Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Auctore Deo - A Fragment... (III)

April 2002
A running joke among the year group was that Mr. M________ and [a certain Irish politician] had been separated at birth.
“Looks like he’s about to give someone a blowjob”, remarked my desk-mate as we scrutinised the photograph from a history textbook that had incited the observation. My attention was drawn to the Irishman’s parted lips, frozen in mid-speech, suspended before the head of a microphone as if he intended to bit it off.
For me, M________ bore a stronger resemblance to a sack of butchered fragments carved from the carcasses of assorted animals and fused together – Dr. Moreau-style – into a vaguely human form. He had the stomach of a rhino, the jaw of a pelican, the lips of a carp, hands like the pincers of a dried-up lobster, the rear end of a whale and the forbidding brows of an owl, permanently knotted into a cold grimace that rarely altered.
His features appeared as if they had been jammed effortlessly by a child onto the flesh of a rotten potato. His yellow crust crawled as if the limbs of the beasts sacrificed to build his hobbling frame still twitched with life below the surface, yearning to escape their prison.
The only hint of tamed civilisation present on his figure was a pair of glasses – the sort that magnified the shadowy caverns of his eyes so that they appeared thrice their usual dimension - perched permanently on his forehead when not in use. I wondered if this were a fashion-statement.

He was a supply teacher. I’m guessing, as a result of having no specific expertises, he tried to assure the students that he was their equal. To achieve this, he seducing them into a sense of comradeship by delivering dry witticisms on such subjects as the futility of homework, the hypocrisy of uniform standards and the contours of female assets. My one encounter with him ensured me that he was certainly not on my side.
The GCSE mocks were underway. M________ was invigilating the French listening paper. He was putting on his usual performance, placing a ruthless spin on the instructions he had to read out to us before the start of the exam.
“This examination will test your listening skills in relation to the French language”, he read in his nasally, bird-like voice, weathered by decades of tobacco, “Skills you only need if you live in France”
A chorus of amusement met his strategically timed afterthought. He paused, leaving himself enough time to bask in the glory of his success before continuing.
“Ensure all answers are written clearly in black ink - well, they certainly wouldn’t want you writing in blood now, would they?”
Another round of ovation.
“Silence is to be maintained at all times – by threat of beheading. You all know the French!”
With each applause, a note of triumph rose in his voice as he excited their admiration. He knew that his cutting humour had won their hearts. He was their friend from the other side. They loved him, and it made the mouldy potato perched upon his shoulders swell, like when so much mucus gathers beneath a boil that it seems to pulsate in agony.
I had no sympathy for his humour, which became cruder with each applause. Realising that the exam probably wasn’t going to start for another fifteen minutes, he being more intent on giving his audience what they wanted, I took the opportunity to look fleetingly through the paper in order to write down the question numbers. It was something we had always done in class, to save time and to give us an idea of how to answer the question.
I was half way through this exercise when I realised that I was being watched;
“You! Stop what you’re doing!”
The glasses had returned to his forehead – he meant business.
I was so too shocked and embarrassed to listen to the thundering torrent of abuse he poured upon me, denouncing me for opening the paper before permission had been granted.
Embers seemed to crackle from the depths of those soulless caverns, as if the beasts beneath were fighting for dominance over their host.
I suppose he was justified in his criticism, but if he’d bothered to ask, he would have learnt that I had no intention of cheating. It isn’t possible to cheat on an exam when you have to listen to a recording for the answers.
“Here I am, trying to help everyone relax by having a bit of fun, and you take advantage of my benevolence! It’s students like you that I loathe!”
Students like me.
He was in no position to cast judgement on my character. That was the first time he had ever spoken to me.
The pincers snapped up my paper and cast it into the bin.

"For wasting my time and holding up your class-mates, you can go and start a new sheet"
His scrutiny continued as I returned to my seat. The others loved it, seeing the class boffin and gay-lord get a verbal lashing. Even in a blind rage he hadn’t fail to entertain them. Now that he hated me, they loved him even more. He had officially migrated to their camp.
Satisfied at having soundly humiliated the convict for his crime, M________ returned to the front of the room and resumed his former task.
“Students must listen to the recording and answer the appropriate questions – well, you don’t say, monsieur!”
Later, I wondered if his wrath was prompted partly by indignation at the fact I was the only person in the room who hadn’t found his assessment of French people as amusing as he’d hoped.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Canto Twenty-Eight

Dear B__

When I intercepted my uncle’s email, informing my father that the news had reached Australia, his expression implied that it had been the first ejaculation to drool from his brother’s tongue once he had returned home.

'Don't mean to alarm you mate, but Robin's just got back and he's saying your boy's come out as gay'

I pictured him discharged the gossip dolefully in an East London accent lamed by a slight Australian drawl - “Mav’s boy, you know, the one who’s packin’ on a few pounds. Turns out he’s a poof”

I am no closer to my uncle Robin than the Earth is to Pluto. I had only one memory of him prior to the events that took place three years ago; yelling at me not to touch a toy train belonging to his daughter in case I lost ‘the bits’. I suspect that his tolerance for nieces and nephews expired after my sister was born, and simply couldn’t be bothered to get to know my brother and I. Beyond the medium of birthday cards and gift labels hastily taped to boxes of Boots brand body spray, I have no other recollection of him ever referring to me by name, let alone acknowledging my existence.

When he migrated to Australia, he inherited the archetypal role of ‘the uncle living overseas’ whose phone-call at the annual Christmas gathering is a focal point of the evening’s entertainment. I never learnt the reasons for his flight, except implications that it was a desperate bid to withdraw from the battlefield of responsibilities that come with having six siblings and a widowed mother. For several years, the only notion one ever had of his existence came in the form of home-made desktop calendars – substituting seasonal greeting cards – featuring a photograph of himself with wife and children bearing smiles like wedding outfits; bought for the occasion, and never used again.

When another of my uncles followed his example and immigrated to Australia a few years later, they secured themselves many months of coverage when bitterness between their wives escalated into a holy war. The hostilities became so complex that even Thucydides would have struggled to stay ahead.

Of my mother’s five brothers, I know nothing of Robin besides what I have pieced together from fragments of overheard telephone conversations and emails that have been left unattended, most concerning the war in Perth and other battles. The portrait I developed was one of a corporate atheist with the psyche of a school boy, devoted to materialism and interested solely in making others aware of his luxurious living conditions. His brief return to England for the Christmas holiday, publicised as if it were the final public appearence of an acclaimed celebrity, confirmed my suspicions.

The family was in the midst of a crisis. Money was needed from all seven siblings to correct an error that, if not treated, could have resulted in my grandmother loosing her home. My mother and aunt intended to ask Robin for his contribution in person when the inevitable Christmas gathering came around. But Robin was more content in giving a seminar on Australian tiger prawns. The crisis had to be averted without his assistance, and a wind of bitterness still sweeps the deserted arena.

It was during this visit that he learnt of my sexuality. My father received the email from my other uncle in Australia within a matter of days. My earliest suspicion was that it had been the work of a gossipmonger bent on stirring strife. I suspected that bird of ill omen to have been a certain fork-tongued cousin, a known sower of discord and reaper of venom. Then I suspected her step-father, a preacher of biological processes and homophobia; my aunt could have easily passed that intelligence onto him unintentionally, and he – still harbouring bitterness towards my parents from a previous drama – may have seen it as his opportunity to strike back. My already intense hatred towards them both threatened to boil over, even if I could not prove my suspicion.

It may have been far simpler. He may have guessed from some of my mannerisms. He may discovered the copy of “Another Gay Movie” among my video collection. He may have accidentally picked up my phone and seen the text messages from my [then] boyfriend.

The truth – of which I am still ignorant - no longer matters. He found out, and as soon as he returned to Australia, he told the rest of the family out there. It wasn’t his business to know in the first place, and it certainly wasn’t his business to tell them. For all he knew, I may not have wanted them to know. That he never took that into account demonstrated to me the extent of his ignorance – and proved what my parents had known all along; that he possessed no notion of respect for the wishes of others.

If Robin – the very last person I ever intended to tell of my private life – knows, it is likely that a majority of the family now know too. Thanks to him, the door to a private corner of my soul has been torn from its hinges, and exposed to the threat of gossip. I have no wish to be like my venomous cousin, whose private life receives regular front-page coverage at family gatherings. Having spent a large fragment of my life being whispered about and made the centre of unwanted attention and rumours, it would make a nice change not to feel the same exposure and nakedness among family members. For tearing away my armour, and killing my simple wish to keep my private life concealed, Robin will never have my forgiveness.

When discussing the matter with others, I am told that my indignation is a sign that I am not ‘proud’ of who I am. My response to this is simple; I have no reason to take pride in my sexuality in the same way that I have no reason to take pride in having ten fingers. I don’t want others to know because they have no reason to know. I choose not to make it a public issue because it needn't be one. The world does not need to know, especially uncles who can’t remember my name. I don't want the wider family knowing because I know it'll become the subject of gossip - and unlike my cousin, I take no pleasure in knowing that I am being whispered about.

It spoke volumes that the email implied Robin had spread the word of my sexuality from the moment he arrived home. Since he clearly did not care for me enough to even acknowledge my presence during the weeks he stayed that Christmas, I wondered why he was suddenly excited by the knowledge of my sexuality enough go out and spread it like an anecdote of pub trivia. Perhaps it was no different to his boasting over his financial success and Australian Tiger Prawns, a little branch of his pride – this time, under threat of being torn away and burnt.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Auctore Deo - A Fragment... (II)

November 1998
To commemorate Guy Fawkes Night, Mr. G_____ set our form the challenge of composing a story about a terrorist plot, in which we were the ‘plotter’. Whilst questioning selected individuals on their chosen target and intended means of mass-destruction, a flat, phlegm- blocked voice monotonously declared at a perfectly timed lapse of silence;
“I’m gonna blow up Stan S____”
The laughter prompted by this remark still pummels through my head like a merciless drill gouging through soft, sensitive stone. I never realised Matthew hated me enough to want to murder me. But at times it seemed every other pupil who secured a place at the school had to surrender his conscience once the application had been accepted, as if it were an obligatory fraction of a contract. Therefore, it shouldn’t have surprised me.
Matthew V______ joined St. P_______ in the third year, when one of his parents became the new head. He was an instant personality; in those days it was unthinkable to have a parent working at your school. He received an elevated seat on the bench reserved for those of trendy society, admittance to the school choir without needing an audition, and a stream of cameos in collaborative creative writing projects.
My earliest memory of him was his saunter; he shuffled about as if one leg were shorter than the other. It wasn’t possible to determine whether he was truly lame, or whether pride had found its way even to his knee caps.
Being anything but popular, I interacted with him mainly at brass band practise. We seemed to get along, until one afternoon – while preparing for a form talent contest - I overheard him murmur “Not really” to another student who enquired of him as to whether I was ‘any good’ at playing the French Horn.
Upon migrating to secondary school, he lost the novelty of being the head’s son, and immediately sank amidst the masses.
Matthew was one of many individuals who treated me civilly in primary school, only for the social circumstances of secondary education to stimulate their inner ugliness to the realisation that they had someone onto whom they could project their insecurities, guaranteeing them a peaceful existence – for nobody would think to find fault in them if they joined the rest finding fault in me.
He was part of a privileged minority to escape the honour of having an insulting nickname attached to him (those attached to me would require a catalogue in its own right), likely a result of him being so bland and characterless that the dispensers of those nicknames had no reason to notice, let alone target him in the first place.
I interacted with him rarely, for he avoided me as if my vices were transmittable. But whenever his grey eyes fell on me, his features contracted into a look of contempt and disgust that gave his muddy brown lips the appearance of a clenched arsehole.
I hadn’t done anything to provoke his hatred enough to make him want to blow me up. Perhaps he convinced himself that my reputation as the form’s resident bender and band geek shrouded something sinister that it was his duty to expose. But I doubt he was witty enough to conceive of such a thought. Either he hated me that much, or he simply realised that he could use me as an excuse to make sure everyone else knew he was still there.
When I began wearing glasses for the first time in the third year, Matthew was the first to present his views.
“You don’t really need them”, he remarked acidly, fancying himself a psychologist.
I’ve occasionally imagined myself responding to his observation with equally acidic rebuttal; “You’re right. I didn’t really need them. I just want to draw even more
unwanted attention onto myself”
His circle from our form comprised of others just as loathsome as himself. Walton always put me in the mind of an overweight hamster, with his bloated cheeks, pink hands and large front teeth permanently stained the colour of urine. On an English trip, he took it upon himself to warn those sitting next me that the darkened atmosphere of the theatre would make them vulnerable to a sexual assault. During the coach trip back, he entertained an audience with a speech on the loathsome sin of homosexuality in tones loud enough for me – seating across the aisle – to clearly hear.
West – his brow large enough to substitute an airport landing strip - was just as cold and devoid of a soul as the mutton that inspired his epithet. ‘Spam’ enjoyed informing me of the fact I was officially the ugliest boy in the form, implying that he possessed statistics to prove so.
In the fifth year, Matthew broke yet another taboo and became a member of the fabled Smoking Crew, a band of valiant devils who practised the unthinkable and smoked on the school premise between classes. If he did it in an attempt to immortalise himself in playground lore, he failed terribly, because, unlike most of the other ‘hard nuts’ who formed this posse, very few knew of his existence.
He wasn’t invited back to the Sixth Form.
I last saw him in person entertaining Walton and West outside the school gates with tales of his new existence working a stall in R______ Market. He had undergone no considerable change in appearance besides looking as if he had been pumped with several tanks of helium. That same walk – somewhere between an invalid’s shuffle and an idiot’s stride – carried him back into obscurity. He surfaced from that black mass of nothingness that is Facebook only once during the time that I used it, where I came across a photograph of him – with several additional chins – gripping a misty pint glass in a vice of sausages and grinning stupidly at the camera with a look that carried a stronger resemblance to constipation than tranquilly.
It was the same look that had flashed across his face as he bathed in the ovation of his audience that day in Mr. G______’s class.
There is nothing else to say about Matthew. He wouldn’t deserve anything more. He has probably forgotten about his plot to murder me. And if he hasn’t, I suspect it is because that one ejaculation of idiocy secured him alone to the attention of the masses for those fleeting seconds.
Just like these reality television candidates who continue to prostitute themselves to the media despite having appeared in a prehistoric edition of “Big Brother”, it seems only natural that he should choose to hang onto his single moment of glory.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

The Bloody Chamber

Dear B___

‘Hate’ is a very strong word, one that – like ‘friend’ – others seem to throw around without considering what they are about to say. Life has so far shown me that those who sow hatred with the loudest voices are always the rashest - and succeed more in exposing the darkness within their own souls than the vices of their victims.

I am well acquainted with Hate. It took root and burst into a forest of thorns within my schoolmates once it was assumed that I carried the affliction of homosexuality. One Christmas Eve, a sour-faced girl acidly refused to sit next me at Midnight Mass, declaring – “I hate him” - having not once exchanged a syllable with me beforehand. During a brief term of employment at the local supermarket, I became the subject of vendetta - whispered taunts, mocking laughter and stabbing glares -
after complaining to management about the insolence of certain members of the night-crew.

Now, the heat of blazing Hatred burns my skin from another direction. It used to hurt me when I learned that I was supposedly ‘the biggest figure of hate’ among that community, who – despite the fact I have had no ties whatsoever with them for four years – have blamed me for any slight blemish to their ego and made me the subject of bitter hate speeches, mocking videos and lamentably cliché-ridden parodies, one of which concludes with me being brutally mutilated.

But as history has proven more times than it is possible to catalogue, Hate is the thin, flimsy mask of Fear.

My apparent crime was nonexistent compared to those committed by others on previous occasions. And prior to the uproar that resulted in my exile, I led a modest and well-respected existence among the community, even establishing several traditions that it is still famed for today (though, predictably, any evidence of my contributions were erased following my departure, and attributed instead to others within the favouring circle of the Count).
But it is clear to me now that I only carry that title of ‘the biggest figure of hate’ because I ventured into forbidden territory – the bloody chamber of Bluebeard’s castle.

I did not imagine those horrors. I wasn’t creative enough to conceive such narratives, and make-believe cannot move a body to the despair that I experienced. The fact I am now hated for trying to cast away the darkness within that chamber reinforces everything I came to realise by the time I detached myself from that cult. Now that they are united in their belief that I am the snake bent on contaminating their utopian paradise, they can remain deluded by the fantasy that has seeped silkily into their brains like ambrosia - and reject everything they dare to acknowledge. They deserve only pity for being so weak.

The parodies, videos and hate speeches that have been produced about me serve only to reinforce a bleak message to any other soul who dares to unmask Bluebeard again.

I don’t think it’s possible for them to truly hate me. None of them knew the person who sat behind the screen-name, of the living nightmare that poor soul was encased within on a daily basis like Andersen's mermaid silently enduring the stabbing pain of a thousand knives with every step on her new legs.

But I doubt that matters.
I am not the one they hate. Neither am I offended by the thought of being parodied. It is the monster they believed me to be that has been immortalised in their history book as their 'biggest figure of hate', the stain that marks 'the darkest year'. Pierre existed only in cyber-space. As I am sure was the case with many of them also, he was a personality that I constructed, who embodied qualities that I lacked in the real world; confidence, wit, talent. He was a marionette who sang while I pulled the strings, unseen, in the lofts above. He was no more authentic than the characters celebrated by the cult.

Even if Pierre had elements of my soul within him, they are certainly there no longer. As a person, I am so vastly different to how I used to be during that ugly period that comparison would be futile. If they continue to hate Pierre as intensely as they claim, they may as well be directing their loathing at the air. He died the second I closed my account.
The body that they mutilated and gaffered at proudly had turned to dust long before the court clowns - intent only on securing a seat close to the Count's rear-end - raised their ruthless pens.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Auctore Deo – A Fragment...

March 2000
Pat carried the nickname ‘Ears’ because of the large stumpy objects that stuck out of his head like a pair of scarlet satellite dishes.
Short and scraggy, he was covered with so many freckles that it looked as if a bucket of sand had been thrown in his face. He rarely washed himself or his clothes, and a foul odour of old cheese and sweat followed him everywhere.
If he hadn’t been sent there for disrupting a class, Pat was frequently found standing outside the deputy head’s office dramatically rubbing his bruised arms and pretending to cry. His favourite activity consisted of provoking older boys to the point of no mercy, and running to teachers the second they retaliated.
If ever he felt his popularity slipping beyond salvage, he tried to win back his antagonist’s affection by engaging in animated arguments with teachers in the middle of lessons, hoping that his witty remarks would provide everyone with a source of entertainment. But they only made him more unpopular, for it was such performances that we frequently landed us in class detentions.
When not occupied by such activities, Pat spent most lessons slicing dead skin from the soles of his feet with a protractor, either pocketing it for light snack later or spitting it at the person sitting opposite.
Pat and I had a strange relationship. Some weeks he latched onto me like a leech, trying to convince me that we were destined allies – that the rest of the class hated us because they were jealous. He mainly resorted to this tactic on the days he needed money for the tuck-shop, or when he had forgotten to revise for a test.
Other days, he loathed me venomously. The class frequently rounded on him when his behaviour landed us in after-school detentions. Even if every individual in the room was heckling him once the teacher left the room, I was the person he cornered afterwards.
It didn’t matter what every else thought of him. To sink lower than the resident ‘gay-lord’ was too much.
One afternoon at registration, he gawfered mockingly across the room at me - “Ya’ gay! Ya’ got no friends!”
Next morning he gave me a novelty sweet tin shaped like a train.
In the afternoon he reported me to the head-of-year for giving him a Christmas card with a picture of Dumbo on the front.
It happened on a Wednesday during form period.
Pat and I sat together at the front of the room, this being one of the days on which were allied. The two boys sitting behind us were pestering him, stabbing him with rulers, flicking his ears and slipping things out of his bag.
Pat wailed defencelessly – “Stop it Matthew and Stephen! I’m trying to read my book of fiction!” – loud enough for Mr. G_____ to hear.
It was a very typical scene until midway into the hour, when Pat suddenly sprang to his feet, his eyes rolling in horror, his pink smudgy hands swiping at the air in front of him.
“Err! Err! Get away from me! Get away from me!”
That scene from Dumbo when Timothy Mouse scares the bullying female elephants springs to mind.
At first, I thought a wasp had landed on his ears. It was just like Pat to put on a performance whenever his life was under threat. Then he stabbed me with an accusing finger and squealed - “Get away from me, ya’ gay-lord!”
There was only one ‘gay-lord’ in the room/
I could only stare as he continued to scream and storm, dancing wildly up and down the aisle of desks. By now all eyes in the room were fixed on him – and every set of those eyes followed the direction of his stabbing finger. Nine years later, I wondered whether this was part of his act, the drama he put on for the rest of the class whenever he needed some favouring votes.
G_____ ordered him to move to a desk at the front of the class.
He snatched his coat away from the seat next to me as if I was going to contaminate it with ‘gayness’ if it remained in my presence any longer. I could only stare blankly at him. But this seemed to fuel his mania.
“Don’t fuckin’ look at me, ya’ gay-lord! Don’t fuckin’ look at me! Err! Err! Err!”
He emphasised his frustrated by showering violent blows on the table and thrashing violently in my direction. G_____ thundered at him to leave and go to the deputy-head’s office.
Pat gathered his property and flounced out of the room. He turned at the threshold and flashed a grimace of pure disgust at me.
"I’m gonna tell 'im we got a gay-lord in our class”, where his final words before the door was slammed shut in his face.
The remainder of the hour passed fleetingly. I couldn’t concentrate on my reading. I had no idea as to what I was
supposed to have done.
The bell sounded for morning break. As we moved to the dining hall, the others asked what had happened. I couldn’t answer.
As I joined my friends in the hall, Pat slithered grandly up to us with newly discovered confidence, as if he had acquired armour that would protect him from the plague I carried. He jammed one oily sausage-roll after another into his mouth as he addressed me, saliva, dead skin and crumbs spraying my face.
"Stiffy-Jiffy! Deputy head’s office – after break!”
When I did not honour him with a response, the satellite dishes turned a deep shade of indignant scarlet.
“Don’t speak me to that way, Stiffy! You’re in for it now, so hold your tongue and come quietly”
Realising that he was flaunting his newly found protection from the deputy-head, I chose to ignore him and continued to talk to my companions. Pat lingered around us all the while, proudly informing the others that he had been sent to prevent my escape. It was not the first time I felt like a quarantined animal during my time at the school – but that was the time I remember clearer than most.
When break ended, Pat marched me to the deputy-head’s office, and once I was invited inside, he sailed back to class, his head expanding by the second.
Mr B_____ read out the statement;
Stanley put his hand on my leg and asked me if he could rub my penis. At break time, he followed me into the toilet, squeezed my bottom and said “I love you Patrick! Will you marry me?”. I was deeply distressed and confused, and contemplated speaking to my form tutor. But I feared what Stanley would do next…
It went on for several pages, I heard no more of it then that. The sound of my angry tears drowned him out. I then had to listen an account of an incident he had dealt with several years previously, involving a pupil who ‘touched’ other boys in showers after Games.
He then said that it was a ‘very serious case of sexual harassment’.
Whilst frantically trying to bat away the rulers and pencils used to prod him from the couple sitting behind us, Pat’s shoe had come off. I had tried to alert him by pointing to the shoe on the floor. My hand happened to come level with his thigh. It was this fleeting act that he interpreted as my attempt to rape him.
But I didn’t tell B_____ that. I was too confused and angry to think rationally. The only thought running through my head was how I would slaughter the delicate little pachyderm when we next met.
I also failed to mention that, only a few weeks before the episode took place, Pat had asked me to fellate him in exchange for a pound in the middle of Geography.
Part of me was convinced that B_____ believed Pat’s lies, that he wouldn’t listen to me even if I told him the simple and ridiculous truth. If I had set aside my insecurities, I may have saved myself from the humiliation of being withdrawn from lessons for an entire day while B_____ undertook his ‘investigation’.
Since I was generally known for being the band geek who never got into trouble, the sight of me standing outside the deputy-head’s office at lunch generated a whirlwind of lashing rumours.
For reasons known only to themselves, some of the boys Bolton interviewed as part of his ‘investigation’ supporting Pat’s statement, despite their loathing of him.
B_____ eventually declared the case inconclusive due to a ‘lack of evidence’. I left his office in silence, unable to look him in the face for the remainder of my days at the school.
His verdict hardly mattered. Despite Pat being hated for his manipulation, his whinging and his lies, he had suffered the one thing they all feared – and for that, they had his sympathy.