Originally published on Dreamwidth, AUG. 19TH, 2005 08:05 AM.
It is a common, a frequent, a harried question: our uncomprehending observers look to the sexual characters of those we slash, and argue that it is highly unlikely that such a man would ever turn to another man sexually. They look at the pairs we slash, and fulminate that we dishonor the friendships between them by holding that any such friendship must be sexual in nature.
“Sue,” whoever she may be and blessings upon her, has written, of all things, a Poirot/Hastings story that is true to character, completely believeable, suitable for your grandmother – or even mine – and which is a complete explanation of what we do and why we do it.
The story concerns the discovery of the murdered body of a young Argentinian sailor who bears a profound resemblance to Captain Hastings, and who, it transpires, was the son of his extremely brief dalliance with a since-deceased young lady back before the War. Poirot has arranged for his funeral – with friends – kept Hastings close and retrieved him from nightmares, and worked with Inspector Japp in the pursuit of the young man’s murderer. Because of the young man’s illegitimacy, the question has arisen several times of why none of the three – Poirot, Hastings, and Miss Lemona – has never married, nor is likely to do so. At the core of the story comes this passage:
“Would you like me to read it to you?” Miss Lemon was asking, smoothing the opened pages and inserting a narrow strip of card to mark the place.
He gave her one of his rather wan, inattentive smiles. On the other side of the glass partition Poirot was deep in conversation with Japp, and he wondered what they were talking about. Their voices were soft and respectful, so he supposed it must be something to do either with Ramon or with himself. No doubt Poirot would tell him if he felt he needed to know, but he was experiencing no sense of urgency or concern about it. On the whole it was much more comfortable to let Poirot make the decisions; he would know soon enough if it was anything he needed to worry about.
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments,” Miss Lemon began, almost impatiently, responding to his air of detachment. “Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove.”
Very true, Hastings thought, not concentrating on her voice but letting it wash through him. There was something soothing, almost healing, about the words; he would ask her to type them out for him and then he could study them when he had peace and quiet and the letters would stay still on the page and not try to jump into his face like the performers in a flea circus.
“O no; it is an ever-fixèd mark,” Miss Lemon continued, her tone mellowing almost to sweetness as she noticed the direction of his gaze. “That looks on tempests, and is never shaken; It is the star to every wandering bark, Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.”
“That looks on tempests and is never shaken! That’s the one!” The phrase seemed to have sunk beneath his skin somehow, spreading out through his veins, touching his nerve endings with the reassuring warmth of a friend’s hand gripping his in time of need.
“Yes.” Miss Lemon paused, sympathetically, looking over her glasses at Hastings’ pale face and the rapt look of total absorption in his half-averted eyes. He had no idea he was being observed; he was totally caught up in whatever thoughts were running one after another through his exhausted mind, but it looked at least as if they were benign ones. That was exactly the expression of the Mona Lisa, she realised; not smug, but completely content. She had seen him in the past overflowing with vivid excitement, caught up in some grandiose scheme or other, dazed with delight at some piece of gratuitous good fortune, but she had never seen him looking as thoroughly happy as he did at this moment.
“Love’s not Time’s fool,” she continued, cautiously, “though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle’s compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom.”
His lips were moving. She could almost have believed she heard him repeating the last words under his breath.
“If this be error, and upon me prov’d,” she finished, her tone hushed almost to a whisper, “I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.”
“Yes,” he said, what seemed an infinitely long time afterwards. “I know I’ve heard that before. I wonder why it came to me when it did?”
But he did not really need to ask, because he already had the answer. Whilst she had been speaking he had looked properly into the empty place in his life where a wife ought to have been, and instead of some conjectural feminine form dispensing love and consolation and strength and reassurance what he had found there had been Poirot, endlessly resourceful and irritating and loyal beyond any hope of understanding. He had never seen it in those terms before, but it was pretty damned obvious to him now that Poirot loved him.
And I suppose I love him, he thought, for the first time. I suppose that’s what love really is. Wonder why the hell I didn’t realise it sooner? Nothing strange about it; neither of us is the limp-wristed type, thank God. But you can see why chaps settle down together and how they make a go of it, if one of them’s somebody like Poirot. Infuriating, of course, but I could happily make my life with him if that was the way things turned out. Actually, come to think of it, I probably already have, without ever even noticing.
Poirot was listening intently to Japp’s end of the telephone conversation, but when briefly the police officer fell silent he took the opportunity of glancing through the panel to check up on Hastings. Thus their eyes met, and if Hastings felt at all sheepish or clumsy as a result of his epiphany that feeling was dispelled immediately by the warmth in Poirot’s regard. He did not smile, precisely, but the corners of his mouth lifted a little beneath his moustache and his eyes crinkled, and somewhere in them was the element of mischief that was not always successfully disguised by his feigned pomposity. Hastings had always suspected that there was a joker hidden deep within Poirot’s nature, a defier of convention who would one day burst free in outrageous fashion and laugh pitiless scorn at all those who had once seen fit to laugh at him – except that he could not imagine Poirot being quite so ungenerous. No, he would just go on absorbing all the ridicule and responding to it with immaculate courtesy, looking on the tempest and remaining unshaken.
It is not so much, you see, that we think – ah, they’re such good friends, they must be doing it. It is more: Oh, would that I were doing it with someone who respected and trusted and liked me that much. Because that has never been a part of the social understanding of male-female relationships: we are not supposed to be friends with each other. Go play with the girls, we are told; Go play with the other little boys. Our adult relations with each other as friends are subverted into the expectation of courting, which must be negotiated in some fashion before the friendship has a chance to occur. One of us not being of the appropriate orientation is a good way of dealing with that: explanation enough for women’s friendships with gay men. Men have a more difficult time being friends with lesbians, because there is definitely a subvocal societal expectation that men can and should “seduce” them back to heterosexuality. (The same expectation is present the other way up, of course, but women are less likely to decide that they are expected to commit rape for the cause.)
But trust of the level that we see between Kirk and Spock, between Blair and Jim, between Frazer and Ray, between Poirot and Hastings, comes because they have put their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on the line for each other, more than once. Without the expectation of courtship.
And that, in my opinion, is what we crave.