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OK, let’s start the episode.
Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for pre-intermediate learners. The name of the story is Dear Heart. This is chapter three. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Dear3. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Dear3. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
So I realised while preparing this episode that I hadn’t actually talked about the story yet. Usually, when I write my own stories, I introduce a bit about the story first, but I wanted to let the story speak for itself a bit before giving my spiel.
My spiel, that means my long explanation of what it’s all about.
So I wanted to write a romance and I realised on the podcast, I had never written a straight romance, so a romance between a man and a woman, but I didn’t just want to write a typical, normal straight romance because, you know, I always like playing with ideas of gender in any story I write, from fairy tales to romance and so on.
So I decided to do this story where we have Cassandra, who is the woman, but she’s quite masculine, and then we have Fergus, who’s the man, but he’s a bit less masculine. He’s maybe a bit more feminine in some ways.
When someone is masculine, it means they act like a man. Or actually, it means they act in a way that people think men act. Of course, many men are not traditionally masculine, and many women are masculine as well. Masculine clothes are jeans and shirts. Masculine hobbies are fixing cars, drinking beer and watching sports. Masculinity is the noun form of ‘masculine’. For some people, masculinity is more important than for other people, and some people don’t like masculinity at all.
The opposite of ‘masculine’ is feminine, and the opposite of ‘masculinity’ is femininity.
So, unfortunately, many people have very negative opinions about masculine women. They say that women shouldn’t be masculine, they think it’s unattractive, and they often can be violent towards masculine women. And the same is of course true of feminine men. People think it’s wrong for men to be feminine.
The truth is, nobody 100% fits into a gender role. So we have these ideas of gender roles, right?, where a man is a man and he fixes cars and he’s strong and he has a beard, and a woman is a woman and she has children and does cleaning and cooking.
But nobody 100% fits these roles. There are always areas where we don’t act in the normal masculine or feminine way. Maybe it’s a TV show we like, maybe it’s some clothes we wear, you know, whatever it is. Because these ideas are cultural, for the most part.
What is considered masculine or feminine can change a lot between cultures. In modern society, we have a more universal idea of masculinity and femininity. These gender roles are becoming more globalised. But to be honest, in the past, this really wasn’t the case, and there was a lot more diversity of gender.
Personally, I’m very attracted to masculine women. I will never complain about a woman wearing a cap and a shirt and jeans with muscles and tattoos. I love that. If Cass was a real person, I would ask her out on a date. So, I guess that’s the other reason I decided to write this story! It’s always fun to write characters who you’re attracted to.
By the way, many of you have messaged me or contacted me to ask me about the character of Jo. Specifically, why does Jo use they/them pronouns?
So you may have noticed in previous episodes, Cass will say, ‘Oh, Jo entered the room. They were very angry,’ instead of he was very angry or she was very angry. So these are pronouns.
The reason I’m using they/them pronouns for Jo is because Jo is a non-binary character. This idea may be completely new to you, so I’m going to try and explain it but I’ll also put a video with a better explanation at the transcript at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Dear3.
So we talk about the gender binary, right? The gender binary is men and women. It’s the idea that there are just two genders and you’re either a man or you’re a woman 100%.
And actually, this isn’t really fully accurate. Sex, if we talk about sexual characteristics like breasts, genitalia—so, your private parts—, facial hair and so on, they vary a lot across different races, across different groups of people.
You can have someone who maybe seems very masculine in one culture who maybe has less masculine features in another culture. Similarly, you can have women who maybe have lots of body hair, men who maybe have what we would consider breasts. There is a lot of complexity with biological sex.
But basically, it’s not just strictly man or woman, and throughout history, there have always been groups of people who did not fully feel that they belonged in these categories.
So you may have heard of transgender people. Transgender people are people who transition from one gender to the other. Maybe they were born and everyone said, ‘You’re a man,’ but later in life they decide, ‘Actually, no, I’m not a man, I’m a woman,’ or rather, they realise that they are a woman and they take hormones and have medical procedures for their body to more accurately fit how they feel on the inside.
But equally, throughout history, there have also been people who felt like they didn’t fit in either category of man or woman, and that they fit outside the binary, as in non-binary.
So non-binary is a term we can use for people who feel that they are neither male nor female, and I shouldn’t say ‘feel’, it’s people who are neither male nor female because I truly believe that it is a real phenomenon, it is a… authentic thing.
And actually, this idea that there are just two genders and you’re only a man or a woman, it’s a very recent idea. If we go back 1000 years in the past and we look at cultures and societies outside of Europe, this diversity has always existed.
I’m saying this myself… It’s kind of awkward, I should probably just say what is really on the back of my mind, which is that I am transgender. I am a transgender woman. I’ve never officially come out on the podcast, I’ve never officially said that I am a transgender woman, but I guess I’ve dropped hints, I’ve maybe suggested at times that I’m trans.
So I am not non-binary, I am binary transgender, so my pronouns are she/her, but before I settled, before I chose this identity, I identified as non-binary for a long time, and I used they/them pronouns. And to be honest, that’s a common experience for many transgender people.
But equally, there are many people who discover that they are non-binary and they stay with this identity for a long time, maybe their whole life. Some will choose to medically transition in some ways, maybe going on hormones, but others choose not to.
Um, so I didn’t want to make this about me being transgender? Because, to be honest, I don’t know how much I want to talk about it on the podcast. I talk about it a lot on Elevenses with Ariel, to be fair, but I kind of knew I had to mention it at some point. I’ll do a whole episode on it at some point and explain my whole story.
But yeah, I’m a trans woman, my pronouns are she/her. You may have noticed that my voice has changed within the last few months. That’s because I’m doing voice training to sound more feminine, so…
Anyway! Sorry, this introduction is going to be really long. But as I said, I’m gonna put a video in the transcript at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Dear3 that fully explains what being non-binary means.
I’m aware that some of you might not know what being transgender means very much. You can leave a comment and you can ask me questions, or you can email me questions at Ariel@EasyStoriesInEnglish.com.
However, as a transgender person, I get asked about this a lot. I have a lot of people asking me, ‘Oh, what does it mean? When did you realise you were trans? How do you feel about this and that?’ and it’s quite boring. I get a bit bored of answering questions about it all the time.
So I do ask, if you have a question about being transgender or non-binary that you can Google, that you can find the answer to on Google, try that, and if you’re still really confused, I’m very happy to talk about it. But I don’t want to be asked loads of questions, and I really don’t want to be asked personal questions about, like, my body and stuff like that.
Please remember, I am a human being and I have my boundaries, I have the areas I don’t want to talk about.
Anyway, very long introduction!
OK, I’ll just explain some words that are in today’s story.
If you stop someone from getting air into their body, you suffocate them. You can suffocate someone by putting your hands around their neck, but this is not very nice!
When you take control of something, you start controlling it, you start having power over it. For example, if you are a teacher and your class is talking loudly, not paying attention and playing games, then you need to take control. You need to do something to show that you are the teacher, and not them. In life, it’s often difficult to take control of things, but we’re usually happier when we do.
A grin is a broad smile. If something is funny and unexpected, you might grin at it.
A prompt is a word or phrase that you use to encourage someone to say, think or write more. For example, if you are acting in a play and forget your line, the other actor might prompt you, give you the first word of your line. If you are writing but don’t know what to write, you can use a writing prompt. For example, you might start your story off with a phrase like, ‘It was a day like any other…’ or you have to write a story with the words ‘pineapple’, ‘destroy’ and ‘curious’ in it. These are two writing prompts.
When ice turns into water, it melts. Ice melts when it is warm. Other cold things can melt, too. For example, when you buy an ice cream, you have to eat it quickly or it will melt, and you’ll have very wet hands.
When you bully someone, you are mean to them for no reason. Most bullies are found in schools, and they are mean to and hurt other kids for fun. Bullying is a serious problem, because if you are bullied, it can affect you for your whole life.
A typewriter is a machine used to write on paper. It is older than a computer but newer than a pen. A typewriter looks like a computer but without the screen. You put paper in and start typing, writing, and the typewriter presses ink onto the page.
When something is rusty, it has rust on it. Rust is a red thing that you get on iron or steel when it is old and gets very wet. For example, if you do not look after your car properly, it can get rusty. This is a problem, because rusty metal can break easily and it leaves rust everywhere.
When something is delicate, it is very easy to break or hurt it. For example, wine glasses are delicate because you can break them easily. People can also be delicate, which means it’s easy to hurt them and they might cry a lot.
If you enjoy the podcast and want more, you can support me on Patreon. For just $2 a month you can get exercises with each episode, and for $5, you get an extra story every month, as well as Elevenses with Ariel, a daily conversational podcast for intermediate learners. Last week I talked about snow, a documentary called The Social Dilemma, touch starvation and boundaries. You can support the show and get all the extra content at Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish. That’s Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish.
A big thank-you to my new patrons: Martin Štoff, Convert Erdi and Libor Lušovský. Thank you so much. Your support really means a lot to me.
OK, so listen and enjoy!
Dear Heart Chapter 3
Riding a motorbike was terrifying. At least, the first five minutes were. I held onto Cass so tight I thought I might suffocate her. But that helped, because the soft leather of her jacket pressed against my face, and I could feel her heartbeat, close but far away, under the sound of the engine.
She drove carefully, and within a few minutes I was feeling more comfortable. The roads weren’t too busy at this time on a Monday night, although she shouldn’t have been driving at all. The alcohol and excitement had taken control of both of us.
I didn’t quite throw my hands into the air and shout, ‘I’m free!’ but I did hold her a bit less tight, felt the motorbike move beneath me, watched the world fly past us. I thought I could quite enjoy this if I did it more often.
Her place wasn’t far, and when we arrived I almost fell off the bike. Cass turned around and caught me, her strong arms pulling me up, and just like that we were kissing again. She held my face in her gloved hands, and I tasted the heat of her lips in the cold night air, as well as the soft press of leather.
But I needed her touch.
She picked me up and carried me up the stairs, taking away any masculinity I still had. But I realised I didn’t care. I was a man for her, wasn’t I?
She carried me through the door, like I was her bride, and dropped me on the sofa.
‘Now,’ she said, pulling off her gloves. ‘You still have to teach me about poetry. I really don’t know very much. Do we write with a pen, or our bodies?’
I grinned. ‘We can use both.’
And we did.
The next morning, I woke up in her arms with something sharp pressing into my back. I felt behind me and found a piece of paper. Actually, the bed was full of paper, all with drunken love poems written on them.
We had been doing prompts, I remembered, after drinking a lot of gin. We started each poem with the same phrase, wrote them, and then compared. Most of them were awful, I was sure, but one in particular stayed in my mind.
The prompt was Dear Heart, which I chose because of our love letters. I looked around on the bed, trying to find the prompt, but it was impossible.
‘Alright, alright, I’ll wake up,’ groaned Cass, turning over and kissing me on the cheek. ‘For once, real life is sweeter than dreams.’
‘You’re still thinking like a poet, I see.’
She held me in her arms and bit my ear.
‘Mind food,’ she whispered, and I laughed. ‘I got a very good taste of it last night.’
My heart froze as I remembered what we had done. I had let her take control, given myself to her completely.
‘You don’t… find me too soft?’ I said, still unable to believe it.
‘That’s what I like about you.’ She started playing with my hair, and her voice went sad. ‘I was with some pretty awful men when I was younger.’
I looked her in the eyes. ‘Do you want to talk about it?’
She smiled. ‘You’re sweet. But no, I’m OK. I didn’t know I liked girls back then, so I was just going with whatever guy would have me. I didn’t realise I should actually be attracted to them. Now I know that I like them soft.’ She pressed her hand onto my chest, where my heart was. ‘See?’
And just like that, I melted.
I drove us to work. It was awful, trying to get ready quickly after drinking so much the night before, and on a Tuesday, but it felt great to drive my boyfriend into work. Oh, he was definitely my boyfriend now.
We stopped in the car park, and I took him into my arms.
‘I don’t want to let you go into Nigella’s hands,’ I said.
‘Well, we’ve got about…’ he checked his watch—of course he had an old-fashioned watch and not a digital one—‘…five more minutes.’
‘That’s at least 500 more kisses.’
‘Oh, I didn’t realise you were an Olympic kisser!’
I grinned. ‘I don’t just work on my arms, you know…’
But after a few kisses, I started to feel curious about something.
‘So are we like… boyfriend and girlfriend?’
He went red, in that cute way he always did.
‘I-if you want to…’
‘If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be kissing you where everyone can see us.’
Then he grinned. ‘Alright then.’
My heart sang. But there was still a drop of doubt there.
‘Have you… been with a woman like me before?’
I had had this happen before with guys. They loved me in private, but they never wanted to introduce me to their friends. I was too strong, too masculine.
He bit his lip. ‘Actually, I’ve only ever been in one relationship. And it didn’t go great.’
I held a finger to his chin so that he looked me in the eyes. He looked scared.
‘She was… She wasn’t the right person for me.’
‘She didn’t like writing letters?’
‘No, nothing like that, I—’
‘She wanted to get married?’
‘We didn’t get that far, it was—’
‘She had an annoying dog?’
‘She bullied me!’ he cried, and then covered his mouth.
Little tears started to form in the corners of his eyes, like jewels. Oh God, there I went again, pushing and pushing, trying to be cute and fun. But I wasn’t. I was a bull.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said quickly, ‘I—’
‘She called me names, she laughed at me, she—’
I pulled him into my chest. ‘Shh, shh. Say no more. I shouldn’t have kept asking.’
He sighed into me. He was shaking. ‘Thank you.’
‘Don’t thank me. I’m sorry.’ I pulled off my gloves and cleaned his tears.
My soft little Fergus was more broken than I thought. And the IT part of my brain screamed again and again: ‘Fix him, fix him, fix him.’
But could I? What if I just hurt him like his last girlfriend?
I hadn’t meant to cry in the car park. I felt silly, and hoped that people at work wouldn’t all be talking about it.
I decided to visit Cass at lunch to make it up to her. I went to the coffee shop across the road and got two large coffees with chocolate croissants. If everyone had seen us in the car park, there was no reason to hide our relationship.
But when I arrived at her department, she wasn’t there.
‘She’s out fixing something still,’ said one of the IT guys. He looked unhappy that I was there during lunch, not that his looked very nice. He was eating a supermarket sandwich at his desk, getting bits of bread all over his keyboard.
‘Do you know when she’ll be back?’
‘How should I know? She doesn’t talk to the rest of us.’
‘Huh…’ That was strange. I couldn’t imagine Cass being shy or unfriendly.
‘So,’ he said, ‘how long have you been riding the bull?’
I almost dropped my coffee. ‘Sorry?’
He grinned. ‘Oh, come on. You know what I mean. She’s hardly a natural beauty, is she? Though I suppose if she put on some makeup she might look OK.’
I carefully put my coffee down, trying to hide the fact that I was shaking.
If this was how the other guys in her department were, I could see why she didn’t speak to them.
‘Don’t call her that.’
The man’s eyes went wide, and then he laughed, sending bits of lettuce and mayonnaise flying into the air.
‘Oh, God, you’re in love with the bull? Didn’t she make you cry in the car park?’
My cheeks burned. ‘I said don’t call her that.’
He smiled like a cat that had just found a tasty mouse. ‘Or what? You’ll suffocate me with your bowtie?’
‘J-just give these to her when she gets back,’ I said, pushing the coffee and croissant towards him.
I ran away, knowing that he wouldn’t. He would eat the croissant, and I could do nothing to stop it.
The next few days, I was busy with work and looking after Penny. But that Friday, Fergus invited me round to his place. I was hoping to repeat our last night together, but as soon as I walked inside, I knew that wouldn’t happen.
Fergus’ apartment was like walking into a charming British film, the kind that Americans love. It was filled with wooden furniture, all clean and shiny, and every room seemed to have at least five bookcases in it. Even the kitchen! And there were paintings on all the walls. Apart from a poster in my bedroom, I didn’t have anything like that. There were even little statues of cats on some of the shelves.
This was not a place for getting drunk and writing love poems in bed.
‘How did you afford this place?’ I said, moving as carefully as I could. I was worried I might break something.
‘It was my grandmother’s, and I got it when she died. That’s partly why I moved to the city. I couldn’t just sell the place. Tea?’
‘Sure. I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother.’
‘Oh, don’t be. She was a horrible woman. Good at choosing furniture, though.’
He put on the kettle and showed me around. His bedroom was much less tidy than the other rooms, which made me feel better, and his bed looked very comfortable.
‘What’s in that room?’ I said, pointing to the one door he hadn’t opened.
‘That’s, uh… That’s where I do one of my hobbies.’
‘And you aren’t going to show me?’
I thought of all the things he might want to hide from me. Did he catch animals and cut them apart? Did he collect dolls?
‘It’s embarrassing. You’ll think I’m really weird.’
‘Fergus,’ I said, taking his shoulders. ‘You really think that?’
Then I realised how I was talking to him and pulled away. I had been worrying all week, thinking about how his ex had treated him. Did she hold him like I did? Did she speak to him like that, as if she was in control and he was just a child?
‘Alright then. But promise not to laugh.’
He opened the door to show a small study. There were shelves on each side, and a small antique desk, but instead of books, the shelves held typewriters. There were all kinds: smart black ones that you could’ve put a bowtie on, bright green ones, small ones for travelling… They all looked clean and tidy, ready to be picked up and used.
On the desk sat a small, black typewriter, with paper still in it.
‘You collect them?’
‘Yeah. Half of them don’t work, of course, or it’s too hard to find the parts to fix them. Not that I’d know how to fix them.’
‘I can help with that.’
He had been looking at the floor, as if he thought I might leave, but now he looked up with his mouth wide open.
‘Really? You’d help me with my weird hobby?’
Oh, my poor Fergus! His ex must have laughed about his hobby all the time if he was acting like this. I wanted to find her and hurt her for what she did.
‘Of course!’ I said. ‘Show me one of the broken ones.’
He lifted an old machine from the shelf. It was clearly very heavy, so I helped him carry it to the desk.
It was tall and looked very old.
‘It’s a rare one,’ he explained. ‘It cost me a lot.’
My brain immediately started thinking like an IT person. ‘So what’s the problem?’
I moved forward to touch it, and Fergus cried, ‘Careful!’
But it was too late. My big, fat finger fell on the X key, pressing it too hard, and it broke off, falling onto the table.
‘Oh my God, I’m so sorry.’
I immediately tried to put the key back, but of course I couldn’t. The metal was old and rusty, and would need to be replaced.
‘Just leave it,’ said Fergus, his voice sounding as cold and rusty as the machine.
‘God, Fergus, I’m really sorry. I’m just, I’m just like a big bull, I—’
‘It’s OK,’ he said, his voice sounding a little more human. ‘But let’s go sit in the other room. I’ll look at it later.’
I almost ran out of the room, worried I would break something else.
We sat down to tea, and Fergus managed to hide his disappointment, but I didn’t think I’d be seeing that room again any time soon. It was better that way. I wasn’t the right person to work with delicate things like that.
Fergus made dinner, spaghetti bolognese, and told me all about Nigella.
‘She’s happy with the new email system, so I’ve got you to thank. But now she seems to think I’m a hard worker. She gets me to do everything for her. She even makes me clean her desk!’
‘I’ll go talk to her for you.’
‘Please don’t,’ he said, pushing his fork into the spaghetti. ‘I don’t want her thinking I’m weaker than she already does.’
I bit my tongue. Of course I couldn’t come in and save him. What was I thinking? He had to fight Nigella on his own. I wished I could help him.
I stayed the night, and we wrote poetry again, but this time was different. It was slower, quieter, softer. Fergus melted in my arms, and I almost managed to forget what I’d done.
But I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep. I pulled out my phone and texted Jo.
I made a big mistake. Fergus collects old typewriters, and I broke one of them. A really old, special one. Why am I such a bull?
They responded almost immediately.
Girl, you’re a strong, attractive, motorbike-riding woman who can fix anything. If he can’t handle you, he doesn’t deserve you.
I snorted. If only Jo was as good at taking their advice as they were at giving it.
Thanks, I texted back.
I’m sorry for not writing sooner. I’ve read all your letters, and I’m so happy to hear about the kittens. Send me a picture next time!
Life has been crazy here. My new boss is a cruel woman who expects me to change all the technology. Luckily, I found someone to help me out. Actually, she’s not just helping me with emails. She’s my girlfriend.
I know how surprised you must be. After Hilda, I didn’t think I would find anyone, as I told you many times. At least, I didn’t think I would find anyone who liked me as I am. But in the end, you were right. There are women who like soft men.
The only problem is, I’m too soft. She came round yesterday, and I showed her my typewriter collection. She said she’d help me fix them, and I got all excited, which was stupid. It’s very delicate work, and it’s so easy to damage the machines. I showed her the Sholes & Glidden—you know, the one I had to order from America? She was just trying to help, but she broke off one of the keys.
I tried to hide it, but I felt awful. Like it was my finger that had been broken. How ridiculous is that? Why is it that I can care so much about an old machine?
I know she didn’t mean to do it, and I know that typewriter probably can’t be fixed anyway, but I still feel so… I don’t know how to describe it. Maybe I should go write some poetry.
Yes, I think that’s what I’ll do. I’ve got that mix of feelings, and I’m telling myself that I can’t be with her, but that’s stupid. It’s just a typewriter, isn’t it? That doesn’t take away all the wonderful moments I’ve shared with her.
Oh, I’ll have to tell you all about it in the next letter…
Love from an old friend,
END OF CHAPTER THREE
If you enjoyed the story and want to say thank you, you can buy me a coffee on Ko-Fi. Just go to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com and click the orange button that says Buy me a coffee! Then you’ll be able to send me $3 so that I can buy a coffee, but really, I’ll probably get a bubble tea. And I’ll think of you while I drink it! Thank you for listening, and until next week.