It started quite innocently, just a mundane mistake. As the minute hand on the boardroom clock jolted to three past nine, the Chair of the Change Management Project Steering Group meeting got proceedings underway.
The last to arrive, Terence sat down next to Gordon Mayhew. His right ankle resting on his left knee, Terence glanced down to witness an anxiety dream made flesh. He could see flesh. Terence wasn’t wearing socks.
Between the black leather of his brogues and the grey pinstripe of trouser leg, there was a strip of pink ankle on show. All hair, bone and cracked desiccated skin. With great effort to appear casual and unflustered, he swung his leg back under the table and tried his damndest to focus on the overlong, dry-as-dust discussion that followed. But as jaws flapped and pens scribbled, Terence was dimly aware of a distant, almost imperceptible siren. It was not a sound, rather a feeling. A crescendo of something faintly pleasing from a hitherto anechoic part of his brain. The muffled, yet welling klaxon of liberation.
The next day Terence passed over his usual choice of charcoal grey tie in favour of a gold bow tie he remembered was squirrelled away in a box under his bed. It shared it’s forgotten Clarks time capsule with a host of desultory odds and sods from his early twenties, his life as an undergrad. As he clipped it round his chuckling gullet, he grinned at the memory of sharing a late night kebab with Sarah Gough somewhere in Manchester. He, resplendent in a crimson shirt, bootcut orange corduroys and a gold bow tie, she, at the intersection between laughter and aneurism as he baffonishly, drunkenly knocked back a table top condiment bottle of arse-melting chilli sauce. The kind that makes you wonder whether you’ve been kicked up the fundament by a horse while you were sleeping.
Terence was delighted to note the looks, some odd, some approving, most bespeaking of a dim judgement. He was replaced by Neil McCulloch for an important presentation to the Senior Management Team. On the grounds that “Neil has been working with the data very closely and just has a greater familiarity with it, really, that’s all”. But Terence knew it was the bow tie.
By week seven Terence had drawn the focus of his line manager’s line manager. The golden bow tie sparkled against the obsidian night of a jet black cowboy shirt, all embroidery and rhinestones. Pinstripes had been superseded by salmon pink shorts, which allowed for the full display of white knee socks complete with Morris Man bells. On his head a granny style plastic rain bonnet, bulging at the sides with shaggy ginger mutton chops. Today was the maiden outing for his homemade makrami cape, made up of Celtic knots and vaguely phallic shapes.
He had been warned. In writing. By Human Resources. But it seemed that there was ultimately nothing the company could do. Terence had muttered some mischievous nonesense about his right to express his “gender dysphoria and atypical transvestism” which seemed to inject just enough doubt into the situation to effect inertia on his employer’s part.
Seventeen years later, as Terence arrived home from his retirement bash, he ‘birthed’ from his erotically decorated Zorbing ball, opened the front door and slumped on the sofa.
Casting off his silver matador jacket, unwinding the neon green electrical tape from his arms, kicking off his spherical shoes and removing the preserved whale foreskin hat from his head, he sat naked for a good hour.
Eventually he pushed himself up from the sofa and plodded upstairs. In his room, he opened the wardrobe and took out a white shirt, charcoal grey trousers and a slate grey tie. He admired himself in the full length mirror. A picture of unremarkable corporate officialdom. A well-pressed, bland yet respectable company man. The very outfit he was buried in six years and seven months later. The outfit he had worn, through a rotation of near identical variations, since the moment he retired.
And why not.