With Angels and Furies – John Sam Jones

WAAF(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

Having read his “Crawling Through Thorns”,”Welsh Boys Too” and “Fishboys of Vernazza”, I wanted to read this, his first full-length novel. However, to start with it didn’t ‘grip’ me as much as they did and there were too many characters, which became confusing. Then it all came together, rapidly, in the last third of the novel. Many of them are types of people or roles in his other books and many of the places ain them are revisited here.

The author’s description of male bodies from a female point of view is actually a male appreciation *

We are taken back to the homophobic taunts and bomb scares of the late 20th Century. And we get a lesbian vicar at a time when women priests didn’t exiost here but did in the USA.

* With only limited experience of men’s charming ways, however unsubtle, Bethan was flattered by his attention. When she joined him again at the top of the stairs he put his arm around her waist to escort her down to the dance floor. His touch set off a chain of tingles that were as delicious as they were disconcerting.

Cigarette smoke, mingled with an evocative, humid blend of perfumes and colognes that exuded from the press of dancers, clung in the air of the low brick-ceilinged vaults. They wove together into the knot of dancing bodies and Bethan felt the frantic rock music propel her charged body into an energetic dance. The fluid movements of Ben’s body washed over her and the sway and thrust of his hips seemed to resonate through the space between them, fusing his body to hers. When their eyes met, they lingered. Bethan read the suggestions and interpreted the intentions evoked in the deep pools of green, and she relished the possibilities.

Beginning to overheat with all the energy, Ben unbuttoned his shirt and tugged its tails from inside his jeans. Bethan tried not to stare, but she found herself fascinated by his tight brown nipples, as tempting as two sun-ripened raisins, and she wondered whether her experiences with women would count for anything as she fantasised about arousing Ben’s body. Surprising herself, she reached forward and traced the outline of muscle on his chest with her fingertips and allowed her thumb to rest momentarily at his nipple. She teased it coyly and felt its contractions. Its erect hardness thrilled her. The skin on his lightly downed chest and belly, taut across toned muscles, glistened in the flashing disco lights and his navel, a moist pitted cherry, looked good enough to suck and probe with her tongue. Below the cherry, like the twinkling lights hung up in the shrubs along Portland’s Peacock Lane through the Christmas holiday period, tiny diamonds of sweat sparkled through a thin hedge of hairs. Her insides churned.

He folded her into his arms and moved her with him into the more “OK, but hurry,” Ben said, beginning to dance coquettishly and giving her his come-to-me eyes.

gentle rhythm of a nineties ballad. Lightly gripping his shoulders, she felt the firmness of his deltoids through the gauzy cotton skin of his shirt; she squeezed with her fingers unconsciously, probing the density of the muscles, and concluded that his body felt so different from those of the women she’d known. Pulled close into him, her cheek brushing against his, she breathed in his smell: a gentle spicy mix of a not inexpensive cologne, laced with some unique, masculine pheromone that stirred her with startling urgency, churning her insides again with a potency more keen than had ever been true with any of those Berkeley girls. The languorous cadence of the ballad swayed their bodies into sensuous closeness — then he kissed her cheek, tentatively at first. She turned her face gently into his and, carried on the rushes of passions coursing through her body, she tasted him deeply, becoming intoxicated as his presence surged through each of her senses.

After two more hectic dances, Ben beckoned Bethan to follow him across the dance floor to where a wide passage, dimly lit and lined with couples being intimate, led to the toilets, a bank of telephones and a spiral staircase that went back up to the atrium. They kissed for a while, leaning against the wall. Now she concentrated on the taste of his mouth and was surprised that it wasn’t at all unpleasant, though why she’d thought that boys might taste odious was beyond her. Ben’s lips and tongue were a heady mixture of mango and apricot, basil and cilantro, fresh and pleasing. She knew from the way he pressed against her that he was aroused and when she felt his delicate fingers, first at her breasts, tentatively teasing her nipple, and then pushing under her skirt to stroke the inside of her thigh, she cupped the swelling in his pants and felt the hard ridge. The feel of the metal studs in his fly confused her, but, when Ben moaned gently and said, “That feels nice,” she let her hand linger. And they kissed some more.

Bethan’s body responded to his touch and her mind raced with the possibilities that might be realised between them. If only it had been another time, she thought, when her mother wasn’t there, and after she’d had some time to think about what she wanted from someone like Ben — and how she wanted it.

“You’ll spoil it all if you do that for too long,” Ben said, breaking into her misgivings.

“But I thought you said it felt good,” Bethan alleged, suddenly raked with self-doubts and pulling away from him.

“It does feel good Bethan — wonderful,” Ben reassured her over a disco remix, the dimple coming back to his cheek.

Bethan was even more confused by his mixed messages, and her face was slow to break from the scowl that furrowed her brow. Her diffidence puzzled him, and, pulling her back to him, he kissed her.

“It really was very nice, Bethan,” he said. “But when you’re bursting for a pee it’s not so cool. Why don’t I meet you back upstairs?”

“I’ll be with Mari and my mom, then, in the Dyke,” she shouted back as he pulled away from her, the music suddenly too loud.

She watched him disappear between the groping couples. For a few moments, before mounting the spiral steps, she felt abandoned and disconcerted. Her eyes lingered on the couple closest to her. The girl sucked her boyfriend’s nipple through his shirt, leaving a lipstick stain, and with her long, slender fingers she massaged his buttocks. He kissed and licked her earlobes, and under her hitched-up miniskirt the fingers of his left hand were lost beneath the scarlet cotton of her panties. Her crimson nail extensions writhed like an upturned crab’s legs. Ridiculous as they looked, Bethan caught a fleeting glimpse of herself and Ben in their embrace and the feverish pitch of her excitement startled her. What she wanted from him began to take shape in her mind — and, now that the possibility of it seemed within her reach, she began to question her motives. She tried to stifle the ethics of it and her confusion became palpable; she’d never experienced such moral qualms with any of the women she’d slept with, so why was it suddenly so different with a man?


She watched him undress. She knew that he slept naked but now she wondered if he’d leave anything on; she’d take his lead. Not wanting her watching to seem too obvious, she sat on his bed and picked up the poetry book she’d lent him.

“Are you still learning one a week?” she asked.

“I’m struggling with ‘The Whitsun Weddings’,” he said, stepping out of the khaki chinos.

“Do you like Larkin, then?” she asked, kicking off her shoes and thinking to herself that the reason his buns looked so good in those pants was that he didn’t wear briefs.

“Well enough,” he said, scratching among his pubic hairs without embarrassment and wondering whether he’d tell her about what had happened the previous afternoon when he’d sat in the quiet of Llan Illtud church. He moved over to the French windows.

“Shall I leave these open?”

“Yes,” she said, pulling her top over her head. “The lilacs smelt lovely and it’s still so warm.”

Folding her clothes neatly and laying them over the back of the chair, she wondered whether he’d notice her nipples and whether he figure it out.

“I hate it when some sentence drifts into my head, though,” he said, pulling back the duvet on his side of the bed. “You know, when you just can’t fit it into the right poem, but it stays with you, and torments you.”

“But that really gets your brain working,” she offered, wondering he’d noticed the fluster in her voice as she took off her wet-creased panties.

“What are you reading now?” he asked, lying back and resting his head in his hands.

“I’m working hard on T H Parry-Williams’s sonnets,” she said, noticing how his penis had flopped back to rest on the thick tuft of black hairs. “But his use of the language is so rich and my Welsh vocabulary is still pretty limited. I’m really struggling.”

“Do you want me to read them aloud for you?”

“That would help me a lot, I think,” she said, fascinated by how much the wrinkled opening of his foreskin looked like the polo neck of one of her sweaters in miniature, and unsure whether she’d prefer that he were circumcised.

“How many of his sonnets are you doing?”

“Six or eight,” she said, counting them off on her fingers. “Let me think: there’s `Dychwelyd’, `Cyngor’ and Tyr Ysgol’.”

” `Tyr Ysgol’,” he said with enthusiastic nostalgia. “I remember that one from school; it’s one we did for GCSE: ‘Mae r cyrn yn mygu er pob awel groes, a rhywun yno weithiau n sgubo r llawr ac agor y ffenestri..! ”

She tried to concentrate on the poem but Gwion’s body stole her thoughts. She wanted to touch him. Not just a sisterly hug or the offer of a reassuring pat with her hand, but to really touch the different parts of him: to hold his hand in hers and kiss his fingertips; to trace circles with her fingers around each of his nipples and delight at seeing them peak; and brush her lips over the hairs that guarded his navel and probe

its mystery, gently, hungrily with her tongue. And she wanted to take his penis in her hands; she imagined its eye winking playfully at her from somewhere beneath its sheath and she let her mind linger, rolling back the polo neck to explore a territory that was new to her, as intriguing as a foreign country, if not a little frightening. It looked benign enough, lolling on its bed of softness, but just how big would it

grow and would it then seem menacing? And would he hurt her? Would he touch her body as he touched a man’s and would that be hard and rough? And she surprised herself by how little she knew of the intimacy there might be between two men and chastised herself for assuming their sex would be without grace or warmth. And a desire to feel the qualities of his touching enveloped her and she yearned for him to reach for her, to reassure, to encourage, beckoning her to him. But Gwion stared at the roses in the ceiling cornice and recited the sonnet.

He lay quietly, after finishing the recitation, pleased that his memory hadn’t failed him and content in Bethan’s company. After a while he felt her move next to him and her fingers began to trace delicate lines along his thigh. It felt nice. Realising how grateful he was for her friendship, he turned into her embrace.

“Thank you for being such a friend,” he whispered into her ear. “I don’t know what I’d have done without you those couple of days last week after Gareth dumped all his shit on me.”

“Thank you for being here for me this afternoon,” she said, and kissed him.

She’d never kissed him like that before, on his lips. He noticed it was a different kind of kiss, somehow loaded with possibilities, a kiss that made him think of Gareth, who was such a good kisser. What if Gareth came home and found them together? How would he explain their intimacy? And the thought of Gareth pushed Bethan away from him, although they remained tightly embraced, and Gwion began to understand. Her hand, the one that had stroked his thigh, had become trapped between his legs when he’d turned into her; now its touch was too intimate, nuzzled against his balls. Her other hand was on his chest, the fingers playing a gentle melody on an imaginary keyboard. And she was kissing him again, her tongue tickling his lower lip.

“Please, Bethan, let’s not do this,” he said, not wanting to reject her, but wanting it to stop. “I don’t want you to touch me there, like that,” he said, shifting onto his back and releasing her hand from between his legs.

“Haven’t you ever wondered what it would be like, though?” she asked, sitting up and taking his hand in hers.

“No,” he said, more out of shock at the suggestion than any certainty that he might not like to try. “I’m Gareth’s lover,” he added quickly, perhaps to convince himself.

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