A very short story inspired by a picture by Vancy.
It's a bit grim! :(
It's a bit grim! :(
A mother and her son are moving across the country, From Catterick to Cornwall. Their estate car is packed to the brim with boxes and cases, the roof rack too. As the mother is strapping the last few things to the roof rack, the new tenants of their home arrive and they chat. Mum introduces herself as Maggie and amongst the small talk, tells them that she lost the boy's father in Helmand six months ago, hence the move.
The boy appears at the open front door, holding a vacuum cleaner. “Maggie!” he hollers. “I've finished the hoovering, does this need to go in the car?” he asked.
“No that belongs to the house Peter.” his mother replied.
“He uses your first name... how modern.” the woman says.
“I'm his step-mother.” Maggie replied. “Peter's mother left when he was five and I met his father when he was six.”
“Oh I see.” the woman says. “And how old is he now?”
“So for all intents and purposes, you are his mother.”
“I like to think so.” Maggie smiled. “He doesn't remember his real mum and I'm all he has now.”
“Oh bless him... it can be easy losing his father at his age.”
“No but he's tough. Like his Dad, a real trouper.” Maggie smiled.
“Here he comes.” the woman said as Peter exited the house.
Maggie's phone rings. “I've got to take this... excuse me.” Maggie says, wondering down the drive, out of earshot and answering the phone.
“You must be Peter?” the woman smiles when the boy exits the house and approaches the car. They chat whilst his step-mum is clearly having a heated conversation. “So you're moving to Cornwall I understand.”
“Yes.” Peter replied. “Maggie's going to teach me to surf... it's gonna be really cool.”
“So it's Bude you're moving to?”
“Just outside... Stratton.” Peter replied.
“Ah... I don't know it, but I do know that Bude is excellent for surfing... you'll have a lot of fun there.”
“Yeah.” Peter replied, glancing it Maggie who seems frustrated on the phone.
“It's a long drive from Catterick.”
“I know... we're stopping at my aunt's in Chedworth for the night then continuing to Cornwall tomorrow.”
“Chedworth rings a bell... where's that?”
“In the Cotswolds.”
“Yeah... but my aunt's really bossy... I don't like her much.” Peter replied. “But she's my dad's only sister and I know she wants to see me.”
“Yes... I'm sure she does.” the new tenant replied. “Your mum told me about your father... I'm sorry.”
“That's OK.” Peter replied. “She's my step-mum.” Peter stated. “That's why I call her Maggie and not Mum... but she is my Mum really.”
“Yes, she said.” the new tenant replied as Maggie returned, having hung up. “Is everything OK?”
“Ohhh I hope so.” Maggie replied. Peter asked who she was talking to. “Your Aunt.” she sighed.
Maggie shows the new tenants around the house, checking that everything is clean and that they haven't forgotten anything. She tells them about the local area, the town, the school and the neighbours and wishes them all the best. “They seem nice.” she said to Peter as they drove away from their old life, embarking on their new one.
“What was Aunt Sarah saying?”
“All sort of things.” Maggie sighed. “But nothing to worry about.” she assured. “I just need to pop into Catterick before we head off.” she told him.
He waited in the car whilst Maggie was in the solicitors... for almost half an hour he waited. “You were ages.” he moaned.
“Yes I'm sorry.”
“Some thing's wrong?”
“Nothing that can't be fixed.” she smiled, clutching his hand.
His step mother was clearly very stressed as they drove from Yorkshire, down through the Midlands, past Nottingham, Leicester and Coventry and through miles and miles of open rolling countryside and into the picturesque Cotswold hills.
They arrive at their destination; a large detached house. Aunt Sarah is on the doorstep as the car slowly crunches over the gravel driveway. “Hello Aunt Sarah.” Peter says, giving her a hesitant hug. His aunt sends him inside where the housekeeper has sandwiches prepared for their arrival.
Maggie and Sarah have a stern exchange outside, before both enter the house. Both pretend that everything is normal for a while, but Peter knows that something is wrong. After they've eaten and drank some tea, Maggie says that she and Peter should have a stroll around the garden. “What were you and her arguing about?” Peter asked when they were outside and out of earshot.
Maggie doesn't reply until they're sat. “You know that your father and I weren't married.” she states.
“Yes but you're still my Mum.” he replied.
“I know... but in the eyes of the Law, it's not quite so simple.” Maggie sighed. “I know I should have told you before now, but ever since your father died, your Aunt has been trying to apply for custody of you.”
“Why?” Peter retorted. “She doesn't even like me.”
“She loves you very much in her own way... and she is your closest blood relative.” Maggie replied.
“Was it her on the phone this morning?” he asked. “When you were arguing.”
“Yes.” Maggie told him. “That's why I had to go the solicitors.” she said. “I'm sorry Peter but she won...” Maggie hung her head. “You have to stay here.”
“But why?” he whined. “I don't want to stay here!”
“She's your legal guardian now.” Maggie told him. “I'll do everything I can to get you back but... according to my solicitor, I've done everything I can do and the decision has been made.”
Maggie doesn't stay the night as arranged, but she does have all of Peter's things packed up in the car, which will need to be unloaded. “He has everything he needs and anything he hasn't got I'll provide.” Aunt Sarah sternly states. “A fresh start is best for the boy... not his old toys... and certainly not that mountain bike thing.” she says, glaring at his bike strapped to the roof rack.
They share a tearful goodbye. Maggie promises she'll come and visit in a few months. Peter asks his aunt if he can go to stay with Maggie in Cornwall, in the summer maybe. “...you can teach me to surf like you promised.” he enthused.
“Surf?!” Aunt Sarah exclaimed. “In the sea?!” she sighed. “That's far too dangerous. The boy's much better off here where he'll be safe and cared for.” she spat.
“I'm perfectly capable of caring for him Sarah... I've been his mother for five years.”
“You've barely been a step mother.” Aunt Sarah retorted. “...since Robert never actually married you.” she sniped.
“Why you think he'll be better off with such a vindictive woman like you I'll never know!” Maggie growled.
“Because he's my blood.... you're just some floozy his father picked up.”
“I'd better leave before I do something you'll regret, Sarah.” Maggie snarled. And with that, the boy and his step-mother were parted.
Eight months later, Maggie has finally been allowed to visit...
“What have you done to him?!” Maggie gasped.
“Surely you've heard of petticoating?” Sarah replied, before prompting the boy to put his doll down and say hello. He appeared almost brainwashed as he did as asked, carefully putting the doll down in a seated position, before curtseying and saying “Hello Maggie.”
“That's not how we address grown-ups Peter.” Aunt Sarah sternly told him. “Say hello properly.”
“Hello Miss Slater.” Peter said, curtseying once more.
“Why is he dressed like that?” Maggie exclaimed. Sarah reiterated that he's been petticoated, and this is how petticoated boy's dress. “But he's not even wearing a dress!” Maggie gasped.
“Not whilst he's playing... it would only get creased, so he takes it off first... don't you Peter?”
“Yes Auntie.” he gulped.
“Do you need to see Nanny about your nappy?”
“Are you sure?”
“Well put your dress back on. Playtime's over for today.”
Maggie and Sarah return downstairs. “Why on earth is he wearing a nappy?”
“Because he misbehaved yesterday.”
“He's eleven years old! ...almost twelve!” Maggie remarked. “Making him wear a nappy at his age is cruel!”
“It's the rule.” Sarah replied. “Nothing helps a boy reflect on his behaviour more than stewing in his juices.” she stated, adding “Would you rather I spanked him?”
“Of course not!” Maggie exclaimed. “But making him dress like a girl must be humiliating enough... let alone treating him like a baby.”
“Only when he acts like one and misbehaves.”
“I'm going to speak to social services about this.”
“By all means. I'm acting well within the Law. Hundreds of case studies have been done which prove that petticoating is both a proactive and harmless form of discipline for adolescent boys.”
“He acts like you've brainwashed him.” Maggie retorted.
“He's merely learned some manners... manners that he didn't have when you brought him to me.”
“You took him from me!” Maggie spat. “His father would be beside himself if he was here.”
“His father isn't here. The boy is being raised as I, his legal guardian, sees fit.”
“And what about school?” Maggie asked. “He doesn't dress like that at school does he?”
“I felt it best to have him home schooled.” Sarah informed her. “A governess comes everyday during term time... you needn't worry about his education.”
“I'm worried about everything!” Maggie replied. “What you're doing is inhumane!” she stated. “Now I understand why you wouldn’t let me visit!” she said as the sound of footsteps drew her attention. Click. Clack. Click. Clack. Click. Clack. The slow, regular sound of a solid heel on a hardwood floor seemed to go on for an age before the boy appeared in the doorway.
His bright yellow dress is trimmed with white lace and looked humiliatingly short. Peter looked mortified to be wearing such an infantile outfit. In his hair is a big bright yellow bow and his lips are painted in a bright pinky red. Maggie gulps as her eyes drop to his feet; black patent Mary Jane shoes and a pair of lace trimmed ankle socks. He stands absolutely to attention, with his hands behind his back and Maggie can tell that he's not in the least bit happy here.
“Well don't just stand there Peter... say hello then you may sit.” Sarah instructed.
The boy gulped and dropped a curtsey, lifting his dress a little to reveal a glimpse of his frilly over-knickers. “Hello Miss Slater, Auntie.” he meekly said, before perching himself not on a chair, but a small stool.
“I'll leave you to chat.” Sarah said. “If you need anything. Just call.” Sarah said.
“Oh Peter.” Maggie said, sounding on the verge of tears. “What's she doing to you?”
“Auntie says it's for the best.” Peter timidly replied. “I'm OK really.”
“Wouldn't you rather be with me in Cornwall?”
“Of course I would Maggie... but I can't.”
Maggie glanced to the open door. “Come on... I can take you away from this right now. We can jump in the car and we'll drive off... she won't have time to stop us.” Maggie said, holding out her hand. “I'll get you some new clothes.... boys clothes... and won't have to dress like that ever again.”
“No Maggie... I can't.”
“You can. We can!”
“This is what she wants.” Peter replied. “You to come and take me away.”
“I don't think so.”
“She does... that's why I'm in trouble... for eavesdropping.” he told her. “She wants you to abduct me, then she'll call the police and we'll get caught and I'll be brought back here and you'll be arrested.” he claimed. “That's the only reason she let you visit me.”
“But you can't stay here... not like this.” Maggie said, knowing in her heart that his every word is true.
“I don't have a choice.” Peter replied. “When I'm sixteen I'll be able to leave... then I'll come... then you can teach me to surf.” he said.
“But that's five years Peter... five years of living like a....” she paused, unable to find a suitable word.
“Little girl.” Peter said.
“Worse than that if she's making you wear nappies!”
“Only when I'm naughty.” he replied. “I've learned to behave myself now.” he gulped.
“It's like she's broken you Peter... if there's anything I can do?” Maggie said.
Peter shook his head and stared at his hairless knees. Then he looked into her loving eyes. “I'll come one day.. when the Law's on my side.” he told her. “Will you wait?”
“I'll always be waiting for you Peter.”
“I know.” he smiled. Peter stood and brushed his hands down his frock. “I think about you every day Maggie.”
“And me you too!” Maggie gushed, taking the boy in her arms and hugging the air out of him, before coughing on his perfume, which he appeared to be doused in.
“How are you two getting on?” the boy's aunt asked as she interrupted their embrace. Maggie glared at her. “Maybe Peter can show you around the garden?” she suggested.
“That's OK auntie... Miss Slater was about to leave anyway.” he said. “Weren't you?”
“Erm.... yes.... it's a long drive back to Cornwall.”
“Well you need some fresh air young man... and make sure you play where we can see you.”
“Yes Auntie.” Peter replied, before turning to Maggie, dropping a curtsey and bidding farewell to 'Miss Slater'. His heels clicked and clacked on the flooring, all the way down the corridor.
“So I trust you're contented with what you've seen?” Sarah asked. “That he's happy and healthy and well looked after.”
“He may be healthy but he's certainly not happy.” Maggie scowled. “The poor boy. You're robbing him of his formative years... making him live like this. You're doing nothing but humiliating him.”
“Humiliation makes for a humble soul.” Sarah replied. “He's come on leaps and bounds from that boisterous brat you brought to me.” she said. “Now... unless there's anything else?”
Sarah gestured toward the door. Maggie clutched her handbag and made her way through it, down the long corridor towards the front of the house. The sound of gravel crunching in quick repetition filled her ears as she exited, and there on the drive is Peter, playing with a skipping rope. The bow on his head bounces like a butterfly and his short yellow frock reveals his bulbous frilly over knickers with each and every skip. Maggie gulps and gets in the car. She looks at her step-son one last time before reversing onto the street. She stops and sobs until all her tears are dry.