Dressing by Andrew Kauffmann


I could start with Jair. Someone disbelieving, that’s all it takes. Their boyish shoulders bitten. Suggestive circles inside their airlocked briefs. Take the band in my mouth. Thread the yarn in the lapse between drops of sweat and their cotton removed. Kisses on moist foreheads; only then will the New York Yankees baseball cap flip. My cap, to the ground: my fetish. His dark eyes, whoever he is. Watchful, wondering how many positions, how big.

It’s the changing of clothes that thrills me most. The changing out of them and into new ones. Cosplay. Last week at the sex club, I was in my double-breasted suit and burgundy braces. Tonight, maybe the vintage Arsenal football shirt will see me pull it off.

When I was a kid, I’d watch Mr Benn. “Good morning Sir, what would you like to try today?” the shopkeeper asked. Mr Benn would walk through a magic door at the back of the shop and emerge costumed. A gladiator, a cowboy; in one sketch, he was ‘Big Top Benn’ in shoes that were too big and a false nose. It was the illusory act inside the shop that resonated with me, the suspension of judgement.

I can’t quite remember when I began dressing in Dad’s clothes, but I’d occupy the dressing space with Mum’s pink vanity dresser. I’d luxuriate in the folds of Dad’s collared shirts. A navy silk tie of his was the final accoutrement, knotted high on my throat.

Mum would be out, Dad was permanently at work. I’d venture deep into his wardrobe to the shoebox where he kept his paraphernalia for the masons. Take his cotton ties—my suit fetish in genesis. I’d don my cricket whites or faded Liverpool kit, the Championship-winning one with the padded lettering, illicit and in front of our bathroom mirror, toothpaste stains not yet removed. I’d touch myself clothed—always clothed—masturbatory material for years. Compensation for being shit at PE, ordered on a cross country run, told I was ugly. Missing out on Ben Moore and his polyester shorts.

“Stop teasing,” the Peruvian guy instructed me at the Bolt. His hole twitched above the waistband of his pinstripe navy trousers. I never caught his name, but it was the last time I saw him. I knelt on the slippery floor, concrete and covered in puddles of cum. The darkroom was less like Mr Benn’s dressing room than the flyers caused me to imagine.

“I love your ears so much,” I said.

“Anything else?” he asked.

“Your arse, I want it.” I devoured his small cock like a Cadbury’s Creme Egg. I motored his rubbery nipples between my lips, but his body tightened in my grip. I’d known him to head off with other ginger guys, but on that last occasion, below the revolving Tim Tales video and sat together on the sticky leather sofas, I presented a compromise.

“You’re asking me to try being your bottom.” His sarcastic voice was a turn off, but he had a prepossessing grin.

“I want to fuck.” I leant in to whisper. “I have to build up the confidence.”

He giggled.

“You knowing that I take time, it would help.” I can do gentle persuasion.

Dad needs me at his office to look over the paperwork. The low-ceilinged room is overheated, and the cabinets are obscured by towers of misplaced papers.

“Si, I need the emails from 2015. Which ones do you have there?” Dad turns on an angle floor lamp. Rain starts to patter the window, crowding out the November sunlight.

“Her breakdown was seven years ago. Grandma moved into Evergreen seven years ago; find that file.”

“No. The proper breakdown, the one where she intercepted my office account and wrote to Tania and everyone, telling them I’m an awful son,” Dad replies.

“Okay, well we’re agreed there was more than one breakdown.” My phone buzzes. It’s the Brazilian, Jair, and he’s naked this time; his arse is suspended. I scroll his photos. He’s coming round tonight.

I don’t want to end up in my normal position. Saying ‘I want to suck, rim your cute berry ass out’ and I can do that for hours, no, I want to be able to take Jair whole. I’ve scrolled through the photos of him with his boyfriend, tall like me and an aquiline nose. Jair has a knowing smile in most of the photos and his face is arched to the side. I want to lick his earthy nipples, feel the arrangement of wispy black hairs protruding from his chest.

Dad asks me whether I’ve seen the deeds from the final Eastbourne property. And what about Grandma’s damn emails? He speaks from Socrates’ chained wall, his diaphragm dissolves with each shallow breath. He needs to retire. He needs to leave his wife, stop driving, give me a break, I’ve already given him a fucking kidney for goodness sake. There was the damn national register, but no, he waited. And now this, a Power of Attorney case which has to go to civil court.

I want to open Tim Tales and look at Tim Kruger fucking a Latin twink. Jair’s got a similar tattoo, scrawled across his collarbone. He sends me a message. Remember, I’m sub, I need you to fuck me really hard.

Yep, course. I’m into lots of fetishes. I tell him.

Which ones? He shoots back.

Watersports, baseball caps, trainers, socks, suits, feet—” A contract topples next to a pot plant at the back of the boardroom.

Not scat?

No, I don’t like that, no, I write back, as Dad’s secretary enters the office with a builder’s tea and three ginger snaps. In her botoxed smile, I can’t undo Jair’s message. I wonder what his thin lips taste like. I don’t want them soiled in shit.

Thank fuck, cos I would be saying no if you did, he whatsapps. So we’ve got that sorted. He continues. Okay, but I only want one thing, which is to be fucked. He sends me pictures. His white Calvins possess his 28-inch waist and his porcelain hips give way to a red-and-black Hawaiian shirt. Beemp. Another message.

“What’s that?” Dad asks. His glasses are smudged and the Sellotape is fraying on one arm of his frames, preserving his partial sight intact.

“My phone.” He isn’t listening. Clicking away at his calculator. Jangling his car keys. His permanent ‘crash state,’ as I’ve come to refer to it ever since that counsellor tried to coach me after a referral from Dean Street.

I ask Jair to send me more. His clothes, that’s what I want. His briefs tucked around his chestnut cheeks, his LA Lakers vest dangling off his knobbly spine: the thrill of the transition. Send me a photo in your Pump jockstraps, I ask him, coloured candy purple with the luminous yellow strip. Mr Benn doesn’t oblige. The next one is of him being held down on a metallic surface. There’s the spectre of a fuck as the girth of his partner’s voluminous cock casts a shadow over Jair’s thigh. The helmet looks canopied. It could be a dildo.

“We’ll need to get going soon, beat the traffic. Tania needs me home.” Dad dumps a lever-arch file on his scratched mahogany table. An icing of dust illuminates his wrinkled face.

We walk across the parking lot and I open Dad’s car. The passenger seat needs reclining. “Can we turn the heat down in here, it’s ridiculous?”

“Oh, yes, wait a minute, I need to put my coat in the boot.” He swigs his orange Lucozade and adjusts his glasses so the Sellotape is sealed. “What did you want?”

“The heating, to turn it down.”

“Well, let me work it out.” He switches a few controls. “It’s Tania, she always needs it on the highest setting. There’s no point me complaining.”

We edge out of the car park and head to the King’s Road, it’s 17:23 and Jair will be arriving in an hour and a half. I could have got the tube, but Dad wants to continue talking about the case. I’m throbbing but a rumination intrudes: my penis softening when it most counts.

“Damn cyclists, so many of them and hardly a single one indicates.” His face contorts. I watch his head bob from his pigeon neck and remind myself I need to sit up straight. He used to order me as a child, “don’t walk like a hunchback.” It’ll be right to Chelsea Bridge. From there we head to Hyde Park Corner, travel up to Marble Arch, drive past the Lebanese restaurants on the Edgware Road. On to my fuck—possibly no fucking.

“So, you want to talk through the case?” I ask Dad. “Remember, I only studied law for a bit.” He glances at me briefly but it’s the one meaningful look he’s given me all day. I lift the packet of Viagra from my rucksack, the same colour as my nurse’s tunic. The renal nurse who asked whether I wanted tests to see whether Dad and I were a match. I take a sip from Dad’s Lucozade and slip my NHS-funded pill.

“Hang on,” Dad says, hands gripped to the steering wheel. He stutters further forward.

I feel his aggression in the movement of his feet, one second applying the brake, next, his toes firmly pressed to the accelerator. His fungus breath finds new roots in my nostrils. A blue slim-fit shirt from Charles Tyrwhitt hugs my body. Like Dad’s shirt when I was age ten and I explored his bedspread.

Park Lane is back-to-back. “Right, you’re going to need to remind me, what was in the solicitor’s letter? That bit they wrote about Grandma’s mental capacity?” He’s not wearing a tie. He rarely does these days. His white shirts are still from Jermyn Street, but he seems to have little money left for his haircuts.

Jair whatsapps. I’m early, get to yours for half six, where’s you?

When I’m home, I’m going to dress up in my T.M. Lewin suit, tie my custard tie into a Windsor knot. Forget the Arsenal shirt, I want to feel powerful. I want Jair to think I work in the city and not as a wordsmith for a betting firm. What the fuck will he care, he only wants to be dominated. Whizz past the London Hilton, there’s the Wellington Arch. I visualise my penis propelled in the shine of Dad’s headlights but we’re crawling, all the way to West Finchley. We pass the Odeon on the corner with Oxford Street. Call Me By Your Name is showing. I could leap out now and watch the film. I’d munch on Minstrels in the dark and follow it with fried salt and pepper squid on Gerrard Street, scroll through Grindr and convince boys I’m eight inches. My trouser pocket tingles.

Shit. The traffic simply isn’t moving. I’m not listening to Dad’s monologue. I trip on the occasional question but the shouty guy from LBC is on the radio and Dad hasn’t switched off the fan. The windows have steamed up, the rain hardens. Windscreen wipers back and forth, Dad’s lowered voice as if Tania’s in the car with us and he needs to keep everything to a whisper. He wasn’t like this with Mum, he was himself then, or as the guy at Dean Street posited, maybe he wasn’t.

Another image pops up on my smartphone, this time Jair’s red-and-black shirt is buttoned up and he’s smiling at the camera, his dimples and birthmark accentuate his youthfulness, possibly even his kindness. Dad’s driving onto Finchley but he slows down as he approaches my flat. He likes to stay with me until the last possible moment.

“I do appreciate you helping with all this, you know, the case, and—” He takes another gulp from his bottle, licking his lips as we approach a pelican crossing by a school.

“It’s okay, it’s what I’m here for.” But I don’t help, not really. I don’t force him to confront things. Forever placating, serving, pretending.

Viagra’s kicking my heart. Scissors stab my temples as I massage my doughy throat. Upper reaches of Edgware Road now, turn right before we get to Kilburn. The street’s barely visible in the horizontal rain, I’m taken back to our 1992 holiday in Noirmoutier when Dad launched across the causeway last thing at night, the sea spray surrounding our Volkswagen, Mum grimacing. Indicator on. Dad plays with some change in the glove compartment. He needs to buy Tania’s cigarettes.

A dull thud. Dad brakes and his glasses are on his lap.

“Fuck,” he cries, “fucking hell, damn fucking cyclist,” he shouts.

“Dad, we’ve hit them.” A car careers past us as the windscreen wipers continue their merry dance.

There’s a yellow cycling jersey on Dad’s side of the car; a smashed smartphone waving at him from next to his wing mirror. Dad’s hyperventilating. A driver stops. I shrink as I have a hundred times but put my hand on Dad’s limp wrist. “Drive. Just drive.”

“It was his fucking fault, all the fucking time I have to put up with this shit.”

I make myself as miniature as I can and check the rear mirror. The guy’s a kaleidoscope of filtered reds. A blur. Like when I went under for the kidney transplant. Mum’s death, and the blur when Tania first hit Dad.

I’ll text Jair, make excuses, check it wasn’t him that we hit. He might come round. It would be me sucking him, me papering over the cracks. But it’s onto Finchley. Back to Dad’s.

“We’re gonna get through this,” I tell Dad.

“It was his fucking fault, Si.” His hand is shaking. “Did you see how he emerged out of nowhere? His damn fault.”

Andrew is a freelance writer, teacher and coach. After a major operation in 2019, he left behind a career working for not-for-profits and is now dedicating more time to fiction and non-fiction writing. He is working on a memoir about striving to remain stable in an increasingly unstable world. He was recently published in the first issue of Untitled: Voices, an online journal for under-represented writers and has also been published by Clavmag, a platform for queer writing.

21 September 2020