This is the comedy life story of a young boy Alfred Carter, who grew up in the seventies and was hiding a secret. He wanted to be a girl, not just any girl but a girl from a TV commercial for toothpaste, a girl called Fiona.
He was raised by a football mad father and lazy book reading mother, both were too consumed in their selfish bubbles, to notice their only son was slowly but surely developing into a young woman.
The story evolves through a childhood cloaked in a 1970’s summer haze. It is remembered fondly and with humour and pragmatic memories of the era.
Fiona after a complicated childhood and subsequent years of working in a factory breaks free. She finds she has a voice and begins to sing and perform as a drag queen across the country’s renowned circuits. Having developed a sarcastic nature, she meets her tormentors with a humorous rhetoric paralleling that of Dame Edna.
After forty-five years of saving and with a little help from grandma scarlet, Fiona finally gets to become the woman she has dreamt of her whole life, not only by name but also in the physical form. Only the transitional journey wasn’t as straight forward as she had imagined.
The story includes all of the heart breaking scenes in which a young Al is humiliated and chastised for his unusual taste in clothes and the torment an adult Fiona faces, to this day, but nothing detracts her from her goal.
A few years after her operation, Fiona sets out to find true love and a man worthy of taking her female virginity, this takes her through a series of hilarious dates and more consistently funny scenarios until she eventually meets her match.
Chi Chi - Diva of Drag Queens
As Chi Chi, the Diva of drag queens, entered the opulent and elegantly embellished Greek restaurant, she lit a cigarette from a long delicate holder and blew a smoke ring into the maitredee’s face. She flung her fur wrap over her shoulder barely missing his head and strutted over to the best table. It was usually reserved for the more elite customer but she wasn’t about to told no, nor were the slight waiters about to approach her.
Chi Chi’s masculine arms were covered in lavish sequin sleeves that shimmered in the flicker of low candle light. She poked at her flamboyant red wig with thick fingers and pouted her luscious crimson lips. She ordered a glass of champagne as she surveyed the room and demanded the menu in a deliberate husky – feminine voice. A rather many thigh was revealed as she crossed her legs in an ostentatious manner and winked at a rather petite dowdy woman through a heavily made up eye and fluttered her spider like false eye lashes. The shy woman reddened and turned aw
Chi Chi looked and her watch and fiddle impatiently with the stem of her water glass, she nibbled on her third bread stick and seemed fidgety and uncomfortable, she glanced over to the door hoping the next arrival would be her date. The red carnation pinned to her lapel gave away the fact she was expecting someone she didn’t know.
The waiter asked for a second time if she were ready to order but she lowered her gaze to the white linen table cloth and shook her head, careful not to disturb her wig tape.
She flicked her eyes over to a middle aged couple who sat in a secluded curved booth. They were seemingly engrossed in one another, so much so they hadn’t noticed the drag queens dazzling entrance, and hadn’t heard the whispers and stares of disbelief that waved through the exquisite room.
The woman’s eyes were fixed on her lover as he fondled her stocking covered foot under the table. Her slightly lined eyes sparkled as she licked her glossy lips and fingered the rim of her wineglass suggestively. Her low cut sexy black dress revealed a freckly cleavage as she leaned forward and mouthed something, which caught the attention of her rugged companion. His face lit up and he hotched around closer to the auburn haired woman and leaned in to kiss gently on her long neck. They laughed together whispering provocative words and cuddling up not noticing the world around them and the fact that Chi Chi was now belting out Frank Sinatra’s: ‘my way’ in the background causing somewhat of a commotion among the other guests.
The raven haired man played with the end of her shiny hair as she smiled coyly and traced the outline of his chiselled face with a velvety-red perfectly manicured fingernail.
They sipped their wine and gazed at one another mesmerised, not for one moment looking away. They had barely even touched their food, much to the annoyance of the waiter who was hovering around after collecting their plates.
Chi Chi wasn’t at all surprised her blind date hadn’t showed. In fact, she was positive that he had probably been in and taken one look at her ponderous demeanour and most likely had opted to run for the hills. She hadn’t taken the advice of her friend Si and come clean about her newly acquired status of 'woman' - well, two years new - and instead insisted that she would just be herself, Fiona Carter, a newly registered female with an odd shaped vagina to prove it.
Chi Chi was her acquired drag name - gifted by an old friend Justine - her real name - Fiona. She had done the drag circuits for many years as Chi Chi and was tired of it. But it was decent money and all she knew how to do, apart from pack knickers into boxes at the now diminishing eighties-style factory - Silk and Lace. To perform that was her gift. Although after few whiskeys, she was inclined to get up and belt out a number or two, stage or not, it cheered her up no-end to cause a perfcetly diva-ish scene and stir up a bit of a reaction, her rebelios demons liked to play.
Leading to this possible date, there had been countless years of psychiatric assessment sessions, years of daily Hormone Replacement Therapy - which took a considerable amount of attempts to get the right concoction. Most of these having had devastating side effects. A breast augmentation operation, a tracheal shave - meaning - they shaved her Adams apple and vaginoplasty, to correct the original unfortunate mis-shapen vagina, which was crafted from her former male genitals. All this was after her initial Gender Reassignment Operation and a host of other necessary gruelling treatments.
This relentless journey had left her with scars, both emotional, and physical, an ever-growing thirst for whisky and desperation for a lover, to try out her new, well stretched and thoroughly lubricated lady parts. God knows it had been an exhausting, painful and emotional road to get there. Over a year of carrying an inflatable rubber ring around in a Tesco shop for life bag, in case of an impromptu and wince-worthy sit-down. A raw vagina packed with gauze, skin grafted and for 18 months (in Fiona's case) vaginal dilation, three times a day with a range of uncomfortable different sized dildos, not the technical term, but you get the picture.An ongoing anti-shrinkage method.
A tedious year of gradually stretching and making sure the depth was adequate enough to accommodate any size penis during intercourse, if it were to ever happen that is. So the wall lining didn't shrink. Because it can shrink, and then the damage is irreversible, this was not an easy process. After all of this and finally feeling comfortable and relatively - but not completely - pain free, she was ready to give it a go, in-fact she was eager to indulge herself in a lover. However, he had to be special, very special.
This was date night number seventeen and out of those seventeen nights, only one had sat with her and that was only for eight minutes, until he managed to sneak out from a toilet window. No amount of drug therapy, dieting, surgery or pampering could take away the fact Fiona had a 6ft 5inch frame and a still slightly muscular tone. Although svelte and uniquely beautiful, even she couldn't deny that there was a certain look that made it obvious that once upon a time, she was someone else. Not that it ever bothered her. She had a fabulous vagina, she was a woman - legally - and she was free, as free as anyone could ever be. Still, after all the surgery, pain, grotesqueness of the procedures and the perpetual bouts of hormonal tears, not once did she ever regret the decision that was born with her.
Fiona placed her whisky tumbler on the walnut piano with a heavy clunk and made her way to the bar where a group of men shifted over to one side, she was used to this. She winked at the one nearest to her and asked the bar made for a fourth whisky, she didn’t disguise the gravely tone that had stayed with her, despite the drugs. The men coughed and spluttered and turned to talking about football is if to confirm their masculinity.
“It’s all right darlings, you all look too scrawny to me, I need a real man!” She rolled her ‘r's’ for effect, as she turned she threw her fur wrap once again over shoulder hitting one of them on the head, she never missed, and marched back over to her table, where she sat with a deflated thud. She picked up the menu, and thought she may as well eat seeing as she was there.
As she looked up to call a waiter she met the eyes of a man staring at her with an apologetic look. His chequered jacket was tight across his paunched belly and his round face was flushed and sweaty. He was short and slightly balding but had a kind face.
“That is I.” She mocked, offering a perfectly manicured and somewhat elegant, yet large hand to the man.
“You must be Greg?” she tried not to show her disappointment and in her mind had instantly rejected him as her first lover.
“Hungry?” She held up the menu and the man smiled showing perfect teeth.
“Starving.” He sat next to her and called over the waiter to order drinks.
“I’m sorry I was late, my daughter had me taxiing her to a date of her own. I’m praying she passes her test soon!”
She eyed him now. Confused as to why he wasn’t planning his escape and was grateful he was at least courteous.
”You look lovely by the way!” He smiled again looking her up and down.
“Well thank you very much.” She felt herself blushing, a brand new experience. She wafted her big hand across her face, glad it was big enough to act as a fan, in a quick flapping motion trying to cool down, so her thick make up didn’t run, she noticed she had forgotten to wax the third knuckle on her left hand and quickly put her hand under the table.
She cursed the damn Hormone Replacement Therapy for being so bloody stubborn, even after years and a variation of rotten drugs with awful side effects. They hadn't managed to do away with patches of unwanted facial hair and random tufts of body hair. She had turned down facial feminisation surgery, fearing one more go under the surgeon’s knife would just kill her and concluded waxing the odd sprouting would be the easiest option.
“It doesn’t bother you?” Fiona asked gesturing her hand up and down her body trying to get him to really look at her.
“Bother me how?” He looked puzzled admiring her trim figure.
“This, the fact that I'm transgender, sorry habit, I was, recently registered as female.”
“No, why would it?”
“Let’s just say you are my seventeenth date but the only man who I have had a conversation with!” He laughed and took a sip of his wine.
“Bastards us men you know.” She liked the fact that implied he thought of her as a woman, she shone with pride. For that she might just think about letting him try out her new vagina after all. She wished she hadn’t drunk quite so much whisky, as you know by now, this had been known to result in a singsong. She sipped on a glass of water trying to claw back a bit of sobriety.
“That would be very rude, there are some real ass-holes out there.” She noticed his smile was slightly crooked. Like he could have had a mild stroke, as he gave her a sympathy smile.
As she fluttered her eyes she felt the lash come lose and cursed the cheap new brand she had brought from Si at the local pharmacy. She tried to push it back in place with her little finger but instead pushed too hard and fell off and dropped into her water where it floated like a dead fly. She casually looked up at him praying to god he hadn’t noticed but he was staring right at it
“Bet that’s a relief, those things look heavy and he reached over and gently tugged at the remaining eye lash until it came off. He also took a lock of hair from the red wig and rubbed it between a stumpy thumb and forefinger, and then he pulled his mouth to one side, processing a thought. His nails were short but neatly manicured. She laughed so hard that tears ran through her thick foundation leaving white streaks. She had come straight from an earlier show, so was still in her glitzy sequinned performing dress. Over the top, as was her boldmake-up. But then she wasn't exactly expecting to actually have a date. She suddenly felt overdressed and wished she had changed to her usual classy look, Fiona's look.
“You are very refreshing Greg, it’s really lovely to meet you.” She wiped her face with a serviette and looked at him through fresh and lash free eyes. She hated herself for making snap judgements, if there was anyone who knew how it felt to be judged on first appearances is was her.
“Likewise, are you worried about what people think Fiona? Because I can tell you, recently registered lady or trans - whatever, you are a very beautiful woman.“ Lady, there it was again, flattery.
“That’s very sweet of you but not everyone has your attitude, to most I am a freak of nature.” She rolled her eyes and flicked her hair back revealing a slender yet muscular shoulder and a thick neck. Greg licked his lips and took a big gulp of wine.
"Why did you feel my hair just now?" She stared at his definitely-polished-with-clear nail "It looks very shiny, I wondered what the texture was like. She found it odd, he didn't offer any more information. but all of a sudden she felt very self-conscious and overdresses and wished she had changed in to her usual clothes. "It’s okay, I'm not an oddball, I make wigs for a living, for cancer patients, I was just curious, I hope I didn't offend you?" Now she felt herself redden, knowing the quality of her acrylic hair- again from Si at the local pharmacy- was waxy to the touch, even if it was shiny.
It's only cheap I'm afraid, I perform as a drag artist."
"I know, I saw." He winked.
"You did?" She swallowed her wine in a large involuntary slurp." She wasn't used to feeling nervous.
"You were very entertaining, very sassy and very good!" She smiled and dropped her shoulders.
“I notice you are wearing heels. Is it difficult to get heels in your size?” She puzzled at the question and decided she liked his directness.
“Yes is the answer and expensive.” He was deadly serious, she was waiting for him to laugh as she had laughter just waiting to fall out. But he then asked something that stopped her in her tracks.
“Would you like to go on second date with me?”
Fiona looked at her sized 10 feet and then back at him and laughed again, she wondered was it her feet that had prompted such a fast decision for a second date.
“Do you have a thing for feet?” She suppressed a laugh and brushed her fringe from her eyes with a forefinger.
“No I like a nice ass if I’m honest, feet do nothing for me, but your shoes are lovely.” He touched her hand very lightly in a reassuring way.
The couple in the booth had eventually finished their meal and he was putting her fur coat around her shoulders making sure her hair wasn’t trapped, he was as attentive as she was seductive it was like watching a carefully orchestrated love dance as they played with one another.
Greg nodded at them and smiled,
“Ah loved up aren’t they?”
“Yes they have practically made love at that table, it’s been very entertaining.” Fiona smiled at the couple as they left through the swing doors. They looked away, seemingly in disgust.
“My god does that happen often?” He looked flabbergasted and quite annoyed.
The waiter placed the food on the table and Greg ordered more wine.
“Well at least you get to know who your enemies are I suppose.” He offered genuinely feeling sorry for her.
CHAPTER TWO – Little Alfred
I remember Sunday mornings, I loved the familiar sound of sizzling bacon and the salty smellthat made my tummy rumble, as dad would be cooking up bacon sarnies downstairs in the kitchen. I also loved knowing that mum would reading one of her Mills and Boon books in bed puffing on a Benson and Hedges fag with a milky cup of tea balanced procariously on her lap. I remember the clinking of the cup to saucer as she sipped with smokers lined lips and then used the saucer as an ashtray. It was her treat, My mum would smother her face in cold cream and wrap her wet conditioned hair up in towel, she swore by this regime. I remember looking at her thinking she looked like a ghost, surrounded by a cloud of smoke, she always refused to open the window and sat in a cloud of stale yellow stink as if she was at a beauty parlour.
I loved it when dad went out, especially on Sundays, he was always in a good mood on Sundays, jovial to the point of singing out load and eager to the point of leaving the house in a hurry and always forgetting something - usually his wallett. I always used to wait until he had closed the door for the second time before I knew it was safe. He
would think about nothing but his day out with the lads from Friday night. Mum loved it too, she would secretly let me snoop through her dressing up box, anything to keep me quiet. I would try on all of her dresses, chiffon and silk against my young skin, it made me warm and happy inside, that’s the only way to describe it happy as if I had just drunk hot milk or lay under a warm sun – that feeling when everything seems all right.
I would put on the record player downstairs and dance around to Leo Sayer or Shawaddywaddy carefree. I would rock out to Status Quo – I sometimes close my eyes and see my ten-year-old self, burning the soles of my feet as they twisted into the nylon swirly brown carpet. Maybe that was my beginning? Performing to myself dancing like a nutter as I head-banged and strutted through the downstairs in my mum’s best dresses air-guitaring before it was a thing.
After slipping into her purple glitter-covered strappy going out shoes and a wearing a string of cheap glass beads, I would pretend to be Fiona. I'd seen an advert for toothpaste, and as coincidence would have it at the time, I was sucking on a blackjack from my selection of fruit salads and black jacks, a quarter of, in a white paper bag from Thompson's new agents. I was grinning at the TV with ink stained teeth. On it was a very pretty blonde girl, about my age. She was wearing a black and white polka dot dress and the man who spoke referred to her as Fiona, the caption was: ‘Fiona can now smile with confidence, and Fiona’s tooth would sparkle as she waved into the camera. I was hooked, mesmerised, or as I look back possibly obsessed. I brought the toothpaste – with money from my oxo tin - Minty Water. She later became famous for an American sitcom , Terrible Twins – which I couldn’t watch - where she played little Annie, a brat who was a terrible twin to Eric. To me she would always be the lovely freckle faced FIONA.
I would dance until it was time for Bonanza. Gina would come round, she never knocked she knew Sundays I would be sat on out corduroy settee, munching on broken biscuits or eating dry bread that I had toasted on the gas ring. I would sit in my dress and she would sit with me in silence, she didn’t have a TV. She never spoke of my dresses, in fact we didn’t really say much at all, it was a comfortable silence, one that you just have with some people. Afterwards, we would sneak off to the park and lay on the grass looking at the clouds. Just staring up at the shifting sky , innocent and mellow. Sometimes still in my dress. Until the summer of 1976. Then, I had my first lesson in harsh reality and utter humiliation.
Then I knew for certain that I wasn’t like other boys. In fact I was something altogether new, I couldn’t put a label on me. I was ten years old, I was wearing pink lipstick and a gold shiny satin dress, beads and trainers with holes at the toes. I lay on my back trying to make shapes out of the clouds and giggling with Gina. Her long Mediterranean hair was fanned out in thick fuzzy sheep’s tails behind us. I felt a shadow block out our light and heard Gina yelp. I tilted my head backwards to see Jonny. Big bruiser Jonny, standing on Gina’s hair.
“Get off her you stupid idiot!” I growled at him, which in hindsight wasn’t the best thing to do as there were five of them and me in a dress.
He stepped over her, stood on the end of my mums doomed-dress and knelt over me. He slapped my face not lightly and not once, but over and over until I saw stars.
“Fucking, faggot freak!” He spat it out, the look in his eyes wasn’t anger, I couldn’t quite pin it to a look I recognised. Until later in my early twenties, when I found out he was gay, then the look made perfect sense.
“Get stuffed jonny!” I managed to muffle under his dirty salty-tasting hands. I could see a line of black ingrained under his fingernails. I had thing about germs, I squirmed and wriggled to get the sweaty hand away but despite my hefty size and his puniness, he had me completely trapped, his knees pinning my elbows and cutting off my circulation.
“Why are you wearing a dress, retard?” His eyes were dark, again not with anger but that look, as if he were smiling beneath the dark.
“Because my mum said I could you pathetic marble eyed freak!” He pushed my head back in the soft grass until it felt as if it was going to split. He had eyes that were so round we called him marble, this was the first time to his face which seemed to aggrivate him. Gina stood up and ran towards the gate but was blocked by Jonny's crew, who were lifting her skirt and calling her names - mainly fuzzy fucking freak and fat balerina - she was wearing a tutu. Jonny spat in my face and slapped me so hard it burned , I tasted blood instantly and the repeated slaps brought involuntary tears to my eyes, in frustration as much as pain . I was mad enough to want to get free to hit him back and I wriggled until I felt him shift slightly. But then he called over his crew who pinned me down by my feet and shoulders.
“Crying like a girl now, you bloody maggot, wriggle your way out of this wanky boy.” He put his filthy hand up my mum’s dress let it linger on my genitals very briefly before yanking my y-fronts down over my knees, then he ripped my dress from top to bottom, the others joined in. They left me, acorn out (without a nest) and naked. I ran home but I don’t know how. It was like one of those horrible dreams where your legs don’t move, I felt like I was running through treacle. Luckily my mum was still upstairs surrounded by smoke, smirking at page 112 of her book.
I ran in the bathroom locked the door sank to my knees and sobbed into a yellow towel. I knew, secretly, I knew, I wasn’t right, but I also knew I couldn’t stop how I felt and decided there and then to hide it. From everyone. I looked in the mirror at my split lip and swollen eye and then at my mums shredded dress. I knew this would cost me dearly. I shoved it in the back of my wardrobe rolled in a purple jumper and dressed back in my boy clothes , I returned everything else to mums box and never went in there again, the beginning of repression started. Fighting urges and hushing – what I was told by society were unnatural thoughts!
I saw Gina the next day but she never mentioned it, neither did I. As the months went by, I wanted to be Fiona more than anything else in the world, no matter how hard I tried to fight it. My dad ironically thought I fancied her. I danced alone and dreamt alone. It got me through.
Mum would stay in bed most of Sunday morning, only coming down for a brew refill or to quickly peel the veg for our traditional Sunday roast. The only guaranteed meal of the week. Which suited me fine as she would only make me do chores, once she had had enough of her book. My parents weren’t the sort to take me to the park on a Sunday morning, to let me ride my bike, in fact I didn’t have a bike, or play with other kids. my parents were selfish. I didn’t realise this until much later on. My mum was happy to let me rummage through our disorganised cupboards to eat any own-brand crap or polish off the broken biscuits, from a cardboard box that my dad acquired, probably knocked off, from one of his mates at the building site. She never got out of her bed, my mum , on a those Sundays, to make me a sandwich or warm a bowl of soup, or just provide edible nutritious food, like normal parents. She didn’t really care! It seems a bacon sarnie and a Sunday roast, usually served after 6pm were my only two decent meals of the entire week – at home anyway. Luckily I was a dab hand at making peanut butter and jam sandwiches.
Our house was one in a row of seventy red-brick Victorian terraces. Kids played marbles on the street and neighbours puffed on fags over the walls of their small backyards. Women still wore aprons, spent the day in curlers and head scarves and cooked, mostly from scratch. Those good old days of using copious amounts of lard and suet, the halcyon days of scooping dripping from the roast pan with hunks of bread. It makes my mouth water to think of it. Men had shiny shoes on a Sunday to go to Church – except my dad, he had shiny football boots and a moustache. It was that place that was my childhood, that collection of things.
I learned to cook very early on, I use the word cook in the loosest possible term. I burned a lot of pans in those days and had many a good hiding to pay it. I remember when I reached the ripe old age of thirteen and thought I knew everything. I managed to escape from my dad who had come after me with one of the many burned pans. This was after a drinking session with the boys at the social club on a Saturday afternoon, which was never a good time to piss him off.
I lead him a merry dance, thinking I was clever, running in and out of the cars so he couldn’t catch me – Him shouting:
“Wait till I get my hands on you, you little bastard!” Me knowing he was too drunk to catch me. But I was also afraid of the good hiding I would ultimately get if he did. I had attempted to make scrambled eggs with no butter or milk, just sizzling hot fat and almost burnt the kitchen down, setting the tea towel and curtains alight. Thankfully He gave up the chase after we reached the corner of Church St and I legged to my friend Gina’s, where I stayed until my dad was having his drunken afternoon nap.
If he was still sleeping when I got back I could tell this by his snores, which could be heard from the back yard. I would collect the coins that had dropped out of his pockets and rolled around the floor, I thought of this as pocket money, as he wouldn’t ever offer any and my friends all had pocket money, that was my way of convincing myself, it wasn’t stealing – but a due payment.
I always found sanctuary at Gina’s and food, lots of tasty Greek food. I had all female friends growing up , I was shy around other boys, until I met Justine – but we'll get to her later.
All boys seemed to talk about was footy and girls but not much, I found that boys weren't big talkers , I liked to talk, I secretly wanted to be a girl, I knew this as soon as I had any idea of sexuality, as early as five. I knew that I didn't want to play football or get muddy and fight other boys. I wanted to wear dresses and talk softly and feel pretty - I also knew this wasn't 'normal' or acceptable for a boy, especially a boy that was from long line of Carters, football mad, mining stock, big burly Carters. I knew that the penis I had neatly tucked away, didn’t belong to me, it felt foreign and wrong and mortifying embarrassing. Even before I knew what it was for, which I came to the conclusion was reproduction. that's all I could see if for, the other option was incomprehensible and made me feel quite sick.
I managed to get a picture of Fiona from The TV Times . I recall sitting at the kitchen table in my mums busy flower-covered yellow, mustard and rose wallpapered kitchen. At a small table covered in yellow daisy pattered plastic for easy wiping. I sat with her kitchen scissors that were too big for my ten year old hands, and I cut around her delicate face. careful not to trim her beautiful golden hair. I hugged her to me like a sister and carried her with me where ever I went. All of my flared jeans had little u shaped pockets, just the right size on the bum. She became an obsession. I knew that one day, I would be Fiona. I never doubted it , not once.
Gina my very best, if quiet, friend, was from a Greek family. They were the most vocal, loud and happy family I had ever met. They talked animatedly with up-in-the-air hands, as their strangely baritone voices shouted, mostly all at once. We would sit around a long dinner table that was eternally laden with a delicious Greek banquet. I became part of that family. Olives Greek salad and rustic bread served with every meal and a glass of retsina, no matter how old you were, it was a law almost. It was infectious and exciting, conversation, warmth, waving arms and sounds of food appreciation, all while discussing politics or other fascinating life subjects it was foreign to me but colourful and intriquing .
Especially for a boy who's parents only ever talked about what was on TV that night or work. Dinner usually served on a tray in front of said TV, I loved being at Gina's. I loved being one of them and feeling included, lengthy conversations, where all opinions were heard calculated and discussed, never quietly. Interesting debates that would go on through endless mouth fulls of the most exquisite food, baklava, lemon chicken, beef stifatho, mousaka – only home made will ever do, and only cooked by a Greek woman.
Sadly, when it came about that I wanted to be a girl, at the very sensitive and somewhat niave age of fourteen and after being part of their family for most of my life. I was no longer accepted, not even by Gina, although I always suspected she was told not to like me. If I saw her in the street, her eyes always said sorry as they lowered to the ground. I decided at that time - when the conversation that still sends me crimson burnt my very soul - that I would never let anyone in to my heart again. Never tell another living soul my secret, I was so ashamed that I was different, and I was extremely different to anyone I knew. I wanted to die, even tried to swallow bleach but decided it tasted too bad to swallow more than a I wasn't even man enough to kill my self. Dark days followed, and even darker years, drug fuelled, acne ripe years of self pity and self destruction. My only comfort during that time, my guilty pleasure, a pair of court shoes I would slip on, if at home alone and a stockinged foot under my jeans.
I grew resilient to remarks, which were plentiful, especially from unexpected sources, like everyones freind Raj at the corner shop, who would serve me with whatever I asked for, very politely, then shout out as I left -
"I like the pink dress the best with the green shoes!" I knew he was being nice and he meant it too, he had a keen eye for colour and was one of the few people who had seen me out as Fiona at a club. It wasn't a detrimental remark but I wished he would talk to me and not shout as I left, which would often trigger a line of detrimental remarks form passers by. I like Raj though, he even brought me a drink once and still never referred to my outfit at the time, which was a short green and gold figure hugging dress. At least I think he knew who I was?
I grew silently stronger within and somehow by seventeen I entered my rebellious phase and struck out, I also found wit, it was to become my best friend, along with Justine. I emerged from rebellion a fully fledged woman and a bit of a slut - minus the op - that came later, perhaps too much later!
The pin-drop pivotal moment that my world came crashing down, was after looking into Dimitris's eyes, Gina's Father. On that particular day, I remember feeling so loved and relaxed and open, that it was with them, my adopted family, I would share my inner most secret. With them I would confide in and find acceptance and warm embraces. After all we had collectively covered every subject on the planet and nothing seemed to be a taboo subject?
Maybe it was the retsina that made me stupid? I'd had two large glasses and felt confidentlyready. I rose up from my seat and put my hands up interrupting a chaotic afternoons conversation. All eyes looked at me, all mouths half open, some still with half masticated food inside. Some with hands still in the air.
I looked at them all. Gina, Angelos, George, Alekos, Kristos Dimitris and Foti. They all stared.
"Well Al my boy, what is it. tell uncle Demi?" He smiled at me , with crumbs on his moustache and wine drops seeping into his white vest, he always wore just a vest to dinner. I braced my self and stood tall. Trying to radiate confidence.
"I have something to say." I suddenly wasn't so sure and looked at my half eaten Papoutsaki – (little shoes) baked aubergine halves, stuffed with tomatoes onion and feta cheese, it was once my favourite dish of all time, although, due to the fact that was kind of my last supper with the Koulouris family. I haven’t been able to eat it since, it seems to revoke a gut wrenching need to vomit.
"Come now, Al , let us ave it, what a news do you have?" Gina's mum Foti smiled at me her eyes shone with anticipation, just as if I was one of hers.
Dimitris jutted his face forward with huge expectant eyes, like those of a frog, frightfully round, I almost laughed.
"Well?" I took a deep breath.
"I want to be a girl, I have always wanted to be a girl and when I am old enough, Iplan to become Fiona!"
I beamed, grinned, showing all of my teeth and waited for applause. Nothing, silence.
Dimitris stood I swear it was in slow motion and wiped his mouth with a napkin. At first I though he might be on his way to pat me on the back.
He was still chewing a black kalamata olive that had stuck in between his front teeth, suddenly making him look sinister.
"Al, boy, tell me you are a joking?" Suddenly he looked like Mafia.
"No, I have known all my life and I wanted to tell you all." Nobody spoke, mouths remained open. I thought they must have known. Surely, Gina knew,? The dresses, the female company.
"He raised both fists in tight balls and slammed them on the table,making the silverware jump and clatter.
"Get out, you dirty little bastard. Get out ova my ouse!" His face was no longer Dimitris my other dad. He was someone else, altogether scary.
"Gina, get it out ova my ouse or I won't be responsible ova my actions!" He was bright red, glowing almost and sweating as if he were about to have a heart attack. I though he was going to collapse.
Gina grabbed my arm as her brothers all rose and peered at me through slitted eyes. She dragged me outside thrust my coat into my chest and closed the door. I heard raised voices collide in attack, poor Gina, I think she was blamed for bringing me into their lives. Infecting the family with difference. I was mortified, ancient Greece after all was an supposedly an entirely sexually-liberal place, according to my slightly camp history teacher with the unfortune name: Mr Graham Bottomly.
This wasn't how I thought it would go. I ran to the park my face pink with humiliation and sat on the swings, luckily there was no one there and I sobbed until I was violently sick. Self loathing doesn't cover what I felt at that point. However, broken for me resulted in a new start. A fuck-the-world start, at least after my teenage dark years had passed in a sufficient haze of bohemian fog, That’s when I met Justine, my beautiful Justine. Born, Christopher Julian Mortimer.
It took me a long time to get past that meal – I had nightmares about it for years. I don't think I ever really recovered from it, I did know that as soon as I had enough money saved in my OXO tin and my final exams were out of the way at sixteen, I would go, get out of the area. It would be common knowledge now that I was some kind of freak. I couldn't look the respectable townsfolk in the eye. I decided that I would go to college in Oldslate which was about fifteen miles from our village. I would go and explore a world of like minded - open minded people, if they existed, I would seek them out and I did. God bless you Justine - Jules to her friends.
Chapter four - Justine
Justine was the person who taught me how to apply eye liner, hide my penis and testicles, cross my legs elegantly, try to grow my - unfortunately rapidly receeding hair - which in the seventies wasn’t out of the ordinary. She also showed me how to not care, how to smoke pot without throwing up, how to shave my legs, how seduce boys and how to get beaten up regularly for being me and being a relentless flirt.
I can still feel my excitement at her sweet breath, it was so close I could feel the coolness of the polo mint she was sucking right in my face. Her slightly shaky hand drew perfect thick black lines on my eyelids. Her Adams apple sliding up and down her clean shaven and moisturised throat. It didn’t matter, she was elegant, her hair was long and silky smooth, she smelled of flowers and she was everything I had dreamt of being. I first clapped eyes on Justine at college. After I finished my exams, straight A's might I add – I knew it was my only way out of that hell hole. I got out of that village as quick as a flash. I only go back at Christmas, If I have to.
I saw her in drama class, dressed in black tights, pink leggings and a paisley tank top, her hair twirled up high in a messy bun as she pretending – very convincingly to be a flimsy piece of spaghetti. Her make up was flawless, yet I knew she was a he, or he was a she, I hadn’t quite figured it all out but I saw a similarity for the first time in my life, I recognised it. I stalked her for weeks, before plucking up the courage to go and sit next to her in the canteen, I was fascinated, I sketched her, over fifty times. She was mostly alone. So was I.
She ordered an apple, a bowl of unappetizing salad and a she had a packet of spangles hanging out of her jeans pocket. My favourite, a sign surely? I sat next to her with a tuna sandwich and a bowl of rice pudding – another of my favourites – She looked at me from my head to me toes, and then from my toes to my head, I couldn't read her expression. She stopped at my face grimaced and said;
“ Huh, so you have decided to say hello?” Her voice was male but effeminate and trying to be more so. She moved her hands with expertly practised elegance, her fingers were pale, slender, her nails painted glossy pale pink and her eyes big, green and bursting with life.
“You do know I am male right?” She looked perplexed now, as I still hadn't spoken. Her eyes glittered and her lashes fluttered.
“If you are about to say something rude, then please go and do so else where, Whipper snapper.” She snarled, I laughed, my dad used to call me that. Before he found out, then he called me other stuff.
“You like spangles?” I felt clumsy.
“What are you the sweet police?” She laughed and revealed slightly crooked, slightly fag stained teeth. But still, wow, I wanted her to teach me everything.
“Hello, do you have name or are you a complete voiceless retard and a spangle eating weirdo who spies on girls?”
“Sorry, it's just, I have wanted to talk to you for a while and didn’t really know what to say.” My eyes pleaded with hers.
“Hello usually works. You're not odd are you?” “You're not pretending to like me, only to take me home and beat the crap pout of me?” She looked at the forming queue, as if searching for my accomplices.
“What?” I was shocked, why would she say that? I could tell she could see I was shocked, she held her wrist up so I could see the bruises.
“Oh.” I felt bad.
“Yes, that happens, and frequently, I haven't found a button to press that navigates me away from the homophobes, the sexually curious, or from the genuine closet cases.” She looks at her nails then back at me.
“ None of whom would ever be seen in public with me, so what about you, what category do you fall into?” She didn't smile.
“None. I'm Alfred Carter - I hope one day to become Fiona.” I knew I was glowing like the red beacon that signified it was lunchtime.
She looked -once again - shocked, her pencilled in eyebrows arched up like half lemons.
“But you're the size of a bloody football pitch.”
She put her beautiful hand up to her mouth.
“Sorry, that slipped out.” I was red in the face yet relieved, I had said the words for the second time in my life.
“You are serious too, my my Frank, I though I had it tough.”
She extended her hand to me and said:
“Justine, pleased to meet you.” That was it, I hugged her, and I couldn’t stop hot tears from flowing. I was desperately pleased to be in the presence of someone
who actually knew what it was like. After seventeen years of being a freak. I had a new title, I was informed I was transgender. Born in the wrong body. The penis really didn't belong to me after all.
“We are going to have to work on that hug of yours sweetheart, you could kill a man with that!” I laughed and cried. She wiped away my tears with her forefinger and smiled, like she relaxed in my company, like she was a little relieved too. What were the chances after all, two freaks in one college, I later learned that there were all kinds of freaks in that place, not because of sexuality, but in the name of religion and politics and age and trends and fashion and experimental - later to regret phases. I learned through Justine that the world was a whole lot bigger and more colourful than I ever imagined.
Boys stared from two tables down. She winked at them and blew a kiss. They gathered their things clattering chairs and clumsily walked off.
“Works every time, well almost!”
“Have you ever worn women’s clothes?” She looked at my thighs, I was blessed with a rugby players body.
“Yes, all the time.” She moved my rice pudding and sandwich away.
“I mean in public?” She placed the apple in front of me.
“God no, I mean look at me, you said it yourself, I'm not exactly a size ten.”
“I have to admit you got a very unfair deal there Fiona, for a start you have to get your weight down and book in with a doctor.” Alarm bells rang!
“A doctor, why?” I eye balled her.
“Because your penis won't disappear by itself and neither will your facial hair and bulging muscles.” “It's a long progress, with medication and psychiatric tests and evaluations and hoops to jump through, to make sure you are certain.” “Its not a bad thing. “ She looked at me knowing it was a lot to take in. Her eyes were colourful and exotic green.
“Fiona – look at me , she turned my head. It's worth it, the process gave me back my life, I'm still only half way through but it has helped me become me.” “Just look at my lovely legs and my pert tittles!” She threw me a wink and stretched a leg straight up in the air with a size ten black stiletto attached to it. It was shapely too. I reached out and touched it, hair free smooth and silky. I looked up at her.
Fiona, she called me Fiona, it registered all of a sudden and I forgot everything else . My heart leapt and a tears ran, it was the first time anyone had ever called me Fiona, It felt normal, it felt like me. It felt fantastic.
“No one’s called you Fiona before have they?” I shake my head and leave the tears fall - unashamed.
“Wow, you are at the beginning of a very tough journey. I can teach you stuff, but I can't teach you how to handle what you will face, I can be there though?” I nod feeling as I have won the football pools. At last my journey begins.
Chapter Five – Silk
My Gran was the only one who knew that I was developing into a girl, no words were ever spoken about my affliction, as my mother called it. No recognition of my appreciation for all things feminine and elegant. Just a mutual agreeable silence and afternoons of tea and cake.
It was a chance for my gran to use her precious bone china cups and cake stand and sink into memories about her days working as a nurse during the war, where she met my Grandad in Antwerp. I used to watch her eyes widen as she described how they met at a dance. She was engaged to a GI at the time, a yank who wooed her with silk stockings and chocolate. But she says it only took one look at my Grandad to know he was the one. One glance, one word – beautiful – whispered across the room followed by the smile. She was smitten and lured away from her yank within two weeks. I always believed the memories of their time together were enough to last her a lifetime. Her eyes shone when she was in that place, talking about him, my Grandad Henry. A dashing man with broad shoulders and a smile that made her knees weak. Right up until he died just after my mum was born. She never even considered another man. She explained to me, that once you have felt it. Nothing else will ever compare, nor would you want it to.
My grandad had given her a silk scarf with her initials embroidered in lavender in the corner - S C. Just after they were married. It was cream and patterned with wisteria. A flower that covered the house in which they first kissed, a Victorian house by a river, by an oak tree, whose ancient roots twisted under the foundations and lifted its floors. It’s where my Gran was stationed. Steen – which translated means stone. She says it was the romantic building in the world, one she insisted and would like to go back and visit one day. I took her on her 70th Birthday, I’ll get to that later.
The scarf was amazing, pure Chinese silk, she would pass it to me as she talked so elegantly about those heady romantic times when women wore hats and men shined their shoes and respect was palpable. She came alive while talking through paper thin lips, lined from years of pursing and pretending to be cross. A game she played, a layer of pretence over her heart of soft feathers. She wore the mask of a fiercely strict woman who commanded resect and order. I am the only one who really knew my Gran – Scarlet Carter. Hopeless romantic and angel. I would run the silk across my fingers and across the bare skin of my pasty legs as she spoke, her velvety tones, nostalgic, the husky hum of a smoker, a gentle and soothing sound. I let the silk float over and caress me, as her words washed over me. I know she saw it then, my sheer delight at the feel of silk. She gleaned it from the way I fingered the light material and held its softness to my face with gentle fingertips, that smile gave me away. I also knew she approved and immensely enjoyed the company of someone who, listened with eager anticipation, even though I had heard the story a hundred times. It never got old. I would even close my eyes as dashing Henry moved in for the first kiss, lifting Scarlets chin with a forefinger and placing a warm hand on the small of her back. I could feel the breeze rustle her powder blue dress and scent of wisteria under the summer sun. I think I know the story better than my Gran.
She never said the words but I always understood she knew. The closest she ever came to letting me in to our secret, was an extraordinary sentence, one I used to open my memoirs, after she passed. I had to capture some of her.
The light sometimes paints a person they way they don’t wish to be seen Alfred. But just sometimes the light catches you, just at the right moment, at the right time, and you will shine like gold.
That was it, it was said with a look of angelic acceptance and a smidgen of fear for me and what awaited me, all at once.
I was thirty when she died, I was at a show that I was head lining as Chi Chi – Diva of drag queens. She never came to a show. I was about to go on when my mum called the call was cold and mechanical, pragmatic. The phone on the wall was red and the spiralled wire was wrapped around my fingers so tight the ends were blue. I had just applied my make-up and had ten minutes until I was due on stage.
“It’s Scarlet, she died, I thought you would want to know.” My mum sighed, that’s it, she just sighed.
The line went dead. Tears cut through the thick layers of foundation leaving streaks and watery lines of black mascara. It was a sobering moment. I had been drinking whisky, It’s how I coped with being me, a man in a dress, still a man, waiting to be a woman, still saving, still stashing money into my Oxo tin.
I made my way on stage, I didn’t rectify the make-up. I opened the act with. ‘My Way,’ I always sang that song when I was pissed off. But tonight I sang it because it’s the only song I could sing without thinking about the words. My mind was all a fog and my heart truly broken. She took so much of me and yet left me with so much of her.
She left me £10,000 and a letter that she insisted must be read in private and alone.
I found a place that we went to when I was fifteen, a park where we ate ice-cream and talked about ‘All that Jazz,’ a musical that was mesmerising and fascinated us both. I started to sing to her about that time, she said I had a special voice. She took me to every musical there was.
She would tap her wizened hand on the arm of her chintzy, sofa and her foot would tap on her pink and green faded rug, as I belted out songs from the shows. She said I had a talent that I should make use out of. I sat on the weathered bench, under the bare willow tree, on a cold autumn afternoon, a bench that had listened to our conversations, a collection of memories and I unfolded the vanilla coloured paper and swallowed hard.
My Dearest Alfred,
Don’t be sad, I have so enjoyed our time, all of it, all of the years of your beautiful company and your gracious manners and your love and kindness. Your voice, my what a voice. You are a darling. Your light must shine. You must use the money towards this. Your heart must find its true place and your body must find its true course. You are beautiful, in every way possible and who ever can’t see it, is missing someone truly remarkable and utterly compelling. Be the person you have longed to be. I suspect it isn’t Alfred at all.
Take the scarf, you have always treasured it, take it on your journey, feel it against your skin as you did when you were a child and remember me. You made an old lady extremely happy. You are special and unique – shine my darling, shine! Bless you and whoever you become.
All my love
I think breath actually left my body, my stomach knotted and my heart was squeezed by the hands of grief. The pain was not just raw but unequivocally fresh, as if my heart had been ripped out still pumping.
I picked up the phone to Justine.
“It’s Gran, she’s dead.” The tears stopped me from saying anymore, only quiet sobs escaped.
“Where are you?”
“I’m on my way. “
I sat and thought about the last few months of how she must have suffered.
An Avalanche of memories that's how Gran described it, when I say 'it' I mean Alzheimer’s. When she was more lucid and her eyes were fully awake. She said it was just like memories would tumble down a mountainside, gathering speed and clattering noisily, colliding in flashes of memories and fragmented pictures that didn’t make any sense. They would start to fall really quickly and then come to an abrupt halt, half way down the mountain, all broken and tattered. And she was left to put them back together again and restore their order. Only each time the order would become more confused and the faces less familiar. Time frames would expand and shrink and each lucid moment became more frightening.
Because she knew what she was facing. She said that was the cruel part, that when an avalanche came, it tricked and confused her, but then it gave her back her mind, only temporarily, knowing that it would, soon enough, start to slide once more and fall one day into oblivion.
That was one of the last real conversations I had with her, It was about that time she asked me to call her solicitor to put her affairs in order and sort out her finances before she was snatched away by another avalanche for good. It was heart-breaking to watch, especially as there wasn’t really a single thing I could do that would help.
Eventually even the sight of my face which would usually produce a smile of recognition at least, didn’t work. She used to stare at me with a lost look, like she was away travelling – perhaps on an astral journey while her body was left shell like and vacant. It is the first time I really cried after that visit. I went home accompanied by a bottle of JD, I wept like a little girl and played Delibes flower duet over and over. One of the two people in my life that I had always been able to count on, and she was slipping away, undignified and wistful. I didn’t visit her much after, although it might sound cruel, my gran – feisty Scarlet- had already left the building. I had grieved for her long before her frail shell exited this earth. But she never left my thoughts. Our time together was so special, those memories are embedded in my heart and I will always be eternally grateful for her kindness.
Justine arrived by which time I was drained and freezing cold. I sat on the concrete step outside of the stage entrance door and smoked, one after the other.
She held her arms open.
“Sweetie, I’m so sorry. Come give me a hug.” I smiled. I found that my tears had dried and I needed to drown my sorrows.
“Fancy getting twatted?”
“Ooh now that’s a mischievous look darling, where you thinking?”
“Shit, that means I won’t be in work tomorrow then,” She lit a cigarette and blew it upwards into a black night. Then she eyed my dress and raised an eyebrow.
“You are not wearing that.” It wasn’t a question. She was referring to my black and white sequinned floor length gown – a gift from a Brazilian friend and the plumage on my head dress.
“I’ll go and change.”
“I think that best.” She ground her cigarette into the pavement with her shiny stiletto.
“What’s it ever done to you dear?”
“It is probably giving me lung cancer.”
“You are supposed to be cheering me up.”
“Well get your skates on, tequila doesn’t pour itself you know, come on its freezing.” She fluttered her lashes and pouted glossy lips.
After a night of drowning my sorrows, In retrospect the victory sign offered to the biggest taxi man I have ever seen was perhaps not the wisest decision I have ever made, nor was it the best thing in the world to tell him he was a fucking ogre. Again, the drink made me stupid, this time not retsina but whisky my new and constant companion. Again it was alcohol that flared up my dark and manic me after parting with Justine I became angry with the taxi driver and I pushed my self-destruct button and pressed it hard. A black eye, a torn very expensive dress and a cracked rib later, I was once again rescued by Justine, who was less and less impressed by my chaotic fall outs. She said the harder I got hit the more I seemed to enjoy it – a sick way of cleansing my cluttered mind. The sad thing is she was right. I antagonised anyone and wanted to cause a fight and I wanted to be hit, punished for being me.
Broken skin was invigorating, cracking bone a relief. It's as if I was being what society wanted me to be, a man, in all the ugly sense of the word. Not that all men have a tendency to violence, that’s not what I’m saying. What I mean is I lean towards testosterone expected behaviour. An I’ll-fucking-show you attitude. You want a man that’s what you will get. But I was really a melancholy broken and confused woman, who was desperate to feel the pain as a raw reminder, so I could nurse it/me after and get back to being Fiona.
It was no more than a fix, a sick fix ,a needless and pointless fix and I’m not sure if the alcohol brought out this side of me or this side of me made me drink to fuel my unattratctive feral nature. It is still there I guess, it's been a part of me for so long but I can suppress it better these days, squash it down like the last bag of rubbish that deems the bin full.
All these years I have wanted to be female in every sense of the word, so even to me it's a puzzle. that I cling on to this horrible and out of character side. It really is a mystery to me, one I can't pin to my parents and there abhorrent behaviour. I can't seem to rid myself of this male persona.
My therapist says it's my dads insults as a child that triggers my episodes and my drinking – he blames it all on my dad but its not, its deeper than that, I’m quite thick skinned, its not about what other people think, its about what I think about me that keeps me troubled and in a perpetual state of depression. I am not diagnosed as bi-polar and don’t like to be labelled,in fact I detest it but I am pretty sure that description fits me quite well. I think it grew with my or manifested as I got to be an adult. I'm not sure if my drug binges as a young adult were a contributing factor to this or whether I was destined to be tormented? Perhaps it was written in my stars , jovial and outgoing on the outside, an eternal smile for the punters and a thick layer of make-up to disguise the whimpering and confused woman inside.
I dabbed my scratched cheek bone with a gauze cloth, which was gaping and oozing a red and yellow liquid.
“That is altogether disgusting Fi, what the hell are you playing at? This is the third time and on your birthday too, was this a messed up gift to yourself. a beating?” She wasn’t smiling,the metal of her stiletto heel scraped the floor and left a black smear as she sat next to me. Her purse was resting on her lap and she got out a packet of tissues and some sanitising hand gel
“Here, rub this on your hands. Who was it this time?”
“The Taxi driver.” My head was starting to throb. She took out headache tablets and a bottle of water.
“Here.” she knew the drill.
“You are becoming a complete bitch, you know that don’t you?”
“I will end up visiting the morgue one day soon if you don’t stop this shit.” Again there were no smiles. Her hair and make-up looked as if she had just freshly brushed applied, she was graced with elegance, I was a tad jealous. Even after practically every therapy cream and potion. My jaw line was still chiselled and my arms still thick. My diet consisted of a variation of salads and pulses. I was consistently hungry and my frame was still stubbornly square. The one feature I did admire about myself were my legs. My natural muscle tone along with my exercise regime and dieting made for very long and shapely legs. I would rather look at them than in a mirror and often did.
I hated my tits. They cost me £7.000 and I didn’t like them not one bit. They fell at odd angles and the nipples were off centre , one slightly lower than the other. Not really massivley noticeable but I knew.
“Fuck Fiona, there are people who care about you, give a fuck what happens. You need to stop the drink it's going to kill Fiona, before she has had chance to live! Her voice was raised and the receptionist raised an eyebrow.
“See, now you are making me cause a scene!” She gave the receptionist a death stare who looked back at her paperwork with a tut!
“It's that look Justine, that exact look I cant tolerate.” I was aware I was slurring.
“You are pathetic, that look was because we are disturbing the peace you moron, nothing else, you need to get a grip!” She stood up and grabbed my arm. She was 6 ft 3 with her heels on I was 6 ft 8. We weren’t exactly unnoticeable. I was tattered and bloody, she was immaculate. I was ashamed and lucky I was at hospital and not the police station.
“ Lets get you home. I have to be at work in the morning. And you need to go and see your doctor!” In the car she squeezed my hand. I knew she was still angry but I knew she got it too. No matter how fucked up it all was. She always got it.
“How did the taxi driver fair?”
“So, are you to expect a police visit?” She looked in the rear view mirror and pouted her pink shiny lips. If I were asked to describe Justine, it would be happy pink and shiny!
“No. I don’t think so, but I need to go and find him and apologise.”
“Damn right you do.” She turned her eye-open-wide gaze to me.
“I left my scarf in his cab too.”
“Not Scarlet’s scarf, you fool. How are you going to find him?” It was a registered cab, a black cab and his name was Caleb. It was hanging on his identity tag. It shouldn’t be so hard.” I said wincing at my sore lip.
“I have no sympathy Fi. None!” She squeezed my hand again, telling me she did have all the sympathy I needed.
"Justine. I love you." I said and rubbed her shoulder.
"I know you fool, you really have to start to love yourself though Fi. You have to let go of whatever demons you hold onto with such conviction.Maybe when you have the op things will change?" Her driving was painfully slow, she was as a stickler for rules.
"Maybe. I need to start the proccess again."
"Yes you do, I know that last time when you stopped it that you shouldnt have, you stopped for the wrong reasons."
I know this is true. at eighteen I had been through the long laborious proccess and the million questions and umpteem million prepartions for my reassignment op and was ready to finally become Fiona. But then out of the blue my mum got sick. I'll never forget the day. It was an icy day, I stood at mums back door waiting for her to open it as she couldn't find the key. This was a new thing. she never locked the door. Dad was out. I only visited her when he was out. My hand rested on the crystalised metal handle , my fingers were almost numb. I looked up at the pillow clouds, they looked as if they were busrting with snow.
"Mum, come on, it's bloody freezing out here!"
"OKAY, keep your hair on, I heard her laugh, possibly thinking of my wigs.
"Where the blazes is the damn thing?" she muttered as she shuffled around.
"Try the teapot mum."
"Ah there it is, it's in the teapot." Another development, hearing loss.
"I noticed as soon as I hit the warm pocket of air from the lit gas ring on our ancient cooker, that her hair was singed at the fringe."
"Mum, what have I told you about doing that. you will set yourself on fire."
"Oh, it's nothing, stop fussing for gods sake, I see you are in boys clothes today." She looked me up and down neither smiling or not. seemingly quite indiffernt to my light make-up. and low heeled court shoes.
"Not that again. is that why you wanted to talk?"
"No, it's this." She thrust a letter to me that had been crumpled and re opened. It was from the hospital. it was about dad, it was an appointmet for chemo.
I sat at the unsteady stool, my knees higher than the table surface, suddently needing to rest my wobbly legs. this was a man I adored untill I was fourteen. Then I despiseed everything he stood for. He was my main source of ridicule and piss taking and humiliation. more than anyone else and yet here I was fighting back tears.
"How bad is it?"
"Stage five, there is no stage six!" She didnt blink. Her hair was unkempt like burgundy candy floss and greying with an inch of silvery root.
I lowered my eyes to floor. the tears fell to were I was looking.
"Yes. shit, do you think you two could bury the hatchet for the next few months?"
"I'll try mum, but I can't speak for dad." Something in me wanted to run - I knew that these few months or longer, would interupt or even halt my plans but my Dad was dying . I had to be there despite his protests and despite the pain. but i'm glad I did. I could wait a little longer.
Chaper Five - Alfred's football debut...
“So Fiona, tell me about you. Who is Fiona?” He cut his food into small neat mouthfuls and loaded his folk in layers of three, pasta, tomatoe and baked aubergine.
“Well now there's a complex question right there.” Greg laughed and covered his mouth with his hand, I liked that he had manners.
“You think you're complicated? My hand went to my chest as it did when I fely slightly confronted.
“I know I’m complicated , there’s a whole lot about me that can't be compartmentalised or explained rationally.”
“Like what?” He looked puzzled.
“Like the fact I get into trouble and cause fights, yet I wear dresses and call my self a woman.”
“Are you saying that because you are a woman you shouldn’t fight.?”
“Well I suppose that’s what society thinks.”
“What do you think though?” His eyes searched mine for the answer.
“Well I think it’s unladylike and I'm a lady so it isn’t very feminine.” I enjoyed saying it out loud.
“My ex wife would disagree with you, god rest her soul!”
“Oh I'm sorry Greg, I had no idea”This man was making me blush all too frequently
“Why would you?” His smile was reassuring.
“When did she die?” A lump of cheesy cauliflower suddenly lodged in my throat. He jumped up and smacked me hard on back.
"Easy cowboy," I said swallowing it down with swig of crisp Cabernet sauvignion.
"Okay?" He sat down and patted my hand with a relieved sigh.
“Four years ago, it seems longer, time passes quickly.” He skipped to his anwser.
“Has there been anyone since?” I was sweating under my wig and starting to itch and wished to god I had made the effort to dress properly for this date.
“No, never really thought about it, my daughter made me start dating.”
“So, when did you start, dating?” I hoped it was recently.
“Tonight!” He laughed again and wiped his hand on the napkin before folding it neatly into a square and placing it next to his plate.
“Anyway I was asking about you, I'm intrigued.”
I began, sensing he was directing me away form the dead-wife thing.
“Okay, where to start I was brought in Newslade, a coal mining town up North near Yorkshire. My dad was an alcoholic who loved football and not much else – me included and My mum was an avid romance reader, smoker and also not loved by my dad. But she was too unworldly to really notice. She cooked tea , when she wasn’t reading collected ugly pottery birds and sighed a lot. That’s about it really as you can imagine my upbringing wasn’t very educational or much fun although it was eventful.”
“Yes and no.”
“My you are complicated." He laughed again covering his mouth.
“Well I had a twin sister, a girl twin who died just after birth, they called her Margaret.
“Oh that’s very sad.” He scratched at his head.
“Not really, of course I don’t remember anything about it. Only my mum going through a memory-box at Christmas and on my birthday and a photo of a tiny little thing in a white shawl and prints of minute hands and feet.
“What about your dad, why do you think he didn’t love you?”
“Because he told me, crikey, what are you a councillor?” I winked at him and blushed.
“Oh lord I'm sorry Fiona forgive me , I am a nosey old thing, but rest assured its because I’m interested that’s all.”
“ Well he wanted a lad to play football with and take to the pub on their eighteenth and teach how to swear and all that ridiculous stuff and of course he got me, a boy who wanted to wear dresses and generally do anything not remotely laddish!”
“Did you Ever play football?”
“Yes for approximatively five minutes at the age of seven.”
“My dad burst into my bedroom one Saturday morning and told me to change in to a Sheffield Wednesday kit which was for a child two sizes smaller than me, I was never a small child. And informed me I was going to play for Kev, his drinking buddy who ran a local junior side. It was to say the least mortifying.
“Are you sure? Its all pointing to my total humiliation, I don’t even know why I’m telling you.” I sipped water and let it cool my throat.
“Because I asked you to, please continue.” His smile reached his eyes.
“Well we arrived at the pitch, which was littered with proud parents and confident kids, all of whom looked eager and fuelled with parental shouts of come on lads and other such comradic stuff. I was made to stand in a line and Kev would kick the ball randomly to one of us and we had to kick back, a pretty easy exercise, you would think, right?”
“Yes.” He seemed amused.
“Well not for a seven year old recluse who used to read stories in his mums dresses and very rarely had any contact with other kids outside of school apart from Gina – another recluse with weight and anxiety issues. I was the weird kid who didn’t wash much and liked books and silk and TV.”
“This particular day was when I started to freeze if I became totally uncomfortable in a situation. Kev shouted my name, which meant the ball was coming my way. He didn’t kick it in a straight line on the ground but flicked it up so it was high and was heading directly for my face. I just stood on the spot and watched it fall, as if in slow motion onto my nose and I felt my nose explode and the instant warmth of claret run down my cheeks” I couldn't move a muscle. I could hear my dad laughing as were the rest of the team and the parents. But I knew he was embarrassed, as I later found out on the way home.”
“He didn’t offer you comfort or talk to you about it?”
“Yes, he said, 'what were thinking? you could of fucking moved out of the way lad!'”
“My mum when we got home obviously made a fuss and I told my dad in no uncertain terms that I didn’t want to go again. That’s when he started to notice things but didn’t say much. He saved it for when I was old enough to feel the punches in his remarks and the disgust in his voice. He actually said once that he was repelled by me and wished Margaret had survived instead.” I shook my head at the memory.”
“Anyway Greg this is very reminiscent but hardly the subject for a first date, my fathers loathing of me.” I took a long swig of water, my mouth suddenly dry.”
“Nonsense, there are no rules on conversation to be had. It's all very fascinating and where better to start than at the beginning?”
“You must be a gluten for punishment Greg, what about you, how old is hour daughter?” I stared at his eyes which had amber flecks caught by the candle light.
“Stella is nineteen and expensive, as in she bleeds me dry!”
“I should of liked to have had kids, I don’t know if I would have been any good at it though?”
“There is no wrong or right way to parent and they don’t come with hand books, just lots of attitude and a demand for a lifetime of love and commitment.” He looked sad.
“Did she find it hard after your wife passed?”
“We all did. I have a son too Robert, he is less dependant on me now, he lives in London I don’t see him much.” He neatly closed his knife and folk making sure the ends were equal and moved his plate to the side. He signalled for the waiter to come and clear the plates an asked for the desert menu.
Small yet authoritative but with etiquette, I liked him more with every movement and every crooked smile. I was fascinated. There was nothing particularly attractive about the whole person but lots of quirky features that made him seem altogether handsome. I was alrteday lookimng forward to the next date.