By Susan Brown
As I emerged from my ablutions my ’phone chirped at me. I didn’t recognise the number, but it was local. I sat back down by the pond and pressed the green button thingy.
‘H–H-Hello, is that Samantha?’
‘Yes, who’s this?’
‘Erm hello, Candice. How can I erm, help you?’
She sounded upset for some reason.
‘I–i–it’s my B–B–B–Brian.’ I was sure she was sobbing.
‘What’s happened to him?’
‘H–h–he’s taken an overdose, and he’s at the h–hospital…I’m with him. Luckily they got to him in time but he told me he wanted to die. He says that he can’t live like this anymore. I know that you are…transgendered, too. Please could you come and talk to him? I’m absolutely at my wits’ end.’
‘Of course. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.’
I put the ’phone down and stared into the distance. I was not sure what I could do to help Brian. Surely Marcia would be better than me? Grabbing my bag and the spare keys for Dolly, I left a message on the table for Abby and then drove to the hospital.
And now the story continues…
As Dolly chugged up the hill to the hospital, I wondered once again why Candice called me to help her Brian. I wasn’t an expert, I just wanted to be a girl—end of expertise.
Let’s face it, Candice and me—or should that be I?—had history; we, shall we say, disagreed and didn’t see eye to eye regarding her attitude to patients. Then I sort of made something of a faux pas regarding my accusing her of writing those poison pen letters, when it appears that she hadn’t. Anyway, she wanted me to see Brian and I dearly hoped that I could help both of them.
Eventually Dolly wheezed her way to the hospital car park and I swear I heard a sigh when she finally stopped and I switched off her overheating engine. As I got out, I patted her on the bonnet.
‘Don’t worry dear; we’ll get you a nice service when we get a chance.’
Then I felt myself go very red as a passing nurse obviously heard the conversation and giggled behind her hand.
‘Bugger,’ I said to myself, ‘she must think I’m as mad as a hatter and talking to my——’
I shook my head. I must stop doing that.
As I made my way into the hospital, I was passed by several people who either nodded or smiled at me. I did the same to them and wondered if there was anyone in Penmarris and the surrounding areas who didn’t know me.
I walked up to reception; a woman in a white medical type jacket was just coming off the ’phone as I approached.
She looked up and smiled.
‘Hello, Ms Smart, how are you?’
‘Erm, fine thanks; do I know you?’
‘No, but everyone knows you. Anyway, how can I help you—oh yes, Candice called you. Go up the stairs to the first floor, through the swing doors that says Florence Nightingale Ward above; at the end is the nurses’ station, Penny is the sister in charge and she will show you where to go.’
‘Thank you Clara.’
‘Don’t mention it.’
The ’phone rang again and, with a wave, I left her and followed her directions.
I hate hospitals and that sort of medical smell intermingled with floor polish and over-boiled cabbage and the obligatory green walls and shiny lino floors that make my shoes squeak. Then there are the signs that put you off, you know the ones, Gastroenterology, Ear nose and throat, Urology, eye clinic—yuckie—and the ultimate sign for the mortuary—it was enough to give anyone the heebie-jeebies.
Anyway, I pushed the doors of the ward in question and went down the long corridor with doors each side leading to erm—side wards, until I found myself at a big desk with several nurses and a few doctors milling about. One of the nurses had a darker uniform than the rest and I, still in my Miss Marple mode, correctly surmised that this was Sister.
I walked up to her and she saw me.
‘Right; Candice is in the waiting room; Brian is having a few things done at the moment.’
‘Okay—if you don’t mind my asking, are you treating Brian as a he or a she?’
‘We have a policy here that we always address and treat a patient the way they present themselves. When Brian came in she was wearing girls’ clothes and because she wasn’t conscious at the time we decided that feminine would be the way to go until she says otherwise. She’s only just woken up so we haven’t had a chance to ask her what she wants.’
‘Will she be all right?’
‘Yes, she was sick after taking the sleeping pills and we think that she ejected most of the them, but we will be keeping a close eye on her. Also she will see a psychiatrist while she is here—standard practice in these situations. Anyway, Candice is in there,’ she pointed at the waiting room, ‘I’ll let you know when you can see Brian.’
‘Thank you, Sister.’
‘Call me Penny.’
‘Thanks, Penny.’ I smiled as I pushed the door and walked in. Over in the corner was Candice. She had her eyes closed but looked like she had been crying. I walked over and sat next to her. She woke up as I sat down.
Looking at me, she seemed a bit disorientated, as if she didn’t know where she was and then she saw me and I could see the pain flood into her eyes.
She gripped my hand as she turned towards me.
‘Thank you for coming. I didn’t know what to do—they are helpful here but, you–you know what Brian is going through.’
‘Well a bit; but first let’s go and get a cuppa, you look like you could do with it.’
She gave me a tired smile. ‘I must look a mess?’
‘No messier than anyone would look after what you’ve been going through. Come on. It’ll do you good to get a change of scenery.’
I took her by the arm and we went downstairs to the little café run by volunteers. We found a quiet corner and sat down. I insisted that she had a sticky bun with her tea and of course I had to join her, otherwise it would have been rude.
As she sipped her tea, I could see little of the martinet that terrorised the patients at the surgery and sent them scattering for cover. She looked at her wits’ end and completely unable to cope with everything that had been happening.
‘Would you like to tell me what happened?’ I asked.
She took a deep breath. ‘I–I got home from work last night—we were running late because the stupid computer is still playing up and we’ve had to go back to written records. Anyway, it was about half past seven by the time I got home and I called up to Brian that I was home. There was no reply, but that isn’t unusual as he normally has his iPod plugs in his ears.’
She stopped for a moment and took another sip of tea. I noticed that her hand was shaking.
‘I made some tea—sausages and mash—Brian likes that; anyway, when it was cooked I called up again and not hearing anything I went up to his room. I knocked on his door and called out, there was no answer. I assumed that he was listening to his music and couldn’t hear me; anyway, I opened the door and he was lying on the floor. H–he was unconscious and had been sick. He–he was wearing a dress and a wig and everything. I rushed over to him and tried to wake him up. He sort of stirred so I picked up the ’phone and called for an ambulance, then I tried to get him to say something, he kept on mumbling with his eyes closed. H–he said that he wanted to die. He didn’t want to live as a boy, he was a girl. I just tried to get him to wake up and not go away and leave me. I–I could see that he had taken some of my sleeping pills—nearly half the bottle, but looking at the mess, it looked like a lot had come out when he was sick.’
I passed her a hankie as she was crying and held her hand while she continued.
‘A few minutes later the ambulance arrived and we rushed to hospital. They pumped out his stomach and then it was a question of waiting. They said that we had caught it in time and that by being sick, Brian had not taken in a lethal number of the pills.’
‘Thank God,’ I said.
She gave me wintry sort of smile. ‘I’ve been here all night, trying to understand what’s going on. He’s only thirteen, for God’s sake!’
I looked at her and could see that she was still trying to come to terms with what had happened to her and her child.
‘When did you first discover he was dressing as a girl?’
‘About two years ago,’ she sniffed, ‘I found a pair of my old panties and a bra in the back of his chest of drawers. It was shortly after my husband left us. I didn’t say anything then—I now wish I had. I just thought that it was some sort of stage that he was going through. Then I noticed that my clothes looked like they had been moved, you know, slightly different positions in the drawers. Shortly after that, I threw some of my clothes out, unwanted stuff like old skirts, dresses, nighties, things like that. I put them out for the dustman; then, a few days later, I found a few my clothes in the back of his wardrobe hidden under some boxes. They were some of the things that I had thrown out.’
‘Did you speak to Brian about all this?’
‘No, I didn’t. I wanted some advice first. I thought about asking Marcia but didn’t as I worked for her and was embarrassed, so I called the doctor who I used to work for, he retired some years ago.’
What did he say?’
‘That it was probably a phase that he was going through and lots of boys go through it. He said that he would probably grow out of it.’
‘So, in effect he said brush it under the carpet.’
‘But it didn’t go away.’
‘No, I left it for a while and then I noticed that he was becoming very quiet and introverted. Then I had a call from the school and I went to see the headmaster. He told me that Brian had been bullied. Evidently, someone had pulled his trousers down and noticed that he was wearing knickers. They tried to stamp down on the bullying, but I wasn’t happy so I pulled him out of the school and put him in a private one. It was very hard as we haven’t got much money, but we managed—just.’
‘Did you talk to him after all this happened?’
‘Yes. I sat him down and asked him what was going on. He denied it at first—I think that he was frightened about what I might say—then it all came out. How he was really a girl and always had been. He felt terrible about it and thought that there was something wrong with him. He didn’t want to tell me about it because he thought that I would reject him—as if I could ever reject him——’
‘—Some parents do.’
‘Well they should be ashamed of themselves then. Anyway, we had a long talk and I said we should see someone about it, but he wouldn’t, because he felt that if they said that he was wrong to dress and be a girl, they might try to take him away from me or make him be a boy. I tried to shake this conviction, but wasn’t having it. I didn’t know where he gets his stubborn, pigheadedness from—it can’t be from me.’
She looked up and I must admit I smiled at that. Then she smiled and then we both laughed. It relieved the tension a bit and I went to get another cup of tea for us both. When I returned, she continued telling me everything.
‘In the end, I told him that he could dress at home as a girl, in his room or downstairs, if we knew that we weren’t having visitors, but he mustn’t wear knickers or any other girls’ clothes out of the house. You know how nosey people are around here. I am surprised that it hasn’t got around yet that he was caught in girls’ undies at his old school,’
She stopped for a moment.
‘It’s funny; when he’s dressed as a girl, he looks really pretty and you could easily mistake him for a real girl.’
‘You keep on saying ”he”, do you see him as a boy or a girl?’
She looked at me and hesitated.
‘I…I gave birth to a lovely baby boy and it’s hard for me to think differently. After this though, I don’t know. I don’t want Brian to think about killing himself again. I—we need help, then we can decide what’s to be done.’
Just then Penny came in, looked around and then saw us. She walked over.
‘Hi, I thought that I’d find you here. Brian is ready to have visitors again.’
‘Will you go and see him?’ asked Candice.
I just nodded.
‘I’ll come and see you afterwards.’
I got up and followed Penny out.
‘How is Brian now?’ I asked.
‘She’s not bad, a bit drowsy still, but that’s only to be expected.’
Back on the ward, Penny knocked at a door and then opened it. She motioned me to follow.
On the bed lay a child, a bit small for a thirteen year old genetic male but not terribly so. Brian looked up as we walked in and for a moment looked a bit scared. She was wearing one of those horrible shapeless hospital gowns and it did nothing for her complexion.
‘Brian, this is Samantha, she wants to talk to you. Your mum said it’s okay.’
‘Hello,’ she said hesitantly.
‘Hello,’ I replied as I sat down by the bed and Penny left closing the door quietly behind her.
‘Well, you have been through the wars,’ I said by way of an opener.
‘No need to say that. Things must have been pretty bad for you to think of harming yourself.’
A tear started to fall from one of her eyes. I took a tissue from the side and gave it to her.
‘Thanks. Are you a shrink or something?’
‘No, I’m sort of like you.’
‘I don’t know what you mean.’
‘Well Brian…look I can’t call you Brian. What is your girl’s name?’
She sort of hesitated.
‘Come on, if we are talking girly, I refuse to call you Brian, so?’
‘Bethany,’ she whispered.
‘Bethany. That’s a pretty name. Have you told your mother what name you want to be as a girl?’
‘I thought that she might be upset. She really wants Brian.’
‘Well it’s very hard for her. You have to understand that it’s difficult for her at the moment. She wants to do the best for you and doesn’t want you to be hurt, that’s why she changed your school for you—she wants to protect you.’
‘I know, but what can I do about it?’
‘I think that you both need lots of help.’
‘You don’t understand how could you? I’ve lived with this most of my life. It’s all right for you girls, being born a girl; you don’t know what it feels like to have the wrong body.’
I looked at her. I hadn’t planned to say anything about me—but what the hell—the way this village ran, she was probably the only person not to know.
‘When you look at me, Bethany? What do you see?’
She looked at me with a puzzled expression.
‘A pretty woman.’
‘Thank you for that. Well, I am a woman as far as I’m concerned and it’s very sweet of you to say I’m pretty, but when I was born my mum and dad named me Tom.’
‘Tom, erm is that short for “Thomasina”? That’s a wet name—sorry——’ she giggled behind her hand and looked very girlie at that point.
I laughed, ‘no not Thomasina, Thomas.’
She looked at me for a moment with a very puzzled expression and then the light bulb went on in her brain.
‘Oh, does that mean——?’
‘Yes, I was a boy and now I’m a girl. I haven’t had the operation yet, but I’m working on it.’
‘B–but you’re pretty!’
‘So, do I have to have hairy arms and legs and be built like a rugger player to satisfy you?’
‘No, sorry, I mean that you are very pretty, I can’t see any male in you.’
‘Well, I do still have a male thing between my legs, but soon, I hope, I’ll get rid of it and then I’ll be where I want to be. But what about you, where do you want to be, apart from away from this hospital and iffy food?’
‘I want to be like you—a girl.’
‘I thought you said you are a girl?’
‘I am inside, but I want to be as near a physical girl as I can be too.’
‘It’s not just the clothes then?’
‘No, they are nice and I love wearing them, but I want to be outside what I feel I am inside, do you understand?’
‘Yes I do. Look, do you want me to talk to your mum and shall I ask Doctor Marcia to pop in? She knows a lot about people like us and can really help.’
She thought for a moment.
Okay, but can you promise me something?’
‘That you won’t do anything silly like this again and if you need any help or advice or just a girlie chat, you’ll contact me?’
‘Yes, okay and, Samantha, thanks.’
‘That’s all right honey.’
I got up and we had a big hug.
‘First thing, I’ll see if Penny, the sister, has any girlie jimmie-jams or a nightie you could wear, okay?’
‘Wow, thanks, Samantha!’
‘Now promise me you’ll be a good girl for me and your mum.’
‘I will, Samantha. Thanks.’
As I went out, I smiled, aware that my visit seemed to have perked her up quite a lot. I headed for the nurses’ station and waited while Penny got off the ’phone. A few moments later, she finished her conversation.
‘How did you get on?’
‘Well, as far as I’m concerned she is definitely a she. Her name is Bethany and she wants to be as pretty as me—so that means the bar isn’t that high. Anyway, I said that I’d ask you to find her a nightie or something, if you have any and that I would speak to her mum and perhaps get Marcia in to have a look at her. Do you think I did okay?’
‘Pretty damn good, I would say. Want a job? We could do with a few counsellors around here.’
‘I think I’ll stick to painting. I’d better go and see Candice again.’
‘Okay, I’ll arrange something pretty for Bethany to wear.’
‘Okay, see you.’
As I walked into the cafe, Candice was sitting there staring into space. She looked up apprehensively as I reached her and sat down.
‘Well?’ she asked.
‘Bethany is a nice girl?’
‘Beth—? Oh, Bethany.’
‘Mmm. Anyway, we had a long chat and I think she’ll be okay. How do you feel about accepting her as a girl?’
‘I’ve been sitting here thinking about just that and how I nearly lost her——’
‘So, he is a she now?’
‘Yes; it will be hard to come to terms with but I will do all I can to make her wish come true, if that’s possible, for her sake and mine.’
‘I said that we would get Marcia involved, is that okay?’
‘Yes, we’ll have to, she knows about these things. We don’t want any more mistakes.’
‘No—anyway, Penny’s getting her into a nightie, so don’t throw a wobbly and if I were you, when you see her, call her Bethany whenever she’s dressed as a girl.’
She sighed and nodded. ‘Yes, I will. I would much prefer to have a lovely live, happy daughter than a dead son. I’ll get over it, I suppose, and I really do have to be there for her.’
‘Might I suggest that you take Bethany shopping to buy her own clothes, suitable for a girl her age?’
‘Do you think she’d like that?’
‘I know that I’d have adored to be taken girlie shopping by my mum when I was Bethany’s age.’
‘Yes, I think you’re right, Samantha. Thanks for the suggestion.’
‘You both have a long and difficult path ahead of you, Candice, but I’ll be around to help whenever you want.’
‘Would you? You’re so kind, I wish I hadn’t been such a bitch to you.’
‘Or the other poor patients?’
She grimaced. ‘Mmm; I shouldn’t have been like that to people: stress does funny things and I’m sorry to say I was using my job to hit back by being a vile cow.’
‘Maybe you’ll be gentle as a baa-lamb now?’
‘I don’t know about that, but I’ll try,’ she laughed. ‘Thanks again, Samantha, for helping Bethany—and me.’
‘You’re very welcome. Now I’m going to see Abby, I could do with a pint of ginger beer after today.’
‘You be careful, girl, that stuff’s pretty powerful!’
We both laughed and after a hug I left to go to the baby unit. Heather was doing brilliantly. It was nice to see her improve and gain weight like she was. The doctors were now saying that she would be going home very soon now and I couldn’t wait to have all those sleepless nights, feeding and changing hundreds of nappies. Abby and I had decided that we were going to save the world by using cloth nappies and I was practicing on an old doll of Abby’s. I had only pierced the doll a couple of times, so I had hopes that by the time she came home, I wouldn’t have any oopsies! Of course Abby didn’t have that problem as she did it perfectly every time. Did I ever say that I hate her sometimes?
After getting a bit tearful when I said goodbye to my darling little girl, I then went out of the hospital and into the car park, walked over to the car and said, ‘hello Dolly,’ and resuscitated her so I could go and find my other half.
Please leave comments…thanks! ~Sue
My thanks go to the brilliant and lovely Gabi for editing, help with the plot-lines and pulling the story into shape.
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