A picture is worth a thousand words, and this is no exception...
...although in this case it's around sixteen-thousand words.
It doesn't take a massive leap to imagine the girl on the right could really be a boy.
One could imagine any number scenarios which could precede 'her' eldest brother's graduation day....
One could imagine any number scenarios which could precede 'her' eldest brother's graduation day....
A Surrogate Sister
My brothers and I were all concerned about our mother. A few years ago she was a normal happy mother, full of the joys of spring, so to speak. But after the doctors told her that she could no longer have children, meaning she wouldn't have the daughter she'd always longed for, she fell into a deep depression. This caused an ever growing rift between her and dad, and eventually he just upped sticks and left us. Not surprisingly her depression got worse. So much so she ended up in hospital for a couple of weeks and our Aunt Vera came to look after us until our mother had got herself well again. But she was never the same as she used to be. George, Andrew and I all knew there was a hole in her heart... and if any of us knew anything about heart surgery, we'd do whatever we could to fix it.
One Saturday morning she was in a particularly chirpy mood. She sat us around the table and announced that she'd come up with a solution to our 'family problem'. “How would you boys like to have a sister?”
Knowing that was the one thing our mother longed for, we all said “Yes” but knew that she couldn't have children any more. We also knew that she'd also been turned down for adoption and fostering, most likely due to her history of depression. “But how?” George asked.
“Well, I've done lots of reading and spoken to all the right people.” she said, “And I've made all the necessary arrangements... well, as far as I can at this early stage.” she told us with enthusiasm. “But once the ball is rolling, I expect our problems will be over in no time at all!”
“Great!” each of us said in our own way. “But where's she coming from?”
“Well, that's you come in... all I need is for one of you brave and beautiful boys to volunteer.” she said with an expectant smile on her face.
“Volunteer for what?” Andrew asked.
“To be my daughter.” she replied in the same tone she'd ask one of us to put the bins out.
All our jaws were on the floor. “You mean... you want one of us to be a girl?” I gulped.
“Yes.” she smiled, scanning our faces. “Although whichever of you it is would still be a boy underneath.” she said. “See it as a... dressing up game. One that would make your mother extremely happy and eternally grateful.” she added as our jaws went through the floor and into the cellar.
“Well it can't be me!” George said. “I'm too old and too tall.”
“Me neither!” Andrew snapped. “Choose Peter. He's a sissy anyway!”
“No I'm not!” I snapped back.
“None of you are 'sissies'.” Mum stated, before making Andrew apologise to me. “Now, George, you're not too old or too tall.” She said to my fifteen year old brother. “In fact all the really pretty girls are tall like you.” she said as George grew increasingly fearful that it might be him.
“Andrew.” She said, turning to my twelve year old brother. “You have those lovely dimples, and like George, you've got beautiful blonde hair which always looks very pretty on girls.”
“But!” Andrew interjected.
Mum silenced him. “And you Peter. You've inherited my lovely brown hair... and my curls.” she smiled as my heart sank.
A big debate ensued. Andrew claimed he was too ugly as his ears stuck out the most. George used his upcoming graduation as an excuse. “Plus I've been a boy the longest.” he added.
“And I've been a boy the second longest.” Andrew said. “So it should be Peter.”
“That's got nothing to do with it.” I retorted. “Anyway, you could become 'Andrea' and George could be 'Georgia'. There isn't a girl's version of my name.” I smugly pointed out.
“Now now boys... stop arguing.” Mother said. We all piped down, but our inner tension was clearly high. “You've all raised valid points, especially you Peter.”
“YES!” I thought.
“However I've already decided on a name, and its going to be Sophie.” she announced. “Isn't that pretty?”
“No!” we all simultaneously replied.
“Well which ever one of you it is.. I'm sure you'll grow to like it.” she said. “Now I think the only fair way to decide which of you is going to be Sophie is to play a game. And since it's a family decision, I suggest Happy Families.” she said, wielding the pack of cards.
You could cut the air with a knife as she dealt out the cards. Happy Families is an easy game, part chance, part luck and ideal for ages six and above. Being the youngest at ten-and-a-half is hardly a handicap in game like this. I looked at the four cards I'd been dealt and already had Mrs Chip; the carpenter's wife, and Master Chip; the carpenter's son. It's a good starting hand, but there's a good chance one of my brothers have been dealt a family pair too, and the carpenter and his daughter could easily be at the bottom of the pack. As long I don't loose I'll be OK, I figured, knowing there would be two winners in this game. I discarded one card and picked up the top card from the deck. It was Mr Bones; the butcher, and useless to me. Andrew went next. He discarded one card from his hand, picked up another from the deck and said “Yes” under his breath. A few rounds later and I finally got Mr Chip, the carpenter. Only one to go... even if I'm not out first, I've got three out of four so I still have a strong chance of coming second. The pile of cards was getting low. George clearly got a card he was after, but still didn't have a full set. Mum shuffled the discard deck once the main deck had been used. I picked up the top card and wished with all my heart. Miss Batter; the baker's daughter. I like a good tense card game, and knowing the stakes are far higher than a simple win or loose, I knew I'd better find my final card before long. George did the classic. He obviously had two family pairs, and discarded the wrong one. I on the other hand have three of a kind and.... I hoped and preyed as I picked up my next card.... “Yes!” I announced. “All the Chips!” I declared as I placed my four cards on the table for my brothers and mother to see.
“GRRRR!” Andrew grimaced as I threw him a smug grin.
Both my brothers gave me a menacing look. “Right... it's your go Andrew.” George said angrily. “And you'd better not win you little...” he threatened, pointing his finger then clenching his fist.
“George.. stop that!” Mother snapped. “How can Andrew win the game when Peter's already won? … And I'm glad it's not you anyway as you're too much of a brute.” she paused and turned to me. “Congratulation's Peter... we're going to have so much fun.” she said, grinning broadly as I failed to fully grasp what had just happened.
“But... I thought the looser would be...?!” I stammered. I looked at my brothers as their faces turned from fury to elation. I gulped.
“No, the winner gets to be my new daughter, and their new sister.” she smiled.
“No!” I blurted, sticking out my lip. “I don't want to be a girl!” I said as both George and Andrew fell about laughing.
“Now boys... you're not to tease your sister.” Mother said. “You're both to be nice to her... otherwise I'll have three daughters and not just one.” She stated. This stopped their taunts. But it still wasn't good news for me. Mum continued, “And don't think you can be horrible to your new sister behind my back either... because she'll tell me. Wont you Peter?”
I gulped and nodded.
“Now, why don't you boys go to your rooms?” she said. “Peter and I need to talk.”
I watched as George and Andrew silently shuffled out of the dining room. I could hear them whispering loudly as they climbed the stairs... but could only imagine what they were saying.
“Don't look so worried Peter.” Mum said in her best 'reassuring' voice. “It's not as bad as it seems.” she smiled as I tried to pull the most disgruntled face I could muster. “You'll finally get a room all of your own.” she said. “And I know you've always wanted that.” she added. “And I'm going to buy you lots and lots of nice new things.” she said. “And you can still be a boy at school.... you'll only be Sophie at home.”
“But...” I sniffed. “Everyone's going to know. George and Andrew will tell them... all of them.”
“I'm sure they will... imagine how exciting it must be, having a new sister?” Mum said as my sulk continued to increase in magnitude. “But I understand what you're saying. I've already made arrangements for one of you to start at Crickley Comprehensive, so I'd better let them know it's you.” she smiled.
“That's miles away!” I said. Crickley being one of the nearby small towns that is yet to be eaten up by the Covenworth conurbation.
“It's two miles Peter.” she replied. “There's a bus from the end of the street that takes you directly there.” she explained, “Or if you'd prefer... I could buy you a nice new bike so you can cycle to school.” she suggested.
“Really!” I exclaimed, before wondering what type of bike it may or may not be.
“I think so.” my mother smiled. “I also think your brother's are going to be a little bit jealous seeing you getting so many new things. So just as they're not allowed to tease you... I don't want you gloating either.” she said. “They'll be making sacrifices too.”
“What kind of sacrifices?” I moaned.
“Well for a start George will have to move out of his bedroom.” she said. “And Andrew will have to share with George... and we both know how much those two can bicker.”
“Will I get George's room?” I asked enthusiastically.
“You will.” Mum smiled. “And you've always wanted a room of your own haven't you?”
New room, new bike... it all sounded exciting. “But... will I have to dress like a girl all the time?”
“Yes of course.” Mum replied. “Every day.”
“Except at school.” I added.
“No you'll be dressing as a girl for school too.” Mum replied, much to my displeasure.
“But... you said I'd still be a boy at school.” I moaned in my extra mournful voice.
“You will be a boy at school.” she replied, adding to my confusion. “But all the boys at Crickley Comprehensive dress as girls... which is why I've arranged a place there.” she smiled.
“Yes they do... and they look very nice too.” she said. After a moment's silence she took hold of my trembling hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Don't look so glum Love. It's going to mean so much to me, finally having a daughter of my own.” she said.
“But... all my friends will think I'm a sissy.”
“Well you can make new friends at your new school.” she said. “And you've always got on well with the girls around here. Unlike your brothers'” she added, glancing at the ceiling. “They're both too busy being boisterous and brutish.... pulling their pig tails and flicking their skirts.” she frowned. “And between you and me... I'm glad neither of your brother's won. I can't imagine either of them being the pleasant and polite and pretty daughter I've longed for.” she smiled, rubbing the back of my hand to reassure me. “Can you?”
I shook my head.
“And to be perfectly honest... if you hadn't won the card game, I'd have switched it from winner to looser just to increase your chances.” she admitted. “You've got lovely brown curls just like I had when I was a girl... and your sweet little nose.” she said as she pinched it, making me blush. “And you are the youngest.” she added. “Your brother's are both at that age where they're getting too eager to grow up... especially George.” she said, “Whereas you've still got plenty of childhood left.”
She used so many different words and phrases to tell me the same thing over and over again. I can't even begin to imagine what it's going to be like. “Will I have to play with dolls?” I murmured.
“I think you're getting a little too old for dollies.” she said. “Girl's your age are interested in all sorts of different things... but not dolls.” she paused and smiled sweetly at me.
“OK.” I murmured.
Mum stood up and opened one of the drawers on the Welsh dresser. She removed a pair of scissors and one of her many sewing boxes. I watched in silence as she placed them on the table before removing the lid. “Why don't we make a start and put some of this ribbon in your hair?”
I gulped as she unrolled a length of blue gingham ribbon. “OK.” I peeped. But made sure my bottom lip remained prominent, just so she could see my displeasure.
My hair wasn't long... but it was in need of a cut. I sat silently as she put the ribbon around the back of my neck and tied it in a bow on the top of my head, before faffing with my hair. She looked at me and smiled. She told me that I'm going to be 'so' pretty, before hugging me tightly. Then she looked me directly in the eye. “I'm so happy you're doing this form me Peter... I'd have killed myself without a daughter of my own... I really would.” she said before hugging me again. “I love you so much Sophie... I really do!” she gushed.
I closed my eyes tight shut as they filled with tears. The thought of my mother doing anything like that to herself was too much to bear. She's been so unhappy for so long, especially since dad left. I don't want to be a girl, I really don't... but I do know just how much having a daughter means to her, even if that daughter isn't a really a real girl.
“You OK Mum?” George's voice said with more than a hint of concern
Mum and I unlocked our embrace and turned towards the stairs. “Yes love.” Mum told him as she wipes her eyes. “Peter and I were just having a talk.” she said.
“Is there anything we can do?” George asked, glancing at Andrew who loitered behind him.
“Yes.... as a matter of fact there is.” Mum said as she placed her arm around my shoulders and gulped back her tears. “I'd like you to move all of your things into Andrew's room.”
“Oh but Mum!” George moaned. “I like my room and I don't want to share?”
“Well I'm afraid you'll have to.” she said. “Your new sister needs a room of her own. So either Andrew moves in to your room, or you move into his.”
“Is he going to have my room?” George said, casting daggers at me.
“Yes, she is.” Mum replied, rubbing my shoulders.
“OK.” he moaned.
“And make sure Andrew helps.” Mum said as they made themselves scarce.
“Can I help too.” I asked.
“No dear.” Mum said. “You'd better leave all that heavy lifting to the boys.”
“I could put my things in George's room?” I suggested. “My room.” I corrected
Mum looked down at me and smiled. “But they're all boy things... you don't want those any more.”
“I want some of them.” I murmured.
“Are you sure?” Mum asked. “Because I've been looking forward to having a girl for a daughter, not a tom-boy.” she said.
I hung my head. “Am I not allowed any boy things at all?” I asked.
Mum began to reply, but stopped herself. Then she started again. “Once you've got used to being a girl... you'll forget you ever had any boy things. And once you learn how nice it is being a girl, you won't want any boy things.” she explained, but I didn't believe her. Maybe she read my mind as she added. “And believe me I know... I was a girl once too you know.” she smiled.
“MU-UM?” Andrew shouted from the top of the stairs. “What should we do with Peter's stuff?” he asked as he emerged half way down the staircase.
“Just put it all in a box. And be careful not to break anything.” she replied. “Although I sure Sophie won't mind if you keep anything you want.” she added.
“Er!” I peeped, but stopped myself. Andrew asked if he could have my 18” Terminator figurine. Of course he couldn't, I thought. But then on second thoughts, I can't see Mum letting Sophie keep it. “OK.” I replied through a very forced smile.
“Cool!” Andrew said before disappearing. “Thanks!” he hollered from the landing.
Mum hugged me from behind. “You're always thinking of others Peter.” she said. “Which is another reason I wanted you more than anyone to be my Sophie.” she said as she swayed gently from side to side. “They used to say that little boys were made of slugs and snails and puppy dog tails... but you've always been sugar and spice and all things nice.” she said before planting a kiss on the side of my head.
I didn't know what to say. I knew I was making her happy, but I felt as if a rug was being pulled from under me... only to be replaced with something I couldn't yet fathom.
“Mu-um?” George shouted as he trotted halfway down the stairs. “What should we do with his clothes?”
Mum let me go and I exhaled fully for the first time in minutes. She opened the cupboard beneath the sink and grabbed a roll of bin-liners. “Put them in these and we'll take them to the charity shop.” she said as she passed them to my brother. “We need to go in to town anyway.” she said, grabbing my shoulders and rubbing them. “You and Andrew will be OK on your own for a while won't you?”
“Sure.” George said as he stared at me, or more specifically at the top of my head. He didn't say anything, but clearly wanted to. He returned to the bedroom and the sound of he and Andrew sniggering echoed down the staircase.
“Mum?” I asked.
“Am I going to be a girl forever, or just a bit?” I asked.
“Well it may not be forever.” she said. “But it will be for the foreseeable future.” she smiled.
“Oh.” I murmured in a disparaging tone.
“Don't worry... you'll soon find that it's much more fun being a girl than a boy.” she assured. All the time, the sound of my two older brothers shifting things from one room to another echoed above me. “Why don't you have a look through the catalogue.” Mum said as she plonked the big Grattan catalogue on the dining table. She pulled out my chair and I sat down in front of it. Then she flicked through to the beginning of the girl's clothing section, and suggested I have a look to see if there's anything I like. “And don't just glance at them, have a proper look at everything.” she advised. “I'll pop and see how your brother's are getting on.”
I watched mum trot up the stairs before dropping my head and staring blankly at the page. A variety of little girl's dresses stared back at me. Wearing any of those must be like wearing short pants all the time... but worse. At least one can climb trees and play fight wearing shorts, I mused. How do girls do anything fun without fear of their knickers showing? I wondered as I turned the pages...
After pages and pages of skirts, dresses and blouses, I finally found a page that didn't look too bad. But even the long trousers for girls are a world away from boys trousers... and those tops are horrendous! Some of the girl's jeans looked OK, I figured... and not all the tops and t-shirts were frilly or flowery.
“Found anything you like?” Mum asked when she returned, carrying a bin bag in each hand.
“Not really.” I moaned, before flicking back a few pages and pointing out a few things I didn't mind so much.
“They're a bit tom-boyish.” Mum said, before pointing out what she liked.
“They're too girlie.” I claimed.
“Nothing's too girlie for my Sophie.” she replied as she turned the pages. “All of these are pretty.” she said, circling her index finger around the images of a selection of really prissy frocks.
I got the feeling that my mother wasn't going to give me much say in what I was going to wear. She seemed to have made her mind up as to what type of daughter I'd become... and I suspected 'she' was closer to Violet Butt from the Just William books than George (AKA Georgina) from The Famous Five.
“Let's go and see how your new bedroom's looking.” she said.
I followed her up the stairs and glanced in my old bedroom. George and Andrew were in the process of putting all my books and comics in a box, keeping to one side anything they wanted to keep. George's former bedroom was completely clear of all his things. A bare mattress lay on the wooden bed frame. A small bedside cabinet sat next to it. Under the window is an old wooden chest of drawers, and behind the door, a tall narrow wardrobe. “George, Andrew.” Mum hollered. They both appeared at the door, and mum asked them to swap the wardrobe for the larger one in their room, and to remove the chest of drawers too.
George wasn't sure if the larger wardrobe would fit in the available space, and since he's only just hung all his stuff in it, didn't want to empty it again. “Well this isn't going to be big enough for all Sophie's dresses.” mum replied, casting a smile in my direction.
“He hasn't got any yet.” George replied.
Andrew sniggered when mum corrected him with 'she', before telling him to find a tape measure to check if it will fit or not. “Andrew, you can start taking all the drawers out of this.” she said, patting the top of the chest of drawers. “It can go in the garage I suppose.”
“Isn't Peter going to help?” he moaned as he began removing the empty drawers. “I mean... Sophie.” he added after mum gave him one of those looks.
“No.” she replied. “Girl's don't shift bulky furniture around, that's a boy's job.”
“Well what's he... she going to do?” Andrew asked. “It's not fair if we have to do everything just because we're boys.”
“You don't have to do 'everything'... and Sophie will be helping me with the housework.” Mum replied. “But first we need to make her bedroom nice, and get her some nice new clothes.”
Why my brother was feeling hard-done-by just because he and George had to move a few bits of furniture about I'll never know. I'd much rather be shifting furniture about than stand here watching my entire life being dismantled. George returned with a tape measure and deduced that the bigger wardrobe wouldn't quite fit between the door and the wall. Mum suggested putting the wardrobe where the bed is, and moving the bed behind the door. George measured the bed and the little chest of drawers and determined that they both wouldn't fit either, but the bed alone would. “Oh that might work.” Mum said as she visualised the potential new layout.
Andrew had removed all the drawers from the chest, and Mum told him and George to be careful when they took it down to the garage. “And bring my old dressing table back up with you... and be careful with the mirror!” she insisted. “Isn't this exciting?” she grinned as they shuffled down the landing with the empty chest of drawers.
“It's really small.” I observed. The room's current layout maximises the floor space, but with the big wardrobe filling the short wall and the bed against the longer wall means there'll be far less open floor for my... then again... I doubt I'll have my racing car set or train set or Meccano set in here.
“It's a room all of your own though... which will be nice.” Mum smiled. “Having enough storage for your clothes is the main thing.” she said. “And talking of which...” mum said, before leading me to my old room. On the floor was two boxes; one full of my old toys and newer model aircraft, cars, boats and tanks, another half full of my books, comics and annuals. Next to these were a couple of black bin bags. Mum opened them and had a rummage. “They could have folded them up first.” she said. “Typical boys.” she smiled before checking the chests of drawers to make sure nothing had been missed.
I cast my eyes around the room I used to share with Andrew. It's three or maybe four times larger than my new room, with plenty of floorspace for mucking about. I cast my mind back to the times when Andrew and I made tents with our bedding and the clothes horse, pretending we were camping on the moors. Or when we used to play with the racing car set, imagining we'd both become racing drivers when we grew up. We've had some good times in here, I thought. But when Andrew started high school, he stopped playing with me because all of a sudden I was just a junior school 'kid', and too young for him to associate with. “Can I keep some of my books?” I asked as I looked at those that remained on my bookshelves before peering in to the box the rest were stored.
Mum had begun removing my brother's clothes from the big wardrobe and placed them neatly on the beds. She stopped what she was doing and joined me by the bookshelf. “I suppose some of them might be suitable.” she said as she scanned the spines. “How about these.” she said, removing the Famous Five books. “Girl's like Enid Blyton.” she smiled. “Oh and you've had this since you were little.” she said, noticing and removing the Grimm's Picture Book of Fairy Tales in the box by her feet. “So that'd be nice to keep too.”
I suggested a few that I'd like to keep hold of, but Mum censored my choices because she felt some were too boyish. I ended up with all my Famous Five books, along with Swallows & Amazons, Swiss Family Robinson, Tales of Peter Rabbit, The Railway Children and the big picture book of Grimm's Fairy Tales. “Go and put those in your room.” she smiled as she cleared the rest of the shelf and put them in the box.
It's not the most inspiring bookshelf, I thought as I put my books on one of the empty shelves in my new bedroom. My brothers returned to get the drawers from the chest. “You enjoying being a girl?” Andrew asked.
I shook my head and stuck out my lip. “No.” I replied.
“Sooner you than me.” George said as he picked up three drawers at once. “Don't you feel stupid with that ribbon in your hair?” he added as Andrew grabbed a couple of the smaller drawers.
I'd forgotten all about the ribbon. My hand instinctively reached up and felt it. “It's horrible.” I murmured as both of my brothers sniggered under their breath.
“I think it looks nice.” Andrew said. “I can't wait 'til mum starts buying you dresses too.” he grinned. “Somehow those clothes just don't suit you any more.”
“I hope you two boys aren't teasing your new sister.” Mum said as she appeared behind them.
“Course not.” they replied in unison. “I was just telling him... her that her ribbon looks nice.” Andrew added with a broad, smug grin.
“Well so long as you're saying it nicely and not in a nasty way.” Mum said. “Otherwise I'll put ribbons in your hair too.” she threatened as she stepped to one side to give them room to leave. “Will you help me with these bin bags Sophie dear?” she asked in her 'sweet' voice.
I nodded and sulked. Mum and I carried a bin bag each down the stairs and put them along side the other two. My brothers returned from the garage. Mum told them that she'd emptied the big wardrobe for them, so they could swap those around before bringing the old dressing table up from the garage. “Sophie and I are going to take these to the charity shop.” she said. “I expect we'll be an hour or two.” she added, before telling them not to 'down tools' the moment we leave, and to be careful not to damage the walls whilst they're shifting things. “And Peter's old books and toys can go in the garage too for now.” she said.
Between us, we manhandled the bulky bin bags in to the car and manhandled them out again when we arrived at the charity shop. The two ladies who ran the shop were very grateful for such a large donation, one of whom reminded me of the ribbon in my hair when she complimented it. I wanted to leave but mum wanted to look at the clothes and the shoes. She must have held ten dresses against me before finding some she felt would fit. One of the ladies drew her attention to the changing room, and in I went. Initially I complained when mum made me try the first one on, and when she said that I should keep the third one on whilst we go shopping, I did kick up a bit of a stink. “Please don't be difficult Sophie.” she said as she strapped a pair of second hand girl's sandals to my bare feet. “Girl's you age are usually happy to wear a nice new dress.”
I conceded and said “Sorry.” Mum opened the curtain and led me back in to the shop. The ladies said I looked ever so nice, and commented on it being a good fit with plenty of growing room. Mum told me to have a look at the books whilst she paid for the dresses and shoes, and when she joined me, she asked if I could see anything I liked. I pointed out a big book of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but mum said I wouldn't like it. “This one looks nice.” she said, pulling out one titled The Adventure Book For Girls. “Oh look they've got Black Beauty too.” she said, “I used to love this when I was a girl.” she smiled, before buying me them both.
Although my dress went down to my knees, I felt half naked as I stepped out on to the pavement. It's full skirt Mum opened the passenger door for me and told me to make sure I didn't get it creased as I sat. She got in the other side and started the engine. “Do you think those ladies thought I was a girl or a boy?” I asked.
“Well since you're wearing a pretty ribbon in your hair, I doubt they thought you were a boy.” Mum replied. “Maybe a tom-boy...” she added. “...until of course you put a dress on.” She smiled at me, glanced at my frock then checked the traffic.
“Are we going home now?” I reluctantly asked as she pulled out into the first available gap. I really wasn't looking forward to my brother's seeing me wearing a dress, so when mum said 'not just yet', I breathed a sigh of relief. “Where are we going?” I asked.
“Well you need knickers and nighties, socks and tights.” she replied. “And some dresses that didn't come from a charity shop.”
“Oh.” I murmured.
An hour or so later, we were on our way home. The back seat of the car was full of a carrier bags from various department stores. And each bag held God knows how many pairs of knickers, vests and training bras. There was also several brand new dresses, skirts and blouses, as well as a couple of pairs of girl's shoes. Mum filled my arms with bags and boxes from the car before grabbing the remainder herself. We took then directly up to my new bedroom, but on the way, she stopped me at the door of my old bedroom and said, “Doesn't Sophie look nice in her new dress boys?”
They were clearly pissing themselves laughing at me on the inside, but on the outside, they both told me I looked very pretty indeed. “I can't believe you used to be a boy.” Andrew said.
“Well as far as this family is concerned, Sophie's always been a girl.” Mum replied.
In my own room, my brother's had moved the bed, swapped the wardrobes and fetched the old dressing table up from the garage which they'd put in front of the window. Mum said it all fit quite well, and asked me if I liked my new room. “It's OK.” I replied as I put my numerous carrier bags on the mattress. Apart from the ornate dressing table and mirror, it wasn't too girlie with it's stripy white & green wallpaper and solid wood furniture.
“George! Andrew! In here!” Mum said loudly in her stern voice. My brother's appeared and she drew their attention to the two, no three areas where they'd ripped the wallpaper. “I told you to be careful when moving the furniture!” she said, clearly not happy. They both apologised, but claimed it was because the wardrobe was so big it was hard to get through the door without scraping the walls. “Well I suppose you both tried your best.” she said with a sigh. “And I guess it could do with new wallpaper.” she said as she focused on the numerous Blu-tack and drawing pin marks that peppered the walls.
They both left and mum and I began unpacking all my 'nice new things' as she called them. “Where should I put these?” I sheepishly asked, holding a cellophane wrapped bumper pack of knickers.
Mum looked and smiled. “Well you can put one pair on.” she said before pulling open one of the small drawers on the side of my dressing table. “And the rest could go in here.” she suggested.
Not surprisingly I just froze with the thought of actually wearing a pair of frilly girl's knickers. Even whilst wearing a dress and girl's shoes it seemed like a step too far. Mum took the package from my hands and opened it. “Take your underpants off Peter.” she said as she removed the tightly packed panties.
My lower lip was stuck out so far I could actually see it. I gulped and shook my head, choking back my tears as my mother unfolded each horrendous pair and laid them on the mattress.
“Now come on Peter... don't be awkward... underpants off!” she said.
My chin resembled a walnut and the first of many tears ran down my cheek. Mum sat me on her knee and gave me a giant hug, telling me it's OK. Once the worst of my tears were over, she looked me in the eye and smiled, before telling me that all girl's wear knickers under their dresses.
“But.... I'm not really a girl.” I blubbered. “I don't want to wear knickers.” I added, glancing at my mattress.
“But what would people think if you didn't wear any knickers?” mum asked as she straightened my dress over my lap. “If anyone sees up your dress when you're out playing and you're not wearing knickers, they'll know that you're really a boy.” she said before running her fingers over the knickers. “And you wouldn't like that would you?”
I shook my head as I visualised the kids in the playground, shouting and laughing because they'd seen up my dress. The selection of knickers on my mattress blurred through a lingering tear. Mum pulled a pair on to my lap and said “What about these ones... they've got plenty of blue on them.... and these stars are nice aren't they?”
I couldn't reply. They may well have blue on them, but that doesn't excuse the little pink bow. And having them right here, on my lap, they're far too close for comfort. Mum asked me if I'd like to wear them. I shook my head and murmured “No.”
“Well maybe there's another pair you'd like.” she said softly, drawing my gaze to the six remaining pairs. I shook my head again. “Well, you've got to wear them Sophie. You're a girl now and girls have to wear their knickers.” she paused, then sighed, then resumed her hug. “Now I'm sure you don't want me to ask your brothers to come and help, do you?” she said in a quiet, soft, persuasive tone of voice.
I gulped and shook my head. Mum helped me off her knee, and in her most caring tone she said. “Come on, lets get those boring old underpants off.”
The underpants beneath my dress are the sole item of boy's clothing I own, and as I slid them down my legs I could feel the boy inside me ebbing away. Mum took them from me and put my feet through the legs of the knickers. I rested my hands on her shoulders for balance. You know how adults rip sticking plasters off really quickly? Well that what my mother did with my first pair of knickers. One second they were around my ankles, and before I knew it they were in place around my bits and my bum. “There you are.” she smiled as she straightened my dress. “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Together we unpacked the rest of my new things. My vests went in the same drawer as my knickers. As did my training bras... apart from the one she insisted I wore. “Why do they have zips on the back?” I asked as my mother unfastened my dress for me.
“So they look nice from the front.”
“But, if it was on the front I'd be able to do it myself.” I said as she pushed it off my arms.
“Well that doesn't matter because I can do it for you.” Mum said as she turned me around to face her. “Now, there's a bit of knack to fastening a bra.” she said before instructing me on how to put on the tiny garment. Mum turned me around so she could adjust the shoulder straps. My sense of shame dictated that I should hang my head, but doing so put me face to face with my first bra. Like my knickers it's mostly white with blue and pink stars, blue straps and trim and a little pink bow stitched in the middle. As far as I know most of the girls in my class don't wear bras yet... so seeing one strapped around me when I'm not even a girl was nothing to get excited about. My mother however seemed very excited, yet claimed to understand my reserve. She told me that when she was about my age she didn't like having to wear a training bra either. “But I soon got used to it.” she said with a reassuring smile, “And I'm sure you will too.”
I forced a smile back as she helped me back into the sleeves, then turned me around so she could zip me back in. “This is going to look so pretty when it's grown a bit.” she said as she faffed with my hair and the ribbon.
Once everything had been packed away, mum stuffed all the empty packaging in to a bag and took it downstairs. I sat silently on my mattress and stared blankly around my room. It looked more or less the same as it did before we went into town; white wallpaper with narrow green stripes, hardwood furniture, white woodwork and a beige carpet. Dressing table aside, it's not a girlie room. But knowing that the wardrobe now holds five dresses, two skirts and three blouses, and the drawers on the dressing table hold my new girlie underwear, socks and tights... the room has taken on an entirely new aura.
“Right, let's get this bed made shall we?” Mum said when she returned with a handful of bedding. Not surprisingly, it was pink. I helped her spread the sheet over the mattress and tuck it in, then she told me to go and ask George what he'd done with my duvet and pillows. I suggested that she should go instead.
I was a bag of nerves as I took the five or six steps to my brothers' bedroom. The door was ajar and both sat inside, whispering loudly to each other. They shut up and looked at me when I stood in the doorway. “Mum said you still have my duvet and pillows.”
“Oh yeah.” George said, standing up and grabbing the pile from the corner of the floor.
“No girls in here!” Andrew barked when I stepped inside.
Mum must have anticipated such hostility as she immediately appeared behind me. She told Andrew in no uncertain terms that he mustn't speak to his 'sister' like that, which only added to my embarrassment. “Now understand this boys.” mum said. “Neither of you are allowed in Sophie's room, but she is allowed in here.”
“That's not fair!” Andrew moaned.
“It's entirely fair Andrew.” Mother stated. “Your sister will be helping me with the housework, which means she's allowed in. Maybe when you start helping with the housework you'll have a free run of the house too.” she said. “Now... unless you two want me to change the pecking order, you'll put up and shut up.”
Both Andrew and George apologised. George put the bulbous bundle of duvet and pillows in my hands and forced a smile. But deep inside I could tell he was thinking something along the lines of 'little fucking sissy'.
I left before my mother. She still had a few things to say to my brothers. I spread my duvet cover over my bed and put the pillows in position, before sitting on my bed and tried to comprehend everything that was happening. This morning I was a normal ten year old boy with dreams of being a train driver, soldier, racing driver or even an astronaut. Now I'm anything but a normal boy, I thought. Apart from the clothes hidden in my drawers and wardrobe, I'm by far the girliest thing in the room. I hung my head and stared at my dress. I kicked out my feet and looked at my sandals; three leather straps held the flat sole in place. One pink, one lilac, one purple, and around my instep and heel a purple ankle strap that fastened with a little pink buckle.
Mum returned and closed the door behind her. I looked up a her and she smiled, before telling me to get off my bed. I stood up and she grabbed my duvet. I asked her what she was doing, and as she replied it was clear what she was doing. “This cover's far too boyish for my girl.” she smiled as she pulled off the cover. “Why don't you help mummy and do the pillows?” she said.
“OK.” I moaned, repeating the phrase when she told me to fold the covers neatly and not just toss them on the floor.
“Girl's like everything neat and tidy.” she said as she unfolded what I assumed was my new duvet cover. Even when inside out it didn't look good. When she shook it around the duvet, turning it the right way out as she do so, my eyes almost popped out of my head! The pale pink duvet printed with numerous big candy pink bows was embellished with a pink satin stripe and an actual big pink bow, also in satin. I gulped and began pushing my pillows in to the matching pillow cases. Thankfully the pillow cases didn't have any actual bows on them, just lots of little ones printed on them. Mum fastened all the press studs at the foot of the duvet cover, before spreading it neatly and squarely over my bed. “There...” she said once she'd put my pillows in position, “...that's what Sophie's bed should look like. Why don't you tuck one of your nighties under you pillow?” she suggested. “Then it's all ready for bedtime.”
Mum had bought me three matching nighties. One white with pink trim, one pink with white trim, and one with pink and white strips. Naturally I chose the one with the least amount of pink, but that didn't make it any less girlie. I stuffed it under my pillow, and mum made me take it out, fold it neatly, then put it neatly under my pillow. “What did I say about how girl's like things?” she asked as she admired my freshly made bed.
“Er...” I said, trying to think back. “Nice and...” was my hazard of a guess.
“Neat and tidy.” she smiled. “And nice and pretty too.” she added. “Just like your bed.”
On the upside, I am no longer the girliest thing in the room. Bright pink bows on a pale pink background definitely trumps my pale blue frock with a white daisy pattern.
“I didn't want to get anything too girlie in case George ended up being Sophie.” Mum said. “But this'll do for now.” she smiled.
If mum doesn't think that that duvet cover is 'too' girlie, I dread to think what is!
“Now... do you want to help mummy make supper?” she asked, “Or would you rather stay in your room? Maybe read one of your new books.” she suggested.
I looked at my uninspiring collection of books, then imagined helping 'mummy' in the kitchen. “Er... can I stay in here for a bit.” I replied.
“Of course you can Sophie.” Mum smiled. “Just remember that girl's like everything neat and tidy, so don't go making a mess.”
Mum closed the door behind her. I heard her say something to my brothers before hearing the sound of her high heels on the wooden stairs. I sighed a deep deep sigh before catching a glimpse of myself in the dressing table mirror. I keep forgetting that I've got a blue gingham ribbon tied in my shortish curly hair. I had a long hard look at it, trying to decide if it looks nice or stupid. Mum had put it to one side, so I moved to the middle. “That looks worse.” I moaned, before moving it back. I stood up to look at my dress. But the oval mirror isn't big enough for me to see it all. Just the middle bit and that stupid pretend belt around the waist could be seen. I don't know why but I lifted my dress and looked at my knickers. Unlike my old underpants, these hugged me snugly. I touched them and realised that the nylon fabric was painfully thin, but not so thin they could be seen through. They were a world away from my old undies. Even the elastic around the waist and legs didn't have a bump where fabric became flesh. When mum said I'd forget all about them once they were on, she was was right. My bra however is different. Even though it's out of sight, its elastic embrace around my shoulders, back and chest is ever present.
I sighed and sat back on my bed. In my old bedroom I had loads of things to do. I had books and games, puzzles and old toys, cool posters on the walls and all the model kits I'd made adorning my shelves. I even had my brother to argue with. Now I have a dressing table with nothing but a mirror on it, six empty bookshelves and a seventh holding only a handful of books. There's no racing car set on top of the wardrobe, no pictures or posters on the walls and not even a lamp on the bedside cabinet. Not that it needed one being at the foot of my bed. One thing's for sure about being a girl... it's boring. “I bet even their adventures are boring.” I said to myself as I removed The Adventure Book For Girls from my bookshelf. I slumped on my bed, opened the cover and read the index of story titles.
Charlotte's Moonlight Mystery
Adventure in the Alps
Molly Makes a Break
No Boys Allowed
Sally's Magic Scarf
The Brave Ballerina
Tom-boy, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
The Night Thief
The All-Girl Detective Agency
Adventure in Egypt
The Flying Princess
A good eight or ten of the titles didn't interest me, but they didn't all sound bad. I flicked forward to page one-hundred and fifty-two and began reading The Night Thief. I don't know how much time had passed when a knock on my door dragged my eyes from the book. “What?”
“Mum said you've got to come for supper.” Andrew shouted from the other side of the door.
I kicked my legs off my bed and... having completely forgotten I was supposed to be a girl, was surprised to see a dress around my body. I took a deep breath before opening the door. Andrew looked me up and down, from the ribbon in my hair to the sandals on my feet. “Come on.” he said, before walking away.
My eldest brother George just stared at me from his place at the dining table as I descended the stairs. Dresses feel weird to walk in when you've spent all your life wearing boy's clothes, and having people staring in silence doesn't help. Being reminded to smooth my dress beneath me when I took my place didn't help either. Mum made the usual small talk, but we ate in relative silence. Mum told me not to eat so quickly, and to take smaller mouthfuls. “You don't want to get food on your dress do you.” she said. After finishing his pudding, Andrew pushed his chair back and picked up his bowl to put it by the sink.
“Oh leave that Andrew.” Mum said. “Your sister can help me clear the table when you boys have finished.” she said, throwing a smile in my direction. A few minutes later, George had finished too and as habit directs, he too began to clear his own dishes, but Mum also told him to leave them.
George cast me a guilty stare before heading upstairs. Up until today we were each expected clear our own plates & dishes and pile them neatly by the sink ready for mum to do the washing up. But now the rule seems to be leave it and I'll move it. It didn't seem fair to me, but wearing a dress I didn't have the heart to state my case. Instead I stood up and began clearing the table. “Not yet Sophie.” Mum said. “You need an apron on first.” she smiled as she removed hers from the hook on the back of the door. “Now, just like your bra, there's a bit of a knack to tying your apron strings.” Mum said before teaching me how to tie a bow behind my back. She tied a knot in the halter neck
to shorten it, then watched over me as I scraped the left-overs in to the bin before putting a footstool by the sink so I could reach into the sink easier. “Oh it's so nice finally having a girl around to help.” Mum said as she dried and put away the dishes 'for me'.
When all the dishes, pots, pans and cutlery had been washed, mum had me wipe down the table and the place mats, before putting them back in position. “Neat and tidy.” Mum reminded me as she straightened one. “That's how us girls like everything to be.” she said as I straightened the rest.
“All nice and clean.” mum smiled as I took the apron off. “We'll have to get you one that fits.” she said as she hung her apron back on the hook.
“Can I go back to my room now?” I asked.
“Wouldn't you rather sit in the parlour with Mummy.” she asked. I told her I was reading a book and it was getting quite exciting. Mum suggested that I tell her all about it in the parlour. “You can read a bit more before bed if you like.” So that was that. I couldn't hide away in my bedroom. Instead I sat in the front room and described the story I'd been reading. The fact that it was about a girl, set in a girl's boarding school, and someone was stealing items of their uniforms one by one, night after night didn't help me feel any less girlie as I retold the tale. In fact it made me feel more girlie. Mum said it sounded very exciting and was glad that I was enjoying reading my Adventure Book for Girls. “Maybe you'll have some adventures of your own in the summer.” she smiled.
“What kind of adventures?” I asked.
“I don't know.” Mum replied. “The same sort of adventures you had last summer I expect.”
“But I wasn't a girl then.” I reminded her in my low, mournful voice.
“That doesn't matter.” Mum replied. “I'm sure you'll have lots fun with the Henson twins, and Sally, Lauren and Vanessa.” she said, listing the names of the girls who live on our street. “And I'm sure Paul, John, Simon and Arthur will still play out with you too.”
“Why would they?” I asked. “I'm not a boy any more.”
“But you are still you.” she said. “Just because you're Sophie instead of Peter doesn't mean you can't have fun with your friends.” she insisted. “Girls can play pirates and climb trees too you know!”
“I can't climb tress in a dress.” I said as I visualised everyone laughing and looking up my dress..
“Course you can.” Mum insisted before offering to show me 'something'. I stood up and stood by her. “This is what I used to do when I climbed trees.” she said, tucking my skirt into the legs of my knickers.
I looked down at the bulbous mass of daisy print fabric. Almost all of my pale thin legs were exposed and I couldn't imagine comfortably climbing a tree like this. I did however spend a moment imagining doing just that, only for my day dream being broken by the sound of a snigger. I turned to see my brothers stood by the door. Their bemused faces just stared at my dress and my legs... and me of course.
“I was just showing Sophie how she can climb trees.” Mum said. “Without flashing her knickers.” she added. Thanks mum... that really helped to ease the shame and embarrassment I'm currently feeling..
Andrew was purple and chewing on his pursed lips, clearly trying his best not to burst out laughing. George was slightly more controlled. “Can we go down the park?” he asked.
“Of course you can.” Mum said as she pulled my dress from my knickers and made it all nice and straight again. “Why don't you take your sister with you?”
Please can I die now! I thought as George said, “Do we have too?” in a low mournful voice.
“I don't want to go to the park.” I said.
“Well only if you're sure.” Mum asked. “OK, run along boys, and be good!”
They sniggered out the door and down the path. I spied them through the window, sniggering down the street. I predicted that they'd see everyone I know at the park and imagined them blurting You'll never guess what's happened to Peter!
“What's everyone going to say when they see me as a girl?”
“I expect they'll say you're very pretty.” Mum replied. “Which you are.” she added. “Especially when you blush like that.”
Why I placed my palms on my cheeks and exclaimed “Oh don't mum!” I'll never know. Dressing like a girl is one think but acting like one? I'd rather not. Especially not quite so instinctively.
At around 7 pm, Mum suggested running me a nice hot bath. I dismissed her suggestion by reminding her that I’d had a bath on Thursday, or possibly Wednesday. “I know but now you're a girl you have a bath everyday.”
“Every day!” I exclaimed as my mother nodded. “Do I have too?” I sulked.
“Yes you do.” Mum grinned.
I can't remember the last time mum sat by me in the bath, but today she did. Before today her expensive soaps and lotions were out of bounds. But now they're all I'm allowed to use as they'll make my skin feel nice and smell nice. She shampooed and conditioned my hair for me. Something she hasn't done since I was about six or seven years old, and after rubbing it vigorously with a towel, she told me to put my nightie on. “Oh but it's only half past seven.” I moaned.
“Exactly... there's no point putting a dress on now is there?” she said as she took me to my room. “But you could choose which one you'll wear tomorrow.” she suggested.
“Can't I wear the same one again?” I asked, having become slightly accustomed to it.
“Not really.” Mum replied as she opened my wardrobe and hung today's dress away. “Girls like to wear a different dress everyday.” she said. “Or how about one of your skirts?” she suggested.
“I don't know.” I shrugged as I sheepishly pulled on my nightie. Mum said it would make a nice change, and hung a skirt and blouse combination from the handles of my wardrobe doors. “I don't know.” I repeated when mum asked if I should wear a clean pair of knickers under my nightie.
She grinned as she opened my drawer. “I think you do.” she said before stepping back so I could choose a pair. Once they were on, she asked if I'd like to watch TV with her, or read my book. I opted for my book. Sitting downstairs wearing my new nightie when my brothers get home simply wouldn't be fair on them. Mum left me alone and I escaped into my Adventure Book For Girls once more. An hour later and the story was over. Part of me wanted to turn back the pages and read it all over again. Part of me wanted to read the next one, but the title Sarah's Secret and the accompanying picture of a prissy girl in a frilly frock, running along a pavement put me off. The covering picture for The All-Girls Detective Agency looked better; five girls, three in pants, one in a skirt and one in a frock sat around a desk in a photo pose. And taking a closer look at the periphery of the image, they're in a tree house. “Cool!” I thought. What boy wouldn't think a tree house is cool?
I began reading but failed to get beyond the first page when my mother entered. She told me it was time for bed. I asked if I could stay up and read for a bit longer. “No dear.” Mum replied as she stroked my hair. “It's gone half past eight and you need your beauty sleep.” she smiled.
She tucked me into bed, making sure my nightie wasn't scrunched up around my waist (something I should be aware of and rectify when necessary), before giving me a hug and kiss. “Oh thank you for becoming Sophie... I've longed for a daughter for so long.” she said. “Who'd have thought? I've had such a pretty one all along and I didn't even know it.” she chirped.
I gulped and forced a smile. Seeing Mum so happy and content after so many years of just clinging on is nice I suppose. It's the only consolation I can think of.
“Oh.” she said as the front door slammed. “That sounds like your brothers.” she said as she got up and closed my curtains. “Night night Sophie.” she said, kissing me on the forehead one last time.
“Night night.” I replied meekly as she left, closing my door behind her.
The boys were being boisterous and noisy. My heart sank as I heard my mother loudly state that their 'sister' was in bed, and that 'she' mustn't be disturbed. Then silence.
The evening sun streamed through my curtains. I peered along my pink duvet, beyond its real actual 3D satin bow, over the big printed candy pink bows, past the foot of my bed to the wardrobe opposite. From the handles hung a cream blouse with plenty of frills on its collar and cuffs, alongside a deep red skirt with a ruffled hem. Apart from my books in the far corner, there was nothing else to look at. No toys, no posters, no nothing. I rolled onto my side and closed my eyes. I tried to imagine that wearing a nightie is normal whilst knowing full well that it's not. Not yet anyway. I imagined that come tomorrow, all would be back to normal. Mum had had her daughter for a day and that was enough... I'd be a boy again! Then I considered the contents of my drawers and wardrobe. If it was just for a day we wouldn't have taken all of my clothes to the charity shop. I mourned the loss of all my things, now stored in boxes in the garage. I loved my models and old action figures, my spaceships, my war books, my gadgets and gizmo’s. Now all I've got is knickers and tights and dresses and... I opened my eyes and looked toward my bookshelves. It's still light enough to read, I figured, even with the curtains shut. I carefully opened my duvet and as quietly as I could, crept across the floor, step by delicate step towards my bookshelf. Grabbing my book, I crept back to bed and climbed in. After straightening my nightie, and pushing up my pillows, I opened the book and resumed reading The All-Girls Detective Agency. I didn't get very far before the light began to fade. I gave up reading and tucked the book under my pillow. I closed my eyes and thought about Jenny, the girl from The Night Thief story. I recalled the beginning when she spends her first night at the all girls boarding school she's been sent to. She goes to bed complaining that her retched regulation nightie is all itchy and scratchy. “It's almost as bad as that retched uniform!” I recalled her saying, before the other girl's in her dorm tell her to shush. At least my nightie is soft and slidy, I thought as I drifted off to sleep.
No sooner had I floated off to sleep, I peeled my eyes open and saw pink. I grabbed my duvet to give my face some space and found myself looking directly at the skirt and blouse hanging from my wardrobe door. I thought about Jenny and her 'retched' uniform and wondered if it was any better than my prissy blouse and sissy skirt.
A good while later, mum gently knocked on my door and entered. She never used to enter my room in the morning, but seemingly now I'm not a boy any more, she's come to help me get dressed. She watched over me as I fiddled with by bra, then passed me a white lace trimmed vest. “Do I have to wear a vest too?” I moaned.
Mum said I did as 'my' blouse is quite see through, before asking whether or not I wanted people to see my bra through it. I shook my head. Mum removed the blouse from it's hanger and since its buttons ran all the way up the back, she helped me into it. I was sort of thankful for her help. Once she'd strapped my shoes on my feet, she opened my wardrobe door, on the inside of which is a full length mirror so I could see myself. Yesterday's dress, although covered in white daisies was far less girlie than today's outfit. My white lace trimmed vest can be clearly seen through my cream blouse. It has a pan collar, and short puffed sleeves, both trimmed with cream coloured lace. It's tucked into my deep red corduroy skirt making my waist appear far higher than it did in pants. And thanks to the skirt landing on my mid thigh instead of just above my knee as yesterday's dress did, my legs look longer than ever and the thin white tights that cover my legs only add to the effect. On my feet is a pair of black Mary Jane shoes with a small heel. Well... Mum says it's small. To me it's high. “All you need is some ribbon in your hair and you'll be the prettiest girl on the street!” mum announced as she took me downstairs.
Thankfully, it's only 7am and my brothers are still in bed. Sitting at the kitchen table whilst my mother ties a white ribbon in my hair could be a whole lot worse! Mum made me a slice of toast and told me how girls are supposed to eat. “We don't scoff like boys do.” she said. “We take small bites and chew each mouthful properly.” I had no idea a single slice if toast could last so long.
“What are we going to do today Mum?” I reluctantly asked, hoping it didn't involve going outside.
“Mummy.” she corrected. “Girls your age still call their mothers Mummy.” she said in a most patronising tone. “Not 'Mum' like boys do.”
I swallowed my pride and repeated my question. “What are we going to do today... Mummy?”
“Well I thought it might be nice if we introduced the neighbours to Sophie.” She listed the names of all the girls who live on our street, and said. “They're all looking forward to meeting you.”
Most of them I'd seen at school on Friday; the day before yesterday, in the dim and distant past when I used to be a boy. I looked down at my skirt and blouse, my shoes and tights and felt the bow on my head flop forwards. I looked up at my mother whose beaming grin shone down on me. “You're such a lovely daughter... I can't wait to show you off.”
You remember when I said I was glad that my brothers were still in bed when mum tied the ribbon in my hair? Well it got a whole lot worse! When my brothers did emerge I was sat at the kitchen table with Mum hovering over me, wielding a pair of curling tongs and working her way around my head. “I'm just making sure she looks nice.” Mum said when they expressed their... horror, for want of a better word. “If you can't be nice I'll put ribbons and curls in your hair too.” she threatened.
I sat for fifteen minutes having my hair made even more curly that naturally is whilst my brothers sat scoffing toast. Not once did mum tell them to 'take small bites and chew each mouthful' as I'm expected to do. They kept glancing at me, but also seemed to pretend I wasn't there. I can't blame them for acting weird around me. It must be weird having a sister all of a sudden.
Instinctively my brothers began clearing their breakfast dishes away, but just as she'd done the previous evening, Mum told the boys to leave them. After tying the white ribbon back in my hair, and fastening her apron around me, I cleared the table and washed my brothers' breakfast dishes whilst mum fussed around me, telling me how nice it is to finally have some help.
Later that morning, mum made a big fuss over my hair and its ribbon before she took me... Sophie... to meet the neighbours. After failing to convince her that they should come to our house instead, and having my request to at least wear a coat over my horrendous outfit turned down, she led me out of the house and down the drive.
It was a painful experience walking all the way down the street. The bow on my head flapped in the breeze whilst my new tighter curls bounced off my skull. The tights felt strange as the breeze caressed them and I feared my skirt might blow up. “Do try to be more graceful Sophie.” my mother said each time my heel scraped against the pavement... adding to my discomfort. I was a bag of nerves as we approached the Henson household. Mum rang the bell and we waited.
The Henson Twins; Clare and Chloe had been expecting 'Sophie' and gushed over 'her' when 'she' arrived. Peter took their compliments with good grace, but felt they were being so nice that he wondered if it was genuine or just plain teasing. Thankfully we didn't stay at the Henson's for too long. I was glad to get out of there.
Mum led me a few doors down to the next household. Sally was a little less gushing and a lot more sheepish, but nice none the less. I empathised with her obvious discomfort. One day I'm a boy called Peter and the next I’m a girl called Sophie... but everyone knows I'm not really a girl.... I'm the elephant in the room.
When we got to Lauren and Paul's house, Lauren welcomed 'Sophie' with open arms whilst Paul kept his distance. She took me to her room and talked endlessly about dresses and shoes and make-up, showing off all her girlie stuff and her girlie bedroom and her girlie posters and thing... and left me feeling positively queasy. I was glad to finally get out of there. Back in their kitchen, Mum asked me if Lauren had a nice bedroom and reluctantly I said 'yes'. Unfortunately I've been brought up to be polite. Of course her bedroom isn't 'nice'... it's abhorrent! Mum told Lauren and her mother about our shopping trip, and described some of my new outfits to them.
“Are you going to wear the girl's uniform for school tomorrow?” Lauren asked.
Sheee...esus! I hadn't even thought about school tomorrow!! Christ, walking down the street dressed as a girl is bad enough... walking through a busy playground is going to be horrendous! Thankfully my mother said “No... she won't.” before explaining that since there's only two weeks of term left, she's taken me out of junior school early and I'll be starting at Crickley Comprehensive next term.
“So I don't have to go to school as a girl?” I said as I breathed a sigh of relief.
“No love.” Mum smiled. “There's no point buying you a new uniform just for two weeks is there?”
“Phew!” I thought. Then Lauren's mother mentioned something about the boy's uniform at Crickley Comp. “Oh god.” I sighed, recalling that all the boys at Crickley wear skirts like the girls.
“Isn't that where Vanessa Mullen goes?” Lauren asked. “She isn't a boy too is she?”
“Of course she isn't.” her mother said before turning to me. “It'll be nice having someone you know there.”
“I don't know her that well.” I replied.
“Well you will do soon Sophie.” Mum said as it's her that we're visiting next.
Paul's apathy towards me when I said goodbye was obvious. He clearly didn't want anything to do with me any more, unlike his sister... she said she'd come and visit me and couldn't wait to see 'all' my dresses. “I haven't got many.” I meekly said, hoping that would put her off..
I wish I hadn't because Lauren's mother said “Lauren's got so many she's grown out of... I'm sure she wouldn't mind if you had a root.”
Lauren enthusiastically agreed. Her brother snorted from the other room when she said, “I've got loads of things that'd look great on you!”
Finally, and thankfully we left. The last port of call is the aforementioned Vanessa, who lives more or less opposite to me. Although Vanessa lives so close, she's the one girl on the street who I don't know very well. She's a bit 'sniff' and seems to spend her weekends horse riding or doing ballet or something instead of hanging out in the park or in town with 'the gang'. Vanessa answered the door and exclaimed “I didn't believe it was true, you look lovely... really girlie... well done!”
She wouldn't congratulate a real girl for looking girlie would she? I thought. “Thanks.” I gulped.
“And you're coming to Crickley Comp next term?” she said. “You'll love it... blah blah blah.” She took me to her room and showed me her school uniform; a purple gingham summer dress with a grey and purple blazer and a straw hat complete with purple ribbon. Knowing the boys and girls wear the same thing, I audibly gulped at it. “And in the winter we wear this.” she said removing a pleated tartan skirt in green, grey and purple and a white blouse from her wardrobe. “Usually with knee socks but we can wear woolly tights of it's really cold.”
“Two uniforms.” I gulped.
“Yep.” she smiled as she plopped a grey felt hat on her head. “This is our winter hat.”
I didn't know what to say. Instead I nervously glanced around he room. It wasn't girlie girlie like Lauren's bedroom, but the numerous pictures of horses, ponies, puppies and kittens put it clearly on the girlie side of the line. “Have you got a horse?” I asked. She hadn't, but she did go horse riding every weekend and wished she could have one of her own, one day.
“Girls!” A voice hollered from downstairs.
Vanessa and I left her room and went down to the sitting room. It was time for me and Mum to leave. “We have to get Sunday dinner ready for your brothers.” Mum said. “And Vanessa, do come over any time you like... I'm sure Sophie would love it if you would.”
“Of course I will Mrs Jackson.” Vanessa replied. “And you can come over any time too Sophie.”
“Oh er... thanks.” I replied, forcing a smile.
It was only a short walk across the street back home. “Well that was nice wasn't it?” Mum said once we were indoors. “Meeting all your new friends.”
“Yeah.” I mournfully replied. “I don't think Paul wants to be my friend any more though.”
“I think he was just being shy... you know how boys can be around girls.” she smiled. “Especially pretty girls like you.”
“I'm glad I don't have to go to school tomorrow.” I said.
“So am I.” Mum replied. “We've got plenty of time together before you start at Crickley Comprehensive next term.”
“Vanessa has two different uniforms.” I said.
“One for summer and one for winter?” mum knowingly asked. I nodded. “Which did you like the best?”
“Er... the winter one I guess.” I replied.
“Mum!?” my brother George shouted from the top of the stairs. “What time's dinner ready?”
Mum glanced at her watch before telling him it's be a couple of hours yet.
“Can I go out for a bit?” he asked.
“Of course you can... but back by no later than three thirty.” she told him. George cantered down the stairs, glanced at me but blanked me on his way past. “And if you see Andrew... tell him no later than three thirty too.” Mum said as he headed out the door.
“OK.” he hollered back.
Mum looked down on me and smiled. I looked up at her and smiled back. Normally I'd be eager to go out too, but under the circumstances, I just hovered uncomfortably. “Would you like to help Mummy make Sunday dinner?” she suggested.
“I guess.” I replied.
“Good girl.” she said. “Why don't you change out of your nice clothes first?”
“OK.” I said, before asking her what I should wear instead.
“Anything you like.” she replied. “Would you like me to help?”
“Erm...” I hesitantly murmured.
“Well you'll need some help with the buttons on your blouse anyway.” mum said as she delicately fondled my little puffed sleeves, making sure they puffed out as much as possible.
The first thing my mother said when we entered my bedroom was, “I could swing for those boys for ruining the wall paper.” before swinging open my wardrobe doors. She then gave me a brief lecture about only wearing my 'nice' clothes for doing 'nice' things. “These dresses from the charity shop are ideal for housework and cooking.” she said as she selected two of them. One is green with darker green stripes, the other is pale blue with colourful butterflies printed on it. Neither were as prissy as the outfit I wore, but both were still too pretty for a boy. I reluctantly chose the green stripy one. Even if it did have frilly white trim... it's seemed marginally better than being covered in colourful butterflies.
Once again, I donned Mum's massive apron before helping her make dinner. I scrubbed the potatoes and carrots before peeling them, ready for mum to chop them. I washed the cabbage leaves and rinsed the leeks. I almost tripped over the apron a couple of times as I fetched whatever pots, pans and utensils mum needed. “Well have to get you an apron that fits.” Mum said. “It'll be a good few years before you grow in to that one.”
Mum seemed to have everything under control. The pans simmered whilst the meat roasted. I asked if I could go to my room and read. “OK... just make sure you don't get your dress all creased if you're reading on your bed.”
“I won't.” I said as I climbed the stairs.
“Oh actually Sophie.” Mum said, halting my ascent. “Can you check the boy's room and fetch me any laundry they've left laying around?”
“Oh?!” I moaned. “Shouldn't they do that themselves?”
“Well they should but you know what boys are like.” Mum replied. “And straighten their beds if they need it... there's a good girl.” she smiled.
Andrew had a small pile of stinky old socks and pants strewn next to his bed, George's discard pile was much smaller. “Why I have to straighten their beds and move their laundry and clear their dishes I'll never know!” I moaned to myself as I bundled their smelly clothes in my arms. “Where shall I put them?” I asked mum.
“Oh they can go straight in the wash.” Mum said, before having me also load the machine with the contents of the awaiting basket.
“How long does it take?” I asked when mum told me how to add the powder and switch it on.
“Oh an hour or two.” mum replied.
“Can I go now?” I asked.
“Yes I think so dear.” Mum smiled. “And thank you.”
“That's OK.” I replied, although the enthusiasm content of my reply was minimal. I returned to my room and picked up where I'd left off with The All Girls Detective Agency. I wondered if those girls had to clear up after their brothers when they're not playing detective in their tree house office. Either way, they're having a lot more fun than I am, although reading of their exploits is fun too.
However my escape from reality was cut short when my mother shouted my name. I laid the table whilst she carved the meat. My brothers concealed their sniggers with a brief snort when they saw my dress. Mum asked what they'd been up to and they replied with a non-committal 'hanging around in the park'. “Is it true that he doesn't have to go to school tomorrow?” Andrew said, clearly feeling hard done by if it was.
“Well there's no point buying Sophie a new uniform for her last two weeks.” Mum replied, “Especially when I have to buy her a new Crickley Comprehensive uniform too.”
“Well if she gets two extra weeks holiday... then we should too.” Andrew claimed.
“Well if you'd won the card game Andrew you'd be my Sophie instead of Peter.” Mum said. “Which means you'd be getting lots of nice new dresses, you'd be helping me with the housework and cooking, and you'd be getting an extended holiday.” she explained as his bravado sank. “Now one daughter is enough for me... but if you're felling hard done by, I'm sure having two girls in the family would be twice as nice.”
“I don't want to be a girl... not like him... her.” he mumbled as he wound his neck in.
Just then a knock on the door drew all the attention away from me... briefly. Mum went to answer it so I took the opportunity to state, “I don't want to be a girl either... but mum said she'd kill herself if...” I cut my claim short when I heard mother return.
“Look Sophie!” mum smiled, holding a large plastic carrier bag. “Lauren's brought you some of her old clothes... isn't that nice?”
I gulped and smiled appreciatively through pursed lips. Mum said she'd take them up to my room and we'd have a look through after dinner. “Mum said she'd kill herself if I didn't.” I quietly continued whilst mum was out of earshot. “I don't want to be a girl, honest I don't, but I have to.”
The colour drained from my brother's faces as their mouths fell open. The sound of our mother returning helped them regain their composure and we ate in relative silence.
Afterwards, my brothers went straight out again whilst Mum and I cleared the table and washed and dried the dishes, pots and pans. Once that was done, I hoped I'd be able to retreat into my Adventure Book for Girls, but first I had to unload the washing machine then help mum hang it all on the washing line. “How come boys don't do any of this?” I asked as I passed her damp garments and clothes pegs. Mum said it's because boys aren't very good at doing domestic chores, unlike 'us' girls.
My escape from reality was further delayed by the big bag of clothes Lauren had delivered. There was skirts, dresses, tops and t-shirts, jeans, shorts and leggings. Some are super girlie, just like Lauren herself whilst others were relatively boyish or tom-boyish. I learned a few new words too, like 'pinafore', 'ra-ra', 'pedal-pushers', 'culottes' and 'play-suit' to name but a few.
Mum suggested it would be nice of I wore something of hers when I went to say thank you. It was the last thing I wanted to do but knew it would be rude not to... so wearing a pair of spotty leggings with short denim shorts (my choice) and a Minnie Mouse t-shirt (mum's choice), I ran as fast as I could down the cul-de-sac before ringing her doorbell. Her dad answered and looking me up and down with a bemused grin, told me she was in the park. “Oh... could you tell her I said thank you for the clothes she gave me.” I gulped. Her dad said he'd send her round if I'd prefer, so I could thank her myself. “OK.” I replied. It was better than going to the park where all the local kids would most likely be. “Thanks Mr Smith.” I said before running all the way home again.
I was economical with the truth and told my mother she was 'out', and not 'at the park' as that would risk being sent there instead. Finally I could resume reading my story, and although I was definitely dressed as a girl, it was nice not to be wearing a prissy dress or a short sissy skirt and frilly blouse. I imagined having adventures like the All Girl Detectives and fantasised having a tree house too. I wondered if playing with girls could be as much fun as playing with boys. Depends on the girls I guess as not all them are super girlie like Lauren or Chloe & Claire. In fact none of the girl's on my street are proper tom-boys, I figured having read the first few paragraphs of Tom-boy, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
Yet again my retreat into fiction was short lived thanks to a knock on my bedroom door. I sighed, assuming it was one of my brothers or my mother with another chore for me, but it was Lauren. “Hi Sophie.” she grinned, looking me up and down. I invited her in and she sat at my dressing table and looked around my room. I perched shyly on the edge of my bed and thanked her for the clothes she'd given me.
“Oh don't mention it... they were destined for the charity shop anyway.” she replied. “Do you like them?”
I looked down at my shorts and leggings. “I like these.” I replied, “They're not as girlie as my dresses.”
Lauren asked me if I have lots and lots of dresses, before requesting a peek. I opened my wardrobe and she routed through, although half of the items inside did belong to her only a few hours ago. She asked if I'd worn this, that or the other, and each time I shook my head. “I've only been a girl since yesterday.” I stated, before pointing out what I had worn. She asked me what my favourite so was. “These shorts and leggings.” I said honestly. “The t-shirt's not too bad, even if it does have Minnie Mouse on it.” I added. “At least it's not frilly or prissy like....” I stared into my wardrobe.
“This?” Lauren suggested as she removed the green one and baulked at it.
“I wore that this afternoon.” I admitted.
I told her that mum had given me a choice between that or the one with butterflies on it, and I figured that one wasn't as bad on the grounds that it doesn't have any girlie butterflies on it.
Lauren said the butterflies are 'cute', unlike the 'vulgar' Little House on the Prairie dress. “Maybe when you've been a girl for a bit longer you'll know what's nice and what isn't.” she said, before saying something about it being better than wearing 'boring' boy clothes all the time. “I'd hate to be a boy.” she said.
“Do you have to help your mum with the housework and cleaning?” I asked as I recalled being a boy... all those days ago.
“Of course.” she replied. “Don't you?”
“I do now.” I moaned.
“And so you should.” she stated. “It's not fair if mum has to do everything whilst dad's out at work.”
“Yeah I suppose.” I said. “My brothers hardly do anything though.”
“That's because boys are rubbish and girls are the best.” she proudly retorted.
“That's pretty much what mum said too.” I replied. “It doesn't seem fair though.”
Our conversation was halted by a quiet tap ion my bedroom door and my mother entering. “Are you two girl's OK?” she asked. “Sophie dear... would you be a good girl and help me bring in the washing?”
“OK.” I replied, casting Lauren a knowing glance. She offered to help but mum said she probably has plenty of her own chores to do at home. A statement which effectively sent Lauren on her way.
I guess Lauren's right, it's not fair for mum to do all the chores on her own. But it's still not fair that I have to do more than my brothers, especially when I'm folding their socks and underpants, jeans and t-shirts whilst they're out having fun.
When the boys did return, George pointed out that I was wearing my third outfit today. “So?” I replied.
George said it was weird. “You had that skirt and frilly blouse on this morning, then that dress... and now that.” he baulked. “And you don't even like Minnie Mouse.”
“Maybe he does now.” Andrew suggested. “Now he's a girl.” he sneered.
“Stop calling your sister a 'he' Andrew.” Mum said. “You know that's not nice.”
“Sorry.” he muttered.
“Come on Sophie.” Mum said. “It's time for your bath. Have you boys got any homework to do?”
“A bit.” they replied.
“I had a bath last night.” I reminded my mother. When I was a boy I had two a week... at most.
“Girls have a bath every night.” Mum said as my brother George sniggered. Mum told me to take no notice of him before leading me up the stairs. No sooner had mum turned the taps on, I heard them both downstairs, falling about laughing at me and my predicament.
At least I don't have to go to school tomorrow, I figured. That and mum's new found happiness was the only consolations... Oh! And the Adventure Book for Girls of course.
After my bath, Mum insisted I get ready for bed instead of putting my shorts, leggings and t-shirt back on. “But it's nowhere near bedtime.” I claimed.
“It's near enough.” Mum replied as she folded my clothes whilst I wrapped a towel around myself.
Once I had my nightie on, mum sat me at my dressing table and ran the towel through my hair, making sure it was dry. She suggested we join the boys and watch TV. I said I might stay in my room and read my book instead. “OK... but don't stay up reading too late.” she said. “Lights out at eight-thirty remember.”
“OK.” replied. Why girl's have to go to bed earlier is also unfair. When I was a boy lights out was nine-thirty or ten o'clock on Friday & Saturday. Still, I'd rather be dressed like a girl in my bedroom than dressed like a girl downstairs in front of my brothers. I read for an hour or so before mum returned. She told me it's gone half-past eight and therefore past my bedtime. I asked her if a could get a clock in my room as she tucked me in. “Of course.” she smiled. “Well get you one tomorrow.”
“OK.” I smiled as she prepared to leave and glanced around my walls.
“Oh, talking of tomorrow...” she said, trotting towards my wardrobe. Mum removed the dress that Lauren likes, the one with the butterflies all over it, the one she called 'cute'. It's not my favourite... not of them are so there's little point in raising my concerns. Plus, the dress I chose over that Lauren said was 'vile'... so I can' hardly trust my own taste. Mum turned out my light, wished me sweet dreams and left. I gave it five minutes before creeping over to my bookshelves and retrieving my book. I'd have a good half hour reading time before it's too dark, maybe longer I figured as I opened my book and found my page. I could relate to Alice; the central character of Tom-boy, Tailor, Soldier, Spy... she too has to wear frilly prissy clothes when she'd rather be more boyish, but her new and possibly evil stepmother insists that girls should be girls. Alice even has short hair like me, and her stepmother makes her wear ribbons in it too. It's funny when she tries to climb out of the window, across the roof and down a tree wearing a big dress with puffed sleeves and 'petticoats' (whatever they are), instead of her preferred jeans and a t-shirt. I couldn't help but wonder why Alice didn't tuck the skirt into her knickers as mum had shown me. I began to yawn as the light faded. I slid my book under my pillow, straightened my nightie, closed my eyes and imagine having a life as exciting as the girls in my book.
Mum woke me early and I was dressed and having my breakfast at 7am. After washing my dish, mum asked me to put a couple of bowls & spoons out for my brothers, put the cereal box on the table and a jug of milk, along with a glass of juice each. And not surprisingly once they'd finished I cleared the table and washed their dishes for them. At least mum said 'thank you'.
George and Andrew left for school. I asked mum what we'd be doing today. “Well we could go and find you that clock you wanted for your bedroom.” she said, “And you do need a piny that fits you.” she added. “Plus there's plenty of housework too.” she added.
“More housework?” I moaned.
“Well the house doesn't clean itself.” she replied in a chirpy tone. “Now... would you like me to curl your hair again today, or are you happy with just a ribbon?”
“Neither.” would be my honest answer. But since that clearly wasn't an option, my actual answer was, “Er... just a ribbon please.”
Mum drove us into town where she found me an alarm clock for my bedroom, and a few ornaments to “brighten the place up a bit.” The fact it was a Hello Kitty clock and the ornaments were three 10” tall plastic princesses and a pair of ballerina bookends left me confident that my brothers wouldn't be too jealous of “all the nice new things I'm getting”. Mum also picked me up a new duvet set and some matching curtains. I insisted that I didn't like them, but Mum insisted “all girl's like princesses.” At least the only child's apron she could find didn't have any pink on it, but plenty of frilly trim made up for that. A few other bits and bobs and we were finally on our way home.
Mum couldn't wait to put my new curtains up, and coupled with the handful of new ornaments, my new room felt girlier than ever, and that's before the new 'princess' duvet cover goes on my bed. I remained non-committal as my mother said my curtains looked lovely. “But they really don't go well with the wallpaper.” she added. I suggested the obvious resolution; putting the old curtains back. But mum had a better idea. “No, we'll go to the DIY Superstore tomorrow and get you some new wallpaper.”
Like everything else, I knew I'd have little say in the matter so I just decided to put up and shut up. Mum had also bought me a menagerie of hair clips and head bands, bobbles, scrunches and a pink hairbrush with a ballerina no the back. All of which she arranged around my dressing table. I suggested putting them all in a drawer instead on the grounds that it's look tidier, but Mum reckoned they'd look nicer on display.
When mum asked if I'd like to help her do the dusting and hoovering, I said yes. Not because I knew she wouldn't take no for an answer, but because I felt I was beginning to overdose on pink and princesses. I was glad to get out of there, but once my brothers returned home from school, I retreated to my room as much as I could. I'd rather be a sissy in my prissy room than a sissy downstairs, cowering beneath their sneering glances and under-the-radar taunts.
Over supper that evening, George told mum about his upcoming graduation ceremony. He was looking forward to leaving school but wasn't keen on having to wear a mortarboard and gown on the day itself. “Well have to make sure your suits still fit boys.” mum said. “And we'll have to buy Sophie a nice new dress too.”
“I've got loads of dresses.” I moaned. “Most of which I haven't even worn yet!” I thought.
“I know dear.. but for George's graduation it needs to be extra nice, with a petticoat too.”
“He's not coming!” George spat.
“She!” Mum corrected. “And yes she is!” she insisted.
“What's a petticoat?” I wondered as I wished the world would swallow me up.