Nomads on the Amstel
5. A toe in the water for Jacco

“Have you ever seen an angel?”
“What did you say?”
“An angel, have you ever seen one?”
“No, no mother, I don’t think I have, have you?”
“Oh yes, I can see one now. I think it’s you.”
His attention, which had been distracted by the sight of two crows squabbling over a piece of bread on the lawn through the French windows, returned to the frail old lady sitting opposite. He smiled, for once involuntarily, revealing his best, yet little-used feature. Sometimes she said the strangest things and sometimes they touched him. His eyes began to sting but tears were out of the question.
“I’m sailing away Arjan; on a big, big boat. The sails are furled and the wind is getting stronger and I’m flying through the waves but I don’t know where and I can’t stop it.”
He took her hand and stroked it, gently running his fingers lightly over the raised veins and arthritic joints.
“But I’m not alone. The angel is with me. You’re with me, aren’t you Arjan? Where are we sailing to?”
Her wispy eyebrows rose questioningly and the rheumy eyes appealed to him for the right answer. He was lost for words. What was the point? She never remembered what he said; sometimes she didn’t even remember who he was. At that moment, she was baby-like, waiting for an answer, swathed in innocence and completely divorced from the world.
“Yes mother, I’m with you but I’m not your angel, I never was your angel. You must be mistaking me for someone else.”
The cruelty of his denial was lost on the old lady; she nodded and her eyes went blank once more. He returned to the crows, one of which was so savagely pecking the other into submission, that retreat was inevitable. It struck him that the two birds made more noise than the entire room full of residents and their guests. Every time he came here it was the same; an almost church-like reverence, as if nobody wanted to disturb the implied sanctity of the elderly. Occasionally, he felt like yelling out an obscenity, or throwing something across the room and was certain he wasn’t the only one but he knew it was inappropriate and at this stage, propriety had to be preserved at all costs. He looked at his watch; only another fifteen minutes then visiting time was over and he could escape. Despite being the most expensive nursing home he could find, with fantastic facilities and the best of medical care, the atmosphere choked him; he felt imprisoned. For all its trappings of luxury, it was just a waiting room for death, a sort of purgatory and he once again assured himself that he would never let himself be reduced to this; he’d rather fall under a tram. His mother had said the same thing many times over the years and yet here she was, a devastated body containing a wandering mind and he’d allowed it to happen. He wanted her dead, of that there was no doubt and he convinced himself time and again that it would be better for her but at those times when guilt took over, he knew that it would be better for him.
A nurse arrived with some medication.
“I’ll just give her these Mr de Klerck; it won’t take a moment. You don’t have to go yet if you don’t want to.”
“No, that’s fine. It’s a good time to go.”
He leaned over and kissed his mother on the forehead. She didn’t notice and he turned to leave.
“You will always be my angel Arjan, won’t you?”
More in response to the nurse’s smile than anything else, he replied wearily,
“Yes mother, I’ll always be your angel.”
Once outside, he gulped for air and momentarily felt physically sick before getting in the car and heading back to Amsterdam.

Jacco was set on losing his innocence and with his parents’ departure for a month’s camping in the Dordogne, he’d been given the perfect opportunity to do it. Despite being nineteen and about to start a new course at the Hotel School in The Hague, he had been given dire warnings about how he should conduct himself while they were away. Jacco readily assented to all demands, pinned up his mother’s copious lists on the notice board and recited the campsite telephone number several times before waving them off and heaving a huge sigh of relief. He had no intention of abusing his position, having wild parties, or even inviting people back to the house. However, he did intend to take the opportunity to explore his sexuality and could barely contain his excitement as he rang the number Wil and Ruud had given him on the beach. He had considered enlisting Elco’s help again but he had shown little interest since giving him directions to the beach and when Jacco had tried to explain the sunburn fiasco, Elco had snorted scathingly,
“God, Jacco, what are you doing messing around with old men? It’s disgusting; you’ll get a reputation before you’ve even started!”
‘I’d rather be friends with old men than some of the creeps you hang around with,’ Jacco thought. He’d heard the covert neighbourhood gossip about Elco and the company he kept and decided that he was much safer out of it.
After a couple of aborted attempts, he finally waited long enough for someone to answer.
“Will van Rossum.”
“Hi, er…hello. It’s me...I mean Jacco...from the beach...from Zandvoort.”
There was a moment’s pause on the other end of the line during which Jacco was sorely tempted to put the phone down.
“Oh yes, okay. Hi, how are you? How’s the sunburn?”
“I’m fine thank you. I was wondering…er…you know you said I should ring, so that maybe we could have a drink or something? Well, I don’t know whether you’ve got time or anything but…”
“No, that’s fine. Nice to hear from you; yeah, let me think; what about tomorrow? I’ll have to check with Ruud but I’m sure it’ll be okay.”
The voice was so friendly that Jacco’s initial fears quickly faded though it worried him that he could barely remember what Wil and Ruud looked like and which one was which. Despite that, they arranged to meet the next evening and he felt that he had taken another important step in his education.

Despite having his own computer, Jacco had always felt uneasy about exploring the world of computer porn. His father often used his computer and although he had always carefully deleted the History file and the cookies that might have been left on his hard disc, he’d worried that evidence of his cyber travels would somehow be uncovered; or that his mother would come in the room with some washing at an inopportune moment but now he was alone, he could surf uninterrupted to his heart’s content. The more he explored the sites and links he found, the more he realised that he still had so much to learn. He discovered a sex cinema that was only a few streets away and because his hormones were raging, decided to pay it a visit. As far as he was concerned, everything could be tried once and if he didn’t like it, he could strike it off the list; plus, this seemed like a fairly easy activity for his first evening of freedom.
On the one hand, he felt good about himself, having chosen jeans and T-shirt as being appropriate and taken twenty guilders from his savings pot; on the other, he couldn’t get out of the street fast enough and had to suppress the urge to run from what he imagined were knowing and prying eyes.
‘Relax;’ he told himself, ‘you’re only going for a walk as far as they’re concerned. Don’t be stupid.’
The knot in his stomach tightened as he walked nervously several times back and forth past the door of the sex shop but eventually, having checked that there were no familiar faces in the street, he went in. The heat inside was cloying but he was too excited to turn back now. It was the first time he’d been inside a sex shop and the array of magazines, videos and sex toys bewildered him. It was like a sort of forbidden sweet shop, full from floor to ceiling with colourful exhibits, each more lurid than the next.
“A ticket for the cinema please.”
The man behind the counter barely lifted his head from the book he was flipping through.
“Which one? We’ve got two. Gay or straight?”
“Um…gay please.” It was little more than a whisper but the guy got the message.
“Ten guilders.”
Jacco handed over his money and was given his ticket; the man went back to his book.
“Um…where do I go?”
“Oh, it’s your first time is it? Okay, along that aisle then through the curtain at the back. On the left is the straight cinema and on the right is the gay one.”
He looked more closely at Jacco’s youthful and above all innocent face.
“Hey, be careful in there okay? Watch your wallet. We’re not responsible if anything gets stolen.”
Jacco was relieved that he’d only brought out a limited amount of money and stuffed his spare ten-guilder note firmly into the tiny pocket at the top of his jeans. He couldn’t help being a little concerned at the warning he’d received. What was he letting himself in for?
He made his way through the heavy curtain at the back of the shop, into a sort of corridor. There were two sliding doors to his left and right and further down, other smaller doors, which he guessed to be private cubicles. Something made him open the door to the straight cinema first. He could hardly see anything at all; the screen was lit up and fuzzy but no film was showing and it took him a while before he realised that the room was completely empty. The gay cinema was even darker and he had to turn a corner past a wooden partition before the glare of the film hit his eyes. It was so bright; he couldn’t adjust to the rest of the room and stood there like a frightened rabbit, transfixed by the action on the screen. It was grainy and the sound seemed to have been recorded in someone’s kitchen but there was no doubt this was what he had hoped to see. There, in front of his very eyes was full, hard-core pornography between consenting males; albeit mostly with long hair and moustaches but to a nineteen year old on his first visit, absolute heaven.
After a while, he began to get bored, there was no storyline and the action on the screen had assumed a monotonous inevitability, scenes seeming to drag on and on without logical conclusion and Jacco found that his eyes had become more accustomed to the light so he could inspect the room. It had a smell that he couldn’t place, stale and musty and not at all pleasant. In front of him were several rows of faded, red velour seats just like in a real cinema and by the side of the screen, a doorway with a subdued light beyond. To his left, was a sort of gallery or standing area behind the seating and for the first time, he realised, he was not alone. He saw the smoke first, curling lazily through the flaccid air towards the screen, then the red glow of a cigarette. Looking more closely, he could see a tall man of indeterminate age, leaning back against the wall but couldn’t make out his face. Jacco’s nerves were jangling, not from fear but from pure excitement. He was excited enough by the film but the possibility of other activities made him shudder. Time and space stopped being important. This was like being in a little private capsule, where his fantasies could be played out and he knew he had never before experienced such intensity and anticipation.

As he got ready to meet Ruud and Wil, his thoughts returned to the events of the previous evening, in fact he had thought of little else the whole day. It never entered his head that he had done anything dirty, although he appreciated the sleaziness of the situation. In fact, he hadn’t done that much at all. Despite his urges and his excitement, he’d held himself back from indulging in much that had been offered to him. Perhaps it was his upbringing, perhaps it was because the people themselves had been unattractive, or perhaps it was the situation, which although relatively enclosed, was the nearest he had come to sex in public, with witnesses. Whatever the reason, he had allowed himself to be touched, to be explored and had returned the favour to a limited degree but had realised that it probably wasn’t the sort of contact he wanted to make again. Although flattered by the attention: the others had been drawn to him like moths to a flame, he realised that the magnetic attraction had been his youth and thinking rationally, he decided he could do far better. That wasn’t to say however, that he regretted the experience, or would never do it again; there was a certain seductiveness to sex in the dark.
He hadn’t been sure what to wear for his second visit to the bars, so he had chosen his beige Dockers and a light blue Polo shirt. He sauntered along the street as slowly as he could and inspected himself in the window of a kitchen supplies shop. Pushing his shoulders back and sticking his chest out, he was reasonably pleased with what he saw. Standing there, trying to choose between two different sorts of kitchen unit, he suddenly realised that he wasn’t alone and in the window’s reflection, saw that he was being looked at very closely indeed. It was a young man, just a little older than himself and without doubt, everybody’s idea of male beauty. The guy smiled broadly and winked and Jacco was just about to turn around when his admirer suddenly turned on his heel and walked off. Jacco stared after him and wondered whether he was supposed to follow but there was no glance back, no encouragement. He was confused but maybe that had been it, an admiring look and a mutual recognition and nothing more. Maybe that was enough but he wasn’t sure whether his ego had been boosted or not. Trying to put it out of his mind, he headed towards the bar.

Jacco realised he was becoming quite drunk. Wil and Ruud had been good company; no awkward breaks in conversation and lots of bitchy, camp humour, which Jacco loved but accepted he wasn’t very good at yet. He didn’t tell them about his adventure of the previous evening but listened closely to all their stories about the gay scene, making continuous mental notes. He listened to their warnings as well but gave them less credence.
“Judging by the look in your eyes young man, you’re like the cat who’s just realised there’s an awful lot of cream to be licked up but remember, cream can go sour.”
Wil sat back, pleased with his comparison but Ruud squeezed his knee.
“You do talk a lot of crap Wil. Can’t you see the boy is going to do what he wants? We can warn him all we like but he has to make his own mistakes; it’s the only way we learn and everyone is different. He has the irresistible confidence that youth and beauty gives you; stop raining on his parade. I’m going to get a last round; same again?”
“I’m not confident. I’m really not. Actually, it all seems a bit too much and some of it terrifies me.”
Wil clasped Jacco’s hand and looked seriously at him.
“Take your time. Don’t try to do it all in a week. I know you’ve got a heaven-sent opportunity with Ma and Pa out of the way but pace yourself. The gay scene can sap your strength before you know it and if you ignore every other advice we’ve given you, remember this: there are good guys and there are bad guys and not everything is what it seems. Be careful who you trust and we’re only a telephone call away if you get into trouble.”
Ruud returned from the bar clutching three more beers.
“We’d better make this our last Wil; we’ve got an early start tomorrow.”
Wil pulled a face and nodded.
Jacco laughed. He was having a great time and wished they didn’t have to go. No matter what Elco had said, this was the sort of company he enjoyed and he hoped the feeling was mutual, though he suspected that he was at a disadvantage in terms of friendship.
As they were leaving, Ruud put his mind at rest,
“Listen Jacco, we like you and we want you to know that you’re welcome to come to us at any time but we don’t want to cramp your style, if you know what I mean. Just feel free to pick up the phone, if you want to go for a drink, or a meal, or need advice, whatever. Okay? No pressures.”
With that they both hugged and kissed him and made for the door.
“Hey, not too late young man; you need your beauty sleep!”
Wil hooted, slung his arm around his partner and they left.

The room was flooded with neon light from the signs above the various businesses and cafes in the street but apart from that Arjan sat at his desk in semi-darkness. He turned his pencil over and over in his hand, chewed the end a little and after applying too much pressure, snapped it in half and threw it in the bin. He couldn’t concentrate, had no inclination to do the paperwork that was piled up in front of him and couldn’t get his mother’s face out of his mind. It wasn’t that she was just his weakness; she often became little more than an inconvenience, a loose end and a barrier to further progression in his life. He stared at himself in the full-length mirror standing at the other side of the room. The garish light gave him a demonic look and he smiled. Nature had been kind to him. He was tall, well made and well endowed; dark-haired, dark-eyed and with the sort of classic Mediterranean looks that were the essence of heroes in cheap romantic novels. He couldn’t complain in that department, or in any other for that matter. He had built an empire and it was still growing. Two bars, two clubs and a monthly magazine paid tribute to his dynamism and work ethic. He was only thirty and life was good. He didn’t care too much about emotional happiness because there just wasn’t any time for it; he got his kicks out of work, money and acquisition. In fact, there were only two impediments to total self-containment: one was his mother’s continued existence and the other was his homosexuality but when he needed to, he got pleasure out of that too.
The bass from the bar below was beginning to irritate him and he realised he needed a distraction, so he picked up the phone.
“Hello boss.”
“Rik, is that you? Turn that fucking music down a little. Christ, how many times do I have to tell you?”
“Oh sorry boss, the new guy must have turned it up. I’ll see to it straight away.”
“Make sure you do. By the way, is there anything in that might interest me tonight?”
“Hold on a second boss, I’ll have a look.”
Arjan drummed his fingers impatiently on the desk as he waited for a reply.
“You still there boss? Actually, there is, I think. If you want to come down, I’ll point it out to you.”

Jacco was standing at the bar, tapping his feet to the music and beginning to wonder whether he should go home. The effects of the alcohol were making him light-headed and he suddenly realised that he was actually quite tired. Being alone in a bar was a different proposition altogether. He’d looked around and seen plenty of young, good-looking men, who were either interested in him or not. What he couldn’t work out was why one person was clearly attracted and another wasn’t. As far as he was concerned, all the attractive men were possible liaisons but that didn’t seem to apply in reverse. He’d smiled at some and they’d just turned away; why was that? He hadn’t catered for the fact that it dented his pride each time it happened. On the other hand, there were enough who were interested and that was exciting; clearly he still had a lot to learn about the ways that gays react to each other. The problem was; he felt that as the new boy, so to speak, he should be the one who was approached and not the other way around; at this stage, he was just too shy to make any moves. It wasn’t happening though and he began to think that the encounter he’d had on his first visit here had been pure luck and even then, it had hardly been a conquest. He concluded that he’d just about had enough for one evening and was just on the point of leaving when he heard a voice behind him.
“Can I buy you a drink?”
He looked around and his heart nearly stopped. The guy was somewhat older than him but not too old and possibly the most handsome man he’d ever seen. Apart from that, he was wearing a suit and tie and Jacco was instantly and deeply attracted.
“Yeah, okay, that would be nice. I’ll have another beer please.”
All thoughts of tiredness disappeared and all he worried about was whether his speech was slurred.
“I’m Arjan and you are..?”
“I’m Jacco, pleased to meet you.”
It sounded pretty formal but Jacco wanted to make a good impression and he felt that you should be polite to a man in a suit.
After half an hour or so, Jacco felt on top of the world. This guy was charming, seemingly very interested in him and his head was spinning from all the compliments he’d received, as well as from yet more alcohol. He’d told his life story, outlined his ambitions and been praised at every turn but every attempt at finding out more about Arjan had been deflected. It didn’t really worry him; he just thought that the man was being extra attentive. It was only when one of the barmen referred to him as ‘Boss’ that Jacco realised that this must be the owner, or at least the manager of the bar and he was even more flattered; after all, he must have the pick of all the boys who came in here. When Arjan suggested having a last drink in his apartment upstairs, Jacco was only too willing. Apart from anything else, he’d been hoping that this might lead to something physical; this was a real catch.
As he followed Arjan up the steep and narrow staircase, he could hardly stop himself shaking and could hardly believe his luck; what a great evening it had been and it still wasn’t over.
Arjan led the way into the main room, where the streetlights were still blinking and casting their shadows. He switched on his desk light only and told Jacco to make himself comfortable while he fetched a drink. Jacco sat in a large, wine-coloured chesterfield and took in the atmosphere; it all seemed so romantic but his legs still wouldn’t stop shaking. Arjan handed him his latest drink and knelt down, putting his hands on Jacco’s knees.
“My, you are nervous; nothing to be nervous about, try to relax. Come here, let me kiss you.”
Arjan was completely at ease and completely in control. This was his favourite type of boy; young, inexperienced and clearly besotted, everything was going to plan.
Jacco had never imagined that kissing could be so good and responded as well as he knew how but the heat from Arjan’s hands and even his tongue made him feel so alive and he completely gave way to their exploration of his mouth and body. He felt his clothes being loosened and undone and closed his eyes as, one by one they were removed. He felt he should do something in return but every time he tried to reach for Arjan’s body, he was gently but firmly pushed away. Eventually, he sat there naked and all the time, the kisses melted away his inhibitions.
“Let’s go to the bedroom shall we?”
Before Jacco could respond he was bodily lifted from the sofa and carried across the room. He was so overwhelmed by the thrill of it all, all he could do was put his arms around the giant of a man and nibble at his neck. He felt himself being laid gently onto the bed as Arjan, still fully clothed knelt above him and resumed the kisses.
“Shall we play a little game?”
Jacco looked up into Arjan’s eyes. He didn’t know what he meant but was too far gone to resist.
“Okay,” he whispered, “what do I have to do?”
“Just stretch your arms out; yes, like that. Now I’m going to pretend you’re my prisoner and I’m interrogating you.”
Jacco felt his wrist being put into some sort of strap, which was tied fairly tightly. He felt a moment’s disquiet and wondered whether he should be letting this happen but he trusted Arjan completely, besides which, he had never been so turned on in his life.
“Don’t worry. If there’s anything you don’t like, just say so and I’ll let you go.”
Arjan once more gave him his famed and much practised smile and Jacco was reassured. From somewhere above the bed, Arjan pulled down two rings, into which he slipped Jacco’s feet.
“Not too tight? Good. Are you warm enough?”
Jacco could only nod as Arjan kicked off his loafers, stood above him, one leg either side of his waist and then began to strip. Jacco stared in amazement, as the clothes came off, slowly and seductively, revealing more hair than he had ever seen on a man. He’d suspected a hairy chest from the tufts poking out of his collar but Arjan was hairy all over and had the muscles to match. Jacco couldn’t help thinking how much more glorious he was than even the sexiest man he’d seen in his magazine collection. When the boxer shorts were finally eased off, he gasped; this was not your average man in the street! For the next ten minutes or so, Arjan paid attention to Jacco’s body, never once commenting on his size and his subsequent, involuntary climax was little surprise to either of them. At this point, Jacco expected to be released and maybe cuddled and then he could do something to Arjan in return but instead, as Arjan gently cleaned him up with a towel, he was told,
“We’ve only just begun.”
This time, Arjan took hold of Jacco’s nipples and began to squeeze them, gently at first but gradually increasing the pressure until he squealed in pain.
“You like that do you boy?”
“Um, not really, it hurts a bit.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll grow to like it I promise.”
Arjan’s smile had become somewhat tight-lipped and for the first time, Jacco started to feel slightly worried but everything had been so good so far, there was no reason to panic. Arjan, got off the bed and lit a candle, “So I can see you better,”

It had been past four o’clock when Jacco had finally got home after walking the whole way. He hadn’t dared get a taxi because he couldn’t face questions, or worse, chitchat. Having finally stopped crying, he looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. His eyes were red and raw and there was an ominous red weal at the corner of his mouth. He gingerly lowered his trousers and sat on the toilet, watching the blood dripping into the basin and buried his head in his hands. He’d thought about ringing Wil and Ruud but it was so late and besides, what would he tell them? They’d warned him enough and the first man he’d met had proved them completely right. He felt so ashamed and humiliated; mainly because he’d walked into it eyes wide open. It had been entirely his own fault; he could have said no long before it was too late. He cast his mind back over what had happened to try to see where he went wrong. It struck him as bitterly ironic that he could go from such happiness to abject misery in the space of a few hours.
The candle wax hadn’t been too bad, after the initial shock but as he lifted his shirt, he could see where it had marked him and as he looked further down, he knew he’d need some time for the tender parts to heal as well. His nipples ached from all the squeezing and tugging and there was a ring of red dots where Arjan had attached the clamps. He knew his buttocks would be red but prayed the skin hadn’t been broken and his jaw still ached from the slaps and the invasion as Arjan had pounded his mouth. The absolute worst thing was not knowing whether his rectum had been damaged or not. It certainly felt bad and as it was still bleeding, he feared the worst. Everything else was probably going to heal but he was terrified that he would need to go to the doctor about his back passage. That he couldn’t face and the tears started again at the very thought. Arjan had assaulted his anus with a dildo, his fingers and finally himself and although he had used lubricant and gloves and god knows what else, Jacco still felt as though he had been split apart and the pain was still excruciating. He had to know how extensive the damage was. He reached for his mother’s hand mirror and trembling with fear, decided to try to examine himself. After some difficulty, he had to admit that it didn’t look as bad as it felt but he was still worried about what it was like inside and what about Aids! My God, would he need to have a test? Desperately thinking back, he reassured himself that Arjan had used protection but he was bleeding! No, that was from the fingers, he was almost sure of that. Could you catch anything from fingernails? Confused and frightened, an overwhelming tiredness came over him and he nearly fell off the seat but he knew he still had to shower before he could seek the comfort of his bed. He had to wash that man’s smell off his body.
Later, despite his aching and fatigue, he found it difficult to sleep and attempted to rationalise it all. What worried him the most and gnawed away at his conscience on the deepest level was the grotesque feeling that, despite the pain and the brutality, despite the humiliation and despite the possible consequences, he’d found it intensely and disturbingly stimulating. As he lay on top of the bed, however much he tried to push the thought away and however disgusted he was with himself, his battered and bruised penis rose as a mocking reminder. Eventually, exhaustion took control and sleep relieved him of his torment.
The Amsterdam Series Home
5. A toe in the water for Jacco
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3. A pretty frock for Guus

There was no shelter from the heat that evening; it seeped into even the darkest corners. Not a leaf moved in the trees and both flowers and flags hung limp and dejected; even the dust seemed content to stay put. The constant traffic hummed lazily in the background, interspersed by the occasional irritated tooting of horns as workers wearily threaded their way home. People and buildings alike yearned for the sun to set and for darkness to bring some relief; in fact the whole city seemed wreathed in melancholia and ennui.
Yet some were creatures of habit and Guus felt his normal thrill of anticipation as he turned the corner into the Nieuwe Keizersgracht and made his way, case in hand, towards Pieter’s apartment. Ignoring the canal-side drunk who berated him for his haste, he rang the bell and waited impatiently for a reply.
“Come on up.”
It wasn’t necessary, in fact to an observer, it would have sounded ridiculous but they had their own password; a tradition passed down from the late Fifties when the club had first started and as with all the best traditions, it remained as a tribute to earlier, more secretive times. With his weight and the clammy atmosphere, three flights of stairs turned into something of a struggle but adrenalin is a powerful stimulant and after taking a breather and a puff on his inhaler, Guus reached the door and knocked the required three times.
“Hi Guus, you made it then?”
“You know I wouldn’t miss a meeting!”
“Well, Andre and Sol have cried off, couldn’t stand the heat but Kris is here and John. Pim and the new one Bas are on their way. Come on in, you look exhausted. Put your things in the normal place.”
Guus took his case into the bedroom and took a moment to look in the mirror. He knew he was too fat and although he regularly succumbed to his conscience, binge dieting had never worked for any length of time. He’d got down to eighty-five kilos the year before but couldn’t maintain it, or deny himself the pleasure that good food could bring. Otherwise, he felt okay about himself; certainly Annie never complained, although being somewhat corpulent herself, she hardly had grounds to do so. Sex was most often side to side; neither could stand the weight of the other, even less so in the summer but neither objected and he supposed that their lovemaking was as acceptable to her as it was to him; much like their marriage really; lots of comfortable compromise. He was glad he’d had his remaining hair cut short; there was nothing more undignified than a balding man who over-compensated at the back, or worse, across the front; besides which, it suited his purposes much better in other ways. He was forty-eight but a full face made him look younger and he knew he had a boyish grin and clear eyes. His brother was three years younger; thin yes but gaunt and sallow, with sagging bags under the eyes and folds of skin at the neck. Guus took great pleasure in being taken for the younger of the two. Having mopped the sweat from his brow, he walked into the living room.
“The yellow or the green? What do you think?”
Kris was already dressed and as usual, Guus couldn’t contain his jealousy.
“Does it matter? You look good in anything.”
“Oh come on Guus, you can do better than that, you know I value your opinion!”
The last was said with such a dose of acid that Guus recoiled and decided to put a bit more effort into it.
“The green. It goes really well with the dress.”
He had forgotten how quickly Kris got into character and was very wary of his sharp tongue. Of all the club members, Kris always looked the best. ‘Being young and slim helps,’ thought Guus wryly but nevertheless Kris had a certain flair for colour and dress-sense that Guus could only aspire to. When he was ‘complete’ he looked like a film star or a model.
Kris took the green bag and hung it over his forearm, turning this way and that to see how it would swing when he moved his body. He then picked up his favourite wig and eased it over his head so that the make-up wouldn’t smudge.
“Is the tape covered?”
They nodded and stood back to admire the final effect.
“Wow! As always Kris, a masterpiece.”
Pieter reached for the camera and took a couple of pictures, as the younger man posed and preened in front of the full-length mirror that had been set in the corner.
“Okay, who’s next?” Kris turned and addressed his audience. “I can’t be too late tonight, Joke’s got a late shift and we couldn’t get a sitter. I’ve got to be back at ten.”
“I guess I am, seeing as I’m half way there.”
Guus turned to see John coming out of the kitchen area, dressed only in bra and panties. There was some comfort in the fact that John also carried a little too much weight and what was more, refused to shave the hair off his chest.
“Sally wouldn’t like it,” he mumbled at his first club session. He’d been visibly embarrassed when Kris had commented on his potential cleavage and how it would be a shame to waste it and from that moment on, Guus had liked him immensely. His Dutch was by no means perfect but everybody understood him and paid him the compliment of not speaking in English unless it was absolutely necessary.
“Come on John, I’ll give you a hand.”
Both John and Guus slipped off to the bedroom, leaving Kris and Pieter to sort out Pieter’s outfit for the evening.

“Kris makes me uncomfortable at times.” John rubbed foundation on his face, as Guus got undressed.
“I know but you mustn’t take it seriously. In a way, he’s the best of all of us. He doesn’t just dress up in women’s clothes, he becomes a woman and a particular sort of woman at that.”
“Yes but he can be so bitchy!”
“Is Sally never bitchy then?”
“Oh God no, it’s not in her nature. I sometimes wish she were a bit of a cow but she sees the good in everyone, even me when I’m being impossible, especially after work. It’s what I love about her most but just occasionally, I wish she’d fight back you know?”
“I don’t have that problem with Annie. God, when she’s in the mood, she can tear me to shreds and then she makes Kris look like a choirboy. You’ve got too much on your chin, smooth it in with the pad.”
John brushed his hair back and gelled it down as far as he could before sliding a band over his head to keep it in place.
“Now you need to blend it into your hairline, otherwise you’ll have a white streak under your wig like the last time.”
“What? Why didn’t anyone tell me? I must have looked stupid.”
“No, no, you didn’t, in fact I think I was the only one who noticed, you know what a perfectionist I am and I didn’t want to hurt your feelings at the parade.”
“Thanks pal, I think! You won’t let me go out in front of them all this time unless everything’s right will you?”
“Don’t worry and the same applies okay?”
John turned round in time to see Guus completely naked and tried to turn away again. No matter how much he tried, he couldn’t get used to seeing the other men unclothed. It was just in this situation; normally it didn’t bother him at all but there was something comically incongruous about male nudity just before it became clothed in femininity and it embarrassed him a little. Guus, however, was talking to him and he had to face him. Although he was overweight himself, John had to admit he found Guus somewhat gross; all those folds of fat. How did he keep it all clean? He tried to put the picture of Guus on the toilet out of his head but couldn’t help wondering about certain practical issues.
“I can never flatten them down enough.”
Guus was referring to his genitals and was struggling into a reinforced pair of panties, the sweat pouring out in the heat. ‘Well, as far as I can see, that shouldn’t be a problem,’ John mused, ‘they virtually disappear out of sight under the fat anyway.’
“Yeah, I know what you mean, here, let me towel you down a bit” he replied tactfully and as he dried Guus’ back, took some satisfaction from the fact that he was considerably better endowed than his friend.

To his eternal regret, Pieter was one of those men who fell under the description of ‘nondescript’. People would collide with him in the Kalverstraat and then turn around and apologise, having not seen him in their way. If he were in a bar, he would wait for ages while people who had come in after him would be served. It had always been this way. Even at school, though not unpopular and not untalented, he would be the last to be picked for a team and teachers struggled to think of things to say about him in his reports, not quite remembering which one was Pieter de Graaf. Needless to say, he ended up marrying a nondescript girl, upon whose toes he trod at a local dance. They were each their first real relationship and each their first sexual partner and they both accepted the seeming inevitability that they were each destined for the other. However, despite their mutual lack of spontaneity, they were deeply in love and Pieter’s world had imploded when Ria had died suddenly after a short and painful illness a few years ago. It had been typical of their status in the world that advanced ovarian cancer had been only diagnosed after her death. Fortunately for him, he had another life and other friends and it was this that saved him from terminal depression and loneliness. It had been just a year after they had been married that Pieter first tried on one of Ria’s dresses and experienced the secret thrill that was to save him from complete anonymity and give him companionship after Ria’s passing. He may have been a ‘nobody’ as a man but as a woman, he emerged like a butterfly from a chrysalis. He answered an advert in a contact magazine and joined the club, which was then run by Hans Verbeek, from his home near the Westerpark. Hans had shown him everything, all the tricks and all the techniques necessary to satisfy his need to become female, if only for a short time. At seventy, Hans had still made a striking impression on the inexperienced Pieter; a sort of dowager duchess and when he had died, Pieter decided that it was his responsibility to keep the club going for those who needed a private and secure way to show their ‘other’ natures. Pieter’s strength as a woman was his elegance and even Kris was forced to admit that for all his own glamour, he could still learn a thing or two about deportment and composure from his older mentor.
“They’re taking their time aren’t they?” Kris shuffled impatiently in his chair.
“Patience is a virtue Kris, not all of us can just slap it on and look gorgeous like you.”
“True and Lady Guusje needs more time than most to turn from warty toad into ugly frog.”
“Pieter turned and flashed a fierce look at the younger man. One of his eyelashes stuck to his cheek and came away from its moorings but Kris didn’t dare laugh; he knew that look.
“How many times Kris! We’re not drag queens, we’re women, I mean men who like to dress as women and I won’t have that sort of queeny bitchiness in the club. It’s about time you learned to respect other people for who they are. We’re all here for the same reasons remember and it takes all sorts to make our world. One day, age will catch up with you and then we’ll see how cocky you are then.”
“Okay, okay, point taken. I don’t know what comes over me sometimes. I just get into the part if you know what I mean, I can’t help it. Anyway, I’ve got to go early, they know that. You’d think they’d get a move on.”
Just as Pieter was adjusting the errant eyelash, the doorbell rang.
“That’ll be Pim. Can you get it while I finish this off?”
Kris sighed and swished along the hall to the intercom. Pieter looked in the mirror and adjusted his dress, smoothing out an unsightly wrinkle. For some reason, he always felt he needed to impress Pim, not because he was wealthy and had a top job at the bank but perhaps because he knew that Pim wouldn’t look at him twice in the street and had never suggested that they should meet outside this circle. On the one hand, he was pleased that the club was a great social leveller but on the other, he felt inferior and it continually disturbed him.
Pim came through the door, a tall, grey haired and aristocratic looking man with a nose just a little too large to convert into a truly feminine looking woman. His suit was Armani and his clothes bag Louis Vuitton and the image perfectly fitted his social standing. Not for the first time, Pieter found it amusing to imagine what his colleagues would make of the transformation if they could see him in half an hour’s time. However, this time, it wasn’t Pim who caught the attention but his companion, who shuffled in shyly and stood twiddling his thumbs.
“Pieter, how are you? May I introduce Bas?”
Bas stepped forward and extended the back of his hand as if expecting it to be kissed. Pieter grabbed it and shook it vigorously, perhaps a little harder than he normally would. Bas winced and withdrew behind Pim. Pieter looked at him and immediately felt some disquiet. He was clearly little more than eighteen or nineteen and incredibly pretty for a man. It was debatable whether he would need false eyelashes, his own were so long and dark and fluttered above dark brown, rounded eyes which gave him the appearance of a new born calf. Pieter pulled himself together and resumed his role as host.
“Hi Bas, welcome to our little gathering. Would you like a drink before you get started?”
“Charmed I’m sure. I’d like a sherry, not too dry, if you have one.”
The voice was light and the gestures just a little too effeminate for Pieter’s liking but he headed to the drinks cabinet without further comment. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Kris in the doorway, his mouth open and his jaw dropped in amazement.
‘Just like a goldfish gasping for air,’ thought Pieter and poured a small sherry that he then handed to Bas. The lack of thanks was noted and Pieter began to form an instant dislike of his new guest.
At that point, Guus and John emerged from the bedroom and joined the others. Pieter had to admit that Kris had a point. Whereas John made a passable woman and looked comfortable, Guus resembled one of those saucy women on seaside postcards. The polka dots on the billowing dress were just too much, the make-up was far too liberally applied and the broad-brimmed hat was completely out of place. Pieter caught John’s eye as if to say, ‘couldn’t you have done something?’ but John just shrugged his shoulders and put his arm supportingly around Guus’ shoulders.
Pim’s reaction was restrained and only the merest frown crossed his brow before he greeted Guus and John.
“Gentlemen, I see we have a lot of catching up to do.”
It was Bas, however, who shattered the politeness.
“My God,” he shrieked, “An escapee from the Lellebel!”
Covering his mouth did nothing to minimise his faux pas and noticing the glares from the others, he did his best to make amends.
“Sorry, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. You look…well you look…ravishing.”
It was far too late of course and Kris compounded the insult by chipping in himself.
“Well Guus, maybe you could have toned down the lippie and the blusher a bit and I have a dress that’s far too big for me that would suit you far better; not that you don’t look good as you are. I mean you do! Really.”
His voice trailed away as he caught a sharp dig in the ribs from Pieter, who tried to change the subject as quickly as possible.
“Has everyone got a drink? Do you want to take Bas into the bedroom Pim? Show him what’s available and so forth?”
Pim took the hint and started to guide the blushing Bas out of the living room but it was too late. Guus’ face crumpled and he rushed past them, slamming the bedroom door behind him.
John looked distraught.
“I’ll go. It’s my fault. I should have persuaded him but he was helping me so much, I didn’t have the heart.”
“I’ll come with you,” said Peter, “ I’ve known Guus a lot of years but I’ve never seen him so upset. Perhaps you might have a kind word or two Pim? I know he respects you.”
Despite his demeanour, Pim had felt truly sorry for Guus. He knew how difficult it all was and how the opinions of the group counted for so much and after firmly telling Bas to stay where he was, followed the others into the bedroom to offer some consolation.
It took a long time to pacify Guus and assure him that no malice had been intended.
“I’m a man guys. I should be able to take a little criticism and not fall apart like that. I’m so ashamed. I don’t cry, never have. He was right though wasn’t he? I look a mess but I shouldn’t go to pieces like this. Here I am blubbing like a schoolgirl.”
“Guus, we all change when we put on the dresses. Part of us gives way to that need we’ve always had; that need to let go, to give in to our feminine sides you know? Don’t worry about it. The boy was out of order. Put it down to his being new.”
Pieter put his arm around Guus’ shoulders and hugged him. It was the first time in all his years at the club that he’d actually touched another man. In fact, none of them displayed affection towards each other physically; it was a sort of confirmation that they were still men and would go home to their wives and families having lost none of the masculinity they arrived with. It was an unspoken rule; they weren’t gay and anything resembling gay behaviour was not part of their activities. Even Pim caught the moment and grasped Guus’ hand.
“I’m sorry Guus, I should never have brought him but he begged and begged you know and he’ll soon learn our ways. He’s a nice chap really.”
After some considerable time, Guus was persuaded that the best thing would be to go back into the room as resume the parade as if nothing had happened. Maybe then, Bas would see what the club was really about and learn from it. After Pim had decided to stay behind to get changed and requested that Bas be sent in to him, the other three men stood up, rearranged themselves and after each checking their appearance in the mirror and giving Guus countless reassurances that he looked fine, they returned to the living room.

Pieter reacted first.
“This will not do! This is really not on!”
An embarrassed Kris slowly lowered his skirt and smirking lasciviously, Bas got up from his knees.
The party was most definitely over.

4.Reflections for Marcel

His T-shirt was soaked, his shorts were clinging unflatteringly and the sweat ran relentlessly into the crevice between his buttocks and then in an unceasing flow down the inside of his thighs. He was convinced that the squelching was audible to all who passed and longed to be home and under the shower but this was the new routine and come what may, he was determined to continue his quest for self-improvement. The first mistake had been in thinking that the early evening would be cooler and the second in believing that the Vondelpark would give him a chance to think while he jogged. As it was, the temperature still hovered around thirty degrees and the park was teeming with city folk determined to get away from the crowds and the rush of workaday life.
“Fucking joggers; think you own the place!”
Marcel had performed a manoeuvre worthy of Johan Cruyff to avoid the cyclist but fell foul of the roller blader who, arms flailing, hit him with full force. The two men fell in a sprawling tangle on the ground but unfortunately for Marcel, he became the cushion that broke the other’s fall and felt the familiar stinging that indicated scraped elbows at the very least. There was some consolation in the fact that he was now lying in a compromising position with an undoubted hunk and thinking with his groin, did his best to put on what he thought was an alluring smile.
“Sorry, hope you’re okay,” was all he could think of and he lay there, awaiting sympathy, apologies and a possible date.
“Wanker! Why don’t you look where you’re going? Keep to the footpath in future, I could have done myself a serious injury here.”
Marcel’s elbows were really smarting now and sitting up, he stared ruefully at the blood and dirt as the man scrambled to his feet and brushed himself down.
“The bike was on the path, I had to get out of its way.”
“Could have thrown yourself in the lake!” was the guy’s parting shot as he sped away.
‘Why can’t I be more assertive?’ thought Marcel as he sat there in a pool of sweat and his own misery. More bikes, joggers, kids, dogs and assorted people passed and made obvious detours to avoid getting involved and Marcel was once more reminded of his solitude.
‘So where’s the Good Samaritan when I need him then? Shit, time to get home. I’ve had enough of this.’
Stepping out of the shower, he was suddenly overwhelmed with tiredness and after enduring the agony of applying raw antiseptic on his wounds; he grabbed a Coke from the fridge, wrapped a towel around his waist and slumped in the chair.
Since Willem’s death, he’d become slightly schizophrenic, lurching from vacuum-filling, frenzied activity at work and at the gym, to long evenings stuck in front of the television, where inane summer schedules washed over him without troubling his brain. There had been that holiday in Gran Canaria but that had been a chapter of disasters. He’d got himself horribly burnt, sat in the bars getting morbidly drunk with the sort of expression that told people he was not a good bet to approach and it had all culminated in his being robbed of his wallet in the dunes. Instead of writing it off as an occupational hazard, he decided that it was his duty to report the crime and spent nearly three hours of his last day trying to explain why he’d wandered off and left his belongings for the world to rifle through. The police of course, were well used to this sort of thing and usually quite sympathetic but as Marcel’s attitude left a lot to be desired, they played ‘bait the tourist’ to amuse themselves. Needless to say, that was the final straw; Marcel swore he’d never return and even joined in the applause as the charter flight filled with noisy holidaymakers juddered to a halt on a Schiphol runway.
One thing the experience had taught him however was that his body was no longer as taut and well-defined as it used to be and as a result, far less appealing to the sort of men he wished to attract.
‘Okay,’ he thought, ‘I either do something about it, or let Nature and gravity take its course.’
He still had enough pride to realise that he was too young to go to seed and joined a local fitness centre. It fulfilled a need in more ways than one. There wasn’t a day went by without his missing Willem; his best friend and soul mate, whose premature death from a heart attack had left Marcel with more pain than he could deal with. He hadn’t handled it as well as he’d hoped. The man had been such a constant and comforting presence in his life, however exasperating and at times embarrassing he’d been. Within a month, Marcel had been forced to take time off work, his whole body aching and succumbing to a numbing fatigue. Fortunately, his doctor had seen beyond the physical symptoms and waving away his anxieties about the onset of Aids related symptoms, had patiently guided him out of his depression without the need for yet more chemical remedies. The fitness regime had been a part of the cure; though it had become almost an obsession and however pleasing the results were in the mirror, Marcel had felt driven to go further and become even stronger and from his viewpoint, more attractive. Sitting in the chair that evening, his elbows stinging and the sweat still issuing out of every pore, he began to realise that maybe he’d gone from one extreme to the other. He’d substituted crippling tiredness and depression for the daily kick of physical exertion and the opiate attraction of evening TV. He had an idea that those two impostors were just the same, ways to fill the emptiness and avoid facing up to his future. Maybe it was time to have a serious rethink!
The phone interrupted his musing. It had happened frequently recently. He’d been at the beginning of a self-pity session and the phone would ring.
‘Funny,’ he thought, ‘maybe I’m being told something here.’
“Hallo, Marcel here.”
“Hi, shit-face.”
It was Tineke; ‘Tinnie’ to her friends, a twenty three year old lesbian he’d known by sight for some time but hadn’t really spoken to until after Willem’s funeral. She had a one-roomed studio in the next block to Marcel’s and they had exchanged hellos many times in the street or the local shops. He’d been surprised and touched when she’d turned up at the door one morning a few weeks after the funeral, clutching a huge bunch of flowers and offering her condolences. It became an even more meaningful gesture after he later learned that she was on Social Security and always short of money. He’d invited her in and over coffee; they’d begun a friendship that showed every sign of being permanent. On the surface they had little in common and he knew that had Willem still been alive this would never have happened.
“You know my views on women Marcel; treacherous breeding cows; can’t be trusted, can’t be believed, repulsive sexual organs and what’s PMT all about for God’s sake! Inside every slim, beautiful girl is a fat, middle-aged woman screaming to get out. At twenty, they don’t care what the world thinks; at thirty they’re neurotic about what people think of them and at forty, they’re too stupid to realise that the world isn’t thinking of them at all and they expect us to understand, Christ! As for Lesbians; all that macrobiotic, earth-mother crap and whoever told them that abandoning any sense of style and chic would make them individuals? Look at them! Can you tell any of them apart?”
Marcel had chuckled at the memory. It had been one of Willem’s many vitriolic diatribes on segments of society, none of which he truly believed but used to get people going when the conversation began to get dull at gatherings or parties. One thing was sure, initially he would have hated Tinnie, with her battered jeans, cropped and spiky hair and general ragamuffin look but Marcel was certain he would have grown to love her if he could have got past his prejudices.
“Hi to you too. How are you?”
“I’m fine. Hey, do you want a film-fix tonight? I’ve got a spare ticket for ‘Chocolat’” “Blown out again huh! What happened this time?”
“Oh, shit man, I met this gorgeous woman at Vive la Vie last night and I told her I already had tickets, which of course I didn’t and told her it would be a pity to waste them etc etc. Well, to cut a long story short, she agreed but only if she could get a baby sitter, so I got all excited, got the tickets today and then the bitch rang and cancelled, can you believe it!”
“Oh yes, I can believe it; it’s the story of your life. When are you going to learn to be less impulsive? Apart from which, you can’t afford to go throwing your money away the way you do.”
“Well, it won’t be too bad if you come; then I’ve not lost anything, ‘cos I really want to see it anyway.”
“Oh God Tinnie, I would, I really would but I’m in no state to go anywhere at the moment and anyway, it’s far too hot.”
“Now that’s the story of your life mate. When are you going to start enjoying life again, social life I mean? I mean I know it’s not Mr. Leather Amsterdam or anything like that but it’s a night out and God knows, you need it!”
“If you’ll just let me explain…”
Marcel outlined what had happened in the park; firmly declared his intention of staying in to recover and found himself outside the Tuschinski an hour later with a grinning Tinnie linking arms and ignoring his squeals of pain.
  1. A pretty frock for Guus
  2. Reflections for Marcel