Updated: Sep 13
Flat 3, Butchers Works
Harry Belafonte’s ‘Shake, Shake Señora’ blasts from your speaker after Lauren puts on her ‘Boogie Wonderland’ playlist. You dance gleefully around your bedroom, learning the words as you go. When it is finished, you play it again. You sing the lyrics back to one another, looking at each other in the reflection of the mirrored wardrobe.
Look at you! I love the shirt.
Your suit, my goodness, that leopard print!
Thanks! Check out the boots too. You pose extravagantly, leg extended to show them off. Shiny red heeled boots bought with your first month’s pay.
Incredible! She stretches out her arms so the mustard balloon sleeves float in time with the music.
Shall we go get some wine?
You go back into the kitchen to get your bags and Demaine shuffles in on worn-down slippers, her dressing gown wrapped around her gaunt frame and mass of frizzy silver hair circling her thin face. You exchange a look with Lauren who nods at you subtly. Demaine sniffs as she puts the kettle on and gets out your favourite mug to make her cup of tea. She opens the fridge aimlessly and closes it again.
There’s leftover vegan meatballs on the hob if you want any?
Thanks. She sniffs, generously scooping pasta into a bowl before sitting down on the worn black leather sofa across from you.
Are you doing anything tonight? you ask.
Not really, was just going to watch anime in bed.
Do you wanna come dancing?
I’m not dressed!
We can wait!
No, no, it’s alright, I won’t keep you.
It’s fine, we’re gonna get some wine first! Lauren chimes in.
Oh—okay then, I won’t take long.
You and Lauren step out into the street and you look at her, suddenly nervous.
Remember that guy I told you about, the one that works at Tesco?
Yeah, I remember! Did you work out if he was the one you matched with on Tinder?
Yeah, it’s not him. I know his name now.
You do? She steps back in surprise.
Well, I came in this morning to get some bits and he gave me his Instagram.
I know! He hugged me too.
He’s into you!
Well…he’s actually working right now.
Let’s go then! You’re gonna blow him away, you look mega.
Oh, stop it, you. You laugh and throw out your hand.
You breathe in and step into the little Tesco; the awful fluorescent lights make you blink after the
darkness of the mild, October night. You see him on his knees, on the hard floor, restocking the fridge.
Is that him? Lauren says a bit too loudly.
You widen your eyes in warning, but it was loud enough to get his attention and he stops. He moves back onto his heels to look up at you, literally through rose-tinted glasses. A little smirk forms on his round face and he brushes his hand against the nape of his neck, against his soft buzz cut.
Great suit. His face makes clear his appreciation.
Thanks! you chirp, your voice coming out high, the pit catching in your throat so you cough to clear it. Lauren wanders off to browse the alcohol, giggling.
Are you two off somewhere special?
Kinda, we’re going to Kelham.
Ooof, nice. His gaze takes in all of you and you feel a warm prickling in your body so you make for an escape.
Gotta grab some wine! You join Lauren who is trying to contain herself, hardly keeping up her pretence of browsing.
Shush! You’re being so obvious. You give her a gentle nudge.
I’m a Worksop girl, we don’t do subtle! She speaks loudly with a flourish of her arm.
Clearly! you try to say haughtily. Despite yourself, you smile at her particularly pronounced accent when she says ‘Worksop’.
You check the labels of the wine and Avery comes over. Do you need any help?
Oh, we’re just trying to see the vegan ones for Lauren.
This one’s good. Handing you a bottle with a bike embossed into the neck, his hand grazes yours and your cheeks warm.
Thanks, that’s great. You force the pit down again.
He walks you over to the till, putting the wine through. I put my discount on there, don’t tell my manager, he winks.
Our secret, you reply, letting yourself sound flirty.
That really is a great suit. He says confidently as you turn away.
You shrug a shoulder nonchalantly as Lauren takes you by the arm, guiding you out the shop.
As soon as you are on the street she exclaims. Oh bitch, he wants you bad!
He kinda does, doesn’t he?
The Morning After
Shit! Lauren bolts upright at the sound of her alarm. I can’t be late, Debbie’ll kill me. Her ombréd hair is matted, dried sick coating the bottom. Wearing just her top, she jumps out of bed, quickly gathering her things. She sniffs her armpits, declaring that there’s no time for a shower. You slowly open your eyes, squinting at the bright light coming in from under the three blinds. She heads into the bathroom to freshen up, you sit up in bed, head spinning, put your slippers on and walk down the hallway. While the tea brews you pop a slice of bread into the toaster. You brew an Oolong, and two Yorkshire teas for you and Lauren, plenty of sugar in yours, cashew milk for both. Knocking on Demaine’s door gently, you call out that you’ve made her a tea.
I’ll be out soon, she replies coolly. Slightly affronted, you set the tea down on the counter, going back for yours and Lauren’s. She has emerged from the bathroom smelling a little better, having brushed the sick from her loose waves and gotten dressed.
Will this do?
You look great, you say sincerely, holding out the dry toast.
Fuck off! She takes a bite.
You chuckle, passing her a mug.
She sips contentedly but pauses. Wait, is this oat milk?
Oh okay, good. Her vegan Spidey-senses subside.
Your phone vibrates against the side table. In a rush, you remember Lauren grappling for your phone to call Avery and the peach pit drops all the way into your stomach.
Hey you, I’m free for a coffee before shift if you want? 😊
Oh my god, Lauren, what do I say?
Say yes, you idiot! She wrinkles her nose. But don’t go smelling like that.
Fine one to talk!
Yes that would be great 😊
What cafe do you fancy? 😊 and when?
I don’t mind, I haven’t been to that many in
town n I can be ready fairly soon
That sounds chill, right?
Of course, don’t be a melon. She guzzles at her tea, setting it on the bedside table.
I got to Waterstones cafe alot? Shall we say 12:45 (so specific haha)
Yeah that would be nice! Very specific, I’ll be there
Ace, see you soon :)
I’ve gotta go to work now, good luck on your date! Lauren pulls you into a big hug. Pop by after and fill me in?
Of course. I hope you make it through the day! She gestures dramatically and sets off for Moonko, slice of toast in hand.
12:45 is really specific, you think, checking your phone. 12:39. Are you gonna be late? Living in town is good for someone who is always running late but Waterstones is up the other end so the soles of your Doc Marten sandals slap against the pavement. Thank fuck you wore socks with them because these ones give you blisters at the best of times. You check your appearance in the front camera, your hair wavy and tousled from the night before, signature big earrings in contrasting patterns, one a stippled deep red like a gemstone, the other black and white stripes. You look good. You take a quick selfie, put your phone back into the pocket of your trousers and speed up.
You walk in-between redbrick buildings and run-down warehouses, half sit empty while others have been converted into studios, noisy as people go about their work. On your right is the Tesco where you and Avery met, if you stand on the steps just opposite while on tiptoes, you can peek over the top of the window film to see whether he is at the checkout. A trick you’d picked up to stop you from having to buy food all the time, just to be able to talk to him. You smile as you walk up the steps to cross the road. You cut through the slope outside Millennium Gallery, moving through the crowds of people congregating in the square between the Winter Gardens and the Crucible on their lazy Sunday mooches. It’s now a straight line to Waterstones but you speed up. 12:42. When you reach the entrance to Public, an ex-underground toilet-cum-bar and then the police box which makes you think of Doctor Who, you know you’re almost there.
You speed walk through Orchard Square, busy with pushchairs and idling shoppers. Don’t they know you’ve got a date to get to? You catch your breath just outside Waterstones, deciding which entrance to take to the cafe. Up the metal black stairs you will be in the cafe immediately or, up through the bookshop’s stairs gives you an extra few moments to gather yourself. You decide on the latter.
This is the perfect place for a date, you think, surrounded by books. At the top of the stairs you take a deep breath inhaling the smell of coffee and new books. You scan the tables and there he is, in the back left corner by the doors, two armchairs facing each other. If you’d come up through the black stairs you would have practically stood on top of him. Relieved you made the right choice, you square your shoulders and walk towards him, he stands up as soon as he sees you, his smile pushes his glasses up higher on his face. He dissipates any awkwardness by opening his arms immediately for a hug. You step into them, once again enjoying how your similar heights make it comfortable. You breathe in deeply; he smells faintly clean. When you move away you feel the loss of his warmth.
Hey stranger, he laughs. Sitting back down.
Gosh, I am a bit, aren’t I? I did think on my way over, what am I doing?
Just going on a date with the guy from Tesco, that’s all.
Your eyes widen. Oh, so it is a date then?
I thought so, as long as you want it to be?
Good. He smiles brightly, his cheeks pushing up his pink lensed glasses. Can I get you a drink?
You bicker with him over who’s paying but he stands firmly between you and the card machine, holding out his almost full loyalty card. You’re helping me out really, he says, it’ll be free next time.
You order a hot chocolate; he gets a black coffee.
Back at your table, he holds the mug to his face, his knee bouncing, the only outward sign that he is nervous.
So. He smiles back at you.
You’re a collage artist, right? I wanted to ask you what your work is like.
Yeah I am! Here, I can show you. He puts his cup down, moving his chair closer to yours and pulls out an Android, opening up Instagram, scrolling through his feed until he finds his artwork. Stuff like this mostly.
Lots of ‘em. I get these old books of botanical drawings from eBay and take a scalpel to cut carefully round the pictures to make these scenes with them, like this one. He gestures at another post.
You listen intently as he talks about his work, watching his face light up. Oof. You get the tingly, charged feeling in your skin. You move in closer.
What about you? He says, tucking his phone away into the pocket of his tight trousers.
Me? I graduated in Philosophy, now I’m just working for the uni for a year. I’m thinking about doing an MA.
Oh cool, which course? I’m attempting to do a masters alongside my final year, I’m not sure whether I’m gonna be able to finish it or not.
What? I didn’t even know that was a thing?
It is. He shrugs his shoulders in a gesture of humility.
I had no idea I was in the presence of a genius! He chuckles in reply. The course is Gender, Sexuality and Culture.
He shifts in his seat slightly, the first time he hasn’t seemed at ease since you started talking. Oh yeah? What interests you in that?
Hmm. You pause, deciding something. Well, erm, I started thinking about my gender when studying philosophy so I wanna learn more I guess? You clear your throat, the peach pit expanding suddenly, silencing you for a moment. The pit scratches the back of your throat, angry and hot so you pick up your cup, sipping hot chocolate until you can talk again. Sorry, I’m a bit nervous about saying that, I haven’t talked about this on a first date before.
He nods at you, a look of understanding. Does it help to know that I’m trans?
Putting your cup down, you are surprised. You are? What’re your pronouns?
He/him. I’m a trans man.
So it’s okay then?
What do you mean?
That I’m trans?
Of course. You were expecting it not to be?
I’m just not used to it being no big deal.
Me neither, but it should be. He nods in agreement.
Oh, and I’m bi too.
Same! you giggle raising a cup.
You both fall quiet for a moment, taking in the exchange.
I do have to ask though, you say inquisitively. He goes to cut you off, presuming you might ask about genitals, so you carry on quickly—what’s with the glasses?
At this he bursts into laughter. It’s a brilliant laugh, a high-pitched chortle when he really gets going. You can’t help but join in.
Later, beside you in your
room he will ask: So you’ve never dated a trans person before?
No, you will reply, but I’ve been dating myself all these years.
S.W. Building, 5 minutes from your flat
Rachel: Would you like a tea or anything?
You: Yes please, do you have any berry teas?
Rachel: Let me have a look, we have all sorts back here, I’ll put it in the Beyoncé mug.
You: The best one.
Rachel: Go and get yourself comfortable upstairs why don’t you?
You walk up the staircase, preferring it to the lift. When you get to the top floor you look up at the skylight, blue skies overhead and then back down to the brightly lit atrium filled with plants. You breathe in deeply, feeling grounded in this place. You run your hand along the brick walls, which remind you of home. Rachel is always telling you to reach out and touch them when you need to. You sit in the leather armchair, put the blanket over your lap and hug the cushion to your chest.
Rachel enters the room. She is as gorgeous as ever, wide smile, impeccably made up, glossy, straightened red hair. She smooths her leather bodycon skirt as she sits down. Placing the mug on the table between you.
Rachel: Here you go. Would you like me to light any candles, anything in the room you want changing?
You: Candles would be good, everything else is okay. Could I have the stone, though?
Rachel places the labradorite worry stone down on the table so you can move it around in your hand, feeling its coolness, the curves resting inside the arches of your palms.
Rachel: What would you like to talk about today?
You: I’m not so sure.
Rachel: Would you like to start by telling me about your week?
You: Okay. Work’s been alright, I feel both bored and exhausted all the time and I worry about money. Even being here I’m thinking of the hours I’m losing and then I have to remind myself that this is important.
Rachel: Those worries don’t stop you from coming, why is that?
You: Because I know that I need to do this for myself, I—
Rachel is quiet for a moment, letting you find the words. She smiles, encouragingly.
You: I think I need to do this and maybe I deserve to have this time.
Rachel: You’re right, you do deserve this time. Do you find that difficult to say?
You cross your arms out in front of your body, breaking eye contact.
You: Yeah, I, uh, I don’t often worry about me but I think I probably should.
Rachel: You’ve talked to me before about putting other people first, before yourself, would you say these things are related?
You: Yes. It’s like, for everyone else I can give all this love, I can find exactly the right way to care for them and sometimes it doesn’t feel like I get that back in return, not just from them but from myself too.
Rachel: Do you think you are hard to love?
There it is. The gut puncher. No matter how many times she asks you that, it hasn’t got any easier hearing it. You make yourself small. The peach pit, however, takes up more room, sitting forcibly in your oesophagus. You reach for a sip of tea which hasn’t yet cooled, hoping to warm up your throat, instead it starts to tickle and the pit threatens to make itself known.
Rachel: You’re not hard to love.
She says it so kindly, with so much warmth in her eyes, smiling into you that you almost feel like it might be true.