Moving Pictures, part 3 of 3
Thursday 14th June 1990
Craig sat on the desk, looking at their nearly completed work. Truman was in the stockroom, finishing off the cataloguing. Craig glanced around the shop: only a small pile of books was left to be returned to the shelves. They had spent the evening reorganising the shop, changing the shelves where the books were displayed. Truman had a new system for the shelves, grouping the books by different categories, in a different layout, that Truman was sure would help customers browse and find what they wanted and what they hadn’t been expecting to find, and help the store sell more. Craig felt tired but satisfied - they had achieved so much in only a few hours.
Truman exited the stockroom, causing its door to crash against the door frame, and returned to the shop’s main floor. Truman never seemed to be able to quietly enter any room.
"Do you want a takeaway?" Truman asked.
"I wouldn't say no," Craig answered.
"Yes, I could really go a pizza," Craig replied.
"I don't know - something with meat and veggies."
"You had sweetcorn and chicken last time. Want that again?" Truman asked, his almost photographic memory again surprising Craig.
"Why not?" Craig replied.
"Good. I want a ham and mushroom one. I know, boring but I like it," Truman said.
"I'll get you some money." Craig stood up and reached for the back pocket of his jeans where his wallet was.
"Forget it - the old man can pay for them out of the petty cash," Truman said, referring to the shop's silent owner, Truman's father.
"Sure?" Craig asked him.
"Yes! It's one of the few perks of being the boss' son."
"Thanks," Craig said.
"Don't think anything of it."
"I'll finish sorting out these books," Craig said, nodding at the remaining books.
"Don't worry. Just hold the fort. We'll finish it all off after our pizzas. It shouldn't take long now," Truman said.
Truman pulled on his leather jacket, and a moment later left the shop, crashing the door behind him.
Craig sat himself down at the chair, his usual place during his working day. This job had come as a saving grace. He’d been given his redundancy period from his last job. He suspected that there were hidden motives behind being chosen for redundancy. There were men there with less experience and less qualifications as him, but he’d quickly been known as the “Office Queer”. He knew Truman's father from church, though Truman was only a casual visitor there. Truman ran the bookshop that his father owned. Truman needed assistance to run the bookshop Truman's father had introduced the two of them, Craig and Truman. At once they had struck up an easy friendship, and just like that, Craig had a new job. It was the easiest interview of his life.
In his months working there, he had never managed to figure out Truman. Truman wasn’t standoffish or unfriendly: conversation would bounce between, yet rarely about anything personal. He knew Truman’s views on all the day’s news, what books Truman liked - the shop had a chalkboard listing the week’s recommendations that Truman always wrote - but he knew nothing personal about Truman. Had Truman ever been in love, ever been in a relationship? Was Truman was attracted to women or men? Craig could answer any of them. He kept his own personal life quiet at work now. He had learnt his warning from his previous job: waving pink flags wasn’t always welcome. It wasn’t that hard: at church he kept quiet about his private life. As far as people at church were concerned, he was happily single with no thought of marriage on his mind. It was a lie, but it was his choice.
He hated being single. He hated the loneliness of sleeping alone. He hated returning home to an empty flat. He hated watching other couples showing the world how happy they were. He felt so excluded, the envy of watching something he did not have.
He also knew he saw no real future in his relationship with Paul.
Craig stood up and walked around the desk. Slowly he began to wander around the shop. Truman’s new layout certainly worked: the topics of the shelves flowed on onto the next, and slowly walking past the shelves, he could see that now. There had been arguments between Truman and his father when Truman wanted to expand the shop's stock, though Truman still went ahead. There were now sections for race, feminism, sexuality, gay and lesbian interest and politics. Truman's father had worried this would change the whole tone of the shop, costing them sales. Yet he soon changed his opinion when the shop's takings took a sharp jump.
Craig ran his finger along the spines of a shelves of books. Feeling the smooth paper of the book spines sliding under his fingertip while book edges knocked against his finger.
He'd met Paul at a party. It was being thrown by friends of his friend Mark. Craig couldn't even remember the names of the hosts. Mark was the only school friend Craig had remained in contact with, and Mark had almost begged him to come alone - he needed Craig’s company to help him survive. They hadn’t been at the party long when Craig realised why Mark wanted him there. The party was in a three-story townhouse, but the other guests there had seemed very straight and very suburban. All anyone seemed to be talking about there was double glazing, DIY, holidays in France and the wonderful achievements of their children. Craig had found himself very bored very quickly. He would have left but Mark had promised him a lift home.
He drifted through the stylish and probably expensive home, from one room to the next. He hoped to fall into one interesting conversation. But he didn’t. On his third glass of wine, he’d sat down at the bottom of first floor’s staircase. There, he’d met Paul when he was coming down these stairs. Paul had stumbled as he tried to pass him, sat there. Craig had instinctively grabbed hold of Paul's arm and Paul had sat down heavily next to him on the stairs. Paul had looked at him with an awkward and surprised expression on his face. Then Paul laughed a deep and throaty laugh, a very infectious laugh making Craig laugh along too.
Soon they had fallen in conversation, sat there, their knees pressed together. They liked the same films; they’d read the same books] and, it was so relaxing to have someone interesting to talk with here. Soon they were exchanging phone numbers and making promises to meet again, though that had been Paul’s idea: he’d said they were enjoying too much of a good time not to meet again. As Mark drove him home, an hour or so later, Craig wondered what he had done, agreeing to meet Paul again - was he just making another friend? But Paul was so handsome.
Craig lent against one of the full bookcases and stared at the small pile of books sat on the shop's sales table, waiting to be moved to their new home on the shelves. He could always start moving them himself, not waiting for Truman. But he didn’t move - he could wait. He was in no rush to get home - his flat would be empty and dark. Thursday nights were not the night he could expect Paul to call on him unexpectedly.
They had had sex on their second date on Craig's sofa: hurried sex, frantic fumbling, their trousers around their ankles and their shirts up to their shoulders. Their first date - it had been a date - had been out to see a German gay film which verged upon the pornographic with the amount male nudity in it. Craig had been aroused and slightly embarrassed at the same time. Throughout the film, they had sat in adjacent seats with their shoulders, arms, thighs and backs of their hands pressed together. At the end of the film, they had parted outside the cinema with a casual goodbye, but no more, not even shaking hands. Craig had returned home felling frustrated: sitting so intimately with Paul in cinema had given him such hopeful messages and then they parted without even a handshake, no hint of physical affection. He wrote the whole evening off as yet another example of his ability to make the wrong choice in men. Four days later, Paul had rung him, asking for another date. That one quickly resulted in sex. Paul had called around at Craig's flat. Craig had invited him in and once the front door was closed, they had fallen into each other's arms in a passionate kiss.
Soon, their relationship fell into a regular pattern of meeting only on weekday evenings, with Paul never staying for a whole night. They had spent. two whole weekends together at Craig's flat. They had been weekends of bliss when he had Paul’s full attention, but there had only been two of them. They always met at Paul's bidding, Paul always picking the night, always at Craig's flat. Sex was always high on the menu. They hardly did anything else together. Talking, then eating together and sex was the pattern their dates always took. The sexual side of their relationship was very satisfying, but he quickly realised he was not Paul's number one priority.
Lately, Craig had been examining their relationship, turning over and over the facts of it. He knew he was not Paul's only lover. Though Paul had never hinted at it, Craig knew he had a live-in lover tucked away in a suburban home somewhere. The man was probably the same age as Paul, looked like him, had an equally busy job, and they probably called each other "darling" when they were home together. He envied them their domestic life. Paul liked him, but that was as far as it went. Paul didn't care about him, didn't love him. He was just Paul's bit of excitement, sex and interesting conversation, before he returned home to his domestic life. He was growing tired of it. He had to end this relationship because there was no future in it. He was wasting his time with Paul, and that hurt.
He wished he had someone he could talk to about this. He and Truman never talked about anything personal. It was ridiculous to think he could talk to anyone at church about this. There was Mark, but he had been working in Saudi Arabi for the last three weeks and Craig had only received one letter from him. That only left Helen. Their friendship was casual, but twice they had joked that Craig's boyfriend and Helen's husband were both called Paul.
Truman always took Monday mornings as his half-day. For the last few months Helen had regularly visited the shop on a Monday morning, usually searching for books for her studies. Monday mornings were always slow, so it had not taken long for him and Helen to fall into conversation each time she was there. This had slowly led to a casual friendship. Something had made him feel safe in this friendship, the only times he saw her were on a Monday morning in the shop. So he had told her about Paul, not the full details and not his suspicions, and she had laughed, telling him her husband was also called Paul. In a strange way that sealed their friendship.
Craig sat back at the desk again. He hated this feeling sweeping over him, the melancholy of knowing what lay ahead and the decision he would have to take, but not liking either of them. All his life he had wanted the simple option and he had never found it.
On Monday morning he would ask Helen's advice. Then the next time he saw Paul he would tell him exactly how he felt, how he was tired of being Paul’s bit-on-the-side. He didn’t expect Paul to throw his arms open and say they had to stay together. It would be the end of everything, but then at least he could move forward. Even if that didn’t feel like a good thing.
Craig sat forward and looked at his own reflection in the shop's darkened windows. A month ago, on a sudden impulse, he’d had his blonde hair cut short, into a spikey style. He’d gone from looking like a blonde beach bum into a punkish rebel. Most people hardly commented on the change. Paul had quickly said it made him look "sexy" and then changed the subject. Only Truman said it made him look "different" and “good” - the only one to show him any positive over his new hairstyle. Even after nearly a month Craig wasn't sure he liked his it.
The shop door banged opened and Truman stamped through it, calling out,
"The pizza man's here!"
"Thanks, Truman," Craig replied, standing up to greet him.