When we were at college, we had a code for it. Agreed between us to avoid embarrassment. For convenience. So we knew who needed the space. Perhaps, if we were totally honest, a little for bragging rights too.
If a girl came home with one of us and sex was Rearing Its Ugly Head, Dan would say to me or I’d say to Dan, “Ugly, red earrings”. The cue for the other to get out of the way. To vamoosh and let nature do what nature does.
We never said it in front of a girl of course. We waited until she’d gone to the loo and then we’d slip it into the conversation all nonchalantly. Declaring our game plan, thrusting ourselves forward, so to speak.
The usual pattern on a Friday night, when lectures finished early, was a turn round the corner shop on the end of our road for whatever we could afford to buy for food. Then home to cook it up - very often broccoli curry, the only bulk that seemed to match our budget. The pan containing the curry and rice was huge and without a handle and it would sit on the cooker for the three or four days it would take me and Dan to eat the whole lot. After the cooking, Friday night was pub night and if we got lucky, ugly, red earrings’ night.
Our student house was a shitty, little terrace. Dan and I shared the biggest bedroom on the front. A trainee architect, Will, had the back room and what would have been the front living room was occupied by the bearded before it was trendy, physicist, Robin. Dan and me had little to do with either of them beyond an occasional wait outside the bathroom for fastidious Will, or the receipt of uptight notes in the kitchen from Robin, reminding us that we really needed to get on top of the washing up.
It was 2004 and Dan and me were still heavily into Marilyn Manson. We’d adored him right through the sixth form and still loved his freaky cabaret when we’d got on the same Eng. Lit. course in Sheffield. His weird swagger kind of fitted in with the pretence and posturing of discussing books in small, second floor rooms in Brutalist buildings. We rocked the look – the trench coats, the cargo pants in black and the military boots. It put most girls off, but when the two of us were at the bar together, it doubled the effect for the kind of girls we were into.
That particular March night (with curry made and our room at least walkable through), we were in the pub by 7. I noticed her straight away – at the end of the bar, sitting by herself. She was beautiful in the dead doll, freak way that I favoured back then. She was sitting on her leather jacket and was wearing what looked like a basque and a net, tutu skirt in a pale blue. Her legs were tucked under her, but I could see their length and the ripped fishnets and Docs on her feet. Her hair was long black, her makeup was white and her lips were a dark red, lipstick bleeding at both corners. I was in love, or lust or an undefinable mixture of both.
As Dan wandered off to play the fruit machines, I went to sit by her and the evening followed its ugly, red earrings progress of talk, showing off, connection and asking her back to ours. The scene was set for its possible end – broccoli curry, flickering tea lights, cans of Special Brew and Manson, the God of Fuck, on the decks.
Me and the girl were sat on my bed, plates on our laps, when Dan joined us. He’d come back later than us and I’m sure he’d already picked up on the hot, sexy vibe in the room. That, or he’d clocked my trousers and the awkward way I was sitting signalled the boner I’d had ever since we’d come home.
When she got up to go the loo, putting her plate on my amp and nearly tripping over the laces of her Docs, I said the words. Dan rolled his eyes and went downstairs, presumably resigning himself to Friday night TV with Robin the physicist. A fate, some might say, worse than death.
Of course, Manson was on when she came back from the bathroom. “We're the nobodies, Wanna be somebodies, We're dead, We know just who we are”. I was fiddling with the crack in the curtains as she took off her boots and lay on her back on the bed. As I turned round to watch, she lifted up her tutu and I almost came as I saw the slick, rubber briefs she was wearing underneath. The contrast between the dark v they formed and the whiteness of her thighs, stopped by the top of her fishnet stockings, made me feel like I could hardly breathe. Watching me all the time, she started rolling the briefs down. And that’s when I saw it. The johnson, the wanger, the python. The beast released – a priapic magnificence. Fuck.
There was part of me that still fancied him. Hell, in certain circumstances, I even fancied Dan. But in reality it wasn’t for me - I couldn’t even imagine what it was I would be expected to do! I just didn’t get the mechanics of things if they’d gone that way.
I readjusted the front of my trousers and cleared my throat, dropping a register, before speaking. “Sorry, mate, not tonight. It’s not my thing.” Mate? I never said mate. He sat up, shrugged and pulled up his briefs. Then he smiled and shrugged again. “Whatever”, he said.
I remember my actions became bigger, exaggerated as though this sealed my masculinity. Strength in the clearing up of the curry plates, certainty in the blowing out of the tea lights and the crushing of the Special Brew cans. By God, I was manly.
He stood and blew me a kiss as he took the leather jacket off the hook on the back of the bedroom door and draped it round his shoulders. As he walked out of the door, he swept his hair back in a makeshift twist of a bun and I noticed his earrings. Looping, plastic snakes, twisting around both ears. Ugly and red.