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Posted by Clayton Littlewood

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Soho Athletic gym.


7:15pm. There’s hardly anyone around. The only sound, the receptionist washing glasses, the manager ringing up till receipts and the distant sound of club music floating through the gym. I try to catch the receptionist’s eye. He’s in his early twenties, slim, hair perfectly parted, obligatory beard. Probably from Shoreditch. He looks over. “Can I help you?”


“A towel please.” I dig inside my pocket for a coin.


He’s coming for you


I look up. “What did you say?”


“I said, ‘That’ll be a pound please.”


I glance at him, looking for a sign. But he’s smiling; a fixed smile as if nothing untoward has just taken place. I hand over the coin, grab the towel and, slightly unnerved, head toward the changing room.


It’s busy inside, some guys dressing, some undressing; a surreptitious glance here, a lingering look there – the usual casual cruising you find in a gay gym. I take a locker at the back and unzip my gym bag. Inside is an empty bottle of medication, a black Moleskine, a pair of Adidas tracksuit bottoms and a grey tee-shirt with ‘Muscle’ written across the chest.


I’m about to put my bag in the locker when I remember my iPhone. I fish inside for it and as I do it vibrates. It’s a push notification. From Grindr. I enter my passcode, tap the application and the sender’s profile. The pic is slightly grainy, although it looks familiar. Like a gym. I tap Chat.


The message reads: I’m coming for you 


Wasn’t that what the receptionist just said?


Another message: Don’t block me! 


Actually, I wasn’t going to. Blocking seems such a passive/aggressive act. I have an aversion to it. But equally, if I don’t block him, he sounds like the type that will plague me with messages. Fuck. Why did I even download this app? It’s not as if I intend to meet anyone. What was it my friend Paul said, ‘Why don’t you just put ‘Timewaster’ as your profile name?’


A third message: I’m watching you


I swivel round. Startled. To my left is a Latino guy blow-drying his armpit hair, and sitting on the bench nearby, an older guy, bearded again, in fatigues and a tight white vest, untying his bootlaces. Neither of them is using a phone. I look at the profile on my screen. Online.10 meters away. Ten meters!


I type: Where r u?


The reply: You’ll find out 


I glance across at the toilets. There’s no one there. He must be in the gym then. He must’ve spotted me coming in.


I head cautiously back outside, and as I do my left eyelid starts to twitch.




There’s a bench in the corner and I carry it to the Shoulder Press. I sit down. Wipe my hands on my tee-shirt. Stare straight ahead into the mirror, taking in my surroundings. There are five guys in here. Three working out, two chatting by the window. None of them looking in my direction. I remember a time when I’d walk into the gym and everyone would check me out. Not anymore. I stare at my scuffed trainers, thinking about my fading looks. I shake the thought away. Clasp the bar bell with both hands. Take a deep breath and push it upwards in one dynamic thrust.


I work out briskly, concentrating, not wanting to get wrapped up in negative feelings. Three sets later, I’m about to take the weights off the bar when I feel my phone vibrating.


I’m going to follow you home


Who the fuck does this guy think he is? I press the Power button until the iPhone screen goes black. I’ve had enough of him anyway. I’ve got chores waiting at home. Plus I’m knackered. I need an early night. What was it my boss said? ‘Clay, you’ve been looking really tired lately. Are you okay?’ I felt like saying, ‘Look, I’m just a bit run down, alright. Give me a break!’ But of course you can’t say that. Not to your boss. You just have to smile sweetly and say, ‘No everything’s fine. But thank you for asking.’


I head back toward the changing room.


Twenty minutes later, I’m dressed, standing in front of the mirror, applying Dax Wax to my salt and pepper hair (more salt now I admit). My skin, although unlined, is starting to sag. I open my mouth, wide, then close it, watching the flesh fall back into place. The phase I went through a few years ago of having Botox, well, I thought it’d passed, that I was finally accepting the ageing process. Now I’m not so sure.


There’s a vibration in my pocket. I power my phone on. It’s another message.


U’re getting old. Soon no one’s going to want u


I clench my teeth. Press Block. Shove my phone deep into my pocket and march out of the changing room, the gym, down the stairway, onto Macklin Street, a self-satisfied smirk on my face. Well whoever he is, that’s put a stop to his stupid little game.




Old Compton Street is a cosmopolitan melting pot; a Hogarth painting come to life. I pass a posse of G.A.Y twinks, East End lads in Hackett tops, a group of bleached-blonde girls with pink rabbit ears, rickshaws parked outside the Prince Edward theatre. and then I arrive at my favourite coffee shop, number 34B, on the corner of Frith Street. I take a seat inside, tucked up by the window and order a small Americano. It’s from this vantage point that I do all my thinking. My window to the world. The place I come to when I want to ponder life, my career, mortality. There’re a stack of magazines in the corner. I pick one up. It’s The Clarion. The local mag. It always has an interesting historical section and I’m engrossed in an article about Soho Square when I feel a movement in my pocket. I reach for my coffee. Take another sip. Not in any particular hurry to answer it.


In ur favourite spot I see … 34B


I thought I’d blocked him! I press Block. Again. Turn off my phone and scour the crossroads. It’s busy; people laughing, singing, arguing, like Gay Pride night. I exchange glances with a few guys. It could be any one of them. And they all seem to be looking at me, knowingly, as if they’re all somehow in on it. Normally I’d be here for at least an hour, writing in my notebook, trying to make the night last longer, before it’s time to face the drudgery of home and preparing for work the next day – but tonight my spell’s been broken. My little oasis has been defiled. I take a last mouthful of the now lukewarm coffee, thank the Hungarian assistant and leave.


I weave in out of the crowds, down Brewer Street, past the neon-lit bookshop, peep shows, the NCP car park, a health food shop, Third Space, the Piccadilly Theatre, until I reach the tube. Then it’s down the stairs, the escalator, past the busker murdering The Final Countdown, until I’m at the end of the platform.




By the time I’m above ground the sun has set. I walk down Warwick Road toward Holland Road, thinking about what I have to do when I get in while the evening traffic roars past. I’m almost at Tesco when my phone vibrates. It’s a Grindr notification. The profile pic is of a building.


I told you, I’m coming for you


Online. 5 meters away


I spin round. But there’s no one there. And there’s no one in front either. I tap on the profile pic, enlarging it with my thumb and forefinger. It’s a pic of … Homebase. Just a few feet ahead! Oh God. He’s probably hiding behind that wall. Now what? I could press the Report button, but what am I going to say? That I’m being stalked on an app? That’s what Grindr’s for, isn’t it? My mind’s races from question to question. What should I do? Double back? Take another route home? The questions hit me like a stream of arrows. I’m aware too that I’m breathing much faster now and that my right eyelid is twitching. Wait a minute. This is ridiculous. Just jump a cab. What’s he going to do? Run after it?


I wait until the traffic has subsided, then run across the road, doubling back on myself, turning onto Cromwell Road, checking behind intermittently that I’m not being followed. A few seconds later I spot a black cab with a yellow ‘vacant’ sign. I stick my hand out. The car hurtles toward me.


“Holland Road please!” I say, diving into the back. “The High Street Ken end.”


I look out the back window, breathing heavily. The street’s deserted. I sigh and sink back in my seat.




“Just past the pub please. Wherever you can find a space. Yes. Just here’s fine. Thanks.”


I hand the driver a tenner. “Keep the change.” He looks at me in disbelief as the tip is more than the fare. But I’m not thinking straight. I just want to get inside my flat. I slam the cab door. Run the few yards up the street. Down the checkered tiled steps. Into the basement. It takes me a few seconds to find my keys. I can hear them jangling in my bag somewhere. Here they are. I’m about to put the key in the lock when I feel my phone vibrating. It’s another message. I tap on the profile. The pic is of a bedroom. There’s a painting above a bed. It’s my bed! That’s my Jean Cocteau lithograph. He’s inside my flat!


I back away from the front door. Rush back up the stairway. A short, red-headed woman is about to enter the main building with a young man.


“Please! Can you help me!”


She stops, key in the door and turns her head. The young man whispers to her, then walks toward me. “What’s the matter?” he says this politely.


“I know this sounds weird,’ I say. ‘But there’s someone in my flat. He just sent me photo on my phone. Of my bedroom. He’s in there!” I point down to the basement.


“Do you know this person?”


“No! I haven’t a clue who it is.”


Now the woman walks toward me. “Calm down a bit Clay,” she says as she strokes my arm. “Ian’ll go and check.”


I hand Ian the key. Once he’s in the basement I turn to the woman. “Thank you. You’re very kind. And I’m, err, I’m sorry for being such an idiot. It’s just that-”


“-Don’t worry Clay,” consoles the woman. “Everything’s going to be allright.” She looks down into the basement area. “Maybe we should go down too.”


“No! I err, don’t want to.”


“Perhaps you should call the police.”


At that moment Ian walks back up the basement steps. He frowns and scratches the back of his head. “There’s no one in there.” He looks embarrassed. “Whoever it was must’ve left.”


“Ian, don’t be silly. We’ve been standing here the whole time and we would’ve seen-” She stops abruptly, for Ian’s glance is sharp. He nods at her when he thinks I’m not looking.


“I searched everywhere,” he says. “In every room. And there’s no one there. Nobody.” He says it with finality, and then the woman, as if delivering her verdict, says. “Oh well, that’ll be that then …”




The key goes in the lock in one swift movement. I push the door open. Step inside. Shut it. Locking it again behind me at the top and bottom. I throw my gym bag on the sofa. Walk into the bedroom. Shut the door. Sink into the bed. Within seconds I’m in that world which is half dream, half sleep (NREM sleep I think my doctor calls it). I’m vaguely aware of a sensation in my pocket. But now I’m drifting, drifting. Then I feel it again. Like a vibration. It is a vibration! I jump up. Switch on my phone.


Took ur time getting here didn’t ya?


Online. 1 meter away




Taken from the collection of short stories called: Six Stories by Clayton Littlewood