Monthly Archives: September 2014

Life as I know it for #BiVisibility Day

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Repost with credit

 

Life would never be the same. Theo had gone. We organised a party; a chance to say goodbye. I stopped off at a busy pub on my way. I toasted Theo with a tot of rum. I downed it in a single gulp; no need to drag it out. I knew I would never have another.

I adjusted the little fob watch on my nurse’s uniform. The cut and styling had changed somewhat since the 1960’s but it still looked decent enough. I imagined I’d see quite a few uniforms at the party. We had all been asked to wear outfits that we had worn when we first met Theo. Theo’s lovers had come from every background imaginable. I wasn’t his number one girl, but at least I’d been single figure. I used to think of us all sometimes, row upon row of women and the occasional man with little numbered cards on our backs. We could all play bingo if we wanted.

Cheryl met me at the door. “Now I won’t have any crying.” She waved her finger at me. “Theo loved us all. Let’s celebrate it.” And then she pulled me into a bear hug. Cheryl was dressed as a chef. She was one of his last conquests; she had only known Theo as a rich old man.

Cheryl led me to a room where a dozen or so people lounged on leather armchairs. I recognised most of the faces, but not all. Theo had been a busy boy. If alcohol hadn’t destroyed his liver, he’d have died of exhaustion sooner or later.

“So how long did you know Theo?” A woman whose name I had forgotten asked me; she wore a long evening gown with row upon row of pearls. I was certain that she was an opera singer. “I never knew he had a fetish for black ladies.” She fanned herself dramatically. “I thought I knew all of his little quirks.”

I scowled at her, but she only smiled in response, obviously happy to have hit home with her comment. She continued speaking in a loud voice. “Do you know he once made me go out in the middle of the night for a tuna-fish sandwich?”

A tiny scrap of a woman who sat beside me spoke up. “Why didn’t you make it yourself?”

The opera singer turned to her, looking completely offended. “Darling, I don’t cook.” I remembered her name at last: Laura. She was definitely a double-figure entry on the list of Theo’s lovers. I’d seen her sort many times before; they were strictly private hospital material, with silver-service meals, fresh flowers every morning, and bottles of whiskey under the bed.

The little woman bowed her head. I patted her hand, leaned in to whisper, “Theo hated fish. He probably sent her out to get a bit of peace.”

The murmur of conversation faded to the background as I recollected the first time I’d met Theo, when I had been a student nurse at the Whittington hospital in East London.

****

“I cannot eat this muck.” Theo held out his tray to me with one hand. The other hand was in a cast.

“All patients have the same meal, Mister Peters.”

“You’re new here aren’t you?” Theo squinted at me. “You probably stepped off the banana boat and straight into that nurse’s uniform.”

“I was born here.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You mean, right in this very spot?”

I pushed the tray back to him. “Eat your sardine sandwich. Don’t make me jam it down your scrawny white neck.”

Theo grinned at me. “None of the other nurses talk to me like you do. I find your feisty nature quite interesting.” He pushed the tray back to me once more. “But I cannot abide fish. Isn’t there anything else?” He batted his eyelashes at me. I’d never seen a man do that before. “Go on,” he continued. “As soon as my arm gets better, I’ll make it up to you. I’d be very, very grateful.” Theo undid the top button on his pyjamas. I tried not to laugh at his outrageous behaviour.

I returned to Theo’s bedside at the end of my shift with a cheese roll. My uneaten lunch disappeared in quick time. I watched the handsome man as he ate his meal, noticing his fine copper hair, and how it fell in front of his eyes as he gobbled up the food.

Theo started telling me about himself; of his acting career which was currently going nowhere. He talked to me like none of the other patients did, like I was his equal, and not just another coloured nurse. There was something intriguing about the strange man. I wanted to learn more. However just as things started to get really interesting, the ward Matron ambled along and said Theo could go home.

I didn’t think I’d see him again, but Theo rode up to the hospital two weeks later on a battered motorcycle. I’ll never forget the looks on the other nurses’ faces as he helped me straddle the mean machine.

He took me to his little apartment in Dalston where we toasted our health. Theo started to strip out of his clothes.

“You’re a beautiful girl, Josephine,” he said as I stood there watching him disrobe. “Did you know there’s a famous woman with your name?”

“Josephine Baker.” I’d been named after my grandma, but I knew who my other namesake was.

Theo approached me, naked as the day he was born. “She was renowned for something, wasn’t she?”

“She used to dance in a banana skirt.” I’d seen the crackled black and white images many times before. As soon as I said that, Theo struck a mad pose. He started dancing about the room. It was so silly that I couldn’t help but laugh. I undid my uniform cape, and joined in his dance, shedding layer after layer as we gyrated about the room. When we toppled to his tiny bed I knew what was coming. Theo spread my legs with his knees. He licked and then bit down on my nipples, pinning me to the mattress by sheer force of his mouth. He slid a hand down to cup my vulva. A gentle finger probed inside.

“I’m not a virgin.” My voice was tight.

“Well, that’s good to know.” He pressed himself inside me in a few short shoves. He felt so good; firm with a little softness to take the edge off it all. I felt massaged by his penis as he rocked inside me. I rolled my hips to feel everything I could. My whole body came alive; when I climaxed, I imagined that I sparkled with a thousand glittering lights.

Our first time together didn’t last long, but it was the start of something wonderful. Theo would pick me up after work, and then he’d take me exploring on his bike. We tore through the heart of London; to Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square. He pointed out all the theatres that he said he would appear in one day. All he needed was his big break.

It was months later when I received a ticket in the post. Theo was playing a small part in a production at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. I spent hours begging my fellow nurses to lend me some decent things to wear. Susie loaned me her embroidered handbag, Joan let me borrow her smart coat. Matron doused me with real French perfume. They all waved me off as I caught a taxi to my destination.

However, when I arrived at the theatre I wasn’t allowed in. A big man blocked my path. “We don’t want your kind upsetting our patrons,” was all he said. I showed him my ticket, but he just growled, “No blacks.”

I felt thoroughly dejected. My shoes hurt, and my skin began to itch from the perfume. I sat on a wall opposite the theatre, watched white ladies and gents enter the beautiful building. I waited for hours just to see them all leave again with smiles on their faces, happy and jolly.

Quite by chance, Theo walked straight up to me. “Did you enjoy the show?” he asked with a grin.

“They wouldn’t let me inside.”

It was then that I realised a pretty woman stood beside him. The woman scowled. “Oh that is just dreadful.”

Theo held out his hand. “Desiree, this is Josephine.”

Desiree squealed. “So you’re the nurse I keep hearing about. Theo says you have gorgeous tits.”

I couldn’t speak with shock. I wondered if Desiree was a close friend, maybe a confidant. I was proved wrong when she kissed Theo on the lips. I suddenly felt like a fool. All men were liars; white men doubly so.

Desiree tore herself away from Theo, and grabbed hold of my arm. “You’re coming back to my place. I insist.”

Theo hailed a taxi. Desiree propelled me forward before I could protest. I sat stiff as a board once inside the vehicle. Theo and Desiree continued to kiss each other, completely ignoring me. I didn’t know where to look; I was embarrassed at the whole display.

When we arrived at Desiree’s home, I was bodily dragged up the path, into an elevator, and up to her penthouse apartment. I’d never been somewhere so posh. I didn’t know those sorts of places existed outside of the films.

“You’re probably wondering about us,” Desiree said as she pushed a tumbler of Scotch into my hand. “Our Theo is a total slut.”

I looked away at the use of such language. I stepped backward to the door, but Theo stopped me.

“I was going to tell you, I promise, Josephine.”

“You were not.” Desiree flung herself on to a plush sofa. “You were going to string the poor girl along.”

“Were you?” I could barely look at Theo. “Why would you do such a thing?”

Theo looked down. “I made an assumption. I thought nice coloured ladies were only interested in straightforward men with straightforward appetites.”

I kissed my teeth loudly. “Well I’ve seen your appetite, and your eyes are bigger than your belly.”

“Hear, hear!” Desiree called out from the sofa. “I say we teach the bounder a lesson. If he wants to play the field then he should pay the consequences.” She raised her glass to me. “I think it only fair.”

Theo blushed, and looked up at me from under his long eyelashes. “Please don’t punish me. Please don’t spank me. And definitely don’t sit on my face and make me pleasure you. I’d positively hate that.”

I shoved him hard. “Stop talking!” I flicked a look to Desiree. “You got a hairbrush I can use?”

Desiree jumped up. She ran out of the room before reappearing with two expensive-looking brushes. She grabbed Theo by the scruff of his neck, and then bent him over the sofa. She pulled down his smart trousers. I helped her out when his belt buckle got caught on the fabric.

“We make a good team, don’t we girl?” Desiree remarked. “Let’s take it in turns.” She slapped his bottom with the back of a hairbrush. A red shadow appeared immediately. I struck down with my brush after a moment’s hesitation. Together we rained down holy terror on the brute. Theo laughed at first, but by the end he was wriggling like a grass snake. I spanked him until my arm was sore; until all the hurt and anger had passed through me. I felt giddy, happier than I should have been. I stepped away at the same time Desiree did. We both grinned at each other like we had just found the cure for all the world’s ailments.

“Please don’t think too badly of Theo. He simply cannot keep his chap out of mischief.”

I assessed the other woman through blurry eyes. “Don’t you ever get jealous?”

“Who am I to tell him how to run his affairs?” She put a hand to her mouth. “I don’t mean illicit affairs. I’d rather know what he’s up to than have him creep around like an alley cat.”

Theo clambered up; his face and his backside were bright red. “I really should have told you about my arrangements sooner.” He held out his hand. “Forgive me?”

I shook his hand, and let him draw me and Desiree into a double-ended embrace.

We met up as a threesome every few weeks after that night. I had a fine old time of things until the other nurses began to talk. Theo had become increasingly well-known; the newspapers even took a picture of him with Desiree and me on either side. We both held him close, and in one photograph we both kissed him on the cheek. They called Theo the ‘King of the Chess Board,’ which probably meant that he had two queens, one black and one white. In 1960’s Britain that kind of thing was completely scandalous.

It wasn’t long before the hospital registrars told me that they no longer needed my services. My nursing career ended just as Theo made it really big. He became a star on the silver screen; leaving the theatre far behind. I watched every single one of his films, sitting in the back of the cinema with a smile on my face. Of course he found more bed partners with time; Theo loved to be adored. I didn’t feel jealous, but when he moved away from London, the distance grew not just in miles, and that made me sad. I got on with my life; became a wife to a dependable man, a mother to three children and five noisy grandkids. But sometimes I wished I could climb on a motorbike and speed through London just like I used to so many years ago.

****

My mind brought me back to the present. All around me people talked about their experiences with Theo. A tall man dressed in a security guard’s uniform spoke of rooftop sex, whilst a woman who wore a frilly apron laughed over her tale of cross-dressing and candle wax. Theo had led a very adventurous life.

I looked up as Desiree entered the room. She wore an old-fashioned tennis outfit. She scanned the collected faces. “Theo wanted us to do this as a way of remembering him. He was a scoundrel and a cad, but god, he knew how to enjoy himself.” Desiree grinned at us all. “To Theo!” She raised her glass. My hand was empty, but I closed my eyes. I conjured up the taste of rum instead.

Desiree scampered over to me, grabbed me by the hand, and led me away to a corner. “May I show you something in the bedroom?” We retreated from the noise, down the brightly lit corridor to her room. A line of hairbrushes sat neatly on the bed. Desiree held up an ebony brush with a thick handle. “It will be just like the old days.” She pressed the brush into my hand.

“I never spanked you in the old days.”

Desiree looked away for a moment. “I often thought about it. I don’t know why I never asked you. I must confess I always admired you.” She blushed crimson, as though this declaration was more shocking than a request for a spanking. “You have such beautiful chocolate skin. And Theo was right: you still have fantastic tits.”

I looked down at the brush in my hands; it was heavy and solid. The future was suddenly real and exciting. I tapped the brush on the palm of my hand. “Let’s not waste any more time.” I sat on the edge of the bed. Desiree grinned at me before she draped herself over my lap. Her tennis dress rode up to reveal sensible white knickers. I tapped the brush gently over the top of her thighs, and then brought it down hard over her bottom.

“No wonder Theo loved this,” she said with a giggle. “Do it again, won’t you?”

“I will if you stop your yakking.” I spanked her with the hairbrush twice more. The noise was something else. I hoped nobody from the party would come inside to investigate.

I scrunched up the sides of her knickers so that her reddened cheeks were more visible. I’d shared so much with this woman, but I’d never realised how soft and lovely she was. I reached to the side where a compact hairbrush sat. The little beauty was perfect for hitting the underside of her bottom. Desiree was good to her word; she’d stopped talking. I listened to the other noises she made instead; noises that were far more telling than anything she could say with her clipped English accent. I put the hairbrush down, spanked her with my own hand instead. I put my back into it, but the effort was worth it when Desiree began to shudder. I was really getting into the swing of it when she rolled off me in a sudden movement. I scarcely had time to think before she straddled me, pushing us both back on to the bed. The hairbrushes slid this way and that, but I was only aware of the weight of my friend on me. We kissed with a frenzy I hadn’t known since my days of scandal. We ground against each other, both of us still fully clothed. Desiree reached into my nurse’s uniform, squeezed my breasts almost hesitantly at first, and then with more force. I was surprised at the strong sensations that raced through me. I felt my body start to crackle with electricity. And when we both fell apart, smiling and gasping, I knew that we had started something new and exhilarating. This was far better than racing along on a motorbike. It was better than getting blissfully drunk. This was life, and I was living it.

Bloom for #BiVisibiltyDay

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Solar powered toy flowers

My grandpa would give flowers to the sky. It was just something he did. I was an ordinary girl in a family of eccentrics. Aunt Floribell was famous for making sculptures out of dried seaweed; my older brother used to keep a pet cockroach in an empty jar that once held liquorice twists. I didn’t do anything like that. But when I was little I would tramp with my grandpa through the high grasses, past the brambles thick with oozing sweet fruit. My little brown fingers were always stained purple and black by the time we reached the bluebells, the snowdrops and the daffs. He would inspect the flowers and carefully pick them. I would just stand and watch, trying to hold down a sneeze from the pollen that flew wild around me.

Ma never said a word when we would come home with mud on our shoes, and blooms in our hands. Ma was teaching herself Esperanto; she said it was the true language of love as it was international. Love was being able to truly understand another person, she always told me. That’s why Ma and my dad weren’t together.

“He was a complete mystery. I’m not sure we were ever dating. He bought me dairy-free chocolates and a dictionary once, so he’s not a bad man,” Ma said.

Ma would tie the flowers in a strip of ribbon, or sometimes a length of rough brown string. For years I would tie my hair the same way Ma would prepare our offering. But that was before I cut my hair off. That was before everything changed.

Grandpa always presented the flowers to the sky on his own; it was a private thing for him. But I would watch from the kitchen window as he stood in the middle of the paved-over garden. The brick-dust scent of the city was overpowering, but I imagined the fragrance these flowers held. He would hold up the bouquet to the sky as if presenting it to his long-ago lover, standing still for countless moments until his arms would suddenly lower. Grandpa would smile as he turned around and caught me peeking, my head bobbing over the low frame. He would put the flowers on the cold hard ground. They would lay there until they dried up and were whisked away into the nearest bin.

“Why don’t you tear out all this concrete?” Grandpa would always say to Ma.

“The landlord wouldn’t like it, dad. You know that.”

Grandpa would mutter to himself at that, but he would ask the same question the next time we brought flowers home.

Grandpa and I had a falling out. There was a young man. Of course there was. Leroy’s clothes were held together by safety pins. He was in a Gospel-Funk band, but he was training to become a youth leader. He was particularly down with the teenagers, or so he would always tell me. He also said that love was a solid bass line, one that rattled your ribs and moved your soul. I was very much in love with him.

Grandpa was not taken however. Grandpa did not like the way Leroy drank his cola straight from the bottle. He would shake his head if he as much as caught sight of Leroy’s fake gold chains. He forbid Leroy to play any Gospel-Funk in our home.

“When did you get so boring, Grandpa?” I asked him once.

“That man is every stereotype that’s going. There’s nothing original about him.” Grandpa folded his arms.

“He makes me happy.”

Grandpa gave me a sad look. “Yes, I suppose he would.”

The words stung like I’d been slapped. I suddenly felt too hurt to listen to Grandpa anymore. I went to Leroy’s home, and let him cut my hair in a style of his choosing. I sported a pink buzz cut for several months. I was determined to be eccentric, just like the rest of my family. It didn’t go down well. Grandpa still spoke to me; he didn’t turn his back on me. But from that point on, there was little in the way of warmth and affection between us. The next time I saw flowers spread out on the patio, I knew my presence was no longer wanted.

Leroy and I lasted until he got head-hunted to recruit youngsters to the Royal Navy. The generous salary made him forget about solid bass lines, but he remained down with the teenagers all the same I guessed. I couldn’t quite believe that I’d lost my relationship with my grandpa because of Leroy. But if it hadn’t been him, there would have been another boy with another set of annoying traits. It might have been a girl instead, but I wasn’t brave enough to try back then.

If I thought I was ordinary beforehand, then after Leroy my life went into full, average swing. I got a job at an insurance company; I wore grey and black every day for almost two decades. I never shared my family history with my colleagues. I never did anything strange. And when I said my final goodbye to Grandpa, the sky was blank and hard and grey, just like my work clothes; just like the patio where I grew up.

***
I don’t give flowers to the sky like Grandpa did, but I remain an admirer of sorts. I’m middle-aged now, so I can do as I please even though I am usually serious. I can stamp across floorboards in the dark, make some nettle tea and sit by the windows. I live in London still, in a part where there are no fields or woods, save for the patch of green behind the supermarket where I shop once a week like clockwork. I’m not usually an early morning person, but today I am up long before my alarm is due to sound. I have my charcoal suit ready, hanging crisp and pressed on a hanger in my bedroom. I have my lunch waiting, wrapped in cling film in the fridge. I know the meetings I will attend today and tomorrow and next week without even looking at my diary. But none of that is in my head as I wait for the dawn like I’m waiting for a blind date to make an appearance. I gaze up, strain my eyes and picture the sky in the way I imagine Grandpa used to. I feel small and furry, wrapped as I am in my nightie and old dressing gown. I suddenly appreciate the comfort and reassurance.

At first the sky is an inky blue with only the slightest sparkle. It looks the way an empty box of chocolates smells. It makes me think of orchids and the squish of Grandpa’s boots in the mud as we made our way to the spot where the flowers grew in bursts of living colour.

There is a sort of orange background glow as I continue to look out of the window at the horizon above the tall houses opposite. The last of the streetlamps are winking out of existence, one at a time. Light pollution has not diminished the affection that runs through my body. But as the minutes tick by and the radio plays softly behind me, the streaks of the approaching sun turn the dark into shades of violet and pink. The day begins. And in the place where Grandpa was born, on the edge of the warm Caribbean Sea, I know it is just gone midnight. I know that there are no sources of blinding light to compete with the dark.

In London, the sky starts to reflect duck-egg blue on my brown face, on my dark brown eyes. My pupils may contract at such vibrant sights but I do not shrink back as the sun creeps higher. The tea goes cold in my grasp, the radio is only a murmur, but the clouds that scud through my vision make my world spin.

I know why Grandpa made offerings now. It comes as a quiet revelation. I think back to my childhood and I can almost see the circles he drew from the earth to the sky, from the dark to the light whenever he offered up his flowers. It was proof that he was still alive, still tramping around in the dirt instead of being silent beneath it. I feel a connection to Grandpa though he’s been gone more than ten years.

My eyes fall from the sky for just a moment; I see a ragged plant sitting in a flower-pot by the kitchen sink. The little identification label has long gone, so I have no idea what the plant is. It is just a pathetic little thing that I forgot to water before I went away on a business trip to Liverpool. From my view by the window, most of the colour has been washed out of its limp leaves. But it is all that I have, and suddenly it feels important that I do something with it. I go over to the sink, and then I lift the grubby plant up to the window. It is not enough of course, so I push down the frame, letting cold London air wash over me. I hold up my plant to the sky.

A square of yellow light appears just as my arms are totally extended. A neighbour across the way comes into focus. I’ve seen her just once before, looking beautiful and poised as we both waited for the 678 bus. Now I see her watch me as I do my strange thing. She doesn’t know about Grandpa or the other eccentric members of my family. She doesn’t know of how my sister would always put a pinch of salt in her black coffee, or how Uncle Les would watch Welsh-language programmes even though he didn’t understand a word of it. I know I must look like one of them; I must look like a weirdo.

But before embarrassment seizes me completely, I see how the rich, buttery sun picks up the muted colour of the plant. It comes to life in my hands as we both soak up the rays. My neighbour lifts a hand in my direction. I angle the plant toward her, careful to not drop the thing three storeys down to the ground.

My neighbour disappears for a moment. I can only imagine her running to the nearest computer or mobile phone. I imagine her telling the whole world, via social media, that her neighbour is offering a mouldy old pot plant up to the sun like some strange Aztec sacrifice. My arm wavers as I realise I am still quite visible in my dressing gown that has honestly seen better days. What if I bump into my neighbour on the bus again on the way to work? What if she is a client, visiting the office looking for a quote? Why did she have to be so gorgeous?

All of my fears vanish however when my beautiful neighbour returns with a huge yucca plant in her arms. She holds it up to the sun, though she is more in the shadows than I. She somehow manages to balance the plant against her chest as she waves at me. We are two eccentric souls, united for that moment. I feel a connection to this woman that is solid and real. I wave back at her as the sun dazzles my eyes. I am smiling before I know it.

The Curse of Consistency By Jacq Applebee

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The Curse of Consistency
By Jacq Applebee

A, B…
Curse of consistency,
Dread of deformity,
Everyday expectations,
Forcing me to fail.

Give me generosity:
Healing hugs spontaneously,
Ideas that can change my mind,
Just when you had me down.

Keep your consistent acts;
Let me redefine my facts,
Muddle my life journey’s map:
Nowhere I’d rather be.

Open arms this way and that.
Practice peculiar mental tasks.
Query, don’t just chew the fat:
Remind me of who I used to be.

So screw this consistency;
Throw away conformity:
Underneath it I’ll still be
Very changeable, and that’s all right
With me.

X, Y, Z…

A love poem in a time of sadness

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By Jacq Applebee

 

So jealousy is a fungus; spores infecting all in sight.

It blooms and blows in grey dust places,

Grey and green and black and white.

Possessiveness is a living trap that shoves me up against a wall.

The silence of shame is like a shroud outlining my living form.

But love will make my heart beat strong

When all I want is to disappear.

I’ll take step after step in a world full of thorns

To a woman in the North with warm red hair.