mustard yellow, thinking in pentagrams and patterned triangles.
“What does Alor mean?” he asked, almost as an afterthought.
“It is you,” Wilghe answered, pointing down the hillside to a patch of darker green along the creek where they had been. “When you are a tree man you will know,” he smiled, and let his hand fall to his mossy loins, adding “There is time enough.”
“Yes. Be content.”
Strickland was content. Time bent and dissolved as warm yellow whispered across his forehead and down his neck to his breastbone. Wilghe showed white clam-shell teeth as he gazed at the clouds, white sailing in blue, and they watched oaten patterns . . .
The leaves were long and pale green and came to silvery lanceolae beneath, unifoliate points on the tip of Wilghe’s tongue as he winced and touched the chrome of Strickland’s Comet door, and then smiled. He smiled, and finally swung sand-colored enameled steel out and sat down, gingerly resting his back against vinyl and curling his toes under in distaste at the rubber floor mat. Strickland got in beside him, behind the wheel, worried somewhat by Wilghe’s distaste, started the engine, and waited, watching the ivy-twined body beside him for a reaction. But Wilghe smiled, eyes closed, and Strickland grasped the spindle-stick and shifted into the blood-red mushroom that hung over Los Gatos on the far side of the valley. The road was a gray snake, Penitential . . .
Strickland opened the door and Wilghe peered inside, sniffing. The apartment was dark and smelled of stale tobacco smoke, but Wilghe knew that it would, Strickland decided, and felt unapologetic as the tree man slipped shyly into the dark room.
To browse Richard Amory’s books, visit the Somewhere Books online store.