Máni Steinn, a young queer boy living in Reykjavík in 1918, is fascinated by the cinema. His queerness, and his city, put him on the fringes of a society that is itself at the fringes of the world—at what seems like history’s most tumultuous, perhaps ultimate, moment. With the threat of influenza stalking the city, Máni must decide whether to retreat into the fantasyland of the movie theater or try to embrace the society that has rejected him.
Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was is Sjón’s most realistic, accessible, and heartfelt work yet.
The October evening is windless and cool. There is a distant throb of a motorcycle. The boy puts his head on one side to get a better fix on the sound. Holding it still, he tries to work out the distance; to hear if the bike is coming closer or moving away; if it’s being ridden over level or marshy ground, or up the stony slope on the town side of the hill.
A low groan escapes the man standing over the kneeling boy. With his back pressed to the cliff, the man appears to have merged with his own shadow, become grafted to the rock. He groans again, louder, in increasing frustration, thrusting his hips so his swollen member slides to and fro in the boy’s mouth.
The boy expels a breath through his nose. He sucks the penis more firmly between his lips and resumes the rhythmic back-and-forth movements of his head. But he does so more slowly, more quietly, than before, alternately rubbing the dome of the cock against his soft palate and wrapping his tongue around its shaft. That way he can do both at once: fellate the man and listen. He’s good at identifying the model by ear. There aren’t that many bikes in Iceland, after all, and their owners have taken to tuning them according to their own ideas in the hope of coaxing more power out of them. This could well be an Indian: the stroke of its engine is sharper than a Harley-Davidson’s.
He closes his eyes. Yes, not just any Indian but the Indian. It’s for this that he has studied the sounds; to distinguish this one from all the rest. He’s sure now that the motorcycle is drawing nearer, approaching up the slope. In no time at all it will breast the crown of the hill, from where the ground falls away to the eastern edge, beneath which is the cliff and he himself on his knees, with the “gentleman” in his mouth.
The man pushes against the movements of the boy’s head, which tells the boy he’s close to finishing. As he sucks, he grips the man’s cock in his hand and rubs it fast, in time to the throbbing of the engine, tightening his grip whenever the bike accelerates and the engine sings. It has the desired effect. The man presses himself harder against the cliff. Mumbled words escape from between his clenched teeth; snatches of the lewd scenes he is staging in his mind.
The counterpoint between the ever-louder throbbing of the engine and the movements of head and hand causes the boy’s flesh to stiffen as well. And although he had been intending to save himself this evening, he cannot resist slipping his free hand into his trouser pocket and stroking himself in time to his servicing of the man.
From the summit of the hill comes an infernal roar. The man is now groaning frantically, in competition with the engine noise.
Is she going over?
The question flashes through the boy’s mind, but he has no time to wait for an answer: the penis swells abruptly in his mouth. He pinches the root with his fingers and evades the man’s hand as it fumbles for the back of his neck to press him close. When the boy releases his grip, the semen spurts onto the withered leaves of the small willow that is waiting out the winter there.
The motorcycle skids to a halt on the brink. Dirt and gravel rain down on man and boy. With a stifled cry, the man peels himself and his shadow from the cliff face. He begins buttoning his fly with trembling hands, glancing around for an escape route. The boy rises to his feet and steps into the man’s path. He is a head taller than the gentleman. Without a word the man flings a crumpled banknote at him and hastens away in the direction of town. The boy smooths out the note and grins; there are two of them, a whole fifteen krónur.
On top of the cliff the Indian’s engine shuts off.
Sjón was born in Reykjavík in 1962. He is an award-winning novelist, poet, and playwright, and his novels have been translated into twenty-five languages. He is the president of the Icelandic PEN Centre and the chairman of the board of Reykjavík UNESCO City of Literature. Also a lyricist, he has written songs for Björk, including for her most recent project, Biophilia, and was nominated for an Oscar for the lyrics he cowrote (with Lars von Trier) for Dancer in the Dark. He lives in Reykjavík.