Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Home Truths, Chapter 8

A 21st century tale
By Eve’s Rib


A bass roar ran through the room and Leo found himself clapping heartily with the others. This was more like it! If he was going to prove that he was Gina’s equal, this was definitely going to help him. He still had a suspicion that meetings like this were a bit sad, but he felt stronger in this crowd. Blokes should stand together.

Clyde Rock talked on. He outlined the need for a new ‘contract’ of mutual respect between men and women. He called for local Men Matter groups to be set up across the country. He urged the audience to sign his global petition and buy his book Ironing John. By the end, the audience was excited and voluble. Leo shouldered through the men up to the table, where Trigger was sticking to Rock’s side like a disciple.

“Good to see you, mate, good to see you,” said Trigger, not at all his usual lugubrious self. “Meet the revolution!”

Leo nodded to the tweedy chairman, who had retired to the back to mop his forehead. “Have a look at Dad’s Army over there,” he said. “You’d have trouble squeezing him into a Superman costume.”

“Oh, that old fuck. I’m trying to kick him out. He’s a bureaucrat, thinks this is the Rotary Club. What we need are men of action.”

“Or men who look good in blue tights?”

“Don’t take the piss, mate. This is the real McCoy. Here, Clyde.” He tugged at Rock’s sleeve. “Meet Leo, a great friend of mine, a new recruit to Men Matter.”

Rock turned from signing a book to scrutinise Leo with a fixed gaze, and grasped his hand in an iron grip.

“Good speech,” Leo murmured, humbled by the presence of the great man.

“For me, Leo, it’s just a pleasure to see you guys feeling good about yourselves again. Interested in the book?” Leo shook his head, gesturing his pockets. “Bit short, eh?” He clapped Leo on the shoulder. “Then make sure you’re at our next meeting. It’s my last in London before I move on to Manchester. We’re going to discuss some real action! Men, you have nothing to lose but your skirts!”

“You coming out for a drink, mate?” Trigger asked Leo, taking him to one side.

“I’d love to, Trig, but I’ve been out too long. Got to get back to Gina.”

Trigger laughed. “Come on, Leo! Here we are talking about men standing up for themselves and the first thing you want to do is run back to your wife! She’s got you by the balls after all! Eh?” Leo dropped his gaze. “Well go on, run home and get your frock on. If you’re lucky she’ll let you have a tenner for a new handbag.”

Leo marched out into the evening feeling slightly ashamed. In ten minutes he was walking up the local high street. A man with a shopping bag went by, click-clacking in his heels. His hair was quite long and curled out at the bottom and he was wearing a pencil skirt. Leo almost didn’t realise it was a man until they passed each other by. You heard about millions of men who had secretly cross-dressed for years — for that lot it must be a dream come true! For a lifetime they had kept to the shadows, hoarding women’s clothing in boxes secreted in the corners of attics, trying them on in secret, paranoid about the wife’s key in the door, and struggling to understand themselves. Now suddenly their hidden love was all the rage. They were coming out onto the streets, along with the new converts and the young, and they had official society’s blessing. Some of them looked pretty awful, but that would change with time and practice, and some looked worryingly elegant. How incredible it was, and how unlucky Leo was to be living in these particular times.

What was the fascination? What were clothes but a load of cloth, cut in various ways? Yet the importance people attached to them! It was ridiculous, really. Even he was struggling against the onset of new clothes, and he still wasn’t sure why.

But he did know, of course. Leo turned into his own street and could already see the lights of his house ahead. He hadn’t forgotten Gina’s outburst on the day of his interview. It wasn’t about the clothes, exactly, but what they represented. It was about relationships of power.

Gina was sitting with her legs curled up on the sofa, watching the late news. “God, I thought you’d never get home,” she complained. “What’ve you been doing?”

“I told you, love, it was a mate’s birthday. We went down —”

“I’ve been dying for you to get in. Look what I got you!” Brimming with cheeky enthusiasm, she grabbed a bulky Burtons bag from the floor. Leo watched perplexed as she lifted it onto her lap. “You know about having the ClareCo reps for dinner? Well, I went shopping.” She opened up the bag and fished something out. It took Leo a second to figure out what it was, and with growing shock saw his fate unfolding from a carrier bag: a rustling confection of burgundy taffeta, which she half-draped on her lap, smiling at him in delight. “It’s a dress — it’s a man’s dress, I got it from Burtons. Isn’t it gorgeous? Just feel that material. Feel it. And I got you some tights, and some accessories, you know, nail varnish and so on...”

“Wait a second, Gina,” said Leo, frozen in the doorway. “I thought I’d say I’d think about it. I haven’t said anything either way. — No, let me finish. You’re buying me this bloody stuff like it’s already decided. Well, it isn’t. Maybe I don’t want to dress up like a bloody fairy. I mean, what the hell are you asking here, Gina?” His voice rose in volume and, to his pleasure, Gina didn’t explode. Instead she seemed not to know what to do. He was confused by her crestfallen face, but felt he must take advantage while she was on the back foot. “You think that just because — oh, sod it. I’m going out with Trig.”

“But you only just got in!”

Leo was already walking out of the door. He took out his mobile and rang up Trigger. “That you, Trig? What you up to? Yeah. Listen, I’m on for a drink after all. That’s right, mate. I’ll see you down the Working Men’s Club. You there already? Great.”

He marched out and strolled down the street, swelling with pride.

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