I only ever cried over three people in my life:
First time I was six years old, and Ma had just told me that Dad had gone to live someplace else and that he wasn’t ever coming back. Now I loved my daddy, I thought he was the best dad in the world. He used to sing to me, he used to sing all the old jazz and blues classics by stars like Sinatra and Nat King Cole. He took all his records with him the day that he moved out. And the note I left about the money for my school trip, he didn’t even sign it.
The second time I cried was when my first girlfriend left me:
I was sweet sixteen and never been kissed until I met her. I was in love for the very first time; I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with her then she broke my heart.
It was a long time later, a lifetime later before I met another girl; I fell in love all over again. From the very first moment I ever set eyes on her I knew she was special. Her name was Joolz and she was the third.
I cried again, today. I’d been dusting, keeping myself busy, trying to forget, when I found an old lipstick under my bed. French Kiss. ‘From the Miss Selfridge range,’ she’d said. I recognised the shiny silver heart imprinted on the bottom like a kiss mark.
I ran my fingers over the smooth lean body of the silver container. There was a small hairline fracture. I remembered now: that first day we’d met, she’d been walking towards the bar rummaging around in her handbag when she’d dropped it. I’d picked it up, gently fingered it, then gave it back. The first thing I noticed about her was her nails – small, slender, sculpted like her body and painted baby pink to match her pouting lips.
Joolz was the most beautiful girlfriend a girl could ever have.
As I lightly traced the crack with the head of my finger, it widened into a small heart shaped gap about a millimetre in girth. Slowly, I removed the top.
All that was left was a trace of molten pink.
‘Can I buy you a kiss?’ I say. She laughs, as I stumble over my words. ‘I mean, can I buy you…a…a drink.’
What is wrong with me, tonight? She must think I’m a total pussy!
I’ve never had this problem before. I’m not normally this apprehensive with women, but there’s something catlike, something predatory about her. I can tell at a glance that this kitten is a star-fucker of the highest order.
‘You can try,’ she replies, jerking her head and running her fingers through her mane of burnt auburn hair. Her poison is Malibu: straight with plenty of ice and a slice of lemon. I’m impressed. Now this is a lady who knows exactly what she wants.
And as for me, well, it’s Friday night and all I want is to have a few drinks and then get laid. The girls say I’m cute: I’m told I have a certain Leonardo Dicaprio-esque aura about me: short, bleached blond hair that falls in soft titanic waves, a boyish grin and wide, deep blue come-to-bed eyes. Not that I’ve ever had any problems in that department. Not yet, that is.
I pick my jaw and my puppy dog tongue up off the wooden floorboards, before they begin to gather sawdust. Swaggering back over towards the bar, I give her a sneaky sideways glance. She is leaning against a huge white pillar at the corner of the room. I watch her accept a light from a tall, effeminate twenty-something gay boy, who looks like an eighties version of the Milky Bar Kid in his cowboy hat and gingham shirt.
His name is John-John or John-Joe or Joe-Joe or something equally camp and annoying. I recognise him as a regular who always hangs out with a posse of mini-skirted, high-heeled straight girls; the kind who totter about with their nail extensions and long, silky, Pantene hair – the kind of girls I like but know I can never have.
Shit, I hope she’s not a fucking fag hag.
The gay scene is becoming so overpopulated with them: stupid, giggling hetty girls who come into our pubs to perv at us. I wouldn’t mind being their little walk on the queer side – a little experimentation never hurt anyone. In fact, it should be compulsory – but they’re all too scared to try it in case they chip their nail varnish.
‘She’s pretty hot stuff, eh?’ A voice breaks in from behind the bar. It’s my flatmate, Minty: a bottle blonde butch with six-inch peroxide spikes and an infectious grin. I know Minty the same way I know most of my friends: from the scene. We came out at the same time and now, three years on, nothing much has changed; we’re still haunting the same bars for a bit of skirt.
‘Always get your hole, eh Minty?’ was one of the first things I’d ever said to her.
She winked. ‘Fancy a polo?’
We were both a couple of jokers, in fact we still are.
‘That wee red head burd you’ve been stalking –’
‘Fuck you,’ I tell her, ‘I don’t need to stalk anyone.’ I order the red head’s Malibu and a double Jack for myself.
‘Straight with plenty of ice?’
‘As always,’ I grin. ‘I like it raw.’ As always, Minty rings the drinks through as single mainline spirits. ‘Cheers.’
‘I’m surprised you can even drink straight,’ she teases.
‘Just be careful, mate.’ She nods in the direction of the redhead. ‘Her name’s Julie and,’ her voice drops to a heavy sombre tone, ‘I’ve heard she’s a swinger.’
I shrug. ‘Still a fifty percent chance then.’
Swingers don’t bother me. A lot of gays don’t like them, say they can’t be trusted. Me? I don’t believe in bisexuality. Eventually, they all go back to their men or come out the closet completely.
‘Whatever you say, Romeo,’ smirks Minty, and she slides the drinks to me across the bar.
Grasping the glasses with one hand, I smooth down my hair with the other and wink at the little brunette that I pass on the way back. She comes into Sandra Dees most Fridays, sits at the same table, and it’s common knowledge that she’s just waiting for me to jump her bones.
Sandra Dee’s, or Sandee’s as it’s known, is the oldest and yet still the hippest place to be on the gay scene. Only ten minutes walk from the town centre and right in the heart of queer-ville, it’s a local landmark that was established more than two decades ago. Inside there’s three rooms that separate the joint: the Diner, (which is where I am just now) – it serves food from ten till seven, and allows kids in during the day; then upstairs you’ve got the Arcade where there’s fun to be had in the form of pool and pinball; then tucked away down in the basement there’s the Blue Room, which is my favourite, some guys call it the Aquarium or the Fish Bowl because it’s for women only.
The brunette is still watching me. I look right at her and when I catch her eye her face turns the colour of her drink and she smiles, lowering her head and sucking up a cranberry alco-pop through a candy-pink straw. I give her a seven out of ten for looks. Tonight might just be her lucky night: if it doesn’t work out with the redhead then I can always come back and do a number on her.
‘Hey babe,’ I frown. ‘What’s up?’
Julie, the redhead is rooting frantically through her bag while the Milky Bar clown is fucking about with a pansy pink cigarette lighter and waving it in the air as though he is at a Steps concert. ‘I’ve lost my purse!’ she cries. So I ditch the drinks on the table beside her and stride over to the bar like a superhero, thinking about how good it will look if I single-handedly return this broad’s purse. It has to be worth some kind of lip service, right?
And so, she follows me, hanging on my every word, as I try to reassure her that everything will be fine. She reminds me of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, but the Milky Bar Kid is a poor substitute for Toto as he runs along panting at her heels.
‘Sorry,’ replies Minty, stone faced and sober as a judge. ‘I’ll take your phone number in case someone hands it in.’ The broad looks pissed off and unimpressed, but she hands over her number all the same, and I watch open mouthed as a small scrap of paper disappears into Minty’s top pocket. I don’t know what else to say. I want to keep her talking as long as I can, find out more about her.
‘I can lend you money for a taxi home –’
Or you could always share my taxi home…
‘No, it’s fine.’ She adds, stiffly, ‘Thanks, anyway.’
‘You could get a lift with me and Paris,’ the milky bar kid pipes up. ‘She’s got the car.’ He’s been making a chain out of the multi-coloured, bendy plastic straws that come free with the bottles of alco-pops, and is now wearing them around his head like some crazy party hat from a cheap Christmas cracker.
‘I’m not going anywhere with that fucking maniac driving.’
‘Ooh touch-ee, just a suggestion,’ he bleats.
I want to slap the stupid fuck, kick his bitchy little ass, as he parades back towards the ladies toilets – but I’ve been taught never to hit girls. I notice that his hair is dripping beads of sweat onto the DIY headband, and I wonder what combination of drugs he’s been taking to get into such a state.
‘I’d better phone my mum,’ says Julie. ‘Tell her what’s happened and get a taxi, pay for it at the other end.’
The clock on my cell-phone says it’s just gone ten o’clock. I turn around, survey the room, and notice that the place is beginning to fill up with all the usual suspects. When you’ve been out as long as I have, you get to recognise the faces and a lot of the couples are pretty much interchangeable. For example, these past four weeks, the new bouncer on the door – she goes online under the name Fingers-Of-God – she’s been screwing every one of the barmaids.
Most folk, though, come in packs of five or six and the age range varies from about sixteen to sixty. Whereas most hets hang up their dancing shoes when they hit thirty, we still got plenty of the old moustache petes that never seem to get tired of the game.
I notice a poster on the wall beside the jukebox that says:
THEATRE GROUP SEEKS LESBIAN THESPIANS
Phone Tracy Broadbent on 0773 09002838 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Sounds pretty cool, I think. I did a show with Les Artistes a couple of years ago. Vagina Monologues it was called. The broad who used to run the group was Pippa Black but she retired. I thought the group had folded. I never heard of this dame, Tracy Broadbent, but I decide I’m definitely gonna give her a call.
I borrow a ball-point pen off some old queen in a trashy cerise dress, and scribble the details down on the back of a Bennets 2-for-1 drinks flier. ‘Cheers babe,’ I say. He/she has a face like a dead donkey (and he’s probably hung like one too) and that hardly qualifies you as a babe in my book. But I’ve noticed recently that I’ve had to watch my personal pronouns as some of these drag queens get really touchy over the whole gender thing.
I stretch over to return the pen but the old queen just waves my hand away with a disconcerted look on his face. ‘I think you’ll need that before I do, dear,’ he says, and he nods at it, drawing my attention to the embossed writing which says ‘London Lesbian Line’, followed by a phone number.
Ten minutes later, the redhead returns to the table with her face like burnt ciabatta, looking around for her ‘friends’, I assume.
‘You gotta pen?’ she asks.
‘This is a fucking inconvenience,’ she says. ‘I’ll have to phone this place early tomorrow morning because I don’t believe that fat thing up at the bar is going to bother her arse phoning me.’ I pass her the pen the old queen gave me. ‘London Lesbian Line,’ she reads. ‘Hah, imagine having a lesbian pen.’ She writes the number for Sandra Dees on the palm of her hand and keeps the pen, anyway.
I sit watching her for a minute before asking if everything is ok. ‘No, it fucking well isn’t,’ she fumes. ‘Battery’s gone on my mobile and the phone outside is fucked.’ She looks even sexier when she’s angry, and the trail of freckles across her cheeks stands out like golden glitter. She gives me this ‘what-the-fuck-are-you-looking-at?’ kinda stare and hisses, ‘What IS your problem?’ I shrug, throwing my hands in the air like an Italian mafia guy. ‘Why d’you keep following me then?’
I’ve been wondering the same thing myself. Why am I following her? I keep trying to tell myself that she’s just another piece of ass. Sure, she’s gorgeous, but quite possibly a straight girl who gets off on drinking you under the table, then going back home with someone of the opposite sex. I’ve been burnt that way before.
‘I’m just trying to help.’
‘Well, don’t. And cut the Chandleresque bullshit, alright.’
Chandler? I don’t even watch that frigging TV program. Jeezus.
‘Listen,’ she says, her face momentarily softening, ‘I’m sorry if I’ve given you the wrong idea but…’
‘You’re not gay.’
I should have known. I should have known that someone with such a perfect pout like hers would be a fucking cocksucker.
‘No, I’m just not interested in YOU.’
‘Sorry, but you’re just NOT my type.’
This chick obviously doesn’t know who I am.
And everyone who’s anyone knows who I am: I’m Vicky Romeo the Italian stallion and I’m everyone’s type. I can have my pick of the girls in here. I got plenty of other options and I ain’t forgotten the chick who’d previously given me the eye.
I look away to check out the rest of the action. Almost as soon as I do, a slim, toned tomboyish dyke with pony-tailed black hair and smooth tanned skin walks past and winks at me. I know her as Naughty_Nurse from the chat-rooms. She works in the dentist surgery nearby, and legend has it that she’s an amazing lay. Even over the smoke and the sweat of the pub, I can smell a hint of coconut as she brushes past. I guess she is vaguely sexy in a second prize sort of a way, and for a split second I’m tempted to follow her, but it would be a bit like settling for Britney Speirs after being turned down by Sharon Stone. I know that I could go home with her tonight if I want, but I also know – despite the T-shirt she’s wearing that says Super Pussy – things that come easy never taste half as good.
Turning back to Julie, I tell her that I heard her friends say they were going to the Polo Lounge. Then I smile to myself, knowing that with her having no money to get in, my chances of taking her home have suddenly doubled.
She swears a couple more times, downs her Malibu in one go, and then turns around and asks if I’ve got a mobile phone she can borrow.
‘Look,’ I suggest, clasping my fingertips together like a priest, ‘why don’t I walk you home?’
I’ve decided it’s about time that I played the distinguished gentleman card.
She sighs, again.
‘No strings attached. I just don’t want to have it on my conscience that –’
‘And how will you get back?’
‘Taxi, of course.’ ‘I could call it from your house’ I add.
Chivalry, Romeo, will get you absolutely everywhere.
We make small talk on the way home. Turns out she’s a dancer, that’s all she’s ever wanted to do since she was a kid.
I have this image of her in one of those gorgeously designed West Hollywood night spots: she’s standing under a blue spotlight with a sleek black dress and her hair covering part of her face just like Jessica Rabbit. There’s live music going on and a DJ spinning Latina and Salsa dance tunes and later she’ll be upstairs eating canapés and drinking cocktails in the VIP room.
I go to tell her about Les Artistes but then change my mind again. Maybe she’ll think it’s a bit pussy, a lesbian theatre group. So, I don’t say nothing about myself, I just let her talk which is probably better cause broads like it when you’re a good listener.
As I wait outside on her porch for the taxi, I turn to kiss her and she offers me her cheek.
‘When can I see you again?’
‘Look,’ she begins, awkwardly, ‘it was really nice of you to walk me home and stuff but I already told you…’
‘Sure,’ I cut in. ‘Forget about it.’
The next morning, I’m back in Sandra Dee’s. They serve an all-day vegetarian breakfast on the weekends. I sit up on a stool next to the bar, pushing fried tomatoes and cold baked beans around my plate, like all the escaped convicts do in the old road movies when they go on the run and end up in greasy spoons.
I ain’t particularly hung over but then I ain’t particularly hungry neither. It’s just that I’m due to start work at Duffy’s at twelve and I ain’t got nothing better to do until then.
Minty’s cleaning glasses, one an hour, it seems. Every so often she gets up and takes a walk around the tables to empty a random ashtray.
‘Nae luck, then?’ She means the broad from last night.
I shrug. ‘What can you do?’
‘I heard she shagged that twat Paris.’
‘No way,’ I tell her. Paris’s got a face like a brick wall and the personality to match.
‘That’s what I heard.’ She sniffs. ‘And according to Paris she was crap.’
I ignore her. She’s only saying this to get a reaction out of me, but I’m not biting.
I sit for another half an hour, flicking through a black and white brochure for films being shown in the GFT this month. Casablanca…The Maltese Falcon…Little Caesar… a whole weekend of classics and I got to miss them. Jeezus.
‘I think I’m gonna head down to the net café, see who’s online,’ I say, eventually. Then I stand up and down the last of my pint in one swallow.
‘Look,’ sighs Minty, ‘if you’re really that interested, I can give you her phone number.’ She slips me a torn piece of lined paper with the name Julie Turnbull, and a bunch of digits written in small, neat, feminine handwriting. I study it for a second, admiring the way she’s added artful flicks to all her letters, and the way she’s drawn a cute little kiss above the i in Julie, instead of dotting it. ‘I was just about to give her a bell.’
She reaches behind the bar and pulls out a square purple purse that says Animal Girl in tiny white lettering and has little beads sprinkled over it. ‘You might as well take this,’ she says. ‘Someone handed it in after you left.’
‘They’ve took the money out it, though.’ Minty drops her eyes and goes back to inspecting the glass tumbler she is holding. It’s not unusual for her to skim from the lost and found.
‘Well, cheers, anyway.’
She shakes her head. ‘Your funeral.’
I plan to let the phone ring eight times and no more. And no way am I leaving a message. I take a deep breath and…it’s ringing…
‘Hello?’ She picks up the phone on the eighth ring.
‘Hiya Julie.’ I pause. ‘It’s Vicky.’
‘Vicky who?’ She sounds pissed off and I’m not used to ladies forgetting who I am. She’s making me feel strangely unnerved, like a teenager phoning up a first crush for a date.
‘I – I walked you home, last night?’
‘Listen, I can’t talk just now,’ she says. ‘I’m at an audition.’
Shit, she did say something about that. That reminds me I should phone that broad from the theatre company.
‘Hang on. I just wanted to tell you that I think I’ve found your purse.’
‘Oh right,’ she says, finally. ‘Thanks.’
‘What time does your audition finish?’
‘Don’t know, these things take ages. Could be hanging around here all day…’
She sounds tired, ratty, pissed off that I had the brass neck to phone. I wonder if she knows that this is just a sorry excuse for me to see her again.
‘Sure, just forget about it. Sorry to have bothered you.’
‘No wait,’ she says. ‘I should be finished by six o’clock. I could meet you -’
‘I’m working. I don’t finish till eight.’ I must sound defensive, standoffish, like I’m the one who’s being deliberately awkward, now.
‘Well, what if I met you at Sandra Dee’s at about ten o’clock? I want to buy you a drink to say thanks for finding my purse.’
‘You don’t even know if it is your purse.’
‘Is it lilac with silver diamantes?’
‘Yeah, that’s it,’ I reply, running my fingers over the little sewn-on jewels of the satin square pouch.
‘OK. I’ll see you later. Bye.’
‘Bye,’ I repeat, smiling to myself. I’m still holding onto the phone cord, still pivoting on my right foot about a minute later when she finally says ‘Vicky, are you still there?’
My heart lurches in my throat and I mumble, ‘yes’.
‘Well,’ she says, ‘could you please put down the phone?’