The counsellor’s asked me to do this. As part of what she calls my Personal History Platform. ‘Use Your Past to Push Off’ the leaflet says. Not a good heading if you ask me - sounds like something Jacks would say. Still it’s got me thinking.
She’s lovely my counsellor. Don’t know about you but I think eye contact’s important and she gives it plenty. Her eyebrows arch when she’s talking - quite sexy really. And she’s not in your face like some of them. Very hippy-dippy if you get my drift - all bells and patchouli. You can hear her coming and smell her when she’s gone - reminds me of Jacks really. Her name’s Jackie too. I have to say, it’s a bit strange talking about Jacks to Jackie.
‘Think about how it started,’ she said one day, as if she’d just thought of it. ‘Write a story, or maybe a poem...’ She was dead nice about it - hesitant, ‘...whatever you want’ - not in your face like some. And it’s helped put stuff into perspective - just ordering things has been good. It’s made sense of what happened.
So, anyway, I’ve worked it out - must thirty years ago now. I was in my twenties, twenty one maybe, working at the solicitors. I left early to meet friends from night class - intimate little group, life drawing - or was it film studies? I’ve done so many you see. Anyway, it was raining, and I lost my coat, got soaked. We were meeting in Faith’s – that was a cafe close by.
On the way I bumped into Jacks - well she bumped into me really. She looked a right mess. Smelled a bit too - you know, fusty, earthy. Damp. She had short black hair, round glasses, big trousers. Plain, scruffy even - dressed like a sack o’ spuds she would’ve said - but with a pink rucksack and red Dr Martens. She had a thing hanging round her neck – a circle with some sort of cross. Course, I know what it means now but at the time I thought it was religious. She looked older - well she would wouldn’t she. Had long hair the last time I saw her, a pretty teenager in a frilly dress - no glasses.
It was Jacks noticed me - don’t think I’d have spotted her to be honest. She came running over, all arms and khaki - nearly knocked me down. That’s when I first got the smell. ‘Well don’t you look a one, you haven't changed a jot!’ That’s the word she used - jot. ‘Let’s go for a drink’ she said, grabbing my hand. I told her I was meeting someone. ‘But it’s such a long time and... It’s like fate, you know, chance and all that. Come on J, we used to be best mates.’ She stroked my cheek with rough dirty fingers, ‘Remember the bike sheds?’ - a shocking memory flashed through my mind - ‘you can't let a chance like this get away. Just a quickie, I've got something to tell you.’
And I realise now - that’s how she did it. Promising a secret, like when you’re a kid - it made me feel special. She'd always been a bit full-on - Charming Coercion she called it. I know I felt manipulated but I didn’t want to say no, and I remember making the choice - being unsure and getting her smell again - finding it strangely comforting. ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘my friends can wait.’
Looking back, that decision started everything really. From that moment I saw things differently and Jacks sort of took me under her wing. Just going to a pub was a bit of a shocker for me - the stink of drink, fag eyes peering through fog. Everyone stopped talking when we walked in but Jacks wasn’t fazed. When a dog jumped up at her she just shouted ‘Two pints of your finest and water for the bitch!’ Loud and proud you know? Actually, I wouldn’t have had beer - didn't drink then - so maybe a Lilt or something. She made a froth moustache with her beer and saluted, glasses all steamed up, looking over the top Benny Hill style; ‘Your country needs us girls - up and at em!’ Course, I never did get to the café.
Turns out Jacks was going to some sort of rally - A Femme Fatal she called it. That’s how she used to talk, always playing with words - suppose she thought it was clever. I decided to tag along, but I didn’t really know what was happening. I do know it felt exciting though, and that was new to me. Used to be a bit dull you see - a bit nervy. A wet brolly as Jacks put it. But this was great - me in a big crowd of women all singing and dancing, flags, banners and whistles. Then the heavens opened, and you know what? Well... like I said... it just felt great!
Anyway, that’s how I lost it... the coat I mean. Well I say lost, I just dropped it to be honest - it's hard dancing trussed up like a chicken. Everyone was shouting ‘Stand down men, stand up for your rights.’ I mean, I’m not sure I agreed with them, and we’ve all seen them on telly haven’t we - the butch brigade - but it wasn’t like that. It was fun - lots of laughing and hugging. Everything was good and I felt happy - normal... Part of it I suppose.
Me and Jacks got together shortly after that. We made an odd pair I know, but we fitted - like apple and cheese she said. Been together ever since - well, kind of... It's all more accepted now, back then things were different - people were hostile - Thatcher’s Britain, Clause 28 and all that. We had to keep it hidden, between ourselves. It was okay to be ‘one of them’, you know, ‘queer’ - but not ok to show it, not in public anyway. Bigots and fascists everywhere - and that was just the police. We were seen as a threat - quite radical really when you think about it. Till a few years ago anyway - when the fight for freedom gave in to so-called Civil Partnerships. Now everyone’s at it.
And that’s when things changed... when Jacks changed. After she got out of the nick we decided to get wed - one of the first-wave we were, even before Elton and David. We’d been a couple for ages by then. There were The Gap Years of course - when Jacks was behind bars - but apart from that we were with each other every day. Twenty years united against the world - rebels with a clause she used to say. We were so close. She taught me everything really - what to wear, how to act, how to deal with sexist pigheads. She had no truck with queer bashers shouting filth at us - she just gave it back. That’s how she ended up in prison; GBH on a HBG - Homophobe Bearing Grudges. We developed our own way of talking you see; Glubs, Splunges, Flads and Fluds. No one knew what we were saying, but basically they all meant the same thing - anyone too straight if you get my drift. Sometimes we didn’t even need to speak, we just got it - with a wink and a whisper as Jacks put it. We played it straight if you get me, and it was just us two - together forever. Or at least that’s how it seemed.
To be honest I was worried before the wedding. Jacks had started wearing make-up and low-cut tops - you know, provocative. And she wanted the full works - big white dress and everything. I soon put a stop to that - told her she’d look like lamb dressed as mutton. She laughed at first - but then she cried too. Started hitting me. Bruised up like an apple I did. Like a cooker Jacks said - a sour tart.
Anyway, shortly after that we got stitched and hung - to use another of her phrases - and then things went downhill fast. Jacks just pulled away. She said our secret language was childish and started going out all the time - on her own. The drinking got worse, and then the drugs – I mean, none of it helps does it? And she was flirty - even brought a girl home once wanting a threesome. Behaved like a bloke really. And you know when things change, well you just want them back how they were don’t you. We’d always been so close you see - gentle. To each other. And now our world - well my world - was falling apart. Just coming apart at the seams... she just... I don’t know... I’m rambling...
I was losing her, I do know that. And it upset me after all we’d done. But I was never angry - just upset. Sad I suppose. I knew I had to try and keep it alive and that’s why I did what I did - in the only way I know how - stopped things before it was too late. They called it murder of course, but I think of it more as a crime of passion - in France I’d be a heroine. The legal-aid lady asked if there were any ‘mitigating circumstances’, so I told her. Yes, I said; L-O-V-E. I loved Jacks, it was for her own good. And for The Cause - her words not mine. I owed her everything and now I’ve paid her back. She can be true to herself again - and me.
So that’s how I got here. Eighteen months so far... It's not been easy but I'm pleased it happened this way, I really am. I'm proud to have been part of such a big thing - equal rights, feminism and all that - Girl Power I think they call it. It's changed the world and made me a better person. That’s how I see it anyway. That’s how I was able to do the necessary - to Jacks. It was the right thing to do - and I’m stronger now. I know what I want.
Jackie my counsellor knows what I want too - you can see it in her eyes. She reckons I shouldn’t be locked up anyway. She’s great Jackie - not in your face like some of them. Smells lovely too. She’s promised if I behave she’ll get me to an open prison - then day release. We could go and pay Jacks our respects - spend some time together. And then maybe we could go for a walk - or even a drink. After all, you’ve got to move on haven’t you...?
Robin Cowpertwait lives in Devon, UK and has just published his first poetry collection – Lineage. He is also the author of Pam Naps using his children’s writing pseudonym Robyn Lever. His poems have recently been published in Candelabrum and Cynic Magazine. More of his work can be found at – http://www.crazyquiltbouquet.info