Vesta’s Hearth Chapters 19 and 20
Copyright© Frances Penwiddy 2012
This is a work of fiction, the characters and the Café are fictitious and any resemblance to places or persons living or dead is coincidental.
Vesta’s Hearth is not considered suitable as reading matter for minors.
Amy takes Helen to Charing Cross Hospital for her assessment and to learn what her future may be and after the hospital, Helen reveals more than she intended at a second visit to a photographer.
The following morning Paul picked us up in the Lexus, I was glad it was one of the larger cars, I was in an introspective mood and the extra room allowed me to sit in a corner. Amy didn’t say very much about the purpose of the trip, just generalities but when we got onto the train and had settled in the first class compartment she immediately asked me if I was worried about the day. I nodded, “Can’t help it, Amy. Adam spoke to me yesterday and put me at ease but this morning when I awoke I had the feeling that this was my last day that from now on, things would be different.”
“Different good or different bad?”
“Bad, I’m so frightened.”
“Of the hospital and doctors?”
“Yes and of myself. I keep asking myself if I’m really me now or am I having some sort of mental breakdown, a mind that has wandered off into a land of dreams or nightmares. A few months ago I was a man doing a job and being successful and then suddenly a bolt of lightning struck and virtually overnight I became a woman. Other people like me were either intersex at birth or came into it slowly, years in many cases; there was no sudden overnight change. I know you’ve explained that the shock of my court case was the probable cause of the suddenness but what if Charing Cross decide that my change is a temporary condition and I will just as suddenly change back. Suppose they want to put me in a mental hospital, give me electric shocks and turn me back into a man. Amy, I don’t want to go back. I had a terrible fright when it started to happen and I lost a great deal of confidence in myself and I became really frightened but I have learned to accept it. The longer I think about how I am now and compare that with the me before this happened, I realise how much was missing from my life, things that I now have. I don’t mean just having my hair styled differently, wearing pretty clothes, soft lingerie, make-up all those things, it’s well it’s…” I searched for the words “It’s having different ambitions, wanting different things. I would like to marry a nice man, have a good home and be in it, not just play the part of a wife but be that wife, really be it. I don’t mean a submissive little bimbo but to be a caring woman and feel that I am loved by a man, able to help him, look after him, be his true companion, oh I don’t know.” I looked out of the window, at the passing countryside; “My first priority now is to build a home, not a career. I’m not saying that I want to give up my graphic arts, what I’m saying is that I want a husband’s career to be the one to feel ambitious about, mine would be something I would like to return to provided it never interferes with my home. Now I want to arrange flowers and embroider table cloths not build kitchen cabinets or model airplanes, I want to dress up and look and feel good in my car, not tinker with the engine,” I turned back to her, I could feel the tears in my eyes, “I want to be certain that that is the real me and not some attempt to try and recover something I missed when I was younger, I want a man to hold me in his arms, kiss me, make love to me…”
“No, Adam. And I’m so sure it has to be him and I’m scared that he’s s not going to be there, I just can’t imagine any other man with me, I don’t want another man and if I can’t be with Adam, then it is going to take me years, if at all, for me to find somebody else. I just get so miserable when I don’t see him for a few days.”
She took a Kleenex out of her bag and gave it to me. When I had dabbed my eyes dry she took my hand. “If it’s a comfort then Adam, unless everything I know as a woman is wrong, is in love with you, trust me, Helen, he loves you and if he is holding back it’s because he is questioning himself; does he love you as a woman or does he love you because you needed his help. I have no doubt he loves you as a woman not a patient and eventually it’s going to get through to him and then I think you will lose a mentor and gain a man and his love and when it happens you will realise that your ambitions are not from dreams but are the real you.”
“Do you truly believe so?”
Amy smiled and nodded, “Unlike you I didn’t suddenly become a woman, I had a lifetime to grow into it. You have had to learn in a few weeks what I had all my life to learn and just to scare you a bit, I am still learning but I know enough to recognise love between people I know so well. Adam loves you enough to stop working at the Café if he had to make that sacrifice to leave himself free to win you. Men are slow but when they do make up their minds, nothing stops them, they still have that caveman with a club gene in them and when they select their life’s partner, there’s no deflecting them.”
I smiled at the analogy, “Can I hope that one day he’ll give me a bump on the head and drag me to his cave?”
“Bet on it.”
“So there’s only the question of the hospital agreeing with us?”
“They will. You will not know this but Peter, before he came to Chichester, was a Harley Street man and a consultant at a major London hospital. His opinions are respected and the reason he isn’t working at Charing Cross is because he preferred to work here with the prison He is deeply interested in intersex related psychiatric medicine and he has greater freedom than if he were part of the team at Charing Cross.”
“Heavy stuff then, my big gun?”
“Big enough for Charing Cross to listen to him and he’s not the first patient he has referred, and so far he hasn’t been wrong and he has told me that his assessment of you with the medical evidence is the strongest case he has referred. He is inclined to think their interest is in the speed of your transition, hence me to put the brakes on if they want to investigate that side of it to too great a degree.”
I relaxed and sat back in my seat, “I feel a bit better about it now.”
“If you are asked, just tell them the things you have told me, you have no need to be specific, but I doubt they’ll ask. Now my expense account stretches to breakfast and the dining car is next door, let’s go and eat a railway breakfast.”
I don’t know if it was Amy and the way she spoke but as I rose from my seat and followed her to the dining car, I was acutely aware of my femininity, the feel of the satin softness of my lingerie, the sound of my heels on the floor, the whisper of nylon as my legs brushed against each other, the tickle of hair against my ears and the way the curls brushed my shoulders. I was wearing my charcoal straight skirt and a white blouse topped with a wool chunky knit long length jacket, I had dressed for a hospital appointment and yet I still had that feeling of softness in my clothes a certain delicacy as if they were caressing me. My body was soft underneath and now I was aware of my clothes whenever I moved, not just when they were uncomfortable. I enjoyed the scent of my perfume and I noticed the smile on the waiter’s face when he showed us to a table and flicked our seats with his towel and made a point of not staring at our knees when we sat.
Amy was watching me, “Enjoying it.”
“What, being a girl? Yes, every little thing.”
“There are times when it can be a nuisance.”
“Like when? For me never.”
“Like when you have a husband stomping up and down outside the bathroom asking if you’ve finished having a shower yet and accusing you of being in there for forty five minutes.”
“Or being a nuisance just because it takes three hours to get ready to go out,” I added.
“You’ve got it.”
“Or,” I said looking at the full English that Amy had ordered for both of us, “Having to count calories.”
“That’s the worst part.”
“I don’t have to do that, Maria has told me I need more fat for boobies.”
Amy’s laughter made other diners turn to look at us and I didn’t care, I ate my sausage bacon and eggs and added two sugars to my coffee, it was my duty to my husband-to-be, to grow nice boobs.
An hour later, we walked towards the reception area of the hospital and the moment we went through the revolving doors I started to tremble. Amy didn’t say a word, just took me by the hand, gave it a reassuring squeeze and steered me into the visitors’ café, “Tea or coffee?”
“No chance of a large vodka tonic?”
“Nope, not with your low tolerance for alcohol. Coffee and it will have to be quick, we are due in the clinic in less than a half hour.”
Twenty minutes later we entered the Gender clinic and Amy spoke for both of us, "Doctor Amy Freeman and Miss Helen Finch."
Five minutes after that we were called into the first medical room; “Doctor Freeman,” a nurse said holding out a white coat for Amy and to me a hospital gown. “Will you go into the cubicle and strip off and put this on.”
“All of it?”
“All of it, you can leave the nail varnish on.”
I sat on the bench for a couple of minutes, my ordeal had started now but the shakes stayed away, I undressed and slipped the gown on and went outside. Amy was speaking with the nurse and when she saw me came straight over, “Ready?”
“No, I’ll never be ready, you sure I can’t have that V and T?”
She smiled, “Up against the yard stick, flat feet, relaxed but upright.”
“You doing it then?”
“No, that would cause a strike, the nurse will measure you, weight you and get you onto the inspection table ready for the doctor.”
My height seemed about the same but my bust caused Amy to raise an eyebrow but she said nothing and then I was laid out like a corpse on the table which I noticed had stirrups, “Amy,” I whispered, “What are they for?”
“You in case we have to do an emergency re-assignment operation.”
“What." I started to sit up, "You didn’t say anything about that.”
“Kidding, just trying to get you mind settled, we won’t operate, they are there in case the doctor needs them for her inspection. I’m staying and any snipping bits off is reserved for me.”
I then went through the same medical I had had at the prison, measured, callipered, blood tested, poke and prodded until the doctor got down to my nether regions and then after taking my scrotum in her hands, looked at me, “You okay with this?”
I nodded and I felt her hands on me but not what they were doing, I was thinking of V and Ts until she called Amy over. “Check this, I’ve read your report and there is a change.”
Amy didn’t have to ask me if I was okay with it, she’d been there before and after a moment I felt her spread the flesh of my scrotum, “See quite distinct separation but not split into separate cups.”
The other Doctor looked and made some notes, “This must have started early in the development and yet you say the ovaries are complete.”
“And Ovation, twice at least.”
“And before the admission to the Café there were no other symptoms.”
“No, not noticed symptoms that is.”
“Right let’s get the scan done.”
The scan seemed to go on forever and I wanted to scratch my nose, my hair and my thighs in fact everything within range of my hands but I remained motionless and eventually I was taken back to the medical room and told to get dressed.
“Okay Miss Finch,” The psychiatrist will have a chat with you now and then its lunch and back here for the assessment. You okay?”
“I’m fine, Amy will you be coming with me?”
“As far as his reception desk, the interview is you alone but if you have a problem and need to speak to me, tell him.”
I went in to see the doctor and was surprised when he got up from his desk and walked across the carpeted room to greet me. “Miss Finch I have been looking forward to this meeting since I first read the reports,” he guided me to a comfortable chair and waited until I was seated but he didn’t take his eyes off me. When I was comfortable he leaned back against his desk, “Tea, soft drink?”
“Do you have a sparkling water?”
He went to a small fridge hiding behind a cabinet door and brought a bottle, glass and a coaster and put them on a small circular table beside me and went to his chair on the other side of the desk, waited until I had taken a drink and then surprised me with his next comment, “You’re a most attractive woman,” and then he smiled, “And I’m not the first person to tell you that.”
I began to relax; this was not the grilling I expected, “A time of two but it’s still nice to be reminded, especially after being poked, prodded and scanned.”
He nodded sympathetically, “Hospitals, I hate them,” and then he started to ask me questions about my childhood, adolescence and adulthood and made notes but in between the questions he would digress and discuss something quite off topic for a minute or two before going back to the questions. I was at ease, he was very good and I found I was answering his questions with greater ease and then surprisingly he stopped and stood up, “I think that’s enough for now, time for a break, I got up and stood there feeling foolish, “Is that it?”
“For now you have been very frank and I don’t want to tire you out, go and have lunch with Amy and then you can come back for another chat with us.”
“Have you come to a conclusion?”
“Just about but I can’t tell you anything until I’ve consulted with my colleagues.”
I must have frowned because he went on to say, “I could give you a clue but I’m only prepared to do that over dinner at Quaglinos, sadly I haven’t a free evening for at least a week so I suspect you would rather hear it here in an hour or two.” He took my arm, “Come on if I don’t return you to Amy she’ll be in here wanting to know what’s happened to her girlfriend.”
The girlfriend and I found a nice little bistro type restaurant off Hammersmith Broadway that was recommended by the clinic receptionist. As soon as we were settled I took out my compact and looked at my face, no damage to the make-up, my eyes hadn’t changed colour, my hair was still on my head and I still had two lips, so all in all it was a safer experience than I had anticipated. Amy watched the performance with a smile on her face, “You should have done that before we left the hospital.”
“Check my make-up?”
“I nearly did but I thought they might think I was hamming it up for their benefit and anyway I wasn’t just checking my make-up, I was checking my face.”
“Well it’s you lot who keep telling me how beautiful I look, I just wanted to know if there were any crow’s feet at the corners of my eyes. I have aged ten years this week.”
“It does show.”
“Joking. What did the psychiatrist have to say?”
“Nothing really, asked me a lot of questions about my past, the sort that I had anticipated, chatted about this and that but didn’t really ask me a lot.”
“By ask you, you mean direct questions?”
“Yes. When he finished I asked if he had come to any conclusions and he said he would tell me but only over dinner at Quaglinos.”
“He qualified it by saying he didn’t have a free evening for a week.”
“That’s doctors for you,” there was a pause and then Amy said, “Don’t let him fool you, Helen, I know the man, he found out more about you chatting about this and that than he did with his questions.”
“You think he has made up his mind?”
“Well with the reports of the groundwork already undertaken at the Café and the medical examination, I would say yes. It’s unusual after only one assessment but the scan will confirm what I have already told them and so will the blood results, though there may have been a change in your hormone levels.”
“What makes you say that?”
“All morning you have been playing with your bra, tugging it down or pulling the band out, it doesn’t fit correctly are you still using the support gels.”
“Yes, I didn’t want to undress with a saggy bra.”
“Take them out when we get back. What cup size is it?”
“Time for an upgrade then, start wearing a B with the gels.”
“Oh. That was a bit sudden, I’m sure today was the first time I’ve had to keep adjusting my bra.”
“You were more relaxed until today, probably unaware of the slight discomfort. Temperature normal, headaches, flushes?”
“No, I’m not due until next week…” I stopped dead, what had I just said, ‘not due?’ “Good heavens, I’m thinking of periods.”
“Well you’ve been having them, ovaries tend to produce ovarian eggs at monthly intervals and we know you’ve had two periods so far.”
“I can’t have one next week, we have full length rehearsal and if I start getting moody it’ll be a disaster.”
“You may not have the unpleasant symptoms to that degree, if you do, let me know, I can prescribe something. Just don’t sleep with any men whilst it’s happening.”
“Sleep with men, I haven’t so far.”
“I know, I wanted to warn you in case you get pregnant because it would complicate things at this stage.”
I slammed my glass down on the table and it nearly shattered, “Pregnant! You said it was impossible.”
“Self-fertilization is impossible, so you’re safe as long as you don’t cuddle up and throw away your purity.”
“Amy! It’s the last thing on my mind.”
Amy was about to say something when her phone rang. She spoke little and ended the call with “We’re on our way, twenty minutes. Right,” she put the phone away, “That was the Hospital, they want us back. Your pregnancy test was positive.”
I grabbed my bag, slung it over my shoulder and raced after Amy. I caught her up outside the bistro, “What do you mean positive!”
She stopped and looked at me, “Clever aren’t I.”
“Amy, what’s going on, what are you talking about, have you given me IVF without my knowing?”
“No, I was kidding you again. That’s what I mean about clever. You have been pretty relaxed the whole time since we left the hospital and that is how I wanted you to stay.”
“Relaxed! I nearly went into orbit when you said I was positive.”
“Practical thing to worry about, better than negative brooding over what a hospital doctor is going to tell you when we already know the answer.” She took my hand and we hurried into Fulham Palace Road and started to walk towards the hospital and she was right, I was relaxed, well I wasn’t pregnant, that was something to be cheerful about.
When we reached the hospital I stopped, “I don’t want to go through the revolving doors.”
“Why, you haven’t had any problems so far.”
“Amy I am so happy, so very, very happy. These past three or four months have been the happiest of my life and apart from not being kissed when I wanted it so much and having a pregnancy scare, nothing has really spoiled it. I have made wonderful friends, lots of them, I have lived how I wanted to and had fun and I have a feeling that if I go through those revolving doors I will wake up when I get to the other side and be in my old flat, in my old bed and all of this would have been a dream.”
“Can’t have that, I would cease to exist, come on,” and we went to the glass door for people in wheel chairs or like me, scared of revolving doors.
The dream did continued on the other side and when we got to the clinic, we were shown strait into the psychiatrist’s office. There were three people in there, the woman doctor who had given me my medical, the psychiatrist and another man. They were seated around a low, elliptical table and there were two arm chairs placed opposite for Amy and myself. The two men stood and the psychiatrist showed us to the chairs and once we were seated he placed glasses and bottles of sparkling water on the table for us and handed Amy a file. This is your copy, Amy,” and then to me, “You have already met Alice and I, but the other person present is Doctor Simon Beresford, he’s out photo intelligence man.”
“Photo intelligence, am I a military objective?”
Simon chuckled, “You’ll have to make allowances for Harry, he spent three years as an army doctor before being unleashed on the civilian population. I am a specialist in radiography, I look at scans, and X-rays and I have seen yours, both the earlier ones and those that were done today.”
Harry sat down and picked up another file, opened it and said, “Right, Helen here’s the results you are declining a dinner date for. First, we three have no doubts whatsoever about your gender, you are female…” I couldn’t stop myself, the tears welled up in my eyes and I buried my face in my hands and started to cry. Not just sobs but all out flood the world crying. Amy was on her feet immediately and produced a Kleenex from somewhere, sat on the arm of my chair and pulled me to her and cuddled me and when the others got up, she shook her head and they waited for a good five minutes until I stopped, wiped my eyes and cheeks, “Sorry, I couldn’t stop it.” Alice smiled, “Harry has that effect on everybody, I even scream sometimes.”
A minute or two later I had composed myself, Amy went back to her seat and Harry said, “Sorry about that but I thought you’d want to know that before we go into the details.”
I nodded, “I did but you said I was female and sometimes females cry when they are happy.”
“Yes, men as well when nobody is looking. Would you like me to go into the details?”
“Since your last examination with Amy, you have maintained your rapid change. Your hormones are at the level of a healthy woman, the sperm count is zero and your testes are now barely the size of a pea. Your breasts have continued to grow and you are now a 36A plus. Skin has softened further; your waist is down to just under 27, hips 36. At the current rate, soon after Christmas you should be in the region of 36B, 26, 36…”
“Venus de Milo,” I smiled.
“Yes indeed a classic figure. Body hair is non-existent apart from some in the pubic region and vestiges on the front of your neck, which will fall out and not return that will happen within a week or two. Thighs and bottom are well shaped and your muscle tone is again A-typical of a twenty-nine year woman not doing heavy manual labour. Your penis has also shrunk a little and for the rest, I will let Simon explain it to you."
Simon already had his file open, “If I may first elaborate on what I have told you about my job, Helen. I do little else but go over the photo intelligence as Harry has called it.” He glanced at Amy, “Amy is correct in her diagnosis of fully formed and working ovaries, the very early signs of the forming of fallopian tubes and the beginnings of the mouth of a uterus. What I also discovered were small signs of the beginnings of a cervix at the uterus and what can only be the upper wall of a vagina below it.” He looked at Amy, “You will have missed them, my equipment is more sensitive than that available to you and the indications are very small but they are there.” Amy nodded her acknowledgement and smiled, “And you are a great deal better than me because of your specialisation.”
“Not necessarily so, it’s the equipment I have available,” he said smiling, “Don’t put yourself down, Amy you are very good.” He turned back to me, “The assumption that your foetus had begun to form female reproductive organs and then changed its mind until suddenly a few months ago it switched again, is correct and once the ovaries began functioning and producing all the extra estrogen the brain decided to carry on with its original intention, and at a very rapid rate, hence the astonishing changes to your secondary sexual characteristics.”
“Are the reproductive organs beginning to grow again as well?”
“No, Helen, they are static and won’t grow further. Your body is too old now to start producing the new cells that would be needed. The change in breast and hips is just the brain telling the body to re-arrange what already exists, mainly converting muscle tissue and moving fat from your waist to your bust, hips and buttocks. You will not develop a vagina without surgical assistance but the beginnings of the split in your scrotum suggests that one did begin to form, the labia being exchanged for a scrotum. Harry, you explain the rest.”
“Right Helen, what it all boils down to is a late reaction to an intersex condition. It’s happened before, as I believe Amy has explained. Your chromosome count confirms this, predominantly XX no XY. You are definitely not male. If you entered a sporting field that required a chromosome test, you would be disqualified if you tried to compete as a male.” He smiled, “Is that female enough for you?”
I smiled, “I always wanted to play netball.”
“Well now you can, keep you fit and slim as well,” said Alice.
“Only one or two points to make,” continued Harry and he looked at Amy, “We don’t think hormone therapy is necessary or advisable, Helen is producing enough of her own. We would suggest that we continue to monitor until mid January if that is convenient and then if it’s what Helen wants, discuss sex reassignment surgery.” He looked back to me, “There is one favour we would like to ask of you.”
“You will be coming here again in mid-November and December and whilst you are here we would like to make one or two further tests with a view to finding out exactly what happened to cause this dramatic change.”
“Will it involve surgery?”
“No, just scans, blood and tissue samples, measurements that sort of thing, none are invasive.”
I looked at Amy and she nodded, “You are going to be here anyway, and you can always stop it if you wish.”
“Okay you can do that. Will you be able to supply the necessary documents to my solicitor for the alteration of gender markers on my records?”
Alice answered, “I think Amy already has enough in the folder we gave her.”
I looked at all of them, there is one thing I would like, can I see the scan pictures and be shown my bits and pieces.”
Simon laughed, “Why not, they’re your bits and pieces,” he looked a question at Harry and he nodded, “Come over here.” We went behind Harry’s desk and Simon opened a large, A3 folder. “Here we are, the abdominal section,” and then he proceeded to show me what had happened inside me, it was fascinating. “I am sending copies to Amy tomorrow, I’ll stick an extra set in for you.”
We went back and Amy was on her feet, “Anything else you want to ask, Helen.”
“There is one thing,” I looked at Harry, “Am I pregnant?”
Their mouths opened in surprise and Alice asked, “What on earth gave you that idea?”
I grinned at Amy, “My personal physician thinks I’ve been bed hopping, I was just wondering if you can tell me who the father is.”
Simon stopped laughing long enough to say, “When we do that, Helen we will all earn a fortune writing your life story.” And on that happy note, the real Helen Vesta Finch went home to the Café.
Paul was waiting for us outside the station and as we came through the exit, he was out of the car and had the rear passenger door open. Amy stood back and ushered me forward and I lowered my head to get in but his hand on my shoulder stopped me, “Helen?”
I straightened and looked at the concern in his eyes, “Paul, I am not pregnant, ask Amy,” and I slid gratefully into the car.
He looked puzzled at first and as Amy got in, she said, “It’s true, Paul, she is definitely not pregnant but she does have some of the equipment.”
“Helen Vesta is with us to stay.”
He said nothing and went to the driver’s door but before he opened it he smiled at me through the window and then got in and started to drive out of the station forecourt. I leaned forward, “Paul can you take us to a good quality wine merchant.”
“At once Miss Finch.”
He stopped the car on double yellow lines, jumped out opened my door and as I eased out I asked, “Will this be okay, I’ll be about five minutes?”
“Miss Finch, this is a Lexus, I am in uniform and if a parking warden saw you get out and has the temerity to ask me to move on, I shall simply point to my remaining passenger and explain that the Lady Mayoress is unwell and has asked me to stop and you have gone to purchase suitable medication. Furthermore, any parking warden that cops an eye on you will stand rooted to the spot hoping to see you on your return. Please hurry.”
I hurried into the shop as instructed by my chauffeur, “Do you have Krug NV in stock?”
The wine merchant hurried over, “Yes of course and it’s on offer, reduced from ninety three pounds to eighty eight.”
“A case, with a dozen flutes and six half pint glasses.”
“A case, at once madam,” he shouted through a beaded curtain, “Dennis, a case of Krug, twelve flutes, six half pint glasses,” and turned back to me, “I can reduce a full case to nine sixty and the glasses are a gift,” he looked at me hesitantly, “Of course the glasses won’t be crystal.”
“Plain glass will do nicely, would you ask your assistant to take them out to the Lexus and ask my chauffeur to put everything in the boot.” I handed over a credit card.
In less than a minute the assistant went out carrying the champagne and I saw Paul open the boot. The wine merchant handed back my card, “May I ask Madam, why the half pint glasses?”
“Many years ago, a St. James wine merchant told me that champagne, the quality of Krug and being dry should be drunk in the same way as a glass of beer, not sipped. That way the taste buds at the back of the tongue pick up the full dryness, leaving the front of the tongue free to appreciate the fruitiness.”
“Oh, yes indeed. But an expensive glass of beer.”
“When the occasion warrants, such extravagance is permitted.”
“Yes, oh dear me yes and please accept my felicitations, Madam.”
I returned to the car, Paul was closing the boot and ten yards away a parking warden took his time with his ticket machine as he watched me, I smiled at him, “Thank you so much for allowing us a little time,” and I got in and Paul slid away from the kerb.
“What was in that case,” asked Amy.
Amy nearly choked, “A case of Krug!”
“Grande Cuvee NV.”
“Hell, Helen that must have cost a fortune, what are you thinking of?”
“Amy, whatever it cost doesn’t matter, today is my bestest day ever.”
“Yes, I suppose it is.”
“There’s no suppose about it and if you think that was expensive, just wait until I get up to London again and visit Harrods and Harvey Nichols.”
She giggled, “Can I come?”
“Of course, just leave your credit cards at home or Ben will get grumpy.”
“I’ll get some naughty lingerie to go with the dress from the Retro Shop, he’ll forgive me.”
“There’s an Agent Provocateur shop in Pont Street, just around the corner from Harrods. A pair of silk knickers in there costs about the same as a bottle of Krug.”
“I’ll buy a case.”
As we approached the Café, Paul remarked that it looked as if a mass breakout was in progress and when we looked, everybody was outside waiting for us. Paul stopped the car and before he could get out two of the warders had the passenger doors open for us; Paul had to fend for himself.
I got out and Maria was there and threw her arms around me, “Tell me, child, tell me.”
“I am to remain your daughter, Mother.”
She started to cry and I then noticed she appeared taller and when I stepped back a little and looked, she was wearing high heels. “Mother, you’re wearing heels!”
She stifled her sobs and nodded, “May, she tell me I am in concert and must wear heels for stage. Many years since I last wore them and have to practice again and wear all time.”
I laughed, “You’ve got great legs, are you dancing?”
Her eyes widened and she shook her head vigorously, “Not dancing, just walk about a little.”
And then the others moved in and we kissed and hugged for ten minutes before George started to usher us inside.
Paul and Will came through with the champagne and glasses and asked where we wanted them.
“The common room I suppose,” I answered, “We can always move them into the rehearsal room if we need.”
“And what may those cases be,” asked George, the head warder part of his life surfacing.
“Just some celebration juice.”
“Fruit based drink,” I assured him.
He closed his eyes, “Better not let me see you smuggling alcoholic beverages into here, fruity drink often means wine.” He kept his eyes shut until Paul and Will had passed us and opened them again, “Good, you’ve put them back in the boot. I take it everything went well?”
“Definitely, I am not pregnant.”
He grinned, “That I suppose will be the next cause for celebrating with fruity drinks. And you can tell Will to get his arse back here, he’s still on duty.”
“I promise. We’ll send down some of the fruity drink.”
When Will left with a bottle and three flutes, Maria peered inside the case and looked at me. “Many bottle, you not drink all of this.” And she closed the flaps and turned to Paul, “Please take into kitchen.”
“I’ll have to get back,” he said, “I’d love to stay but the car is going out soon.”
“Can you come back in a couple of hours, Paul? It wouldn’t be the same without you.”
Amy came in then with Boris and Adam and Paul turned to Boris, “Is it okay if I get back here after dinner, I’ve been invited to the party?”
Boris looked at me, “I’d be murdered if I said no, Paul. So you had better be here.” Adam came over to me, “See I told you, nothing to worry about.”
Just take me in your arms and kiss me for the next twelve hours I thought but simply said, “Yes. I’m me forever now.”
There was something in his smile, in his eyes and I thought, Oh God, he is going to kiss me but he didn’t, “Am I invited to the party?”
“Yes, definitely yes and you’d better be here, no phone calls, no dashing off or I’ll murder you.”
“I’ll have to get back as well,” said Amy. “Ronnie will be under a bit of pressure by now, even with the locum helping. We’ll try and get back, Helen.”
“No wait a tick,” I went into the kitchen and claimed a bottle of the Krug and three flutes and found a carrier bag. I gave them to Amy, “Just in case you can’t get back, this is for you, Ronnie and the girl in reception. Amy smiled, “Thanks, Ronnie will be out of her box after two glasses of this,” and she left.
If we had any notions of ‘getting out of our boxes’ that evening, Mummy Maria soon dispelled them. Amy and Ronnie both made it to the party and when Boris, Paul and Adam joined us in the common room, the men were served their champagne in the half pint glasses whilst we had to content ourselves with flutes and in mine and April’s case. Mummy Maria made sure our flutes were only two thirds filled.
Mummy Maria it would seem was something of a sexist, the men got looked after and could do more or less what they liked were as we girls were strictly regulated. When Allen appeared an hour later the last of the half pint glasses was brought into use which scotched Maeve’s plan to purloin it for our use.
Maeve made up for it by bringing the disc player in from the rehearsal room and the desks were quickly moved to the side of the room and the dancing began. I had already changed into my poodle skirt and white petticoat and April’s pleading made me agree to letting her have my black skirt and the red petticoat and soon we were boogying and not long after that Allen joined in and he and I jived which stopped Adam and Boris’s conversation and they watched until Maeve changed the tempo and put some big-band ballroom dances on and at last, Adam got to his feet, gently took me from Allen and we danced a waltz and if he had held me closer, I would have been in his pocket. Mummy Maria was watching us through narrowed eyes; me in particular but she did nothing. Maeve changed the disc and a foxtrot came on so we smooched, me with Adam, Diane with Boris, Barbara with Paul and April with Allen. Maeve was on the point of going down to reception to steal a warder for herself when Mummy made her move; the foxtrot stopped and was replaced with a quickstep just at the point where Adam’s hand had slid down my back and was resting at the top of my bum and I, after finishing two flutes of champagne, quickly worked out that if I suddenly stood on tip-toe, Adam would have my lips close to his and his hand resting on my buttocks. When the quick step ruined my chance I glared daggers at Maria but she just waved a finger at me.
Adam smiled a little ruefully but kept my hand in his as we returned to our seats and the moment Maria had turned her back, he went to the table with the drinks and returned minutes later with a third champagne and this time the flute was filled and the bubbles tickled my nose which made the champagne taste all the better, or it may have been that Adam had brought it to me.
The third drink set me off though and April and I started giggling. At one point I started to get up then I lost my equilibrium and fell back into my armchair which made my skirt and petticoat fly back showing a healthy length of leg but once again, before I could wriggle it further back, Mummy Maria, moved like a whippet and my skirt was returned to a more lady-like, over the knee position. “No more champagne, now you eat snack,” and before I knew it, a plate of petit fours, cocktail sausages and small pieces of celery was in my hands.
“Mummy, petit fours and sausages are fattening.”
“Safer you get fat this way.”
“It’s for my boobies,” I explained to April and that set us off again.
May came in from the kitchen with a tray of party goodies and looked in my direction and nodded with a satisfied smile on her face and then I realised that the hatch had been open the whole time and she had been acting as Maria’s spy and tipping her off from time to time.
Maeve managed to get the Last Waltz onto the player and I was once again in Adam’s arms but with two sets of eyes making it painfully obvious that my every move was being watched I had to satisfy myself with just being in his arms and not in his pocket.
Shortly after, May announced it was ten-o-clock and time we got to our beds otherwise we would be in no condition for an early start for the photo shoot.
Adam, Allen, Paul and May went with the driver and Boris, who had restricted himself to one glass of champagne, was able to get us to our rooms. Even Barbara was somewhat miffed, she was hoping for a little time in her room with Paul. Maria, because she too was coming on the photo shoot was sleeping in one of the spare rooms and I remember thinking, just before I fell asleep, that Vesta was shielding me with a view to my becoming one of her Vestal Virgins.
There wasn’t a single hangover in the morning, Maria had risen early and prepared our breakfasts and we were ready for the off by eight thirty. We had decided not to use Paul’s transport services, I would take my Zodiac much to the joy of the other girls and Allen was taking his own car and would have May as a passenger. I had to carry six but the car was designed for that and the two bench seats had room and made it very chummy. Maria of course sat next to me quite determined that her daughter was not going to get up to mischief.
We arrived in Chichester at nine thirty and were going to have our makeovers in two shifts so Maeve, Barbara and Diane went first leaving Maria, April and myself with an hour on our hands. May having given instructions to the beautician about the look she wanted left the others in the care of Pauline from the Music Society who would see that the colours applied to our faces would suit the dresses she had left with the photographer and we went off into the town. I needed new bras now that I was blossoming, April wanted to be let loose in the Retro Shop and Maria wanted to go to Debenhams, so we were going to have to move quickly.
When we got to the retro shop we found Ruth already busy with May wandering up and down the racks making notes. When we left, May had bought a knee length full skirt in white with black polka dots and a white bouffant petticoat for Barbara; April had a yellow poodle skirt with a white swan instead of a poodle and another bouffant petticoat and May added five artificial flower hair clasps and five assorted chiffon neck scarves. Ruth once again offered to take everything over to the car park and leave the purchases in the boot of the Zodiac but we warned her that three more retro chicks would be calling in shortly and they would pick everything up and we left our purchases with her. Maria had another of her mysterious packages, much smaller this time, which she tucked into her shoulder bag, and then it was our turn for curlers and slap as Pauline had described it.
I took the pencil drawing I had made of Maria and showed it to the girl who was doing Maria’s makeover. She studied it and looked at Maria then nodded, “I can match the drawing perfectly, you’ve not exaggerated her look at all.” We sat in our respective chairs and the work for the photo shoot began.
I found out later that whilst I was having my face and hair done, the other three retro chicks had called at Ruth’s and after making their own purchases Ruth took them to the car park and Maeve magically produced my spare car keys and the Zodiac was driven to the studio, taken round the back and through double doors, into the studio.
When we arrived, Pauline and May took us into a dressing room and we were fitted into the dresses from the Music Society. They were made from a soft polyester, full length with flowing skirts and wrap over bodices, V necks and slightly puffed sleeves and once we were dressed and had a chance to look in the mirror, they did look good on us. Allen appeared in a black dinner suit, white ruffled dress shirt and bow tie looking like an operatic James Bond. When we went into the main studio there was the photographer’s assistant checking both film and digital cameras. I wasn’t aware that my Zodiac was present; it was hidden away behind a backdrop. The backdrop was of a moonlit lakeshore and in front of it was a wooden bridge. No time was wasted, May sat at the piano and April began to sing Softly Awakes My Heart and the cameras went into action. I followed with First Time Ever I Saw Your Face then Maeve played a Cello whilst Diane played the violin. Barbara was photographed on the piano whilst she played Beethoven’s Moonlight and then we were put together and hummed a few bars of The Humming Chorus from Butterfly. Allen and April sung The Love Duet and then she and I joined to sing The Flower Duet. The final set of the session was taken of Maria and she did look lovely, the makeup artist had seen the inner beauty that I had when I drew her portrait and pictures were taken of her with a variety of expressions on her face.
We had a short break then and during it, the photographer took me to one side, “The portrait of you in the window, it has created quite a lot of interest. I have had over forty enquiries from customers who would like to purchase it.”
“Me! My picture! Why would anybody want to buy a picture of me?”
“You are beautiful and I was inspired when I took it. There are people who collect portrait photographs.”
“Oh, well I don’t know really, it feels strange to have people who want my portrait, people I don’t know.”
He smiled, “I think it is something you must get used to. One of the enquiries was from a local artist; he wishes to paint you, preferably real life but if not, from the photograph. He told me there is a powerful longing in your face and he wants to capture it in oils and pastels.”
“No, portraits are his speciality. You would remain dressed but he may wish to suggest clothing. The artist I suspect, if his work is up to his usual standards, would command a high fee and I am sure he would agree to a commission on sales rather than a straight fee. How do you feel about it?”
“I don’t know, it’s an odd feeling, can I think about it?”
“Of course, I will not sell anything until you agree.”
“There is something I need. I picked up my bag and unrolled Maria’s pencil portrait, “Would you mount and frame this for me, I would like it before we leave, can it be done?”
He looked at the picture and nodded, “Who did this?”
“I did. I am a graphic artist by trade,” I waved my hand at the studio, “That’s what all this is about, pictures for a concert programme and posters.”
“It is well done did you not consider going into fine art rather than graphics?”
“I did but I am not gifted enough,” I smiled, “I can sing and dance a little and draw reasonably well but I don’t have the vision an artist needs for fine art.”
He smiled, “I think you should investigate a little deeper but for the moment, my framer is coming in at two, I’ll put him onto this as soon as he arrives and have it ready for three. There will be no charge, Miss Finch; you have brought work to my studio. It is the least I can do.”
“I haven’t paid you yet.”
“Oh it has already been paid for, Miss May has done it.”
Further conversation ended when Miss May clapped her hands, “Back to work everybody, get the dresses off and into your Fifties outfits.” She grinned at us, “We’re off to the hop.”
At that point an engine started and my Zodiac appeared driven by Ruth and slowly edged its way in front of the backdrop, which disappeared up into the ceiling to be replaced with a picture of the front of Benny’s Diner, and the photographer pushed a Wurlitzer jukebox until it was standing beside the Zodiac. A cable appeared and the Wurlitzer was plugged in and it worked and when I went to look it was loaded with seventy-eights.
“Hope you don’t mind?” asked May. “I didn’t make up my mind until the last minute but I want to bring a couple of dance numbers into the concert, Rock and Roll dance numbers.”
“Well, that’ll blend with the Enigma Variations,” I answered, “Corse I don’t mind.”
“Off you go then, poodle skirt and petticoat, shirt blouse, same for you April, Barbara your polka dot, petticoat, tight sweater and wide patent belt. Maeve, Diana, pencil skirts, blouses and bubble gum. And there’s a mixture of neck scarves in the dressing room and in case any of you are not sure how to wear them, there’s a couple of pics. Hurry up,” she patted me on the bum, “Show ‘em how it’s done. I’ll play Rock Around The Clock for you.”
“Who are our partners?”
She laughed, “You’re sharing, wait till you see the Ted that’s turned up.”
In the dressing room petticoats, poodle skirts, blouses and shoes seem to be flying in every direction but from this anarchy five bobby dazzlers emerged, two in pencil skirts and two in poodle skirts with one in polka dots. I was the last to leave having stopped to do my hair into a ponytail and I had my head tilted as I tried to fix an earring in place. I stopped dead in my tracks, lounging up against the Wurlitzer was the epitome of Teddy boys. The drape jacket was plum red with a black velvet collar, the shirt plain and white with a black bootlace tie, black trousers that stopped an inch above the crepe soled brothel creepers to expose a pair of fluorescent green socks. Allen’s hair had been given a washout black dye and was styled into a quiff in front and a good attempt at a DA at the back. He had enough setting gel on his hair to fill the dif on the Zodiac and it shone. Beside him stood two bubble gum chewing bobby soxers in pencil skirts and two other girls half-heartedly jiving to an Elvis number blaring out of the juke box. Allen the Ted casually eyed me up and down as cool as Travolta in Grease, blew a bubble with his gum, which burst without covering his face, something I have never succeeded in doing, eased himself off the Wurlitzer and sauntered up to me, “Wanna jive, Baby?”
“Giving it some thought, you any good? I like it fast.”
“You’ll get it fast, kid.” The next record dropped and the room was filled with Bill Haley and the Comets doing Rock Around The Clock, “Let’s spin it.”
And we spun it. We spun it with a vengeance, Allen was on top of his form and the crepe soles of his shoes gave him grip and the polished hardwood surface of the studio floor enabled me to spin like never before. The best was when he spun me out with his right hand until both our arms were fully extended, then he gave a light pull, lifted our hands and I spun back one and half turns and with my back to him, he dropped my left and took my right and spun me straight out until our other arms were extended then pulled me back and dropped my hand and I free spun in the reverse direction three times and he caught me with his right again, reversed the turn and spun me under arm twice and then the record stopped, I did one half turn and stopped, facing him. He blew another bubble and said, “Fast enough, Babe?” I could never have danced like that with anybody else, we had practised the jive so much I knew exactly where his hand was going to be waiting, and by the slightest signal precisely which turn was coming next.
And then the others started their applause and cheering. May and the photographer were high fiving. The entire dance had been videoed and photographed and when we played it back my skirt had spent nearly the entire time in a blur of white, pink and lace spun out to waist height.
We hugged each other and he spun round holding me off the ground, “If I don’t get a starring part in our next musical after they see that,” he said grinning all over his face, “The Music Society are brain dead, you were sensational.”
He put me back on the ground and I asked, “You weren’t so bad yerself, kid, got one of those bubble gums?”
He gave me one and then grabbed April and Barbara, “I’m so hot I wanna jive with two of you,” and he did whilst Maeve, Diane and I sat on the side of the Zodiac blowing bubbles and hand jiving to Blue Suede Shoes.
There were more pictures taken of us posing around the Zodiac and then we were done. May brought Allen and I together, “I have never seen a better demonstration of the jive, live or on film and I want to use it in the concert.”
Allen looked at me, “Can we do it again?”
“Better, we won’t make any mistakes the next time.”
He grinned and nodded at May, “Okay me and the babe are up for it.”
She looked at me, “I’ll have to make room for it.”
“I know, do you want to drop one of my solos?”
“Not yours, I was going to drop April’s White Cliffs.”
“Not at any price, May, never. You drop one of mine or we stay as we are. I’m sorry to be so adamant, you’re the producer, but I lead in the Enigma, I sing a duet with April; I have this dance and then my solo. You drop one of mine and give the others a chance.”
She looked at me for a while, “The only one I can drop is Little Things Mean A Lot.”
“I know, I really wanted to sing that but not at April or anyone else’s expense I am one of a team, May. We have no stars. Drop Little Things.”
She reached out and stroked my face with her finger tips, “Draws a little, dances a little, sings a little and has a heart that beats pure love. Give up the day job.”
“Whatever happens, we’ll have fun,” I assured her.
“That we will and you,” she looked at Allen, “Drop the gum next time.”
“Aw, May, I don’t have anything else to do, it’s Helen that does the dancing.”
“Then you’d better make sure you don’t miss a step or a catch.”
When she left Pauline came over with Ruth, Pauline looked at Allen, “Wow!” and then at me, “Wow! Wow! Please say you’ll join our Music Society.”
I took one of my shoes off, “Ruth, I need a new pair, I’ve worn these down and they won’t last for a dress rehearsal and the concert.”
She took it from me, “It can be repaired.”
“Well enough for that sort of dancing?”
She looked doubtful, “I can try, if not I’ll order a pair I don’t have any more of this size and colour at present.”
Allen took the shoe from her, “We can get this repaired in the Prison workshop.”
Ruth looked pained, “Allen they are heels not a pair of boots.”
Allen looked at me, “Trust me, Helen, the prison workshop has a shoemaking class and if a prisoner is not up to it I can get the instructor to do it, he was a master shoemaker, built them for the stars and the elite before he retired, he’d love to do the job. I’ll lay money the repaired shoe will be better than the original and he’ll fix the steel tip on the heel so you can spin a little easier.”
“Okay but Ruth, get another pair anyway in case a heel breaks on the night.”
“One favour,” asked Ruth. “Can I have some of those pics for my shop, the shoes and clothes were nearly all mine.”
“I’ll ask May to include a mention in the programme, How about Clothes and Shoes by Ruth’s Retro Shop.”
“Yes, that would be great, I’ve asked May to let me have advertising space as well.”
As soon as she left Maria took me to one side, “Two Spirit Daughter is beautiful dancer.”
“Thank you, Mummy but some of the credit goes to Allen.”
“Yes but you are the one that made the dance.” She smiled, “But very saucy, will make man interested in you.”
“Skirt flew high, daughter show everything.”
I flew over to the digital camera and went through the shots, Oh my God, Maria had seen what I failed to notice. The skirt was horizontal and my legs were exposed from toe tip to waist. It was all there, stocking tops and knickers. I couldn’t let them be released. “I’ll get them deleted,” I said to Maria, “I won’t have a secret left.”
“You leave them,” said Maria and May together.
“Good for getting men interested,” Maria added.
“And it’ll pack ‘em in.” said May, “Nothing in the shot that will interest The Lord Chamberlain, a bit of knicker and stocking top was mandatory in dance halls in the Fifties.”
“Well okay but don’t let it escape onto You Tube, the right people will get the wrong idea.”
Maria had an odd smile on her face when I went to see the photographer again to collect her portrait. “It is in the boot of your beautiful car and I have this for you,” he handed me a flash drive, “Everything we did this afternoon is included so you can go to work on your programme. I have enjoyed working with you today and Miss May has asked me to bring video and still cameras to the concert so it too can be recorded.”
“And you won’t put anything in the window without asking me first?”
“I am a professional photographer, if I did something like that my reputation would die. Nothing leaves here unless the commissioning person gives permission.” He smiled, “You are a very good dancer, very photogenic…”
“Especially those pictures!”
“I keep my copies on encrypted discs or flash drives; nobody will even be able to look at them if they were stolen.”
“Will you tell the artist I would like to speak to him about the portrait and it’s okay for you to sell the one in the window,” I shrugged my shoulders and smiled at him, “After today’s session what does it matter if a portrait goes viral.”
In the final chapter of Volume 1, Helen goes home to the Café, dances with Adam and buys a nest.
The complete version, volumes 1 to 4 is available on Amazon Kindle.
Murmuring with Starlings will be published for Easter, and hopefully, Footprints In The Sea Vol 5 will be ready for the summer holidays.
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