Chapter One – SHE



It’s so easy to rebel
(She knows, she knows, she knows)
And then celebrate myself
(She knows, she knows, she knows)
I wish I was like you
(She knows, she knows, she knows)
I wish I was you
(She knows)

She – Wolf Alice

The poster hanging on the wall of my study was a 1.5 metre-high monstrous display of vanity, or at least it would be if I ever let anyone into my study to see it. The picture was taken on the final day of our promotion season, I scored twice; the first a perfectly-timed header and the second a 25-yard thunderbolt. The picture captured my emotion as I scored the second and peeled away to celebrate with the fans in the corner of the ground. The picture was one of those moments between moments; milliseconds before I was mobbed by my teammates, milliseconds before my mind could process what I’d just done, how I’d sent 10,000 fans into delirium and ricochets zinging off across the football world. I’d just sent my hometown team into the Premier League. Me, a little ‘queer’ boy from the south coast, sending drunk old men chucking their pints of John Smiths across the table in delight and young kids kissing their replica shirts, begging their parents to take them to the victory parade.

The camera didn’t pick up the millions of goosebumps pinging up my skin in that millisecond, but it did pick up the veins popping in my neck as my jaw yawned wide in an ecstatic bellow. It picked up the muscles in my forearms and biceps bulging as I pumped the air with both barrels. It picked up the streaks of my sweat-stained mane as it thrashed through the air as I leapt over the advertisement boards. My hair was the longest it had ever been then, long enough to spill over my shoulders and down my back. The supporters had nicknamed me ‘The Viking’, but Justin had said “you’re too pretty and slender to be a viking, you’re more like an elf from Lord of the Rings.”

But at a slender 5’9” or not, it was the ‘manliest’ I had ever felt, or at least mainstream media’s view of what being ‘manly’ was. I never liked to watch back clips of me playing, it felt like I was watching someone else. I was out there doing a job, that was my office. But the highlight reels on YouTube with the dramatic music, the commentary, the swish of that elven-esque hair as I dashed towards the fans, it did feel like I was a warrior sent into battle and winning the war for my people. The way the commentator’s voice popped as he screamed; “it drops for Lovell… ohhhhhhhh that is sensational!” Callum Lovell… the local boy… he has just written himself into folklore for his hometown club! What a day for him… what a day for this team!”

It was enough to bring those millions of goosebumps back up my arms.

I remembered the sparkly stare Justin had consumed me with the moment he locked eyes with me after the game. The look of enamoured hunger. I was the hero of the town, and that night… I was all his, draped in the sweat-stained shirt I had worn on the pitch. It didn’t come off at all. He didn’t let it come off, even as we wrapped ourselves in the bedsheets and each other for hours. I was his hero, too; his titan, his spoils. The shirt was my war banner and the war was won. The role never came naturally to me, I saved the testosterone-fuelled power displays on the pitch to the other lads and in the bedroom, that was normally Justin’s role. That picture though told the story of the day where I was a ‘football man’ as the world believed me to be.

If only they could see me now.

I poured stacks of makeup, brushes and accessories out onto the office desk, it felt strange suddenly having a purpose for it. I had bought the desk along with a table-top Mac, which I had pictured myself writing blogs, stories and anything else to give me a bit of escapism; a window into the mind of that fifteen-year old bookworm who had chosen football over literature so long ago. My bank balance had certainly thanked me for it but my creative spirit, not so much. But I was letting that spirit stretch its wings and soar now.

My eyebrows, arched and crinkled in aggressive joy in the picture, became flat as I clung them back to my forehead with glue. My box jawline, at full stretch in a football war-cry on the wall, became Sophie Ellis-Bextor levels of defined; right out of that ‘Murder on the Dance Floor’ video where she made demonic green eyeshadow look absolutely stunning. My tanned south-coast skin, soaked with sweat on that hot May afternoon, became the crystal white of porcelain under each and every brushstroke. My nose contoured to a dainty tip, cheekbones carved and popped, I was shedding the Callum Lovell; football hero identity like a snakeskin. The ashes of that young boy, dressed as Matilda on world book day, cramming my feet into ballet shoes at fourteen and gazing longingly at the cover girls of Vogue at twenty, those ashes had given birth to a new Phoenix of self expression, one that wore every dash of makeup like war paint. But I wasn’t going to war on the football pitch anymore, I wasn’t fighting against rival players or aggressive fans, I was fighting free of inhibitions that had held me back for years.

I looked at myself in the mirror; those smouldering blue eyes were the sole connection between the footballer millions saw on their Sky TV packages and the Snow White Queen that only I saw now, prowling around my study. If I hadn’t pictured myself looking like this for so long in my head, I wouldn’t have recognised myself in the mirror either, but I had always pictured myself like this. In fact, it felt more familiar to me than pulling on the famous colours of my hometown club, my soul was alive and she was stalking along my first-floor corridor in Dolce and Gabbana heels.

I didn’t leave the house that night, dressed up to the nines and with nowhere to go. I took a few photos, admiring the way the lamplight highlighted and hung on angles of my face and the collarbones I had never realised were there. The shapes and patterns on my face that always made me look so feminine and boyish among the men in my team, now my biggest assets as Her. I clomped about in my heels, made a margherita at my island top counter with Avril Lavigne blaring from the sound bar. I sat and watched Netflix, slurping my drink through a straw, shoulders hung forward unglamorously, feeling like a high school sweetheart being stood up by her date at prom. It was the best night in ever, and as I traipsed to bed with no intention of taking off the makeup, I locked eyes with ‘The Viking’ on the wall, eyeing up the muscles in his arms, the veins in his neck and the thrash of his hair.

And I gave him a wink.

There you see me… now you don’t.

Mark Davis

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