“Well?” he asked as he effortlessly backed the car out of the drive and on to the road. “What did your Dad say to you then? I take it he did have a word with you – you could have cut the atmosphere there with a knife. Your mum didn’t look pleased to see me either? Blame me does she?”
“Something like that,” I said.
It was now half past eight that evening and Jason and I were in his father’s BMW. It smelt of leather: grey leather on the seats, black leather on Jason – he was wearing his Christmas present again. We were on our way to Stannington. I was pleased to be out of the house.
Jason, I decided, was enjoying this, revelling in playing the ‘bad boy’ like he was Dean or Brando, or Montgomery Clift in some black and white fifties film. It was another role for him, one he perhaps long waited to play, another persona like a skin for him to adopt and slough at will. At lunch, because he knew he was safe, he had wound up my father by relating his accident at the end of the previous year’s racing season; and when he saw my mother squirm at the detail of the actual injury he added more just for the effect.
In my mind there are two versions of the events of that afternoon when my father confronted me over the gloves. There are the events as I remember them, and there are the events as I presented them that evening to Jason. There isn’t much difference; only that as we drove up to the traffic lights in the Market Place I decided to withhold things – just small things - from him. I reckoned it was easier that way.
My father wasted no time. As soon as we heard Jason close the backdoor behind him, and while we were still sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee, he started on me.
“Well young man, are you going to tell your mother what Jason bought you for Christmas?”
Innocuous enough, but it was asked with that quiet, measured way my father liked to reserve for family crises; what Scott called dad’s ‘solicitor’s voice’, the ‘SV’.
My mother who was paying little attention, looked up from peeling the satsuma she had just taken from the bowl on the table. She smiled. “Something nice?” she asked.
“A pair of leather gloves….”
“That was very generous of him.”
“….for when Jason gives me a pillion.”
“I knew it,” she said eventually. “I just knew it. I knew this would happen as soon as you became friends with him, I knew this would happen. I told your father at the time, and he told me not to worry.” She shot him a reproachful glance. “He said you were far too sensible to do that. And yet here you are telling me this. Please Alex, please tell me you’re not going to do this. I’d wear myself away with the worry.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t do that,” I replied quietly, forcing the reluctant words from my mouth.
“You’re not seriously thinking of going on the back of one of those things with that boy?”
“Yes,” I said, “yes, I am.”
I told him the truth because for once I was angry enough; angry at the contempt with which he spat those two final words, that two word encapsulation of all that my father thought of Jason – ‘that boy’. ‘Those things’, ‘that boy’; it was more than just contempt it was almost superstitious, as though to use their proper names would somehow invoke their power as strange gods.
He offered to loan Jason and I the car when ever we wanted, even to buy me my own car, but I didn’t want that. I wanted to sit behind Jason on his bike, for both of us to be dressed in leather, that’s what I wanted.
“So, you’ve both talked about things before now, or is this something that boy has done under his own initiative, and that you’re happy enough to go along with?”
“We’ve talked about it. Vaguely. That Saturday I went round to look at his garden, well, he showed me his bikes too. I suppose we talked about it – me riding pillion, that is – then. And I suppose we may have talked about things before then.”
“And the gloves? Did you talk about them then or before?”
“I didn’t know anything about the gloves, not until I unwrapped them this morning; this isn’t some sort of conspiracy if that’s what you mean – well, not in that sort of way.”
“Well, in what sort of way?”
“He just offered to give me a pillion sometime, but that was only after I expressed an interest. That’s all. We didn’t make any definite plans.”
“I take it the gloves fit?”
“They fit very well.”
“Then how did he know which size to buy?”
“He guessed. He was just lucky, I suppose. He’s kept the receipt in case he had to change them.”
“Well, there’s no need for you to feel obliged to him because of his generosity.”
“I don’t,” I said. “This is something I want to do; something, in fact, that I’ve wanted to do for years. I suppose it was one of those reasons, like both us being into Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll, that I became friends with Jason.” I paused. “It’s something I decided years ago I was going to do eventually.”
“I suppose that will include a bike of your own one day?”
“Perhaps, I don’t know.”
It was too much for my father.
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake Alex see sense! Surely you must realise how very dangerous those things are.” Of course I did, in fact it frightened me, but I wasn’t going to let them know that. I couldn’t give them a weapon like that. Their victory would have been easy if I had.
“Anyway, didn’t Granddad have a bike?”
“That was nearly fifty years ago, Alex. It’s hardly relevant. The roads are far more dangerous these days, you know that. You must have seen the endless reports in the media - week after week there are stories about people getting killed and what’s worse, getting paralysed riding those things. I don’t want that happening to you.”
He must have said other things too. I presume he did, but I can’t recall them now. I only remember now my wandering mind and my hand reaching out towards the fruit bowl.
“Put that thing down, and concentrate!”
Reluctantly I let the satsuma slip from my fingers and bounce petulantly on to the table.
“That boy broke his leg last year, and you decide you’re still hungry. He could have been killed.” (“I didn’t fucking say that. I was nowhere near getting killed. Your dad knows nowt, mate,” Jason exclaimed that evening.) “Doesn’t that mean anything to you?” my father asked.
I shrugged. “I still want to do it,” I said.
There was nothing left to say, no room left for manoeuvre. My father and I just stared at each other.
“Could I see the gloves? Please,” my mother asked
When I stood up I found I was shaking.
“Jason has a pair just the same,” I explained when I handed them over to her. “That’s why he bought them for me, because he had got on really well with them.”
My mother handled them carefully with a disdain she was all too obviously trying to hide.
“They’re an interesting design…”
“We’re not going to get you to change your mind, are we?”
“….sort of organic and yet there’s something rather militaristic, if not combative about them. They look expensive.”
“End of line, I think. I don’t know.” I spoke hurriedly, nervously - I was still shaking. “Jason bought them at a discount; Blanchard’s – that’s the bike shop in Medhamstead – they sponsor Jason, so he was able, he said, able to do a deal.”
My mother placed the gloves on the table.
“Well, young man, we can’t pretend to be happy about all of this, but you’re old enough to make your own decisions, we accept that. You’ve given us no choice. However I do think it’s highly reckless of you, if not irresponsible, even stupid, but neither I or your mother can tell you what to do anymore, as much as in this case we’d like to.” My father glanced over at the kitchen window. “Who’s this now? Just promise us you’ll think very carefully, and don’t allow yourself to be rushed into anything. Jason is an articulate young man.”
The back door opened and closed.
Eager to resolve it I readily agreed to his proposal.
Scott came into the kitchen. He and Danny had been out to lunch at the Rugby Club. He was slightly drunk.
“What’s this then?” he asked, “Family crisis? Any Coffee? Hey, neat gloves! Whose are those?”
“Mine.” I said.
He picked them up and looked them over and pronounced them cool. Scott was never convincing with his use of ‘cool’ or any other street slang. “Where’d you get from?”
“Jason. They’re a Christmas present.”
“Your brother wants to ride pillion,” said my father dismally.
Scott thought that was cool too. “You ought to do it,” he continued, “You’ll enjoy it. It’s great fun.”
“Scott, I don’t think that’s particularly helpful.”
“You’ve ridden pillion? You didn’t tell me.”
“You’re trying to stop him? And anyway didn’t Granddad…?”
“I’ve been over that with your brother.” interrupted my father. “It’s not relevant. It was a long time ago and the roads were far safer.”
“Why are you doing this?” Scott asked, eventually. “Why do the pair of you treat Alex differently? You didn’t try and stop me flying.”
“They’ve always treated me differently,” I told Jason, “what with one thing and another. They denied it this afternoon, just like they’ve done before, but it’s true. They do treat us differently. They think I can’t cope or something.”
By then the car had reached the narrow wooded section of road beneath the golf course.
“So you going to think about it,” Jason eventually asked. I wasn’t. “Cos I thought we could go to Blanchard’s on Sat’day and get you your gear.”
Fear returned, welling up from the floor of the car until it submerged me. It had been with me all day, since it invaded my bedroom, pushing its jealous way between Jason and me when he said: “I wanna be the one who turns you into a biker, mate.” It was oddly naïve of me really, but before that declaration I thought the gloves were just for sex, not biking.
It was there at lunch, but my father said nothing, and it was there at tea and dinner, when the four of us had eaten in silence rather than start another argument; although by then it had become an argument solely between Scott and my father. It was there too in the Lounge Bar of the Angel Hotel amidst the panelling and the silver plate and the brass and the hunting prints. And it was there when, at nearly midnight, Jason and I drove home through a night that was appropriately leather black.
Inside, the Roberts’ car was warm and comfortable. We had brought the affluent scent of the lounge bar with us. The radio, I remember, was on very low. I would have fallen asleep if it weren’t for the mix of fear and sexual attraction coursing around my body. Jason was talking about the bike again; he had talked of nothing else all evening, or so it seemed:
“I want you out there with me Alex, (he hadn’t called me ‘mate’ all evening, and his accent, too, had disappeared), on the back of the bike, riding pillion. I know we could borrow a car whenever we like. In a way it’d be easier. But it’s not the same. You’ll understand once you’ve been out with me.” And, “I’ve got permission to use the old airstrip up at Gunby anytime I want, so I thought we could have a bit of practice up there first before I take you out on the road. I thought we could start sometime next month. I want to get you out there with me as soon as possible. The sooner we do the sooner we can go places together - give ourselves some space.”
Jason was full of plans.
“In the summer we could go away together on the weekends I’m not racing. There’s loads of places I want to go and see. I’ve a tent we could use; it sleeps two. I use it when I’m racing. We wouldn’t need to take much stuff; we can live in our leathers. The pair of us, mate, in gear the whole weekend. Yeah, the thought of that makes me horny too. (Jason began to talk dirty, before reverting to the subject) We could even go down to London for a couple of days, if you want, and stay in a hotel.”
I said nothing, just stared out of the window. The fear was there too standing invisible but blank-eyed among the dark fields.
This was all too quick. Way too quick. I hadn’t expected to go out on the bike just yet; it was something in my mind I had presumed to postpone to some future, unspecified date. The spring perhaps, when it was warmer. But if I had rejected it –the gloves, the leather, the bike - I would have what? I didn’t know. Rejected Jason? Not quite. It wouldn’t have ended the relationship, but its development would have been stunted. The thing, the relationship, would have been deformed. A thing without completeness.
I looked at Jason, at the dark shape of him beside, but he was distant, concentrating on his driving.
It had been there encasing my hands, the new me, the one I had fantasised about for over six years - I still couldn’t believe it, even if it was really something inevitable - condensed and realised in a pair of gloves. I had a pair of bike gloves. I held up my bare hands before me in the dark. The leather would follow soon. It had been there, finally graspable, concrete, and yet I had been, and perhaps still was on the cusp of rejecting it. It had partly been my father’s attitude that had propelled me into agreeing to this when the thought of it all terrified me and a different approach could easily have won him a victory.
At the time I couldn’t have explained this hesitation, not fully. It was something I didn’t wholly comprehend myself. If asked I would have said something about having to deal with my parents and the fear, that real intense fear of getting on the back of his bike that had repeatedly manifested itself throughout the day. They were real but partial, inadequate explanations for what I felt. There was something else, larger, darker, some other vague unease that had nothing to do with either riding pillion, or confronting my parents.
I understand it now.
Jason was asking me to move beyond my bedroom, my parents, the house and step permanently into his world - his perceptions, his image - a world that was never dull or ordinary, and in effect make a display of my sexuality, to sexualise my life and live like him in a state of perpetual sexual awareness and opportunity. It was like asking any one else to go around naked.
And suddenly, as the car swung around the roundabout on the bypass the whole thing - the leather, the bike - seemed repulsive. Sordid.
“You’re quiet, mate,” he said, and reaching across when he should have been concentrating on his driving Jason found and took my hand. “It’ll be ok, mate. Honest.”
Friday, 22 May 2009
Leather Chapter Part III
So here it is...another instalment of 'Chameleon'