Patrick Cash


Mikey watched the England fans trudge towards Charing Cross. A giant screen had been erected in Trafalgar Square to show the game, and half-hearted Sweet Carolines still rose into the July evening. He was careful not to make eye contact. Straight – or at least straight-acting – men had always been able to read him. Long before he’d worked out his own desires the boys at school had clocked him as different.

Anointed young by camp, Mikey had worn the crown cocked into adulthood: he’d chosen Mikey Fantastique as his nom de plume and had grown his hair to a length that was easily swished. That night, he’d accentuated with an ultramarine eyeshadow and had opted for a royal blue suit, topped with his signature white scarf.

Steven emerged from the bar, holding two glasses of juice.

‘Cranberry for the birthday boy. Cure the cystitis.’

‘I should be so lucky.’ Mikey swigged the juice and spat out lime pith. ‘You know, darling, I once went for a pint in Soho on the Friday, and woke up on the Sunday on the floor of a brothel in Amsterdam. That was when I lived.’

‘Yes, well, I prefer knowing you’re getting home okay.’

Steven’s blue eyes were earnest beneath a strawberry blonde fringe, clean-shaven face still boyish. They’d met as students at a LGBTQ night; Mikey had been studying Drama with a soupçon of French (when he peeled himself away from an afterparty to attend a lecture), whereas Steven had won himself an economics degree and now worked in ‘the city’. He consequently bore the workplace imprint.

A football fan, unsteady on his feet, weaved into Mikey. The man heavily patted his shoulder. ‘Sorry, mate. Have a good night.’

Mikey adjusted his scarf, watching the man sway off. ‘I am always being non-consensually “mated” by people – is my scarf okay?’

‘It’s fine,’ replied Steven.

‘You’re the only friend I have left.’

‘That’s not true.’

He began flouncing his scarf, the street his theatre. The fans were temporarily forgotten. ‘It is! There I am, an award-nominated editor, and half the table doesn’t turn up! It’s because they’re all drunks and drug addicts.’

‘Let’s not get too pious.’

‘I’ll get as pious as I want, darling; I’m in NA, I’ve got to make the most of it. Turn sober on the gay scene: watch your friends fall away like flies. “Sorry, I had a family emergency.” Family emergency, mon cul, he’s snorting cocaine off a rent boy’s testicles in a back-alley hotel room.’

‘Do you want to go in for a dance?’

When still a young man, Mikey had been made aware that he held limited sexual worth on the gay scene. If the muscle queens were strong greenbacks, and lithe twinks eternal sterling, then Mikey was more a Belarusian kopeck in the scene’s great exchange mechanism. At 35, he concluded his value had fallen even lower, probably around a dodgy Bitcoin scam. He offered Steven a dejected smile.

‘I think I’ll call it a night, darling.’

‘Oh don’t get down.’

Mikey put a hand on Steven’s shoulder. ‘Thank you for a lovely evening.’

He embraced Steven warmly and bid him adieu. He unwound a pair of tangled earphones from his pocket, then hummed along to the Brindisi from La Traviata as he strode across Trafalgar Square. His thoughts transferred, as they usually did when he was alone, to his book. Mikey always had his book. His scandalous memoirs would prove he was a serious writer, not just some fag-rag editor.

He was walking behind the giant screen when he felt a sharp pain. He staggered two steps forward as an object hit the back of his head. Liquid drenched his scarf. He smelt lager and a can fell to the pavement. Removing his earphones, he heard sniggers. A trio of young men watched him from beneath Nelson’s first black lion.

‘Sorry, mate! I was aiming for the bin.’

The men broke into renewed laughter: a particular laughter that Mikey knew well. In that laugh, he was spat at in the locker room, he was taunted for his walk, the way in which he held a pen, his assumed sexual role, he was baptised with a new name – Michael Farrer bastardised so easily to ‘Mike Faggot’ – he was made to understand gay itself as a synonym for wrong and shunned.

‘Oh fuck off, you cunt!’

The laughter stopped.

‘What did you call me?’

Mikey didn’t wait. He’d provided the excuse for further violence. Nothing was so dangerous as injured pride. He walked rapidly, footsteps to the pace of his heartbeat, trying to assess where the CCTV cameras were, potential escape routes, he needed to get to the bus stop, yes, the bus stop, yes, other people. That fucking screen. No one could see him in its shadow. His mind was fantastically alert to the lights and traffic, straining to hear the sound of footsteps behind –


Mikey quickened his pace further, a run. People were at the zebra crossing, if he could reach people, he’d find protection.

A strong blow to the top of his spine, just below the neck, floored him. It was more pointed than a fist, presumably the man had used his elbow. Mikey would be informed later that one should never fall to the ground in a street fight, but who could really call it a fight? He curled up like a larva, noticed odd details like the dirty chewing gum flattened on the tarmac, the grit that itched his cheek, the unpolished leather of the man’s boot as he kicked. He closed his eyes and hoped that he would live.


He told no one about the attack. He knew others spoke out: queers posting bruised faces on Twitter, lesbians bleeding on the night bus, bandaged men in A&E wards on Facebook. You saw it all the time. But to publish his own ordeal was anathema. He’d spent years moulding the unbowed Mikey Fantastique. Balls if he was going to throw him away for a few cracked ribs and a smashed-up nose.

He spent the long night in hospital alone and took the first bus back home at 6am. He gave himself the weekend off to indulge self-pity. Binge-watched old Judy Garland films, ate his body weight in Toblerone and blared his favourite pieces of Verdi. On Monday, he went out to face the world again.

His official story, to those confronted with the blue stitches down his nose, was that he’d tripped down the stairs. Not everyone was convinced. His sister suspected he’d relapsed, and Steven asked if he’d been cottaging on Clapham Common, but Mikey spun his response into dinner-party patter: ‘Honestly, darling, fifteen years’ addiction and barely a scratch; sober, and I’m a terror to myself.’

Colleagues at the flamBOYant office laughed, comforted that Mikey’s joie-de-vivre was never dulled. Forced to admit that the future love of his life might not see past his current appearance, Mikey utilised the evenings not squandered on Grindr to polish his final draft. The stitches were removed, the scabs began to heal, and Mikey no longer had to hold frozen pea packets to his ribs at night. Life continued. The magazine was rolled out each week, he worked late on Tuesdays for deadline day.

Excitingly, he snagged a cover interview with a new American pop star. He was sure the party gays would adore her bubblegum appeal. flamBOYant not having the expenses account for black cabs, he boarded an afternoon bus down Oxford Street. He was reviewing his questions on the upper deck when a group of after-school teenagers filled the seats around him, shouting and shoving one another.

Mikey’s entire concentration was taken by the youths. They were so fast, intensely physical. He stayed motionless. If he moved, he’d attract their attention. Thank God he had no makeup on. The letters on his sheet melted into gibberish. A boy in front surged up to lean over his friend and Mikey forced himself not to flinch.

The sheet began to tremble in his hands. Mikey stared at it, willing it to stop, but there was a nervous energy trapped within him. His knee began a muscular spasm, travelling up the whole thigh, his right leg starting to jerk.

One of the boys glanced around. Oh my fucking God. They’d think he found them attractive, the pervert jerking on the bus, and they could kill him then, yes they could kill him and no one would blame them, Mikey the ex-drug addict, always thought there was something dark about him, he got what he deserved –

A ringtone blared through the bus. Mikey scrabbled into his pocket for the vibrating phone. It was the PR from the interview. He stared as the handset rang but he couldn’t pick up. He couldn’t let them hear his voice.

He cancelled the call. The boy in front looked straight at him. Mikey met his cool and casual eyes and wanted to scream.

He grabbed his bag and ran down the aisle, clattered down the bus stairs and rang the bell – again – again – listening for footsteps overhead –

‘Let me off!’

People stared at him on the lower deck. He could feel his eyes bulging. The bus driver glanced at Mikey, upside down in the rear view mirror.

‘Stop coming up soon.’

‘Let me off this bus! Please!’

‘Is it an emergency?’


Hazards flashing, the bus pulled over. Mikey leapt out and ran through the Bond Street crowds, he ran down South Molton Street and Brook Street, where on quiet days they said you could hear an underground river rush, as if there were ever quiet days in that abominable city, he ran until the lactic acid ate into his limbs and he sank to the kerbside on Hanover Square, hanging his head between his legs.


Steven’s birthday present was Royal Opera House tickets. Mikey had suffered a contretemps with the ROH at the height of his hedonistic period, where he’d been caught with a glass pipe and a puff of sweet-smelling smoke in the dress circle toilets (his parting shot was that ‘anybody would have needed drugs to get through that performance of La Traviata.’) But he’d since served his five-year ban and no longer persona non grata, he was excited for the opening night of Aida.

Steven cast an appraising eye over Mikey’s outfit.

‘You’re looking very sober tonight, darling.’

‘Like mindset, like couture.’

‘What happened to the suit that looked like my grandmother’s sofa?’

Mikey waved a bashful hand. ‘One can’t always grab the attention. Sometimes you’ve got to allow the singers at least a little limelight.’

There was a question in Steven’s iris, which Mikey made sure to evade. His friend nodded. ‘Quite right. On y va?’

Oui, bien sûr.’

He’d adored the opera house since his aunt had taken him as a child. But in the glass-ceilinged bar, Mikey began to feel the room’s gaze. He perched at a high table and heard the clientele mutter about him behind cupped hands. He was spun in a cobweb of whispers. A woman’s laugh rang through the hall and Mikey was sure it was he who was her punchline. Steven returned from the bar.

‘Out of cranberry juice, alas, but voilà, the hunky bartender whipped me up a sickly concoction with mango and grenadine.’

Mikey pressed the ice-filled glass to his cheek. An itch had sparked inside his shirt, the collar too tight against his windpipe.

‘Thank you, darling. What a treat!’

Mikey was unable to stop his eyes flicking around his fellow audience members. Steven gazed at him with gentle concern.

‘I can take it back for something else.’

‘No, no, it’s perfect. Now, tell me about work.’

Steven burst into laughter.

‘Mikey, you haven’t asked me about my work in – well, ever?’

As they walked down the plush corridor to their box, he felt Apollo finally tap out the ring and Dionysus took full chaotic reign. After the house lights had gone down and the first aria had been sung, he couldn’t grasp the music. He was finding it increasingly difficult to draw air into his lungs. Every face opposite was staring at Mikey. Their eyeballs had left their flesh, floating ghostly through the auditorium.

He fought an urge to scream.

No, he couldn’t do that to Radamès. The tenor had worked all his life for this moment, his voice was exquisite, the young warrior so elegant on the stage. Mikey Fantastique couldn’t ruin his opening night. His heart palpitated, he was terrified he would lose control of his own body. He gripped the chair until his hands were white-knuckled, twitches of pain in both his palms.

The eyeballs were still watching him. He saw them from the corner of his gaze, his teeth gritted. The scream was building in his lungs.

He grabbed Steven’s shoulder.

‘I’m not feeling well,’ he whispered.

He didn’t wait for an answer. He allowed his terror to race him from the building, past a blur of bemused ushers, chased by the Celeste Aida.


Mikey nodded to the corner shop owner. The booze aisle was the same as it’d ever been, the light reflecting off the bottles, he felt that old excitement of choice. Red wine was good for the heart, after all, but no, the tannins were awfully heavy and it stained the teeth vampiric, but surely nobody would blame him for a light Indian summer Rosé, perhaps a Pinotage blush? Surely, just the one glass –

No, it wouldn’t be one glass. It would immediately be a second, because no one blamed you for two either, and then it would be the bottle within an hour and he’d be back down the shop, this time for something with more kick, whiskey, brandy, spiced rum, and he’d be on Grindr searching for the PnPs or HnHs or pill emojis, or whatever codes they used for the parties these days, and the night would be gone, the week swiftly with it, and Mikey’s body would be sold to the lowest bidder.

But what, exactly, did he have left to lose?

He bought a bottle of red Rioja.

The flat felt empty; ex-council, rented cheap from a DJ on the scene. A portrait of Maria Callas gazed from above the TV. He went to the stereo and filled the space with Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma. He could stop now. He opened the bottle and filled a glass. Should have smashed the wine glasses. Stupid. He could still pour it down the sink. Waste of £8.99. As the song reached its crescendo, Mikey took the glass to the window where he watched a scarlet light flash on top of a crane.


He arrived for brunch straight from the party. Steven, bless him, eternal innocent, swallowed the tale that it’d been a difficult week; those three years of drama training did come in useful. He had a bag of mephedrone in his wallet and he saw no reason to keep up the teetotal façade. Nobody ever came to a bottomless brunch for the unlimited tomato juice. Steven stared as Mikey ordered a gin and tonic.

‘What are you doing?’

‘I want a drink, darling. It’s not a crime.’

Steven leant in across the booth. ‘You know you can’t have alcohol.’

 ‘Oh for fuck’s sake, darling. I’ve had a hard week, I just want a drink to take the edge off. Can’t you just give me a break?’

‘I’m trying to look after you.’

‘Well, it sounds a lot like nagging. That’s what you look like, Steven. Just an old henpecking wife: nag, nag, nag.’

Steven’s cheeks coloured. ‘Have you been drinking already?’

‘I went to a party last night.’

‘For Christ’s sake, Mikey! Do I have to ring your sister?’

‘Ring her! You can both be boring together.’

He went to the toilet to key a bump. When he returned the waitress placed a Virgin Mary before Steven, then gave Mikey his gin and tonic. It was served in a tall bowl glass, ice up to the brim, two slices of finely cut lime. He took a long gulp.

‘I can’t watch you go through this,’ said Steven.

Mikey sighed. ‘Oh do pipe down, darling.’


He was surprised at the vehemence of Steven’s outburst. He was often surprised when he saw others get emotional for his sake. Steven leant over the table and Mikey saw he was doing his serious expression.

‘You weren’t called to St Thomas’ hospital at 5am to watch your heart stop on the table,’ he said. ‘You didn’t have to phone your family to tell them. How can you do this to yourself again?’

Steven stood up and dropped £20 next to the drinks. Mikey watched him silently.‘And more than that,’ said Steven. ‘How can you do it to us?’

He turned to walk away and Mikey felt a wrench of parting.

‘I was attacked,’ he said.

Steven paused, then sat back down.

‘What do you mean?’

Beneath the sexy beats of an Ariana Grande track, Mikey haltingly outlined the details. To confess felt like he was dismantling a character. He had always been the flamboyant one. Steven gripped his hand on the table.

‘You must go to the police.’


He was assigned an LGBT liaison officer by the Met. She had a Welsh accent and visited Mikey’s flat with a male colleague. Did the attacker have any distinguishing tattoos or piercings? Did his friends call him by a name? Did he get into a vehicle? The ‘nos’ that Mikey offered made him feel he was failing an exam. As she left, she advised Mikey not to use his headphones in places with bad lighting.

‘I shouldn’t listen to my music?’

‘If somebody’s coming, you want to be able to hear them.’

Mikey looked at her kind face. ‘What kind of places?’

‘Just anywhere you feel unsafe.’

He wanted to reply that was any street in the whole of the city, any place outside of his flat, and inside his flat too for recently he wasn’t often very safe with himself. In fact, the last place he’d felt safe was a club night named Salvation where he’d taken so much pink crystal MDMA he briefly transcended his own consciousness. Therein lay the trap. He thanked her and shook her hand.

A week later, he received an email from the Community Safety Unit. I have made enquiries with CCTV operators in the local area but due to the time delay, there are unfortunately no recordings now available. It has not been possible to identify any suspects. The crime is recorded and remains on the system. It can be re-opened should any more information come to light.

Mikey watched the sky redden across London. He wondered if it became, at some point, too late to reclaim who you want to be. Maybe some people are just Frankenstein’s personalities, stitched together through the limbs of borrowed traits. On his computer he took his scandalous memoir, full of his hilarious confessions about all the scandalous things he’d done, and moved it to the trash. He opened a new blank page. He’d experienced hate throughout his life, he had heard headteachers claim that bullying occurs in any school, as if children were simply born like that.

They are not, he wrote. They are shaped. In a nation that is not fit for purpose, love is a statue made from melting wax.


Mikey walked past the doorway then stopped outside an Indian restaurant. A sign proclaimed ‘Bring Your Own Booze’. By happy coincidence, the Budgens next door was advertising half-price wines. If only. Steven caught up with him and took his arm. ‘Come on,’ he said. ‘Think of it as like investigative journalism.’

‘I’m hardly Panorama, darling.’

He allowed himself to be led back to the glass door. He hadn’t come to destroy the temple, he thought, but to excavate an older foundation.

He pushed the door open. A set of white-painted steps led down to a basement gym. Men, and not a few women, in shorts and vests engaged in various exercises involving ropes and boxing bags. In the corner, two partners in head-guards were sparring in a ring. Mikey watched one swing a vicious punch. Painted on the ceiling above them was the maxim: If you can see this, you were too slow.

 The entire effect was his personal hell. He approached the grey-haired man behind the reception desk. Steven stood near to his side.

‘I’ve heard you have a Gay Boxing Class here,’ said Mikey, fiddling with the strap on his bag.

‘That’s right,’ said the man. He took a rainbow-coloured flyer from the desk and passed it to Mikey. ‘Thursdays, 7pm.’

‘Oh no, I don’t want to come a class – how much is a 1 to 1 session?’

‘£80 for the hour.’

‘Okay.’ He calculated the monthly sum. Expensive, yes, but he’d spent far more on clubbing weekends in Vauxhall. ‘Are there any times when the gym is empty?’


‘Yes. Just myself and the instructor.’

The man leant back in his chair. He had clear, green eyes.

‘You’re talking quite a lot more to hire out the whole gym now, lad.’

‘Okay, sure. Don’t worry.’ Mikey motioned to Steven that they should leave. It was next to miraculous that he’d spent so long in that space already without being mocked. He walked swiftly to the stairs.

‘Why do you want the sessions?’

Mikey looked back, his foot on the first stair.

‘I want to feel safe.’

He held the elder man’s eyes. There he was, Michael Farrer with his truth. Nothing else, nothing more.

‘The gym opens at 9am on a Saturday. Can you make 8?’


The man held out a hand.

 ‘I’ll see you then. Dec.’

He came back and took the calloused hand.


Patrick Cash is a British-Irish writer living in London. He was one of the winners of the Felicity Bryan New Voices 2024 programme for his debut novel, Fireworks. His short fiction has been shortlisted for the Scratch Books A4 competition and long-listed for the Desperate Literature Prize 2024. He’s received funding awards from Arts Council England and The Society of Authors / K Blundell Trust for working on a short story collection, Nightlife, under the mentorship of Alan Hollinghurst.

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