Mended with Gold

By: Lee Welch

Chapter One

The first house Alex looked at had black mould creeping up the bedroom walls. Next was a place with a pump in the cellar because ‘the creek floods in a storm, but it’s nothing to worry about, mate’. Then came a house with a sunlit patio, glaring white, with palm trees in pots. Something about the light and dusty foliage reminded him of Laos and he backed out speechlessly, eventually managing a curt ‘no thanks’ to the bewildered agent.

Next came an apartment outside which a dog barked as tirelessly as a metronome, then a house that smelled of rot. Followed by a 1920s villa next to the local landfill. And then a house with a handsome young man asleep on an old Chesterfield in the sunroom.

Alex paused in the open doorway, briars from the overgrown garden catching in his hair, the roar of sea and wind loud in his ears. A lot of old houses in New Zealand had these sunrooms. They were like glassed-in verandas; bright, warm places. They didn’t usually contain a sleeping beauty.

The sleeper was in his twenties, thin, with tangled dark-brown hair and pale skin. He was gorgeous in an angular, surprising way, with long eyelashes and a wide mouth. He breathed quietly, at peace, cheek pillowed on one hand, giving Alex the intimate sort of view he would get if they woke up together in the morning. If he was bloody lucky, that was.

Sleeping beauty wore a too-big sweater patterned with green and beige snowflakes. He was young enough, and handsome enough, that he was probably wearing it ironically. Some of Alex’s students dressed that way; deliberately dowdy, deliberately geeky, knowing it only made them cuter. Alex’s eyes scanned down. Took in faded black pants that were spattered with—blood?

Alex took a step backwards, heart beating faster, before taking in other colours—pale blue, canary yellow—and realising that blood wouldn’t show up on black anyway. It was paint. A house painter? An artist? If the latter, he probably thought photography was only for selfies and not really art. His feet were bare, but by now Alex knew that didn’t necessarily mean he was a vagrant, as it would have in London, New York, or Toronto. Shoes were often optional in New Zealand, and in a beach settlement like this one, they were probably more optional than ever. There was something about this sleeper, though, that suggested poverty. His bony wrists spoke of meagre dinners, and the soft skin under his eyes had the bruised look of the terminally exhausted. Alex recognised it all too well from the mirror.

Nonetheless, it would have made a fine photograph; the sleeping man, lips parted, vulnerable, a shaft of afternoon sun hovering above him like a visiting god. There was something at once mythic and commonplace about him. He was a modern Endymion, down on his luck, ugly Christmas snowflake sweater and all. Ideally, he’d be naked. The flowery upholstery of the Chesterfield had faded to soft greys, like tumbled clouds. A disintegrating paper lantern hung from the ceiling. The lighting would be tricky, with the sun like that and the subject in shadow.

Alex had a camera; his favourite old Canon, with a standard lens. He’d been planning on taking pictures of the house. He itched to take a shot now, but for portraits of people, he always asked, and to ask would be to wake the sleeper and ruin the shot. This was one of those moments you let go by then remembered ever after at three in the morning. At least, this would be a beautiful image to conjure with in the small cold hours.

But who was this young man? Had he broken in to steal something and, finding the place empty, decided to take a nap? Was he a vagrant? According to the estate agent, the house had been empty for months. The door to the sunroom hadn’t been jimmied, and although one of the windows at the far end was cracked where the bushes outside had grown too close, there was no obvious break-in.

In a way, it was none of Alex’s business. It wasn’t his house. Though the moment he’d seen it, nestled on the hillside, half hidden by long grass and overgrown shrubs, he’d felt the same internal jolt as when he’d come across sleeping beauty. Something inside him had said yes, oh, yes.

The house was small, and old, and weathered. It had once been painted blue, and was now a speckled grey. ‘Not flash’ the locals would say, but its box-like, 1950s simplicity was appealing, unpretentious. It hunkered down in the wind, gazing north through a row of identically sized rectangular windows. Getting out of his car, the roar of the wild west coast had filled Alex’s ears, the sky misty with salt spray. He’d waited a minute or two for the estate agent, then felt like taking pictures of the house, and found his way to the sunroom.

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