The door tinkled and an old lady came in the coffee shop. She sat on the table behind Steph and the kids. Apple pie, bacon and coffee scented the air and Steph mentally added up the bill in her head whilst praying there was enough in the account to cover it. She’d told the kids they could have anything they wanted and they’d taken full advantage.
Ellie had ordered tuna sandwiches, a coke float and a slice of rainbow cake. At ten years old and built like a rake there was no need for her to worry about calories. For Jake it was a big bowl of tomato soup, egg sandwiches and a massive hot chocolate with all the trimmings, and Luke had gone for a cheese toastie, a large strawberry milkshake and a double chocolate chip muffin.
“So Dad’s a woman? It’s about the most interesting thing to have happened in this family.” Ellie sucked her coke float up through straw. “Is now a good time to mention I prefer girls to boys?”
“Shh.” Jake glared at her. “Don’t let half of the town know that Dad’s a freak.”
The words stung Steph and she took a deep breath. She’d told the kids to express their feelings and she’d thought having the discussion in public might keep tempers to a minimum. She sipped the lemon and ginger tea and considered how to approach Jake’s sort of understandable reaction. Of all the family Jake had always had the strongest of sense of boys wear blue and girls wear pink. Steph cupped Jake’s hand in hers and looked him straight in the eyes. “Look, Jake, how do you feel about Stefan?”
He smiled. “Stefan’s great. Buys the best Christmas presents.”
“So do you think Stefan is a freak?”
“No.” At that Jake looked surprised.
Steph was relieved that he’d given her the way in. “And how would you feel if someone called Stefan a freak?”
“I’d punch them!” His face scrunched up and he held his fist ready to attack anyone who called her best friend a freak.
The old lady at the next table looked at them and sniffed.
Now was not the time to call the nosy old cow out on her behaviour, so Steph swallowed her annoyance and focused on her children in what would be a life changing moment for them. “Some people in our country still feel Stefan is a freak. Until 1980 he was still illegal.”
“That’s dumb.” Jake glared at the world. It was aimed at no one in particular he just glared at the injustice. “Which stupid idiot voted that idea in.”
It had been the general election a couple of weeks ago and they’d been learning about democracy. Steph took the opportunity to go in for the kill. For her own and Nick’s sake the battle with Jake’s feelings had to be won. She sipped her tea. “Still think your dad’s a freak?”
“But do you think Dad is a freak because of the same society that said Stefan used to be a freak?”
“Not sure.” Jake mumbled and focused on his hot chocolate.
“Think about it.” Steph nodded at him and wished she could afford a meal for herself as well. Her stomach rumbled. “But promise me you won’t call your dad a freak?”
“Yeah. Alright.” He turned his attention to the egg sandwiches and made it clear he’d had enough of the conversation.
She prayed he’d taken it to heart. “And what about you, Luke?”
“Huh?” During the conversation Luke had been scribbling on a piece of paper and ignored everything around him, including his food. His sandwiches remained untouched.
“How do you feel about your dad becoming a woman?”
“I’ve designed the ultimate weapon… look...” He held up a sketch of a pole with his cuddly lion tied to the end.
Steph nursed a cup of coffee and tried to forget her head had ever existed. Children at the home ed group ran round. The adults sat in a circle and tried to forget they had offspring for half an hour.
Luke and his friends were putting on a show and later she would be expected to watch it; Jake was holding court with a group of younger boys who thought he was some sort of god and Ellie was directing another group as they made a film from a big box of cardboard tubes and other rubbish. Her children always had to be in charge and sometimes she wondered what kind of monsters she’d raised.
Needing someone to talk to Steph had confided in the other adults at the group. It was as always a safe environment to try out anything avant-garde. As she had suspected they said Nicola, or whatever Nick was going to call his alter ego, was more than welcome at the meetings. But as usual they were interested. too interested, because when it came to new and intriguing situations nobody could ask questions like a group of home edders – except for perhaps their children.
“Maybe you don’t have to be a lesbian,” Donna said. “Primrose, stop that!” she admonished her child and then returned to the adult conversation. “You could become a man?”
It took Steph a moment to process the idea. “That wouldn’t work. I’d be a gay man and still not fancy Nicola or whatever the woman is called.”
“Are you sure that’s how it works?” Bill, Dolly and Fred’s dad, asked. “Wouldn’t you fancy women?” His face pulled into an awkward position. “Actually how do you know Nicola’s a lesbian?”
And that had been something Steph hadn’t considered. She stared at the weak, disappointing miserable cup of coffee like she expected it to give her all the answers, like The Salmon of Knowledge was swimming about in there. “I don’t know. I just kind of assumed Nicola would be Nick but wear skirts sometimes. Not that I do. Wonder which of my clothes he’d been wearing?” Doubts about whether he… no she... wanted to continue with the marriage were now a real part of her thoughts. What if Nicola wasn’t gay – maybe she liked men as well.
“He’d look great in that pink number you wore to the Christmas do,” Betsy chimed in.
“Mum – can you...” yelled Mitsy as she tried to make a Dalek from a toilet roll and a couple of old ping pong balls, “help me find a plunger thingy.”
There was a sigh from Betsy. “Oh great. Don’t talk about anything too juicy whilst I’m gone.” She got up and went to deal with her offspring.
“Maybe you could find a man and be a threesome?” was Bill’s next suggestion. “That might be ideal if Nicola is straight.”
“Wouldn’t they need a pansexual for that?” asked Donna. “You know someone who doesn’t care about your gender?”
Steph drained her cup. “Another coffee?” she asked the group. “I’ll make them.” Collecting coffee cups and heading into the hall’s kitchen gave her time to think and gather her thoughts. Well she had hoped it would but she was having trouble thinking about anything let alone threesomes with pansexuals. She clicked on the kettle.
“Mum...” Jake stood in the door way. “Primrose said she heard you say Dad wants to be a woman. Can you come and tell her it’s a right load of bollocks before I do something we’ll all regret.”
Still stottery Steph got out of bed, brushed her hair out of her eyes and pulled it back into a messy pony tail. On the floor she located a pair of pyjama trousers and tried to remember if they’d had sex or if she’d just not been in a fit state to put them on last night. Bloody hell it’s not even 8.30 am.
“Get your backsides out of bed,” she yelled as she made her way downstairs, holding onto the bannister. Her fibromyalgia was going to remind her of its presence and make her pay for daring to have one night out a year.
“I’ve been up since six,” an indignant Jake yelled.
Downstairs in the kitchen, young Luke sat at the table, reading a comic. She ruffled his hair. “Hey, kid.”
“Hi, Mum. I’m trying to work out what kind of plasma I need to build a light sabre.”
“Honey, I’m having an existential crisis and a hangover can we wait until I’ve had coffee before we deal with the easy questions?” She moved to the sink. “What’s this?” Steph waved her hand over the cereal scattered and milk spilled over the worktop.
“Breakfast. I had some – it was yum.”
“I can see. Go get the vacuum cleaner and lets get this all cleaned.”
“Whatever.” He shrugged but he got up and went out to get it whilst she set about making herself the promised coffee. She clicked on the kettle and stared it as the steam rose.
Jake stormed into the kitchen. “Ellie’s a bitch! I’m going out.
“Don’t talk about your sister like that. Where are you going?”
“You always take her side. It's not fair you go way easier on her cos she's a girl. I wish I was a girl - oh yuck no I don't"
"I asked where you were going."
Two teaspoons of coffee. She needed the caffeine. “At least slip your wellies on.”
“It’s just the garden.” He stamped his face and did that sulky thing when he blew out his cheeks like a frog.
“It snowed last night.” When she went into the cupboard for the caramel syrup her hand hovered over the brandy bottle. Nobody would know she’d had a nip. It took will power but she left it alone and consoled herself with an extra big slug of his or is it now her expensive syrup. Steph tried to cry but she didn’t know what she was crying over. She didn’t even know what to call the man she’d been married to for over ten years. Or was it woman. Damn.
“Right, I’m going. Satisfied?”
She looked and nodded. “Have you had breakfast?”
He shrugged. “Yeah cereal.”
Luke dragged the vacuum in by its hose.
“Where’s the bowl?”
“I washed it.”
Her, “Yeah right,” was drowned in the noise of the cleaner sucking up cereal and milk. Usually she'd call him back and make him eat but today she couldn't be bothered.
She needed painkillers. Two paracetamol, maybe something stronger as a treat. Tramadol? But that made her sick and she might have to ask Nick to come home from work. She wasn’t ready to face him yet. There was nobody around to talk to at this time of day as they were all at work.
Steph Newlove covered her head with the pillow and hoped to prolong that moment when daytime happened and she would be forced to remember there had been a night before. A very good night before. A night before worth a painful smile. A night before worth remembering – once the hangover lifted.
Bloody hell, Nick, can’t you just bugger off to work and leave me alone. That’s what she’d wanted to say and what in hindsight she wished had come out. However, her alcohol fogged brain could only manage. “URRRGH!” Or something equally primeval. The process unstuck her tongue from the roof of her dry mouth. She was quite sure her breath stank.
“While you were out I dressed in your clothes.”
“That’s nice, dear.” It was the go to phrase when he said things she didn’t really comprehend and couldn’t be bothered listening to. All she wanted to listen to right now were her own snores.
“You’re not listening?” he sounded hurt.
“I am listening, really I am. Just my head hurts.” She uncovered her head and did her best to prop herself up on the pillows.
“I want to be a woman – at least I think I do.”
Mid eye wipe she halted and stared at him. “Have you been wearing my tights?”
“No I bought my own.”
She could tell by his expression he was lying. “Well don’t wear my bloody tights. You’ve got great long legs and you’ll stretch them.” With that she rolled over put the pillow back over her head and went back to sleep.About ten minutes later: Steph sat up, threw her pillow and screamed, “Crap! Crap! Crap!” She sipped water from the glass on her bedside table. "Nick!"
"He's gone to work," one of her sons shouted back. It was hard to tell them apart when she was fully compos mentis.
She fumbled around the bedside table, under the various papers until she found the house phone. “Stefan… where the hell are you? I bet you’re at work. How dare you be at work. I have to be a lesbian by the time Nick gets home. Help! You’re the only one I can turn tooo...” The end was a melodramatic wail. The phone handset was tougher than it looked as it survived being flung against the wall. It was probably a good job her mobile was on charge downstairs or it would now need replacing.
“Bloody hell, Nick!"
"Mum. I'm trying to sleep. Shut up," a tired and angry Ellie shouted from her bedroom.
Could it be that bad? After all the other woman in their relationship would just be Nick in a dress.
The blog title came from a Kenny Everett character. My husband had facial hair when he first came down in a dress and I could not refrain from saying "All done in the best possible taste." As he's American he had no idea what I was talking about and I am sure several readers of my blog won't either.
"Best Possible Taste" is very loosely based on real life events.