Friday, 29 May 2015

Tracks - A Love Story

Our eyes met across a crowded room, or at least that’s what I would always tell people when they asked how we met, because ‘Brendan88 has viewed your profile’ doesn’t quite have the same romantic appeal. Not that I was embarrassed to have met the love of my life on Guydar, but having to explain to co-workers and cousins exactly what kind of app it was made the whole thing seem unnecessarily seedy. And I’d had enough of seedy by then; take the last man to send me a message before you, ‘Shy_Guy_6’, who communicated solely via dick pic and emoji. I tried engaging him in polite chitchat but that just got me a close-up of his anus followed by a winky face.
Thank god, then, that you replied to my message. You’ll never know how long I deliberated over what to say, before finally settling on an unimaginative but reliable ‘Hi', hitting Send, and holding my breath. In my head I call it ‘the last hi’, because I deleted the app immediately following our first date. Amy called that move ‘a little keen’ but I preferred to think of as ‘quietly confident’.
We spent a fair portion of that date sharing war stories from our respective experiences of online dating, laughing about the various deviant requests we’d received, both of us aware but unwilling to admit just then that we were drained, that loneliness is infectious and if we were forced to spend any more of our lives typing out gambits to strangers in text speak then it wouldn’t be long before our messages became tainted with the same desperation as all the others. We were each other’s saviour.
You were the most serious relationship I’d ever had, and even though I never said it in as many words I think you knew. You’d had a couple of proper boyfriends before, none of this was new to you, and that bothered me sometimes, but mostly I was just happy. Amy thought that the six month mark might be a bit early to move in together, but we joked that in gay years we were an old married couple. Not that we bickered much; mostly I hated it when you stole my aftershave and you would turn the air blue whenever you tripped over a pair of my shoes in the hall. It was tiny stuff though, silly stuff, because we were in love and we trusted each other.
And I did trust you. I wasn’t spying, I swear, but my phone was dead and I needed to check my email so I used yours, and while I was scrolling through work memos a notification popped up with a  familiar little chirp. A message from Guydar; ‘VersFunSW4 has viewed your profile.’
And that was when morbid curiosity overtook me, and I opened the app which was still on your phone almost a year after I deleted it from mine. Maybe you just forgot it was there, I reasoned with myself, but then I saw your updated profile pic, tanned and gorgeous in Barcelona. I took that photo myself, had even remarked afterwards how handsome you looked in it. Was that what made you choose it? It was certainly a success with the men on Guydar, judging from all the messages complimenting you on your eyes, your smile, one even saying he was captivated by the chest hair peeking out from under your shirt collar.
I felt sick. Sicker still when I saw your responses, all LOLs and winky faces at first but then less coy. Lengthy, intimate exchanges where you implied that you and your boyfriend had an ‘arrangement’, where you described in detail exactly what you would do to LondonSub22 and TroyBoy and all the others. And I realised that I hadn’t been your saviour after all, because you had never been lonely, you had a phone full of men just gagging to keep you company. I was crying by the time you walked in, that awful messy kind of crying where the words don’t want to come out, but you pieced it together quickly enough, grabbed your phone out of my hand and stormed out.
The thing with fights is, they usually end. Whether it ends with shouting or tears or sex or exhausted indifference, there’s always something. But that was the last time I saw you. Hours later when my phone rang and it was your name, I ignored it. I ignored it the second and third time too. When I finally did answer, it wasn’t you on the other end. It was a nurse who had been trying to get through to your emergency contact.
‘It was incredibly quick’, she told me. ‘He wouldn’t have felt a thing.’
That was a year ago. Just over, actually. I stopped counting the days after the first anniversary. Amy has finally convinced me it’s time to move on, maybe even to go on a date. But the thought of walking up to a guy in a bar and starting a conversation makes my stomach hurt, so I compromise, and say I’ll think about downloading Guydar again. It’s another month and a half before I finally give in and actually do it.
Shy_Guy_6 is still doing the rounds with his smut and smileys. They’re not even up-to-date photos; he’s spamming me with the same picture of his penis that he first sent over two years ago. This fills me with white hot, utterly irrational rage. I’m typing out a message to him, a furious demand to show his face or get the hell off this app forever, when my phone vibrates with a notification.
‘Brendan88 has viewed your profile.’
At first I think I’m reading it wrong. But there’s no mistaking the picture in the profile; not the one I took in Barcelona, but the one  you had two years ago. The first glimpse I ever got of you. It’s you, or at least a few thousand pixels of you, and I’m so deliriously happy to see it that it doesn’t register at first that this is impossible.
It’s a catfish, I think. Some scumbag found this picture of you in a dark corner of the internet and fancied taking it for themselves. ‘Despicable,’ I mutter. But what if it isn’t? What if this is really you, and you’ve found a way back to me? I have so much I want to say. I might even finally get to break up with you, and it would serve you fucking right.
I look at my Guydar tracks. The last person to view my profile before you was a Belgian in a gas mask. I realise with a sinking feeling that I could actually do worse than a cheating ghost or an identity thief. So I type out an unimaginative but reliable ‘Hi’, press Send, and hold my breath.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Hold My Hand

I am lying in my bed, alone, and somebody is holding my hand.
It's been this way for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, and smaller, the hand fit mine perfectly. Now I am grown, and the cold little hand squeezes mine for warmth. 
I have never turned my head to look at who is lying next to me, who has shared my bed for all these years. Fear has always stopped me. Not fear of my silent bedmate, who has never given me cause to be frightened, but rather, for fear that if I turned my head to look upon them, they would vanish, go away forever, and I would be left to sleep here all alone in the dark.
Of course it is silly, for an adult to be scared of the dark. But I feel I have just cause, I believe there is something out there we would be wise to fear. For what else could have spurred my invisible friend to reach out for my hand that first night, and to keep reaching, to keep holding onto me ever tighter, every night after?

Friday, 13 June 2014

We Prefer Angels

Phone sex is less fun, Lyla decides, when neither of the participants happens to be you – not to mention a nightmare to transcribe.
Party 1: You like that, baby?
Party 2: *Unintelligible grunt*
Even more of a faff is trying to preserve the narrative of sexts when they consist entirely of emojis. Lyla knows she’s on perv duty as part of her punishment, even if the official story is that she’s just ‘filling in’ while Raj has his appendix removed.
She should have just kept her mouth shut and her head down; always easy enough to see in retrospect. But she didn’t, so now her working day consists of trawling through the telephonic filth of some depraved ambassador while Perry completely screws up what should be her caseload.
They’re a fairly small team compared to some; just herself, Perry, Raj and George, dedicated to monitoring prominent families and a handful of celebrities with political aspirations. The door to their office simply reads ‘Specialist Division’.
It had given Lyla butterflies on her first day. Here she was, an analyst fresh out of Cambridge, in the heart of the watchtower. The job lost some of its lustre, however, the moment she stepped through the door and met Perry.
“You that tart from downstairs?” He asked, looking her up and down in a way that made her desperate for hand sanitiser.
“Lyla,” she replied, cooling to him instantly. “You the head snoop?”
“We prefer angels,” he said. “You know, as in guardian angels.”
“I bet you do.”
“And no, I’m not in charge.” He jerked his head towards another closed door at the far end of the office. “George is.”
It was all a bit Charlie’s Angels in the Specialist office, Lyla soon found. They received emails from George with requests for updates or reports, but there was nothing in the way of personal contact. She never actually met the man until she was six months into the job.
Lyla was intercepting the calls of a young parliamentary candidate, Rory Snow. She knew the sort, had been surrounded by them at Cambridge. Tall, blonde, with a plum in his mouth and a twinkle in his eye. These were the men who got what they wanted, who didn’t even need to ask for it. Snow bucked the trend in one respect only; he was a democrat, and a squeaky clean one, if you were to believe the press.
But the first lesson Lyla learned as an angel was that nobody was ever truly clean. Rory Snow kept his vice well hidden, but after just a few weeks of listening in on his life, Lyla stumbled upon it.
“Pretty girls,” she told Perry, dropping a pile of transcripts onto his desk.
“They’ll be the downfall of this great nation,” Perry sighed, ignoring the folder.
“That’s not all of it,” Lyla said. “Some of these girls are a little on the young side.” That was putting it mildly. Snow’s unsavoury preferences made her new ambassador friend’s exploits seem as harmless as a stack of Playboys under a teenager’s mattress. Perry took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Just log it,” he said.
“We need to call the police.”
“And say what?” Perry asked. “How do you propose we explain how we came by this information? We do nothing.”
“I thought we were meant to be guardian angels,” Lyla said. Perry rolled his eyes.
“Fine,” she picked up the papers. “I’m going to George with this.”
“I wouldn’t if I were you,” Perry called after her, as she marched across the office. He didn’t stop her, though; just reached for a Danish.
Lyla gave the door three sharp raps, and when no sound came from within, knocked again. Still receiving nothing in the way of a reply, she reluctantly returned to her desk. At the end of her shift, she logged the day’s transcripts, shrugged into her jacket and left, just like she always did – only this time with a sheaf of printouts stuffed into her handbag. If Perry and George weren’t going to do anything to stop Rory Snow, she thought, she would have to do it herself.
Except, of course, she didn’t even make it out of the building. Vic, the avuncular clerk at the front desk who commented on the weather as she signed in each morning, called over to her before she could reach the revolving doors.
“I’ve been requested to escort you upstairs,” he told her, clearly uncomfortable with the situation. For one brief, wild moment, Lyla considered darting for the doors, but thought better of it.
“Fine,” she assented.
She was taken to an empty conference room and left to wait, alone. For what felt like hours (but probably only amounted to five minutes), various scenarios played out in Lyla’s mind. Would she be fired? Prosecuted, even? The foolishness of what she had just attempted hit her. Leaving the watchtower with an open case file – how could she have been so stupid?
And then George walked in. He was nothing like Lyla had imagined. Tall, rake-thin, Savile Row from head to toe. He sat down in the chair next to hers, so any onlooker would think they were both for the gallows, folded his hands on the tabletop, and said simply;
“I believe you have accidentally left something upon your person.”
And that was it. Lyla gave up the papers, and he left. The next day she came into work, and was given Raj’s workload. Perry could barely contain his delight.
“I’m going to make you scream,” the ambassador whispers in Lyla’s ear. “I won’t stop until you’re begging for mercy.”
She still has work to do, she tells herself. Important work. The safety of an entire country is in their hands; they have to think of the bigger picture.
The ambassador releases a wordless, animalistic cry. Lyla includes this in her notes, and suppresses a scream of her own.


Friday, 4 April 2014

The Selfie of Dorian Gray

The moment the shutter on the camera clicks, Dorian feels different. He is momentarily short of breath; it is almost as if, by capturing his image, the iPhone also drew the very air from his lungs.
“Preposterous,” he mutters to himself, and looks down at the picture he has just taken.
This, he realises, must have been how the accursed Narcissus felt, upon first catching sight of his own reflection in the river. Never before have his own eyes seemed so blue, his hair so golden, his lips so full.
It is, without a doubt, the perfect selfie.
“Don’t you dare hang up on me,” Sabina howls down the phone, like the proverbial banshee. “We are not finished here, you owe me an explanation!”
“Darling,” Dorian replies, in what he feels is his most reasonable tone, “I’m sorry if you got the wrong idea about me. But I’m just not looking to settle down. When did I ever say otherwise?”
“How cold you are,” she spits. “How cruel. So you think it’s alright to sleep with other girls? With other men? Do my feelings matter at all?”
Dorian ends the call.
“Needy, needy girl,” he whispers to himself, shaking his head. To take his mind off the whole debacle, he decides to check how many more likes his selfie has racked up. Twelve since he last looked. Satisfied, Dorian is about to return his phone to his pocket when he notices something. Something off.
He raises the phone to his face and squints. Impossible!
The picture has changed. His eyes are still blue, but paler; they have lost some of that trademark twinkle. His lips are still red, but they don’t look quite as full.
“How can this be?” He utters, but there is nobody in the room to respond, and of course the photo can’t very well speak for itself. Sabina called him cruel; this is a likeness of a cruel man. But that image was taken weeks ago, before he even met Sabina. Before he slept with her, and then her best friend, and then her brother.
But still, it’s undeniable – the picture has changed for the worst. Dorian shrugs, and puts his phone away. What does it matter? A glance in the mirror reassures him that in the flesh, he has never looked better.
Time is kind to Dorian, and unkind to those around him. With each year that passes, the selfie ages. With each heart he breaks, with every tramp he hits in his Mercedes, the eyes on the screen grow ever narrower and more flint-like, the smile gradually curling into a sneer. After a decade, it pains him to look at the photo at all – it has changed too drastically, reflects too much, while his own face remains precisely as it was.
There are two Dorians now, and over the years makes his peace with it, telling nobody his secret when they enquire after which face cream or cosmetic surgeon holds the key to perpetual youth. Not that anyone would believe him if he were to tell them the truth; that his withered soul is trapped in a magic photograph, belied by his own youthful, perfidious exterior.
He has long since removed the image from social media, obviously. He often wonders what would happen if he were to delete the selfie entirely. Would his every sin from those misspent years be returned upon him? Would his skin crack like parchment? Would he, god forbid, lose his hair?
Whatever spell the selfie has cast, it is a gift. To question or waste it would be a crime. And so Dorian vows to live as authentically as he can, pleasure and gratification his only commandments.
Instagrammed, immortal, and irredeemable.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Rain Dance

I respond to the idiotic claims that homosexuality causes floods the only way I know how - in the form of a story.


“A church wedding would have been nicer,” he overhears a second cousin saying at the reception. Callum suspects this distant relative would also have preferred there be a bride, as opposed to the two young men in suits who made their vows this afternoon. He makes a mental note to strike the cousin’s name from his Christmas card list.
He didn’t even want extended family at the wedding; it was Mitchell who insisted they have everyone there. His new husband (Husband! He can’t get his head around the word) has a much more genial and forgiving nature. In fact, the only flaw of his that Callum is still working on correcting is his tendency to drop grammatical clangers from time to time.
“Shame about the weather,” somebody closer to the top table remarks – Callum thinks it might be Mitchell’s auntie. In this instance he is inclined to agree. Torrential rains have turned the hotel grounds into a swamp, making any outdoor photos completely out of the question.
A nasty little thought squirms to life in the back of his mind. Something ridiculous and half-forgotten. A story from the paper a few days before the wedding. A politician with views that skew towards the radical claimed that the government’s decision to allow same-sex couples to marry was the cause of the recent extreme weather conditions ravaging the country. Mitchell dismissed the councillor as “Old Testa-mental”, and used the article later that day to line the cat’s litter tray. And Callum didn’t give it another thought. Until now.
“Don’t be stupid,” he mutters to himself, pouring himself and his new hubby (ugh, no, ‘hubby’ is too saccharine, he decides) another generous glass of champagne. He is rescued from his own dark thoughts by the sound of a spoon tinkling against a glass.
“Good evening, everyone!” Bellows his best woman, Ros. Oh, lord. He’d forgotten about this part. It has kept him awake every night this week. He’s never been any good at it, no matter how encouraging or patient Mitchell is as a teacher.
“What are we calling you guys now – Mitchum? Callell?” Ros shrugs. “Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, please be as upstanding, as our newlyweds take their first dance.”
Callum lets Mitchell lead him by the hand onto the dance floor, and the song they took weeks to agree on begins to play; ‘You’re My Best Friend’. Because, as Mitchell said at the time, their wedding just wasn’t gay enough.
As it turns out, dancing in front of everybody he knows isn’t that bad. He steps on Mitchell’s feet a couple of times, but for the most part his awkward shuffling is met with dewy eyes and heartfelt smiles. The song is almost over when he hears the maniacal laughter. He spies the culprit at the back of the room; a guest he doesn’t recognise in a bright blue suit and derby hat. He is throwing back his head and laughing, clapping his hands, and hopping from foot to foot like an excited child.
“Bet you wish we’d stuck to close friends only,” Callum whispers in Mitchell’s ear, nodding towards the dancing madman, who is attracting the attention of the other guests.
Mitchell frowns.
“I have no idea who that is,” he replies. “I thought it was one of your old uni mates?”
Callum shakes his head. “I’ve never seen him before in my life.”
“Well let’s ask,” Mitchell says. “Looks like he’s coming over.”
And so he is – the curious blue-suited gentleman is now at the edge of the dance floor, observing the newlyweds and chuckling away. Once he notices that they have stopped dancing and are, in fact, staring at him in utter bemusement, he steps forward.
“Mind if I cut in?” He asks Mitchell, not even waiting for a response before grabbing Callum by the hand and spinning him around.
“Who the hell are you?” Callum asks, trying his best to be angry but finding that all he feels is relief – his feet finally seem to know what they’re doing, and he is matching this lunatic step for step in what can only be described as an epileptic jive. The music is louder than before, faster, and the other guests are soon sweeping onto the dance floor to join the revelry.
Thunder can be heard over the music, as it rolls across the sky outside.
“I’m Ba’al,” says the intruder. The apostrophe rings in Callum’s ears. “But you can call me Bill.”
“Ba’al,” Callum echoes. “What kind of name is that?”
“A very old one,” Bill replies, clicking his fingers in time with the beat. “It means all sorts – thunder, rain, lord of the heavens. Take your pick.”
“You’re insane,” Callum says, twisting his hips. Bill just laughs.
Mitchell reappears, refreshed champagne flutes in each hand. “Everything alright here?”
“Fine,” Callum answers, taking one of the glasses. “I’m just dancing with God.”
“A god,” Bill corrects, snatching Mitchell’s champagne and knocking it back. “We’re like the public sector. There’s loads of us.”
“Well you weren’t invited,” Mitchell says, “but you’re more than welcome to stay and enjoy the disco.”
“I might just do that!” Bill squeezes Mitchell’s cheeks as if he were a particularly cute toddler. “And is there a spread?” Mitchell nods, unflappable as always. Callum is less inclined to accept this ludicrous turn of events.
“That crazy bible-thumper was telling the truth about us, wasn't he.”
“It’s true,” Bill says, smile faltering, standing still for a moment. “Your union has made the gods weep.” Callum’s heart begins to sink. “But,” Bill continues, “these are tears of joy falling from the sky. Mankind is finally making the progress we have long known you capable of.”
“Huh,” Mitchell murmurs. “Even gods end sentences on prepositions. How about that.”
The rain god hoots with laughter once again, before moseying off through the ecstatic throng in the direction of the buffet.