A 21st century tale
By Eve’s Rib
Though he didn’t mention it to his co-conspirators, Leo made sure that the day of the raid fell on a night when Gina was out with some mates. He had hired a Batman costume from a local party store, and put it on under his clothes. Unfortunately, it had come in the wrong size, and it hung off him like novelty pyjamas. Hopefully it wouldn’t look too bad in the dark. To tell the truth, he thought he looked a prat. But there had been a heartening report on a Men Matter stunt in the news only the day before. The female reporter had interviewed Clyde Rock and the whole thing was treated fairly respectfully.
The rendezvous was at midnight. Gina was unlikely to be home before two, on past form, so Leo was secretly hoping he could do his bit and slip back without her ever knowing. He felt a little cowardly about this, but he had to walk before he could run. When had he ever gone in for political activism? He also felt like a hypocrite after the humiliations Kelly had been putting him through. However, it didn’t stop him trudging faithfully into town to assert his manhood.
Trigger and Sean were there before him, clutching plastic bags to stash their outer clothes in. Sean had a roll of material under his arm. The ‘WO’ was still attached to the Working Men’s Club sign and by the door stood a lifesize cardboard cutout of a boy stripper in a pink gown, in an obvious homage to Marilyn Monroe’s famous diamonds routine. The boy was gawping in delight as he pulled off one of his long satin gloves.
“OK, lads,” Trigger whispered, although the side street was empty. “Straight to the action!” Leo had never seen him so excited. “Leo, you hold the ladder. Sean, you go up and hang the banner. I’m going to sort out pretty boy there. Superheroes, OUT!”
He and Sean breathlessly removed their outer clothes to reveal their superhero glory. Leo tried not to smile — Trigger’s Batman costume was the wrong size, too. The sleeves were too short and his belly looked like it would pop out of the grey sweater at any moment. He began to remove his own clothes as Sean leaned a little ladder on the wall and raced up it, the banner unfurling as he went up. Meanwhile, Trigger went up to the cardboard boy with a black marker pen, determined to deface it, but he paused when he got there. Leo could almost see his mind work: what could he draw on it? A moustache? The figure was already male, not least because some prankster had got there first and drawn a large cock emerging from the boy’s split skirt. One had to go the opposite way, so Trigger scrawled a pair of breasts on the boy’s bosom, producing a transexual, and gave up in confusion.
“Giz a hand,” said Sean, who was fumbling to get his banner up.
Trigger motioned to Leo to help. Leo held the ladder. He didn’t see what else he could do as Sean fought to attach the banner’s guide-ropes to something on the wall. Eventually he got one end fixed, came down to shift the ladder along, fought to get hold of the loose end of the banner which was now too far away, and felt urgently along the wall.
“There’s nowhere to hang it,” Sean said, flapping an arm at his Superman cloak, which kept getting tangled up.
“Isn’t there a nail or something?” Trigger was punching a number into his mobile phone. “It’s ringing, lads.” After a second he said: “Hello? Orpington Daily? Oh, uh — I’d like to report a radical manoeuvre being conducted at this moment, a quarter past midnight on Tuesday — well, Wednesday now — by the Orpington branch of Men Matter, the radical men’s organisation which calls for equal rights for men and an end to creeping matriarchy. Uh, staff at the Working Men’s Club in Dodge Street were amazed to see three activists taking over the building. In the wake of Clyde Rock’s ground-breaking book, Ironing John, more and more women are becoming nervous before the male backlash. Be sure to hurry over to get this exclusive story!”
He hung up.
“Are they coming, mate?” asked Leo.
“Answerphone,” said Trigger. “There’s no one fucking in!”
“Fuck’s sake,” said Sean. “Are we going to have to wait till morning or what? I’m freezing me nuts off already in this outfit.”
Leo was feeling the cold too. He glanced down the dimly-lit street and noticed a teenage girl in jeans and a padded jacket who’d stopped a few yards away and was watching them with her arms folded. He nodded to her as if she’d found them in some innocuous activity; under her stern, amused gaze he realised how they must look to her and had never felt like such an idiot.
“Fuck it,” said Sean. “That’ll have to do.” He came down the ladder, leaving the banner hanging at a diagonal.
“What’s it meant to be?” asked the girl suddenly.
Trigger jumped and spun round. “What? Be? This is a male commando raid, darling.”
“I ain’t your darling,” said the girl. “Look — it’s all wonky.”
The three men stood back to admire their piece of vandalism. Sean had hung the banner directly beneath the WO. The combined message read: WOMEN FIRST.
“You silly bugger, Sean!” Trigger shouted.
“Well, you fucking try it if you can do better,” said Superman, bitterly, folding up his ladder.
“Women first,” said the girl. “That’s a fine message. I support it whole-heartedly. Aren’t you cold in them costumes? Are your balls wrinkling up, Batman?”
“A bit less lip, young lady,” said Trigger. “Where’s your respect?”
The girl gave them a sarcastic look and walked on, chuckling to herself and keying into her mobile.
“OK lads, now’s when we raid the premises,” said Trigger. “Sean, a spot of breaking and entering, please.” He leaned towards Leo as Sean trotted to the double door entrance. “Sean’s a handy bloke to have around. Done a bit of time, see, and learnt a thing or two inside. He’ll have us through that door in no time.”
The two Batmen waited, stamping in the increasing cold, as Superman knelt by the doors. Leo was quite pleased by their progress. He was disappointed at the cock-up over the banner, which didn’t seem to serve their cause too well, but there was plenty of time for him to get home. Trust Trigger to balls up the media department. What was Sean up to, there? He was taking ages.
Superman was fiddling without success by the doors. He seemed to be trying to insert a credit card between them.
“Get your skeleton keys, out, geezer!” said Trigger.
Superman stood up. “I ain’t got any bloody skeleton keys.”
“Oh, this is getting not funny. You said you had loads.”
“I never, I said we don’t need ‘em. Aw, this door don’t respond to the blade, Trig. It’s a piece of shit, this door.” He kicked it irritably and an alarm blared out, sweeping the street.
“SHIT!” said Trigger. “SHIT!”
“That’s fine,” said Sean. “That’s what we want.” He put his hands on his hips, his red cloak sticking into his pants.
“Hey, lads,” said Leo.
A police car was driving slowly up the street. It had come far too quickly for the alarm to have alerted it. That girl must have rung the police. Typical interfering female! Leo backed down the street, grabbing his clothes. Two policewomen in black uniforms opened the doors and approached them, but Leo didn’t stay to watch. He was already legging it back home, his blue cloak flying behind him.