The Pros and Cons
Amy had just opened a bottle of wine and was pouring a glass for Kit. She turned her head at the sound of keys in the front door, followed by weary footsteps and the gentle thud of a briefcase hitting the floor.
“Hi Derek,” she called out, “Kit’s here!”
“Hi Derek,” said Kit.
“Hi Kit,” Derek called back from the corridor. Amy thought his voice sounded strained. She could usually tell by the sounds of his entrance what sort of day her husband had had. She poured a third glass and stood up to greet him.
When Derek stepped into the kitchen, Amy was a little taken aback by his appearance. His tutu was torn and muddy, his prosthetic horns were at an odd angle, and he seemed to be limping on his platform boots.
“Oh Derek!” she said, giving him a tender kiss. “Bad day?”
Derek nodded, took the glass of wine gratefully, and slumped onto a chair.
“Alright, Kit?” he asked, trying to smile.
Kit was their next-door neighbour and was often there when Derek got home from work.
“Alright, thanks. Having a nightmare with the boiler, though!”
Derek gave a consoling smile. He didn’t need to know the details. The general opinion about Kit was that he was a bit of a walking disaster. He was always locking himself out of his house, getting burgled or having problems with his plumbing. But he had a kind heart and an extensive knowledge of sport and culture, so over the years, the three had become pub quiz teammates and good friends.
Derek started to peel the long latex boots from his aching calves. He sighed deeply.
“Was it those kids again?” Amy asked.
“They’re little shits.”
Amy and Kit nodded in sympathy.
“I don’t know why it keeps happening,” Derek said, “I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”
There was a slightly awkward silence.
It was rare for Derek to openly question his lifestyle choice. Amy saw that this might be an opportunity to ask a question that had been on her mind for some months. She paused and took a breath.
“The thing I don’t understand,” she ventured, “is why they make you wear that outfit every day. I’d understand if it were once in a while. On special occasions. But every day? What sort of bank is it?”
There was another silence. Derek looked confused. He stared at Amy for a moment, then at Kit, who was nodding in agreement, then back at Amy.
“Hold on a sec,” Derek said, frowning, “do you think this is a uniform? Company dress code?”
Derek’s frown deepened and the awkwardness intensified. But then he let out a little laugh, and Amy and Kit laughed along in relief.
“God, I wish it was!” Derek continued. “No, they really don’t like me turning up like this. They say it’s not good for their image, or something. I’ve had to fight for the right to wear what I want.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Kit, “it’s discrimination!”
“I know! I mean, I’m incredibly professional, and the manager knows it. I’ve never had a complaint. I wear my name badge without fail – unlike some of the others. Some people turn up to work in any old creased shirt, sometimes with food stains from the day before. I would never do that. I always wear a freshly ironed company shirt over this stuff.”
‘This stuff’ was a reference to the prosthetic sheep’s pelt that covered his torso and arms.
“Speaking of which, d’you mind if I…?”
“Course not” replied Kit.
Derek began removing the horns, ears and pelt from his head, neck and torso. It was always a relief to let his skin breathe again. Amy was a little quiet and contemplative. Derek noticed this and gave her an affectionate nudge.
“You really thought it was company policy to dress like this?” he asked, gently teasing.
She replied carefully and only half-smiling. “It’s just that you started… doing this when you started your new job. You never dressed like this before, as far as I know. And at weekends you wear normal – can I say normal? – clothes, so…”
“Fair point,” said Derek. It was true, he had never dressed as a ram before starting his new job, but isn’t it often the case that a change in one area of life can inspire change in another?
“I just assumed that it was, well, I don’t know – a themed bank or something,” Amy offered.
“So did I,” Kit chipped in.
They all laughed. But when the laughter died down Derek looked sad again.
“The thing is,” he said, “I sometimes wonder why I bother.”
Amy and Kit stayed quiet, encouraging him to continue.
“I put so much effort into it, and I’m not sure anyone really appreciates it.”
Amy and Kit glanced at one another, neither of them knowing quite what to say.
“I’ve been questioning it a lot lately. Wondering whether there’s any point in it. I’ve even wondered if I should give it all up. For good.”
Derek looked so downhearted as he said this. “Anyway, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to burden you guys with it”.
“No, no, you’re not,” said Amy. Then she suggested they make a list of the pros and cons to help clarify Derek’s thoughts, and Derek agreed to this.
He wanted to begin with the cons to get them out of the way, and he started with the small things – details that might seem irrelevant but were important to him. The fact, for example, that he rarely goes to the countryside (he doesn’t like the smell), so his understanding of what a ram looks like mostly comes from pictures. Consequently, when he looks in the mirror he sometimes worries that there may be deep anatomical inaccuracies in the angles and proportions of his horns.
Amy and Kit listened patiently.
After about half an hour, he got onto the more level-headed subject of practicalities – the cost, for example. Good quality latex, cold foam, gelatine and silicone rubber don’t come cheap. Then there was the time commitment. Over the months Derek had managed to get quicker at applying the intricate make-up and prosthetic pelt, but it still took three solid hours each morning. This meant setting his alarm clock for 4:30am. Maintenance work on the nose, ears and horns also added to the time commitment, sometimes taking up more than a day of each weekend.
On top of that, there was the discomfort. The weight and pressure of the horns often gave him migraines, and wearing the platform shoes – designed to look like tall hooves – required him to walk in an unnatural way that hurt his back and the bones in his feet.
Then there was the bullying. There was a gang of thirteen-year-old boys who would often wait outside the bank after school. They would take it in turns to ‘ram tip’ him, in imitation of the cruel sport known as ‘cow tipping’. Derek had called the school to complain and had been disappointed that his complaint wasn’t taken more seriously.
Added to this there was the dissent from inside the bank. Colin, Derek’s manager, was a very stubborn man. He had always refused to even try to understand why Derek was coming to work dressed as a ram. (The tutu part of the outfit had come later. Derek thought that it would unify his look and add a touch of humour, but it only seemed to make Colin more angry.)
Colin often told Derek that the only reason he “gets away with it” is that he’s exceptionally good at his job. Also, that if it wasn’t for his “ridiculously inappropriate work attire” he’d have been promoted months ago and would now be earning three times his current salary. To this, Derek had always responded patiently that it isn’t all about the money.
Amy and Kit listened without interrupting and without comment or judgment. After about two hours, Derek felt that he had pretty much covered the cons. Amy had drawn a neat line down the middle of seven sheets of copier paper and had filled the left-hand column on each side. Derek was touched by her eagerness to help.
“Ok, I’m ready for the pros when you are,” she said after a gulp of wine.
Derek smiled. He took a long pause and a deep breath before speaking.
“I suppose the plus side is…”
Amy and Kit listened intently.
“I just really like it.”
Amy and Kit exchanged looks.
“Is that it?” Amy asked.
Derek was staring into space.
“Yes, that’s it. I just really enjoy it.”
Then he looked at the many sheets of paper covered in Amy’s meticulous handwriting and began to laugh. Amy and Kit weren’t sure whether to laugh with him. It was the sort of laughter that seemed like it could turn into tears at any moment. They looked at each other again, trying to work out what the other was thinking, and what to say. Both felt of the burden of responsibility.
Derek kept laughing. He was shaking his head slightly, but there were no tears.
Eventually, Amy ventured very tentatively.
“Well… if you enjoy it…”
Derek stopped laughing and looked at her. Then he looked at Kit, whose face was saying what Amy had just put into words.
“Really?” asked Derek, narrowing his eyes slightly.
Amy looked to Kit, wanting him to say something.
“Yeah… if you enjoy it, that’s the most important thing.” Kit said.
“You really think so?”
“Yeah…I mean, you do look great!”
“You look amazing!” Amy added.
Derek’s expression changed. It was as if a heavy cloud had lifted.
“You really think so?” he said, positively beaming now.
“Of course!” said Amy, smiling. She was so relieved to see him happy again.
“Of course!” Kit agreed, “and you know what, I wish I’d had the idea of dressing up as an animal at work. I can’t now, because it would just look like I was copying you. But it must feel brilliant!”
“It does,” Derek said, “it really does”.
Between bouts of the uncomplicated laughter of relief, Derek thanked his wife and friend and apologised for being such a pain tonight.
“I should really stop doubting myself, shouldn’t I?” he said. Amy and Kit agreed that he should stop doubting himself, and assured him that he hadn’t been a pain.
It was getting late, but there was still time for Derek to wash the remnants of the latex off in the shower before a quick game of Trivial Pursuit.
Derek felt a deep sense of contentment all evening. Just knowing that there were two people in the world – people who were important to him – who genuinely appreciated his efforts and sacrifices, made everything feel worthwhile.