The young man stood pale and naked in front of the mirror. Ashamed and horrified by the sight, he steeled himself and applied the shaving cream all over his face – beard, moustache, eyebrows.

Jamal threw the last CD into the trash, then swung up on the fence and dropped, feet first, on top of them with a smash. Gleefully stomping on the hip-hop and rap albums until only broken shards remained. Below them lay the shreds and rags of his streetwear he’d torn asunder with his own hands. He’d so desperately wanted to be a gangsta rapper with the perfect rhymes – they’d been his idols – they’d started just as black teen boys like him with a dream to make it big.

That was over now. He was proper.

“Jamal, what you be doing out there?” his mother asked.

He came in and announced. “I threw out all my rap and hip-hop stuff, mother. You always hated it – now I do too. I’m proper now.”

Sounding pleased, his mother praised him. “You’re proper now – yeah, Jamal. Never could stand that rap and hip-hop crap.”

Jamal shot a sharp look at his mother. “You shouldn’t say that word, mother. It’s not ladylike to curse.”

She looked suitably chastened. “Uhh, yeah; right, Jamal. Good boy. Now, Momma’s gotta get dinner ready, run along. Unless you wanna hang around and help?” A request that normally had Jamal vanishing that quickly it was almost like he’d discovered how to turn invisible.

“Of course, mother – that’s what a proper son would do for his family.” Jamal dutifully replied.

She was amazed. No matter the teenager, they all shirked from such duties. But Jamal’s mother wasn’t going to ‘look a gift horse in the mouth’, as they say.

Handing him a cutting board, a knife and some potatoes, she watched him peel and slice them quickly and happily.

Shaking her head in disbelief, she remarked to her son. “Yes, Jamal, very proper indeed.”

Jamal beamed, and continued onto the other vegetables.

He applied the straight-razor carefully and removed all the offending hair from his face. Now it was totally bereft of stubble or brow.

She watched it all burn.

A mishmash of paper, cloth and PVC, the smoke the fire released was acrid and choking. A book cover, borne aloft by a gust of wind escaped the flames and flew towards her, the title still readable: ‘The Female Eunuch’. She snatched it out of the air and tossed it back to be consumed in the inferno. The feminist literature burned with the fetish-wear she’d paraded around in before her awakening.

She was now dressed more sensibly in a blue gingham dress, her hair no longer spiked or dreadlocked but in bouncy curls framing her face. Instead of the habitual white makeup over sallow skin, she was just an appropriately sun-kissed shade.

He would approve of her now. Her shameful former life was ash on the wind. In that life she had played at being dead while her eyes had shone with a dark life of their own. Now she had lost her graveyard pallor but the eyes that watched the fire burn were demure and dead.

The armpits were easy. Slap on the cream, hold arm upraised and straight down. If he was a woman, that would have been it – but he needed more as a man to be considered “approved.”

“It’s over.”

“Steve, how can you say that?” protested Brian. “You said you loved me – you said we would be together forever…”

“It’s over.” Steve repeated. “It’s an abomination. You’re an abomination. I am no longer like you, Brian.”

“You freaking HYPOCRITE! You were the one that helped me come out and find my real sexuality, Steve. And now you have the NERVE to denounce ME? If I’m an ‘abomination’ in your eyes now, you helped me get here – and I’m still thankful for that.” Brian’s eyes blazed with fury now, confronting his love.

Brian was a big man and he’d taken some hard knocks in his life but Steve’s punch floored him. It was shock rather than impact that felled him – Brian couldn’t conceive that his love of many years, the man he’d been with through so much weal and woe together would strike at him with such vehemence.

“You will not remind me of my past misdeeds again. I am a proper man now. He approves of me. That is all that matters.”

“Who’s ‘he’? Did you find a better version of me or something, Steve?” Brian snidely asked, still lying where he had fallen as Steve walked away.

Steve remained silent and Brian fired his parting shot. “You’re right, it doesn’t matter. You’ve changed, Steve – I’m GLAD you’re gone. You’re no longer the man I fell in love with.”

His former love kept walking and Brian’s composure finally shattered – he shook, pounded the earth with his fists and wept.

Next came the chest, he slathered shaving cream over the hirsute expanse. Small, measured and careful strokes took off most of the forest of strands on the first passes of the razor. Almost done now.

His results came back. Passed with flying colours.

Such a waste of time.

Philosophy and theology, what had he been thinking? Pointless theory with no practical application! Where he could have been studying engineering or architecture. A proper choice.

Next semester would be different. Not just for him, but for everyone.

He’d taken the part-time library shelver job originally to help pay off his university fees – it also allowed him to have a lot more access to the library for his own purposes.

Carefully he’d sequestered the proper books safely away from the rest – the remainder trapped with time-fuse incendiary charges.

Which would all be going off around … now. He had walked past the library at the exact moment the alarms went off. Alarms linked with sprinkler systems that had conveniently and ‘coincidentally’ malfunctioned at this critical time, allowing the flames to race from shelf to shelf unchecked.

Gone were the filthy fetish magazines. Gone were the journals of free expression, the unholy art and unclean literature that he had formerly studied with such fervour and now utterly loathed.

There would be no materials for those subjects next year and not enough funds to replace them – a warm glow took him to remember that some of the works were irreplaceable.

Go to another library perhaps? He had been one of many proper folk who had cleansed such decay from such institutes of learning. All over, people were waking up from their depraved dreams and becoming proper. Today he’d received a message from another student – she’d withdrawn from her Women’s Studies course to marry the boy next door. She’d said “A woman has no place being educated; her place is in the home.”

He’d been so proud of her. He would be so proud of her. The world was gradually becoming a better place for proper folks to live in.

Now, having shorn all of his hateful body hair, he could dress again. The nakedness had been a necessary evil but still distasteful. He put on a smart, starched shirt and perfectly ironed trousers. It looked very sharp with his shiny black shoes.

Andy Chang looked up abruptly from the TV Guide and turned to his wife, Cathy. Voice rising over the hubbub of the television, he said “This is wrong.”

Cathy discarded her Vogue and replied. “I agree. We should have a divorce.”

Andy nodded. “I’m Chinese and you’re Caucasian. Ethnic mixing is an abomination. He does not approve.”

“He does not.” Cathy agreed.

“Nor should we continue to co-habit.” suggested Andy. Both exchanged terse nods and disappeared into the bedroom, leaving their three beautiful children in the living room confused at this new development.

Fifteen minutes later the children were hustled out the door, both Cathy and Andy lugging packed suitcases. Alarm set and door locked, each parent climbed into separate cars and started up the engines.

Matthew Chang, their only son and eldest child asked “What’s going on?”

Andy and Cathy both killed the engines and spoke to each other, ignoring Matthew’s question.

“What do we do with them, Andrew?” Cathy asked.

“They are products of an unholy union, he does not approve of them.” said Andy.

Both of them cast a sterile gaze over their children. Matthew, at age ten, an asset on the football team due to his speed and wiry strength; not to mention the good-natured class clown in the school-room. Jasmine, already at seven mature enough to selflessly care for others more than herself; a sweet, quiet and thoughtful girl no one could dislike. Amanda, at three so very curious, inquisitive and intelligent – already a handful with her strong, independent thoughts.

Andy’s final assessment: “Leave them. No longer our problem.”

“No children of ours. We’re proper folk.” Cathy grimly declared as she started the engine again and drove away, followed immediately by Andy.

Jasmine leaned against her brother and started to cry. Even Amanda was out of sorts as she waited for her mother to come back. Matthew could barely think for the shock. “This has to be a joke or something. They wouldn’t just abandon us.”

“Would they?”

He locked up his little house and walked the stone-laid path across the tidy lawn and in between the roses. Taking a moment, as you always should, to sniff them as he shut the white picket gate.

All around in his street, his neighbourhood, proper folk were doing exactly the same thing.

Friendly smiles and greetings as proper folk do, joining together in perfect formation to march to their combined goal.

“… reports of widespread destruction of the area popularly known as ‘Gayfair’…”

“… this just in – the Art Gallery with the famous touring ‘Works of the Old Masters’ exhibition was razed to the ground with substantial collateral damage to the ensuing area …”

“… fumes a health hazard at the corner of Hayward and Becker due to the arson attack on an ‘extreme alternative’ clothing emporium, their entire inventory of thousands of leather, silk, vinyl and rubber attire going literally up in smoke …”

“… as well as the destroyed club circuit, many prominent intellectuals and activists have been brutally assaulted in broad daylight, many now in critical …”

“… all over the country? Mike – you don’t know the half of it – this is a worldwide phenomenon. I’ve never seen anything like it in my years on the force.”

“Who is actually responsible for this wave of devastation, Bob, in your professional opinion? Our viewers want to know!”

“You know, normally I’d chalk it up to concentrated gang activity, but that’s the thing, Mike.”

“What, Bob?”

“The people who are doing this are proper, stand-up folks, you expect them sitting down to a nice Sunday roast today, instead of smashing modern sculpture and torching stores. They just look like everyone else. Normal. Ya can’t arrest someone for being normal, can you?”

Ignorant of these events, a man mowed his front lawn on a Sunday afternoon. He waved over the white picket fence to his neighbour, who waved back. As he pushed the old, reliable gas-guzzling lawnmower, he dreamed of a world that was a proper place for proper folks to live in.

A world which he could approve of.



Adelaide, Australia

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