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A New Era

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It might never have happened if Bob hadn't insisted on talking about his fantasy. "I can see the firm swell of her breasts, and her boyishly flat stomach -"

"Hang on," Terry says. "Boyishly flat stomach?"


"That's good, is it?"

"'Course it is. Now shut up and let me get back to my fantasy."

"Our fantasy. If you're saying it out loud, it's our bloody fantasy." Terry heaves himself round and nudges Bob between the shoulder blades. "Only all of a sudden our fantasy's got boys in it."

"Not boys, for heaven's sake. A beautiful girl."

"With boyish features."

"Just a stomach!" Bob turns over and gives him a look. "What's the matter with you?"

"Me? Here you are, the night before your wedding, and not only are you talking about boyish stomachs, you've gone to elaborate lengths to get me into your bed."

"You can have the sofa if you want. Only you'll wake up with the cat sleeping on your face. My aunt Beattie was picking fur out of her dentures for a week."

"Better a nasty surprise in the teeth than one in the -"

"Terry! Stop mucking about. You know I'm not a poof." Bob pushes his fringe aside, and it sticks out like a surprised hedgehog. How much hairspray does he use, anyway?

"That's what they all say." Terry pulls the covers up to his neck.

"Mostly because they're not poofs."

"You'd be surprised. The things I saw in the army . . . "

"Sure it wasn't hallucinations from your malaria?"

"Go on, laugh. Five years of my life, that was."

"Stranded on the malarial shores of Devizes, a prey to every randy queer in a sergeant's uniform."

Terry gives that the answer it deserves, which is a stern silence. He hmmmphs a little to underline how silent he's being.

"To continue, then," Bob says. "Her magnificent bronzed body -"

"A lot of folk have it in them."

"Have what?"

"You know. A bit of -" Terry waggles his wrist.


"So double-jointed they swing both ways."

"Not round here they don't."

"That's what you think. But as a man of the world -"

"Man of army bases."

"As a man of the world, I know that you can't always tell. There's some don't sound like Julian and Sandy. And their wrists don't go -" Terry waggles again.

"Right, undercover poofs. So how can you tell, Mr. Bond? D'you have to get under the covers with them? See if they pinch your bum?"

"Keep your hands where I can see 'em, mate."

Bob pinches him anyway, but on the leg. "So is that your specialised subject on Mastermind? How to spot a poof?"

"What I'm saying is they're not all entirely poofs, are they? There's some that like girls too, like them a lot, but they do like blokes a little."

"Bisexual. Like David Bowie."

"Never met him."

"He's -"

"What I'm saying," Terry says, pushing right through the interruption because he's got momentum built up, "is that lots of men who look perfectly normal might like blokes a little. Especially one bloke, maybe, just one bloke in their whole life that they might ever really seriously consider, you know, that with, but there is that one bloke and so I suppose you'd have to say they're a little bit queer."

Bob doesn't answer. His eyes are big and shadowy in his round face like the dark patches on the moon.

"That's what I read in a magazine, anyway," Terry says. "Never mind, tell us about the girl in the water."

Bob shakes his head. "It wouldn't be easy, being a fella like that. He might hide it for years and years, except to joke about it. 'Cause everybody knows that you don't mean it if you laugh afterwards. And he might get fed up with hiding and joking and finally tell the other bloke in a really roundabout way at the worst possible time. Like the night before his wedding."

"It's not his fault! There was always a girl in the way, and it always seemed like it could wait a little longer. Like forever. And then it was the night before his mate's wedding and he arranged a lovely booze-up with a lot of pals so they wouldn't be alone and he'd be too drunk to talk and the other bloke'd be too drunk to listen. Only his mate wanted a quiet night in." Terry looks away from Bob's unreadable man-in-the-moon eyes. "I reckon it could happen like that. Poor bastard, no wonder he went and made a right idiot of himself."

"You don't know that."

"I read the magazine, not you. I know how it ends. The other bloke gets married and waves goodbye at the airport and that's it. Nothing's ever the same as it was, and it's bloody well not whatever it might have been instead, either."

"I reckon you're remembering wrong. The version I read said . . . " Bob takes a loud, rough breath. "It said that the other bloke had a bit of that in him, too. Not a serious case, mind, except for his best mate who was always chasing skirts and who he would've never guessed in a million years had even the tiniest little inclination the other way."

"They're both hopeless tossers, aren't they?"

"Let's be nice and say they're just a bit slow."

"Slow as glaciers. And about as thick." Terry slides his hand a couple of inches across the bed, towards Bob.

Bob's hand moves. Their fingers touch.

Bob's getting married in twelve hours. Bob's auntie's in the next room and his mum's down the hall and it's an awful thing to do to Thelma and their hands are still moving, their fingers locking together.

"How does it end?" Terry asks. "The article you read?"

"I don't know." Bob's voice is hoarse and scared. "It said 'To be continued.'" His hand clamps down hard on Terry's.

They lie very quiet and very still. Whatever happens next, Terry knows, nothing is ever going to be the same.