Bookends

Maeryn Lamonte Copyright ©️ 2024

Old friends
Sat on their park bench
Like bookends
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the round toes
On the high shoes
Of the old friends

A gentle song. Lesser known perhaps but familiar to us both. The single hadn’t gone anywhere, but the album made it to the top of the charts.

I remember the last time I saw her perched on the far end of the bench. I’d walked about as far as my aching bones could carry me so asked if she would mind my joining her.

She’d given me a nervous twitch of a smile by way of permission and I’d settled at my end of the bench, relieved for the few moment’s rest, but saddened by the barriers between us.

We passed the time in our different ways. She’d open a sandwich and share half of it with pigeons flocking at her feet. I’d stare at the sky and sigh.

Then after a while one or the other of us would stand and we’d go our separate ways.

As near to a shared moment as two lonely lives could manage.

I’d tried speaking to her once or twice, but each time her nervousness had increased until, quite abruptly, she’d stood and hurried off.

The second time it had happened, I hadn’t seen her for some weeks. I’d worried I might have scared her off to a different part of the park and started taking different routes on my daily constitutional.

Eventually she had returned. I’d asked if she minded and had been given the same nervous twitch of a smile.

It was companionship of a sort. I learned my lesson though. Thus far and no further

Lost in my thoughts I mused over what might have made such a timid mouse of my companion. Was it just me, or was there some aspect to me that scared her, that reminded her of more troubled times?

The lyrics of Mrs Robinson passed through my mind. Same album, better known song – links to that film, you know? Except I never associated the Mrs Robinson from the song with the Mrs Robinson from the film.

In the graduate, Mrs Robinson had been and aggressive cougar of a woman, unafraid to impose her prejudices on those she disliked. Whereas in the song:

‘We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files. We’d like to help you learn to help yourself. Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes. Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home.’

Very much the timid mouse, afraid to venture far from her hole in the wall. Very much more like my quiet companion.

I remember when I bought my first car. A Hillman Hunter it was. In my younger years, I’d owned a Corgi model of the one that won the London to Sydney, but don’t remember ever seeing one on the road. Then the day I paid for mine, while I was waiting for it to be serviced prior to taking ownership, I remember sitting outside a pub and seeing more than a dozen pass by. Alright, some of them may have been the same one going by in different directions, but the point I’m trying to make is that you often don’t see what’s right in front of your eyes until something brings it to the forefront of your brain.

What I’m saying is, after she disappeared for all those weeks and then returned, I began to see her elsewhere around the neighbourhood. I don’t know if she saw me too, but I tried to keep a low profile in case she felt I was stalking her.

I’d see her in shops, filling her basket then letting people ahead of her in the queue until the woman behind the counter was free rather than the man. I saw how nervous she was sharing a queue with men and would often step out of line in evident distress, despite there being no apparent reason.

I saw her in a supermarket once, almost at the head of the line when the lady on her checkout was replaced by a man. Once more, she’d stepped out of the queue and joined the back of the one next to it.

Another time she wanted something off a high shelf and had asked a female member of staff who was barely taller than her for help. When she’d called one of her taller male colleagues over to resolve the issue, there had followed an intensely awkward moment when she had refused to take the item from him, but had insisted it be passed via the female member of staff.

It made me think of one of my brother’s dogs. A beautiful mix of border collie with something sleek and swift like a whippet. He had a cheerful enough disposition except around tall, grey-haired men, when he would hunker low and bare his teeth, even going so far as to nip at a heel or two.

Abuse a creature enough and its response becomes automatic, more instinct than deliberate intent.

What had she been through that all men terrified her so?

It set me thinking. I knew of a possible solution, but not one I was sure of. It would cost me something to try it, and without being sure it would work...

I’d received my own share of abuse over the years. Enough to engender an autonomic response in me. Enough to persuade me to keep a part of me hidden and shoulder the burden of never letting it see the light of day.

No-one still living knew about that part of me, and if the terror I felt at the thought of bringing it to the surface was even a part of what she faced, then perhaps I could understand her.

Seasons passed and nothing changed except the weather. Such is the nature of old age. Days blur into one another and days vanish in memory for their lack of distinctiveness. Summer turned into autumn and autumn to winter. We shared our half hour of silence each day, drawing from it what little companionship we could.

At least I did, and I hoped she found some value in it too.

It wasn’t enough though. The ache of watching a hurting soul left to its agony builds over time. I couldn’t bear to let it continue. I could imagine no hell worse than to carry such pain without hope of relief. I had to do something while there was still time.

It would do me well to face my own demons, and there really was no-one left in the world apart from myself who would be harmed by it

I had a little money set to one side. I mean, my pension wasn’t all that much, but neither were my overheads. The balance went into a savings account against a rainy day, but there was enough in there to survive a small deluge, so I set aside a moderate budget and set about searching the internet.

It took a while to find the right keywords, then a while longer to find the right place. Most seemed to be located in London or somewhere along the southern counties, which meant a lengthy journey on top of it all. Even at concessionary prices, I worried the train journey would add significantly to the cost.

I settled on a place in Bath with a name that pleased me and an encouraging website. A little further research informed me that coach travel would set me back forty quid for the round trip and would take seven to eight hours each way. By contrast, the train would cost twice as much and take half as long, albeit with three changes.

The changes were what decided me. I wasn’t as quick as I had once been, and it worried me that I might not make the connections. The way I intended travelling back, the prospect of being stuck somewhere filled me with dread.

Besides, at my age I had nothing but time. Eight hours each way on a coach wouldn’t be the most enjoyable experience in the world, but what else was I going to do with the time. Besides, forty quid saved could probably afford me just that little bit extra I needed.

I took a breath and sent off the email, laying out my situation and what I wanted to achieve, as well as my budget.

The response came swiftly suggesting a long weekend in a couple of weeks’ time. It all seemed reasonable enough, and the tone of the email was friendly and supportive, so I transferred the money and booked my travel.

One small suitcase, barely half filled. One bus journey to the coach station, then a long journey, most of which I spent filled with that lightweight feeling of anticipation I hadn’t felt in so long.

A balding man met me off the coach. I’d been more fortunate with my hair and had often wondered about growing it out. It wouldn’t be respectable in a man though, so it stayed short. Grey now, of course. Few people reach my age with any colour left.

I don’t know what my expectations were from the weekend, but it more than met them. We drove to a quite place about three miles outside the city where I was shown to my room and left to freshen up. When I was ready, I was told to come to the salon wearing only the long, fluffy dressing gown they’d provided. From there the transformation began, starting with a depilatory treatment, an extensive series of measurements and my introduction to a variety of padded underclothes until I felt just right. The choice wasn’t obvious here. I might have felt a lift from having a younger looking body, but I wanted one that was appropriate to my age.

With unfamiliar weights hanging from various parts of my body and unfamiliar straps pressing into my flesh, I sat back to allow a pair of young professionals to work on my hands, feet and face. I spent most of an hour with my eyes closed as gentle brushes caressed my skin and delicate, ticklish hands took first my fingers then my toes in hand and worked away at the rough mess of my nails.

I was roused gently with a warning to keep my hands and feet still. A hair net was placed over my short hair and a variety of wigs tried, the last bringing smiles of agreement from both the young girls who’d been ministering me. With it settled in place, they turned me so I could see my reflection for the first time.

I didn’t recognise myself. There wasn’t much could be done with my wrinkles or the papery texture of my skin, but what was possible, they’d managed. A touch of eyeshadow here, a hint of colour on the lips and skin that looked far more vibrant than I recalled.

Not many people reach my age with eyesight intact, and generally, the older you are the more complex the prescription. To counter this, someone had come up with the idea of clip-on attachments that altered the colour and style of a pair of glasses in subtle ways. My own varifocals had half frames which, with the right addition, looked pink rather than black. This matched the pink rinse in my hair.

The result looked a little Dame Edna Everage, but far more subdued.

Next I was introduced to an extensive wardrobe and settled quickly on a knee length skirt and floral cotton blouse, along with a crocheted white cardigan.

A pair of tan tights and sensible shoes finished the look and there she was, my own girl inside. So long buried and gasping for air as she resurfaced.

The rest of the weekend consisted of a series of activities. Comportment lessons, which involved all the guests gathering for morning tea and receiving gentle corrections on how to stand, sit, eat snd drink. All obvious but blocked out in the dim distant past when I’d chosen to wear my man-skin full time. Voice lessons, which could only be an introduction, softening rather than raising the pitch. Makeup lessons – less is more, less is more the overriding mantra. Then outings, first to secluded spots where the people running the venues knew of us and we’re inclined to treat us as human beings.

For me there was a special trip to a nearby mall where I was assisted in picking out a small wardrobe and given an idea on what else might work. Jewellery, including ear piercing, and makeup featured, as did several pairs of shoes. Sensible heels of course, because who could be bothered with that sort of discomfort at my age?

Sunday involved more of the same with slightly more challenging visits included. Tourist attractions with more of the general public present. More risk of discovery, more fear to face up to and, in more than one case, tears and support from the group when one of us received abuse from unsympathetic members of the great unwashed.

“You should be ashamed,” one woman had said to me. “A respectable woman hanging around with their sort.”

I’d given her a look as if to say each to their own, but inside I’d felt a secret delight that, even surrounded by trans girls, I hadn’t been taken for one myself.

Monday morning was quieter with most of the weekend’s guests having left. I dressed in one of my new outfits and packed my suitcase, now bulging with new purchases.

This would be my big test. Stepping out of the safe environment I'd enjoyed all weekend and testing myself against the world.

The same individual who’d collected me from the coach station drove me back in, only this time she was resplendent in a violet skirt and lilac top, with dark auburn curls reaching below her shoulders. I envied her the long hair, but the shorter perm of my own wig was more age appropriate, and looked perfect.

The same driver stood at the door to our coach. He looked at me oddly for a moment, but I’d only given my first initial with no preferred title when I made the booking, so there was nothing there to suggest there was anything amiss. I raised a sculpted eyebrow in challenge and he smiled in return.

Perfume had been one of my more expensive purchases. The one I’d chosen had been covered by the difference between coach and train tickets. It’s amazing how much a floral scent will help convince people you are as you appear.

A slender woman closed to my age asked if she could sit next to me, which made a delightful change to the overweight, sweaty and, above all, pungent companion with whom I’d shared the outward journey.

She was chatty, which gave me an opportunity to practice my softer voice. If she saw through me in all the eight hours we were together, she was kind enough not to let on.

Back home, receiving odd looks from my neighbours, but the further I went with this, the more I felt here was the way I wanted to spend my twilight years, regardless of how things turned out between myself and...

It was late and I was tired. I stripped to my skin and showered, changed into a cotton nightdress and settled down for the night. Time enough for resolutions in the morning. This one was already late.

There were going to be odd looks. Most people couldn’t understand why I’d choose to do what I was doing, but that was their problem, not mine. I dressed and did my makeup before heading out for my daily walk. Somehow, I felt as though a renewed wind was filling my sails. I had no need for my stick for once, and walked with head held high and a new vigour in my step.

Most people ignored me, which was fine. The ones who gave me the double take were the ones who recognised me, but they’d get used to the new me as long as I didn’t give them the option of doing otherwise.

A bright winters’ day filled the air with the crisp taste of promised snow. Probably a false promise, but that didn’t keep the cold from my legs. It didn’t matter either way, I couldn’t help delighting in the world as I walked into the park and approached the bench. I didn’t really need the rest today, but that wasn’t really my reason for coming.

“Would you mind if I sat for a while?” I asked her in my soft voice.

She looked up at me with a less nervous smile than I was used to. She looked confused for a moment then looked deeper.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s me. I wondered if this would be easier.”

Panic spread across her face, then resignation. She smoothed her hands over her skirt briefly, but long enough for me to catch sight of the very slight bulge.

I dropped onto the bench next to her in a most undignified manner, surprised beyond measure. All this time, she’d been the brave one.

“Hi.” Her voice such a gentle whisper it all but apologised to the air for disturbing it. “My name’s Sandy.” She held out a tentative hand.

“Gillian,” I replied, reprising the name I’d used over the weekend. I took her hand in mine, gently, almost reverentially, my opalescent, manicured nails complimenting hers. “I can’t begin to tell you how utterly delighted I am to meet you.”

Time it was,
And what a time it was
It was . . .
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago . . . it must be . . .
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you



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