another story featuring Will Shakespeare the gay optometrist
It was a lovely Friday evening towards the end of June; as I parked the car a short distance from the Nightingale Club there was still light in the sky. The streets in that part of town were so crowded with parked cars that it was a real problem finding a space. Then came the moment that irritated me, time after time: I took off my spectacles and put them, in their case, safely into the glove compartment. I got out of the car, set the alarm and, squinting slightly, headed for the club. The convention, unwritten but far from unspoken, that you don’t wear your glasses in a gay club, was one I found thoroughly irksome.
I had been a full time wearer since the day I walked out of the shop, sixteen years old, with my first pair of glasses perched on my nose: though I was only slightly myopic I loved the crystal clear vision they gave me; I loved the way I looked in them; and (I pretty soon found) I loved the sight of other guys in glasses. Since then I had had a couple of modest increases in my prescription; my uncorrected vision was still not too bad if I chose to rely on it—which, apart from visits to the club, I didn’t—but I could tell that the time for another increase was approaching; at the moment my corrected vision was merely OK rather than superb, as it would be when my test fell due in another couple of months and I had another half-dioptre or so. I remembered my first visit to the club with a couple of friends; as we approached the entrance one of them suddenly stopped and said, “Hey, wait a minute; you’ve still got your glasses on!” “So what?” “You can’t wear glasses in a gay club; nobody’ll look twice at you.” “But—” “Come on, take them off!” I succumbed to peer pressure. It was true enough; nobody did wear glasses in there, apart from a few gay vicars who changed their collars and came in when they’d finished work on Sunday nights—and they seemed to be there for the atmosphere rather than for sex. Mostly. There were plenty of guys there who obviously did what I had been bullied into doing and took their specs off round the corner. I could usually tell; I was in the last year of training as a dispensing optician, with the hope of eventually qualifying as an optometrist. I loved the work, fitting and adjusting glasses, working with them all day long; while many of the patients (clients? customers? which are they?) were old folks who needed stronger readers, just once in a while there would be a handsome young guy who looked good enough in his new glasses to feed my fantasies of some day having a sexy spexy boy friend.
I’m naturally observant (‘born noticing’ as somebody said) and my work backed my observation up with fact; looking around the club week after week I estimated roughly half the guys there needed glasses: quite a lot were bare eyed as I was, some with far worse eyesight than mine—and what’s the point of being surrounded by good looking gay guys if you can’t see what they look like? Others wore contact lenses, and had a whole raft of other problems as the smoke got in their eyes. My opinion was that we would look better, feel better, and see better with our glasses on; but I kept it to myself; it was just too countercultural!
One of the nice things about the ’Gale is that it’s in the ‘cultural quarter’ of the city and from time to time a celebrity may look in late in the evening; the occasional actor or musician adds tone to a place, and I was cherishing the hope that Philip Macbeth, a cute young actor who had a part in a long-running soap, might call in as he was appearing in a play at the Alex that week. He was fundamentally very fanciable—and on top of that it was generally believed that he was BOTH as gay as the character he played in the soap AND as short-sighted, and he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, and anyway didn’t, wear contact lenses. He wasn’t a major star, but I had a secret ‘thing’ about him, and to see him in the flesh would have made my night...and given his eyesight I couldn’t imagine he would be bareyed if he came. If.
The club was fairly quiet; it would warm up when the pubs closed. There was no fight to get to the bar. I ordered my pint of mild; because I was driving this would be my only drink, but it was another countercultural choice; lager and gin were the popular drinks. I took the first mouthful of the brew, and glanced around. At the other end of the bar was a shortish guy who, as far as I could see at that distance, had rather a nice figure. As he turned his head the light caught something—was he wearing glasses? I squinted as hard as I could, but couldn’t be sure; the only way to find out was to get closer. Not easy without being obvious; but, squinting at the assorted bottles behind the bar, I edged along till I could see him properly—and I was right! He was looking my way through low minus lenses in oblong white metal frames—my eye, professional if a bit myopic, said -2.5 to -3, just a bit stronger than my own, probably what I’d be wearing pretty soon. I wanted to get into conversation, without seeming to give him the ‘Come hither’; not so easy, but I decided to give it a try.
“Evening,” I said; “I don’t think I’ve seen you here before.” Terrible start; the classic chat-up line!
“Probably not; I’m only here for the weekend. I’m waiting for a friend.”
“Oh, all right.” I asked for that, I thought, and turned away.
“Come on,” he said; “surely we can talk—unless you’re desperate for somebody to fuck.”
“Of course not.” But what to talk about? I blurted out the thing that was at the top of my mind. “We don’t see many people wearing glasses in here.”
“I dare say not. Put yours on and then there’ll be two of us—and you’ll be able to see where you’re looking.”
I felt myself blushing. “Actually I left them in the car—but is it as obvious as that that I’m short-sighted?”
“To an optometrist it is. For one thing you have pressure marks on your nose; and if you had contacts in you wouldn’t have to squint the way you did from the other end of the bar. Remember, I’ve got my specs on; I could see you a lot better than you could see me.”
“You’re an optometrist then? That’s what I’m aiming at; I’m in my last year of training as a D.O.”
“WHAT?” For the first time (but not the last, as it turned out) I saw the little man go ballistic. “You call yourself an eyecare professional and you don’t have the gumption to keep your glasses on when you come in here. Honestly, you’re not fit to shovel shit, never mind dispense prescriptions…” His tirade, delivered quietly but with undisguised fury, was interrupted by a voice that was somehow familiar saying, “Come on, sweetie, don’t get your rag out. What’s the boy done?” We both looked round, and I almost fell through the floor. It was Philip Macbeth in the flesh, even more handsome than on the screen and—was it possible?—even more myopic. The glasses he wore were not the ones he wore on TV; the frames were identical to his friend’s; the lenses were not thick but they were certainly strong. He obviously had the benefit of the best technology, and just as obviously he was spectacularly short-sighted.
“Oh hi love,” said the little man. “I was just giving this stupid great queen a piece of my mind—wants to be an optometrist and comes in here half-blind. If you’d seen him squinting his way along the bar till he got me in focus…”
“Never mind all that now. Since you seem to be good enough friends to have a blazing row you’d better introduce me. You can’t? OK.” He turned to me. “I’m Phil and this is my friend Will. You’ll have to excuse him; he’s a great big pussy-cat really but he likes to spit and scratch occasionally. So who are you?”
“I-I’m Frank. Frank Bacon. Look, I know who you are, I watch your show, it’s great to meet you but I mustn’t intrude, I’ll make myself scarce…”
“Nonsense,” said my hero; “You’ve had the rough side of Will’s tongue; you’ve got to have a drink with us.”
“No, I mustn’t; I don’t have more than one when I’m driving.”
“OK; if you won’t drink let’s dance.”
We danced. Will danced pretty well but Phil was sensational. he was the kind of dancer who makes you feel you’re dancing well, who maybe even does make you dance well. The music was lively and we did a sort of sexy jive. Then it slowed down and the dancers got closer. Will and Phil got closer to each other—but I wasn’t to be excluded it seemed; they drew me close as well and we danced on in a threesome huddle. What kind of gay couple was this, I wondered. After a while we came off the floor and sat down. Will and Phil were chatting on, commenting on other dancers and people around the club that they could see but I couldn’t. I thought, what am I doing here bareyed, I’m missing such a lot, and I said so. “You know, you’re quite right to keep your glasses on; honestly I’ve always thought it made sense and now I’m realizing how much I’m missing. It’s just that it’s never been the done thing…”
“Of course,” said Phil. All that crap that No-one makes passes at boys who wear glasses.”
“Well, I know that’s crap,” I said. “I don’t make passes at boys without glasses.”
“Quite,” said Will. “And there are a good few of us about. Tell you what, do it while we’re here. I’m here for the weekend and Phil has another week at the Alex. I’ll be here tomorrow night for sure, so you’ll have some moral support—and this poor cow has no choice anyway. Can’t tolerate contacts, can’t see past the end of her nose bareyed.”
“Right you’re on, I’ve always wanted to anyway. Only, I don’t think I’ll put my specs on till we meet up, I’ll come in bareyed as usual.”
“Huh!” said Will. “Chicken!” but Phil was more sympathetic…”Come on, love, he doesn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb till you deign to show your face!”
We danced some more, we drank some more (I went on to lime and water) and after another hour decided to call it a night. I dropped Phil and Will (they wouldn’t let me call them anything else) at their hotel and we arranged to meet. Will was going to see the show and Phil suddenly said, “Look, why don’t you come with him? You can hold his hand when my performance gets him tetchy. That OK? Meet him in the foyer—he’ll have the tickets. No honestly, I never use my quota of complimentaries anyway. Right, that’s settled. Thanks for the lift and everything”—and this starlet I admired so much gave me a goodnight kiss: far from lascivious, but more than a peck on the cheek. Will followed suit, and I drove home on air, or so it felt.
I wasn’t sure how happy Will was with me as an escort; but when I arrived at the Alex the next evening, wearing my glasses of course, I was reassured. I saw him first (he was wearing small gunmetal ovals this time) but there was nothing forced about his look of pleasure when he spotted me. I had an idea I might have got more than a squeeze of the hand if the place had been less public. “There!” said Will. “I’m glad you’re seeing better tonight, and you’re looking better too. Those round gold frames really do something for fair-haired guys like you.”
“It’s OK,” I said; “I don’t need any persuading. I like the way I look in glasses as well as the way I see.”
As he sipped his gin and tonic Will was in reminiscent mood: “I remember dispensing Phil’s first glasses; round gold frames, with his fair hair—I could have devoured him then and there!”
“But surely,” I said, “with his eyesight Phil must have been in specs since kindergarten...”
“Oddly enough he hasn’t. He was at this stage school where all the teaching was done in small rooms, and it never occurred to him there was anything wrong with his vision till he went for a driving lesson. He couldn’t see the number plate, never mind read it, and I was a student when I did his first test and fitted his specs—minus three, about as strong a first prescription as I’ve seen, even now. He squinted worse than you did last night and thought everybody else did the same. He’s gone up a dioptre or so every year since: minus 8.25 and still increasing. Contacts do terrible things to his eyes, but he’s fine with his glasses.”
“How about surgery?”
“Surgery?” Will almost flew off the handle again. “Even if I trusted those bastards of laser merchants there would be no point till his eyes stabilize. I suppose a lens implant might be a possibility sometime—but since he won the fight to play in glasses he’s quite happy.”
The play, a straightforward comedy thriller, had us enthralled all evening—sometimes in stitches, at other moments on the edge of the seat. In his part Philip wore heavy black plastic frames twenty years out of date, to suit the period of the play. They weren’t the sexiest specs in the world, but he was still gorgeous.
At the end Will said “We arranged to meet in the Jester and go on the club afterwards—that OK?”
I was quite happy; while it meant ‘coming out’ as a glasses wearer in two gay venues in one evening, it wouldn’t be quite as conspicuous in the pub as in the club. Besides I’d have moral support—the very best!
I decided to have my beer in the pub where it was better kept. My glasses didn’t attract much notice, though I saw one guy I knew by sight fish a pair of specs out of his pocket and hold them up to his eyes to have a look, and then put them away. Will seemed determined to talk shop; he quizzed me about my progress at college, my practical experience, my plans for when I qualified. I answered absent-mindedly; the experience of seeing the scenery clearly was such a novelty. In due course Phil’s arrival caused a minor sensation in the pub; my acquaintance got his glasses out again and put them on properly this time to have a good look; he must have kept them on for at least four minutes. And Phil was well worth looking at: once again his glasses matched Will’s, and the powerful lenses in the tiny oval frames were definitely too much for a white woman.
One more drink (a soft one for me) and we decided to move on. I have to admit that, even in this company, I was a bit apprehensive about appearing in the ’Gale with my specs on—but the thought of Will’s wrath if I took them off kept them in place. Once I did it, it would be done; but then there would be evenings of going in alone, sticking out (as Phil had said) like a sore thumb—but seeing everything and everybody clearly, and that would be worth it.
Once again Phil’s arrival caused some excitement; he had a bit of a cult following in the gay crowd (of course!) and the word had gone round that he’d been in the night before. When I went to recycle my drinks a cute, pert red-haired kid squinted at me and said, “Hey Foureyes, how do you know Philip Macbeth?”
“Only through meeting him in here last night, Duracell.”
“Any chance of an introduction?”
“I’ll see what I can do. But who are you calling foureyes? You wouldn’t squint like that if you kept your glasses on.”
“Glasses? I haven’t got glasses; do you think I need them then?”
“Sure as eggs, I’d say.” A thought struck me. “Look darling, do you drive with eyesight like that?”
“No, I haven’t learned yet. Look, if my eyes are bad that might account for a lot of things; maybe I’d better get a test. Thanks for telling me, and if I could get to meet Philip...”
Phil was ready to be sociable, and soon there was a crowd of fans round him and plenty of girlish laughter.
Will and I relaxed in a corner. Presently Will said, “Frank sweetie, I’d really appreciate it if you’d keep in touch with Phil during the week; I go back tomorrow, and he didn’t much enjoy last week in the hotel. A little bit of clubbing goes a long way as far as he’s concerned too; I mean, he won’t want to come in here every night of the week.”
“Well, of course, I’ll be delighted. I’ve enjoyed meeting both of you. I don’t know how you’d feel—there’s a spare room in my flat, and I’d love to have his company. That’s if you trust me, of course.”
Will grinned. “That’s OK. He likes you but doesn’t fancy you. Or so he keeps saying. So I’m happy and I’m pretty sure he’ll be the same. And if he was going to cheat on me I guess I’d as soon it was with somebody I like too.”
I heard that summing-up with mixed feelings, but what I had said was perfectly true; I had taken a real liking to Phil, regardless of any attraction. When he disentangled himself from the queens, we put the proposition to him and his face lit up. “Hey, I’d love that; I really am grateful, Frank. When can I come? I want to go to Mass in the morning: do you know anything about Anglican churches?”
This was home ground for me. “Well, there’s St Alban’s, or St Agatha’s...” After discussing the local churches we agreed I’d pick Philip up in the morning and take him to Mass on one of the council estates. Afterwards we’d meet Will for lunch and see him off on the train.
Phil was a pleasure to have around: quiet, undemanding and good-natured. He was also a generous guest; he brought food in and a couple of times got the meal ready; the other evenings I prepared it early and then slept for a couple of hours till it was time to pick him up from the theatre—if we were to eat together it had to be a midnight supper. On my afternoon off we went out to a country pub for lunch and visited a couple of stately homes—and he offered to drive so that I could drink more than one pint. Whenever we were together we talked and talked—about his theatrical work, about Will whom he adored, about his parents who had been killed in a road accident, about his elder brother Victor who was a dentist. Phil was obviously devoted to his brother, but I got the impression he wasn’t telling me everything. Vic lived with his girlfriend, another dentist, and that was about all, except that he, or they, might be coming to see the show next weekend.
I had far less to talk about than Phil did, but I suppose I told him the story of my life too. One night he asked me, “Is your name actually Frank, or is that short for Francis?”
“Oh, I was baptized Francis but I’ve always been called Frank.”
“Right. Francis Bacon. Mmm. Interesting.”
There was no cheating; it would have gone against the grain for me to come between a man and his man, and it was obviously Phil’s way to be faithful. The goodnight kiss on the cheek was warm and affectionate; and that was all. He liked to slouch around the flat in shorts or the tattiest pair of torn jeans you ever saw, with a T-shirt and flip-flops, and the same heavy black specs he wore on stage; the lenses were CR-39 and really thick. He seemed to get a kick out of looking a scruff in private, but he was still as sexy as ever. The frames, he told me, were particularly comfortable, and he liked to wear them in the shower and when he relaxed in private. The idea of specs in the shower had never occurred to me; but then I’m not minus eight. What do you do if you can’t see the controls of a strange shower?
On the Monday afternoon of that week I was sitting at the reception desk at work. I was doing some paperwork and had taken my glasses off, but after a while I looked up and saw a red-haired youth in school uniform browsing over the racks of frames. There was something familiar about him in the blur, so I reached for my glasses to confirm my first impression, put on my butchest voice and said, “Can I help you at all, sir?” He turned, squinted fiercely in my direction and said, “A guy I was talking to said I need glasses and I think he might be right.”
“Well, Duracell, if you don’t recognize me at that distance I was right, wasn’t I?”
He blushed as red as his hair and came closer. “Fucking hell, no wonder you knew so much about it! So what do we have to do?”
“We start by booking you an appointment. I see there’s a slot free in about twenty minutes if you’d like to wait—Yes? OK—so I’ll take some particulars and then run a screening test. Then while you wait for the optometrist you can look at some frames. I’ll help you if you like.”
That’s how I discovered his name was Ben Johnson; he was only 17 and according to the machine his Rx was -0.75-1.00, -1.25-0.75.
“Right,” I said. “This confirms what we already know: you’re a bit short-sighted. The optometrist will fine-tune the prescription; but there will definitely be a prescription. So you can start picking out frames if you like.”
“OK; did you say you could help me choose? Actually I like your specs; can I try a pair like that?”
“Sure, but there’s plenty of choice, and there’s a special offer on at the moment: you can have a second pair of glasses at no extra cost. So you might want two different styles”
There was no doubt about it; gold circles did look good against Ben’s clear complexion (he wasn’t one of your freckled redheads) and he was quite emphatic that that was one of his choices. But what was the other to be? Black plastic wasn’t right; neither was clear plastic. He paused over a frame in a reddish-brown tone; if it had matched his hair it would have been sensational, but it didn’t. Finally we found an oblong carbon fibre frame—lighter than plastic, heavier than wire—in a very dark green. Daring, but astonishingly effective; and he had all but decided when the optometrist signalled that he was free; so we postponed the final decision till after the test.
The optometrist’s prescription, when it came, was pretty close to the screening result; a little less astigmatism and a little more myopia in the right eye. When we looked at the frames again (I had kept the most likely ones on one side) Ben’s mind was made up: he wanted the round gold frames and the dark green oblongs. With racing pulse I wrote down the measurements and went into the lab. with the frames and the prescription.
“Sorry darling,” said Malcolm the technician. “Can’t finish these tonight, your patient’ll have to come back tomorrow. Pretty, is he?”
“Wouldn’t kick him out of bed on a wet Tuesday afternoon,” I admitted.
“Oh well, let’s hope it rains tomorrow.”
I explained to Ben that it was too late in the afternoon for the one-hour service. He pouted, but that got him nowhere; he had another day to wait, so he squinted his way out of the shop.
Malcolm had joined the practice a few months before as an experienced technician. Oddly enough he had never had an eye test till he joined us—and turned out to be the latent hyperope of the outfit. At the time I’m talking about he was fighting a losing battle against full time wear, but had given up taking his glasses off during the working day. He was tall and willowy, or, to put it in plain English, as camp as a row of army tents. He had dark hair and brown eyes with long lashes, which looked wonderful behind the plus lenses that he thought made him look bug-eyed. Finally, he was a thoroughly nice guy and a good friend, but seemed to be unlucky in love.
On Tuesday morning when I got to work he was looking out for me. “Do us a favour, dearie. Make sure I get a butcher’s at your pretty boy.”
“OK pet,” I said. “I’ll dream up some excuse.” It pays to keep in with the optical technician; and if he’s like Malcolm and has an eye for the boys—well, it’s always someone to compare notes with.
As four o’clock approached I kept an eye on the door, and in due course Ben showed up. He squinted anxiously round till he saw me. I showed him to a seat and went round to the lab to get his glasses—Malcolm had kept them in there to make sure he knew when Ben arrived, and came out on my heels. I slipped the round gold pair on Ben’s face and as he gazed all round him I said, “How’s that?”
“Fucking marvellous!” was the reply. “I wish I’d known sooner what a difference they’d make! I could kiss you!”
“No need for that!” I said nervously (as far as I knew Malcolm was the only other person in the place who knew how many beans make five). I checked that pair for fit, and then tried the other pair on him. “Those are pretty well OK, I think.”
Malcolm had been looking Ben up and down and now examined his glasses carefully. “They need freeing up a bit. Let me take them away.”
“Bloody hell,” said Ben when he had gone. “How many faggots are there in this place?”
“Now what gives you that idea?”
“Oh come on, I wasn’t born yesterday. I know what it means when a guy undresses me with his eyes.”
Malcolm was back in a couple of minutes and this time we let Ben put the glasses on for himself. He checked his reflection in first one pair, then the other—and I must stay he looked stunning in both of them—and looked all round before deciding to wear the gold frames for the time being. He paid the bill and before he left said, “Look, you don’t know how grateful I am. See you in the club and I’ll buy you a drink.”
When he had gone Malcolm and I both let our breath out. “Well, my dear,” said Malcolm, “Those specs really do something for him, and I don’t just mean improve his vision.”
“Which ones are you talking about?”
“Darling, he’s sensational in both of them. I’ll bet he breaks a few hearts.”
Friday came; Phil prepared to move back to the hotel where Will would be arriving that evening, and we agreed we’d all meet up in the club. I wasn’t to take my car; they’d send me home by taxi, so once again I could drink as much as I wanted (not that that would be much, but it was nice not to be inhibited, and this was typical of Phil’s kindness).
I arrived at the club a bit earlier than usual, and as soon as I got there a red head popped up in front of me: “Hi gorgeous, I was hoping you’d be in tonight; how about that drink I promised you?” Ben was (of course) out of school uniform; in black slacks and a black T-shirt my nickname of Duracell really fitted him. He was wearing the green frames and looked gorgeous. I had a long thirst, so I asked for my usual pint, and we sat down at a table.
“You’re wearing your specs in here then?” I said.
“Too damn right!” was the reply. “There was never any question. Now I can see I want to see everything I can; what would be the point of taking the fucking things off? I love wearing specs; I’ve had a great week seeing clear. I wish I’d known before how bad my eyes had got. Uh, would you like to dance?”
This was more than I’d bargained for, but I could hardly refuse. As we stepped on the floor it was clear Ben wanted to get close; he wrapped himself round me and pressed his body against mine; very pleasant, but things seemed to be moving faster than I expected or wanted. He kissed my neck, then my cheek. Murmuring, “I told you I wanted to kiss you,” he aimed for my lips. When our glasses tangled he freed his left hand long enough to flick his up into his hair and gave me a long kiss full on the mouth. When I felt his tongue trying to penetrate my lips I tried to disengage myself a little, only to find his hands exploring the waistband of my jeans.
“Cool it, kid,” I said. “Dancing’s one thing, rape’s another.”
“Aw, but you’re so sexy,” he whispered; “I’ve never had a guy and I’d like you to be the first. I love you.”
“Come off it, you hardly know me. Just cool down and slow down or I’ll walk off this dance floor.”
We finished the dance and went back to our drinks. Ben was a bit sulky, but presently he said, “I say, how do you get a job like yours? I’d love to get into that kind of work.”
I gave him a brief rundown on the system, then a thought struck me. “If you’re interested, our Saturday girl is leaving soon. I’ll make a note that you’ve enquired if there are any jobs going; who knows? you might be lucky. And it would be nice to have a good-looking Saturday boy for a change.”
“Nice for who? You and that great poove in the lab?”
“Oh, we have some girls on the staff who like nice boys.”
“Well you can forget that. I’d sooner have the pansy in the lab.”
“His name’s Malcolm and he’s a good friend of mine, so you can talk about him properly. If you come and work with us you’ll have to anyway.”
“Hey, do you really think I have a chance?”
“Don’t see why not if I put a word in for you. Now look, here come my friends. Thanks for the drink—not to mention the compliment!”
Ben skipped off happily enough as Will and Phil approached, accompanied by another guy who could only be Vic: an older version of Phil, but with black hair and no coke bottles—glasses, yes, but only -2 in oblong black wire frames. God, I thought, you’re beautiful—but you’re not happy! His pale blue eyes, squinting over his glasses, looked as if he’d wept more than he’d slept in the last week, but as Phil introduced us I got the impression he was taking as much interest in me as I was in him. Funny, I thought, didn’t Phil say his brother was straight—doesn’t look much like it. But Phil was signalling he wanted to talk, urgently and privately.
“Vic’s in a hell of a state; he and Emma have split up. There are a lot of things I didn’t tell you that you need to know now. I first met Will when he and Vic moved in together; they met at a Gaysoc meeting when they were students and fell in love; and when I went for a driving lesson and it turned out I couldn’t see a number plate at sixty feet, never mind read it, Vic got Will to take me on as a patient. About eighteen months after that Vic got close to Emma, broke it off with Will and moved in with her—he’s never been sure enough that he’s straight to go the whole hog and marry her, and now he’s realized it was just one of those phases people go through and really he’s as queer as the rest of us. Of course the poor old queen has got his knickers in a twist about hurting Emma, but as well as that he’s got it into his head I’ll be jealous if he stays in the same hotel—you know, the ‘three’s a crowd’ thing. You only have to look at him to see he hasn’t slept for days. Now the favour I was leading up to is this: could you possibly see your way to putting Vic up in the room I’ve had? That way he might get a night’s sleep and get some pleasure out of the weekend. Look, I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think I could trust you to say ‘No’ if it’s putting you out too much. What do you think?”
“Phil, I’ll be delighted; it’s no trouble at all. You’ve no idea how much I’ve enjoyed having your company this week, and I was just thinking how empty the flat was going to feel. Bring him round as soon as you like.”
“Frank, you’re a star—” and I was being hugged and kissed by my favourite starlet in the middle of the ’Gale. That’ll do something for my street cred, I thought.
We hung around for a while and had a couple of drinks; but Vic was obviously so miserable, not to mention plain shattered, that it seemed sensible to take him back and get him to bed. Phil was disappointed and apologetic; Will was showing signs of incandescence, and it seemed sensible to get clear before there was an explosion. I told Phil not to worry; I had spares of anything Vic might need overnight, from toothbrushes to condoms (not that I imagined he’d need any of those!) and we called a minicab; when we reached my flat Vic was dead to the world. It seemed a shame to wake him but I had no choice; he was a bit big for me to carry and I didn’t want the driver thinking he was dead drunk. I showed him his room and said, “It won’t take me two minutes to change the bed.”
“Oh, never mind that,” he said; “I’ll sleep in Phil’s sheets. We used to sleep together till I started dental school—” and he kicked his shoes off and fell on the bed fully dressed. I left him to it.
I had to work on Saturday, and although I’d have liked to leave Vic to sleep a round of the clock I thought he’d be a bit disorientated when he did wake, so I took him a cup of coffee just before I went out—only to find that he’d gone to sleep in his clothes without taking his glasses off; they’d fallen off in the night and he had rolled on them and crushed the frames and knocked a lens out. He looked as if he was about to burst into tears. “Oh God,” he said; “Will’s going to kill me.”
“Maybe,” I said; “but only if he gets to know.” I took the twisted specs and tried to pop the lens back in, but they were too far out of shape. “If you can manage without them till lunch time—well, you’ll have to, won’t you—I’ll take them to work and sort them out for you. I’ll bring some fish and chips and we can have a quick picnic in the kitchen and I’ll finish the adjustment.” Vic looked a bit bemused as he squinted up at me. “Are you in the optical business then?”
I explained quickly—it was time to get to work—left him undressing, and headed for work. His glasses were in quite a mess, but I managed to get them back into shape. I asked Malcolm to cover for me if I was delayed at lunch time, slipped Vic’s specs in my pocket and drove to the chippy. When I got to the flat he was still in bed but ready to get up, especially when he smelled the fish and chips. I made coffee and unwrapped the packets, and presently he wandered into the kitchen in his knickers; if I’d liked the look of him fully dressed that was nothing to seeing the contours of his almost-naked body. I felt a twitch in my groin, but Vic’s mind was on food. He fell on his fish and chips as if he hadn’t eaten for days (I discovered later that to all intents and purposes he hadn’t!) They were superbly cooked, and I had asked for the optional garlic batter that gives the fish an extra bit of flavour. When our plates were polished clean I said “Right; let’s get these specs adjusted.” Vic pulled his chair back and sat up straight, and I fitted the glasses over his ears and checked for pressure points. I wanted to make sure they wouldn’t slip down the way they had been doing, so I took them off him again, adjusted the ear pieces and put them back on. Was it my imagination or was the bulge in his jockeys getting bigger? “Wear them till evening and see how they feel...” but he had stood up; his arms were round me and he was kissing me; not just a friendly kiss either. This was the real thing. Our glasses tangled and simultaneously we pushed them up into our hair...
I hadn’t meant to have an amorous lunch break; I’m not a tart. Honestly. I hadn’t meant to drop my slacks as soon as his hands explored those regions. I hadn’t meant to put my hand into his shorts. I’d certainly had no thought of leading him to the bathroom to bring it to a head-blowing conclusion. I ought to have been ashamed of myself, but I wasn’t. I was ecstatic. So was Vic.
All good things come to an end; I had to get back to work. I made it in reasonable time; Malcolm was in the front shop when I arrived. “Hallo-allo-allo!” he said. “What’s up with you? You look like a cat that’s swallowed the cream.”
“Not quite that,” I said. “Tell you sometime.”
“OK, but I can guess most of it.”
Saturday afternoons are usually fairly busy—people who are at work in the week often wait till Saturday for an eye test or specs-shopping—and there was a steady trickle of patients/clients/customers. Mid-afternoon, Ben looked in. His gold glasses had been in the wars and were even less straight than Ben himself; so, mischievously, I called Malcolm to make the adjustment. While he was attending to it I had a sudden thought and knocked on the manager’s door.
“There’s a kid in for an adjustment; Malcolm’s looking after him. We dispensed his specs the other day. He was asking about career prospects and I wondered if he might do for Emma’s job.”
“Might be a possibility—bring him in when Malcolm’s finished with him.”
A few minutes later I grabbed Ben and explained what was up, and sent him in to see the boss. After twenty minutes or so he emerged. “Hey, it looks as if I’ve got a job, starting the middle of next month. That’s another drink I owe you—if you won’t have anything else off me,” he said shyly.
I took him into the lab. “I want you to meet our new Saturday boy. He’s starting when Emma finishes.” Malcolm’s eyes lit up behind his glasses, and I was pleased to see Ben smile back—Malcolm really is a lovely guy, and I knew he liked Ben.
That evening we were off to the Alex again; I didn’t get as much out of the play as the first time—I was distracted by Vic’s wandering hands, though he seemed to know everything that was happening on stage. Then to the Jester to wait for Philip. I was amused that a guy who came in just after us, when he saw several of us in glasses, took his own out, put them on and looked round the room with a grin. The other guy who had put his specs on the previous week to get a better look at me and then at Phil was contentedly wearing a new pair—oval rimless. It seemed as if the idea was catching on. When we went on to the ’Gale Vic was the life and soul of the party. He danced almost as well as Phil, and was easy to dance with—when the two brothers danced together it was something to see. Meanwhile I was dancing with Will, who said, “You seem to have cheered Vic up. Any prizes for guessing how?” I blushed and muttered something. “Oh well, I’m glad. He needs a good man in his life.” Later I danced with Phil, and Will and Vic sailed past us. “Hey, look at that,” said Phil. “I never expected to see those two together again. Is that your doing?” “Not deliberately;” I said. It just sort of happened when I was adjusting Vic’s glasses for him.” “Oh well, good for you—and good for Vic too, I should think. He’s certainly a different man from yesterday; it’s like old times to see him so happy.”
Later on Ben came up and shyly asked me to dance. No naughtiness this time; it was all quite decorous. “No chance for me now,” he muttered as we circled the floor. “I can see you’re spoken for. He’s very like Philip Macbeth, isn’t he?” “That’s because they’re brothers,” I answered. “Oh; right. Maybe I’d better try my luck with Malcolm after all. Hey, do you think Philip would dance with me if I ask him?” “There’s only one way to find out,” I said. “The worst he can do is refuse—but somehow I don’t think he’ll do that.” I steered him towards Phil as the music came to a stop and said, “Phil, you remember Ben, don’t you?” “How could I forget that head of red hair?” said Phil. “But you’ve got new glasses since last week, and they really suit you.” “I’m glad you like them,” said Ben. “I really like what I see through them...to think I didn’t know last week that I needed them. But I was wondering if you would dance with me.” “Love to; let’s go!” Off they sailed, stately as a galleon—at first anyway.
So the night passed, with a bit more drinking and a lot more dancing than usual. By the time we got back home, I was almost asleep on my feet. But there was no keeping Vic out of my bed—not even if I’d wanted to. He was full of energy and high spirits, and we enjoyed each other’s nakedness for a while. Eventually we fell asleep in each other’s arms. And on Sunday morning we woke up, still in each other’s arms—and that’s an experience that takes some beating.
Vic and I lay in bed for a while, arms round each other, without a stitch of clothing, both semi-aroused but doing nothing apart from the occasional tender kiss. I was blissfully happy; I think we both were. In one way I could have lain in Vic’s arms all day, but you can’t stay in that state for long. Either you have to go on or go back. The spell was broken by the phone. I jumped up to answer it and Phil’s voice said, “Hi there. It’s Sunday, remember? I just wondered what plans you lovebirds had for going to Mass.” “Good grief—I hadn’t thought what day it was or anything. What time is it?” “Nine o’clock.” I conferred quickly with Vic, briefly considered an evening Mass, but in the end we opted for eleven o’clock at St Alban’s, and a foursome lunch. Vic and I had another twenty minutes before we jumped into the shower to clean up (and one or two other things too)...
We picked Phil up and reached the church in good time. Phil led the way in, genuflected and took a seat near the back. I was a bit disconcerted to discover the numbers on the hymn board weren’t too easy to read—I mean, I knew test time was looming, but I hadn’t expected that. I turned to ask Vic for help, only to discover that he was tilting his glasses and squinting for the same reason, but not getting very far. Fortunately the prescription in Phil’s small oval frames was bang up-to-date and he was able to interpret for us. The music was splendid as always, but there weren’t all that many people to enjoy it. We met up with Will and went off to a wonderful pub in a rather decayed part of the city: good beer, good food, reasonable prices, high camp decor! Over lunch Phil said to Will, “I reckon you’ve got a couple of patients here. They were both struggling with the hymn numbers this morning.” Vic and I both coloured up a bit, and I said, “Yeah, well, I knew I was due for a test soon, but it seems to have caught up with me. I usually sit nearer the front, and I’ve never had any trouble before. I suppose I should be glad to have spotted it.” “It’s a long time since I had any trouble like that,” said Vic. “True enough, “ said Will. “You’ve never been one for big increases. Never mind, we can sort that out soon enough.”
“Just one thing,” said Phil. “If you are going to be a couple, we have a family tradition of matching frames, and I’d like us to give them to you as, well, an engagement present.” “Nice idea,” said Will, “But there’s one problem. I’m sure your firm would want you to be displaying their wares while you’re there.” This was true, of course. They didn’t really like the staff to wear contacts, even. Looking pointedly at Phil, Will went on, “Maybe we can leave that until we see how things shape. For starters”—he turned to us—“ARE you going to be a couple?” I looked at Vic, and it was as if I’d been seeing him for the first time. Physically, I suppose it was a rush of adrenalin; from where I was sitting, it was as if the world turned a somersault. I was sweating and panting. My glasses steamed up, and when I took them off I could see tears in Vic’s eyes. He was trying to speak, but it took him a minute or so to stammer, “I hope we are. Oh God, I hope so.” It was my turn to have trouble getting the words out. “As long as I can remember I’ve had a fantasy about having a sexy spexy boy friend but never anything like the reality. Darling, if you want me I certainly want you.”
“Thank the Lord for that,” said Phil. “If ever I saw two people who were made for each other...”
“Things aren’t going to be so easy though,” said Will. “You have jobs and homes in different cities. You aren’t in a position to live together, not without some changes which will take time.”
“WELL!” said Phil. “Trust you to pour cold water, darling! Don’t take too much notice of him, boys, he likes to pick up on all the problems—I just think love will find a way.”
Vic and I were a bit subdued after this; we knew that what Will said was true; we’d been trying not to think of it. Here we were, madly in love, panting for each other’s bodies—and we were going to spend the next few nights a hundred or more miles apart.
Time was wearing on; Sunday trains take the longest route at the lowest speed, and the other three had to get back. We went back to the flat for coffee and Vic and I had a loving and rather tearful farewell and a promise that I’d stay with him the following weekend. Then I drove them to the station, waved them off, went back to the car, put my glasses on the dashboard and cried my eyes out for twenty minutes or so.
I was in a real jangle of emotions when I went to the ’Gale that night. Deep down I was happy, really happy, happier than I’d ever been in my life. For the first time I had a guy I loved, and who loved me. On the surface I was miserable because we weren’t together. I hadn’t known whether to go to the club, but in the end I decided I’d rather have company even if it wasn’t Vic’s. I didn’t take the car though. One part of me wanted to drown my sorrows; another wanted to celebrate; a third wanted to stay sober, and I didn’t know which was going to win.
Looking round the room, I suddenly remembered the morning and the blurred hymn board. Everything (and everybody) was quite clear—except that the far end, where the bar was, was indistinct. There was a figure standing at the bar, but... I could drive a car without breaking the law, I thought, but it was still time for new glasses. As I got closer to the bar, the figure standing there began to look very much like Malcolm—good grief, the club wasn’t his usual watering hole, he was a real ale freak; but there he was, supping moodily at a pint of the best bitter the club could provide (which was nothing to write home about). No glasses, of course; and he didn’t recognize me till I said, “Hi sunshine.” He gave a squint and said “Oh, hi, it’s you. Since when is it the done thing to wear specs in here?” “Just a trend some of us have started,” I said. Nobody’ll mind if you put yours on.” “Oh, I don’t need them in here.” he said. “No, of course not! That’s why you spotted me as soon as I came in.” He blushed. “Well, I might get a better view of the scenery if I put them on—if I had them with me. Never mind that though; what are you drinking?”
I joined him in a pint and we sat down. “Come on,” he said; “tell your auntie all about it. Who did you get off with yesterday lunchtime? You had a real honeymoon look when you came in to work.”
I was only too ready to talk about Vic, how I loved him, how much I was missing him, and I knew I could trust Malcolm not to flap his mouth (though, come to think of it, we hadn’t been at our most discreet the night before.) Malcolm was a good listener, and let me tell my story, then asked one or two questions that filled in the background. Finally he said, “Well, love, it looks as if you’ve landed on your feet in more ways than one. I suppose you’ll be looking for a job at Shakespeare’s when you qualify.” “I’m sorry, you’ve lost me,” I said. “What’s Shakespeare’s?” “You mean you don’t know? You obviously don’t read the right gossip columns. Philip Macbeth and Will Shakespeare are partners in more ways than one: they own a smart optical practice—Will runs it and Phil has a big financial stake.” “Good grief, yes, I’ve seen their ads in the trade literature. But I’d never heard Will’s surname, and I didn’t make the connection... Well, well.”
We talked about other things, and I must admit I did nag Malcolm a bit. It was obvious he needed his glasses full time, but the idea was still strange to him. Although he was well up in theory, it wasn’t so easy to apply it to himself in oractice when a few months before he had seemed to have perfect vision. Anyway, he went the length of grudgingly muttering that I might be right. Then Ben came and joined us, resplendent in his dark green frames. He looked curiously at Malcolm and said, “Nice to see you here too—but you aren’t wearing your sexy specs—you look funny, or at least different!” Malcolm blushed scarlet, but managed to mutter, “You look kind of funny when I’m not wearing them, but I haven’t got them with me, so we’ll both have to make the best of it. OK?” “Sure—would you like to dance?” And off they went, leaving me to ponder. I didn’t get drunk that night, I went home sober. I’d danced with Ben, I’d danced with Malcolm (that was a first), I’d had another couple of drinks, I was still missing Vic, I was still dewy-eyed with new love, and finally I was dead for sleep and had to work in the morning.
So began one of the strangest weeks of my life. Each night I cried myself to sleep, happy that Vic was mine and I was his, but hating not being together. Each morning I woke with a raging stand, and only one way of dealing with it.
Monday morning was busy with deliveries to check (I was amused to see Malcolm walk up the street wearing his glasses, instead of squinting round the shop and then fishing them out of their case—had I got him to see sense at last, or was it Ben’s ‘sexy’ comment?) but towards lunch time there was a lull, and I took the opportunity of screening myself on the autorefractor. I was a bit disconcerted by the result: -3.75 in both eyes, an increase of -1.25 which was about double what I had expected. No wonder I couldn’t read the hymn board from the back of St Alban’s!
Vic and I had talked briefly about frames; I was quite taken with the idea of matching frames, and Vic and Will had practically invented it when they were lovers in their student days. We had agreed that each of us would have a new pair like the other’s, and we’d have the lenses in our existing frames updated; that way we’d have two matching pairs, besides whatever Phil and Will’s ‘engagement present’ might turn out to be. I’d checked out Vic’s frames so that I could order the exact item. I’d also made sure they didn’t look grotesque on my face—Will’s comment about round gold frames suiting blondes like me echoed my own thoughts, and in fact I had never worn any other style, but I thought black oblongs like Vic’s would make an interesting contrast. I mentioned to Owen, one of the optometrists, that it seemed to be time for a test and a new Rx, and he obliged by fitting me in, and confirmed what I’d found on the autorefractor. -3.75 it was, so I thought I’d better get it made up without hanging around any. There was only one problem: we didn’t have the frame in stock in the right colour: gold, brown, gunmetal grey, but not black. I might have settled for one of these options if I hadn’t been determined to match Vic’s specs, but as it was... My ‘blur interpretation’ is pretty good as a rule—that’s why I hadn’t noticed the increasing myopia— but I wasn’t too happy about driving now that I knew how far out my prescription was; maybe I wasn’t within the law after all, so I decided to leave my frames with Malcolm while he fitted the new lenses. This would normally have meant an hour’s wait at the most, but problems in the lab (I never heard exactly what they were) dragged it out to two hours. I’m not used to struggling to see without my glasses (not even in the ’Gale any more!) and my eyes were starting to feel really hard done by. I was squinting to see anything more than a couple of feet away, I kept putting my hand up to tilt a pair of glasses that wasn’t there, I was developing a splitting headache, and my temper was starting to fray. A lady brought her glasses in for an adjustment. I was tightening the screws up and generally tarting the specs up, holding them pretty close to my eyes to do it, when she said to her friend in a voice I was meant to hear, “Wouldn’t you think in a place like this they’d employ staff who can see what they’re doing? This young man isn’t much of an advertisement for the firm.” I saw red, and almost said something unforgivable, but Malcolm saved the situation by appearing at my elbow at that precise moment with my glasses. “Look I’m really sorry I’ve taken so long with them,” he said. I thanked him, put them on, smiled sweetly and said, “I beg your pardon, madam; you were saying?” She blushed scarlet; I finished the job and fled to the lab where I could have the laugh that was bursting to get out.
My new frames came in on Thursday, and fitting the lenses was a quick and painless process—it would be, of course, when I was fumbling around bareyed waiting for them that there were delays in the lab. Murphy’s Law strikes again! I changed into the new specs as soon as Malcolm brought them out to me; it made sense to make sure they were a comfortable fit, as well as letting me and other people get used to a different image. All afternoon I gave a slight start every time I saw my reflection with the black frames replacing the familiar gold; and at the end of the day, with a bit of help from Malcolm, I eased the pressure on my ears. I was pleased with the new look, not to mention the new prescription. I couldn’t remember when I’d seen everything so clearly.
I’d managed to book a Saturday off, so on Friday after work I caught the first train I could. Vic had promised to meet me at Euston, and as I reached the concourse I caught sight of him. My heart leapt; he was wearing his familiar black-rimmed glasses, so we really were in matching frames. He was squinting as he looked for me, but when I got within range his face lit up. We exchanged a fairly brotherly hug and decided to head for his flat. His new glasses were to be ready in the morning so we had to call at Will’s practice—“but tonight,” he said, “you’re mine, all mine, all night.” I felt a twinge, and more than a twinge, in my groin, and as we got nearer to the flat I was finding it harder and harder...
We reached the flat. Two minds with but a single thought; he led me straight to the bedroom and we fell into one other’s arms and into a long, lingering kiss. Getting out of our clothes was a problem, because it involved moving apart, but eventually, wearing only socks, jockey shorts and glasses, we fell on the bed. Common sense dictated putting our glasses in a safe place. We didn’t need them anyway; we’d have had to be really blind to need specs to see one another! For over two hours our excitement ebbed and flowed as we rolled around the bed; then we fell asleep in each other’s arms and woke at midnight, ravenously hungry. We wrapped towels round our waists (why, I wondered) and went into the kitchen where Vic had left a salad ready, and soup ready to heat up. Our hands began to wander, our towels fell off, and the soup almost boiled over, but not quite. We decided if we were going to sit on opposite sides of the kitchen table we wanted to see each other clearly, so I popped back into the bedroom to fetch the two matching pairs of specs. Almost from force of habit, I’d checked Vic’s Rx at work the previous weekend, and we tried each other’s on. Vic could see fairly well with mine, though he has a bit of astigmatism and I have none. His (his old Rx of course) were better than nothing for me, but not entirely comfortable. We had a glass of beer with the soup and salad, and then a nightcap, and then bed—to sleep this time, but to sleep together, and in due course to wake up together, to lie contentedly in each other’s arms and gently, tenderly, make love one more time.
Dentists are the best paid of all the health care professionals, and I was mildly surprised that Vic’s flat wasn’t a bit smarter. I mean, it was spotlessly clean, but the furniture was pretty worn, the decoration was a bit tacky and it was in a fairly seedy area. Then it occurred to me that that he had probably moved out of somewhere better when he broke up with his girl friend. Over breakfast, without my asking, he mentioned that this was the case. Emma was still living in the flat they had shared, and once they disposed of it each of them would be able to afford quite a decent place. Some of the furniture there was Vic’s, and it would form the nucleus of a love nest for us...I wondered what hope there was of my ever spending more than the odd weekend in it.
Breakfast over, and the washing-up done, it was time to set off for Will’s practice to collect Vic’s new glasses. He of course still had his black oblongs on; I was wearing my new ones that matched them, but I had my faithful round gold pair in my pocket in case we decided I should change when he got the new ones. Vic was an expert user of public transport—he refused to drive in central London, and didn’t have a car of his own; he found it made more sense to hire one when he really needed to drive anywhere.
Just as Vic was about to set the burglar alarm, the phone rang. Vic picked it up, listened for a minute, made a face and handed it to me. Will’s voice said, “Look, Frank love, I hate to ask this when you’ve got a Saturday off, but my dispenser’s called in sick and I’ve got nobody here but the Saturday boy. Could you possibly help me out for an hour or two? I really would be so grateful...” I looked at Vic who nodded a bit ruefully. “But,” I said, I’m hardly dressed for work.” I was in jeans and a football shirt. “Don’t think twice about that,” said Will. “We’re casual on Saturdays.”
When we reached Shakespeare’s about forty minutes later there was a queue of people waiting to be seen to. The Saturday boy was pretty new to the job but proved to be a sensible lad with a knack of adjusting frames. His name was Robin and he put me in mind of a younger blonde version of Malcolm: tall, thin, camp and hyperopic. I guessed the lenses in his heavy black frames were around +4. When we arrived he buzzed Will who emerged from the consulting room for as long as it took to introduce us, and left us to get on with it. I got Robin to deal with the people who were picking up their specs, letting me just check each one, while I saw to two or three who had selected their frames and needed measuring. As I finished with the third one, a tall guy with curly black hair who was going to be unbelievably sexy in his new oblong wire frames, I realized Robin was hovering: “Mr Bacon, could you have a word with Martin here; he’s a bit upset.” I followed him across to the desk where a teenage lad was standing, twisting a pair of glasses in his hands. According to his card Martin was 16 and these were his first specs with an Rx of -0.75, and he was on the verge of tears. Upset about needing them, I thought, but I was wrong. “When Mr Shakespeare tested my eyes he said I need glasses to see the board in school, to watch TV, and to drive. I thought I’d be getting glasses I could wear all the time,” and a couple of tears escaped and ran down his cheeks. “Sit down, Martin,” I said. “Now listen. You have to understand that a lot of young guys don’t like the idea of wearing glasses, and Mr Shakespeare probably assumed you were one of those.” “Oh, I’m one of those all right,” he interrupted. “That’s why I came to Shakespeare’s for my glasses.” “No, what I meant was that he assumed you wouldn’t want to wear your glasses any more than you can help. If you want to wear them full time that’s OK. It’s what I’d do; actually it’s what I did when I was 16 and had a prescription like you’ve got.” I handed him his glasses and he put them on. The semi-rimless style was going to suit him, but he was dissolving into floods of tears. “Here, Robin,” I said, “can you make Martin a cup of coffee or something while he calms down?” Robin led him away, and I attended to another patient who was waiting. I didn’t see Martin leave, and it was lunch time before I asked Robin if he was OK. “Oh yes,” he said. “I made him a cup of coffee but he was still like a cat on hot bricks till I took him to the staff cloak room and gave him a blow job.” I was a bit taken aback. “That was over and above the call of duty; do you often do that sort of thing?” “Never done it before, but it was what he needed. Besides, I fancied him like crazy, especially in those sexy specs. He didn’t complain, and he jerked me off before he left, so I think we can put him down as another satisfied customer. He’s as pleased as punch with his new glasses, especially since you told him he can wear them full time.” “Are you seeing him again?” “It’s not easy to find anywhere private, but I told him I’m always here on a Saturday if he thinks his specs are too slack or too tight or anything...hope he comes again, he’s nice.”
At this moment Will emerged from the consulting room with his last morning patient and called me over. “Look, this is one of our ‘green card’ people. He’s an actor who needs plus contacts and minus glasses so that he looks right on screen. It should be straightforward enough if you follow the figures on the card.” Robin had told me that Shakespeare’s specialized in this kind of work, so that actors didn’t appear in plano lenses all the time, but I hadn’t expected to have to dispense a combination; but as Will said, there was no real problem once I got my head round the situation.
Will closed the shop at lunchtime. I gathered this was unusual—“but we can’t work right through as we are;” and took me upstairs to the flat where Vic had spent the morning with Phil, and between them they’d done a good job of getting lunch ready: lentil soup with a tang of coriander, chump chops with new potatoes and vegetables, and a cheese board. Over lunch conversation was general, but ‘shop’ intruded once or twice. Phil was working on a new stage part which as going to mean adding yet another pair of coke bottles to his wardrobe; “I’ve suggested fairly heavy clear plastic and the producer thinks that sounds OK.” “Oh yes,” said Will. “Perhaps we might have a pair each for afterwards. Tell you what: come downstairs after lunch; I think we have the very thing. Maybe Frank will do the honours—that’s if you don’t mind?” I didn’t really mind, but I had hoped to spend the day with Vic; little did I know what was brewing. “And of course,” Will went on, “you’re really here to get Vic’s new specs fitted. Do you want to do that, ar shall we give Robin the job?” I looked at Vic, and from the way he was looking back at me I knew he wanted me to do it—but not in the shop! “I’d sooner do it up here if that’s OK,” I said. “Well, what do you think I meant?” said Will. “I know we have a reputation, but you’d have me in trouble for keeping a disorderly optical store, and that would never do.”
After coffee, Phil showed us into a spare bedroom—the mirror on the dressing table was ideal for the business. Will fetched Vic’s new glasses, the round gold pair, and closed the door behind us. We looked at each other, and by unspoken mutual consent, began to undress, down to our jockey shorts.
It was as difficult a fitting as I’ve ever done; the bulge in Vic’s knickers would have been distracting enough even if his hand hadn’t been exploring my bulge, which was already stimulated by the sight of these beautiful specs on his nose. Fortunately they were already a near-perfect fit, so there was only a tiny adjustment; and my curiosity about his new prescription was giving way to another emotion...
Vic and I had been lovers exactly a week—give or take an hour—and we’d been apart for five days of that week, so I obviously had a lot to learn about him. Until he made his move nothing had led me to expect the treatment Martin had had from Robin. It was a first for me: the novelty of a guy squinting up at me through his glasses, sexy new glasses that I had just fitted, contributed to the flow of adrenalin, but the act itself... My head was ready to explode but the explosion came lower down, came pretty quickly at that and left me limp and weeping with sheer ecstasy. He wasn’t expecting me to respond in kind; I’d never done it anyway. But as he began to look after his own needs I suddenly knew I was going to, and in a few minutes our tears were mingling as we lay in one another’s arms.
But not for too long. Our bladders were demanding to be emptied and, that done, my professional conscience began to prick me (so to speak)—there might be patients waiting downstairs. And at the same time I began to wonder again about my beloved’s new prescription. I picked up his glasses and looked more closely at the lenses than I had done so far, and was immediately struck by the amount of cylinder in them. Was there a note of the Rx with the specs when Will brought them up? Yes: -1.50-1.75x175; -1.25-2.25x5. No wonder he’d been having trouble; I was pretty sure his previous Rx was around -1.75-0.75 in both eyes. “How do the new specs feel, love?” I asked. “Give us a minute,” he said. “I haven’t looked at anything but you through them yet.” There was a pause while he looked round the room and out of the window. “A bit strange at the moment,” he said finally. “But Will warned me to expect that because of the extra cylinder. He says if I wear them full time I’ll be used to them in a few hours.” “Yeah, I’d say the same—and you are drop dead gorgeous in them. Just let me find the pair that matches them.” I found them and put them on, and when I glanced in the mirror there was a sense of coming home; I liked the new ones, but I’d worn this style so long, and I still thought it suited me.
Robin thought so too. When I went down to the shop, where everything was quiet, he gave a sharp intake of breath: “Man, I love those specs; they are just perfect!” “Oh, do you think so? I’ve always liked this style, and I’d never worn any other till last week; but I like the others as well.” “Yeah, they’re OK I guess, but you are so fucking sexy in those, I could eat you!” “No, you’d better not do that.” “I guess you’re right; there’s a guy upstairs who’d scratch my eyes out—but, er, do you think I could try them on?” “Try them on by all means, but you won’t see much with them, they’re -3.75.” I handed them over, and he carefully took off his own glasses and put mine on. There was no doubt about it, they did something for him, besides turning him into a +8 hyperope. He tried squinting over the top of them, but still couldn’t see much, and then it occurred him to try the new digital camera Will had installed. I took a shot of him wearing my glasses, and then he changed back into his own and brought the picture up on the screen. “I definitely have to have a pair of those,” he announced. “Far better than these Buddy Holly things.” I only ask questions because I want to know: “Have you always worn glasses?” I asked. “Oh no, a couple of years I suppose. I was a latent hyperope. I used to get terrible headaches when I read a lot. The GP suggested an eye test, and I got my first specs. The story was that they would help with reading, and that was what I wore them for at first. But—I guess you know the story—I soon found I had trouble focussing in the distance without them. I needed them for computer work of course, and then I found I couldn’t see the TV without them either. My mother got a bit anxious that I was wearing them so much—she thought they were supposed to be for reading—and I said I wanted to come to Shakespeare’s because by then I’d worked out how many beans make five. Will, I mean Mr Shakespeare, tested my eyes again, explained my problem to my mum in words of one syllable, told us I need specs full time and I should expect regular increases till I reach my full correction; that’s going to be at least +6. Finally he offered me this Saturday job because he could see I was interested. My mum thinks he’s a lovely man; so do I actually. If my A-levels are OK next year I want to go to optometry school.” He took his glasses off and squinted at them. “These are +4.25 by the way; I can’t see much without them and I think I’m due for my next increase.” Robin was right: the story was a familiar one, but he told it well and with a clear grasp of the principles. A good optometrist in the making, I thought. Wonder if I’ve got as much of what it takes as he has.
At this point Will emerged from his consulting room and said, “Robin, it’s a good while since your last test. If no one else comes in I’ll give you a check-up when I’ve finished with this patient. OK?” OK it obviously was; Robin blushed with excitement as Will went on, “And then if we could have a word, Frank?” It looked as if my Saturday off was being devoured by work, I thought disconsolately. In another few minutes Robin vanished into the consulting room as Will’s patient emerged. He was easily dealt with: a man of 45 whose vanity had so far overcome his presbyopia, but now it had reached +2.5. Will’s note suggested off-the-shelf readers which fitted with minimal adjustment, and the patient went away, not exactly happy, but able to read.
While Robin was in with Will (and it seemed to be a long session) Phil appeared from upstairs and went browsing along the racks of frames. He tried one or two, and I saw him almost pressing his nose against the glass in an effort to see his reflection. “Do you want any help?” I asked. “There’s a digital camera here.” “Now, there’s an idea,” he said. I helped him to get a few shots, and finally he found what he thought he wanted: an oblong frame in clear plastic, not too heavy. I thought it suited him really well, but of course Will would have to approve. He wanted to be sure his Rx was up-to-date, so I took him over to the auto-refractor. -8.25 was the reading; -8.25 was his prescription.
We sat and chatted while we waited, and then the consulting-room door opened; Robin emerged, and Phil went in to discuss the new image with Will.
The boy was quivering with excitement. “Bifocals!” he exclaimed; “just fancy, bifocals!” “At your age?” I said, the way one does. “Well, yes, I know,” he said, “but it makes perfect sense. I have a lot of studying to do for A-levels next year, and to prevent eyestrain Mr Shakespeare wants to correct my total hyperopia for close work. He says that’s going to be +7.50, but I’m not ready to tolerate that for distance, so he’s giving me +5.50 which I can see with now, and a +2 add.” He was right; it made perfect sense; once again he’d demonstrated his understanding of eyesight and how it’s corrected. It crossed my mind that not many lads of his age would be so keen to wear bug-eye lenses, let alone bifocals; but we all have our kinks, and there was something engaging about his enthusiasm. “Are you going to pick out your frames?” “Not till I get rid of this boner; shan’t be long”—and he disappeared into the staff cloakroom. I wondered idly if there were any women on Will’s staff—the cloakroom seemed to be a place where men did things undreamed of back home; but perhaps that was to be expected, after all, this was Shakespeare’s!
Presently he emerged, looking flushed, smiled shyly and headed for the racks of frames. He was most interested in round gold frames like mine, but he had enough sense to try a few other styles before he committed himself. With the help of the digital camera he checked ovals and rounded-off oblongs, blacks and browns and more exotic colours, before returning to his first choice of round and gold. Even then there were variations to consider; one pair was definitely too small for his face; others were bigger, but were they too big? I reminded him that his new lenses would be quite heavy, though we could keep the weight down by using Trivex; and in the end he settled for a medium size, high joint (like my own) with some decoration (unlike mine). As I took his measurements I couldn’t help noticing that his ‘boner’ was back with a vengeance, and as soon as I’d finished he headed for the cloakroom again. “Look, darling,” I said when he reappeared, “how the heck are you going to wear these things?” “Oh, it’s the same every time I get new specs; it’ll be no problem once I’m used to them. And in the meantime I don’t mind getting a cheap thrill every time I put them on.”
The last job of the afternoon was Phil and Will. No real problems with measurements, but naturally I was careful to get everything just so for one friend who was such a celebrity and another who was so exacting. After I’d checked the measurements and done as much of the paperwork as I could came the day’s biggest surprise.
“Frank love, I can’t tell you how grateful I am to you for all your help today,” said Will when we sat down in his consulting room. “I don’t suppose it was your idea of fun on your Saturday off. I can’t very well pay you for your day’s work without causing you trouble with the tax man, but if I refund your expenses that’s a different matter—“ and he handed me £150 in notes. As I stammered my protests he added, “Remember, I’m not paying you. Travelling and a modest sum for subsistence: I’m sure Vic could do with a good meal. The other reason I’m glad to have had you here today is that I know for certain I’m doing the right thing in offering you a job.” My jaw dropped and I spluttered incoherently as he went on, “I was confident before, but now that I’ve seen you in action I know I’m on to a winner. Your practice is good, your chairside manner is good; Robin said you worked wonders with that miserable young Martin. (I reckon Robin did more for him than I did, I thought.) You have some exams to pass of course, but I can’t see that being a problem. There’s a flat two floors up that will be going vacant in a couple of months, and you and Vic could move in there any time after that. The only question is, when do you want to come? No, I tell a lie, that’s the second question. The first is, DO you want to come?”
I was still incoherent, but managed to convey that I was delighted with the idea. “Thought it might appeal to you. The other thing I need to say is, if you still want to train as an optometrist that really does mean going to college full time; but if you work four years as a dispenser first the company will sponsor you; I’d want first refusal of your services for three years after you qualify. By that time young Robin should have qualified as an optometrist and we’ll be well on the way to opening another practice. Oh yes, and Phil says that young coppertop friend of yours is interested in eye care, AND his name’s Ben Johnson: Ben Johnson and Francis Bacon working with William Shakespeare; the mind boggles, especially when they’re friends of the family. But I beg your pardon; you ARE family.”
“Look, Will,” I said, I really need to talk to Vic about this.” “Don’t worry, dear, he knows all about it; actually Phil and I have both been thinking about it since before you and Vic met, but the fact that you’ve got together just puts the finishing touch to the grand plan.”
What else is there to tell you...except perhaps that Will and Phil’s ‘engagement presents’ to Vic and me were really sexy rimless specs in flexible titanium. I’m working happily at Shakespeare’s (and wondering whether I’ve got what it takes to be an optometrist or whether I should stick to dispensing). Since I moved to London Vic and I haven’t slept apart more than half-a-dozen times. Most Sundays we go to Mass at St Augustine’s with Phil, and Will has been known to join us. Robin is doing well at optometry school, looking at the world through +7.50 lenses in a round gold frame and sharing a flat with Martin, who is now short-sighted enough to be dependent on his specs instead of just liking to wear them. Back in Birmingham Ben has got the A-levels he needs to start at optometry school, and Malcolm is coming to London with him and will run the new ‘one-hour’ lab at Shakespeare’s. Will is looking round for another gay optometrist. If you know one (or are one) let me know.