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The Emancipation of Gordon Spanner
Sharon Boyle

It was on the morning of his first birthday that Gordon Spanner began to act oddly.
   Mary, his devoted and dim mother, picked him out the cot and crooned soft wishes through his tufty hair.
   ‘Who’s the most beautiful baby that ever lived?’
   Gordon veered his blue gaze towards her and replied calmly, ‘I am’.
   Mary’s eyes widened. She stood gawping at her plump-ball of delight and then bolted upstairs to the bedroom with Gordon clamped to her side.
   ‘John! Gordon can speak. On his birthday, too.’
   Her husband’s form shifted under the covers. ‘Let me guess. Was it “mama”?’
   ‘No, it was “I am”. The words “I am”. He was answering a question.’
   Of course he was, thought John, yawning.
   After showering, John trotted downstairs to see Mary looming over Gordon’s highchair, enunciating ‘ma-ma’. He was in time to hear    Gordon say ‘Mother’ beautifully and well.
   ‘Did you hear that, John? That’s a proper word,’ Mary cried. ‘He’s going to be clever.’
When John returned from work that evening he caught Mary trying to coax a da-da from Gordon who was having none of it and insisting on Father.
   On seeing the man in question, Gordon smiled and chirruped, ‘Father, how nice to see you.’
Both parents froze. Sausages popped in the pan as they stared in astonishment, Mary thinking of her son’s brilliance and John wondering where the hell it came from.
   Each day after, Gordon vomited forth a bellyful of new words. The strangeness of it all was that his accent was elevated, softer and of a clearer timbre than his parents. He had somehow sailed over their thick haar and smashed consonants to arrive at the style of an early-days BBC newsreader.
   ‘He’s a bit bloody posh, ain’t he?’ stated Uncle Harry, after listening to Gordon’s views on the snack served up at the Baby and Toddlers group that day. ‘And precocious. He’s not natural.’ Uncle Harry liked to speak candidly and the more extreme his views, the more candidly he spoke.

Gordon’s second birthday was celebrated at the kitchen table with fish and chips from the local chippy. Gordon and Mary were perched at the table – Mary icing a chocolate extravaganza of a cake and Gordon organising the smarties into a G. John walked in from work.
   Gordon licked some icing off his fingers as he scrutinised John. ‘Oh, it’s you, Father. I thought it must have been Weary Willie, the state of you.’
   The diction was flawless and the fledgling sarcasm spot on, an accomplishment that went unappreciated by John who stood in the doorway holding the pokes of fish and chips and agog at being likened to the town drunk.

At the age of six, when picnicking in the local park, Gordon’s eyes trailed the movements of the warden collecting litter.
   ‘It must be terrible to do that. Picking up dirty things. Why is he doing that, Father?’
   John did a handsome job of explaining how the working class should earn a rightful wage, and take pride in it, no matter how demeaning the task. ‘Like me, for example. I sit at a desk doing hard sums and if my sums are correct then Big Boss Lady gives me enough money for food and a holiday to Scarborough.’
   Gordon swivelled a pair of hard eyes up to his father. He had found the speech coarse, but worse, he thought the sentiment distasteful. ‘You do witter on.’ For the next few months he christened his father John the Yawn, much to the glee of Uncle Harry.
Each morning Gordon took to observing John leaving the house with a pressed shirt and middling mood and returning ten hours later, a lone line of greyness stooping under the glow of the lampposts. (For years Gordon supposed his mother switched them on so his father could find his way home. She did everything else for him.)
   ‘How was work, Father?’
   ‘Fine. Same as yesterday.’
   ‘Are you boss yet?’
   ‘No, I’m what’s called middle management, we’ve discussed this before.’
   ‘But that was last week. Don’t you want to be in charge of everyone and not do dull stuff?’ Gordon was maddened by his father’s complacency.
   John was maddened by his son’s depressing questions. ‘Christ, son, it’s me who does the dull stuff, as you call it. If nobody did the dull stuff where would we be? We can’t all be boss.’
Not you, thought Gordon, but I can. With determination as obtusely strong as his, he knew he would never heel to Big Boss Lady. He understood the way out for him, the way to escape from his colourless and unremarkable world, was education. He glued himself to textbooks and frequented the library so often that the librarian, a pudding-faced besom who cosseted the books as if she had written them herself, was irritated enough to consider banning him.
   Gordon also irritated Uncle Harry who harped and bristled on each visit.
   ‘Watches too much bloody television. Takes after those snooty presenters with their la-di-dah voices.’ Uncle Harry glared at his nephew who sat cross-legged, playing solitaire chess.
   ‘Shoosh, now. He’s got ears,’ mumbled Mary, her head bowed into the ironing.
   ‘Pr’haps he’s queer. He sounds like a queer.’
   Mary stopped ironing. Now there was a possibility. Had something gone amiss in the womb? Was Gordon growing up to be homosexual?
   The notion their son might be a mincing, lisping lightweight tormented Mary and John. After many fretful nights of hard discussion they vowed to purge all sissy nonsense by dragging Gordon to football, either to play, where he was to excel at crunching into opponents, or to watch, where he enjoyed effing and blinding with the other spectators, albeit in tidier grammar.
No, homosexuality was not the problem. It was Nana Betty who sniffed out the truth on the day an eleven year old birthday-boy Gordon requested horse riding lessons, ‘Or an annual membership for Hound and Hare.’
‘Jesus Christ, he’s fricken’ upper class,’ stated Nana Betty in disbelief, rocking out of her slouch on the settee and trying to spit off the words from her tongue. Case solved. It made sense instantly: Gordon’s passion for grammar; a severe bent towards anything regal or tweed; an interest in violent sports. Mary and John, a stolid working class couple with no intention of straying from their rung on the ladder, had given birth to aristocracy.
   ‘I suppose we should be relieved we know what’s wrong with him,’ mooched Mary, ‘But what is the cure?’
   ‘There’s no bleedin’ cure, Mary, love,’ cried John, thinking if he was a woman he would at this moment be bubbling into a hanky.
   They could do nothing but watch as the taint of superiority swarmed over their son like a virulent birthmark. The bottom of their Parent’s Love Barrel was scraped daily for forced resolution.
   ‘We’ve brought him up for eleven years and managed,’ Mary uttered, sitting in the coffee-coloured front room sewing a button onto one of John’s work shirts. ‘We shall protect our son from the bullies. We shall protect him from those that snigger, whatever the cost shall be.’
   ‘He goes up to the big school in August, Mary. They’ll tear him apart,’ John snapped his newspaper. ‘I would take away all his brightness and brilliance if he were just a normal boy. He’s my son, but dear God, what a trial he is.’
   But Gordon was not torn apart at the big school. His excellence and brutality at football saved him from the persecution of the hormonally charged boys. His sweet manners and looks attracted the feral girls, and his dedication to studying won over the teachers. The only problem person was Stuart Morton: Patron Saint of Bullies.
   ‘Oh, look, it’s Poof-finder General,’ Stuart would sneer in the corridor behind Gordon. ‘Find any poofs to bum bash, you fag?’ And then he’d push his flat pancake face right into Gordon’s. He wouldn’t actually hit Gordon as he knew of Gordon’s demon slide football tackles, but the threat was always there.
   Gordon suffered these jibes with polite, good grace but back home he would treat himself to an evening of cutting out photographs from Country Life magazines and collaging them into dream lifestyles.
   ‘One day I shall be like you. No, not like, I will be you,’ he told a debonair rider, bracing for a jump.
   And that day came closer when Gordon stepped through the portals of an elite university. He almost sobbed on hearing his own magnificent, strangled vowels drip from the mouths of other students – students whose teeth had never had occasion to chew their way through a battered sausage from the local chippy.
   I shall stalk and charm these students, thought Gordon. I shall smoke pot till dizzy and drink till politically adept.
Sex, too, was more thrilling, for who could fail to orgasm with someone who knew how to say, ‘Shall I go on top?’ in Received Pronunciation?
   ‘He’s got worse,’ sniffed Uncle Harry during the holidays. ‘It’s like he’s got a rod up his arse. We never had the chance of going to bloody yooni.’
   Perhaps he believes stupidity and hardship should be congenital, fumed Gordon, who appeared to be lying flop-haired and easy on the settee, smoking a cigarette. In reality he yearned to be out and away from the pig-shit shade of wallpaper and the uncle-creature who sat condemning in the corner.
   ‘D’you see the way he ponces about with that fag? All airs and graces and wafting all over the place.’ Uncle Harry pranged his own cigarette between puce-coloured lips and sucked hard.
   As intended, Gordon heard these comments and winced, but not because of his uncle’s views, rather because of his diction.‘Waafting’ instead of ‘wofting’?
   Gordon survived the long break and breached the university gates like a drowning swimmer gasping for air. He sought out his roommate: Hugh Featherstone, of the speckled forehead and prim pointed nose.
   ‘God, Hugh, that break was interminable. My family is awful. Does that sound snobbish? I’d hate to be thought of as a snob.’
   ‘Oh, I wouldn’t,’ laughed Hugh. ‘I am and love being a snob. Made it into an art form. I too have an awful family. Like pissed sheep with woolly brains. Except my sis, she’s all right. Has complete disdain for anyone who resides below the line of the Better Bred. Simply doesn’t see their purpose, unless they’re wearing a uniform.’
   ‘You must introduce me.’
   Hugh lolled on the chair by the window of their room. ‘I shall and soon.’ He lit a cigarette. Once a column had grown, he casually dipped a hand and tapped the ash onto the carpet. Gordon had never thought to flick ash onto a carpet. His mother’s eyes would have popped out of her permed head at such a sight. I must sever those parental ties, he promised himself.

‘No, Mother, I have to finish this essay. If I don’t I may be expelled.’ He knew the idea terrified his parents and for two whole terms they left him in peace. At the end of the Easter holidays, as he was writing at his desk, the door opened and Hugh appeared, light shining behind his glorious thin, red hair.
   ‘Good God, are you actually studying? I thought that was a ruse.’ Hugh clasped his long fingers to his heart. ‘Stop at once. I’ve brought someone to see you.’
   Gordon rubbed his eyes and looked up. A Rubenesque beauty was holding forth an elegant hand. His heart crunched in adoration.
Hugh gave a lordly sweep of his hand. ‘Meet Miranda. The only member of my family not to be mentally or physically unsound, gibberingly doolally or deviant.’
   ‘Oh, you’re the deviant one, Hugh,’ trilled this Miranda-wonder.
   Lust oozed within Gordon and only innate charm prevented him from gushing like an American. Miranda was a fleshier, pinker, gigglier version of Hugh. If a young Gordon had collaged his ideal woman from magazines, Miranda Featherstone would have been the result.
   Gordon shadowed her, determined to grind into her china white bones and then demand her hand in marriage. After their first time sleeping together he stated, ‘You shall marry me.’
   ‘I must have been good,’ laughed Miranda.
   She had been. Her thighs were rock solid from years of riding and he had had to wrestle her into submission.
  The wedding date was set for one year after graduation. Gordon would have been delirious with success were it not for the unavoidable meeting of the parents. He had so far fenced Miranda and Hugh’s queries regarding the Spanner family but now it was showtime. And what a circus-led fiasco it would be. The thought made him sick. He decided on trickery. The wrong time was printed on the Spanner invites and when the clan eventually huffed and puffed through the doors of Lord and Lady Featherstone’s grand estate, the actual ceremony was over. Lady Featherstone stared open-mouthed at the Spanners’ knicker-high outfits, and was that really someone wearing Army fatigues? Uncle Harry and Hugh spent the wedding meal eyeing up one another in plain disgust.
‘Good God, does that man actually share your DNA?’ asked Hugh over a shared cigarette. ‘He’s been glaring at me and muttering the word ‘poofter’ for the last two hours.’
   The evening consisted of both families keeping to their trenches on either side of the ballroom. Uncle Harry hissed out obscenities through barred teeth and Mary and John didn’t dare violate the dance floor. The night was as flat as the non-alcoholic drinks served up by the Featherstones after Gordon had insisted his family were strict temperance folk. At eleven o’clock the Spanners fled from the mansion in search of the nearest pub and the Featherstones broke out the champagne.
   ‘Perhaps you were switched at birth, darling,’ suggested a stunned Miranda.
   ‘I don’t belong to them, but they just won’t let go,’ sighed Gordon.
   But six months later a chink of freedom appeared.

Gordon was returning from a rugby bash and happened to be driving through his old town with a fiercely full bladder. He stopped the Range Rover and hurried into a pub. The gentle click of pool balls and sharp mix of sweat and beer greeted his frantic entrance. Toilet duty done, he was making his way out when a voice shouted over, ‘Fuck sake, if it’s not ponce boy Gordo.’
   Gordon chilled at the greeting. It was Stuart Morton, stuffed into a booth and surrounded by wan-faced cronies. It was amazing the ravages a few years could make: crusted skin, mottled teeth and the sneers and leers sagging that bit lower.
   ‘Stuart. What a treat,’ Gordon clenched out.
   One of Stuart’s number creaked out of the booth and stood in front of Gordon, his fusty breath rolling in and out.
   ‘Fucking treat, my arse,’ croaked Stuart. ‘Think you can slime your way into my pub and slime your way back out?’
   Gordon stayed silent.
   ‘Slopped off to some high fallutin’ yooniversity and now think we’re not good enough to kiss your backside.’ Stuart’s glottal stops hadn’t improved.
   Gordon braced himself and then smoothly said, ‘You’ve never been good enough to kiss anyone’s backside, Stuart. You are a cunt.’
   The ‘c’ was like cracked ice and the ‘t’ a crisp and clean finish. There was a moment’s silence while everyone stiffened. Stuart blinked, trying to reshuffle the words around, wondering if Gordon had indeed been stupid enough to insult him. Once this was processed, he launched across the table, intent on extracting a pound of elitist flesh. Gordon did lash back but this only brought forth the other yobs.
   As he went down in the scrum, Gordon caught a squint of a patron at another table. It was his father, bone white and dumbstruck, and the squint had been long enough to see his father bend deep behind a newspaper.
   Gordon relaxed and let himself be crushed; knowing that any claim from his colourless and unremarkable previous life had just been puffed into the ether and was now falling around him like tickertape.