Un Chien Ingles
You don’t know what hotpants are. Not really. You know they’re short, but what is it exactly makes them hot, and differentiates them from just plain… shorts? You read the word in the paper, “The model was wearing hotpants.” and you only get a vague picture in your mind. You’ve never been a fan of pictures in your mind. You much prefer them in your eyes.
You don’t like the word ‘voyeur’. It makes you sound sleazy and wrong. You prefer to think of yourself as a looker. A looker, at lookers. Sometimes you wish you could stop. But it’s hard to walk down the street without turning your head. Shop window reflections offer refuge, but even then you’ve been caught. How many times have you almost crashed your car because your eyes left the road for a few seconds longer than they should have? You can’t help it – you’re biologically impelled. There’s always somewhere to look.
The inviting cleavage. The manifest bra strap. The tasselled skirt, like pull chords on a curtain. The halter-top. (You didn’t know what one of those was either, not ‘til you saw the pictures in the catalogue.) The skinny fit jeans and bare-to-the-world midriff. The mini-skirt. The slit skirt and tights. The sheer black stockings. The dress. Is it possible that once upon a time, you didn’t even know the difference between a skirt and a dress? What do words matter? The visual, that’s what matters. Only the visual.
“It’s rude to stare,” your mum used to tell you when she caught you looking at girls. So you tried to learn how to do it so she wouldn’t notice. Pretend to be looking elsewhere. Rub your eyes and peer through the cracks in your fingers. Get her distracted by something in the opposite direction so she couldn’t pinpoint the trajectory of your gaze. It was natural for a young boy to want to look, but you didn’t want her to think you were a pervert. Your ruse didn’t always work.
“How would you like it if wherever you went, people kept ogling you?”
Rather that than them looking right through you, you thought… but you couldn’t say that to her. Not to your mum. Because.
“Your mum’s a babe,” Freddie Cheever said, whistling and laughing on the sports field with his sweaty mates. Ten years ago, but still you feel the rage. “A proper MILF, that’s what she is! I would. We all would, mate, given half the chance. I bet even you would, right?”
It was the only time you’ve ever fought back, but it was worth the suspension. Freddie Cheever never said anything like that about your mum again. None of them did.
What he said – it was dirty, see. Dirty and disrespectful. But that’s not the way you are when you’re looking. Not at all. You’d much rather think of yourself as a disciple, a student of the form. A worshipper. When you see something beautiful, you want to admire it. You’re all about the admiration. No disrespect.
It’s not as though you don’t have a girlfriend now. But despite her unbelievable-yes-after-so-many-no’s, Jean doesn’t really understand. Her baggy jumpers, her shapeless trousers, her plain, flat shoes. Undressing in the dark, covering herself when you accidentally walk into the bathroom. You read somewhere that men are turned on through the eyes, women through the ears. You’ve tried sweet-talking Jean, but she doesn’t reciprocate. Not the way you’d like. And if she catches you looking… it’s like your mum all over again.
“Every time I see your eyes on some other woman, it’s like… like…” She doesn’t have the words, and neither do you.
Thursday night, you’re out for drinks with the gang from work. You wanted to say no, but couldn’t think of an excuse. In the end it was easier to go, just for the one. It’s Susie’s birthday and to mark the occasion she’s wearing that top with the neckline cut down to Brighton. As always, you’re trying not to look where you shouldn’t. To distract yourself, you start up a conversation. Because Jean insists – you’re not dull, you just don’t make the effort. You tell everyone what happened at the supermarket, how you spent ages trying to get into your car, thought your key was broken, almost snapped it in the lock trying to get it to turn… only then you realised it wasn’t your car at all – your car was a few spaces down. It only looked like your car. How embarrassing!
There’s a polite murmur, nods and smiles, then an awkward swerve as Alan starts telling everybody about the time he punched a gondolier in Venice and suddenly the whole table’s howling, even though they’ve all heard the story a million times before. You watch the barmaid, wiping the table opposite with a cloth. When she leans forward you just can’t stop yourself. Rebecca from HR catches your eyes and rolls hers. Pathetic!
Rebecca used to model underwear for C&A. You’ve seen the pictures. Jean wasn’t too happy about you working with an ex-model, especially after you told her how Rebecca turns her face in the sunlight to find the perfect angle, even when nobody’s taking pictures. You thought Jean would laugh.
“She’s not even my type,” you insisted.
“Oh, and if she was?”
How is it you never say the right thing?
When you get home the house is dark. Jean’s already in bed. The note says migraine, again. There’s microwave moussaka in the fridge, heat that up and don’t switch the lights on when you come upstairs. You sit and watch TV in the dark, where nobody can tell if you’re looking, where the guilt isn’t so bad. You wonder if you still have those magazines, down in the cellar.
Oh, they’re not those kind of magazines. You’d never… just as you’d never get on the internet and look at all that… everything you’ve heard that’s on there… They’re just FHM, Maxim and GQ. Harmless. Though Jean doesn’t like you looking at them, which is why you stash them under your old school reports and the receipts you keep in case the taxman ever comes gunning. But they aren’t there tonight, which means Jean must have found them, and you wonder if maybe you’re responsible for the latest migraine, as you have been for so many others before. Feeling all tangled up – like Steve McQueen at the end of The Great Escape, only on the inside – you head up to bed. You don’t switch on the lights.
On the way home Friday, you stop at a newsagent. To prove your motives pure, you buy copies of Bella, Woman’s Own and Chat, as well as what you came for. You’ve already thought of a new hiding place, in the crawl space above the wardrobe in the spare room. Jean’ll never look up there. You tell the woman behind the counter you’re a student, doing a thesis on the sociological ramifications of the differences between Men’s magazines and Women’s magazines.
“Women’s mags have much smaller boobs,” the woman says, and you bundle up your purchases in a hurry, leaving before she even gives you your receipt.
Out in the street, that’s where it happens. You notice her from the back, crossing the road towards the cash machine. An older lady, but in great shape for her age. You’re admiring the curve in her skirt. You don’t like crudities. You’d never say arse, bum, not even behind. Bottom is the only word you’d ever use. Why demean a thing of beauty? Your mouth is wet and you swallow, relishing the moment. As she reaches the other side, the wind catches her skirt exactly the way you’ve been praying it might, Marilyning it up and out and away, for everyone to see. (Although you’re the only one looking.) As she fights it back down, she turns. So you know it’s time to look away. And you would, you really would… if you weren’t helpless. If your whole world hadn’t just crumpled and boomed.
You drive and you drive and finally you stop, where the road turns off up to the reservoir. There’s concrete in your gut, Riverdance in your chest, and your hands are shaking so bad it’s like strobe lighting coming out of the steering wheel. You feel sick. You want to be sick. You are sick.
Outside, fresh air, clear your head. The wind so strong, it’s raising sheets of water off the reservoir. You rest your hands on the wall and let that water smack you full on in the face. Like it’s raining diagonally upwards, because you deserve it. The wind strips dead grass off the moors and hurls it at the fences, like the streamers people hang from fans in the summertime. So much dead grass, it’s sealing holes in the mesh, and spooling round the barbed wire strung along top. Away from the reservoir, you turn into the wind once more, and it’s like being struck by a 70 mile per hour wall. It sucks the breath right out your nostrils and tweezers the tears from your eyes. The eyes you can’t stop. Can’t stop looking. Even when they see what they’ve seen. Even when it’s dirty.
Dirty and disrespectful.
You’re standing at the fence now, and gripping the wire, your hands on either side of the barbs. But all you see is her. As the wind lifts her skirt, as she turns to see you. And then you bring down your face, fast, to the wire. You bring down your eyes, one at a time, straight onto the barb. Because that’s the only way to make sure. Make sure it never happens again.