Showcase: Tainted Love + Where Are You From + I’m Not Sorry
By Zara Relphman
Welcome to the last Showcase of February! It’s been wonderful to be your Showcase editor this month and share all this lovely writing with you.
The pieces I’ve selected for you today are in honour of the LGBTQ+ community as February is its history month. We celebrate this time to raise awareness and shed new light on the history our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender friends have had to face.
Here’s an extract from the short story, Tainted Love, by Choon Young Tan. It revolves around two young men, love, homophobia and the AIDS crisis.
“Did you hear about Nathan?” Jessica asked eagerly, her eyes wide.
“Erm…” began Chris, hesitantly and curiously. Their classmate had recently fallen ill and been taken out of school with no explanation.
“He’s got…” Jessica started, lowering her voice and looking around quickly, “AIDS!” She hissed the last word, her face stricken with worry and disdain. Chris felt his body stiffen, the hairs on his neck and arms tingle and the colour in his face drain. He didn’t know what to say or think.
“To be fair, it’s not surprising really, is it?” Jessica went on in her normal, bristly voice, flicking her overly-curled hair back. “Everyone knew he was a poof!” The word sent a shockwave through Chris. “Which means,” she continued without a care, as if it was a normal everyday conversation, “he’s, like, four years underage!”
Chris’ eyes had already pulled away from hers. ‘Like she hasn’t already had sex,’ he thought. “How do you know he’s got… that?” He finally managed to find his voice, not feeling able to say the word.
“Through me mam, who’s friends with a nurse at the hospital! I bet it won’t be long till everyone else finds out…” She trailed off, paused, then added without stopping, “I bet the school will have to be closed to be decontaminated before we can all go back! Ugh, imagine! People have still been going to school the past week. Anyone could have caught it!” Her voice wavered and she shuddered.
Chris’ patience was beginning to wear thin. “I don’t think you can catch it that way,” he began warily. He felt a pang for Nathan, who he wasn’t exactly friends with, but had got on with in the past. Most people were aware he was gay but hadn’t accused Chris of the same. Chris had always felt partly responsible for Nathan’s ostracisation when he distanced himself more after he’d become the target of homophobic bullying.
“How do you know? Nobody knows, do they?!” She retorted, raising an eyebrow at him. “Then again, they say it only affects poofs anyway, so unless you’re also a poof, maybe the rest of us don’t have owt to worry about,” she said, as if she was thinking more about it and knew what she was talking about.
Although her words weren’t specifically implying Chris was a poof, he still felt the sting of it.
Then, the door opened and a customer walked in to save the day. “Number eight, 13, 77 and two cans of coke, please, mate,” the man said gruffly, before Chris could greet him and without saying hello himself.
“See ya at school!” Jessica called, as she moved towards the door, “or not!” She cackled pointedly, opening it and walking out.
Chris stared after her for a second or two, slightly dumbfounded at the news and by Jessica’s feelings about it all. So, although he’d heard the customer’s order, his response was delayed.
“Oi!” The customer half-shouted, glaring at Chris and interrupting his thoughts. “Can you not understand English or summat?”
Chris looked at him, anger already beginning to bubble beneath his skin at that remark. A remark he was used to and was certainly not the worst he’d been on the receiving end of. But he smiled and nodded, ignoring it, and continued to serve the man as normal.
Several hours later, after standing on his feet all night and with barely a minute to stop and think, Chris finally managed to sit down in the back. He couldn’t wait until he was able to leave for university. School during the day and then having to help out at his parent’s takeaway, The Golden Peach, four evenings a week, was physically and mentally exhausting. The heat and smell of working in a Chinese takeaway as well as living above it, and the relentless stream of customers most nights – many of whom were just ignorant or racists who still loved a bit of Chinese food every now and then – didn’t help.
His younger sister Tammy slumped down beside him. Their parents were still cleaning the front. Why there needed to be four of them working in such a small takeaway, even on a Saturday, was beyond both siblings.
“What’s been up with you all night?” Tammy quizzed him. “Been quiet and grumpy ever since we opened!”
“Why do you think?” Chris shot back, looking around and throwing his arms up. He didn’t mean to snap, though.
“Yeah, but you usually put on a brave, fake happy face,” she replied, while eyeing him suspiciously, not addressing his sudden annoyed tone with her. Thankfully, she was not one to pry too much.
Before Chris could answer, they heard a knocking on the glass door of the takeaway and glanced towards the noise, despite not being able to see the door.
“Chris! Lei’di gwai lo pang’yao!” His mum shouted at the top of her voice, even though she was only a few metres away.
Tammy looked at him and he turned away from her gaze, going out to investigate. He wished first of all that Brad wouldn’t knock on the front door like that knowing his parents were in and secondly, that his mum would not use the term gwai lo to describe him. He’d already told Brad it was basically slang for ‘foreigner’ or ‘white person’, which to some white people seemed a little offensive considering its original context, but he found it funny.
When he saw Brad, who was smiling a little sheepishly through the window –probably because he knew Chris had asked him not to come to the front entrance – Chris softened up a bit and returned the smile, though he was aware his parents were standing watching him.
“You’ll have to meet him round the back, I’m not opening that door again,” his dad said in Cantonese, not looking away from Brad. “And ask him how they did today.” That was all his dad really cared about. The competition. Although mainly a Chinese takeaway, The Golden Peach also served some English food: fish, chips, sausages and pies. Brad’s family ran the fish and chip shop a few roads down: Chippy Off The Block.
Chris rolled his eyes, gesturing to Brad to meet him at the other door. Brad smiled and waved at Chris’ parents before moving away. His mum just stared back blankly, but his dad at least forced a smile and a nod.
“So, me mam wants to know where the name for your place came from,” Brad asked. “I told her it was named after you.” He grinned, squeezing Chris’ bum.
“You didn’t!” Chris jokingly protested.
“Nah, ‘course not! Can you imagine what she’d think!” Brad laughed.
“It’s what my great-grandma’s name was.”
“That’s sweet! Like your peach…” Brad grinned cheekily, not removing his hand. They’d stopped in the ginnel behind the takeaway that connected the other shops on the road and the houses on the street behind. They often rendezvoused down there in the evenings when no one was about, before heading to the nearby park.
Brad leant Chris against the wall, moving his face closer. Chris’ heart pumped with nerves and adrenaline. Adrenaline because of how he felt about Brad and nerves because of the risk they were taking. Not just this time, but all their other secret meetings no one else knew – or could know – about.
Chris’ traditional Chinese parents always went on about him hopefully finding a nice Chinese girl at, or after, university. Never as a teenager, but until he was older, or after his studies. And Brad came from a very typical family, who’d probably hit the roof should they find out any of their children were homosexuals.
“Where do your parents think you are when you come and see me?” Chris asked, their faces still inches from each other. Chris would tell his parents he was tutoring Brad for exams, despite the fact Brad had already left school at 16.
“Either fuckin’ about with the lads or still seeing Amy,” Brad chuckled. He’d actually dated her before, but she’d moved away with her family, so he’d kept up the pretence. “I mean, I’m technically doing the first, aren’t I?” He laughed so loudly the neighbours probably heard him. Chris looked around to see if anybody was stirring at the noise and at Brad, silently hoping he didn’t genuinely mean ‘lads’ as in plural. “I’ll tell them we broke up when you piss off to uni and leave me…” Brad trailed off, his voice almost breaking and stepping away.
© Choon Young Tan, 2022
You can read more of this short story and get in contact with the author on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @tanstopics
Next, we have some digital artwork and poetry by Eliot Guiver. Eliot is a member of the LGBTQ+ community and his work is often filled with honesty and emotion.
© Eliot Guiver, 2023
You can see more of Eliot’s work and get in contact with him on Instagram: @sm.eliart
Hongwei Bao is a queer east Asian writer and regular contributor to Write On! He uses creative writing to explore issues of Asian identity, queer desire and transcultural intimacy. To finish this Showcase, I’ve included two of his beautiful poems.
Where Are You From?
I’m from a strange land
one you can’t find on a map;
one where there’re no countries or nations,
no borders or customs,
no natives or foreigners,
no migrants or refugees;
one where there’re no men or women,
no trans or sis,
no straight or gay;
one where everyone feels at home
in their bodies, identities
and in each other’s company;
one where no one asks
or has to answer
where’re you from?
where’re you really from?
(c) Hongwei Bao, 2023
I’m Not Sorry
I’m not sorry that I slept with your husband
who doesn’t love you,
and whom I happened to fall in love with.
The marriage was a mistake, he said.
Both of you were too young,
and the family pressure was too strong.
But I’m sorry
for my little I-love-you note
left in his pocket,
discovered by you,
and broke your heart.
How many times can a heart be broken?
How many times must one put up with things
and then carry on with life?
I don’t know,
but I am sorry.
(c) Hongwei Bao, 2023
Connect with Hongwei on Twitter: @PatrickBao1
If you’d like to see your writing appear in the Write On! Showcase, please submit your short stories, poetry or novel extracts to: pentoprint.org/get-involved/submit-to-write-on/
You can read the latest issue (15) of Write On! here.
Hear extracts from Showcase in our podcast. Write On! Audio. Find us on all major podcast platforms, including Apple and Google Podcasts and Spotify. Type Pen to Print into your browser and look for our logo, or find us on Anchor FM.
If you or someone you know has been affected by issues covered in our pages, please see the relevant link below for information, advice and support: