Too Real is this Feeling of Make-Believe
Category: The Mighty Boosh
Pairing: Howard Moon/Vince Noir
Genre: Alternate Scene
Length: 10-20k words
Too Real is this Feeling of Make-Believe by speth
“Vince? Vince is dead.”
That was all it had taken. One little white lie and his life had been irreparably changed forever. Well perhaps not a little white lie, but Vince had undoubtedly told bigger whoppers than that in the past and had suffered far less severe consequences. He knew there might be some backlash from this one, but that was okay; he’d charmed his way out of many a difficult situation before, so why should this one be any different? He certainly hadn’t expected that as a direct result of this one tiny fib, he’d find himself a few years later on face down on a bed in only a pair of nylons and a corset, being paid by some stranger, still mostly clad in a dark green uniform, to let him thrust in and out of his arse. Moreover, he never would have guessed that the reason behind his unusually unenthusiastic performance and lacklustre moans that evening would be that his thoughts were occupied by another man – a man who he couldn’t get out of his head no matter how hard he tried.
It was the war that had brought all of this on, he supposed. Vince hadn’t been too worried when war had been declared – just five years ago, although it seemed like a lot longer than that now. “It’ll be over before Christmas,” they’d said. The phoney war, that’s what they’d called it. So he’d carried on the same as ever, going out with his friends in the evening, drinking too much, flirting too much and staggering home in the early hours of the morning. Then conscription had begun, but still Vince wasn’t too bothered. It was only compulsory for men aged between twenty and twenty-three, and he was out of that age group, though only just. He was more concerned with working out how best to customise last year’s wardrobe so that he could keep up with the latest trends even taking into account the measly clothing allowance their ration book permitted them.
To everyone’s surprise the war had raged on, and age brackets for conscription were widened. Soon people Vince actually knew had received their call-up papers, and finally he began to worry. He couldn’t go to war. How would he style his hair out on the front line? And there was no way in hell he was going to put one of those army uniforms on, not unless they’d let him modify it a bit but he couldn’t really see that happening – the sequins would definitely make it easier for the Jerries to spot them. There were some people – conscientious objectors they called themselves, something like that at least – who got out of fighting by saying that their religion didn’t allow it. Now, he treated his hair with the utmost care, but he didn’t think that it counted as a religion just yet, and he’d heard of people who’d gone to prison for pretending they were all religious. He didn’t want that, either; Vince knew what happened to people who looked like he did in prison.
Then, one day, it finally happened. That letter he’d been dreading, the envelope stamped OHMS, dropped through his letterbox one morning. He didn’t open it. He hid it under his bed instead. That letter was followed by another one, and another, and another, until the space beneath his bed was completely taken up by brown envelopes with URGENT stamped on them in bold red ink.
The cross-dressing had been Leroy’s idea, really. He knew someone who knew someone who worked at the Home Office, and word had it that Vince was going to get a visit from a government official or two if he didn’t turn up for a medical soon.
“Shame you’re not a woman, mate,” Leroy had laughed, “though you do kind of look like one if I squint.”
That was when the idea took root in Vince’s head and refused to leave. If they were coming for him, he’d be prepared.
“Vince? Vince is dead.”
Standing in the doorway, dressed in his mother’s Sunday best, his hairy legs hidden under her last remaining pair of silk stocking (no gravy browning for Vince Noir), he’d been a striking sight indeed. He’d told the two men who’d appeared on his doorstep one afternoon dressed in trenchcoats and smart suits that Vince had passed away from consumption only the week before, sobbing shamelessly into a lace handkerchief just for effect. It had been an impressive performance, even by Vince’s standards.
He’d thought that that would have seen them off no problem, but it turned out that he was wrong; they weren’t taken in for a moment. It wasn’t that his act was unconvincing, for it had been thoroughly rehearsed, nor was it that his disguise failed him – even his own mum would have taken him for a girl – but the two officials had come across hundreds of wives, mothers and girlfriends who’d lied through their teeth to keep their men at home. For some reason inviting them into the living room and then legging it out the bedroom window had seemed like the best course of action at the time. He paused only to pick up his gas mask, which was lying on the bed in its box, and to select a handbag which would suitably complement his outfit before he hoisted himself out over the sill (his skirt making it more difficult than he’d thought it would be) and tottered off down the street as fast as he could in his high heels.
That evening he wandered into his local to meet Leroy as per usual. Vince spotted him across the room and meandered slowly through the busy bar to sit next to him. The smile that had appeared on Leroy’s face at the arrival of the pretty young woman next to him quickly changed to a look of horror upon seeing an all too familiar grin spread across the carefully made-up face.
“Is that you, Vince?”
“It certainly is. You know, this is probably the best idea you’ve ever had. I make a pretty handsome woman, don’t I?”
He slipped off the bar stool and gave a quick twirl, earning himself a whistle of approval from a nearby table of soldiers. Vince gave them a coy smile and a little wave in return.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Leroy asked as he dragged him by the lace collar of his dress back onto the stool, so Vince recounted the tale of his run-in with the Home Office officials.
“You mean to tell me that you’ve told the government you’re dead?” A look of disbelief spread across his face. “You know this means you can’t go back home now, or to work? They’ll have figured out that you didn’t kick the bucket after all by now. You’ll be a wanted man!”
“Well maybe I’ll just keep on being a woman then,” Vince replied petulantly. “I am a bit of a knock-out.”
“What, and get a job in a munitions factory?” Leroy snorted derisively. “Can’t really see you doing that.”
“Well p’rhaps I’ll become an actress, tour the music halls, entertain the troops, that sort of thing.” Vince pouted, upset by his friend’s lack of enthusiasm for what had after all been his idea.
“You’ve gone wrong, mate. Look, I’m not gonna stick around here while you prance about in a frock.”
“Fine, go then! Don’t need you anyway.”
Leroy shook his head, picked up his trilby, and walked out the pub. Moments later Vince felt someone else at his side. He looked round to see one of the soldiers standing next to him.
“You alright, sweetheart? Have a tiff with your young man?”
With surprising ease, Vince slipped into the role of a damsel in distress. “He’s such a brute!” he sobbed.
The soldier patted him gently on the back. “There, there, love. Why don’t you come and join us for a drink?”
See, Vince thought smugly to himself, I could be an actress.
And strangely enough that night in that public house was where his surprisingly quick and relatively painless (aside from that one time when a young soldier had tried to use brylcream as lubrication) slide into prostitution had begun. He moved over to join the service men, readily accepting a glass of sherry proffered by one of the young men. The conversation and the alcohol both flowed freely and easily, and Vince told them about his grand plans for the future. “I’ll be bigger than Vera Lynn!” he announced, flailing his arms wildly for dramatic effect, sherry sloshing over the sides of the glass.
The evening began to wind down, and Vince noticed one of the men at the table giving him a strange look. He hadn’t paid much attention to him during the evening, really. The man was a bit older than the other soldiers, slightly more rotund with greying hair and an impressive silver handlebar moustache. He had more stripes on his shoulders than the rest of them, probably meant he was a bit higher up or something, Vince wasn’t really sure and wasn’t really bothered about it. Those uniforms were a bit ugly in his opinion, made them all look a bit, well, uniform, really. Could do with some tassels on the epaulettes, he thought drunkenly. But there was something slightly unnerving about him; the way he was looking at Vince scared him, like he knew. The older man slid round the table to join Vince, and Vince jumped in shock as he felt a hand on his skirt-covered thigh.
“Well, you are a pretty one, aren’t you? I’ve not seen many as good as you before.”
Vince opened his mouth to protest, but before he could get the words out the man squeezed down harder on his thigh and whispered, “I won’t say anything to the lads; don’t worry your pretty little head about that. I was just wondering how serious you are about wanting to entertain the troops.” A leering smile stretched across his face. “What’s your price, love?”
“I’m quite sure I don’t know what you mean,” Vince replied in his most lady-like voice, but the hand creeping up his thigh was becoming more and more insistent and even with several glasses of sherry now running through his bloodstream, Vince had a very good idea what he meant.
The soldier leaned in closer. “Now, don’t play coy with me. I’m very well acquainted with your type.”
Looking back Vince could never remember precisely what had happened next. All he knew was that he definitely was a talented actress, because that from that evening it had become all to easy to say “yes” and slip into whatever role was required of him.
Things could have been far worse, he thought; in fact, in certain respects he was actually quite lucky. He’d managed to find himself a flat above a pie and mash shop in Dalston; it was a bad area, but the rent was low and as long as she got it on time, the landlady, Elsie, turned a blind eye to the men appearing on the doorstep at all hours of the day and night. Vince had heard someone once say that there were a lot of bad types, a lot of mean people, a lot of nutters round here, and it was true – there were a lot of strange characters around here, like the green geezer who hung around Elsie’s shop, banging out tuneless songs on the piano, usually something to do with fish (Vince had never quite worked out this obsession). There was also a funny little man who hung around the corner of the street; Vince assumed he was an organ-grinder or something because of the monkey that was always with him, but something wasn’t quite right there, either. The guy often had a slightly vacant look about him, and the monkey, well, it was bigger than any other animal Vince had ever seen, taller than its owner, even. Vince had never landed himself in any trouble though; his charm and ease with other people saw to that, and in all honestly he actually quite liked the oddities of those surrounding him. It made him feel that bit less conspicuous, a little more normal.
Vince didn’t mind the cross-dressing either. Men’s fashions had become drab of late. They’d stopped wearing waistcoats or pocket watches or anything like that these days, but wearing a skirt felt, well, almost natural, and the possibilities for accessorising were endless, as long as you had the right connections in the black market. He particularly liked the corsets and the stockings; they looked dead good on him, but were getting harder and harder to come by these days. A large number of girls had started wearing these brassiere things, so that’s what the shops were selling – well, when there was anything to be sold, that was. Vince couldn’t quite get his head round the idea of wearing a brassiere, and anyway a corset helped to pull his figure in a bit, made his clothes hang better, that sort of thing, so a waspie it was for him. As for stockings, well, it was a nightmare trying to get your hands on a pair. The ration book allowed for only two pairs a year. (Vince had written to the Home Secretary asking for a bigger allowance due to the nature of his work, but had heard nothing back. He couldn’t understand why a typist was in charge of that sort of business any way.) He’d all but given up on silk stockings these days, but occasionally you could get nylons. The American G.I.s were usually good for a pair or two if you flirted with them enough. Still, he had never stooped to using gravy browning; that was for cheap whores, and Vince was anything but cheap.
Hats were another of Vince’s pleasures. He was grateful the government hadn’t seen fit to ration them as well, so while his stockings may have been darned, and his dresses had been fashioned out of last year’s clothes, or occasionally a pair of curtains, he had a fantastic collection of hats. People didn’t tend to notice how shabby your clothes were if you had a good hat on, and Vince was lucky; all hats looked good on him.
From that first night Vince had steadily built up a client base through word of mouth. His customers were exclusively military men, some who were too high up in the ranks to be stationed abroad, others back briefly home on leave. They’d cuddled up in other soldiers’ bunks during the long cold nights when they missed their wives (not in a homosexual way, you understand), but on their return to Blighty they’d found their wives less accommodating, or had been too embarrassed to even broach the subject. Vince’s women’s attire and girlish features helped them to feel less repulsed with themselves. Sometimes, Vince liked to think that by servicing the service men he was doing his part for the war effort, keeping up the morale among the soldiers. For some of them he simply provided relief and comfort from the horrors of war; with others it was a sort of therapy, and therapy was certainly what some of them needed. One client in particular stood out in his mind.
He shuddered at the memory of the American soldier standing above him, calling him “my little Vincey” and stroking his hair while he sucked his cock. It wasn’t that Vince minded giving blowjobs; in fact he probably preferred it to being buggered. It was quicker and easier to make a few shillings that way. There was just something a bit wrong about this guy. He had been stationed in England for the war, and he definitely needed help. Most of the Yanks had no problem finding girls in London. Men were something of a rarity these days, and the girls were easily swayed by that American accent. More than a handful of British girls would unexpectedly find themselves mothers to American children before the war was out. He, however, had a certain neediness that inspired revulsion in others. While most of his other clients were furtive, giving him an obviously false name, or no name at all, this one was very insistent that Vince should call him ‘Little Bobby’. Once he even asked Vince to spank him and another time to put on an American accent and tell him he’d been a bad boy. It was an unusual reversal on the games most of his clients wanted to play with him. Vince had seen a lot, and wasn’t easily shocked, but the first time Bob had come, throwing his head back, shouting out, “Mommy!” Vince had actually snorted the semen straight back out his nose. He’d been promised that the next time Bob came he’d keep his uniform on and bring a saddle, so that Vince could ride him like a green horsy. He couldn’t say that he was looking forward to it, exactly, but Bob did have a lot of connections in the black market, and surprisingly good taste in lipstick.
On the whole Vince was content with his life. Well, perhaps ‘content’ wasn’t quite the right word, but it was better than dodging Nazi bullets with a load of other grumpy soldiers. And at least here, unlike in prison, he had some control over who he let bum him. It felt as though he still had some glamour in his life, and had managed to amass a collection of trinkets that most girls would have given their eyeteeth for. It had all been going well enough until that jazz freak cocked everything for him.
He had been hurrying back through the streets of London one evening, trying to get back to his flat before his client did (they didn’t appreciate being made to hang around outside the shop while they waited for Vince to make an appearance, and he’d quickly learnt that excuses along the lines of “my nylons inflated like zeppelins and carried me out the window” simply wouldn’t wash with them), when the shrill and always terrifying noise of the air raid siren had started up. It was a procedure he was quite used to, but for some reason this time he panicked. The area of London he was in was still a little unfamiliar and in the distance he could hear the thundering drone of the German aircraft heading steadily his way. Unable to decide whether to seek out the nearest public shelter, or to make a break for the familiarity of the cellar under Elsie’s shop, he froze on the spot. For the first time in his life, the usually cool, calm and collected Vince Noir had absolutely no idea what to do. People were shrieking and running in all directions around him on the busy London street, but he just couldn’t move.
Suddenly he felt a strong hand tugging on his arm, and he allowed it to hurry him away, along the road and down a flight of stairs into a nearby tube station. He glanced up at his rescuer and saw a tall man in a dark uniform, not dissimilar to those worn by Vince’s soldiers. A slightly battered tin hat was sliding about on top of his head as they ran.
Once they were in the comparative safety of the Underground station, Vince brushed down his skirt and twiddled nervously with the ends of his hair. He was able to see the stranger better here under the electric lights. He had a moustache and dark brown eyes which were a little crinkled at the corners. They made him look kind, Vince thought.
“Howard Moon, at your service, ma’am. Home Guard. Forgive me for taking a hold of you like that, but I thought you might have been in need of some assistance.”
He extended his hand, and Vince found himself on the receiving end of a very thorough handshake. He knew that Howard was waiting for Vince to offer his name as well but he couldn’t very well tell Howard his real name as that would just lead to awkward questions along the lines of, “Vince is an unusual name for a lady, isn’t it?” which he didn’t really want to answer. Usually he’d just make one up on the spot – he liked to think that a name was just another accessory and could be changed just as easily as a handbag or a pair of shoes to suit his look that day – yet for some reason he couldn’t quite bring himself to lie to Howard. Instead he just replied, “Oh no, not at all. I feel a bit daft for just standing there like that. Thanks for grabbing me,” and smiled shyly at Howard.
Howard had been rushing to Camden Town tube station when he’d seen her, standing there looking lost in the middle of all those people. Impulsively he reached out and pulled her along with him. It wasn’t something he’d usually have done; Howard didn’t like being touched himself, and rarely went out of his way to touch anyone else, but now that she was here, standing in front of him, twirling her dark locks around one finger and smiling like that, he couldn’t help feeling rather pleased with himself.
She was an odd looking girl; her pale skin and the sharp angles of her face made her look a little bit like a witch (he was almost surprised that she hadn’t been arrested before now). Still, despite her quirks, there was something compelling about her, though he wasn’t entirely sure what it was. Her eyes were large and gave her an air of innocence, but that was contradicted by the way she smiled; there was nothing innocent about that smile. He realised that he was staring, and managed to stammer out his name and an apology, before holding out his hand and almost pulling her arm off with the ferocity of his handshake. Well done, Howard, he thought to himself, first you manhandle her on the street, and now you’ve almost pulled her arm right from its socket. Before he could continue his inner monologue, there was a whistling sound from above; the first bombs had started to fall. Seconds later the ground shook as they began to explode, and the young lady in front of him was jolted into his arms. Howard instinctively pushed her straight back out again, the words, “Don’t ever touch me!” bursting from his mouth before he could stop them. He looked on, horrified, as she toppled over, her skirt rising up just enough to expose her petticoat. Despite the noise and the terror raging above them, Howard still felt as though everyone in the station was giving him a look of disgust, having seen exactly what he’d done, and he flushed with shame.
“Oh shit.” He realised he was in mixed company. “Oh heavens, I mean. I’m so sorry. Please, let me help you up.”
“S’alright, I’m probably better off down here anyway, else I’ll do the same thing next time another bomb goes off. Why don’t you come and join me?”
Howard slumped down next to her on the floor. They were surrounded by noise down in the station; babies crying, parents telling their children off for running along the railway tracks, the general babble of excited conversation, and every now and again, the sound of another bomb whistling down onto London above them. The young lady by his side seemed anxious, and, not really conscious of what he was doing, Howard started to talk, telling her about his work in the Home Guard. How he’d started out fairly low down the ranks, but thanks to his hard work and perseverance, he’d been promoted to Head of Stationery. This was a very important position he explained; his branch of the Guard covered a large area of London, and all hell (“if you’ll excuse my language, ma’am”) could break loose if there weren’t adequate supplies of pens and pencils. Stock taking was a task of the utmost gravity, yes sir. He had declined to mention that this was more of a sideways move than a promotion; he was no longer supposed to patrol the streets following an incident which one of the broadsheets had covered, involving a female ambulance driver and a pair of binoculars.
“How come you’re not out on the front line, Mr Moon?” his accidental companion eventually asked. “Is it because you’re too old?” The question seemed innocent, but Howard thought he could spot a twinkle in her eyes. He was unsure whether she was mocking him or not.
“Definitely not,” he replied in a carefully measured tone. “I’m thirty-two…” He looked up a little shiftily to see her stifle a laugh, and quickly continued. “I, um, failed the medical. Old war wounds…” He trailed off, reluctant to tell this attractive lady about the real reason he couldn’t go into active service; his chest deformity.
He’d turned up for his medical, carrying his call-up papers as though he’d won some sort of prize, proud to have the king request his service. His chance to be a man of action had arrived. The medical officer had told him to strip, but before he’d even managed to remove his shirt completely, the doctor was shrieking, covering his eyes and begging Howard to leave. Up until then Howard had thought that everyone’s chest looked like that. He slunk home miserably, his head bowed in shame.
Howard was relieved to see her nod sympathetically at his story and decided it was high time to change the topic of conversation. He began to tell her about his newly acquired passion for a music form called jazz. It had only recently appeared on the continent, but he already considered himself to be somewhat of an expert of the subject. This line of conversation didn’t go down too well though. She seemed a little bored by it and told him that she didn’t really see the point in music you couldn’t dance to. Howard got a little huffy over this. It was downright rude of her to denigrate his choice of music. She seemed to realise, however, that she had crossed some boundary, and, placing her arm gently on his, managed to coax him back into a conversation about his plans for after the war. She listened wide-eyed and attentively as he told her about the zoological gardens he intended on creating in a plot of land left to him by his second cousin twice removed on his sister’s side.
“Well, of course so far, I’ve only got a wheelbarrow, some stick insects and a fox, but it will soon grow. After the war it will be far easier to import animals. I’m particularly interested in reptiles and amphibians. Fascinating creatures. For example did you know that a newt’s sex may be changed simply by someone trembling when he holds it? There’s more to zookeeping than meets the eye, I can tell you!”
“You’re really going to have your own zoological gardens? That’s genius!”
“I certainly am. You see, I come from a long line of zoo keepers…”
“A long line of zoo keepers? You just told me that your father’s a geography teacher in Leeds!” she interrupted.
“Yes, but he does have a dog. And as a boy I spent many an hour fishing about in our garden pond. All sorts of things we had in there – frogs, toads, newts. I even organised a few wildlife lectures for some of the other lads, but they, erm, weren’t too successful. There was even this fox that used to hang around in our back garden…” Howard sighed, and there was a glazed look in his eyes, as though he was trying to capture some distant memory. After a moment he continued, “So as you can see, I am more than familiar with the animal kingdom.”
She nodded, chewing on her bottom lip, deep in thought. Howard watched her for a moment, noticing how the colour rubbed off her painted lips as she did that, and how she didn’t really need to wear that garish red stuff on them as the revealed skin was actually a rather pretty shade of pink.
“Mr Moon,” she began tentatively, “could I come and work in your zoo? Once you’ve got it set up I mean. I’ve got an uncle who lives in France, I’m sure he could send you all sorts of animals from there. On second thoughts maybe not, all he’s ever sent me are snails, and they’re not really zoo-worthy creatures are they? Bit boring-looking really, unless you paint them or something. Don’t get me wrong, I like ’em and all, dead friendly. I’ve had some good conversations with snails. They see everything with those long eyes they’ve got. You wouldn’t believe the stories they could tell you about them ladybirds!”
Howard looked slightly bemused by this sudden outburst.
“Oh, I didn’t tell you I could talk to animals, did I? That’s got to be dead handy for a zoo keeper, hasn’t it? Did you ever read that book by Kipling? The one about the jungle? Don’t remember what it’s called, but I’m like the kid in that, running around wild in the jungle, talking to animals, that’s me, that is. So, do I get it, then?”
She beamed up at Howard with a smile that reached right the way up into her shining blue eyes, and all of his carefully positioned thoughts were ruthlessly pushed right out of his head.
“The job, silly. Do I get the job?”
Howard smiled indulgently, “We’ll see, little lady, we’ll see.”
Howard was amazed to find how easy it was to talk to her. It felt as though they’d known each other for years. He often found it hard to talk to women, and despite his very best attempts to capture their interest through witty conversation about trumpets and bookmarks he had failed to make a single friend of the opposite sex. In fact, his only friend to date was an old American by the name of Lester Corncrake. It was he who had introduced Howard to jazz, and whenever they could get their hands on a record for their gramophone, they’d spend the evening together, often getting into heated debates over whether or not Belgian guitar virtuoso Django Reinhardt could really be considered Europe’s foremost jazz musician.
The conversation dwindled off as the night wore on and the young woman yawned sleepily, resting her head on Howard’s shoulder. He shuddered internally, but didn’t have it in him to make her move, not after having nearly given her concussion earlier.
Vince woke up groggy after just a few hours sleep. He yawned, stretching his spine with a crack, and breathing in an unfamiliar, but comforting, masculine scent next to him. His back was stiff from sleeping upright and his legs were cramped up into his chest. The sound of bombs falling had died away in the early hours of the morning, eventually the babies had stopped crying, and at some point after that Vince had drifted off, his head still resting on Howard’s shoulder. He was almost surprised to find Howard still in the same position, snoring lightly; he’d never actually woken up next to a man before. The first light was beginning to creep down the stairs into the cavernous underground station, and Vince decided it was time to go home. Ladies of the night, that’s what they called proper prozzies, wasn’t it? Vince felt he understood that phrase better than most. He knew that his make up must have begun to rub off during the night – he could just make out traces of it on Howard’s shoulder in the dim light – and that his stubble would surely have started to show through. Carefully he tried to extract himself from Howard’s clutch, and pick his way through the mass of slumbering bodies on the platform. Just as he reached the bottom of the stairs, he cast one last glance back behind him, only to catch sight of someone stirring. Vince had stopped caring what people thought of him a long time ago, but for one fleeting second he felt ashamed, worried by what Howard would think should he see him like this. He turned and fled up the stairs, his feet pattering against the stone as he went.
Vince reached the top of the stairs and sucked in a deep breath. The air was heavy and smoky, great chunks of brick and wood lay smouldering on the ground. He was unsettled by London’s eerie quietness that morning after the noise and chaos of the night before. Stepping forward, he set off in the direction of his flat, when suddenly he felt a tug on his arm and twirled round. Vince found himself smiling slightly at the sight before him; a sleep-ruffled Howard stood there, his dark green uniform crumpled, the metal helmet slightly lopsided on his head.
“A lady like you shouldn’t be wandering around London by herself at this hour in the morning. Allow me to accompany you home.” Just as some excuse, any excuse, was beginning to form itself on Vince’s tongue, Howard leant in again. “I insist.” Vince couldn’t bring himself to say no.
Arm in arm they picked their way through the rubble and debris back to Vince’s home. Gradually the semi-erect, charred houses grew back up into proud terraces as they walked farther from the Underground station. The Dalston shop came into sight, and Vince felt a slight twinge of disappointment inside. He stopped outside the shop front and looked up at Howard.
Howard leant down to kiss him chastely on the cheek. Afraid that Howard’s lips would find the stubble there, Vince panicked and turned his head at the last moment so that his lips pushed against Howard’s. The kiss was soft and warm and gentle, a world away from the harsh, bruising ones he had grown used to. As they pulled apart Vince found himself saying, “I think I still have some of this month’s tea ration left. D’you fancy coming up for a brew?”
“Yes!” Howard screamed in his head. “Of course I want to come up.” He never wanted to leave this woman’s side, but his pocket watch showed that it was approaching six in the morning, and he was due to report for duty with the Home Guard at seven. Mentally giving himself a Chinese burn, he informed her that sadly he would not be able to, but asked her permission to visit her the following day. He kissed her hand and took his leave.
Over the following weeks, Howard came to visit Vince on several occasions, sometimes taking him out to the music halls, other times just to a quiet public house. On the last occasion Howard had turned up with a motorcycle and sidecar, which he had apparently borrowed off Lester (Vince didn’t want to ask why a blind, old jazz-freak would be in possession of a motorcycle). Hearing the noise of the engine coming to a shuddering stop outside of his house, Vince peered out of the window and saw Howard standing next to the vehicle, brushing his leather clad hands together, goggles – which magnified his tiny eyes to an alarmingly normal size – covering so much of his face that only his moustache and lips were clearly visible. Vince waved frantically like an overexcited child, and, ensuring that his hat was firmly pinned on, clattered down the stairs and flew out of the door.
Howard had taken to him to the plot of land where he planned on opening his ‘Zooniverse’. Vince had giggled the first time he had heard the name, delighted with its originality. They wandered through the fields, Howard pointing at empty spaces and describing the enclosure that would replace them. Vince half-listened, half-drifted off into his own little world, images of running around here and feeding the animals with Howard in the future, when the war would be over, playing through his head. Once Howard had finished explaining the animal feeding schedule in some detail, Vince picked up the conversation, spouting what was in Howard’s opinion, a load of nonsense (amusing nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless) about living in jungles and playing with leopards. He danced about animatedly, acting out the stories as he told them. At some point Howard had taken Vince’s hand to help him over a low stile, and hadn’t let go. Internally Vince was ecstatic, but he tried to maintain an outer air of calm as he enjoyed the feeling of Howard’s large hand grasping his own, gently but securely.
This time when Vince kissed Howard and invited him up for a cup of tea, he said yes.
He couldn’t believe that his legs were actually trembling slightly as he twisted the key in the Yale lock and led Howard up the stairs. What was he even doing? What did he expect to happen when they reached his flat? Howard wasn’t like his clients; he actually thought Vince was a girl, for fuck’s sake. Despite all his airs, and vague references to authors Vince had never heard of, he had the impression that Howard wasn’t quite as bright as he liked to think – but even though he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box, he would surely notice that there was something not quite right about Vince. A man of his age, after all, must have some experience with women, at least.
They reached the top of the stairs and walked through the threshold into Vince’s small apartment – and then they just stood there for a moment, both slightly unsure of what to do with themselves.
“Um, why don’t you sit down and I’ll go and put the saucepan on. I’ve not got round to buying a kettle yet. Should do, really, cos I’ve been here about two years now, but it’s not easy you know, second-hand ones are difficult to come by, what with the government wanting stuff for scrap metal and that, and I can’t really afford a new one.”
Howard just nodded dumbly and sat down while Vince babbled on, listing all the kitchen utensils he’d managed to acquire, before he finally stopped prattling and went into the kitchen. He heard the sound of running water and then a clunk of metal on metal as, he presumed, the saucepan was set on the stove.
Inside the kitchen Vince was still turning over in his mind what to do next. Perhaps it would be better to give up on the whole charade, but he had the definite feeling that there would be a Howard-shaped hole in the door if he told him the truth. He knew it was wrong to lead him on this way, and it wasn’t Vince’s usual style; most of the men he encountered knew exactly where they stood with him. But Howard wasn’t like these other men, and Vince was selfish and didn’t want to let him go just yet.
Pattering around the kitchen in his court shoes, he picked up cups and saucers which didn’t match, a slightly chipped tea pot, and a little milk jug, until he remembered that he didn’t have any milk and put it back again. He poured the hot water out onto the tealeaves in the pot, and put it on a tray with the cups. Then as an afterthought, he added a plate with a few sugary biscuits – the good ones Elsie had baked, not his own rock-hard, misshapen attempts at baking.
While he waited for the tea to be made, Howard sat on the sofa and inspected his surroundings, half-wondering what he was even doing there. It was unheard of for a woman to even take a second glance at him, let alone kiss him and invite him up for a cup of tea. Everything had a slightly surreal feel to it, as though someone was playing a cruel joke on him. He hadn’t even got round to mentioning his bookmark collection and she’d invited him up, twice – surely that wasn’t normal?
At first glance the flat looked neat and tidy, but upon closer inspection it was clear that it was just a fa�ade, hiding the real clutter below. A pile of Vogue and Every Woman magazines, dating as far back as nineteen-forty-two (every single one with dog-eared pages that curled up at the corners where they had been endlessly read and re-read to ensure that all of the information within had been thoroughly absorbed), were stacked up by the settee. There was a compact lying open on the table, and a couple of pairs of high heels were strewn carelessly across the floor, as though they had been kicked off the instant their owner stepped through the door. Howard took pride in the fact that he was a compulsively neat person. “A place for everything, and everything in its place,” his mother used to say to him, and it was something he’d taken to heart. But even though he was twitching to pick up the shoes and put them in their closet, and to snap the compact shut and tidy it away, he found there was something homely and comforting about this flat. It was almost as though he had been there before. He laughed. It was a ridiculous idea.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of shoes clattering across the hard stone floor of the kitchen. She appeared in the doorway, and made her way across the sitting room, concentrating carefully on the tray she was carrying as she went. A cup of tea was poured into one of the china cups, and then the saucer was placed into Howard’s hands.
He shook his head, but watched fascinated by the rippling liquid in her teacup as she added lump after lump of sugar, until she reached five in total, to her own beverage and stirred them in. Surely it was more syrup than tea now? He opened his mouth to ask what exactly the point of drinking tea was if you were just going to eradicate anything even bordering on flavour with an unseemly amount of sugar, but his words died before they had even been uttered when she turned and smiled at him, raised one eyebrow in a charmingly unwomanly gesture, and asked, “Alright?”
He blushed furiously like a schoolboy, took a too-large gulp of his tea, and almost coughed it back up again, burning his mouth in the process. She laughed softly at him and her smile lit up her face in such a way that it almost made Howard want to do it again if that was the reaction it got.
He hadn’t noticed before just how close together they were sitting on the small settee. Their thighs were pressed up together, and Howard had a strange, alien desire to reach out and touch her; Howard Moon never wanted to touch anyone. But he was still holding that cup and saucer, china clinking against china as his large hands trembled slightly, and the last thing he wanted to do was to move away from her to put it down. He was stuck in a strange sort of limbo, unsure what to do next.
Howard had never been in a situation like this before. At thirty-two, he was the only one of his friends from back home who’d never been with a woman. The others back in Leeds had all found some local girl who had been willing to rid them of their inexperience, but none of them had ever taken a first glance at Howard, let alone a second one. Perhaps somewhat unusually, though, that hadn’t really bothered him. He didn’t like being touched. Just the thought of someone else’s hands on him made him go all squirmy. He’d always thought that if he ever did let someone else touch him, that first hop across the physical boundary should be something more significant than a quick fumble behind the village hall.
There had only ever been one woman Howard had been interested in previously; Mrs Gideon, that dark-haired beauty with creamy golden skin. That had ended badly, though, as for some inexplicable reason she hadn’t appreciated the painstakingly composed cream poems he’d dedicated to her. She had been elegant, refined and distant, not a bit like this funny girl sat next to Howard now, with her pointy features and cheeky grin.
“Mr Moon. Howard. Howard. Howard. Howard? Howard!”
Once again she broke through his thoughts, and that wasn’t an easy thing to do; Howard Moon was a complex man, a deep thinker. His thoughts (usually in verse and comparing everyday sights to dairy based products) were like an impenetrable fortress to the outside world, but there was something about this woman, she just kept niggling through. He turned to face her, and before he really knew what was happening her lips were on his again, and he was stuck there, still holding that silly cup and saucer, hardly knowing what to do with himself. He wanted to fling the chinaware across the room, and grab onto her, but he suspected that it might be considered rude to start breaking crockery the first time someone invites you into their house. Tentatively he pressed his lips back against hers, feeling her quick, shallow breaths against his cheek. Balancing the cup and saucer in his right hand, he brought his now free left hand up to tangle his fingers in her dark hair. He moved it down to cup her cheek, trying to deepen the kiss, and suddenly she jumped away from him as though his hand had burnt her.
“Oh God. I shouldn’t have done that.”
Her eyes were cast down, her hands fidgeting in her lap. Howard sat there, his mouth gaping like a fish. This was precisely why he didn’t touch people, he admonished himself; the moment he did, something humiliating like this always happened. Of course a woman like her wouldn’t be interested in Howard Moon. What had he been thinking?
“I’m sorry, ma’am. A lady like you… I understand. Forgive me, please. I’ll go.”
He was out the door and halfway down the road before he realised that he was still holding onto that cup of tea.
A week passed and Howard’s thoughts were still occupied with her. The teacup sat on his small desk in the makeshift Home Guard office located in his garden shed. He had stared at it for seven evenings in a row now, wishing he had the courage to go back and return it, woefully neglecting the upkeep of Stationery Barracks which usually occupied his evenings and weekends. (The stationery village that had previously occupied his desk had been transformed once the war had been announced. The String Tree had become a string look-out post, the Paperclip Castle a fortress, he had added an eraser dugout, and the ornamental Blu-Tack Garden, following government guidelines, had become a kitchen garden in which Howard had placed carefully-sculpted miniature cabbages, cauliflowers and the tops of root vegetables.) But she wouldn’t want to see him again. Perhaps he should just leave it on the doorstep or with someone in that funny pie shop below her flat. This whole mess of a situation was far too confusing for Howard to deal with; he couldn’t even begin to understand the way women’s minds worked.
He poked his index finger through the ridiculously-sided, curving handle of the teacup, and started rotating it slowly, causing a grinding noise as it moved against the saucer. Perhaps the used tealeaves which were still floating in the quarter inch of liquid left in the cup would be able to tell him the solution to this ridiculous mess. Howard snorted at the idea, but found himself peering into the cup anyway. If he squinted and tilted his head to one side it almost looked as if part of the leaves were forming a small circle, and to their left, well, that could almost be an ‘n’. No. He sighed. Even the tealeaves had turned against him. What was he doing sitting here, sighing over an unrequited passion like a lovesick teenager, or the heroine in a bad romance novel? He was a man of action, and it was time to act. Wrapping the chinaware up carefully in a piece of brown paper that had been uncharacteristically left lying on the desk (and reminding himself to pay the Home Guard back the sixpence it would have cost), he prised himself up from the desk, and went to find his coat.
He made his way along the dimly lit streets separating his home from hers, breathing in the crisp night air, and gently humming a bebop tune. After twenty minutes or so, he rounded the corner that would lead him to her flat, that funny little man standing there still as ever, with his monkey beside him. Howard would have sworn that the monkey was giving him a glare. He came to an abrupt halt a few yards away from the door that led up to her flat, and watched in surprise as two men appeared from within, both talking and laughing loudly. One of them was clearly an American GI, his accent giving him away immediately; the other had a very pompous accent that seemed to boom across the quiet street. His upper lip was covered in so much grey hair that it looked like a rodent had curled up and gone to sleep there. That moustache could do with a bit of a trim, Howard thought, reaching up to stroke his own carefully groomed one.
The shock of seeing the two men leaving the flat threw Howard; he hadn’t been expecting to see anyone there. He wasn’t sure that he wanted to see her now. Perhaps she was having some sort of party and there would be others up there. He decided that it would be safer just to leave the parcel on her doorstep. He didn’t want to cause a scene.
Vince walked past Howard’s house for the third evening in a row. He’d been to the Home Guard headquarters the day after he’d seen the package containing his cup and saucer on the doorstep and found out where he lived. He kept coming down here, hoping that by the time he reached Howard’s front door he would somehow have summoned up the courage to see him. He felt awful about what he was doing, and that had become an increasingly unusual feeling for him these days. Vince knew he was a selfish person, but hadn’t always seen that as a negative trait. Life often had a way of handing him things and he didn’t see anything wrong with taking them. He knew very well that he wanted, and wouldn’t normally be above tricking someone to get his own way, but he had a sneaking suspicion that Howard might notice something was wrong once things progressed any further than kissing.
There was something so very endearing about Howard. Perhaps it was how he’d looked after him that night in the Tube station that made him feel comfortable – safe, even – but if Vince told him the truth he’d scarper, and if he didn’t, well, he was just prolonging the inevitable. Tonight would be the night, he decided. He’d tell him and just pray that fate would be on his side.
Taking a breath to steady himself, Vince raised his fist to rap smartly at the door. His trembling hands, however, had other ideas, and instead of the confident three knocks he had intended to leave, there was just a muted unsteady staccato of taps. To his relief (or terror; Vince wasn’t quite sure which) he heard the sound of footsteps on the other side of the door, and waited nervously for the door to be opened.
Howard smiled at the now-familiar greeting, and pulled the door wide open so she could step inside the house.
“So, um, thanks for the cup.”
She was looking down at her feet as she spoke to him and it threw Howard. That was his territory; he was the one whose eyes were always darting about, never quite meeting the other person’s.
He offered her a sherry, which she accepted all too quickly and downed, then held out her glass for another.
This must be the Moon magic finally coming into play he thought to himself. He’d always known he’d had it lurking inside him, that raw sexual tension that was too strong for most people to handle. She still wasn’t meeting his eyes, and so he let her know in a reassuring manner that he understood that even his subtle advances could be too overpowering for some. The sentence was punctuated with a burst of laughter.
“Subtle? I’ve seen the way you northern types seduce women!” she blurted out, then added in a lower, gravely voice, “Get in ma wheelbarrow!” as she danced about on the spot. “That’s why you’ve already got one for the zoo, isn’t it? Gonna go round picking up ladies in it, aren’t you?”
Howard couldn’t tell from his limited experience whether she was mocking him or flirting with him. Frustrated and confused, he reached out and pulled her to him, crushing her in his arms as he brought his lips crashing down onto hers. She struggled for a moment, and Howard thought she was going to pull away again, and began to flush in anticipation of having read the signs wrong once more. Instead, to his surprise, she brought her hands up to the back of his head, tangling her polished nails into his brown curls, trying to get closer. She slid her tongue over Howard’s lips, demanding access, surprising him with her forwardness. He groaned as he parted his lips and clutched her tighter to his chest. Their tongues met in his mouth, and Howard tried to match his own sloppy, awkward movements with her more precise and confident ones.
He picked her up, their tongues and lips still locked together, and brought her over to the settee. Compelled by some primal urge, he climbed on top of her and ran his hands down the sides of her body. Starting at her head, he ran his fingers over the sides of her face, feeling the sharp angle of her cheekbones with his thumbs. Next he brushed over her neck and shoulders, his fingers remarking the contrast between the soft flesh and the coarse, heavy tweed of her jacket. They moved down past the small swell of her breast, her narrow waist and flat stomach, until they reached the hem of her skirt. His heart began to speed up, until it was pounding against his chest so hard that it felt like it was trying to break free. Cautiously, he slipped one trembling hand under her petticoat, and slowly started to run it up the nylon stocking covering her thigh.
She jolted away from him, grabbing his wrist and breaking their kiss. Howard snatched his hand back to his chest, guilt flushing his cheeks, and a line of confusion furrowing into his forehead.
She was blushing furiously, opening her mouth as though to say something, and then quickly shutting it again. Howard sat back and took one of her hands in his, stroking it gently.
“It’s okay. I understand if you want to take things more slowly, little lady.”
“No, it’s not that. It’s um, well… Well, you don’t even know my name, do you?”
A slightly guilty look crossed his face. He’d been too nervous to ask at first, and after a while it hadn’t seemed necessary.
“Well, go on then,” she urged. “Ask me my name.”
Howard swallowed a deep breath of air. “What’s your name?” he asked, in a tiny voice.
She looked down, her eyes unable to meet his. “Vince.”
“Well, that’s, um, unusual. I mean pretty.” The second sentenced was hurried out. Smooth recovery there, he thought and mentally patted himself on the back.
“No, Howard.” Her eyes peered up through her fringe to look at his quickly, and then darted away again. “My name’s Vince. Think about it!”
Howard looked even more confused than before. “So your parents were a little odd. It’s hardly your fault they gave you a name like Vince.”
She gave a frustrated sigh. “Howard, oh God. How can I explain this to you? Um, I, well. I’m not who you think I am, I suppose.”
Grabbing his hand, she thrust it down into her crotch. Howard’s eyes flew wide open, and, jumping back, he shrieked, “What the hell is that?”
“It’s, um, I…”
“I know what it is!” Howard snapped, looking disgusted. It was impossible to tell whether it was with Vince or himself. He strode across the room, turning to spit out the words, “Don’t ever touch me!” before he opened the door.
“Howard, wait!” Vince implored, “Don’t go, don’t leave me.” He clung onto Howard’s arm.
“Why shouldn’t I?”
“Well, this is your house. Sorry.” Vince looked contrite, realising it was a bad moment for jokes.
“Fine. You leave then. I bet you thought this was really funny, ha ha ha, let’s all laugh at Howard Moon. Well, I shan’t stand for it, sir. Are those men I saw leaving your flat last night in on the joke too?”
“Wha, what men?” Vince prayed desperately that the situation couldn’t get any worse.
“Your fat, loud friend and the one with the grey moustache, if you can even call that a moustache!”
Vince flushed even harder, swallowed deeply and sucked in a deep breath, his eyes firmly fixed on the floor. “They’re not my friends,” he said, in a voice barely above a whisper. “They’re my clients.”
“You told me you were a typist. What sort of typist has clients visiting her at nine o’clock in the evening?”
Then finally a look of realisation crept across Howard’s face. “But you’re not a typist, are you? Is this how you reel in all of your customers, then? Well, it’s not going to work with me. Howard Moon does not have to pay for sex, no sir.”
Vince clutched tightly onto his arm. “No! It’s not like that at all. Howard, please, I didn’t mean for this to happen. Don’t you understand? You’re different. You’re special.” Tears were welling up in Vince’s eyes. “I’m so sorry, Howard.”
Anger was coiling up like a spring in Howard’s chest. After thirty-two years he finally let some one in, and this was the best he could come up with; a cross-dressing prostitute. Not even a good looking one at that, far too skinny, and that nose and that chin are much too big, he thought critically, and laughed bitterly to himself. Well, if that tart wanted a part of Howard Moon then she, he, he reminded himself, could have it.
“Fine, show me you’re sorry,” he growled in a low voice.
“What?” Vince peered up at him, looking bewildered. Howard brought his hands flat onto Vince’s shoulders and pushed him down to the floor. “Show me you’re sorry,” he repeated, “or leave.”
Trembling, Vince brought his hands up to unbutton Howard’s trousers. It was hardly a novel position for Vince to be in, but it seemed so different this time. Usually he was so certain, so confident about what he was doing. Now, however, he was shaking like a leaf, just about to lose his grip on the tree and tumble off, spiralling in the wind. This was what he had wanted wasn’t it? – Finally getting his hands on Howard Moon.
He sucked in a deep breath, and hesitantly pulled Howard’s trousers down his legs, past his nutmeg socks, held up by maroon garters, to his ankles. He paused to peek up at Howard through his fringe, but, finding the expression on his face unreadable, moved his hands up again to his waist and brought his boxers down to join his trousers. Howard’s shirt was hanging over his slightly protruding stomach, the bottom of his string vest poking out underneath the shirt.
Vince drew his eyes along the line of coarse hair leading down from his stomach to the base of Howard’s semi-erect cock. He spat on one hand, then curled it around the shaft, and began to stroke it in a slow but steady rhythm, feeling it grow beneath his touch. Howard grabbed Vince’s wrist and pulled it roughly away. The fingers on his other hand clawed their way into Vince’s hair, and forced his head forwards, making himself perfectly clear without even saying a word. Obediently, Vince worked his tongue up from the base to the head, leaving a glistening trail, before swirling his tongue around the top, then opening his mouth wider to take the length in.
Slowly, he started moving his head up and down, bringing Howard’s cock in a little deeper with each bob. Howard made a tiny groaning noise, and Vince, taking the noise as a sign of victory, hummed happily around his cock, and began sucking harder. This time the groan was much louder, and Vince glanced up at Howard’s flushed face. Seeing Vince’s eyes glittering happily at him like that was too much for him to stand. He tugged on Vince’s hair, pulling him off his cock with a soft pop, and curled his own fingers around it. With a few short, sharp jerks his orgasm ripped through him, and he threw his head back as he came, spilling himself onto Vince’s upturned face.
Breathing raggedly, he lowered his eyes to see if he’d managed to wipe the smile off the other man’s face, only to find Vince trailing a finger through the mess on his face, pausing to examine it for a moment, before sucking the finger into his mouth.
Howard could feel his emotions ripping him in two. One part of him saw Vince still kneeling compliantly at his feet and wanted to gather him up into his arms. The other part, as furious with himself for being manipulated as it was with Vince for manipulating him, could hardly stand to look at him sitting smugly there. That mouth that must have been round more cocks than Howard liked to think about, grinning stupidly, semen still streaked across his face and hair. The longer he looked at that image the more his anger grew.
“Get your coat,” he growled. Vince hesitated for a moment, looking as though he was going to argue, but then thought better of it. He fetched his coat and Howard dragged him to the doorway, thrust a few shillings into his hand, and pushed him out, shutting the door quickly behind him.
Howard scratched a line through that and started the letter again.
Once again he struck through his writing and reverted to his original opening.
Love is a battle,
In which we are herded like cattle.
Love is a war,
In which many a soldier may fall.
A small brown head appeared over his shoulder, and Howard scrabbled to hide the paper in time, but failed.
“What, Milky? I’m writing home.”
“Well, I was going to offer you some tea – I know how much you funny English types like it, but I think you need some help with your letter.”
“It’s private, Milky, and I’ll thank you for not sticking your nose in.”
“Listen, Howard, we French understand about the love between a man and… well, another man.”
“Ah, yes, all that cheek kissing,” Howard interrupted. “I always thought there was something more behind that.”
“Yes, yes, but listen – your poetry’s rubbish. If you want this Vince, just tell him how you feel.”
“Ah, yes, perhaps Vince won’t fully appreciate the subtle profundity and complexities of my verse – he’s not all that bright, you see. A letter it will have to be.”
Sighing, he picked up his pen and started again.
I’m not quite sure how to begin this letter, but first of all let me inform you that I’m writing to you from France; my chance to become a man of action has finally arrived. After our last encounter, I intended to come and visit you, but finally got called up…
A steaming tin mug was placed in front of him. Howard recoiled from the bitter taste as he took a sip, then picked up his pen and turned his attention back to the letter. There was so much he wanted to say, and although putting it into a letter was far less excruciating than telling Vince in person just how much he missed him, Howard was still out of his depth.
He wrote furiously for three hours, crossing out and rewriting passages over and over again as he thought of a more eloquent way to express himself. Not wanting the letter to be too heavy, he detailed his life in France for Vince, too. He began by explaining that the original medical officer he’d seen four years ago had been court-martialled; he’d been declaring men unfit for service in exchange for a healthy bribe, and as a result everyone he’d seen had been called up again to see a different doctor. This one was far less squeamish and had given Howard the all-clear immediately.
He continued the letter, describing his training under the watchful eye of General Rudi. He was, in Howard’s opinion, a fine officer, who’d given his company an excellent grounding on which they build up their combat skills. He remarked upon (with no small amount of pride) the various tests the General had set and how he had fulfilled each one to the best of his ability; very few other men had passed the ball-licking test and General Rudi assured him that he would be put forward for a medal once the war was over as testament to his readiness to accept orders.
The current officer in charge of his unit was a certain Captain Bainbridge, with whom Howard had fallen out on the first day after he had told Howard to wipe that stain off his upper lip and then laughed when Howard indignantly informed him that it was a moustache, and a fine one at that. The last part of that had just made him laugh all the harder and Howard had spent the night in his bunk giving himself Chinese burns. Howard also believed that the Captain spent far too much time fraternising with one of the American units that was stationed close to them. He was pretty sure there was something going on between him and that pathetic Yank Fossil who followed him about like a puppy. Howard shuddered as he tried to push the image of the two of them together out of his head.
Howard assured Vince though that he had made some friends; the French troops were quite friendly, and he had found a kindred spirit in one of the privates, Milky Joe. Together they put on lectures for the other soldiers, and held intense, intellectual discussions, furiously debating the respective merits of Camus and Sartre.
He finished the letter with an apology. The war had made things much clearer for him and he regretted his earlier behaviour. He realised just how much he had missed talking to him and listening as he poured out exactly what was in his head, without any thought whatsoever as to what he was saying.
He looked through the eighteen sides he had written, and after apologising for the brevity of the letter, he finished the letter with a panicky,
I don’t want to die. I’ve got so much to give.
Howard T. J. Moon, Esq.
The theme tune to Colobos the Crab died away and was replaced by the pips announcing the News on the BBC Home Service. The announcer began to read out the day’s events in his stiff tone, but as soon as he began to mention the soldiers out in France, Vince leaned over and switched the wireless off.
Howard’s letter reached Vince some weeks later and he was genuinely surprised to receive it. After he had been unceremoniously booted out of Howard’s house, Vince hadn’t ever expected to see him again. It was clear that Howard was furious with him, and Vince wasn’t exactly thrilled to walk home that night with what remaining cum he hadn’t managed to wipe off with his coat sleeve still clinging to his face and hair. They had, however, met unexpectedly a week or so after that event.
Vince had done his very best to push Howard out of his head and a healthy boom in business had helped slightly. It kept him occupied at least, and that was better than moping around, so it had been a shock to run across him in town one afternoon. Howard had grudgingly muttered something about missing him and at Vince’s insistence had said that he would come and see him. Vince had waited by the window every day for a fortnight and was disappointed, but not really surprised when he never arrived.
Curling up in his armchair to read Howard’s letter again, he told himself that he’d turned the radio off because the news is boring, innit?
Over the following weeks, the news reports on the radio began to take on a more positive tone, one day announcing the success of something called the D-Day Landings, and then soon after that, it announced the return of the troops from the front line. There was a leap in his heart, which was followed in quickly by a jolt in his stomach. What if Howard wasn’t coming back? It was the first time he’d really let himself think about that possibility. Vince had replied to Howard’s letters, of course, but a whole bundle of them had turned up in his letter box one day, a line struck through the name Howurd Mune and the address below, ‘return to sender’ marked across each envelope in large, bold letters.
Gradually the men returned from the war and London was fraught with the noise and colours of street parties and celebrations marking the end of the war. Vince’s corner of Dalston however, was a quiet as ever. The majority of people living in this area were ones who had somehow escaped going to war; few of them even had friends or loved ones returning from the front.
One morning, the street’s silence was broken by an odd trundling sound, interspersed with the odd squeak, coming down the street. The noise came to a halt with a shuffle and a scrape, just in front of Elsie’s shop. An insistent pattering woke Vince up, and it took him a few minutes to work out where it was coming from. Groggily, he dragged himself out of bed and across the room to the window, which was rattling as stones shook it. Murmuring, “Alright, alright,” more to himself than to anyone else, he pulled up the sash and leant out. A small stone whizzed past his ear, and Vince nearly fell out of the window in shock as he stared down.
“Hey, Vince, do you still want that job?”
He beamed madly at the sound of that familiar northern tone, and, not caring that he was only in his nightgown, nor that he still had curlers in his hair, he flew down the stairs two at a time, raced across the street and leapt onto Howard. He was caught up in a fierce hug, and clung to Howard like he would never to let go.
Eventually, Howard carefully extracted himself from Vince’s clutches and drew back a little. Vince was quiet for a moment, just taking in the sight before him. Howard was noticeably thinner, his long hair had been cut away, and there were definitely more wrinkles around his eyes. But the eyes themselves sparkled exactly as they had before, and Vince broke into a broad smile. He wrapped his arms around Howard’s neck, and felt Howard’s arms coming to circle his waist as he pulled him down into a kiss.
Howard pulled away, grinning for all he was worth.
“Get in ma wheelbarrow.”