7 comments

Black LGBTQ+ Contemporary

Reedston. Population 100. Reedston (said ‘Reston’, obviously) is a backwater corner of bumfuck nowhere, lost in the rolling hills of forgotten arable farmland. If Reedston was a spice, it would be flour.

I left because I’d taken a trip to the Big City by accident. I’d been terrified, at first, regretting my decision to run away from home. But I’d done so anyway, because I, Evangeline Gabriel Thompson, was a tetchy hormonal fifteen-year-old, and I read books and ate snacks in bed even though mum told me not to. It took 30 minutes of panic to arrive in York.

I felt like I was in some kind of futuristic novel my dad had on the shelves in his office. What future was there, outside of our small village? Outside of the same hundred people even? That was the problem with Reedston. Everyone knew everyone. In York, the huge, boundless city, it became clear that no-one knew anyone. No-one knew me, for sure. People walked around speaking into something handheld, some were playing on handheld devices. There were big screens, huge things that lit up the entire square I found myself in. I loved it.

I soon learned that smartphones were actually a huge part of life, and that they weren’t just for calling. I’d never seen anyone in Reedston with a smartphone. We all had house phones, and we all knew each other’s numbers. I learned about motorbikes, the internet, celebrities… all of it was like a drug.

But I also saw people. Different people. I saw brown skinned people, olive-skinned people, people with accents so strong I could barely recognise the English. I saw two men kissing and felt repulsed, for some reason. Was that normal?! I heard languages, too. I didn’t recall the UK speaking any other official languages, but then there was so much I didn’t know, it was entirely possible that we had indeed adopted… whatever that beautiful, melodic language was. I stayed for hours, listening, watching, learning, absorbing it all. I had questions, endless questions. The world was so much bigger than I was, apparently! Suddenly, it was dark outside, and I had to go home on the same bus I’d come in on. I hadn’t a clue where it was, though, until an elderly couple helped me out.

My parents were furious when I told them what I’d done. They swore death on me if I ever left Reedston again… I was given the example of my rotten Aunt Miriam, who’d left Reedston to live ‘down there, with the other soft Southerners’, because she was better than all of us. I knew my mum spoke to her sister weekly, but I never got the gossip. No-one did. No-one in the village knew what had happened to Miriam, but my next plan was already in motion.

I very quickly understood that my parents had kept me cut off from the world. Reedston folk didn’t go outside of Reedston. The local farmer supplied all one-hundred-ish people with fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, milk, cheese. Most people didn’t have a TV, since the average age was over fifty. The local primary school had three teachers and only twelve students, so education wasn’t really a priority. The secondary school was run by the local church, too, so I was grass-fed religious nonsense. The next step for me would be to join my mother’s seamstress business, and take it over so I could continue to make clothing for the next generation of airheads, and keep the cycle going. I’d ruined all that by calling my Aunt Miriam.

“London! Come on down, Eva, I’ll send you a train ticket in the post and you can come see what it’s like. There’s an open day at the local college. We can see what you’d like.”

So, my aunt sent me a train ticket in the post, and I hopped onto the train in York with my clothes in the biggest bag I could find, and I left. I attended the local college for two years, and somehow scraped the grades to get into university. Being surrounded by other students of all colours, races, creeds, backgrounds… it hit home that I’d been raised in a literal cult town. A pocket universe so off-grid that I found myself in the middle of a rather heated attack from someone for asking where they were actually from, because they were black. I know. I didn’t understand, though. College was an eye-opener, but I still hadn’t met any black folk. I was forgiven because I’d grown up in a cult town, and I’d apologised and asked questions and taken it all in.

And then… then I met Gracie. Gracie, who made my mouth dry and my insides funny. Gracie, whose smile knotted my throat and made my faculties desert me. Gracie, who made my heart race and my palms sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy (I learned my pop culture references, too). Gracie was gorgeous. She had flawless dark skin, inherited from her Barbadian parents, deep brown eyes which gleamed and seemed to take on a whole new depth when the sun caught them just right… and her hair was thick, raven black, and she usually wore it in a topknot. She was known on campus as Rihanna, because my god she was as stunning as her… and she was mine. Still is.

Meeting Gracie in my Linguistics class had been the worst day of my life. I hadn’t known how to process being gay until I’d been faced with it. The vicar had told us that if we were gay (and I’m paraphrasing here), we’d die in the fiery pits of hell. But here I was. It got worse when she opened her fucking mouth and cracked a deadpan joke that made me inhale half a bottle of water and exhale it forcefully all over my new notebook. She’d watched me, laughed melodically.

That was it. I was hooked on her.

We became a couple the first party we went to together. It was a linguistics society dinner. She’d joked about us going with each other, and that thought did things to my heart that I almost didn’t recover from. I still battled with guilt and shame of it all. She held the attention of the table, and she held my attention too. She asked earnestly about my family, and sympathised. I’d had a lot of wine, so my tongue was loose enough that I said if only she were gay, then she’d be everything my parents seemed to hate in the world: non-whites, gays, and immigrants.

“Well, lucky for you I check all of those boxes.” Gracie looked at me over her wine glass. She held my gaze just a touch too long.

“I felt my cheeks heat up. Gracie, in her usual charming way, leaned in closer.

“And I think you check the only one you can.”

“What’s that?” I barely whispered.

“Kiss me, Eva.” And I did. I kissed her, and it was like electric coursing through my entire body. The noise drained away, fireworks lit up the inside of me, and my entire skin trembled. I expected the world to be staring at me, livid. I expected horns to have sprouted from Gracie’s chic low-bun hairstyle. I expected the room to be on fire, because I’d actually gone to hell… but the party was going on. Gracie, hornless, was smiling at me, her fingers linked in mine. Her hand was manicured, her nails a pretty midnight blue to match her accessories. Mine didn’t look worthy to be held in a hand that beautiful. My ripped hangnails, dry skin, ratty cuticles… Gracie was put-together and well-turned-out. I still dressed like my parents had picked out my clothes, because I didn’t understand fashion. But Gracie didn’t seem to care one jot. In her words, to this day even, I smell good and I make her laugh. She doesn’t need me to be more than that.

There’s a reason I’m telling you all of this. My father was dying, and I had to go see him. I couldn’t in good conscience let him die without seeing him. It’s been five years since I saw either my mother or father. Gracie and I have been together for three years, the whole of our degree course. Gracie wanted to meet my family, to see where I grew up. I’ve told her no, that there’s nothing there for her, that she’ll be stoned out of the place… but she wouldn’t hear it. So, we took a train up to York from London, and then a bus to Reedston. We had a hotel in York, because I knew there was no chance my parents would let a black gay person stay in their home for longer than necessary, never mind a full night. When we stepped off the bus, Gracie took in a big deep breath of air and smiled.

“It smells like summer, Eva.”

“It smells like trapped souls and small-mindedness.”

“Eh, same thing.” She charged on forward, humming a tune to herself.

Gracie held my hand as we walked through the rows of neat cottages. The curtains twitched. Doors started to open. Behind us, despite Gracie’s enthusiasm for how sweet everything looked, older couples stood and watched us.

A small child dropped her little toy rabbit, and her mother didn’t see. She started to cry, and Gracie walked over, picked up the rabbit, and jogged to catch up.

“Here you go, sweetie,” she said softly, dusting the rabbit off. She crouched down, the girl’s eyes huge with fear and wonder.

“Thank you,” she whispered. The mother looked disgusted.

“Can I help you?!” Her tone was sharp. Mrs Peyton was a severe woman, short and stout, with highly conservative views.

“She dropped her little rabbit,” Gracie smiled. “And no little rabbit should be without her best friend.” The little girl snuggled her rabbit, and then wrapped her arms around Gracie’s thighs. Gracie bent down and hugged her properly. By this point, half the village had come out to see what the fuss was. People were whispering. The village hated it.

“We have somewhere to be.”

“Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to keep you. Enjoy, everyone!” Gracie didn’t acknowledge the venom in Mrs Peyton’s voice. Nor did she bristle as I did at the cutting racist remark that came from the woman’s lips.

“Come, Gracie. It’s going to get nasty.” I tried to pull her away from the fountain in the middle of the square, as more people came. And the chattering got louder, but Gracie pretended not to hear the comments about her skin, or possible relations to various animals. I felt sick. “Gracie, please let’s go.”

Eventually, we meandered along the paths, followed by a mob of residents who lacked pitchforks and torches. We arrived outside my parents’ house, and the chattering turned to me.

“I always knew she was a queer fish, that one!”

Gracie turned to me, and smiled. She kissed me. “Love you.” I swear one of our fans swooned.

“Love you too. Let’s go meet my shitshow family.” I held her hand, and we made our way down the quaint garden path. I hadn’t even raised my hand to knock when the door opened, and my mum stood there. She froze when Gracie grinned at her.

“Hi, mum,” I said softly.

Mum ushered us in, if only to remove the spectacle from her doorstep. She closed it quietly. There was a moment of silence so thick, you could cut it with a knife. I felt so uncomfortable. Gracie was looking around the place with her usual sparkle.

“You didn’t tell me you were bringing a… a friend.” I could see the vomit rise in her throat.

“I did, actually.” I sniffed. Gracie took my hand and smiled at my mum. “Mum, this is Gracie.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you!” Gracie said brightly.

“I’m sure.” Mum eyed our hands and paled. “Your father won’t be happy about this.”

“I’m not entirely sure you’re happy about it, either.”

“I’m not. We don’t have… your kind… around here…” mum struggled with the words. “It’s hard enough with your father in the state he’s in, Evangeline. Don’t put this on him too.”

“What?”

“You know what.”

“Spell it out for me.”

“It’ll kill him.”

I looked at Gracie. She’d been mature enough to ignore the cutting remarks and vile comments on the way here… I had a lot to learn from her strength.

“Alright.” I looked at her. “Gracie is a part of my life, mum. She’s excited to be here.”

“It’s a beautiful place, Mrs Thompson. Eva described it to me and didn’t do it justice.”

“I’m surprised Evangeline could bear to speak about the place. Seeing as she was so desperate to run away from us.” My mother, despite herself, held her tongue further. “You didn’t bring bags?”

“No. We have a hotel in York.” She relaxed visibly at this. I felt better knowing I’d made the right choice.

“Right. Yes. Good. Good. Tea? Do you know tea, Gracie?”

“Of course I do, Mrs Thompson.” Gracie followed my mother through to the kitchen, and I closed my eyes.

“Good. Yes. Quite.”

An hour ticked by and Gracie got the usual hospitality offered by my mother to even her worst enemy, because despite everything, appearances had to be upheld – and it wouldn’t do for Gracie’s parents to have been more gracious than my mother. My father, on the other hand, wasn’t so polite when he came down. His frame was frail and thin, bony, his skin pallid and grey.

“Where are you from, then?” he asked as gruffly as he could. Mum set a bowl of soup in front of him. Solids were off the menu, apparently. Gracie and I were treated to a hearty stew, which hit me with nostalgia.

“I was born in Leicester, but my parents moved to London when my dad changed jobs.” Gracie took a slice of thick, freshly-baked white bread loaded with butter, and dabbed it into the stew juices.

“What do your parents do?”

“My mum’s a teacher, and over the summer holidays she volunteers at the local women’s shelter, teaching the poorer kids. My dad’s a surgeon.” My father nearly choked.

“Surgeon?!”

“Yes. A brain surgeon. He’s good at it, but it’s stressful for him, and long hours.”

“Oh.” The table fell quiet. I swallowed my food.

“I met Gracie’s parents in my first year at uni, actually. They’re lovely people!”

“You’ve been friends a while, then?”

“Five years, now. We live together.”

“In London? In the same house?”

“Yeah, dad. In London, same house. We have done for some years now.”

“Right…” he eyed us. Mum looked at me pointedly. It said Don’t kill him before his time. I agreed.

“I graduated this summer, actually. I was hoping you’d both come along.”

“I’m in no state to travel.” My father didn’t look happy, but it wasn’t anger, either. “What did you get?”

“A first class,” I smiled. “Bachelor of Arts, first class honours in language and linguistics.”

“And you, Grace?”

“The same, Mr Thompson. We both did extremely well! And we’re looking at Masters programmes for the next year, too.”

“It’s Gracie, dad. And she’s right, we are.”

“Hmm. Well, well done.” He wasn’t one for education. “I suppose you’re like all them other nonces now, aren’t you?”

“Dad…”

“It’s true. The liberal lot. I’m surprised you’re not one of them gays.” My mum choked on a potato. “Sorry, love. I was expecting that. No place for it here. I’m glad you still have some sense in you.” I felt truly sick now. Gracie looked down. She understood now. She got it. We remained silent while my father went on a tirade of how disgusting ‘the gays’ were, but the presence of a person of colour at the table made him refrain from his usual casual racism.

By the end of the afternoon, I wanted to leave and never come back. Gracie was still interested in seeing the rest of the village, though, and so as the summer sun set, I took her to my old haunts. The creek, with its old decking. The duckless duck pond. The churchyard, with the oldest graves I’d ever seen. The strawberry fields. The pub, where we had a short drink before five older men shouted us out of the place. The entire village was milling around us, staring.

“Where did you come from?”

“Why are you so dark?”

“Do you speak English?”

“Where did you actually come from?”

“What are you doing over here?”

“It’s not natural, being that way. I always knew you were a broken child, Eva.”

“Alien. Absolutely alien. I don’t know why you’ve fetched her here, there’s no place for either of you.”

“Go back where you come from!”

When it came time to take the bus back to York, Gracie and I were both silent from the shock.

“It’s like they’d never seen a black person before,” she said softly to me, resting her head on my shoulder. I put my arms around her and kissed her soft temple. She smelled of her usual Chanel perfume.

“They haven’t. And they’ve never seen a gay black person with a white person before. They’ve never seen people like us… and they never will again, because we’re not going back there.”

“But your dad, Eva?” I didn’t reply. I didn’t have a reply. My parents had been too ashamed to walk around with us. Well, my mum had. My dad had gone upstairs to cough up a lung and pass out. But we’d had a seeing off from the entire village. It had been harrowing.

I’d never felt so alien in my life, and Gracie cried for the first time since I’d met her.

When we went back three years later for my father’s funeral, people still spoke about the strange exotic visitor Reedston had once had. 

June 04, 2021 23:00

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

7 comments

Marie Bishop
22:48 Jun 13, 2021

Reedston. Population 100. Reedston (said ‘Reston’, obviously) is a backwater corner of bumfuck nowhere, lost in the rolling hills of forgotten arable farmland. If Reedston was a spice, it would be flour.* best opening I have read on here by FAR Bloody love this, pains me that there are a lot worse stories than this getting likes and comments. You keep writing because you have a REAL way with words. Marie

Reply

Marie Bishop
22:49 Jun 13, 2021

Also, I think I grew up in a village similar to this, I didn't know a black person till I left home at 20 and my dad was and still is so very racist. You captured the sentiment really accurately.

Reply

Amy Jayne Conley
07:00 Jun 14, 2021

Oh my gosh - thank you so much!! This means the world to me!! :D You're far too kind! I was very lucky, actually, that there were maybe... one or two black people in my school? (HEAVY sarcasm). My own town is very whitewashed, but we had Indian people (who were persecuted by the same people who bought their food) mainly. It sucks so much. I was actually quite afraid to write this, in case I got something wrong, but Eva's story is so common... it's so sad!

Reply

Marie Bishop
21:27 Jun 14, 2021

Same here RE:Indian people in our community. As for LGBTQ+ people I imagine there were people in my school, but I didn't know of them, and I am not sure it was as easy to be open as it is now ( even though some people are still just bloody awful) Anyway, people are crap Let's leave it like that :D

Reply

Amy Jayne Conley
08:08 Jun 15, 2021

Absolutely - people are SO crap, but we can make the world a better place!! Take care love!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Gip Roberts
20:39 Jun 21, 2021

I was hoping this would be a funny story based on the title, but you couldn't have picked a more fitting title for this now that I think about it. Everyone in that town treated Evangeline and Gracie like they thought they were E.T.s. As always, the way with words was awesome. I'd say the line that hit me most was: "It hit home that I'd been raised in a literal cult town." I'd never thought of towns themselves as being cults, but you're right! Same behavior, same conformity, same fear of the outside world. Excellent story.

Reply

Amy Jayne Conley
11:14 Jun 22, 2021

Thanks so much Gip! I was pretty proud of the title ;) It's kind of true - my hometown was for AGES like a cult town. Everyone there was so small-minded, anyone not-white was instantly referred to as whatever slur someone was familiar with regardless of if they were actually foreign or not, and it didn't matter how bad the slur was. You were non-white, ergo you were the slur. I hated it. As soon as I left I realised how bad it actually was! And there's a running joke in my family that certain racist homophobic family members would shit the...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply