My friends and colleagues at Elephant and Castle Underground Station where I was station assistant and First Aider were appalled at recent events at Pec Manor. Vince, with whom I’d done the Underground training course, had me stay that night with him and his girlfriend Dora. Dora Tiernay, something of a rock with a fierce left hook, was neither shocked nor worried at my story, but simply took charge of my rescue.
“Roight, so,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Me brother has a truck. Peter will be at Archie’s tomorrow at noon, be ready to go. Now, Peter is all right, but it would be best if ye tells him yer an American. We have family there and he loikes to think he’s half-Yank.”
“Jest do it, roight?”
Peter appeared almost at the twelfth chime of the porcelain poodle clock Archie kept on the fireplace mantle. We had my few possessions aboard in an hour and were away.
“So, Dora tells me yer from America,” says Peter. “Whereabouts, then?”
“Seattle?” I lied. “Well, Seattle-ish, near Seattle. Very near Vancouver, in Canada, where I’ve never been, being American, but have heard about, being so near to it. It rains a lot there, in Seattle and Vancouver, both of them, it rains a lot, it’s a semi-tropical rain forest, the whole region, Canadian and American. Folks talk very similarly there, in both places, very similar accents, they’re a lot like each other, but I’m from Seattle, which is the capital of the state of Washington, or maybe Oregon, I dunno, I always did so badly in geography in high school in Seattle, America…”
I nattered on in this convincing manner for some minutes before Peter pulled the truck over the side of the road and turned a matching pair of cold, dead eyes upon me.”
“Sure, ye was never American,” he whispered. “Whar is ye from, really?”
“Canada,” I squeaked. “Vancouver. Very close to Seattle, very similar—“
Peter stabbed a scarred finger at me.
“Ye didn’t need to lie ta me. I’d’ve moved ye annyway. Never lie ta me again, roight?”
I lived with Vince and Dora for a year in the outermost London suburb of Croydon. They fought like cats and dogs but I think they loved each other, and I got on well with Dora’s family, though her brother never had much to say to me again. My strongest memory of Peter is actually from early on in my stay there, when Vince, Dora, myself, Pete, and Pete’s friend Mick visiting from Belfast were having a drink at The Goose, a local pub, and another Irishman hearing familiar accents gravitated to our table.
Paddy, clearly a puffed-up braggart, was soon telling us of the bad boys and villains he’d betrayed to the British police in Belfast. Paddy claimed to be “a bit of a supergrass”, and was surprised neither Mick nor Peter, who grew up there, knew any of the names he was mentioning.
“Are ye sure ye’ve never heard of So-And-So or Whatshisname?”
“No,” crooned Mick softly, “but tell us some more and mabbe ye’ll ring a bell…”
Vince grew nervouser and nervousest and quickly excused himself. Even Nora became uncomfortable and left, followed reluctantly by Peter, winking slyly at Mick. I stayed and egged Paddy on, finding it hilarious anybody could be stupid enough to declare themselves as so monumental a rat. Mick, however, became calmer and more focused, like a cat by a hole in the wall. Finally, something dawned on me and I fled too, leaving Mick pouring Paddy another pint from the pitcher.
Several weeks later Paddy’s picture was on the cover of the local community newspaper asking for information regarding his whereabouts. I showed Nora the story. She explained in embarrassed tones that her family, the Tiernays, were THE Tiernays of Belfast, known for quietly sorting out local problems without English involvement. Especially problems arising from English involvement.
“It would be better,” she said, “if you don’t tell this to anybody. Especially about Peter helping you away from Archie’s place…”
And that is why the names, places, porcelain poodle clocks and exact dialogue of this story have been changed. I’m moving back soon to London, and the last thing I need is for certain folks to get to thinking I’m a bit of a supergrass, too.
I admit for about a year after this I became homophobic. I viewed all men who showed an interest in me as predatory, and became instantly defensive and butch. Which simply made them think I was in the closet and needing encouragement to come out, which made me more of an asshole, and the circle spiraled. Was there something about the way I carried myself, the way I spoke, that screamed out ‘Queer’? Some subliminal body language that dissuaded women but drew men like flies to a fly-drawing-place? I have hung around artists, writers, actors, musicians and dancers most of my 38 years. My friends and those of my relatives I consider family are not the sort who would care if I were gay. But I know who and what I am, and if there was ever a glimmer in me that sought the larger blue/pink flame of man-love I have had umpteen chances to stoke the fire. It took a long time to realise the problem wasn’t me as a man, but the natures of men in general. Or rather, of a certain kind of man who ruthlessly victimises the world before it victimises him, and whose notion of love has been replaced (for whatever reason) by the dry orgasm of domination. And of another, who feels he must embrace the world unquestioningly before it will consent to embrace him.
Sometimes you have to say No to an adventure, confident that another, better, more beautiful one will come later. Say YES when it arrives, but be sure you have your parachute packed before you jump.