It was a Saturday afternoon, the middle of January. Outside the sun was shining. I was standing in front of the tall mirror in my parents’ bedroom, and I was encased in Leather, my first set of bike leathers - the real ‘hard shit’: boots, jeans, jacket, gloves. I had it all. The whole thing - helmet and thermal underwear included.
I had done this every day that week; stood there like Narcissus watching my reflection, studying intently the leather and its relationship to my body. Within minutes of my parents leaving the house for work I had gone upstairs in the silence to satisfy my craving, stripped myself of my clothes, and pulled on my new, intractable skin. It was heavy, stiff with armour, under its demand I moved differently to normal; and black, the sort of black that sucked into it the light and trapped it, the sort of black that wouldn’t fade with sunlight or repeated washing.
I walked around the house, noting with immense satisfaction the masculine weight - the authority - leather and boots gave my steps. I made myself a coffee, watched TV, ate lunch, and all the time Leather never allowed me to forget its presence.
Most of my time, however, was spent before my parent’s mirror. I returned time and time again throughout the day. And then after a while, after I had studied myself in the mirror for sometime I went to the bathroom, and I wanked. I wanked a lot that week.
Just as important I was becoming like Jason, and I really wanted to be him, then. We both wanted to be like each other – in a physical way, I mean. In his sexier moments Jason talked about us having the same body so we could share the same clothes, almost as though we could swap identity. I had even let my hair grow.
But to Jason, however, this stage in my realisation was unsatisfactory; he complained that the Leather just wasn’t tight enough for him: “Mate, you really will have to start going to the gym and work on those thighs,” he said. But I was satisfied.
Jason had controlled this whole process. He had brought me to this point. For Jason it was a straightforward process of transformation, of ‘turning’ or ‘making’ me into a biker in which he was the protagonist, setting the paradigms and controlling the direction and progress of change. He was my dealer, the encourager of my own addiction and the controller of both supply and demand. He was, to stretch the metaphor, both pimp and whore who could dampen and heighten my need at will.
Perhaps it was simple vanity that made him misunderstand a more complex procedure as mere transformation. This wasn’t a process of addition. I didn’t merely assume an externally determined form, though there was a strong element of that, or add another facet to my personality. Nothing was added. This was a realisation, a revelation, an externalisation - I used all three words interchangeably - of the man I knew myself to be, or rather wished to be. It was the completion of my self, by the adoption of new, self-made identity. What Jason did was give me access to a world, the concrete form, language, and expression that seemed impossibly remote. It was as if some sort of unspoken bargain had been struck between us, where our desires, for both ourselves and each other, coincided.
That first week in Leather was a forerunner of my present life. I live in, and with, leather for days on end, travelling to lectures and tutorials on my bike, and then in the evening going to clubs like The Hoist and then sleeping in my leathers. And then there are fallow weeks, the weeks in between that inevitably follow, when I never put it, or even go out on the bike.
After three years I am aware, to continue Jason’s drugs analogy, of the effect of long term use. I have undergone a process, a transaction of sorts of mind and body. I have grown into the Leather, just as I have grown into my muscle, so that in some way we two have merged. I noticed this process first in Jason during the summer of 1996 when he seemed to be permanently encased in Leather, what with his racing and riding to work everyday; and later I saw it in myself when moving to London I immersed myself in Leather and the leather scene. Just like Jason that summer I walk now out of Leather just as I walk when encased, my public identity too outside of Leather is now largely my Leather identity. But concurrently my body has subtly changed the Leather, softening it and moulding it to my flesh and the bone, as with time and use it slowly, reluctantly, made its submission.
That, however, was in the future.
That Saturday afternoon the pattern of my first week in leather was altered. I stood in front of the mirror, still with the same fascination and delight, but I was not alone in the house: I was waiting for my father to finish his lunch, waiting anxiously for the lift to the abandoned WW II airfield up on the heath at Gunby for my first pillion, waiting, more importantly, to see Jason in his leathers. It was my epiphany – only its association made me reluctant to use the word – the day I walked out in my leathers for the first time.
I paced up and down in anticipation, striding from one room to another, zipping and unzipping my jacket. Restless. Muscles tight. Picking up and putting down gloves and lid, moving them from chair to bed, bed to chair; sometimes standing at the top of the stairs, sometimes standing at the window; other times watching in the mirror.
I’d had the leathers exactly a week by then; it was a week since Jason and I, in his father’s BMW, drove over to Blanchard’s in Medhamstead to get my new skin and where he used his influence and charm to win me a small additional discount on the sale price and a mug of instant coffee in the back of the shop with the manager.
I looked at my watch with impatience: we were going to be late.
My parents hated the sight of them. It was as much aesthetics and snobbery as fear for my safety. But the leather, I reckoned, didn’t care. Leather is an indifferent thing. “I see you’re serious about riding pillion, then?” my father asked that evening when I returned home. “I thought you said you’d think about it, Alex.” We were in the kitchen – my parents, Jason and me. It was dark outside and raining, and I was showing off my leathers, boots and helmet; empty boxes and bags were scattered over the tiles. It was too obvious a question to demand an answer. I had lied.
“I suppose you’ll want a bike next,” he added.
Jason was standing next to me, I remember.
“When I can afford it,” I answered, realising that I cared more about not disappointing Jason than I did my parents. Perhaps if he had not been there I would have lied; I don’t know. I see now that in those early days of our relationship I merely substituted pleasing one set of people for pleasing just one person, Jason. Fear was the real motivator. I feared loosing him, nothing was achievable without him I thought, and it was under the weight of this great fear that all other terrors were conquered until, without realising it, the great fear itself fell to me like a besieged citadel.
“Alex, you know very well how dangerous those things are. We’ve been through this.”
“I’ll look after him, Mr Caythorpe.” And the assertion was there, somewhere in the tone of his voice. It was unmistakable: ‘It’s my turn now’.
“I don’t doubt it, Jason, but it’s the other road users I’m worried about.”
This whole process – this progressive transformation - had taken just over a fortnight by then; two weeks in which my life had drawn in on itself again as I attempted to avoid my parents at all times other than that was necessary. I wanted no more confrontation. My days became a series of pinch points of anxiety, just as they had before Jason. There had, however, been no real confrontation between us after the arrival of the gloves; no arguments or shouting, just an awkward, grinding silence that I likened to the slow grinding of a glacier, and an avoidance of the issue.
Just days after he played me his favourite porn video, when, it seems now, he had established the final paradigm he wished me to follow, Jason inaugurated this process. He came round to my house the Friday after Christmas Day. I hadn’t seen him for nearly a week. It was nearly lunchtime and there was a smell of cooking in the house and condensation on the windows.
He was wearing leather – not yet his bike leathers, it seemed even then as though I had to earn that privilege - but a pair of glossy black gloves and a smooth black jacket, with black buttons, that creaked gently as he moved and was cold beneath my fingers. He was like an image from a magazine.
“You like it then, mate?” he asked. It was one of those rhetorical questions of his that didn’t warrant an answer. Of course I liked it; the leather was smooth, supple, flawless, and cut frugally close to his body; even though Jason quantified it as ‘soft shit’ it made my balls clench up tight with pleasure as soon as I had opened the front door to him. “It’s a Christmas present from m’mum and dad.” Jason flashed the black silk lining, revealing the logo of some Italian designer on the inside pocket.
Around his mouth and chin was a thick trace of stubble, like a scumble of paint. Jason had started to grow a beard.
“I came round yesterday afternoon,” he said stepping into the hall. “I was walking Sam, but you weren’t in.”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” I said. “We were over at my Grandparents in Northford. It’s a bit of a Boxing Day tradition.”
“Well, I was bored out my brain, mate. I only took the dog for a walk to get out of the house. And to see you. I was going to ask if you wanted to go out for a drink somewhere. The thought of staying in for one more bloody night watching the box was doing my head in. We could go out tonight if you want. I thought we could take my dad’s car over to Stannington and have a drink in the ‘Angel’, if you fancy it.” He didn’t wait for an answer but held up the white plastic carrier-bag he had in his right hand. “I brought you your present, mate. Happy Christmas!”
Upstairs Jason dropped the bag onto the bed, reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a spring of plastic mistletoe.
“Happy Christmas, mate! Don’t I get a kiss?”
Sitting on the bed we exchanged small, hard parcels of brightly coloured paper and ribbon that concealed nothing either expensive or lavish; there was no mention of love on the tags. There was nothing, we agreed the fortnight before Christmas, that would draw attention to ourselves; a 1997 desk diary (bound in faux black leather) and a second-hand biography of Giacomo Agostini, the Italian road racer. It was a lucky, charity shop find made in Stannington the Monday before Christmas.
“I’ve been looking for this for years, mate,” he said, but in his hands the damaged cover and the yellowing pages seemed an inadequate, embarrassing expression of what I felt for him at that moment. “Agostini was so bloody cool, you know. He had this style about him.” Jason, still in his gleaming leather, showed me a black and white photograph that I had already seen. “That’s him at the Italian Grand Prix,” he explained. “He was 500cc World Champion for seven years between 1966 and 1972, and again in 1975.” Jason had a head for that sort of statistic. “Cheers for that mate.”
He closed the book and laid it beside him on the bed. I offered him a drink, my father, I reckoned, was bound to have opened a bottle of red by then. I thought that if I went down stairs now I could ask if Jason could stay for lunch, then he wouldn’t have to leave.
“We’re not finished yet, mate. I’ve got something else in the bag for you.”
“Another present, mate,” he announced. “I know we agree we wouldn’t do this, but….”
Jason gave up on the explanation - it really wasn’t worth the effort - and handed me a misshapen, scruffy, vaguely oblong sort of parcel of gold ribbon and scarlet foil, saying: “I guess this is your proper present, Al. Sorry about the wrapping, mate. I made a right mess of that.” This time the scrawled message on the tag mentioned ‘love’. I tugged it from the ribbon, and tucked it into my trouser pocket. It was something I decided to keep.
Jason went on about wrapping the present: “It were gone midnight Christmas Eve when I did it,” he continued in those words or something similar, “and I was pretty well pissed by then. But then I suppose I’d been drinking on and off for nearly six hours at that point.”
My next memory is of the intense, visceral surge of excitement barrelling through my body at the first sight of what was under the foil. Leather! It was like an electric shock. Leather! My hands shook as they clumsily, greedily tore away the last of the wrapping. Leather! Jason had given me a pair of leather gloves – bike gloves. I didn’t quite believe it. After all we had agreed he had given me these bike gloves. These expensive bloody bike gloves!
“You do like them, don’t you?” he asked. He was grinning, but his body was tense and alert for my answer.
I had to catch my breath before I could speak. “Of course I like them. I love them! They’re fantastic! Absolutely fantastic! Thank you. Thank you so much.” And then all these other words tumbled from my lips, tripping over themselves in their excitement. And as I spoke I glimpsed the book upon the bed. It was now more inadequate than ever.
“I love them Jason, but you shouldn’t have spent so much on me. I can’t afford to buy you anything as good…..”
“It’s alright, mate. I got them in the sale, if you want to know. Less than half price. A right bargain. Go on Al, put them on mate!” he urged. “Let’s see you in them.”
He watched intently as I obeyed his instructions. “They fit all right?” he asked. “They should be your size; if they’re not I can get them changed. I had to guess really. If they don’t, it’s ok mate. I’ve kept the receipt.”
There was no need for a receipt, the gloves fitted perfectly. The backs of the gloves were padded in parallel ridges, and each knuckle encrusted with a fat barnacle of black plastic armour. A black zip ran from the wrist the length of the narrow gauntlet and there was a thick Velcro strap of white and red leather at the wrist. I pulled the straps as tight as possible and flexed my fingers.
I stood up and walked over to the mirror.
“My first leather,” I said studying my gloves in the glass. Soon, I thought, the leather would cover not just my hands but my entire body.
“I thought it would be,” he answered standing up and walking over. “I reckoned, you know, it was up to me to get you started with your gear, mate. I’ve got a pair just the same. I were in town of Christmas Eve having a drink with some mates from work, and I was on the way to the pub when I passed Blanchard’s, the bike shop in Eastgate, (and no mate, before you ask, I weren’t drunk by then), and I saw them in the window and I thought of you.” He slipped his arms about my waist and kissed my neck. “You’re still up for it, aren’t you mate?”
‘That’s great, ’cos I wanna be the one who turns you into a biker, mate. That’s my job, you see. To make you who you really are.”
No, I thought, you’re going to turn me into you. And the thought thrilled me. I was going to be Jason.
“I want you out there with me mate, on the back of the bike,” he continued, his voice little more than a murmur as though he was asking for sex. And I kissed him.
“I want to see you in leather next time,” he said. “I want….”
There was a creak on the stairs. “Shit!” I quickly yanked off the gloves. There was a knock at the door. It was my father.
“Oh, you’re both in here. Hello Jason. We thought it was you. I hope you had a good Christmas. We wondered if you would like to stay for lunch. It’s only soup and left over turkey I’m afraid.” Jason accepted. “Good. It’ll be about half and hour. What’s that in your hand, Alex?” my father asked. “Gloves?”
“They’re a present from Jason….”
“….for when I give Alex a pillion.”
“They’re nice and padded Mr Caythorpe. It can get a bit cold out there this time of year.”
“Yes, I suppose it must Jason.”
My father backed out of the room, eyes intent on the gloves.
Thursday, 21 May 2009
Leather Chapter Part II
I thought that instead of posting another random section of 'Chameleon' I would continue the 'Leather Chapter'. I hope you like it