This chapter takes place on the same as Chapter 24, a week after the events of Chapter 14, two weeks after the events of Chapter 7 and three weeks after everything that happened in Chapter 1.
This chapter also contains spoilers for the movie Brokeback Mountain.
The cinema seat wasn’t very comfortable, but Simon found that if he pushed himself right back into it and didn’t slouch down then he was comfortable. He had thought the place being called The Fire Station was just a gimmick, but when the four of them had arrived he saw that it actually was an old fire station. A set of bright red, large double doors dominated the front of the building. They were obviously the doors that were once opened to let the fire engines leave the building. Now they were firmly closed, and they had entered through a set of glass double doors cut into the right hand side red door. It looked strange, the bottom of the door transparent and the top of it bright red, polished wood.
Inside was a bright, airy and white space. On the ground floor there was a café, that greeting them as they entered, a bookshop, and a little gallery. The café was furnished with chrome and glass tables with matching chrome chairs, and it all felt very stylish to Simon. The upper floor housed the cinema.
After they had bought their tickets, they’d climbed a spiral staircase up to the cinema, where the film was due to start in a few minutes. At the top of the stairs they’d entered a small foyer, with a thick blue carpet on the floor and cream walls lined with glossy film posters. Simon recognised some of the films advertised on the posters. Sitting on a wooden chair was a young woman, only a few years older than them, reading her phone. When she had seen the four of them walk into the little foyer, she’d sighed slowly and heavily to herself, and equally slowly stood up from her seat.
“Sit anywhere you like, you’re the only ones here,” she had said, barely glancing at their tickets.
Entering the cinema through double doors that were decorated with more film posters, they found it ready in darkness. Simon couldn’t even see the colour of the carpet, only that it was dark. There only seemed to be just over a dozen rows of seats, and Freddie had hurried them into the centre of the cinema and claimed a row for them, even though there was no one else there. There was a narrow aisle running down the right hand side of the cinema, and the rows of seats filled the space between it and left wall.
“You get the best view from the centre,” Freddie announced as he claimed their row.
Simon was surprised the rows were made up from old cinema seats, the kind of seats that were seen in nineteen-fifties and nineteen-sixties films whenever a character would be in a cinema. They were wooden seats, all linked together in rows, and had tip up seats with backs that arced in an almost geometric half circle. The seats and backs were covered in a red corduroy material. When he’d sat down on the seat his buttocks sank down into it and he could hear a metallic squeak from the springs inside it. And the padding on the back of the seat was so thin he could feel the curved wood through it.
Simon was given the seat nearest the wall, with Jeff next to him, Vee on the other side of Jeff, and Freddie took the seat nearest the aisle. Freddie had been very insistent that they sit in that order, and Simon had thought nothing of it. Freddie often organised how they sat around the canteen table or around a table in The Steaming Pot of Coffee. He just thought it was one of Freddie’s things, and thought no more of it. Freddie liked to organise things, and he was good at it.
The next moment the cinema had fallen into further darkness. It had been dark enough when they’d taken their seats, but suddenly it felt as if what little light there was had gone.
Before the film started they were greeted with the showing of three adverts for local businesses. The first one was for a large, used car seller, that had a huge car lot near the March Valley Retail Park (Simon remembered that place too well. In the burger restaurant there that he’d accidentally come out to his dad). The second was for a large function hall that promised it could house any function viewers wanted to hold. The last advert was for a chain of three French restaurants around town, that boasted they were “family owned and run” which had been little more than a slideshow of images of the restaurants with a lack-lust voice-over and instantly forgettable synth music. Simon that been struck by the poor quality of all three adverts. There were none of the slick, expensive and epic adverts that the multiplex cinemas blasted out before a film. He reasoned that this was a small and very independent cinema, and therefore only could only afford the cheapest of adverts.
When the film finally began Simon pushed his body back into his seat, readying himself to enjoy it.
He was surprised by the slow pace of the film. Fine images filled the screen, but there seemed to be little or no explanation about what was happening. The two leads, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, were hired to look after a huge flock of sheep, so were more shepherds than actual cowboys. Simon felt his interest in the film rapidly waning. It only picked up again when Heath Ledger’s character stripped naked to wash, though not in close up.
The first part of the film was taken up with the two men kind of falling in love as they tended the sheep, though neither of them seemed to be able to really express their feelings. There was a very darkly lit love scene in a tent, so dark that Simon couldn’t see what was supposed to be happening. Then the men left working as sheep cowboys, but of instead of trying to make a life together, they parted company, only years later to be reunited.
The main expression of their relationship seemed to a two week fishing trip together once a year. Both of them married women, though neither seemed to have anything like a happy life. They both seemed so deeply unhappy, almost lost. Then Jake Gyllenhaal’s character died, beaten to death by a bunch of queer bashers, though his wife denied it. The film ended with Heath Ledger’s character, middle-aged and lonely, living alone in a mobile home. He still kept the shirts the two of them had worn while looking after the herd of sheep at the beginning of the film. He kept the two shirts hanging together on one hanger, one shirt tucked inside of the other. Simon thought the image was heart breaking, but it also made him angry. Was this what Hollywood thought gay relationships were like? The film had been set in the nineteen-sixties, but he’d read about gay life in the nineteen-sixties. Even then, even with all the homophobia that existed in those days, gay men still managed to live their lives. And many of them were able to live together as couples. This film painted being gay, even back then, as so negative and full of sadness. It wasn’t the life he wanted to live.
Freddie had raved about the film. Simon had read online that this film had been denied an Oscar for best film, but he couldn’t see why people considered it to be so good. The film looked very good, it was well acted, but the story was so depressing. He didn’t like it, and he hated the sad ending.
As he was watching the film something else happened. About a quarter of the way through Jeff’s arm had pressed against his own. Jeff was sitting on the right-hand side of him. Simon had both his arms resting on the armrests of his seat. As Heath Ledger’s and Jake Gyllenhaal’s characters were falling into their kind of romance he’d felt Jeff’s upper arm press against his own. Jeff also placed his arm on the armrest between them. Normally embarrassment would cause Simon to move his arm away when this happened, even if it was with someone he knew. But something made him keep his arm on that shared armrest. Was it because it was Jeff’s arm pressing against his? He suddenly found himself enjoying the presence of Jeff’s arm against his own.
Sometime later in the film, as the characters’ lives seemed to move further apart, Jeff’s forearm had pressed against his, and Simon had felt a rush of excitement. He was wearing a short sleeved shirt and Jeff had rolled up the sleeves of his own shirt, so that their naked forearms were now pressed together, skin against skin. He could feel the fine hairs on Jeff’s arm brushing against his own, the warmth of Jeff’s skin, and the slight movements of Jeff’s arm causing it to almost caress his own. It was so exciting and warm sitting like that. He could feel his cock swell with excitement inside his underwear, pressing against the material. He felt a blush of embarrassment prickling at the back of his neck. He shouldn’t be enjoying this contact the way he was, because he and Jeff were only friends. But he was enjoying it. And he was enjoying it far too much to move his arm away.
Later still in the film, when Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal’s characters took their last camping trip and went skinny dipping together (in another frustrating long shot), Jeff’s hand had closed over his own. Jeff’s hand just came to rest over his own hand. He hadn’t wanted to move his hand, even though he thought maybe he should. He was enjoying the warmth of Jeff’s hand, the pressure of it against his own, and the very slight movements of Jeff’s hand, which rested on top of his. They didn’t exactly hold hands, but it was still very exciting. He could feel his cock swelling with excitement. Part of him was enjoying this thrill but another part felt embarrassed, prickling embarrassment creeping up his neck and around his throat. He and Jeff were just friends, and yet he was getting so excited over this. He reckoned Jeff was probably being just friendly, same as he always was. He was always so free with his hugs and physical affection, but Simon was enjoying it too much to pull his hand away and end it all.
Max had never been this affectionate in the weeks he’d had been seeing him. The only times Max had been affectionate was when he wanted to have sex, which was every date, and then the affection was only to initiate sex, barely more than brief foreplay. In all the weeks he’d been seeing him, Max had never held his hand for this long. Jeff was just his friend and he was more affectionate than his so-called ex had ever been.
When the film ended, with the image of Heath Ledger’s character left all on his own in a mobile home park with only his dead lover’s old shirt for comfort, Jeff’s hand had discreetly slipped from his and his arm had retreated off their shared armrest. Simon had felt a moment of regret. He'd enjoyed their prolonged moment of affection. They were all getting ready to leave the cinema, so of course Jeff wouldn’t carry on holding his hand.
As he stood up from his seat, following Jeff, Vee and Freddie, he remembered his mum’s comments he’d overheard the night before. For the previous two hours or so he hadn’t thought about what she’d said. Her words had been replaying in his mind all day, dragging down his mood each time he remembered them. He still couldn’t believe his own mum had actually said that, and he didn’t know what to do about it. Her words just kept repeating themselves in his head. He gave his head a slight shake to try and shake those memories from it, and followed the others out of the cinema.
As they walked through the doors and into the foyer, Freddie loudly announced:
“I could kill a cup,” Vee said.
“I just want to drink mine,” Jeff replied.
“Ha, ha, funny boy,” Vee said.
Simon saw that the young woman was still sitting on her woollen chair in the foyer with the same bored expression painted across her face. When she heard Freddie’s announcement she rolled her eyes with an exasperated expression. Was she bored, he wondered, or was she being homophobic? Freddie couldn’t be “not gay”, even if he tried. But as he followed the others down the stairs he glanced back. She’d returned to reading her phone, that bored expression back on her face, with her body slumped down on her chair. More likely she was someone who just hated her job, he suspected.
They bought themselves sandwiches and drinks in the café below. Simon got himself a diet coke, not being able to face something as strong as coffee, and they sat down at one of the empty chrome and glass tables. As they sat around it, with their seating arrangements again arranged by Freddie, Simon found the chrome chair even more uncomfortable than the cinema seat. Why did people make uncomfortable chairs? What was the point of them?
“God, that was amazing. Even seeing it for the third time on the big screen, it’s still amazing,” Freddie announced.
“It looked so beautiful and stunning,” Vee agreed. “Ang Lee does know how to capture an image. Heath Ledger looked so beautiful, too.”
“Shame he kept mumbling his lines,” Jeff said.
“He could mumble my name any day,” Freddie said.
“You remember he’s dead, don’t you?” Jeff asked.
“Yes, of course I do, but a boy can dream, can’t he?”
“Anyway, he was mumbling because he was in character," explained Vee. "His character just couldn’t express himself. I think that’s what’s so sad about it all, how those two men weren’t able to really express how they felt.”
Simon began to pick at the corner of his chicken salad sandwich. He didn’t know how to join this conversation. He hadn’t enjoyed the film the way the others had, but he didn’t know how to say that.
“And the only time his character was able to express a deeply personal feeling was when he told that story of being shown the dead body of another gay man, by his own father, when he was just a kid,” Jeff said.
“And his father probably killed that gay man. So fucked up,” Vee added.
“And God, that ending,” Freddie said. “When Heath Ledger opens that wardrobe door and there’s his shirt and Jake Gyllenhaal’s one hanging one inside the other. God, it gets me every time.”
“What did you think of it?” Jeff asked, turning his attention to Simon.
“I… I…” He wanted to say he’d liked the film because they’d all wanted him to see it. But he didn’t want to lie to them.
“I didn’t like it.”
“Why?” Freddie’s voice was full of shock.
“What didn’t you like?” Vee asked, her face holding an expression of gentle concern.
“It was all so negative and depressing. Their relationship was so unhappy and doomed."
“But it’s set in the sixties, and in the Southern USA. It was so homophobic and bigoted then. It was reflecting that,” Jeff said.
“Yes, but why did they have to make a film about a gay couple set then?”
“Because that’s when the book was set, the one it was based on,” Vee said.
“It’s all so negative and depressing,” Simon continued. “Those two men loved each other but they were never together. They both got married to women but they were really unhappy and then one was queer bashed to death. It was all so sad and negative. They chose to make a film like that about two gay men. What does that say about how they see us? As sad and pathetic, who don’t deserve to be happy? The best we can hope for is to die alone, or else we’ll be queer bashed to death? I hated that. I hated what they thought about us by making that film. I don’t want to be like that.”
He stopped speaking there. Suddenly he had that feeling that he'd said too much again. They had wanted him to see this film. They'd been so good to include him in this trip to see it, and here he was pissing on their kindness. He bit down on his lip, as if he was able to silence himself.
“You won’t be like those two men, none of us will be. We can make sure we won’t be,” Vee quietly said.
“We’ve got so many opportunities that those men then didn’t have. We’ve come so far,” Jeff said.
“God, we’re here and openly talking about the film,” Vee added.
“Sorry, I just didn’t like what that film was saying. It was so depressing,” Simon told them.
“Maybe it wasn’t the best first gay film to see,” Freddie said. “Maybe we should have gone to see Call Me By Your Name.”
“And that film’s ending isn’t much better. It had me wanting Prozac,” Vee replied.
“Fuck me, I can’t win,” Freddie said.
“Maurice had a great ending. I loved its ending. It was so, fuck you to the homophobia back then,” Vee said.
“And fuck there was loads of male nudity, and full on,” Freddie gleefully added.
“Trust you to remember that,” Vee said.
“And it isn’t being shown anywhere. I don’t think it’s even been on the Film 4 channel in ages,” Jeff said.
“I’ll lend you my DVD of it. It’s amazing still,” Freddie said to Simon.
“And it jumps whenever it comes to any scene with any male nudity in it because Freddie has rewound and freeze-framed so many times at those scenes, he’s worn out those tracks,” Jeff said, smiling broadly.
“You bitch!” Freddie shouted back, but laughter plain in his voice.
“You can’t damage DVDs doing that. I’ve done it enough with my copy of Blue Is the Warmest Colour,” Vee said.
“What’s that film about?” Freddie asked.
“Two hot, French girls shagging a lot, I can’t be arsed reading the subtitles. I prefer Carol for lesbian lover story. And that one had a happy ending,” Vee said.
“I don’t know any of those films,” Simon said.
“We’ll have a gay film day at my home, one Saturday, and watch all these films together," suggested Jeff. "We’ll bring our favourite DVDs and watch them together. And we won’t be at the cinema so we can talk all through them.”
“I’m not watching Blue Is the Warmest Colour with you boys. It’s my special film,” Vee said.
“Too much information!” Freddie shrieked. “Now we need to concentrate on real life. Hades is two days away, and we need to find Simon a boyfriend.”
“What?” Simon said with surprise. Was Freddie going to set him up with someone he knew? Was he ready for it?
“Don’t panic,” Jeff said, “I’ll protect you from Aunty Freddie’s Matchmaking crap.”
“Aren’t you a Prince,” Freddie replied, sarcasm heavy in his voice.
You are, Simon thought as he quickly glanced at Jeff. But that thought made a flush of embarrassment rush up the back of his neck. God, could Freddie, Vee and Jeff see it, see his stupid behaviour?
“And I’ll protect you too,” Vee said. “So far Aunty Freddie has tried to set me up with two straight girls and one psycho ex-girlfriend. Not much of a track record.”
“I’ve got to get it right sometime, law of averages and all that shit,” Freddie laughed.
Simon smiled back at the other three and bit into his sandwich.
A big thank to Marty Cooke (@Marty) for all the hard work he has done proofreading and editing this story. Find out more about him at his profile here