FEASTING WITH PANTHERS

II: Adam’s story

I wasn’t long out of Police College. My first posting was at a small, fairly quiet station where I felt almost like an old-style village bobby—even though it wasn’t actually in a village. Being single, I hadn’t been allocated a police house, but was living in a large, comfortable bedsit next door to the sergeant’s house, and his wife kept a motherly eye on me. I enjoyed that way of being a policeman, in spite of the monotony, or maybe even because of it. I imagined myself growing old in that community, some day getting a sergeant’s stripes, knowing and befriending generations of the citizens—but I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to do that. In due course there would be a new posting; and in the meantime odd bits of ‘special experience’. It was for one of those, I guessed, that I was instructed to go to the city, out of uniform but carrying my warrant card, and report to Sergeant Lilly at the main station.

I didn’t take to Sergeant Lilly. He was a fat man with bitten nails and nicotine-stained fingers, and he greeted me with “Right, my son. You’re about to see a bit of life and help stamp out vice. It’s what we call cottage duty.” “Cottage duty?” “That’s it. You know how these homosexuals” (he pronounced it “hoa-moa-secks-yules”) “how these homosexuals get up to their rubbish in public toilets?” “Do they, Sarge?” “Of course they do, the filthy buggers. Your job is to hang round in a toilet (they call them cottages) till you see them at it, and nab ’em. It’s an offence to do anything like that in those places, same as it should be everywhere; it’ll get a few arrests under your belt and give you some valuable experience. And” (I didn’t like the way he leered at me as he said) “ a good-looking lad like you might just tempt somebody to try it on with you. Just stand at one of the stalls pretending to play with yourself and you might get some pervert wanting to play with you. If he tries it, there’s your arrest. OK; here’s a list of the worst places. You’re detailed for this duty one afternoon a week for three months. It won’t be the same afternoon. Once you’ve made an arrest in one cottage, stay away from it for a while. Don’t wear the same clothes every week, don’t wear regulation boots, and don’t wear your glasses.” “Why no glasses, Sarge?” “They show you’re not one of them. There’s an old saying—well, the version of it you need to remember is ‘Queers don’t make passes at boys who wear glasses’.”

The idea that glasses make people unattractive was a familiar one—but in the short time I’d been wearing them I’d come round to the opposite view. Before joining the force I’d gone to my medical with no worries at all, least of all about my eyesight; after all, I’d always sailed through the vision checks we had in school. But the requirements for a police recruit were a bit more stringent. I was disconcerted to find I couldn’t read the bottom lines of the optometrist’s chart, and mortified when he wrote a prescription for glasses which he said would help with reading and computer work, but I must wear them for driving as well. “You need two pairs,” he said, “so that you always have a spare; but we’ll only charge you for one. It’s part of our service to the Force.”

I browsed disconsolately along the racks of frames, not liking the idea of glasses spoiling my appearance. Everybody reckons I’m a good-looking guy, and in all honesty I can’t deny it. I have black hair and brown eyes, a slim body and muscular legs, and I’m hairy in the places a man likes to be hairy. As I looked with distaste at the frames on view a pleasant young man approached me, squinting as he polished his glasses. “Do you need any help, sir?” “Well, I suppose so; I don’t want glasses but it seems I need them for work.” “What kind of work, sir?” “I’m starting in the police force.” “Right; so there’s no point in suggesting contact lenses; it has to be two pairs of spectacles. Why don’t you take a seat over here?” We sat down and he did his best to reassure me. Then he turned to what would be the right glasses for me. “I think a black frame is going to go best with your colouring, sir, and there’s a good variety.” He wandered round the room looking at the racks, and came back to me with a handful of frames—wire, plastic, rimless—and let me try them in front of the mirror; at this stage he said very little. He pursed his lips over one or two of the frames, made encouraging noises over others, and when I suggested that the best choices were an oblong semi-rimless pair and a round wire frame, he said firmly, “I think that’s a good choice, sir, or rather two good choices. I’m sure you’ll be happy with those; you may even agree in the end that they enhance your appearance.” He took some measurements before leading me to the counter with the frames and my prescription. The order was placed; I paid the bill, and was told my glasses would be ready at the end of the week.

Over the next few days I suddenly found myself much more ‘glasses-conscious’ than I’d ever been before. I’d always thought specs were for old folks, but as I went about with my eyes open I saw people of all ages wearing them. In particular there were quite a number of guys of my own age; I looked with interest, and had to admit that they looked good in glasses. Perhaps it wasn’t the end of the world after all.

Friday came, and I called back at the optician’s. Yes, my glasses were ready. The guy who had helped me before produced them from a pigeon-hole. Each pair in turn was checked for fit and comfort—and, yes, I could see very well with them. I could read my friend’s name-tag without difficulty (his name was Luke, and I noticed that his glasses looked quite strong). Then came the question. Was I going to keep them on? I hesitated, and Luke glanced at my prescription. “Well, you aren’t short sighted like me and you aren’t long sighted; you have more astigmatism than anything, so these will actually help you at all distances. You could try wearing them for at least a few hours to get used to them.” Fair enough; I put the rimless pair away and walked out into the street feeling a bit like an overgrown Harry Potter. At first I imagined everybody who looked my way was saying “Look, that youth’s wearing glasses!”—but of course that was my self-consciousness. When I caught sight of my reflection I thought it looked good; and the slight blur and distortion caused by the cylinder were soon forgotten as I adjusted to the correction.

As time went by, to cut a long story short, I found to my surprise that I liked wearing my glasses: I was seeing well and began to realize that the dull headaches I had taken for granted were a thing of the past. Before long I was contentedly bespectacled most if not all of the time, on and off duty. And now this fat slob of a sergeant wanted me to take them off to do his dirty work! Well, I thought, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

I drove to the park where one of the cottages was situated. I went in—deserted. I took a leak anyway. I stood at the stall for a while, pretending, and then out of sheer boredom I did play with myself—but there’s a limit to the amount of that you can do in a day. I left and drove to another cottage, this one in a car park. There were a few guys hanging around inside; as before, I went and stood at a stall. Five minutes passed; ten minutes; then there was a guy standing next to me. He took my hand and put it on his own stiff prick; trying not to notice that mine had sprung to attention in sympathy, I began the formula: “I am a police officer and I...” I was interrupted: “Fuck you, you cunt, so you are, I know you. Why the fuck didn’t I keep my specs on?” It was Luke from the optician’s. To my horror I realized I’d lost control as I came against the porcelain.

Things took their course.

So now I know I’m gay.

So now I’ve left the police force.

So now I’m living with Luke in the flat above the shop.

So now I’m studying optometry.