TW: sexual harrassment, sexual misconduct
The woman stood at one end of the hall, in front of a flip chat, holding a ball of yellow wool.
‘I often think that being a parent is like learning to knit. When your baby is first born, you have an idea of what you want the finished cardigan to look like.’ She places the wool into the crook of her arm, and gazes lovingly at it. ‘And you start to knit, full of enthusiasm and following the pattern. After a few rows, you drop a stitch or two.’ She starts to pull the ball untidily apart. ‘Think of this, as those first few little hurdles, like when your baby refuses to try her first teaspoonful of solid food. You soon get back on track at this stage, unpick a few rows and reknit them.’ As the group leader addresses the parents, she continues pulling the wool in different directions, gradually reducing it to a bird nest mess. ‘But as time goes on, more and more stitches are dropped, and it becomes harder to retrieve the original pattern. It’s like this with our kids, as they get older, more and more things come into their lives: the advice of the neighbour down the road, they start nursery, they find friends and interests of their own. Until just like the knitting, you end up with a real muddle, but unlike your knitting, you can’t throw your children in a drawer and forget that you ever started.’ Laughter from the group. ‘There are quick fixes that you can try.’ At this point the group leader picks up a large pair of scissors and starts snipping at the tangle in her hands. ‘The naughty step’ Snip. ‘Time out.’ Snip. ‘Reward charts.’ Snip. ‘But if you really want to get back to your original pattern, or even make something different, it’s going to take time and patience.’
She’s got a cracking pair of pins for a woman of her age. It’s 7.00 pm on a February evening and Connor is sitting in the local community hall with eleven other people. There is one other lone man, two couples and six women. When he arrived three weeks ago for the ‘introductory session’, he had eagerly cast his eyes over this latter half dozen. There were two relatively attractive ladies, one young, blonde and slim, the other older, dark and curvaceous. The remaining four fell into Connor’s ‘grim category’, being either grubby, poorly turned out, overweight, pig ugly or a combination of these four attributes. There is a break midway between each session, for the attendees to partake of the free refreshments: lukewarm teas and coffees, supermarket sandwiches and own brand biscuits. Subsequently, during these fifteen minute intervals, Connor has made a point of casually chatting to the two ‘possibilities’, and discovered that one is a lesbian, and the other’s husband was at home with their children, whilst she attended this parenting programme.
The hall smells of sweaty plimsolls and disinfectant. The group’s attendees sit on chairs, which have stained upholstery and splits where the foam spills out, like road kill in the gutter. The walls are emulsioned prison grey and adorned with notices demanding that nothing be affixed to them. The floor is covered with hog bristle carpet tiles. The parents sit around in a roughly oval formation, with the programme’s two facilitators at opposite ends, facing each other with their easels of oversized paper and marker pens. They are smart, middle aged, middle class women trying their best to enthuse their audience with their dedication to the joy of parenting and the cause of non-violent discipline.
Connor is 35 years old, handsome, intelligent and possesses fine social skills. Tonight, he is dressed in Ted Baker jeans, a fine linen white shirt and black leather jacket. He stares around him with the air of someone who hopes that everyone is aware that he should not be there. His solicitor suggested that he should enrol on the programme, when his (Connor’s) ex –wife, Cheryl suddenly withdrew all unsupervised contact with his children. The solicitor advised that, when the matter returns to the Family Court, the judge would look favourably upon Connor’s case, if he demonstrated his commitment to fatherhood by attending this twelve week course. Not that Connor believed that Cheryl had any real cause to doubt this. He felt that this was yet another vitriolic twist of the knife from an embittered woman.
When they separated nearly three years ago, Connor had been forced to leave his children and their mother in the family home. Fortunately, he earnt a good income as an estate agent, which, along with his knowledge of the property market and his contacts had enabled him to purchase a down at heel, end of terrace town house in a neighbouring town. Emotionally and financially the breakdown of his marriage had cost Connor dear. He was determined to recoup at least his financial losses, and so had set about converting the top floor of his new home into a bedsit, to be used as a holiday let. Money was tight, and if there was one thing that Connor had plenty of, it was confidence. Although a little dilapidated the house was structurally sound, and he felt sure that with a coat of paint, a cheap carpet and some charity shop purchases, the second storey could be made presentable enough for short term lets. Additionally, he realised that his income would be maximised if he also rented out a bedroom on the first floor. After all, he figured that this would leave him one bedroom, and all of the ground floor for his own use. Within months, photos of the bedsit and bedroom appeared on holiday letting websites. Connor purposely kept the rent towards the lower end of the market. He was aware that his refurbishments were far from high end interior decoration. He wanted to ensure that the space was regularly occupied, and also that he did not receive complaints regarding occupants’ standards not being met.
The first few holiday makers came and went without event. They were mostly walkers, who only wanted somewhere to sleep. Connor limited his interactions with these temporary occupants to a brief initial show around when they first arrived, an offer of his availability to share his local knowledge if needed, and then as they left a warm handshake and retrieval of his key. In truth, he enjoyed the feeling of other people being in the house. Occasionally, he would receive a knock on his living room door, and a boarder would lurk in the doorway, to ask where the nearest takeaway was, or was there a regular bus service to the next city. By nature, he was a gregarious sort, and so found these interactions pleasant, and gave him an opportunity to use his local knowledge.
Things were set to change. The sleeping area of the bedsit was situated directly over Connor’s bedroom. One night, he was woken by the unmistakable sounds of the current occupants making love. As the rhythmic creaking of the holiday maker’s bed increased in speed, so did the volume of their moans and cries of ecstasy. As he listened, Connor felt himself harden in response, until he gripped himself with his right hand, matched his movements to the sounds above, and bought himself to a climax at the same time as the couple above did. From that night on, he began to consciously listen for any signs of sexual activity from the room above, and became a third participant in several couples’ intimate relations.
At around the same time, Connor also noticed that there was a large vertical crack down one side of the second bedroom’s door. One evening, as he crossed the house’s communal landing to the shared bathroom, he realised that he could clearly see the room’s latest resident through the fissure. He soon added this to his night time routine of ‘titillation’. If the second bedroom was let out to a female, he would wait until they returned back for the evening, and then lurk outside their room in the hope of catching a glimpse of them undressing. On several occasions, he was caught standing on the landing. The bedroom door would suddenly swing open, but he simply apologised and said ‘Oh sorry, I thought you’d finished in the bathroom. You go first, then give me a knock when I can go in.’
If Connor’s voyeuristic occupations had remained at this level, perhaps he would have continued undetected. However, one evening he glimpsed one particularly attractive young woman undressing. She denuded herself of a pretty, matching white lace brief and bra set, to reveal pert dark nippled breasts and a neatly trimmed triangle of pubic hair. It reminded Connor of the early days of his marriage to Cheryl, when she would slowly and tantalisingly undress for him, as he lay in bed watching. The following morning, after the woman left for a tour of the town’s abbey, he crept into her room. She had laid her discarded underwear over the back of a chair. He had only meant to look at it, and feel the softness of its fabric, but almost unconsciously he found himself back in his own room, secreting her bra into the dark recess of a drawer.
Over the next few months, there followed many forays into the visitors’ rooms in their absence. Connor explained it to himself as having a healthy curiosity about sex. He would carefully sort through his visitors’ belongings: looking at underwear, feeling the material and sniffing worn knickers. He often found contraceptives; several times he found sex toys, which he would examine with interest. Usually, he left everything as he found it, but occasionally if he found some pungent smelling panties, or a usually pretty bra, he would ferret it away in his secret hiding place. On these occasions, it would amuse him to listen as victims turned their rooms upside down searching for the missing item.
Gradually, these ‘little adventures’ became commonplace, and so Connor began to seek new thrills. He discovered that when all the house’s lights were turned out, it was possible to creep, undetected up the second flight of stairs and peer through the gloom into the bedsit. From this vantage point, and if he had detected the preliminary overtures of lovemaking, he could watch a couple’s act in its entirety. He did have one close shave: he had assumed his position of kneeling on the stairs, with the top of his head and eyes just above the second floor’s carpet, when the bedside was suddenly flicked on, and the large, naked male occupant leapt out, shouting.
‘What the fuck d’you think you’re doing?’
‘Sorry sir, looking for my cat. Thought she’d crept up here.’
‘Well, it ain’t fuckin’ here. Now bugger off.’
The couple checked out prematurely the next morning. For a few weeks, Connor curtailed his activities, but gradually they resumed until they returned to their previous levels.
It was during Connor’s second season in the holiday rental industry that, disaster struck. One Tuesday, he stopped at the local garage to fill his car up on the way to work. Beside the door, which leads into the shop with the payment tills, was a newspaper stand. One headline caught Connor’s eye ‘Pervy Towers.’ He suppressed a small grin of wry amusement, and slipped the paper from its holder. As the sheet unravelled, his smile changed to a look of horror. Beneath the large, bold font of the headline were several pictures: one was a grainy shot of the top of a man’s head looking into a room at floor level, another was a clear shot of an eyeball looking through a crack, and the third was a selection of underwear laid out on a bed. He refolded the paper, hurriedly continued into the shop and paid for it and his petrol. Once back in his car, he headed for home. Screeching to a halt outside his front door, he leapt out of the car, slammed its door shut behind him, fumbled with his house keys, opened the door, entered and rapidly took the stairs two at a time to his room. Beads of sweat were on his forehead, his underarms and the crotch of his too tight trousers felt damp. Frantically, he pulled out the drawer where he kept his secret stash of stolen underwear hidden. As he feared – everything was gone!
Sinking slowly back to sit on the edge of his bed, Connor again unfolded the paper. This time, he examined the pictures more carefully: the eyeball could be anyone’s, the grainy picture could be anyone, and most women possess a similar collection of underwear. He went on to read the report, it began:
‘Perverted landlord and estate agent, Connor Cummings gets his kicks from secretly watching young girls undressing, and couples making love in his holiday accommodation. Our undercover reporters recorded the sleazy voyeur spying on his unsuspecting paying guests, and found a stash of personal items that he’d stolen from hard up holiday makers…’ He couldn’t read anymore, he dropped the paper, and slumped forward holding his head in his hands. Whilst, he could argue that the photographs were nothing to do with him, he would be unlikely to win a challenge against the reporters’ written statements.
The first piranha to take a bite was his boss, who telephoned him and told him that with immediate effect he was fired. The next in the shoal to join the feeding frenzy, was Cheryl who rang him, shouting and ranting, asking ‘what did he think that this would do to his two children?’, and saying that even if she would ‘trust a warped deviant like him alone with her children, she couldn’t be sure that they’d be safe from attacks from the public whilst out with him.’ People who had known him since school days walked by him in the street, his house was egged; even his own mother sat and cried and said that she would ‘die of shame.’
Connor sought legal advice, but that costs, so now his home, the scene of the debauchery, needed to be sold. His solicitor advised that with regards to his employment, there might be grounds to argue that it was unfair dismissal, but it was likely that Connor’s behaviour would be seen as ‘gross misconduct.’ He found this difficult to understand, as none of his offences related to his job, but then the solicitor explained that theft and inappropriate sexual conduct from someone who is entering peoples’ homes would be enough to prevent them from passing a DBS check. There was the added consideration for his employer that, continuing to employ Connor would lose the company business. Similarly, Connor was mystified by Cheryl’s reaction, his sexual preferences in no way impacted on his ability to be a father to his children. In fact, she had partly relented and now allowed him to see the children at either set of grandparents’ homes, but he was not allowed to be alone with them, or take them out.
To use the wool metaphor: Connor’s life had been a garment of the finest angora wool, but by choosing to mix in some uncarded, sheep’s wool, he had spoiled the look of the item and put unnecessary strain on every piece of it, to the extent that it was now in danger of unravelling completely.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.