Édouard’s Sixteen | Kevin Lambert | Granta

Édouard’s Sixteen

Kevin Lambert

Translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman

Édouard’s sixteen, Laurence’s twenty-nine.

Édouard’s on Laurence, his legs stretched to the window, the feet on the sill crossed like they’ve kicked over the light outside spilling gold all over them. The black leggings Édouard’s wearing hug the curves of those legs that Laurence’s hand runs across while the boy’s going on and on about them being happy together, who cares what his friends think, they’re not the same age but they’ve got plenty in common anyway. And Laurence doesn’t say a thing as he listens to his princess, his head’s in the clouds, when the princess’s here he feels good, it’s like the couch, the room, the apartment, the junk heaped up around the laptop, the mountain of emails piling up in his phone all go poof. A waterfall a little lake a few books a warm room in a cabin away from everything . . .  You’re not listening, Édouard says, he repeats it, You’re not listening, earth to Laurence.

They’ve had the talk so many times since they started hanging out, what’s so fucking hard about saying we’re together, come on already. Laurence loves Édouard more than he ought to, each new stage in their thing feels like one more step into danger, they’ve set every bridge they’re crossing on fire, which means making his way back, back from this guy, won’t be easy. Being with him feels like being drunk, feels terrifying. Laurence doesn’t really get why the princess likes older men. The boy gets all sorts of things in his head like a child; whatever Édouard sees in him isn’t real. Laurence’s got a bad feeling that it’ll all go to pieces – it’ll be shit for him and fine for the princess since even if they have three or four years together, he’ll be twenty, tops, when he dumps Laurence. Back when he was Édouard’s age, Laurence believed in happily ever after, but now he’s closing in on thirty, and ‘ever after’ is shriveling up to practically nothing.

Laurence’s twenty-nine and he thinks about his death day in day out, every near-miss, every lump he finds, every bad trip on molly’s got him playing it out in his head. He gets home one morning still stoned from an after-party, he saw the sunrise down the street and now he opens Word and types up his will in a few lines. Laurence’s busy pre-mourning himself and his lover; he knows their thing’s got an end date, it’s not far off now. When he plays haruspex and reads his future in his boy’s entrails, he always, always sees himself alone. The bits of the future the guy leaves undigested turn up in his excrement, Édouard shits what he doesn’t want to see, sometimes Laurence comes across these unwanted details when he goes deep, like when he’s screwing his young lover in the backseat after picking him up from his parents’ place. As if to make those readings less troubling, Édouard take care of his guts so the worries and ill omens are washed away, he douches until the water comes out clean. He doesn’t want to fret about any dark thoughts when he offers himself up to his lover, his ass’s iffy, Édouard’s already had a few bad scares, nasty surprises, horrendous omens.

‘Whatever, I’m saying you’re my boyfriend.’

Édouard’s just settled the matter in the orange late-afternoon light. Laurence’s always so cagey and scared and Édouard’s getting sick of it, he doesn’t look Laurence in the eye when he announces: ‘Whatever, I’m saying you’re my boyfriend.’ The silence Laurence has no problem with is too much for the princess who uncrosses his legs and disappears down the hallway.

When Laurence jerks off alone in his bed, not one of the heavenly preteens in his head is half as beautiful as the guy who swished out of the room. At sixteen, Édouard’s a fighter, a warrior, he’s hammered his desires into armor and he can take any blow, what he’d really like is to be broken, to be beaten up so his life will finally have some feeling to it. He’s not afraid of saying ‘I love you,’ he thinks it’s stupid to hold back feelings, it’s totally possible to love someone you’ve only just met. Édouard wants to be crushed by love. That’s why he can’t get enough of how hard Laurence pounds him in bed. Their thing’s all heat and no fire, he pokes Laurence so he’ll get a real fuck, eggs him on, wears him down, nips him so he’ll bite.

Édouard likes Laurence’s thinning hair and his thick cock, he likes to be seen by his lover as the little girl he is, to embody the twink that PornHub searches have shoved into both their imaginations. Édouard’s his boy because that’s what Laurence tells him when they fuck: Good boy. The creams that princess slathers on his butt sting as they wipe out the unwanted hair climbing up his thighs and ruining the ass he’s set on keeping smooth. The only boyish thing about Édouard’s body is that he’s young, but he’s getting big, those knobbly muscles mean he’ll end up built like an lumberjack and he can’t stand the thought. This huge dick of his is a hassle, he’s learned to tuck it tight in his underwear so it barely shows. When his top gets a peek, that just ruins things, there’s about no guy better hung than him and the second they see what he’s got, all of a sudden they’re slaves to some ancient law that the more someone’s packing, the more he’s a man. It’s always humiliating for Édouard’s fuck buddies. He wants to stop growing. If he’s bigger than his men, that’ll screw up how dominant and possessive they feel, kill the powerlessness that gives him his mind-blowing orgasms. He’s quit the gym and been on a coffee diet for weeks just to get thinner; he shaves every day, plucks his brows. You want a hot body, he knows that means you better work, bitch. To stop anything manly taking root in him, he listens to Britney and Beyoncé on repeat, rubs their choreographies all over himself like an ointment that’ll stave off whatever’s not the little boy. He puts a diva’s grace and finesse in every move he makes, some magic to cover up how big his hands and shoulders are.

Everyone’s got an opinion about the two of them. Early on Laurence’s friends thought it wasn’t right for him to be fucking a minor. Laurence was always telling them about Édouard with a chuckle, describing all the wild summer-fling feelings of being sixteen. The whole group had a good laugh at how clueless the boy sounded, how worried he was about starting Cegep or picking an outfit for the graduation ball. On his birthday, all his friends got carded at Unity, they’d paid out the ass for taxis only to end up crashing in one of their parents’ basements before midnight. When Laurence’s not around, they tear him a new one, bicker over how sound his judgment is, how mature a sixteen-year-old can be, sometimes that’s more important than the actual age. You gotta wonder if it’s even legal. If there’s no sex, there’s no problem. Well, better Laurence than the old geezers the kid’s always fucking. If it was a girl, you bet everyone’d have knives out. Just because it’s a guy, people act like it’s A-OK. Anytime he’s taking heat, Laurence plays it cool, talks about his other dates. Weeks go by like that, then, one night, at some joke about his boy’s age, he goes apeshit.

Édouard starts Cegep. In his notebooks, he writes lists of things to learn, lines to magically turn him into what he wants to be. Learn how to keep his voice high. Learn how to cook a tagine. Learn how to mix colors. Learn how to read poetry. Édouard’s always hungry for knowledge and cum, Laurence feeds him one then the other while rubbing his head, telling him about his trips, his studies, the books he thought were so smart, while unloading in the mouth working so hard for his reward. Édouard listens, takes in everything Laurence gives him, he’s never traveled, he’s not at uni yet, he’s barely read anything, but he’s guzzled down everything since he was little. He half admits that, doesn’t say it in so many words, steers clear of the subject, which Laurence is skirting around with him.

Learn the capital of every country.

The ages of all Laurence’s lovers are sixteen, have stayed sixteen ever since the first one, a high-school homework buddy. Laurence hadn’t done a thing: the boy’d spent weeks planning it all on his own. His lips were sliding up and down Laurence’s hard-on, and, the next minute, Laurence was pounding his classmate. At sixteen, he’d never imagined that a guy could want his dick, enjoy licking it, want it to get it in back there. This friend was just the beginning; in no time the whispers in the school hallways – all the fags were saying Laurence had some cock and knew how to use it – meant a long string of guys on his dick, blurring together into an arched back, a raised butt, a need Laurence went all-in on as he pushed them against a wall or onto a bed, working them over for long minutes, focused solely on his own pleasure, which was what made them cum. He was too busy fucking all the Cegep sluts to wonder if he was even actually attracted to them.

Learn about the best directors’ best films.

Everyone knows Édouard’s gay, when he was just six he said he wanted to marry his Grade 2 substitute teacher, his parents flipped out at first, then read up on it, then decided it was a phase, he wanted to be like the teacher, he was just a kid who was obsessed. At eight, he shared a bed with a friend at a pajama party. At ten, he was rubbing up on his cousins and asking for Barbies from Santa, dragging them into the shower with him to pull off the leg and stick it all the way up his butt. At twelve, he was jerking off under the windowsill while spying on the dad next door swimming in his above-ground pool. At fourteen, he was sleeping with a man he’d met on Gay411 who was twenty-four years older. The ages of all Édouard’s sexual interests cross a twenty-year desert before they bloom. Never, not until Laurence, had he ever slept with a man who couldn’t have been his dad. On Gay411, Édouard says he’s eighteen.

Ogres eat children, and Édouard’s been eaten up so many times. When he promises those gentlemen that he’s theirs they’re stupid enough to believe him, and when he gets tired of those hookups, when he lets them slide further down his inbox, the men show up at his place, follow him to school, or pin him down in their cars. The sugar daddies pour so much into their favorite slut; they put money in his bank account, put nice clothes and fancy dinners on their credit cards. Sometimes Édouard’s had to pay up. He’s learned the hard way what exactly those creatures lurking in the crannies of dating apps, those fat-fingered mountains of flesh digging a yawning void in his gut, want.

Learn how to write flawlessly.

At sixteen, Laurence looked like the boys he was stalking on Hornet. At twenty-nine, he doesn’t feel older than them. His beard, the shadows under his eyes, the more-chestnut-than-blond hair thinning at his temples are nagging reminders of the wear and tear his body’s taking. His young lover’s turned on by the baldness gnawing at him, he knows it’s a losing battle but he’s still fighting it with ointments and shampoos and pricey Ayurvedic treatments. And shame’s also got a twisted role here: Laurence’s both ashamed of going bald and ashamed of fighting it. He never talks about being scared of getting older, never discusses the fine lines forming around his eyes, the paunch growing under his t-shirt, the diets he goes on for a few weeks in secret only to drop them, also in secret. Nobody knows his birthday; if somebody asks his age he gets snippety. Laurence nurses a superstition, a belief that putting something in words makes it real and irreversible; he’s going to stubbornly resist aging, resist the very language of it.

Édouard’s his ultimate magic potion, the elixir of youth in the form of a boy who obeys his orders – turn around, stick your ass out, spread wide. Laurence’s a puppeteer tugging the strings of this young body that’s momentarily his. Some of that adolescence will soak in through the guy’s saliva slathered all over the head and shaft of his penis, some of that ill-gotten purity will be his. Just hearing about Édouard’s day-to-day life – the curfew his parents set, the grocery-store job he works, the driving lessons, the end of high school – reverses Laurence’s aging for a second, makes a hiccup in time. Mouthful by mouthful, Laurence eats up Édouard, Laurence’s sixteen again.

Learn the words to ‘Juicy‘ by heart.

Édouard’s always telling his parents about Brendan. All his lovers, ever since he turned fourteen, have had the same name. With bits of men taken from fancy apartments, hotel rooms, cars parked down dark alleys, Édouard pieces together an age-appropriate Brendan. Brendan speaks English, he’s a year older, he started Cegep last year and he’s from that suburb outside Montreal, what is it, Rivière-des-Prairies. Sometimes his parents wonder what they’ll cook when Brendan finally comes for dinner: he’s got a gluten allergy. They ask about their son’s boyfriend, his job, his hobbies, his family. Édouard fills in the blanks, fleshes out Brendan’s life with each new round of questions. His face is some Minnesota guy who’s big on Instagram. Édouard picks out the boringest photos to show Papa and Maman. When he tells Laurence everything he’s bent over laughing, the two of them crack jokes about this Brendan who’s become a character in their days. Brendan stole my car keys. Who’s that knocking at the door, bet you it’s Brendan. Laurence would never dare ask if there’s a bit of him in Brendan.

Édouard’s sixteen, Laurence’s twenty-nine.

Their thing lasts a year. One day, Laurence meets someone else. He comes up with the perfect way not to get dumped by his boy: he falls in love with someone who isn’t Édouard. An old childhood friend named Sophie comes back into his life, apparently they’ve never had sex this good before. His feelings for Édouard fade. He forces himself to see the guy, then calls it quits. He’s not attracted to this boy anymore. He doesn’t shed a single tear when he drives the princess home for the last time. Édouard doesn’t leave his room for three days. He stops eating, he’s scared of getting too big, too old, a beard’s sprouting on his cheeks, he wants to rip out every last hair.

Laurence shacks up with his new girlfriend. They spend their first Christmas together, with a family that loves their new son-in-law. In the evening, Laurence charms Sophie’s parents and hits it off with a cousin they promise to have over for dinner in the new year. He’s poker-faced in front of his lover’s little brother, a skater-boy copy of Sophie with brand-new boxers just like Édouard’s: too cool for school, holed up half the night in his room, not one bit interested in his big sister’s boyfriend who everyone seems to like. For half a second Laurence’s eyes sink into the little brother’s, then he’s looking at the father and blurting out a dirty joke on cue. The older man laughs, chokes on his egg sandwich.

On New Year’s Eve, Sophie announces that she’s pregnant. Everyone’s over the moon. Laurence becomes a content developer at the place he was hired after his master’s. Soon there’s a second kid. Sophie becomes co-owner of her practice, Laurence changes jobs, Sophie buys a car. Their girls are three and six when she gets pregnant with a third. They’ll call her Mathilde. For a family vacation, they take the kids to Florida in a RV. Laurence’s thirty-six, Édouard’s gone. Laurence barely ever thinks of that boy he once had. Straight life works for him and almost completely makes up for all the doubts he had when he was younger, all that questioning, all that childishness. The guys of his generation become men very late. He decides that he’d always liked girls more, that what he’d been looking for in guys was really a woman’s body. Once he’d found that, nothing in his life was the same. Sophie’s happy.

For some months now, Laurence’s been working nights. On weekends, he watches the girls, that’s when their mother usually has continuing education. Being a dad to three little girls has changed his life. Sometimes, when they’re asleep and Laurence’s alone in the condo’s living room, he takes a look at himself and thinks over the past. The boy never darkens Laurence’s horizon. He’s got to be a man now. After so many years, his marriage, their children, everyone’s forgotten about his adventures with Édouard – him first of all, honestly. But their thing still lives on, somewhere else, in a time that isn’t totally past, a time that could always pop up again one lonely night, with a buzz of his phone, at a conference abroad.

A stay in a big American city, a production meeting. He’s been booked in a nice hotel room with a glassed-in shower, a bar, a hot tub, a king-size bed, and a huge window with a view of downtown. From the sofa he’s dragged over to the bay window, he contemplates the sleepless city while sipping an Old Fashioned. His phone buzzes here and there. There’s a knock at the door, he goes to open it. Laurence isn’t ashamed anymore. And tonight, to toast to that, he hooks up with a boy.


Photograph © Kiryl Sharkouski

Kevin Lambert

Kevin Lambert was born in 1992 and grew up in Chicoutimi, Quebec. His first novel, You Will Love What You Have Killed, caused a stir and was shortlisted for the Prix Médicis. His second novel, Querelle of Roberval, was a breakout success and was longlisted for the Prix Médicis and won the Prix Sade, the prix Ringuet and the Prix du CALQ – Œuvre de la relève. He lives in Montreal.

More about the author →

Translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman

Jeffrey Zuckerman is a translator of French, including books by the artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Dardenne brothers, the queer writers Jean Genet and Hervé Guibert, and the Mauritian novelists Ananda Devi, Shenaz Patel and Carl de Souza. In 2020, he was named a Chevalier in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. He was born in 1987 and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, and now lives in New York City.

Photograph © Rachel Caplan 

More about the translator →