“This Won’t Hurt a Bit” by Thomas Kearnes from Queer Fish: An Eclectic Anthology of Gay Fiction (Volume One), Pink Narcissus Press (2011). Edited by Margarita Bezdomnya and Rose Mambert.

After so many fantastical tales, I wasn’t expecting gritty realism, and this is a hard story to read. The narrator’s friend Blake is severely emotionally damaged, and it has manifested in his drinking heavily and staying in a physically abusive relationship. I remember reading an article, many years ago, about physical abuse between gay couples, and how it is very rarely acknowledged. I have to say, I’ve seen almost nothing about it since. In that respect, this piece is very welcome.

Still, Blake is out of control and in a lot of danger, as is the narrator, who doesn’t seem to realize it. It’s nerve-wracking. At the start of the story the main character has just left an encounter with a man he met online, whose bedroom habits he found boring to the point of being irritating. He gets a distress call from Blake and goes rushing off to save the day. For the remainder of the story we watch as he vacillates between those two options: safety and boredom or interest and danger, as we wait for the other shoe to fall.

(For a review of “The End of Our Broadcast Day” by the same author, see Short Stories 365/289.)