When they are not on duty, the James Bonds live at 125 Wellington Square. From the outside, it is nothing more than an unobtrusive gray metal door set in a worn brick wall, easily overlooked by paparazzi or those who would do them harm. Inside is a modest three story flat with high ceilings, marble counters, and private rooms. The windows are frosted, the view sublime. Every morning there are warm slippers and clean towels. They don’t need much.
Each James Bond has his own suite, each with its own tiled bathroom. Each burnished faucet has extra hot water for a closer shave. Each James Bond has his own monogrammed straight razor, which he keeps in his shaving kit with his horsehair brush and microfiber face towelette.
They share the common areas, but the dining room goes mostly untouched. When they are off duty they mainly eat in their own quarters, or standing at the kitchen counter. They prefer simple meals—sandwiches, boiled chicken breasts, occasionally a cold pasta salad with a low fat dressing. They do their own dishes. They don’t rotate chores. They are very neat. It’s a point of pride.
On the day the sixth James Bond is set to arrive, they get up extra early, shave extra close, wash the dishes extra well. James B. Bond has just returned from duty. He is very tan and relaxed, but the others aren’t jealous. They know their turn will come. Even so, they gathered together last night to listen to his tales. What exploits! What fights! What drinks, what clothes, what gadgets, what girls!
They sigh, as one. When they are off duty they don’t miss much. The jetlag, the sore muscles, the headache of learning a new technology—all that they can do without. But the girls—how they miss them, interchangeable as they are. How they wish for a feminine presence in the chill and manly house. A thrill of women’s underwear mixed with theirs in the hamper—a high heel or a boot beside the door. Waking up next to someone, anyone.
The clock chimes nine. They line up in the foyer, by order of seniority. Not age, since they are all roughly the same, but some of them have been here longer than others, and those James Bonds should get to meet the new resident first.
At promptly nine o’ five the doorbell rings. James A Bond opens the door, after a careful check there is no one else watching. James F Bond steps inside.
A murmur runs through the line of James Bonds. There is something different about the new recruit. Of course, he is exquisitely handsome. His eyes are piercing. His muscles are bulging. He is wearing a sharp suit and expensive shoes and carries an unscuffed briefcase. Yes, he is tall, but James B is taller. He is on the older side, but James E is older. His watch is silver instead of gold, but James A’s is platinum.
He says hello, and his accent is impeccable. He goes down the line, shaking each of their hands. It is when they watch this new hand shaking their own that the James Bonds realize what is different.
It is his skin. Whereas theirs are a nearly uniform shade of proper English pale, (except for James B Bond, recently returned from Tunisia), his is dark. His hand is a shadow to theirs; a contrast that they would admire if it were, say, that of a naked woman’s, but in the circumstances this is nearly unacceptable.
There has never been a black James Bond before.
James F Bond pretends not to notice. He is polite. They are polite. They show him to his room. He admires the black marble sunken bathtub, as they all did upon first inspection. His sheets are soft, his mattress hard, his pillows fluffy. His view: excellent. His wardrobe: pristine. His martini: shaken. Everything is as it should be, except that nagging doubt that something is not.
The new James Bond laughs at all the same jokes. He watches the same television programs. He does his own dishes, and likes a close shave. In the evenings, in the smoking room, the smell of his cigars mingles with the others. He does not ask to open a window. He has the second largest feet, and he is more conscientious than James B about how much room his shoes take up, and the placement of them on the rack beside the door.
They begin to settle in. Perhaps his dark skin was just a novelty. Perhaps they will forget with time. Perhaps they are beginning to already.
And then James F Bond goes on duty. He is gone for a long time. Much longer than James B’s trip to Tunisia. The James Bonds left behind in Wellington Square speculate on where he has been sent. Somewhere far away—Botswana, Antarctica, some tropical island only reachable by biplane.
When he finally returns they make martinis and settle in the cigar room. They each wear a differently colored but identically cut smoking jacket. They are all silk. They are all exceedingly comfortable.
James F Bond gets the place of honor while the others wait to hear his tale.
Where did you go? They ask.
America, he tells them, Texas. He has been to the coast. He has emerged from the water, sparkling clean, letting the drops run down his chest into his form fitting high-end swimsuit. He has eaten of the food and drunk of the drink. He has driven with the top down even though it was really too humid. He has had the girl by the pool and the girl on the beach, but he has also had something else, something none of other James Bonds have had: the boy.
The senior James Bonds gasp. They don’t know what to think.
Sure, there was that time when James E exchanged meaningful glances with that young and comely sheik. And there was that strange time where James C had no girls at all for an entire mission, just meeting upon meeting with crisp suited ambassadors. And there was that one fencing trainer who adjusted James D’s stance a little too frequently. But that was it. No skin to skin. No mouth to mouth. No body parts exposed that had formerly only been exposed to girls.
It was all for England, of course. The boy had had the schematics James F needed, and they were easier to take off of him if he were drunk and relaxed. There was romance, but not love. There was sex, but not feeling. There was only seduction, and the James Bonds are very good at seduction.
They end the evening early, feeling unsettled. Each James Bond has trouble sleeping. Will this happen to them, on their next assignment? Would they be able to go through with it, if it did? Would they want to? They have troubled dreams.
They don’t talk about it. It’s not a group decision, it just happens. For a week, they barely speak at all. No one can look James F in the eye. They can barely look at each other, afraid of what they might see.
James F continues to be polite, and neat, and clean up after himself. He still watches Murder, She Wrote every evening at eight. Gradually, the others return. Perhaps the draw of Cabot Cove is too strong. Perhaps they are curious. Perhaps they can get used to this, too.
James C is called up next. On the evening before he leaves they have a movie night—The Manchurian Candidate, ice cold martinis, jiffy pop popped on the underused stove. The twist ending takes everyone by surprise, and they find they are not tired, so they continue their marathon with Bedknobs and Broomsticks, which is extremely enjoyable. They all laugh at the same places, still, and when they finally retire they feel reaffirmed in their friendship, in the hallowed James Bond-ness of their home.
James C is not gone long. It was a fast mission, with fast cars, on the fast early morning streets of Tokyo. There were no boys, but there was an almost record breaking number of girls: two Japanese, one African American, and one chaste kiss with the secretary back home. The James Bonds breath a sigh of, they think, relief.
James F gets the next mission. He is called out often, a lot more often than the others. James D in particular has not been out for what feels like years. James F is very popular. He continues to get the girl, and, more and more often, the boy. No other James Bond is asked to perform this way. They begin to feel something—is it jealousy? Resentment? They are not sure they want the boy, but it might be nice to be asked.
But by now they are settled into their new routine. It is actually the old routine, but modified slightly to account for the blackness and bisexuality of their new iteration. Soon enough, they tell themselves, they won’t even notice the differences. After a while, they don’t. It’s no more variant, they tell each other, than the colors of our smoking jackets, or eating fish instead of chicken.
On the day the seventh James Bond is set to arrive they get up extra early, shave extra close, wash the dishes extra well. They line up in the foyer, James A at the entrance and James F closest to the kitchen. The clock chimes. The doorbell rings. James A does his sweep and opens the metal door.
This time they all see it immediately. Their gasps become murmurs become outright speech. They are flustered. They forget their composure. They forget to shake hands. How could this happen? Of course, the new James Bond has exquisitely shaped features, muscles, piercing eyes. Of course, there is a sharp suit and expensive shoes and polished briefcase.
But the new James Bond is a girl.
In their confusion, they leave her on the stoop as they exchange hushed whispers, but they have not shut the door tight and she lets herself in.
Gentlemen, she says, which is exactly how they address each other. She holds her hand out to James A. Automatically, he shakes it. She has a very firm grip.
They don’t know what to do. This is unacceptable. There has never been a girl James Bond before.
Woman, she tells them, female. Not girl.
Is it Jamie? They ask her, Jamie Bond?
No, she says. She seems confused. It’s James. James G Bond.
They can feel their brotherhood slipping away. They remember, guiltily, how they wished for female companionship. They remember the thoughts of domesticity, the underwear, the shoes. James G, they intuit, will not be what they were looking for.
James G’s room has a sunken bathtub, a firm mattress, a closet full of suits, and a silk smoking jacket. Instead of a straight razor she has a mother of pearl handled comb, which she uses every day to put her hair back in its signature bun. Her shoes are the smallest, but by a slimmer margin than expected.
She likes her martinis shaken, not stirred. She smokes cigars in the evening with calm and poise. When she stands at the counter to eat her sandwich, not a crumb falls to the floor.
The other James Bonds are in pieces. Their emotions are a turmoil. They don’t know where to look. Everyone’s legs are bare beneath the smoking jackets, but hers are shapely and feminine and hairless. They try their seductions on her, but it is automatic, like a tic, without desire. She only stares at them with her own piercing eyes until they slink away, embarrassed.
Soon enough, very soon, she goes out on a mission, and the remaining James Bonds feel as though a weight has been lifted. She is gone for a week, and in her absence they can relax again, though why does relaxing not feel the same as before? More than one of the more senior James Bonds realize they have not been on duty in several years. Where has the time gone? What is the world like out there, they wonder, if this is what it’s like in here?
When James G comes back, they gather in the smoking room once more. They are full of trepidation, but as she begins her tale it is not so bad. She has been to Africa, she has been to the jungle, and she, like them, is immune to the swelling more common people experience from the bug bites there.
England is safe again, she tells them, and they are treated to a story of jeep races, lost explorers, and a daring escape by canoe. She got the boy, and tells them the details without asking if they want to hear, though no one has ever needed permission before.
Only one boy, though, a single tryst with her local thick accented guide. For a first mission, this seems low. They can’t help but feel a little sorry for her. Is that fair, they wonder, and could they be next?
Time passes. They grow used to her, and don’t even notice James F any more. More and more often, it is only James F and James G who are called up. About once a year James A or B goes back on duty, but these trips grow shorter and shorter until they dwindle down to a single afternoon, and then nothing. Eventually they too are left behind while the newer James Bonds go to wilder and wilder locations—a space shuttle, Mars, an entire mission taking place in virtual reality.
The senior James Bonds leave them to it. The world has changed, they are beginning to understand. It is no longer their world. It is a place for men who like men and girls in suits who rebuff even their suavest advances. On James A’s last mission the gadgets were so small and light he confessed to having almost misplaced them completely. And they are all not so secretly relieved the virtual reality mission was not theirs.
The senior James Bonds settle, again, into a new routine that is much like the old one, except maybe they don’t shave quite so closely or rise quite so early. When they reach the end of Murder She Wrote, instead of starting over at episode one, they try a new show.
On the day the eighth James Bond is set to arrive they get up extra early, shave extra close, wash the dishes extra well. They line up in the foyer. They smooth their jackets and brush imaginary lint from their shoulders. The day is bright and they admire their reflections in the hallway mirror. The clock chimes. The doorbell rings. They take a deep breath and open the door.
© Hannah Lackoff
[This piece was selected by Damyanti Biswas. Read Hannah’s interview]