The TAMING of the SHREW
Another story of Will Shakespeare and his staff of gay optometrists
My name’s Christopher, Christopher Marlow, and I was born with bad eyes. I’m sure I’m right about that, and as I was six weeks premature it’s likely enough. Anyway, my mother says that when I ought to have been sitting up and taking notice I just didn’t seem to be aware of anything at any distance, unless it made a noise. The doctor referred me to a paediatric ophthalmologist and, sure enough, I turned out to be seriously short-sighted. I didn’t like wearing glasses at first—I imagine clear vision comes as a shock to a kid who’s never experienced it—but with a strap to hold them in position I finally got used to them and accepted them quite happily. I started nursery school wearing something like -6.
Then came the measles. For some reason I hadn’t had the MMR jab, and it was a bad attack. I was seriously ill for a while—and when I recovered my vision was worse than ever—as bad with my glasses as it had been without them before. Not only that, I now had photophobia into the bargain; bright light was very distressing, and I went to school as a mixed infant with glasses that were not only half an inch thick but also heavily tinted. All through junior school my vision was reasonably stable. I was nicknamed ‘Specs’ and answered quite happily to that—for one thing I knew my specs were the first thing anyone noticed about me, and for another they were the most important thing in my life. Specs made life possible. With them I saw really well and got good marks in school; without them, I was helpless. Of course contact sports and ball games were right out, but my dad used to take me running and to the gym; whatever I could do in coke bottles I did, so I kept pretty fit and was no kind of couch potato.
In high school things began to change. For one thing, with the onset of puberty I rapidly grew taller and, you’ve guessed it, more short-sighted: I suppose if I’d started with perfect vision I’d have developed normal adolescent myopia, but as it was it was far from normal! Every year my glasses got thicker as blackboards (and street signs and the TV screen) receded into the blur, and to offset the minification I even wore bifocals for a while. For another there were new classmates who hadn’t been friends since infancy—and didn’t seem to want to be. Finally, I had always found other boys attractive; now the attraction began to be tangible, and under some circumstances obvious. While the rest of the class played rugby I went for a long run, and afterwards I was as sweaty as the others if not always as muddy. We all got under the showers together and my erection was there for everyone to see. Of course I had to keep my glasses on, so there was no mistaking where I was looking. Some of the class began calling me ‘Christabel’; when it wasn’t that it was ‘Magoo’; in all honesty I couldn’t complain about either nickname, but ‘Specs’ was what I was used to. The trouble was that the ringleader of this group, a slim fair lad called Bruno Abrahams, was so incredibly good-looking that I couldn’t look his way without my member springing to attention. He and his clique weren’t content with calling names, which can’t do any real harm, but he also had a nasty habit of snatching my glasses off my face and running off with them; that left me blind and lost and helpless till somebody came to the rescue. I developed three strategies to cope with this: first I got cable temples on my next new pair, so that they were a bit harder to snatch; secondly I took to carrying my old specs in my pocket, so that I could see, not 100%, but enough to find my way around and maybe even to locate the others; finally I joined a martial arts club, and learned to send an attacker flying, as long as I got him before he touched my glasses. After a few episodes of this kind the nonsense stopped, and later on my persecutor and his family moved to London. Without him his accomplices lost interest and the rest of my schooldays were tranquil, enlivened by the occasional grope in the bog when someone else got excited in the shower.
My exam results were good, and I could choose my career. My experiences and my terrible eyesight had given me a fascination with eye care, and I enrolled at a school of optometry in London. Life in London suited me; I enjoyed the theoretical and practical studies—and then there was the gay scene. My glasses were conspicuous in any setting, but in gay pubs and clubs they stuck out like a sore thumb and maybe scared some guys off (that could be why I didn’t get many dates!); most gay men seem to prefer to go bareyed—not an option for me—or to change into contacts, which didn’t appeal. I joined the intercollegiate Gaysoc as well; and at one social evening a guy with preppy round gold frames, red hair and a Birmingham accent came over and asked me to dance. Afterwards he said “Haven’t I seen you in the optometry school?” “That’s right,” I answered. “I’m in my first year.” “Right,” he said. “I’m Ben Johnson, final year.” “I’m Christopher Marlow; my friends call me Kit.” “Nice to meet you, Kit; I’m sure I’ll see you around.”
The next afternoon I found a note in my pigeon-hole: Kit: It’s always nice to meet another ‘friend of the family’. I’m having a drink with a few friends this evening and it will be great if you can join us. Half past eight in the Champion. Look forward to seeing you, Ben J.
I was ready enough to extend my social life, so after supper I got myself dragged up and headed for the Champion, where I was greeted by Ben and introduced to a group of guys, all wearing glasses: Ben himself was wearing striking dark green frames tonight; Malcolm had black hair and black frames with a strong plus prescription; Robin was another hyperope, blond with round gold frames; Frank and Vic seemed to be a couple, both wearing black oblongs, both with minus lenses. They were a bit older than the others. After I’d got a drink and we’d sat and chatted a bit, not to say screamed, Ben said, “Now Kit, I need to tell you that there’s more to this evening than pleasure, though it’s certainly a pleasure having you with us. We’re talent-spotting for Shakespeare’s.” “Shakespeare’s?” I asked. “Ah,” said Ben, “you’re a lad from the provinces like me and you haven’t heard of Shakespeare’s. It’s an extra-specially good optical practice; these guys all work there apart from Vic; he’s a dentist, but he lives over the shop with Frank, who’s the dispenser. Malcolm is the chief technician, and Robin is one of the optometrists. He also comes into college part-time as a supervisor. Will Shakespeare, the founder of the firm, lives with Philip Macbeth, the actor, who’s Vic’s brother” (no wonder Vic looks familiar, I thought) “and anybody who’s going to work there needs three qualifications. First, he has to be good-looking; secondly, he has to be gay, so you’re well-qualified on both those counts. Thirdly, and most important, he has to be good at his job. Robin’s been quizzing the staff at college, and has got really good reports on you; so why don’t you apply for a Saturday job at Shakespeare’s? Robin and I both started that way; and judging by the way the practice is growing you’ll be pretty sure of a job when you qualify, IF you’re as good as you seem to be. And if not, you’ll still have good experience behind you. What do you think?” “Steady on now, Ben,” said Frank. “Don’t rush the boy into anything.” “Of course not,” said Ben, “but it’s a great opportunity for him, and for us—don’t you think?” “Certainly,” said Frank’ “I just don’t want to steam-roller him into anything.” Robin chipped in. “Look Kit, unless the whole idea fills you with horror—No?—it seems to me you’ve got nothing to lose by coming in one Saturday and seeing the set-up and meeting Will Shakespeare. You can see how Shakespeare’s ticks, and I can just see the tantrum Will would throw if we let the most promising student of the year slip though our fingers.” “Am I that good?” I asked, rather disconcerted. “That’s the opinion in the staffroom,” said Robin. “OK,” I said finally; “I’ll come and have a look. This Saturday?” So it was agreed, and we relaxed with our drinks till closing time.
On Saturday I went along as we’d agreed, arriving in time for a cup of coffee. Frank showed me round the premises, and introduced me to Will Shakespeare, the boss. I had gathered from the others’ talk that he was an irascible little man who was liable to explode if you put a foot wrong; but he looked me up and down and said, “How d’you do? You’re staying to lunch, I hope?” Frank assured me that was a good beginning, and explained that if all went well I’d be offered a Saturday job on the reception desk, which would, with time, give me experience in adjusting frames and checking lenses; when the time came for placements the firm would ask to have me placed there, and when I qualified I might be invited to join the full time staff—“and even if that doesn’t work out you’ll have a first-class grounding.”
Everything went well. The only unexpected thing that over lunch Mr Shakespeare suggested, much more diffidently than I’d been led to expect, that I might wear contact lenses for work—“you understand, I like my staff to wear glasses, but those dark coke bottles of yours might be a bit off-putting to people coming for their first test and downright terrifying for young kids”—I hadn’t thought of that, but I saw his point, so I went down to Robin to have a test for contacts. Robin obviously knew his job. Having done the refraction he gave me a pair of plano contacts to try for the afternoon under my glasses. That done, we adjourned to the staff cloakroom for a cup of coffee, followed by a bit of slap and tickle. The contacts were uncomfortable, but not unbearable, and before closing time Robin e-mailed the order for a supply ( -19.25 and heavily tinted).
From then on I really looked forward to Saturdays; the work and the company were both thoroughly congenial, and I was getting a good grounding in every aspect of the job: adjusting frames, checking that prescriptions were properly made up, using the auto-refractor, advising on the choice of frames. There was the occasional fringe benefit too; it was rumoured that when Robin was a ‘Saturday boy’ he had made a speciality of consoling distressed patients with a blow job in the staff cloakroom, and given that a large part of our clientele was gay men, there were opportunities… My vision with the contacts was good, but they left me feeling naked; I couldn’t remember a time when I’d worn even normally strong glasses; the measles left me at -12, and coke bottles were almost a part of me. My vision hadn’t stabilized, and when my next increase fell due I ordered a pair of myodisks; but instead of changing my contacts I got a pair of low minus glasses to wear over them. This made me feel less unprotected, and in addition I was able to have a smart rimless pair that would never have taken my full prescription…at first the contacts, with or without the weak specs, were for Saturdays only; the rest of the week I was quite content with the familiar coke bottles. When I began examining patients in college I found contacts more convenient as well as less off-putting, and began to wear them more.
Time passed, and as months stretched into years exams were passed too, and I graduated as an optometrist—with distinction! I even collected a medal and was offered a research studentship, which I accepted—it was understood I would use Shakespeare’s as the base for most of my clinical work, though I had to spend a certain number of hours each week in school, supervising students and demonstrating techniques. Once again I found it all thoroughly congenial. I lacked nothing, except a steady boy friend.
One morning when I looked at my appointments for the day I was intrigued to see the name of Bruno Abrahams. Was it? Could it be? With a name like that, could it be anyone else? I waited with interest to see the patient when he arrived, and sure enough, it was my high school persecutor, fifteen years older but still spectacularly beautiful—and the sight caused a twinge in my groin. But what was a queer-basher like him doing in Shakespeare’s? It was well known as a gay practice, and using our services was tantamount to coming out. Would he recognize me as easily as I recognized him? I looked quite different in contacts, and my name was less distinctive than his. Above all, was this an opportunity to repay some of the unkindnesses I’d endured at his hands?
Sure enough, there was no suggestion that he recognized me. He had been advised by his GP to have an eye test because he was complaining of persistent headaches. I began by looking into his eyes, and discovered he was so hyperopic that it would have been surprising if he hadn’t had eyestrain. Then I checked the printout from the auto-refractor: +3.75 in each eye, but I reckoned the real total would be higher, as after a lifetime of accommodating his eyes would need time to relax, maybe a lot of time. Thoughts of revenge were forgotten; with a clinical problem to sort out, my professional instincts took over. Could I prescribe without a cycloplegic refraction? I tried, and found I couldn’t…and the extent of my retaliation was using atropine as the cycloplegic that would cause the longest spell of inability to focus.
Time for my ‘long sight’ lecture. “You really are quite seriously long-sighted, and you need glasses. I may as well tell you right away that sooner or later you will have to wear them full time, but you won’t be able to do that at first. You’ll find that they help immediately with reading, and the headaches will get a lot better, maybe disappear, but to begin with you won’t be able to see very far with them. This is because all your life you’ve had to use your ciliary muscles to see clearly, and your eyes need time to learn to relax. Furthermore, we shall have to give you stronger lenses in steps until you can handle your full prescription and be completely free of eyestrain, and that could work out expensive. I can write you a partial prescription now, but I can only discover your full prescription by putting drops in your eyes to stop you focusing. This will be a nuisance, but it will wear off in a few hours.
“Before I do that I’m going to try you with a pair of cheap ‘off-the-shelf’ reading glasses. That’ll save you spending a lot of money and may actually get us to your proper prescription more quickly.”
I went out to the shop, selected a few pairs of readers, and took them back to Bruno: he peered at the near vision card through each pair in turn, and with little hesitation pronounced the +4s (the strongest available) the most comfortable, though his distance vision with them was pretty blurred. This didn’t surprise me at all, and I sent him to select a frame from the very limited range. Then (having checked that he didn’t have to drive home) I carried on with the cycloplegic refraction, which revealed a total hyperopia of +7.25; that didn’t surprise me either. My parting advice was to wear the glasses as much as he could, and come back for another check when his distance vision was better with them than without.
All this time I was keeping my white coat wrapped round me so as to conceal what hadn’t been able to conceal fifteen years before: that I fancied him like crazy. Still. Or again. Once he’d left I made for the staff cloakroom and relief over the washbasin in the toilet.
Three or four months later I looked though my appointments for the coming week, saw Bruno’s name, and once again felt an involuntary twitch in the nether regions. How was I going to cope with seeing him again, and testing his vision again? What did he look like in glasses? What kind of frames had he chosen for his off-the-shelf readers?
The day came; fortunately it was Saturday when casual dress was normal, so I chose my baggiest slacks to avoid embarrassment. When I went out to call my previous patient, I saw that Bruno had already arrived. He was sitting in the waiting area holding a pair of glasses in his hand. When I said, “Morning, Mr Abrahams,” he squinted at me and then put his glasses on (they had classic round gold frames), smiled wanly and said, “Oh, good morning.” “I’ll be with you shortly,” I said. “One more patient first.” I’d made a sensible choice of slacks, I thought, as I adjusted my clothes.
“So how are you getting on with those glasses?” I asked when he came in. “Not too badly; I’m seeing pretty well with them now; the headaches are a lot better, but I still get one after a long time reading or at the computer. The only thing is—“ “Yes?” “No, never mind.” “OK. Well what I’m hoping to do now is give you a stronger prescription that will bring you closer to what you really need to stop the headaches and eyestrain.” The autorefractor reading this time was +5.5; I began by trying his full dilated correction of +7.25, and he read the test card quite comfortably with that—but his acuity with the wall chart was only 20/60, and I didn’t want to give him that amount of false myopia. I took it gradually down to +5.75, and he was reading the 20/30 line without difficulty, so I suggested he should go out into the main shop with the trial frame on and look around and out of the windows. When he came back he seemed content with that prescription, but it occurred to me to offer him the option of having bifocals made up, with his full correction in the reading section, to stop the headaches. He looked horrified; “Oh, no, not bifocals! In fact, I was wondering if I could try contact lenses instead of glasses.” “Not instead, I think, because it takes time to adjust to contacts; but you could try them and have a pair of glasses to fall back on.” “Oh, I see”—he looked a bit downcast—“the trouble is, my boyfriend doesn’t like me in glasses, and won’t let me wear them when I’m with him, but I can hardly see without them now. I’m afraid he may leave me if I’m wearing glasses all the time—and bifocals would put the tin hat on it.” “All right, try the contacts and see how it goes;” I reduced the Rx to +5.25; “and you might want a pair of +2 readers to help with prolonged reading, when your friend isn’t around, that is. Come back this time next week and we’ll see how it’s going, and for now I’ll pass you on to our contact lens dispenser.” Then I shot off to the loo in search of relief.
The following Saturday Bruno arrived wearing glasses, and before I could ask, announced, “Those contact lenses were a disaster! They wouldn’t stay in my eyes, and when they were in they were agony. I’ve gone back to glasses, and Tony and I have broken up. He said he wasn’t going around with a four-eyed geek. I said that’s what I am now, my eyesight’s part of who I am and if he loved me he’d have to love a four-eyed geek. He said fuck that for a lark and left. I thought he loved me, and that I loved him, but he’s a cunt. But he’s well-hung and he’s good in bed, and I—I miss him.” He sobbed for a minute or so, and then pulled himself together. “I need stronger glasses than these now, and I want bold frames so that everybody can see I’m a four-eyed geek. Oh yes, and if you say I need bifocals I’ll have them.“ I set to and checked the refraction (+5.75 both eyes, add +1.50) and gave him the chit. “Er, do you think you could help me choose my frames? Only, you’ve been really helpful and understanding.” “Well, I have another patient to see, but after I’ve seen him I could come out for a few minutes and see how you’re doing.”
Twenty minutes and another test later, I popped out to find Bruno trying on a massive frame that didn’t seem to me to suit him at all. I looked around and found a lighter one in black carbon fibre that would certainly stand out against his fair skin and hair but wouldn’t look so heavy. It was deep enough to take bifocal lenses, but not too deep to be smart. He tried it and said, “There! I knew you’d find the right thing for me; that’s great!” I checked it out with Frank the dispenser and went into the lab to persuade Malcolm the technician to make a rush job of it. He promised to have it ready by five o’clock, and I told Bruno to come in then.
When he arrived he was still looking traumatized and, frankly, ready to burst into tears at any moment. When Frank and I had finished with him and he’d paid his bill, I said, “I think you need a drink.” “Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “I might get emotional if I have a drink, and I don’t want to make a fool of myself in the pub.” “Never mind the pub,” I said. “Come to my flat, it’s just round the corner.”
Seated in my armchair, with a large gin in his hand, he began to relax and, yes, he was a bit emotional. He shed a few tears, but that embarrassed neither of us, and presently he said, “You know, I have a feeling I deserve all this trouble I’ve had. There was a kid at school who wore strong glasses—really thick they were, coke bottles weren’t in it. He couldn’t play rugby, he did long-distance running instead, but we all showered together, and he always had a raging stand in the shower. Poor kid was obviously gay and couldn’t hide it. I think he fancied me, and I certainly fancied him, but I wasn’t going to let him or anyone lese know I was that way, not then. My mates and I called him names; you know the kind of thing. His specs fascinated me, and I used to snatch them off his face and run away with them. He was helpless without them, but he learned enough judo to throw me if I tried anything. I dream about him sometimes—he was well-hung and had a lovely figure. I wish I could tell him how sorry I am.”
I digested this information, outwardly calm but inwardly anything but, and then said, “If you’ll excuse me a minute I really could do with getting these contact lenses out.” “Of course; I didn’t realize you were wearing them.” I went to my bedroom, put my glasses where I couldn’t fail to find them, took the contacts out (sweet relief!) and put my glasses on before heading back to the sitting room. As I entered the room Bruno started to say something, looked up and saw me, and stopped. He gave a sort of choking gurgle, and then said, “Christabel! Oh CHRISTABEL!” “Yes, that is what you used to call me. Most people call me Kit these days, but you can make it Kitty if you like.” “But—but after the way I treated you at school, how can you be so kind to me?” “Well, maybe we’ve all grown up since then; and of course you were beautiful then and you’re just as beautiful now.” “Oh! Oh darling!” He burst into tears good and proper, and I shed a few tears of happiness myself as I stroked his head. After a while he stood up, put his arms round me and, without our glasses clashing at all, drew me into a long, long kiss. Presently his hands began to explore my body and, when he felt my erection, he gasped and said, “Gawdstrewth, it’s bigger than ever!” “Now listen,” I said. “You came to me as a patient in the first instance, and that puts us in a professional relationship. Somebody once said that medical ethics means you can make your lover one of your patients, but you mustn’t make your patient one of your lovers, In other words, if I were to seduce you I’d be guilty of serious professional misconduct—so if there’s going to be any seducing it’s up to you to do it.” “Right!” he said with a sudden broad grin that transformed his face. “That I can handle.”
The ‘handling’ began inside my slacks, and then he suddenly stopped and said, “You know when I used to snatch your specs?” “Yes.” “Well, what I really dreamed of doing was getting them away from you when we were alone in the shower, and having my way with you when you couldn’t see what I was doing.” “Interesting idea,” said I. “Well, how would you feel about letting me realize my adolescent fantasies? Would that amount to seduction?” “It just might.” “OK then, let’s take a shower. Don’t take your specs off, I’ll do that without warning.”
My flat has a double bath with a shower over it, so there’s plenty of room for two. We stripped off and admired each other’s bodies before getting into the shower. I took a loofah to his back and he wriggled with pleasure; then I handed it to him and turned my back—but my glasses had gone and I could see nothing. He took me by the shoulders and turned me to face him, but I had no idea what he was doing till I felt his mouth close over my manhood. He was obviously an artist; it must have been a rush of adrenalin, but I saw stars (and they weren’t out of focus, so they must have been inside my head!) He kept me just off the boil for about twenty minutes before I exploded down his throat. Then he must have stood up, because I felt his penis under my hand. I knew what to do then, and did it. At some point he turned the shower off, and I found myself being towelled dry. Then I was led blindly—where? Soon I realized it was to bed. We lay down together, hugged and kissed for a while, and then he turned me over and entered me. Once again there was no hurry; I had no idea of the time and as much chance of reading the clock as of flying in the air. I only know it was a long, painful, pleasurable experience, and at the end we both wept for sheer happiness.
Eventually I said, “D’you think I could have my glasses back?” “OK,” he said. “But I’ll have to find my own so that I can look for yours…and even then I want to dress you first.” Being dressed blind was a wonderfully tender sensation; I had no idea what I was wearing till at last he slipped my glasses back over my ears and I found I was in three-quarter pants and a T-shirt. Bruno had raided my wardrobe and was similarly attired (fortunately we were of much the same size). We kissed yet again, and I said, “Would you like to stay to breakfast?”
Since that day we’ve lived together almost continuously, and hardly ever slept apart. It turned out that the flat where Bruno had been living was Tony’s, so he had to move and had spent a few uncomfortable nights at his mother’s; he explained to her that he was moving in with ‘an old school friend’. Although that was economical with the truth, just a bit, I didn’t complain. Saturday is ‘blind slave’ night, but I’ve devised a way from him to take a turn at being the blind one, with strong minus contacts and plus glasses.
A few more months, and Bruno was ready for his full correction of +7.25. We got Malcolm to make up a pair of Harry Potter-type glasses in that prescription as it was essential to have a spare, and then took the bifocal lenses out of his smart black frames and put +7.25s in. He looks really good in either pair, and we’re each proud of the other, four-eyed geeks that we both are.