The photo album that my boyfriend, Tony, put together for our straight friend, Paul, was a great success. Everyone who has seen it has complimented Tony. Some have even asked him to take some pictures for them. All the praise has gone to his head. He thinks he is the great photographer and has his camera with him all the time. He even takes it to school.
Mind you that photo of Paul, the one he left out of the album has been worth all his subsequent posturing. Not that we need any encouragement but we both find the sight of that blond fuzz on Paul’s tanned back such a turn on. Thankfully we have been able to disassociate the picture from Paul himself. It has helped that Paul’s tan has faded a bit now that winter is coming on. The fuzz also only shows up in strong light, so we have kept things under control and had no embarrassing incidents in the showers at school. Well not when Paul has been around but if I stroke my arm suggestively as if feeling the fluff on my own arm, Tony makes the connection and rises to the occasion. Works every time. Tony claims it is because he is thinking of the soft fuzz he says I have on my back. I did not know I had any but Tony gets a better view. I can only struggle to look using a mirror.
Because I live nearer, Tony often comes back to my house after school, especially if we have to go back later for an after school club or activity, like the wrestling that started at the beginning of this term. It gives us a chance to have a snack, and then do our homework together. The parents approve if it helps my studies. I approve because we can usually snatch a bit of time together after we have done the work. No, that does not mean we are at it like rabbits. We usually just snuggle up together on the settee and watch the telly. They are repeating the early Star Trek series yet again and somehow that’s what we seem to end up watching. Well, it is quite fun to see all the catch phrases and clichés in their original context. It is also fun to watch Dad if he comes home in time to watch as well. He has seen them all before but he really gets into it. We can see his lips moving as he pre-empts the dialogue and he gets this wistful look on his face.
“Dad, have you seen this one before?” I ask, knowing pretty much what the answer will be.
“The first time was when I was a year or so younger than you are now.”
“Was that when they were new?”
“Don’t be cheeky. I’m not that old. I think it was the second time they had been re-run. I remember thinking they were a bit dated. That’s not to say I haven’t watched them again since.”
“When was the last time then?”
“When I was courting your mother. We used to cuddle up together on the couch, like you two are now, and, like you two, make fun of the dialogue, picking up on the clichés. Brings back memories.” Dad then grins and looks at me. “Just think. You’ve a lot to thank Star Trek for. If it hadn’t been for the repeats all those years ago your mum and I might not have got married and you wouldn’t be here.”
“Your dad’s got a point there,” says Tony. He pauses before continuing. “Maybe you’re a Star Trek character. Should I call you a Tribble after those cute furry things in one of the episodes?”
Dad bursts out laughing.
“Don’t you dare,” I snarl at Tony before turning to Dad. “What’s so funny Dad?”
He calms down enough to answer.
“You being described as cute and furry!”
He gets out of his chair and heads towards the kitchen, turning back at the door.
“Anyway, you can’t be a Tribble. If you remember they were born pregnant and were dropping pups everywhere. You haven’t pupped as far as I know, and I don’t think Tony will get you pregnant no matter how hard he tries.”
Still chuckling to himself, he disappears into the kitchen leaving the two of us with very red faces. I think we can safely say that, although they have never actually said anything, Mum and Dad must have guessed that Tony and I are a bit more than just good friends.
It is half term. The clocks went back with the ending of British Summer Time last weekend. Although, when school restarts, the normal school day will still end in daylight, it will now be dark as we go back in for any after school activity. Dad is now driving the ten miles home from his work in the dark.
One evening Tony and I are snuggled up on the settee, half watching yet another Star Trek episode, when Dad comes in. He looks as though he has seen a ghost. He is even whiter than Tony goes when Virginia, one of the seniors at school, threatens to kiss him. He slumps into his chair not even bothering to go and greet Mum. Something must have really upset him.
“Can you get us a drink please, lad?” he asks. His voice sounds as far-away as he looks.
We get up from the couch. I send Tony out to put the kettle on and find Mum, while I head towards the booze cupboard as he looks as though he could do with a whisky. Some of that stuff he got from the discount supermarket in the town where he works should bring him round. It smells really strong, like something the school janitor would use to clean the floors. I pour some in a glass and pass it to him. His hands are shaking.
He takes a swig and it makes him cough.
“Good grief! Is that that cheap stuff I got for when your Aunt Doris visits?” he asks when he gets his breath back. I nod.
“I was going to use that for hot toddies next time one of us got a cold. That’s about all it is fit for,” he says as he drains the glass. It must be hitting the spot as his colour is starting to come back.
Mum and Tony come in with mugs of tea. Tea should calm him and complete his recovery.
“There is more in the pot if you want it,” says Mum. “Now what has got you in this state?” She sits on the side of his chair and puts her arm round his shoulders.
Dad wraps his hands around his mug and takes a drink.
“I nearly killed someone tonight. A guy walking his dog. About three quarters of the way home. Out in the country, on those bends near where the road runs through the woods.
“I usually stay close to the hedge at the side of the road there as it is a bit narrow if there is anything coming the other way.”
He takes another drink from his mug.
“I was lucky. The dog must have heard me coming and was looking in my direction. My headlights were picked up in its eyes and reflected back to me. It just gave me enough time to react and move across the road. If I had not caught the dog’s eyes, I wouldn’t have seen them until it was too late. I could only just make them out as I passed as it was. It was a black dog and the man was wearing a long black coat and a dark hat. I would have had no chance. I wouldn’t have picked them out against the dark hedge. I would have killed them both.”
Dad looks across at me and Tony.
“Now you know why they tell us to wear something white at night and why I gave you that hi-viz vest. By the way, where is it? I haven’t noticed it hanging in the hall lately.”
I can feel myself blush as I can’t remember where I have put it. Dad spots it and a smile appears on his face. He must be feeling better.
“You’ve left it somewhere, haven’t you? Lad, you’d forget your nuts if they weren’t in a sack.”
Mum pretends to be shocked and Tony splutters, trying not to laugh. He redeems himself though, telling Dad I had given it to him to use walking home after dark the other night. Dad tells Tony to keep the vest and he will get me something else. He knows part of Tony’s route home is along a road with very poor street lighting.
Most of the street lights in our town are rubbish. Dad says they are as dim as a Toc-H lamp, an expression he says he got from his dad. He explained it to me once. Something to do with the air-raid black outs during the Second World War. To be honest, I wasn’t really listening.
A couple of nights later I am in my room doing a bit of research on the internet, when Dad knocks and walks in. No, I didn’t have to panic and close my browser. It wasn’t that sort of research.
“No expense spared. I nipped into the town today and bought you these. They should show up at night.”
He hands me a bag.
“You are more likely to remember to put them on than the hi-viz vest. Unless you are in the habit of walking around without wearing any pants.”
I thank him, but I am not sure about the ‘no expense spared’. Knowing Dad I suspect that means there was a sale on. Dad leaves the room, chuckling to himself as he goes. What is that about? They are only pants aren’t they?
I suppose I had better try them on. I open the top of the bag and look in. They are camouflage pants. That’s what he was laughing about. He knows I hate camouflage. It has a place but not around town worn by no-hopers trying to look macho. I pull the pants out of the bag, and realise they are not the usual green-brown sort favoured by wannabe Rambos. They are white and grey. They must be for winter conditions. I see what Dad is getting at though: the light colours would stand out at night even under the feeble street lighting in our town.
At least when I try them on, they fit. Better than I expected. Looking in the mirror, I decide they suit me and make me look good, or they would do if properly pressed. Yeah, I actually quite like them. I won’t tell Dad though. It would spoil the joke he thinks he has played on me.
After getting changed again, I go to find Mum to ask her to press them for me. Bad move. I get a lesson in pressing trousers, damp cloth technique and all. When I have finished, I am pleased with my efforts. Until I hear that as I have done such a good job, pressing my trousers can be added to my list of chores. I should have seen that coming.
“They will do for you to change into after school as you don’t have to wear uniform if you go back for an evening activity,” says Dad. “You will be safer on the roads than in that dark uniform of yours.”
“They look quite smart pressed up. Are you going to keep them like that?” asks Mum.
“Yeah, why not?” I reply.
The parents give each other a knowing look.
Back to school, and word soon spreads that there are new lockers in the gym. Not before time. The old ones were falling apart and were not secure. Stuff was always being nicked if you were daft enough to bring anything of value to school. That is why I am surprised Tony brings his camera. When I questioned him about it, he asked if I had noticed that he doesn’t bring it on days we have PE and have to use the lockers. Shows how observant I am.
We find out about the lockers for ourselves when it is our turn for PE. They are a big improvement. Not only are they larger, they are solidly made out made of steel and are fitted with locks. Brussels, Mr Sproat the games master, tells us how the locks work so that we can reset the combination to our choice and the rules for leaving the locker empty so others can use it for the next session. We are told the lockers will be checked between sessions to make sure nobody is trying to get one for their permanent use. Being smarter than me Tony says that implies they have a way of overriding the locks if necessary. I look at my lock. Yes, there is a code number stamped on the back and a key hole opposite the hasp.
We are back to our old training routines now that the wrestling has moved to an evening club. So we end up kicking a football around for the last fifteen minutes. Our friend Donny, who we have only got to know this term, is unhappy. He has two left feet when it comes to football and would rather be doing something else. At least he still enjoys the wrestling club.
We finish our session and hit the showers. Brussels is keeping an eye on things as usual. And as usual we have our suspicions about what things he is keeping his eye on. Tony and I get that wistful smile from Brussels as we walk past him on our way to our next lesson.
The next night is the wresting club. After school, Tony comes with me to my house for us to change out of school uniform, have a snack and do our homework before we go back to the school for the wrestling. I am wearing my camo trousers. Paul catches up with us in the gym changing room.
“Hi you two,” He says, and then turns to me. “I could see you from the other end of the road wearing those trousers. They’re not your usual style. Where did you get them?”
“Dad gave them to me. So that I can be seen by the traffic on the roads at night he said. They must work if you saw me that far away.”
“I think he looks good in them. Don’t you agree?” asks Tony.
“Yeah but I am not sure the effect will be the same when those creases fall out,” Paul replies.
The conversation ends as we get called into our wrestling class, and by the time it finishes and we have had our showers we all want to get home, not stand around and chat.
The weather has turned drizzly when we come out of the school and by the time I get home my trousers are damp. As I take them off I catch sight of myself in the mirror. The creases have fallen out and, as the ’rents would say, I look my normal scruffy self. I get the iron out and press them again before hanging them up to dry off. Mum and Dad have that knowing look on their faces again.
It is still cold and damp the next day. One of those days where the thermometer lies. It is time for comfort food. Cook in the school canteen obviously agrees. Today’s choices include stew and dumplings. And there are sprouts. I like sprouts. Tony looks on in disgust as I load up my plate. He goes for the safe option of peas and carrots. We go and join our friends, Paul and Mel. The boys from the corner shop, Raj and Naveem are with them. They had to give up the wrestling when it changed to after school. They are too busy at their uncles’ Indian Restaurant in the evenings.
Mel looks at my plate.
“I’m glad I sit in front of you in class, if you’re eating all those sprouts,” She says. Paul joins in.
“You sit behind him, Nav. I hope you’ve brought a gas mask. He’ll be farting all afternoon after that lot.”
“Can’t be worse than Raj, can it?” Nav says, grinning at his brother. We just nod slowly in reply.
Raj smiles weakly and decides to change the subject.
“Paul says you were wearing camouflage trousers last night. What brought that on? They’re not your style.”
So I have to explain about Dad’s near miss and wanting me to wear something that stands out at night.
“… they are white winter camo, not the green and brown stuff. Dad nipped out from work and bought them, I think it was Thursday last week. They must do the trick; Paul said he could see me from the road end.”
Raj thinks for a bit.
“It’s market day on Thursday where your Dad works, isn’t it?” he asks.
“I think so,” I reply.
“Then it must be your dad Uncle Veejay was talking about when he called in on Thursday evening on his way home. Uncle Veejay is another of our dad’s cousins. He has a market stall selling clothing. He said he got a job lot of army surplus camouflage trousers at a good price. The green and brown ones went really well and soon sold out as did the desert style but the winter ones nobody wants. He told us he had only sold one pair that day and he let them go below cost just to get something back. He came to see if we could do him a favour and try selling them in Dad’s shop. Dad had to say no.”
“Less than cost,” I say. “I guessed Dad must have got them cheap when he said ‘no expense spared’. More like no expense at all. The tight git!”
The sprouts work their magic and by the second lesson of the afternoon I am trumping away. After classes have finished for the day Naveem corners me. Tony and Paul come over to join us.
“You’re definitely worse than Raj,” Nav says. “I thought you were trying to play a tune at one point.”
“Just one of my many talents,” I reply.
“Well get some practice in,” quips Paul. “You could do a ‘Petomane’ piece on that TV talent show. The auditions are in Brum next month. You’ll blow them away.”
As Paul and Naveem walk off, Tony starts to giggle. I turn and see he has that cute smile of his on his face. What he says next isn’t cute though.
“I know just the thing for your stage name: The Trumping Tribble!”
“Ha, ruddy ha,” I grouse back at him. “Call me that again and it will be war!”
“Oh,oh. Do I detect a sense of humour failure? Come on. Let’s get to your place to do our homework. Do you want to call at the Indian for a snack on the way?”
That gets a smile from me.
“Good idea. You’re paying!”
PE day comes around again, and Donny only just makes it in time to the next class. He looks upset about something. We get him to sit with us at lunch.
“What happened to you after PE?” asks Paul.
“I had to have a dump. It was a big one and took me some time. By the time I got out of the shower and got dressed some seniors had arrived for the next class.
“There were a couple of comments about me being small and no good at football, then one of them suggests they see if I am small enough to fit in one of the new lockers. They manage to push me in and have got the lock and are about to lock me in, when one of them hears Brussels come out of the coaches’ room. They just manage to get me out and act innocent before he comes round the corner to check the lockers. I had a lucky escape.”
“Are you okay?” asks Mel.
“I was a bit shaken at the time but I am alright now, thanks,” Donny replies.
“Any idea who they were and who came up with the idea of putting you in the locker?” Tony asks.
“No, sorry. At least it wasn’t Roger Prescott. He would have got the door shut and locked, Brussels or no Brussels.”
We all nod in agreement to that.
“Now we know one of the reasons the locks have override keys,” I say. I decide that to reduce the risk of someone doing it to me, I am going to keep the lock in my pocket until I am ready to close the door myself.
The conversation moves on.
I have been out in my camouflage trousers a couple of time over the weekend. Both times my sharp creases had fallen out by the time I got home. Keeping them pressed is beginning to get old. I mention it to Raj and he says he would ask his Uncle Veejay if he knows any way to get the creases to stay in. I don’t want to ask Mum as with all the knowing looks they give each other when I am ironing I think she and Dad are running a bet on how long I will keep up with pressing the pants.
The next morning I understand what Paul meant about practicing as a ‘Petomane’. We had chilli for supper last night and the beans have had the same effect as the sprouts the other day.
When I get to the lunch queue, Cook has stew and dumplings on the menu again, and, guess what, there are sprouts as well.
Virginia, Mel’s friend from the senior year is at our table. We are all talking about this and that and I manage to show myself up again with some stupid remark. True to form Virginia doesn’t pull her punch.
“You’re so full of wind,” She says. Then she looks at my plate. “I suppose you’re topping up your reserves with those sprouts!”
Tony grins and mouths ‘Trumping Tribble’ at me. I frown back at him. Like pressing my pants, this Tribble thing is getting old. I have asked him to stop but there are times when he can’t resist. At least he hasn’t told the others and they haven’t picked up on it. I would never hear the end of it if they had.
It is wrestling club again tonight, so Tony walks home with me and I take the opportunity to warn him again about calling me a Tribble.
We get changed, me into my camo pants. Then we snack on leftover chilli and do our homework before heading back to the school for the wrestling.
The session goes well, but effects of the sprouts and the chilli mean that pressure has to be released every so often. It put at least one of my opponents off his game. I am not complaining. I won more rounds than usual.
Paul, Tony and Donny are complaining though. They keep moaning at me all the time we are having our showers and getting dressed. As I pull my pants on I see the creases have fallen out again. I am the first to be ready and I am waiting for the others when I can feel the pressure build up again and I have to let out the most humongous trump.
“You’re just gross,” says Paul. Donny has an idea.
“Put him in his locker until we are ready to go. That way he will only stink himself out.”
With his experience you would think he would be against something like that, but maybe that’s where he got the idea.
They push me in and shut the door. At least they can’t lock me in as I have the lock in my pocket. I can’t get out though; one of them is leaning against the door.
Paul and Donny finish up and leave and Tony says I can come out now. Not before time. The air is getting ripe and it is a bit cramped. I start to push open the door and see Tony there with his camera. Grinning.
“It’s just like where a crew member opens a cupboard and a load of Tribbles fall out,” He says.
That does it, he is so dead. I flick two fingers at Tony just as he takes a picture. What I hadn’t noticed was Mr Sproat standing behind him. Tony hasn’t realised he is there either.
“There’s always one, isn’t there?” Brussels says.
The look of surprise on Tony’s face is priceless, but it won’t stop me getting my revenge. I climb out of the locker.
“I should have known it would be you,” Mr Sproat continues. “The Head wouldn’t believe me when I said we needed the lockers with air holes. He hasn’t seen what the kids at US schools get up to in their lockers.”
“What do they get up to, Sir?” It had to be asked.
“Do you really expect me to tell you? It would only give you ideas,” he pauses briefly. “One other thing. That rude hand-signal wasn’t directed at me was it?”
“Hand-signal, Sir?” I say stalling for time to think of an excuse.
“Yes, when you were doing your Tribble impression in the locker.”
Oh Hell! He must have heard Tony’s comment. It gives me an idea though.
“Oh, That was the Vulcan greeting, Sir. ‘Live Long and Prosper’. It didn’t come out right as it was cramped in there and my outer fingers caught under my chin.”
“Really? Then perhaps you would like to do a little research to explain to me the origin of the greeting ‘Live Long and Prosper’ Two to three hundred words should be about right. By this time next week please.”
I think I have just been given a punishment essay. At least two hundred words isn’t that many.
“Isn’t there a Jewish connection, Sir?” asks Tony.
“That is for him to find out.”
Tony can help with my essay.
“Now, I think it is time for you two to gather up your stuff and to boldly go home.”
Is Brussels having fun with the Star Trek references? We are about to go through the doors when he calls out.
“By the way, the greeting is palm outwards.”
We turn and see he is giving a perfect Vulcan salute, with the fingers splayed between the middle and ring fingers.
Raj catches up with me a couple of days later.
“Uncle Veejay called in last night and I asked him about keeping the creases in your trousers. He said he wasn’t sure if it would work, but someone told him, as they are made of cotton, to try old fashioned hot water starch. Not the spray-on stuff. You might get a sheen on them, but if it is even all over that shouldn’t matter.”
“Thanks,” I say, “Where do I get that? I’ve only ever seen the spray-on starch when Mum has sent me shopping.”
“No problem, we have it in the shop.”
I should have guessed.
“Call round after school. Uncle Veejay says I am to give you a packet to try.”
“As a thank you. I gave him your idea to promote the white camo trousers for wearing to be seen at night. He says they are selling fast enough that he has been able to put them back up to the normal price.”
I get a funny look from Mum when I put the packet in the kitchen when I get home. She tells me she hasn’t seen that sort of starch since she lived with her mother. Later I overhear her saying to Dad that all bets are off.
It is couple of weeks before an opportunity arises to get Tony back for calling me a Tribble. Mind you I got more than I bargained for.
We are getting changed after PE. As usual Mervyn Sproat is supervising to make sure no horseplay gets out of hand. Most of the guys including Tony are in the showers but I am behind Brussels. Tony looks in my direction, so I stroke my arm as if I am feeling the fine hairs there. Tony catches on and is unable to stop himself from popping a woody. Got him!
Things do get out of hand, or should that be taken in hand, when some of the other guys spot that Brussels has taken an interest in Tony’s predicament. They put into action their plan to blow Mr Sproat’s cover and show up his perving on them. Poor Merv. He is soon confronted by a room full of boys all sporting woodies. It is too much for him and he has to dash out and hide in the coaches’ room until he has recovered. I don’t have that much sympathy though: he shouldn’t have called me a Tribble.
Copyright © Pedro January 2018
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