A Safe Place – A Short Story

The apartment was more of a room, really. The sleeping area was only guarded beyond a large bookshelf and a neatly hung tapestry. Christopher had painted it himself.

Never wanting Eden to feel like he was intruding her space, night three he had brought home a king size bed sheet he’d found in the second hand store up the street and proceeded to turn the pretend wall in to his new studio. He meticulously drew up the lines to centre the mandala, and created seven shades of blue (no easy feat with cheap material paints).

Their living arrangement was temporary but necessary for both of them. They had met at a love-in the weekend before. Eden’s long, copper blonde hair had captivated Chris from the moment he saw her. She would toss is over her shoulder and it would slide right back over again, thick and fast. He had never seen so much hair in his life.

His own dark blonde matte sat miserably around his ears. It seemed no one in the new group he had infiltrated had ever been forced to a hairdresser by a strict father. He tried not to envy, but he was certainly curious about their stories.

James was the central point of the gathering. Cross-legged and calm, his aura gathered the group without the need for words or gestures. He simply smiled with his eyes closed. His moustache was thick and groomed to perfection. He had no beard, and some impressive sideburns.

When James felt the presence of six other bodies in a circle around him, his eyes opened. He took a long, slow breath and looked at each of them. His gaze was piercing and all-knowing. Most of the group smiled in return. It took everything Chris had no to look away after two seconds. James stared at him the longest.

The record player crackled in the corner as it reached the end of A side Revolver.

One of the men rose to change it. He had on brown corduroy trousers, the most flamboyant vest Christopher had ever seen, and nothing else.

The four others in the circle were equally as interesting to look at. One had hair pulled back in to a waist-long pony tail and wore no shirt at all. The man to her right was staring intently at his hands, as though he was seeing them for the first time. Earlier someone had referred to him as Leo; to his right, a remarkable blonde wearing a handkerchief as a top. Finally, next to Chris, there was Eden.

Chris already knew he was in love with her. Hidden behind the unruly curls were hazel eyes and a magnificent smile; a smile which she had already turned to him twice. Chris didn’t necessarily want this kind of distraction in his life, but there’s no use fighting it. One love to another, he knew he was the worst for it.

Was this one different? It was too soon to tell.

At that moment, Leo distracted him by reaching his intriguing hand out, as though needing help with something. Chris took it, and they awkwardly held on.

After a few moments, the woman on Leo’s left reached forward and placed her hands gently at either side of their clasp. Corduroy stepped inside the circle when he returned from flipping the record and did the same. Soon they were all wrapped in a strange hand embrace, and James was the last to join.

“You are all so welcome here,” he said calmly. They broke apart, and each person settled back in to their space.

“You’re beautiful,” said Leo to the handkerchief wearer next to him. She raised her lips to his and kissed him in response. He bowed his head with a smile. Chris was confused.

Meanwhile, the topless lady was resettling herself on James’ lap and then the striking blonde and Eden were leaving the room hand in hand.

Corduroy laughed and laid backwards, pipe clamped between his teeth. After a few minutes of Chris glancing around, trying not to look completely out of place and uncomfortable, Corduroy raised his body back to seating position and held the pipe out for him to take.

“It’s all good man,” he said with a steamed grin. Chris wasn’t big on drugs, but he was big on a good time, and right now felt like he was living in a different decade to these people. Try new things, he reasoned with himself. And so, he did.

Two hours later Christopher knew everyone by name. Corduroy was named Mikey and was a musician. Topless was named Mary and worked in a law firm as a secretary. The handkerchief blonde, Jane, and Eden were heartbreakingly in a relationship, and James was a full time ‘healer’ also known as a drug dealer. This he already figured from their meeting at the ferry port earlier that day.

The night had been a blur of heavy conversations, shouts of ecstasy and clouds of smoke.
When he woke the next morning on Eden’s sofa he couldn’t remember getting there, but was sure glad he had.

Jane sauntered to the kitchenette in a sheer nightdress and held a pot under the tap. She placed it on the stove and began boiling the water for a morning brew. It was bitter cold, Chris was beginning to realise, and he wasn’t quite sure why they both weren’t more clothed.

“You’re Scottish aren’t you?” cooed Mary without turning around.

“Irish, actually.”

“Different.” She pulled the pot away as the bubbles appeared and poured the steaming hot water in to three tea bag-filled mugs. They were mismatched and chipped but charming non-the-less.

Chris rose to take one and brought the patchwork blanket with him. It was wrapped around his waist, protecting his modesty. Mary really couldn’t care less.

Eden yawned loudly from behind the bookshelf. A rustling of the bed sheets gave her movements away. She appeared from behind it wearing Chris’s shirt and underpants, and smiled at him knowingly. Her hair was even wilder now than it had been the night before. She made no attempt to tame it.

Mary walked the mug up to her girl, cupping the rim with her hand so that Eden could take the handle. They shared a gentle kiss and Christopher looked away.

He felt guilty but he wasn’t sure why.

“How long will you be living with me?” Eden enquired and she perched herself next to him on the small sofa. She sat sideways with legs crossed, facing him expectantly.

“When did I-“ he began and Mary scoffed.

“Honey, were you present last night?” Eden placed a hand gently on what she presumed was his knee. Chris grinned nervously.

“I’m sorry. That was my first time trying… that.” His tone was uneasy. If he’d agreed to move in with this lovely lady with no memory of it, what else had occurred that evening?

Mary took a seat on the coffee table in front of them and rested her head in her hand, mug curled in the other.

“You said you needed somewhere to stay while you set yourself up. You got here yesterday? You did well to run in to James. He’s a good man.” She leant back and took a sip, narrowing her eyes at him.

“I, well, suppose I did, yeah.”

The specifics were discussed at length. In other words, Eden told him it was to be six months, no more or less, and she wouldn’t accept any money until he had a proper job. She had a good income as a switchboard operator, which was enough for both of them to get by.

Mary wasn’t as pleased about the situation, but she had to go away for a while, and she didn’t want Eden left alone.  Chris had asked her where she was going, but he didn’t receive an answer. Instead she took her leave and he was left alone in an apartment with sweet Eden.

The tapestry was coming along nicely one week later. When James and Leo arrived in the afternoon his tee-shirt was more blue than white, so he decided to change. As he placed it in the second sink, in the corner of the sleeping area and next to the only toilet, he heard the group’s hushed voices.

Chris hadn’t wanted to eavesdrop but he had so many questions about these new people. He crept towards the bookshelf and listened.

“How is she?” asked Leo, his voice heavy with concern.

“I haven’t heard a thing,” replied Eden.

“I’m sure there’s a way we can track her. I know people in London. I can put the word out.”

“No,” Eden hissed back. “We can’t do that to her. She’d never forgive us. This is something she needs to do. We just need to be here to support her when she gets back.”

“You’re a fool,” boomed James, making no effort to lower his tone. “She’s not coming back.”

Christopher knew he better re-join the group before things got heated.

“Where are we going tonight?” he attempted brightly as he walked towards them, buttoning his paisley shirt from the bottom.

James had Eden pinned against the fridge, but pushed himself away from her as Chris approached.

“The Bar,” he muttered as he made his way back to the door.

Leo shrugged with a half-smile, gesturing for Eden to follow. She bowed her head, looking more worried than angry, and did as suggested.

The Bar was below Eden’s building.

When they entered James made his way directly to a gentleman in a fur coat waiting by the taps and they embraced. Eden and Leo took a place next to them and waited to order.

This establishment was unlike any Chris had seen before, and a stark contrast to the old pubs of Dublin. The room was long, with a heavy brown hue and a swirl patterned carpet. There were booths lining the wall to the right and left, and a large circular bar in the centre. It looked like a stage was placed at the far end with a large green curtain covering it. The jukebox blaring ‘Help Me, Rhonda’ was positioned right next to the main ordering station. A young and slim man with perfectly slicked blonde hair was bent over before it, reading the selection.

When Chris took a step he was knocked sideways by an overexcited young woman making her way to the exit. “Sorry,” she blushed, before sweeping past him. A huge man in a leather jacket followed her out. He was old enough to be her father, surely.

Chris started to take more notice of the patrons and nearly lost his footing again when he spotted two men in the corner booth staring intensely in to each other’s eyes. When the record ended and the next song began to play, the man to the edge of the booth pulled gently on his companion’s hand and guided him to the dance floor. They bopped in a loving embrace across the room, miming along with Diana Ross to ‘Stop! In The Name Of Love’. The sight was so foreign to Christopher that he had no idea how to feel. Staring is rude, lad. He shook his head and made his way to the bar, where his friends already had their orders. Eden handed him a dark ale and he downed half of it in one.

“Thirsty?” she breathed with a smile. His heart pounded and he turned away, searching for somewhere to take refuge. When his gaze reached the door, the young girl who had ran in to him before had re-entered, looking proud as punch. Behind her came two blushing men, one the same as before, and the other new and just as large. Their leathers did nothing to hide the coyness of their expressions. Was she setting them up? Chris realised.

“What is this place?” he said out loud without meaning to, and turned open mouthed to Eden.

“It’s a safe place,” she said quietly. The group moved towards a free booth at the back of the venue, past the now-busy dance floor. Chris climbed in first and took his place next to Leo. James and his friend sat to the right and Eden, to his left. She spent most of her drink gazing longingly towards the dancers.

After a while, when Chris was ready for a refill, the unmistakable opening notes of Dusty Springfield’s ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’ sounded. Eden’s eyes grew wide and her lip trembled. Chris thought he should do something about it.

“Hey, let’s go,” he gently nudged her out of the booth and took her hand, leading her to the middle of the crowded floor. Everyone held each other close, and Chris twirled his fingers in to Eden’s thick mane, resting her head against his chest. His heart was thudding and he hoped she couldn’t feel it. Eden burrowed closer. They moved so slowly they were barely moving at all. He clasped her right hand in his left.

Chris looked up, and was struck by the fact that everyone around them was in love. It was a truly beautiful moment.

As Dusty hit her final high a huge crash and screams forced the entire dance floor in to panic.

Before Chris knew what was happening he was being forced by the crowd backwards, towards the stage curtain, and he pulled Eden along with him.

“POLICE,” echoed the roars from across the room. Chris glanced back over his shoulder, and through the crowd spotted a constable fling his baton across the head of one of the leather-jacket-clad men from before. The other came to his aid and was punched hard by another officer.

“What the fuck is going on?” he cried as he stumbled up the stage and attempted to lift Eden up with him.

“Just run,” she firmed, absolute fear in her eyes.

They pushed with the horde through the stage doors, the screams and crashes following them to the alleyway to the side of The Bar.

Eden halted Chris as he tried to run towards the road. “They’ll be waiting out there; we need to go this way.” They fled towards the back of the building and Eden released his hand. She pointed towards a metal staircase about six feet off the ground, the bottom ladder missing. “Gimme a boost then I’ll help you up.” Her fear had turned to determination, and where she had caught her breath, Chris had lost all of his. Speechless and terrified, he boosted the small woman up to the first rung and she pulled herself up with all her might. He had the sickening realisation that this wasn’t the first time she’d had to do this.

After clinging to the bottom of the ladder and using the wall as a boost, he made it up to the second level of the stairs; someone’s terrace. Eden stopped and crouched, breathing and listening hard. Sirens were blaring as backup was called in. A man was shouting the name Simon over and over somewhere nearby, with no reply. A woman was shouting angrily, until she wasn’t anymore.

After twenty minutes of absorbing the situation, they slowly climbed the remaining stairs to their level and Eden cracked open the window. Once in, they sat together on the small sofa and didn’t say anything for a long, long time.

Finally, not being able to re-watch his mental footage any longer, Chris turned to Eden.

Her eyes were glazed over and lips hung apart. She didn’t move, so he raised a finger to stroke her arm.

She shuddered, but didn’t pull away. Slowly, her gaze turned to his.

“What just happened?” he whispered.

“That was a raid. It’s illegal to be us. We are against the law.” She pressed her lips together. “A lot of those people have been beaten and taken away now. Some are probably in hospital. A few might never see their loved ones again. Fuck, James!” she leapt to her feet and to the phone in the corner of the room. She dialled furiously. Her finger slipped out of the coil and she cursed again. This time she dialled more carefully, and hung her head as she listened to the ringing.

Chris’ ears perked when he heard James pick up from across the room. He stood and stepped closer to Eden, in the hopes he could catch the conversation.

“Thank God,” she breathed, clutching the handset closely. “Are you guys okay?”

Christopher wished he hadn’t heard the words that came next. It was quiet but clear as day.

They got Leo.

Eden threw the received down and marched towards the front door.

“Where are you going, Eden?” Chris called after her, completely unsure if he should follow. She turned on her heel, eyes blazing with fury.

“Down to the station, because I’m sick and fucking tired of losing everyone I love.” She threw open the door and it slammed hard behind her.

Chris stayed.

~

Since 1814 homosexuality was considered a ‘Crime Against Nature’ and this was used to justify the raids of bathhouses, bars and restaurants known to be frequented by the queer community. The official charge was ‘Sodomy’ and men could receive up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

In the 1950s activists began campaigning for fairer treatment, though ‘solicitation’ was still punishable by prison. It was legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation, and thus blackmail became a common form of power play during this time.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that things really started to change, though there was still a prohibition on serving alcohol to gay people.

The modern LGBT civil rights movement began on Saturday, June 28, 1969 with the Stonewall Riots. When police raided a New York gay bar called the Stonewall Inn, the patrons fought back.

What should have been a safe place for people shunned by family and friends, or a small escape from the closet, was instead a danger zone. The threat of harassment, violence and imprisonment wasn’t enough to deter them, for where else did they have to go?

It wasn’t until 1973 that it became illegal for someone to be dismissed purely for their sexual orientation.

The AIDS epidemic of the 1980s was a new challenge to the community. Fear reared it’s ugly head as the general public once again took a firm stance against the gay community.

In 1993 ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was put in to place, designed to stop witch hunts against queer people within the military. However, it wasn’t until 2011 that the military were no longer able to expel people based purely on their sexual orientation.

In the early 2000s, civil partnerships became recognised in the place of marriage, so that queer people in loving relationships could have some of the rights that married straight people are afforded.

Finally, on 26th June, 2015, marriage equality is legalised through the United States.

On 11th June, 2016, a mass shooting occurred at a gay club in Miami and 50 people were killed.

In August 2017, the Australian government, unable to come to a decision in house, ignoring the overwhelming poll results of the Australian public, decided to spend approximately $158 million dollars by arranging a plebiscite on same sex marriage. This is a compulsory postal vote asking the public if they believe that queer people deserve the right to marry in Australia.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-14/525-million-price-tag-on-same-sex-marriage-plebiscite-study/7243298

When we win, which we will, I hope this government realises what their spinelessness has done to our Country. Our people are having their lives put in strangers’ hands. They are having their love debated by people who don’t need to have an opinion, because it has nothing to do with them.

I hope that one day we have a government who represent the majority, like they are supposed to.

I hope our people know that they are loved, and that we will win this.

I hope that we can finally move out of the dark ages and in to the light of love and acceptance.

I hope that one day some people will realise they don’t have to have an opinion on everything, and when it doesn’t affect you, sometimes it is better to just listen.

I hope that one day we can all be capable of empathy.

I hope.

http://www.equalitycampaign.org.au/

Let love win.

Harleigh Q

xo

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