6. Marcel’s favourite lesbian
“Who is it?”
“Go away. I’m still asleep.”
“Tinnie! It’s eleven o’clock, for Christ’s sake!”
“Okay, that’s it. I’m off. You can go on your own.”
With that, an irritated Marcel turned on his heel and prepared to leave.
“Wait, Marcel, are you still there?”
“Not for long. I thought we’d made an appointment?”
“Sorry, sorry, come on up. I’ll be ready in a minute.”
The buzzer went and Marcel pushed open the front door to Tinnie’s house. He wondered why they bothered with an intercom system; the door would have opened with a bit of a shove anyway. He picked up the pile of post, sorted out those meant for Tinnie and started to climb the four flights of wooden stairs to her attic apartment, taking care not to trip on the pieces of broken lino that lay in wait for the unwary. .
Despite his exercise regime, he was still panting when he finally reached her open door and went in. Making his way through the piles of clothes, magazines and assorted junk that represented Tinnie’s chaotic life-style; he put the post on the table, took some mugs and plates over to the sink and coughed loudly to let her know he was there.
“Oh my God! You’re naked!”
“Very observant Marcel. You’ve seen a naked woman before haven’t you? You said you’d even fucked a couple; or was that just to impress me?”
“No! I mean yes!” Marcel hissed, “I’ve got a rough idea of where the clitoris is too, it’s just I haven’t…”
“…Done it with the light on? Well, let me give you a guided tour; these are tits and this…”
“Enough already Tinnie. I’ve never seen you naked. I mean you’re a friend.”
“Oh Marcel, dear sweet child, get a life. What a prude you are at times. Anyway, I’ll just be a minute, I’ve just got to have a quick shower and throw some clothes on and then I’ll be ready. Make yourself at home and make me some coffee…please.”
Marcel grunted. Friendship with Tinnie could be intensely irritating but he picked up the kettle anyway, lit the gas and put it on. Turning the hot tap on full, he threw the mugs into the sink, found the last dregs of some washing-up liquid and prepared to wash up. He knew that he couldn’t live like this but then again, he wasn’t in Tinnie’s precarious financial position. He couldn’t help remembering what his mother used to say though, “Poverty’s no excuse for filth.”
“Are you trying to kill me?”
He turned around to see an irate and dripping Tinnie, arms akimbo but this time with a towel wrapped around her.
“The water you dipstick! It’s freezing!”
Marcel turned the hot tap off.
“Better? My God Tinnie, how long are you going to live this primitive existence? Why don’t you get your landlord to do something about it?”
She snorted and ran back into the bedroom, leaving Marcel to finish the washing up and make two cups of cheap and instant coffee, which was much the same colour as the dishwater that was disappearing with some difficulty down the plughole.
Throwing some rubbish off the only armchair, he sat down, looked at his watch and sighed. The next time, he’d make the appointment an hour earlier than necessary, to make sure that his little lesbian friend would have time to pull herself together.
He was just beginning to wonder for the umpteenth time if what they were about to do was such a good idea, when Tinnie emerged, wet spiky hair sticking up at all angles and in her, 'I’m a bitch! Get over it,’ T-shirt and jeans.
“You’re not wearing that! We’re going to be facing a load of old people, with God knows how many prejudices as it is, without you frightening the shit out of them.”
Tinnie pulled a face.
“Spoilsport. Well, what is it to be then, the Lacroix or the Valentino?”
Marcel was rapidly losing his sense of humour.
“I don’t really care, as long as your tits aren’t screaming ‘look at me’ every time they peer over their half-specs.”
“Marcel, it’s a committee of allotment owners, not an audience with Queen Beatrix,” “Do it!”
Marcel had just about had enough and was about to call a halt to the whole proceedings, when Tinnie re-emerged, wearing a plain white blouse and beaming at him in that peculiarly child-like way of hers.
“Am I safe to walk down the street with now?”
He laughed. She was difficult to resist when she decided to play nice.
“God, sometimes you can look like the Virgin Mary’s only sister. No time for coffee though, we’ve got to get going, I think it’s cold anyway, we can get one there.”
He got up, picked up her leather jacket and held it open for her.
“Oh, thank you kind sir and they say the age of chivalry’s dead.”
He pushed her towards the door.
“Got any coffee Tineke?”
A disembodied voice drifted through the bedroom door, closely followed by what Marcel could only describe as a human relic from the punk era, rubbing her eyes in the strong light.
“Oh shit! Linda; I completely forgot about her.”
Marcel grabbed his friend and propelled her through the door, giving her just enough time to yell back into the flat.
“Coffee’s made babe…on the table.”
Marcel glared at her but was rewarded with a mere shrug of the shoulders.
“Tineke? Since when do your dates call you by your Sunday-name?”
“Well, a girl has to seem to have a touch of class every now and then.”
As soon as they were on their way and heading over the bridge towards Amsterdam North and the Ijsselmeer, Tinnie’s spirits had recovered and was talking excitedly about their prospects of getting an allotment.
“We can have barbecues and friends round and I can even live there, at least in the summer. Do you think they’ll have heating? Can we put a TV in and a fridge?”
Marcel chuckled at her boundless enthusiasm. It was one of the things he liked about her most; she made him feel old but that meant he had someone to care about, someone to do things for and although he knew he had to respect her independence, it made him feel good. It did cross his mind however; that he was rapidly assuming the role Willem had played with him in the past but that wasn’t such a bad thing was it?
“I have no idea but don’t build your hopes up too much; we may not even get anywhere. We’ve got to be accepted as members first and then there are bound to be waiting lists and so forth. From what Johan said, it’s quite a complicated procedure.”
“Oh pooh! Don’t be so negative. There were at least four places on the notice board; we’ll be alright, you’ll see.”
They arrived in plenty of time and went into the wooden clubhouse, where they were given a number and told to wait until the committee was ready to see them. To his immense relief, while they waited with a cup of decent coffee, Tinnie seemed slightly in awe of the surroundings and stayed pretty quiet. It gave Marcel a chance to reflect on what he was doing. He had some money but wondered whether in this sort of venture, costs might spiral out of control. He had found the idea itself almost irresistible though; a little haven of peace and quiet in beautiful surroundings just twenty minutes from the city centre. It sounded like the perfect solution to the tension he lived with on a daily basis. Having Tinnie as a partner might, no most certainly would, create tensions as well but they would be different, stimulating even. Was he using her, as a substitute for Willem? Well so what if he was, he hoped that it was mutually beneficial.
It wasn’t too long before they were called before the committee. Marcel gave Tinnie a warning glance as she was in danger of dissolving into a fit of giggles at the formality of it all. As it turned out, and as far as Marcel was concerned, they were nice people, who made them feel very welcome and explained the procedures clearly and simply. Basically, new plots were offered to members on a first come, first served basis but as there had been a recent spate of vacancies, there was a good chance that they may be lucky first time out. It all depended who turned up in the next hour or so. If other people had been on the list longer then they would receive priority. It all seemed very logical and democratic to Marcel; he paid the annual membership fee, received the list of rules and was more or less ready to leave. Unfortunately, he failed to take Tinnie’s sensitivities into account.
“Uhm, I notice that you addressed all points to Mr. van Ommen and although I’m a partner in this agreement, barely even looked at me throughout; is there any reason for this?”
Marcel groaned inwardly. He recognised that tight-lipped look and mentally kicked himself. When he looked back on it, she was right; they had asked him all the questions and virtually ignored Tinnie; not wise at the best of times. However, she could start them off on a very bad footing if she launched one of her political diatribes. For a moment, the chairwoman was clearly taken aback but to his surprise reacted very well.
“You’re quite right my dear…”
‘Oops,’ thought Marcel, ‘not one of Tinnie’s favourite forms of address.”
“…I must apologise both for myself and on behalf of the committee…”
The rest nodded in embarrassed assent.
“…We’re very proud of our democratic ideals here and of course, everybody should be treated perfectly equally. I hope you will forgive us?”
Tinnie blushed and was clearly mollified but not to be stopped now she’d made her point.
“Well, thank you. Now, if you don’t mind, I have a few questions…”
Marcel sat back and reminded himself once again never to underestimate his friend’s intelligence. She may have only been a skinny, one metre sixty-five but she could sometimes carry more presence than people twice her size. Tinnie asked a whole string of pertinent questions about things he had never thought of and by the end had the committee eating out of her hands. In fact, Marcel began to appreciate what she had felt, as he became the one who was largely ignored.
“You’re a star,” he said as they headed along one of the paths running through the complex.
“I know,” she grinned, “now, there are four places available and we’ve got ‘till twelve before we have to go back, so we can look at them all properly.”
“Remember, if there are other people there who’ve been on the list longer than us – and that’s everybody – they’ll get it.”
“Okay Mr. Practical; you’re stating the obvious again. Think positive Marcel! That’s your problem, you never do!”
Grudgingly admitting to himself that she was right, he took her arm and the unlikely couple strolled off to inspect their potential new hideaways.
The plot they chose lay on the end of a row, in an intersection between two tiny canals. It had belonged to an old man who had recently died, having been there for twenty-two years. The little wooden cabin was somewhat dilapidated and in need of some considerable modernisation and the garden itself was overgrown but more or less completely surrounded with well-established shrubs and mature trees. It was definitely the worst of those available but for that reason might attract little interest from other prospective buyers. Neither of them said a word as they wandered round, looking in the windows, inspecting the roof and the guttering and staring at the garden, yet as soon as their eyes met, the decision had been made.
“It’s like one of those puppies with sad, ‘take me home’ eyes you see in dog shelters.”
Marcel agreed wholeheartedly. Its big advantage as far as he was concerned, was its almost total privacy. People they had met and talked to had been very nice and welcoming but he couldn’t shake off the feeling that as gay people, they shouldn’t impose themselves on this community and living on its fringes would give them time to blend in and be accepted slowly. This wasn’t Amsterdam after all, although the people were largely Amsterdammers but most of them were older and the whole complex exuded respectability. He didn’t suppose that this would bother Tinnie in the slightest; she expected to be taken on face value and was always disappointed and annoyed when she wasn’t but even she recognised when a certain respect for others was appropriate and this was a case in point.
At one point, she dived to the ground and scrabbled around in the long grass and weeds,
“Look Marcel, look; it’s a sundial.”
She’d held up a battered brass sundial as if it were treasure trove.
“Actually Marcel, if we get this, I’m not sure I want a load of screaming queens or aggressive Dykes around; it wouldn’t seem right somehow. Anyway, this could be our escape from the city and I wouldn’t want to spoil it.”
“Are you sure you want this though? It’s not too quiet for you? You’re not going to get bored after the novelty wears off? We’ve also got to do communal work shifts here you know.”
She looked hurt.
“You don’t know me as well as you think you do mate. I have absolutely no doubts about this place; I knew it from the first moment I saw it. Even if we don’t get this one, I definitely want something else here. Maybe you’re having doubts about my commitment?”
“No, no sorry Tinnie; maybe I’m asking myself those questions. I just wanted to make sure we know exactly what we’re getting into. I’m sure as well. It’ll be beautiful and we can make it a real home from home. I really need this. Sometimes I think the city will choke the life out of me.”
They’d made their application for the plot and waited the last half hour before the twelve o’clock deadline with bated breath. Several latecomers arrived but Tinnie boldly asked them which plots they were interested in and scurried back to Marcel each time, the excitement obvious in her eyes.
“Nope, we’re still the only ones.”
Finally, they were invited back up to the committee room and to their mutual delight the deal was done and they became the proud occupants of allotment number thirty-nine.
Despite the day’s growing heat, the Ijsselmeer refused to lie still, as the gentlest of breezes ruffled its surface, sending barely perceptible wavelets to ripple against the grassy shore. In the distance, small yachts like Fairy Terns still skimmed across the surface and although the hum of the holiday traffic on the motorways in the distance, still intruded on the silence, the impression was of solitude and peace on an almost perfect summer day. As he sat on a bank nibbling on a grass stalk, Marcel took a deep breath and then another and felt waves of emotion wash over him. He couldn’t remember when he had last been this happy. It became unbearable and loaded with guilt. He desperately wanted Willem to be there; tried to fantasise that maybe he was but abandoning such thoughts as wishful thinking, drew up his knees and wept into them unashamedly.
“Hey, what’s this? Why so sad?”
He felt Tinnie’s arm around his shoulders; saw the concern in her eyes and surrendered himself to her hugs.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, really I am,”
He squeezed her so tightly; he could hear the intake of breath and relaxed his grip.
“Listen, I may only be a kid to you and give you every impression that I’ve got a screw loose most of the time but I can recognise grief when I see it. As far as I’m concerned, the line between true happiness and deepest sorrow can be wafer-thin at times. Look at the last ten years Marcel; what have you been through? Knowing you, you’ve managed to keep most of it under wraps, at least from the outside world but why? The more you try to control your emotions, the more they’ll find cracks in your armour and seep through, usually when you least want it or expect it. We live in a dumb culture as far as I’m concerned. We’re not allowed to scream when we’re angry, or beat our chests and tear our hair out when we’re in mourning; it’s just not done, or it’s seen as some kind of weakness. What a load of bullshit! Look what it’s done to you; you’ve become positively anal and I mean that in the nicest possible way!”
Marcel wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and giggled, nearly choked and kissed her.
“You’ve been so good for me Tinnie, I can’t tell you how grateful I am but I’m worried I’m using you. You know, as some sort of substitute. No that sounds all wrong, I don’t mean it that way. God, I don’t know what I mean.”
“I do. Shit man, so what if you’re using me? If that’s the case, then I’m using you as well, for, God knows what sort of Freudian reason; I don’t want to think about it. Isn’t that what friendship is though, when it boils down to it; two people using each other as support posts in life. Nobody does it consciously I suppose but a true friend is someone you can use; someone who fills in gaps, gives answers to all the shortcomings in our own personalities; something like that.”
“What were you in your last life child?”
He held her at arms length and looked quizzically at her.
“Who moi? Buddha maybe, or Mahatma Ghandi at least: this crap has to come from somewhere eh! Anyway, my faggy friend, how exciting is this? We’ve got our own camp little pied-a-terre and I can’t wait to get started. By the way, I’ve brought you a sandwich and a can of Coke but I’m not sure I’m going to leave you alone again until you can learn to handle a bit of happiness.”
“Well, we can’t do anything until the money’s paid and we’ve signed the contract.”
“Fuck man, there you go again. Dream a little, use your imagination and take me to that garden centre; I want to do some planning.”
7. Guus and John chew the cud
“If I’m really honest about it, our relationship is failing, not because due to a breakdown of love but a breakdown of friendship. I think I still love her but I just can’t stand living with her anymore; do you see what I mean?”
Guus gulped at his beer and spluttered, almost spraying his friend in the process.
“I had no idea, really. I thought you two were really happy together. Maybe it’s a good job you never got married then?”
John had invited him for a drink in town; saying that he wanted his advice over something but Guus had never imagined it was about anything like this. They stood at the bar, shoulder to shoulder with the usual assortment of people who gathered there after work; journalists, writers, local businessmen and the like, generally an older crowd who enjoyed the relaxed and womb-like atmosphere of a traditional brown bar. Over John’s shoulder, a trail of pungent cigar smoke spiralled upwards the panelled ceiling to add another wafer-thin layer of stain to the age old, golden brown. Guus loved this place; he’d patronised it for years, despite its unchanging décor and its refusal to accede to the whims of fashion. There were other bars like this of course; Amsterdam was famous for them but their numbers were dwindling. The difference was always the clientele; each bar attracting its own regular crowd which mistrusted change and modernisation; so it had always been and so it would remain if the customers had anything to say about it. Too many traditional bars had been yuppified and transformed into wine bars or the like yet had failed to attract enough of the younger, affluent set they aimed for, gleaming forlornly and largely soulless in the main streets of the city. This one knew its customer base and did everything it could to keep it happy, which largely meant doing nothing at all.
“Do you mind my asking why you feel this way? I mean from what I’ve seen of Sally, she seems really nice; quiet and intelligent and attractive too…” Guus added this as an afterthought, though Sally was most definitely not his type, too scrawny by half; he liked a bit of meat on his women, something to get hold of.
“She is, she’s all that but that’s the problem you see. She accepts everything I do: all my moods, all my mistakes. I can never put a foot wrong; it’s like a sort of hero-worship and I’m choking from it.”
“My God man! You do realise that most men would give their right arms for a woman like that? I can’t do anything right in my house; the slightest thing and Annie’s onto me like a ton of bricks,” he looked down pensively, “ Not that I mind; she’s got a lot to put up with.”
“I told her last week.”
“Told her what? Oh…I see. Christ, how did she take it?”
“Exactly the same way she takes everything else. She reckons that if it’s part of my nature then so be it; there’s nothing she can do about it and she’ll learn to live with it. I got so irrationally angry. I wanted her to scream at me, or throw something; to react in some way that would show she had a mind of her own and opinions. I showed her my clothes and I wanted her to vomit, or take a pair of scissors to them, anything to show she disapproved but no, all she could do was comment on the colours, or the material, or some such crap. I don’t know Guus, the woman’s not normal!”
“Well, what’s normal my friend, if you don’t mind my saying so, are we normal; set against accepted standards anyway? I don’t know, this woman’s a saint by your account and you want to leave her?”
John looked desperate and Guus, realising it was no joking matter, tried to adopt a more serious approach.
“You’re sure she’s not just a good actress? Hiding her true feelings behind a brave face, that sort of thing?”
“I suggested that to her but she denied it. No, she’s just a doormat. I sometimes think she’s a bit of a masochist.”
“That’s a bit harsh isn’t it? I mean look at it from her point of view. She obviously loves you and doesn’t want to lose you. If that means she has to accept you for what you are, then she’s clearly prepared to do that.”
“I didn’t even apologise for the lies and the secrets you know and she never picked me up on it; never protested, never complained that I’d been deceiving her, nothing, just dumb acceptance. I’ve come to realise that if she’s being a masochist then I’m becoming a sadist. I throw things at her to challenge her, to goad her into some sort of response but nothing seems to work. It’s no good Guus, I’m damaging her, even if she doesn’t realise it and at the same time, I’m becoming the sort of person I never imagined I could be.”
“Now wait a minute here. A sadist, by definition, is someone who enjoys inflicting pain on others and yet you say you think you still love her; so you can’t be a sadist. The same applies to masochism. I reckon your cross-dressing is the problem here. Deep down, you feel guilty. You’ve secretly wanted to be found out, or caught and when it didn’t happen, you forced the issue, so that you’d get the punishment you really think you deserve. Believe me, I’ve been there. It took me years to get that out of my system. When I was sixteen, I was both horrified and relieved when my mother discovered my secret. She never told anyone of course, least of all my father, who would have crucified me but it was enough, I’d had my brush with danger and it purged me of that perverse need to be found out. I’ve had some narrow escapes since, that’s for sure but I’ve always kept it from Annie; she’d be so hurt. We share everything you know, bad and good but I couldn’t share that; she just wouldn’t understand.”
“You may be right, although it all sounds a bit too simplistic for me, a bit too Freudian. I know what you mean but I still think I’ve done it out of a need to hurt her rather than to confess my sins and I don’t like myself very much as a result.”
“Another beer? Or would you rather go somewhere else, somewhere quieter? Actually, if it’s okay by you I’d like to have a look round the shops a bit later, seeing as it’s late-night-opening and I’d really appreciate your advice.”
“Sorry, am I boring you? I didn’t mean to. Yes, another beer would be fine and I’m quite happy to have a look around later. Sally’s not expecting me and I could do with a break anyway.”
John raised his finger and caught the barman’s attention.
“Two more beers please.”
“No, you’re not boring me, of course you’re not. Actually, I’d quite like to ask a few questions if you don’t mind? I know some things and I’ve met Sally of course but I’ve been wondering about a few things.”
If the truth were known, Guus was quite jealous of John in many ways. He was still clearly handsome, in that older, James Bond sort of way, with the sort of looks Guus was sure almost all women would find attractive. Apart from that, he had the sort of physique that looked good in dresses; tall, a little overweight certainly but with everything in proportion, in sharp contrast to his own body. John had all his own hair, albeit silver grey, clear, bright eyes, one of those winning smiles to compliment what was clearly expensive North American orthodontistry and was Canadian, which added a certain exoticism to his character. Guus couldn’t match any of these things and casting a quick glance into the mirror behind the bar, decided that he was just a bog-standard Dutchman and he’d have to live with it. In fact, he’d learned to live with it years ago and his looks were never an issue, or a problem, until it came to putting on women’s clothes. As a man, he looked like a man; nothing particularly out of the ordinary for someone his age but as a woman, he looked like a parody and it hurt him more than he ever knew how to put into words. John had seemed to instinctively understand this from the very beginning and that was why he valued him so much as a friend.
“Why did you move to Amsterdam? I don’t think you ever told me. You met Sally here right?”
“Yes but I actually came here to look for another woman.”
“You old dog you and what happened?”
“Well, I met Carolien; that was the other woman’s name, on a cruise ship in the Caribbean and to cut a long story short, lost touch with her in Venezuela. God, when I look back on that time, it all seems so unreal and so long ago. There was a kidnapping… I know…hard to believe isn’t it? It was real Indiana Jones stuff. It’s too complicated to describe now, I’ll tell you the full story some other time.”
Guus was disappointed. He felt he needed a bit of excitement and intrigue and this was certainly intriguing. He’d never expected there to be such colour in his seemingly conservative friend’s life. John however, was clearly not going to elaborate so he pressed him to continue.
“ Anyway, I decided to follow her to Holland and try to trace her. For some reason, Carolien had struck a chord; we’d bonded and in a very short time, we became sort of soul mates you know, although nothing more than that, nothing physical. I don’t really know why… the opportunity was certainly there. I just couldn’t do it although I did want to.”
John paused to take a drink and looking puzzled, stared into space as if trying to make some sense of what had happened.
“Ah well, it got stranger after that. I knew she’d been in the Salvation Army, so when I got here, the first thing I did was ask them if they could give me an address. The oddest thing was, they had no idea where she was. Apparently, she had been there one day and was gone the next; left her job, sold her house and disappeared off the face of the earth. They seemed to think that she must have had some sort of a breakdown and left Amsterdam as a direct result of an attack by a yob in the streets. Now this was not the woman I had known at all! I’d met this sophisticated lady, seemingly at peace with herself and the world, on a luxurious cruise ship and she certainly never mentioned being mugged. As you can imagine, my curiosity was really aroused by now but I had no idea where to look next; I mean, I wasn’t even sure she was in Amsterdam.”
“So what happened?”
“I’d been here a couple of weeks, doing all the touristy things and was more or less on the point of returning to Vancouver. I mean there was no point in staying was there? Then, would you believe it, I bumped into her in the street! It was a real coincidence. I was heading back to the hotel, when I remembered I wanted to buy a book about Amsterdam to take home, so I turned around to do that and there she was, right in front of me, large as life!”
“Wow, what did you say? What was the story?”
“We went for a coffee and had a long chat but from the moment I saw her I knew it wasn’t the same. What we’d gone through on the other side of the Atlantic just wasn’t going to work here. I knew that even before she told me…”
He paused again.
“Oh God John, don’t keep me in suspense. What? What did she tell you?”
“That she was married for one thing…to a black guy from Surinam and that they were heading back to Surinam the next day! I was so shocked; I think I was speechless. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t shocked that she’d married a black man or anything like that. I mean I knew she was different, special if you like; I’d known it from the moment I met her and that was why I came to Amsterdam looking for her. No, I was shocked at the turn of events and shocked by how little I really knew about her. Of course, I had my own secret as you well know and for some reason, I decided then and there to tell her about it.”
“Oh Christ! Did she run a mile?”
“No, no. It was cathartic somehow. All she said was that it explained a few things for her; my unwillingness to have sex for instance and although I denied that that was the reason, in retrospect, she may have been right. She accepted it completely and basically, we parted friends, chapter closed.”
At that moment, Guus fervently wished he had a similar sort of story to tell; something spicy from his past and for a second, he considered making one up but realised that that just wasn’t him. His destiny was to live an ordinary life and to harbour an extraordinary secret. It was enough, enough for him to cope with anyway.
“So what made you decide to stay here? That would have been enough to send me scurrying home.”
Guus knew it was the truth.
“I don’t really know. I looked closely at my life. I had plenty of money from all those years in real estate, you know about that. I didn’t need to work; I could wander the world if I wanted. I had no close family to go back to; my first wife died years ago. I could have been a cross-dresser almost as openly in Vancouver as here but Vancouver is home you know and I know it inside out; there are no challenges there. I could go back someday, or go somewhere else, I don’t know, it might happen but for the moment, I’m enjoying life here; apart from Sally that is!”
“Oh yes, I’d forgotten the beginning of our conversation. From what I remember, you met her at an embassy do or something didn’t you?”
“Yep, she worked at the Canadian embassy in The Hague; still does, at least part-time. God knows why she goes through all that commuting; she doesn’t need to. It’s this loyalty thing; she can’t bear to let people down. Well, I got the job running North American operations with the travel people as you know; Sally seemed really nice, is really nice and it just seemed put on a plate for me; a comfortable compromise and the rest you know. Anyway Guus my friend, enough of me, haven’t we got some shopping to do?”
Guus looked at him wide-eyed.
“God, you’ve led such an interesting life. I feel so dull in comparison.”
“That’s ridiculous Guus; you’re a much happier man than I am, much more content with the way things are. I’d swap with you any day.”
Guus felt appeased. Maybe John was right. Why should he grumble? So many people seemed burned out with stress from one source or another these days. Of course there were things he wished he could change but overall, he couldn’t complain; life wasn’t too bad on the whole.
“Come on then, time for some shopping therapy.”
John paid the bill and they headed in the early evening warmth towards the Kalverstraat.
It was eight thirty before the two men, laden with bags, sat down in the Bijenkorf café for a well-deserved coffee. Nobody would have guessed from their essentially masculine demeanour that the bags contained bras, panties, skirts and tops, which they would later take pleasure in wearing.
“Fuck John, I’m so glad you came with me. I’d never have had the nerve to buy these things on my own. You’re a real style guru!”
“Think nothing of it my man. Sometimes, we need someone else to point out our potential. You look really good in these things and I’m not just saying that.”
“Well thank you kind sir.” Guus fluttered his eyelashes demurely.
“God, is that too camp? I don’t want to look gay.”
John laughed again. He really liked Guus because he was honest and open. What you saw was what you got. They may have come from different worlds but they had one thing in common and that was enough to form the basis of a friendship. That was what attracted him most about Amsterdam; it was essentially an egalitarian society, where class was barely an issue and individual lifestyle preferences were valued and not scorned, providing you didn’t interfere with other people’s lives. He loved the fact that they had been able to walk into mainstream high street stores and browse around the women’s clothing section with impunity and he was continually astounded at how the shop assistants would help them with their choices. If they disapproved or were amused, they hid it very well; a sale was a sale and that was very Dutch.
“You don’t mind taking my clothes do you? Normally, my neighbours keep them for me but they’re going off to Thailand for a few weeks and I don’t dare take them home; Annie would find them for sure.”
”No, of course not. That’s fine.”
I don’t know how I’ve got away with it all these years but I have and I sincerely hope it stays that way.”
“Well, it’s your choice and your life. Only you know what works best for you and Annie.”
“I should have told her right at the beginning really, I know I should but in those days it was all so much more unacceptable if you know what I mean? Like all lies, the longer you keep them going, the more they’re compounded but I don’t want to hurt her, I really don’t and I’ll do anything to make sure she doesn’t find out. It’s the only real worry I’ve got in my life but as the years go on, you learn to live with it.”
“Hey, you don’t have to convince me. You’ve obviously got it all worked out. Why, have some of the others been telling you otherwise?”
”No, not really but I get the impression, they think I should come out of the closet so to speak; you know, in this day and age where everything goes.”
“Bullshit! You should do what you think is right. Why change a winning system? You and Annie are happy; that’s all that counts; why rock the boat?”
“I’m glad you agree. You’re right; I shouldn’t change things. I watch some of those afternoon chat shows and they all encourage you to be honest these days, especially the Dutch ones. It’s like there’s a constant pressure from society not to live a lie.”
John never watched that sort of show but had turned on to Jerry Springer enough times by accident to know what Guus meant.
“My God Guus, don’t take any notice of those; they’re sensationalist crap. They want to portray broken lives and the masses who watch them want to see it; it sort of validates their own pathetic existences. It’s voyeurism on a mass scale; a sort of moral masochism. There’s no message for society there just an endless quest for viewing figures.”
“You’re right I know that. I’m not the greatest intellect but even I can see that”
“Come on man, you’re an Amsterdammer. You live in the most tolerant city in the world. You people have evolved beyond Ricky Lake and Oprah Winfrey. Have more self-confidence.”
“Yeah but hiding my nature from my wife and kids seems so un-Dutch if you know what I mean? So old fashioned. I feel out of step with the world.”
”This is really worrying you isn’t it? Listen, if you take my advice you’ll ignore the pressure you feel and appreciate what you’ve got. You’ve lived a settled life all these years, keeping the two parts of your life separate. You may not have done it consciously but you’ve got it all sussed and it works! Your problem is that you don’t think enough of yourself as a person. Maybe you’ve even got a bit of what I was talking about earlier; the ‘wanting to be caught out’ thing. It seems to go with our lifestyle but don’t give in to it; you’re a great guy, a good father and a successful husband, don’t shit in your own nest for God’s sake.”
“Okay, I’m convinced.”
But from the creases in his brow, John could clearly see that his friend was by no means convinced. He decided to try to change the subject and bring up one of his own concerns.
“Can I ask you something Guus? Please don’t take this the wrong way but it’s something that’s been worrying me for months.”
“It’s true confessions time today huh. Yes, of course, ask away. I’m just so pleased I’ve got someone I can share things with. I haven’t had a friend like this for years.”
”I know; I feel the same way. Um…I don’t quite know how to put this…have you ever wondered what it would be like to sleep with a man?”
Guus’ coffee cup clattered onto the saucer, splashing its contents over the table and attracting looks from the tables close by.
“Shit! What? Um, what are you looking at? Haven’t you got anything better to do?”
The latter was addressed towards a couple of elderly women, who were staring. They quickly looked away and tried to appear unconcerned; outbursts between two men were fairly commonplace here. Realising he’d shouted, Guus lowered his voice to a whisper and leaned forward.
“That’s not like me. I never shout at people. Did I hear you right, you want to sleep with a man?”
“I didn’t say that, not really. I just asked if you’d ever wondered what it would be like that’s all?”
Guus sat back and stretched his arms out, gripping the front of the table as if to put some distance between himself and the question.
“No, I can’t say I ever have. Well maybe that’s a fib. As a kid, I thought about it, everybody does then don’t they? I’m straight though; I know I am. I mean I used to worry I was gay, what with the dressing up and all that, you know but I soon realised I wanted sex with women and only sex with women. In fact the idea of doing it with a man used to make me feel sick. This isn’t about me though is it? Come on, I’m not shocked, well, maybe a little bit but tell me what you’re worried about.”
”I’ve never told anyone this but ever since I was a teenager, I’ve had these fantasies; not often but sometimes. I’m also straight, always have been, I think. I’ve never even touched another man in that way, not even in the locker rooms, you know, when everybody else was horsing around but when I have sex with women, I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have a man in the bed as well. Then once, I found a gay porn magazine and it was such a turn-on, I can’t explain it.”
Guus sat with his mouth open, giving every impression of being a large fish out of water. He couldn’t deny he was surprised. He’d never expected this of John. He’d been disgusted at the end of the last meeting when it had been obvious that Kris and that new kid had been up to something but now that his friend had told him this, he was forced to think about it and it wasn’t a comfortable feeling at all.
“Um…you don’t think I might be that way do you? I mean you weren’t hoping something might happen between us were you? ‘Cause if you were, I’m sorry but I couldn’t, I just couldn’t.”
“Don’t get flustered. No, much as I like you Guus, I couldn’t imagine having sex with you in a million years.”
Guus was relieved and disappointed at the same time and showed it.
“Don’t get me wrong. I just wouldn’t think of you in that way. We’re friends aren’t we? It would be just too incestuous.”
John instinctively recognised Guus’ need for validation, irrespective of the context and tried to subtly reassure the man that he would have been an attractive proposition in the right circumstances. A vision of what it would actually be like flashed through his mind and he found it a preposterous idea. He’d seen Guus naked. There wasn’t a shred of sexual appeal as far as he was concerned but he didn’t want Guus to know that.
“Oh, that’s a relief then. Has this got anything to do with what’s going on between Sally and yourself then?”
”Maybe but I don’t think so really. I’d be frustrated with Sally in any circumstances and anyway, there’s nothing wrong with our sex life. Actually, come to think of it, I can’t fantasise about three in a bed with her; it just doesn’t work, she’s just too saintly for words.”
“Okay then. Look around. Is there anyone here who you could do it with? I mean, what type would you go for?”
The more Guus thought about it, the more interested he became in finding out what made John tick. He felt proud of himself that the bombshell hadn’t really shocked him that much and as soon as he knew he didn’t have to be involved in any way, felt it his duty to give John whatever support he could.
John looked around but the late night opening, restaurant crowd were hardly the stuff of erotic fantasy.
“I haven’t really got that far yet. It’s only been an idea at the back of my mind you know. Actually picking someone out and putting it into practice is an entirely different kettle of fish. I’m not even sure if I could ever go through with it in reality.”
“Well maybe you should; get it out of your system so to speak, then you’d know whether it was something for you or not.”
Guus couldn’t believe what was coming out of his mouth but pressed on,
“Maybe you should think about what sort of man turns you on. I mean, this is Amsterdam and from what I’ve heard, there’s no better city for finding someone to satisfy you in that area.”
John considered his friend’s advice. It was true, he had never really thought about meeting a real person in that respect. His fantasies had always been about bodies and never the faces or the personalities behind them. He caught sight of a film poster on the wall. The picture was of a man in a dark suit emerging from the shadows of a building. He was dark haired, with carefully highlighted designer stubble and clearly not young anymore but he had searing blue eyes and an enigmatic, Mona Lisa type smile.
“He’s nice, I think. Yes, I think I could go for him.”
Guus squirmed round in his chair to get a better look.
“My God, that’s Onno Huizinga and as far as I know, though I could be wrong…he’s gay!”
The two friends collapsed in fits of giggles, to the obvious consternation of the sober matrons around them.
7. Guus and John chew the cud