Dug this one out a few months ago, and the Equal Marriage debates happening in the UK Parliament as I write this made me want to post it. So here it is.
by Lee Hulme
Eddie reluctantly dropped Lorna’s hand as they exited his house onto the street.
All around them were people, many of them happy couples, holding hands, kissing and laughing and enjoying life. But for Eddie and Lorna…there could be no such thing.
Together they walked along the street, close only to avoid being jostled by those around them, sure never to make eye contact with each other, or touch in a suspicious way.
For Eddie and Lorna were straight. They were born to love those of the opposite sex, and were therefore outcasts, freaks. The sort of people who would cause mothers to hide their children away and fathers to glower and clench their fists in disgust.
In a world where gay was the norm and anything else was unacceptable, Eddie and Lorna must conceal their love behind closed doors and never speak of it to anyone else.
So, on they walked, ignoring the few glances that came their way from the more suspicious gay gangs, and finally into Lorna’s house.
“There, that was alright.” Lorna said, making her way to the kitchen to find the sugar Eddie had managed to run out of.
Eddie nodded sadly, “I just wish…”
Lorna looked at him in sympathy. She, too, wished, “I know love, but you’ve seen what happens when somebody comes out as straight.”
Eddie nodded. “I know…I just wish it was different, that’s all. I just wish I could tell the world I love you, and not be hated for it.”
Lorna left the boiling kettle and came to him, folding him to her in loving embrace. “I know…I wish we could just be ourselves…but you know what would happen. We could lose our jobs, our friends, our family, everything!”
Eddie sighed and held her tightly. “I love you.”
Lorna kissed him softly. “I love you too.”
That night they went out.
Lorna attired in her short black dress and sandals, Eddie in his slacks and navy button-up shirt. Dressed like this, they had to sneak through the alley at the back of their house to where their car waited.
Once inside, they relaxed a little and watched the gays drive past. The men attired in classy, chic, European-style glamour, or tight T-shirts and jeans – one wore a dress almost the same as Lorna’s. The girls wore played-down, dark-coloured muscle shirts that showed their tattoos, or belt-sized skirts and too-tight leather tops that revealed whatever bosom was on offer.
They drove past them all in their unobtrusive, darkly coloured car and soon crossed the discreet line between the normal gay lifestyle, and the seedy, dangerous straight clubs. A place where the glasses were always greasy, and the barman always grumpy, the alcohol watered down. Where needles littered the floor, usually alongside their junkies who had given up and decided to spend their life high enough to forget the real world that was so cruel. Alongside the moaning figures was the occasional still, quiet one – the shape of a junkie who got too high, escaped too far, and will never come back. These lifeless figures could sometimes be left where they were for days. There was more than the stench of hopelessness in the needles, however. Needles cost money, and drugs cost money, and drugs always wins so needles are shared.
Lorna and Eddie were well aware that among the straight community is a growing fear, a spreading disease different to the usual STD’s. This one, it was said, affected only druggies and straights – and good riddance to them all, was the usual afterthought.
Sprawled in the odd corner would be a drunk or two, whatever the tipple the position was always the same. Head lolled back, snores echoing from their alley, paper bag clutched in their hand containing a mostly empty bottle – another bottle or two, these empty, strewn beside them for good measure, clothes dirty, face stubbled, teeth yellow and black, legs laid out at odd angles in front of them. And when they awoke, in the time it took to open their eyes and get drunk again, there was always the same look. Rheumy eyes staring sorrowfully, face drooping in a hangdog look, head bowed and feet shuffling, some instinct guiding them to the nearest liquor-seller where, somehow, they could always afford to buy or manage to beg some more, just to take away the pain, just to send them into oblivion, just to take their mind off whatever sad, lonely, disturbing past they had once come from to finish up where they were now.
Eddie parked the car in an alley by the side of a hulking building from which issued a mix of thumping music and unintelligible shouting. A sunked-eyed youngster was leaning on the corner, heaving bile. As they stepped out of the car he eyed them with a look easily mistaken for sullen, yet known to some as simply hopeless, then bowed his head and let loose another retch.
Lorna clung to Eddie as they slipped around him and to the door, hardly seeing anymore the cracked black paint over the windows and the sign outside proclaiming to anyone reading them that this was a place for ‘Social Instruction’. Whatever that was.
Eddie hammered on the door and it was opened by a bulky, skin-headed fellow with a gold tooth and a snarl. Recognising them, he stood back and they went inside.
As always then they entered, Eddie and Lorna took a moment to orient themselves.
Outside was, possibly, better looking. At least it had the excuse of being outside. Whereas now, the dirt and the grime found no excuse, and the drunks sprawled in the corner would remain there until it was time to close the club, at which point they would be bodily hoisted out onto the street with the rubbish; only to crawl back in again the second the doors reopened.
Eddie and Lorna greeted a few familiar faces as they walked to the bar, behind which stood a sour-faced tender in a once-white vest, now dirty and featuring artistically placed holes revealing the flesh and hairy, unwashed skin.
He grimaced at them, his version of a smile, and grunted some form of hello.
Eddie nodded and Lorna hid herself.
Eddie nodded and Lorna hid herself as much as possible as the tender ogled her chest.
“Usual, please.” Eddie told him, a little snappily, irked as always by his roving eyes.
The tender nodded, grunted again, and brought them two drinks. One GET, more T than G, and more ice than either, in a fingerprinted glass. One pint, comprising of one quarter froth, one quarter deer and water, one quarter nothing, and one quarter caked grime and the lip-marks of other unlucky drinkers.
Eddie handed over a note and was surprised to receive more than a single coin in change. “Must be feeling generous tonight,” He murmured as the tender moved off to serve a giggling group of girls in short clothes and glittery makeup.
Lorna took a sip and grimaced as the sour taste hit her tongue. “Think he’s mixing it with lemons again this week.” She said with a forced smile.
Eddie nodded and held up his beer to the flashing strobes above. “I don’t wanna know what he mixed this with…”
Lorna laughed and shoved him playfully.
Eddie grinned, slid his arm around her and pulled her close. “Dance?” He invited.
Lorna grabbed his hand and pulled him onto the hardwood, elbowing some room amongst the other sweaty dancers and waving to one or two faces she knew.
One friend wandered over and pressed a pill into each of their hands, grinned wickedly, and was gone. They both shrugged and dry-swallowed their present, and danced, oblivious of the changes in song as they matched each other beat-for-beat, thump-for-thump, and soon they were blended well into the joyful crowd.
Eventually, though, the night ended and the last track ground to a halt as the DJ growled at them all to ‘Gerrout!’.
A crush at the door, and soon they were outside, in air free from the stench of sweat and sexual energy, but filled with urine and burning drugs and old, unemptied bins.
They tumbled out gracelessly, drunk and exhausted, bleary-eyed before the faintly rising pre-dawn mist. Turning the corner into the alley, Eddie pressed the Lock/Unlock switch on his keyring and frowned as he looked at an empty space. Disbelieving, he pressed it again and blinked at the lack of a quick beep of the horn and flash of the lights.
“Car’s gone.” Lorna said, stupidly.
“Dude, where’ my car?” Eddie replied and laughed hysterically.
Lorna hit him, barely a tap, as she stumbled and fell into the rough wall, skin scraping from her arm and shoulder as she slid along and dropped to the floor. “Car.” she said again and giggled at Eddie, who was staring her in amazement, wondering why she was on the floor.
“Wassa madda?” Somebody called out, passing by the alley.
Eddie turned and stared at the voice. “What’s it to ya?” he growled, threateningly.
“Not’n.” came the reply and the drunk wandered off with a shrug.
Eddie grunted and turned back to the empty space. “Whereizzit?” he asked, his head spinning.
Lorna giggled, childlike, lost. “Who cares, look, lookit the starrrrrrs.” she pointed upwards then became fascinated with her hand as she moved it back and forth in front of her face.
Eddie thumped down beside her with a groan and watched as a disembodied hand floated in front of his face, being joined by other hands that crawled all over him, scratching, pinching, clutching all over…
Eddie screamed and tried to stand and run, but his legs forgot how to work, and the hands pushed him down, sat on him, kept him there as he wailed to himself, to the mud his face was pressed into, to nothing in particular as Lorna lay down beside him and watched the sound waves float from his mouth and up into the sky, twirling, dancing, softly flying higher until they blended with the stars and became one, one source of cosmic light, brilliant light, beautiful…
It was well into the morning when they awoke, grumpy, filthy, hungover. Lorna was restful, pleased with her half-remembered revelations of the earlier hours. Eddie was shaky, pale, constantly checking his hands, her hands, looking around for any sign of hands sneaking up behind him.
The car was still gone, so they wrapped themselves around each other and stumbled into the street, looking like most of the other characters they passed on the way. Even their eyes now contained the shadowed, angry sadness of the strangers they passed along the way.
As they crossed the line from straight-town back into the normal world, they released each other and forced smiles at the curious looks shooting their way. Eventually a taxi stopped by them.
“You got money, honey, I gonna take pity on yo’ sorry asses and get you to wherever you gotta go.” Came the forced, too-high, too-fake voice of a medium-sized man in drag.
Eddie nodded. “I got money.” He pulled out his wallet and waved it.
The man in drag nodded. “rough night, huh? What, you two get dumped by your dates?”
Lorna nodded. “His bitch went off with some other bitch, my girl just fuckin’ tailed!”
The man in drag clucked sympathetically. “Dem bitches and dem sluts, best of wiyout, y’ask me!”
Both nodded in agreement and, in tandem, their head drooped. Eddie muttered his address and the taxi set off through the streets.
The man in drag hailed them noisily as they parked outside Eddie’s house. “That’s you, honey, now where’s the lady goin’?”
Lorna sat up. “I’ll get out here too.”
The man in drag looked at them through narrowed eyes.
Eddie sighed. “She’s my childhood friend, staying with me for a few days so we can hang out. It’s easier to pick up sometimes if you’re with a member of the opposite sex, you know what I’m sayin’.” he attempted a saucy grin and a wink.
The man in drag seemed to accept and returned the wink. “Well, honey, you ever lookin’, just call my number.” He took Eddie’s proffered money and handed him a card in return, with his name and the number of his taxi on it.
Once showered and dressed, Eddie and Lorna collapsed on the living room sofa.
“Bad trip.” he confirmed before she could ask the question.
Lorna nodded and rested her head on his shoulder. “Poor baby.”
He shrugged. In the daylight, in his own home, with his lover so close, it could never seem as bad as it did last night, or even this morning when he awoke.
“Quiet night in tonight, then?” he asked, knowing there would be no answer.
He was right. Lorna’s breathing had already deepened and slowed. As he rested his head on hers, it was only a moment before he was as fast asleep as she.
He woke to the sound of shouts and cries outside, shadows moving beyond the closed curtains.
Lorna stirred and leapt to her feet in a panic as a cry made it to her ears.
“Come on out straight! Ya fuckin’ pervs!”
Edide’s pale face told her she had not misheard, but before they could speak a brick crashed through the window and rolled over twice before settling at Eddie’s feet.
More shouts, more cries, came now – thick and fast enough for them to be grateful they could barely make out any individual words, or people they knew.
Another brick crashed through the front door and Eddie turned towards it. “Stay here!” he said and set his face.
“Eddie, no!” Lorna cried, clutching at his arm. But he shrugged her off and repeated his command.
He opened the front door and stepped out. For a minute he stood, waited for all eyes to be upon him, all mouths to quiet, and then he smiled.
“Some of you I know, some of you I don’t.” he nodded politely at the taxi driver, still in drag. “Some of you I met recently and gave cause for suspicion.”
The taxi driver shied away in shameful disgust.
“Let me tell you all, then. Here. Now. Once and for all. Am I straight? Yes!”
Noise broke out again but he raised his hand.
“Am I in love with Lorna? Does she love me? Yes!”
He paused. nobody spoke. no sounds but the ragged breathing of the mob and the occasional shuffle of a boot or clack of a heel on the driveway.
“But what is so wrong about loving another? Whoever it be, how can it be wrong to love? Why is our wish to be with each other, to live and be at peace, so wrong?”
“It’s unnatural!” came one voice.
“Is it?” Eddie replied with a shrug. “Love is natural, you all know that. Why, then, it is unnatural if that love is between the sexes, rather than of the same?”
“You’re trying to take away everything we know!” another voice, shrill and whiney.
“No. We are trying to give ourselves everything you know and are so privileged to have. You may marry, live together, walk the street without looking over your shoulder, be open and true and honest. You may choose to visit a doctor and have him give you a child, engineered form the DNA of yourself and your partner. This is all we want. Not to undermine you, or the sanctity you all place in the lives you lead, but to equal it and make it our own. To live together, in love and friendship.”
“Ah, cram it!” shouted a girl whom Eddie had known since school. “We don’t want you, or your sort, near our children.”
Eddie shrugged. “You wish your children to grow up as ignorant as you, yourselves, have done? That is your wish. But I’ll not be forced from my home.”
He started as Lorna walked out behind him. “Nor I.” she said, proudly.
“Get out, or you leave in a body bag..” the girl snarled, hefting a crowbar in one meaty hand.
Eddie and Lorna looked at each other. One looked passed between them, one last communication of lose, and acceptance.
“So be it.” Eddie said softly.
The girl with the crowbar, who had once hugged him and waited with him until help arrived when he fell and broke an arm, was the first to reach him. As he fell, he saw Lorna taken down by a rock in the hand of the man in drag. And, standing aside from the crowd, a look of horrified shame on his pale face, was the young man who had looked at them so hopelessly the night before, outside the club.