Weekend in Brighton
“Today he was Patrick, not Trish; he hardly ever got to be Trish outside his own head.”
Patrick Berg—and today, as most days, he was Patrick, not Trish; he hardly ever got to be Trish, at least not outside his own head—walked down Buckingham Place towards the station. He stopped by the Belle Vue pub and stared across the hills. So many terraced houses piled atop another. They’d started building a hotel, its white concrete a riposte to the glass of the new Jubilee Library. It had an LGBT section at least, even if it was no match for Sussex’s Queer Studies collection. Soon the view would be ruined.
The breeze hit his hairline, reminding him that it was starting to recede. I should buy a wig, he thought. Maybe that shop in Hove will have something. Then he thought about his overdraft, his student loan. Where would he find that fifty or sixty quid?
Not from work. He trudged across town towards his evening shift. He saw the Argus billboards at the station trying to be wacky. But cod-surrealist headlines like mozart hip-hop makes grand master flash had felt less amusing ever since that moment two months ago when he had walked by and saw huge crowds, every train cancelled, the words terrorists attack london offered by the local rag with uncharacteristic solemnity—a rare show of solidarity with the capital against which Brightonians often defined themselves.
He turned down Trafalgar Street. A portrait of John Peel had recently been painted on the side of the Albert, drawing attention away from the stencil of two policemen kissing just below. He could never decide if he found the image charmingly romantic or tediously obvious. He looked wistfully at the second-hand bookshops, cafés and vintage clothes stores. He laughed at the young men in Trilby hats, and envied the women in polka-dot dresses, milling around the pubs in the mid-afternoon. He left the Nathan Barley types to their Shoreditch-on-sea and headed towards the office on Edward Street.
Patrick gazed at his office—the Wedding Cake, as it was known—all steel girders, blue tinted glass and forty-five degree angles. How could they waste such a dramatic building on something so bloody boring? He swiped in, took the lift to the second floor, took his file from the shelf, found an empty desk, turned on the PC, and sat down.
PRESS CTRL + ALT + DELETE TO LOG IN
He unlocked the computer, saw the blue screen, got a coffee, came back and opened Outlook. Inbox (26). “Leaving drinks” from Rob in Accounts. “Just a reminder—King & Queen, 8pm.” No other plans, thought Patrick. Fuck it. He typed, “I’ll be there after I finish.”
Now to waste five hours. He opened Internet Explorer and stared at the company homepage. Probably best not to look for another job here, let alone dresses or shoes. He clicked through his favourite haunts (The Guardian, B3ta, Pitchfork) and, finding nothing new, launched Excel. It had not become any more interesting since yesterday, but he had to at least look like he was working. He emailed the few other ex-students that he liked. He went to the canteen to buy snacks he didn’t really want. He went outside even though he didn’t smoke. All the while he processed just enough new account forms to keep his line manager off his back for another evening.
It was getting dark as he left for the pub. Oh God, Rob’s into football, he remembered as he fought through the guys in royal blue shirts. And they’re all looking at my hair. He brushed it off his shoulder. He found his colleagues at a big table upstairs with pints of lager and salt and vinegar crisps, eyes on the match. There was little talk, mostly loud murmurs as the ball approached the goal. There was a discussion about Ray from Credit Control, who seemed to see David Brent from The Office as some sort of life coach. Lindsey was keen to reprise every detail of her daughter’s recent wedding.
Patrick looked at his phone. How long is it before it’s socially acceptable to leave? he wondered. He declined a drink and made an excuse.
“Already?” asked Rob, speaking to him for the only time that evening.
“Yeah . . . things to do tomorrow morning. Good luck in London.”
He decided not to go home yet. He crossed back into Kemp Town and drifted into the Queen’s Arms, where he got a vodka and cranberry and sat in a corner. There were posters advertising drag queens but no entertainment tonight, and barely any clientele, just a couple of couples and a younger guy with bleached cropped hair who looked over and yelled, “Cheer up love, it might never happen!”
That sentence was always his cue to leave. He half-smiled, downed his drink and went outside. He wandered down towards Charles Street and R-Bar, the new joints by the seafront. A group of women in matching purple T-shirts were entering the latter. Hen night on a Tuesday? He turned back onto St. James’s Street, where he tried the Bulldog. It was dark and even quieter than the last place, but he could tell that it was “butch” where the Queen’s Arms had been “femme,” as their names had suggested. The looks from the leather-clad skinheads were no more welcoming than the ones he’d got from the Chelsea fans in the King & Queen.
A flyer caught his eye. A man’s face covered in red latex, black rubber circling the eye and mouth holes, in front of an attractive woman in a low-cut leather dress. Divinity @ The Harlequin. Fetish lounge and dance club. Fetish or fantasy wear only. Things ran through his mind, things he’d never told anyone about, or tried: serving a group of people at a party; being led on a chain, tied and gagged; having someone put him in the stocks and flog him . . .
Tickets were available from the sex shop near the station or Ashley’s in Hove.
On Fridays, Patrick worked the early shift. He finished at 2pm and took the bus to New Church Road in Hove—the only journey he made in this town (it wasn’t a ‘city’, no matter what the Council said) that was too far to walk.
The neurotically ordered grids of Hove, with their prosaic street names—First Avenue, Church Road—contrasted sharply with Brighton’s higgledy-piggledy layout, an embodiment of the residents’ snobbery: their insistence that they were from “Hove, actually,” as that local in-joke had it. The small-c conservatism made it all the more surprising that Ashley’s had opened here, but somehow it felt secluded near the end of the long boulevard, its signs and window display more discreet than the shops on St. James’s Street, which targeted people with enough disposable income to clothe their dogs.
The door felt heavy. As he entered he saw hangers of lingerie, red, black, white and soft pink, PVC nurses and maids’ uniforms, a bin full of eyeliner and lipstick. At the counter there were books and magazines: The Tranny Guide and Utterly Fabulous, with impossibly beautiful people on their covers. A middle-aged man stood behind them, his clean-shaven face caked in foundation, brown eyes with a little mascara on the lashes.
“Can I help you?”
“Do you have any tickets for Divinity?”
“We’ve got a few.” Patrick noticed that the assistant’s hands were also shaved, with clear nail varnish. He moved his gaze to catch the assistant’s eyes. They smiled at each other.
“How many did you want?”
“£15, please. What are you going to wear?”
“I don’t know . . . I’ve got some heels, tights, a few dresses but I’m not sure they’re right. I was thinking of buying a wig. ”
“We’ve got plenty of those.”
Patrick saw stilettos, a room full of wigs on mannequin heads, some white boxes, open, with an array of false breasts, different sizes but all quite large, a few brown, mostly beige. He wondered if the silicone might feel nicer than cotton wool.
“What style were you after?”
“I don’t know . . . ”
“Hmm . . . I reckon light brown, not too long. Try these.”
Patrick tried a brown wig in front of the mirror.
“I think the blonde highlights brings out your eyes.”
“I love it,” said Patrick.
“Now you’ll need a dress.” The assistant shot him a smile. “Are you a top or a bottom?”
“Are you dominant, or submissive?”
Patrick said nothing.
“You look like a sub to me.”
“How can you tell?”
“You’re just a bit coquettish. Not rocket science, I know.”
“But I don’t want to tie myself to anything.”
“No, but you want someone else to tie you to something.”
They laughed awkwardly.
“Maybe just a little black dress, rather than a uniform,” said the assistant, picking out a short cotton number with tassles on the arms and hemline. Patrick took off his shirt and trousers and tried it on over his bare chest and boxer shorts.
“Nice legs,” said the assistant, gently rubbing his hand over Patrick’s thighs as he pulled down the skirt.
“I’ll take it,” replied Patrick nervously. He quickly changed back into his work clothes.
“How long have you been here?” he asked as he handed over his debit card.
“Do you get much business?”
“We have a small core of loyal customers. I hope you’ll become one.”
“Anyway, I’m Brian, or Bree,” said the assistant. “And you?”
“Patrick. Uh, Trish.”
“I’d have gone for Patricia. It’s more ladylike.” There was a pause. “Anyway, maybe I’ll bump into you tomorrow night.”
Trish looked out at the collapsed remains of the West Pier, charred after two recent fires. Even though she knew that nobody could see through her window—at least not without a helicopter—she closed the blind. Perhaps it would be fun to be more ladylike, she thought as she went through the “female” side of her wardrobe. She went for the new dress with fishnet tights, a stuffed bra and her favourite knickers, black with an electric blue flower. No clip-on earrings, though: tonight, she hoped, there would be more enjoyable pains on offer. She
put on pink lipstick and dark eye makeup, and then the wig.
She grinned as she moved the fringe into the right spot. She admired herself for a moment, repositioned her chest, pulled down the hemline of her dress. She threw her size 7½ black heels—with their narrow four-inch heels that she’d only walked in a couple of times, never successfully—into a charity shop handbag with her purse and keys, and put on flats. She dialled for a taxi, worrying about smudging her nails as she tapped out the number. She should have done them earlier.
She opened the front door and listened around the corridor. She was shaking slightly. Once she felt it was clear, she locked her flat and got the lift to the ground floor, keeping her head down to avoid conversation in case anyone else came in. Nobody did.
The driver stared, but, to her relief, didn’t floor the accelerator.
“Where you going?”
“Providence Place. Just behind Woolworths on London Road.”
Trish sat wordlessly as the driver took her along Western Road. She wondered how well she passed. Any conversation would betray her, she was sure. They turned left before they reached the crowds outside Churchill Square shopping centre, or the clubs and bars on West Street—“Fight Street,” as her friends unaffectionately called it. They went down New England Road and into that shabby district around London Road, once the town’s epicentre but now a run-down parade of second-hand shops and fast food chains with the tired old Co-op Department Store at its ailing heart.
You never see this on brochures or broadcasts about twenty-first-century Brighton. They turned onto the dark, dank back street, and the driver pulled up outside the Harlequin. Trish changed into her heels and took a deep breath.
“Come on darling,” said the doorman. “You’ll catch a cold if you stand out here.” She smiled at him and went in. She had been here a few times, but always in drab (as she called her male clothes) and usually on a weeknight, when she and her straight friends endured endless Pussycat Dolls or Scissor Sisters records in order to carry on drinking after the pubs closed. She had come only once on a Saturday night, to see a tired old drag queen belt out “I Will Survive” before taking the piss out of the blouse she’d worn to an audience of about twenty.
Usually it was fairly quiet—another relic of a dying queer culture—but tonight the floor was packed with people in leather trousers, or PVC skirts and boots with tape over their nipples. The posters for the fifty-something performers weren’t visible as the house lights were down, although the disco lights around the bar broke the darkness for those wanting a drink. Tottering, struggling to make herself heard over the music—hard house, handbag, speedcore, she didn’t know what—she tried to attract the attention of the guy behind the bar, who had piercings and a green Mohawk and was wearing a mesh T-shirt.
A woman next to her said hello. She had short bleached hair and was dressed in red underwear with a collar and chain around her neck. An older man in leather was holding the end. Trish tried to look past her cleavage to the man’s beard and half-naked torso, wondering what it might be like to spend the evening with them.
“Is this your first time?” the woman asked.
“Is it that obvious?” said Trish.
“Try to relax. Are you with anyone?”
“Oh, love. I’ll buy you a drink. What’ll you have?”
“Vodka and orange?”
The woman smiled at the barman, who served her next. The woman took her hand.
“Come upstairs with us,” she said.
Trish followed the woman and her partner to the mezzanine floor. She gazed down over the banisters at the bar. A man in his underwear strapped to a St. Andrew’s Cross was being gently flogged across his genitals. His eyes were shut, and he was yelping with each strike. Just below the empty dance floor, there were a few tables, each in a cubicle where little groups dressed in red or black hatched their plans. Next to them were the stocks, still unoccupied.
“Just going to get her warmed up,” said the man to Trish, putting his partner’s head and arms in place. He gently rolled up her skirt, put her underwear around her ankles and caressed her. So much care and trust, Trish thought as the man took a paddle and started spanking the woman. She recalled some of her adolescent fantasies. The little pats between the strikes must be the most exciting bit.
Someone tapped her shoulder. “You like that?” It was a woman in a red latex dress with matching gloves and boots, brown wavy hair, hazel-coloured eyes and deep red lips, holding a whip.
“Wanna go next?”
Fuck. Trish looked down at her dress. She’ll know that you like her . . . She held her bag in front of her waist coyly, and took another breath. “Go on, then. If I must.”
Candy handed the whip to Trish. She gave it straight back. Candy raised her eyebrows; Trish grinned, trying not to blush, as the man let his partner out of the stocks and took her downstairs.
Trish let Candy take her hand and put it through one of the holes. She gave Candy her other arm, and then bowed her head so that Candy could fix it in place. Candy bolted down the top, rolled up Trish’s skirt, pulled down her underwear and spread her legs further apart.
Trish closed her eyes and listened to Candy step back. She clenched her teeth until the whip cracked across her buttocks. Yeow! More strikes, each more painful and pleasurable than the last. Candy leant into her, driving her nails and elbows into her back, kicking her thighs and laughing as she lost her footing. Just as Trish began to wish she would stop, Candy stroked her behind and then walked around the stocks to face her.
“Are you okay, darling?”
“Shall I carry on?”
Candy kissed her on the cheek and then struck her hard with the whip. Six more lashes were enough: Trish stamped her foot to get Candy’s attention, and then asked her to stop. Candy pulled up Trish’s underwear, put her skirt down and released her, giving her a hug.
Someone was coming towards her: middle-aged, with brown eyes, wearing a crushed velvet dress and a black wig, cut into a bob.
“It’s Bree—we met at Ashley’s. I knew you’d make a gorgeous girl!”
Trish smiled, doing a half-ironic curtsy.
“How are you?”
“It’s nice, isn’t it?” Trish smiled again and nodded.
“Wanna swap?” Bree said.
“You want me to spank you?”
“Why not? You might enjoy it.”
Will I? wondered Trish. I’ve always been sub . . .
“Come on, use this.” Candy interrupted and slapped a paddle into Trish’s hand. “I’ll tell you what to do.”
“Come on then.” Trish tried awkwardly to return Bree’s beaming grin. If it makes her happy. She took Bree’s hand and led her to the stocks, copying what Candy had done to her. She gently patted Bree’s backside and then smacked it hard.
“Move up and down,” said Candy, “and aim for the top of her leg.” Trish kept going. “Check that she’s okay, and show her some tenderness, too.”
Trish asked Bree if she was all right. Bree nodded, and Trish went back to hitting her, a little more enthusiastically each time.
“Mistress! Mistress!” she heard over the music.
Mistress! How exciting!
“I’d like to stop now.”
“Okay, hon,” said Trish. “Let me buy you a drink.”
Trish handed the paddle back to Candy, let Bree out, gave her a hug, kissed her on the cheek and took her downstairs.
The crowd around the bar had thinned out as the dance floor had filled. They took the only empty seats, in the corner, by the jukebox. Trish half-smiled at Bree, struggling to work out what to say.
“How long have you worked at Ashley’s?”
Trish leaned over, raising her voice.
“How long have you worked at Ashley’s?”
“Oh—just over a year. Part-time.”
“What else do you do?”
“I said, what else do you do?”
“Sorry love, I can’t hear you,” said Bree, pointing at the speaker above them. “I’m a
decorator. Why don’t we go back to my hotel? We can chat there.”
Bree called a taxi. They finished their drinks and went out to the car.
“St. George’s Terrace, please.”
The driver nodded.
“Hope you’re not too sore,” said Bree.
“Where do you live?”
“Embassy Court,” she replied.
“That manky old tower on the seafront?”
“They’re doing it up,” said Trish. “Fixing the broken windows and cleaning the grime off the front. I’ll probably have to move out once they’re done, though.”
“How come you’re at a hotel?”
“I live in Crawley,” said Bree. “Moved into a one-bed place after I broke up with my wife. The kids are with her in Three Bridges.”
“Was that because . . . ?”
“Oh sweetheart, I’m sorry,” said Trish, taking Bree’s hand.
“It’s all right,” Bree replied, betraying the opposite with her eyes.
“Do you want to go all the way?”
“I’m too old now, and the boys have been through enough,” said Bree. “What about you?”
“I don’t know. I probably would, if it wasn’t so much effort.”
“Are you with anyone?”
“No, I’m single,” replied Trish. “I’m always single.”
“Well, then, at least you don’t have that to worry about.”
They reached the hotel. Bree led Trish through the empty reception and up the stairs.
The wallpaper in the room was that orangey-brown shade with hexagonal patterns that she had last seen in pubs on soap operas in the early 1990s. It absorbed the light from the flickering bulb after Bree turned on the bedside lamp, and somehow made the room feel even darker, and just a little sadder. Bree drew the blinds, stained and beige. Trish sat in the chair by the desk, looking at her hands.
Bree picked up her jeans, removed the belt and gave it to Trish. She put her hands on the bed and leant over.
“Oh,” said Trish. “I thought you just wanted to chat.”
“We’ll have plenty of time for that,” replied Bree. “Go on.”
Trish hesitated, and then moved behind Bree, and cracked the belt with a loud whoosh.
“Won’t people hear us?” she whispered.
“It’ll be all right. I’m only here until tomorrow morning,” replied Bree.
“What if they knock?”
“It’ll be fine. It’s still quite early, anyway.”
Trish swung the belt again. There wasn’t enough space: it kept striking the wardrobe, the wall or the bedpost, draining its force well before it got to Bree.
“Use your hand, I’ll lie across your lap.” Trish sat on the bed, and Bree laid across her. “Roll up my skirt.”
Trish suppressed a sigh, and sensed Bree becoming impatient, wriggling a little across her lap. She followed Bree’s request and spanked her a few times.
She hit Bree with more force and then looked at the door. “I thought I heard someone.”
“If you’re really not comfortable, we can stop,” said Bree.
“It’s just . . . you’re too nice. I feel bad about hurting you.”
“You managed it earlier.”
“It’s different in a club.” Trish suppressed a tear. “You seem really sweet, but . . . ”
Bree sat up and put her hand on Trish’s knee. They both left it there for a moment. Bree moved to kiss her. Trish backed away slightly, shifted her head and put her arms around Bree.
“I’m sorry, darling.” She held Bree tighter. “I’m sorry.”
She let go. “It’s late. I should go.”
“You won’t walk along the seafront, will you?”
“No, I’ll get too much shit off people. There’s a taxi rank up the road.”
“Here,” said Bree, tearing a page from a notebook and picking up a pen. “There’s a website called TV-TS World. My username is Breanna. Find me on there if you ever want to chat.”
Trish took the note, put it in her bag, hugged Bree and left. Why am I so disappointed? I’ve finally met someone like me, tried something I’ve always wanted to try . . . Whatever lay beneath it would have to wait. She was too tired to think about it now. She got out her Discman, put in the earphones and started Chicks on Speed’s Glamour Girl as she went through reception. Even though it felt laughably inappropriate, she kept the music on. It would drown out any heckles as she walked home. She didn’t want to shell out on another taxi. She kept her head down along the promenade, feeling—correctly—that the dark would protect her, and that none of the people coming out of the clubs would scrutinize her too closely.
At home she turned on her laptop, looked at the topics on the forum that Bree recommended—mainly about where to buy makeup or clothes, but there were also bitter arguments about newspaper articles, TV sketch show Little Britain and a new film called Transamerica—and decided not to register.
Soon after, the Harlequin closed, Divinity seemed to disappear, and she got a letter telling her that her rent would increase. When she decided to try her luck in London, she momentarily wondered what became of Rob in Accounts. She never saw Bree again.