I've been quiet for a while, what with one thing and another - this short story being one of the reasons - it's now been handed in as part of my creative writing portfolio.. Please read and enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
The poster outside the theatre reads: The Glitzy, the Glamorous, the Gorgeous - Jo Johnson. Final week.
Jo sits before the mirror, carefully applying lipstick. The dresser leaves; the costumes are hung in performance order, ready for the quick changes called for during the show. The dressing room is full of flowers; cards surround the mirror.
Jo gazes round; has it really been so long? Is it really time to retire? To hang up the sequins and satin for the final time? It only seems like yesterday that …
# # #
'Right, love, I’m just running Isobel into town to get a present for Mandy’s party this afternoon. Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?’
‘No, thanks, Mum. There’s nothing I want, and, besides, I have my end of year project to get on with.’
‘OK then, see you later, be good,’ Mum says, and they’re gone.
I didn’t want to go to town with them, just to hang around watching them riffle through every gift in the shops, and every book on the shelves at Waterstone’s. Besides, I have my project to finish. I’m two years older than Isobel, and Mum trusts me to be left at home on my own nowadays.
So, finally, I have the house to myself. This is what I look forward to; my special times. I switch the pc on, ready to work. Now I’m in Isobel’s room, opening the wardrobe door. She’d kill me if she knew what I was doing, but she doesn’t. I’m always very careful to put things back exactly where I get them from; she’s never guessed what I do when she’s not here.
Mind you, I don’t think she’d notice if I did put anything back in a different place. She’s quite messy. Stuff’s falling off hangers, everything’s higgledy-piggledy. Not like my wardrobe. I have everything hanging in colour order. It looks lovely and tidy when I open the door. My shoes are in pairs on the floor of the wardrobe, not like these. It’s easy to see how I get ready much more quickly than Isobel.
My fingers feel along the different fabrics until the faint prickle of the Lurex tells me I’ve found it. A tingle runs down my spine as I lift the hanger from the rail. This illicit borrowing never fails to excite me. I strip off my jeans and t-shirt, putting them neatly on the bed. My skinny body, slighter than Isobel’s, despite me being older, develops goose bumps.
I hold it out in front of me to admire it. I’d been so jealous when Isobel had been the Christmas Fairy at a fancy dress party last year. She’d looked lovely, but I know that I would have looked gorgeous. I have short blonde hair, with natural curls. Isobel’s heavy, dark plait just didn’t do the costume justice. Don’t get me wrong, Isobel did look beautiful. Everyone said so - but I would have looked stunning.
I remember that whenever we used to dress up when we were younger, I was always the girl, and Isobel the boy. I’ve always been daintier, with a rosebud mouth, and extra long eyelashes. She takes more after Dad, but I resemble Mum, and she was a model before she had us.
I slowly slip the dress from the hanger and spread the skirts on the floor. Now comes the best bit... I bend down and slide the smooth, silky lining up against my body. I’m now encased in a fresh, pink skin. I clip the wings onto the straps. The metamorphosis is complete.
The reflection in the mirror shows beautiful, golden-haired fairy Jo. Gold gossamer wings flutter gently. Fine ribbon straps lead down to the pink satin bodice, overlaid with gold mesh. Delicate and feminine; I feel so special in this dress. I’d like this to be my everyday clothes – no more jeans and t-shirts.
I find the pink tights, tossed on the floor of the wardrobe, and carefully pull them up; it wouldn’t do to snag them! I pirouette, revolving like the ballerina in Isobel’s pink jewellery box. My shimmering, iridescent wings reflect back the sunlight streaming in at the window. I wish I could step, like Alice, into the looking glass, and be the fairy girl reflected there.
Oh, no! I can hear the car pulling into the drive! Where has the time gone? I slip out of the fairy finery and in seconds it’s back on the hanger, in the wardrobe. I grab my clothes, and dash to my bedroom to tug on my jeans and t-shirt. I didn’t have time to take off the tights, but she won’t be wearing them today. I can return them when she’s at the party. I pull on a pair of trainers, and rush downstairs, nearly colliding with Mum and Isobel in the hall.
‘Everything alright?’ Mum asks. ‘You look a bit flushed.’
‘Yes, I’m fine. Did you get what you needed for the party?’
‘Did we? We found the most amazing handbag! It has compartments for everything, so Mandy won’t keep losing her things. It has little loops for lipsticks, and pens. And it’s in leopard print furry fabric. She’ll love it.’ I get the distinct impression that Isobel has fallen in love with it and would like one for herself!
Isobel runs upstairs.
‘I’m going to have a shower now, Mum. OK? Then my hair has time to dry.’
‘OK, sweetheart. I’ll start making lunch soon.’ She looks at me. ‘I’m making a cuppa, d’ you want one?’
‘No, thanks, I’m working on the computer.’ I turn away, and walk upstairs. I am actually doing my project in no time.
The tantalising aroma of sausages tickles my nose, my mouth is watering. I realise I’m hungry, and begin to type faster to get my work finished. Then Mum’s voice calls:
‘Isobel, Joseph? Lunch is nearly ready. Time to set the table, please, one of you.’
‘Right, Mum,’ I shout. ‘I’ll just log off, then I’ll be down.’
‘Thanks, Joe,’ says Isobel, ‘I’m just finishing drying my hair.’
‘No problem, sis.’
I run down and set the table. Jo is hung up again until the next time we’re alone.
# # #
That was the day I decided to come out with it. I’d hidden myself in Isobel’s closet for long enough. When she had gone to bed, and Mum and Dad were sitting with a bottle of wine, I took a deep breath:
‘Mum, Dad; I’ve got something I want to tell you.’
‘What’s that, son?’
‘You sound serious, sweetheart, whatever is it?’
‘Spit it out, lad, spit it out. We’re waiting.’
‘Well, you see …’ Despite my project on assertiveness, I can feel my cheeks burning, and my eyes prickling. My heart is pounding, my palms are wet.
‘Tell me, does this have anything to do with the fact that you’ve got Isobel’s tights on, by any chance?’
I look down. She’s right! I’d forgotten to take them off! A small patch of pink between my trainers and my jeans betrays me.
‘Well, er, yes, it does, actually.’ I feel like my heart’s going to jump out of my mouth. ‘I like wearing her clothes. I’ve been doing it for ages, when there’s nobody else here, and it feels right. I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with me. I mean, I don’t fancy boys, or anything, but I belong in girl’s clothing. I’ve been thinking about it for ages, and just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to tell you.’
‘Dad and I have wondered, you know, sometimes. Just little things you’ve said, or done.’
‘Then why didn’t you say something?’
‘You’d have been embarrassed, and insisted we were mistaken, that’s why.’
‘No I wouldn’t!’
‘Yes, you would! We had to wait for you to speak to us about it. Anyway, love, what have you decided, after all your deliberation? Have you come to any decisions?’
‘I want to go to drama lessons, and then, oh, I don’t know, go on to some sort of acting school, you know, like RADA, or somewhere. Not like ‘Fame!’ I don’t want to do musical stuff, I want to be Grand Dame. I want glitz and glamour. I want to wear fairy costumes, ball gowns, wigs and high heels.’
‘Good Lord! I’ll never hear the last of it when I get my next posting - my son wants to be a drag queen!’
‘No, Dad. Not a queen at all. An actor, specialising in cross-dressing.’ How could I get through to him? ‘I’ve been doing some research, Dad. Did you know that Danny la Rue was in the Navy, too? That should shut the ratings up! And he got an OBE. I’ve been looking to see where the local drama classes are, there’s one on Saturday mornings, in town. Can I go, Mum, please?’
I’m feeling quite calm about it now. It’s such a relief to have said it out loud. Mum and Dad look at each other. Dad still looks a bit worried, but Mum, well she’s absolutely fantastic!
‘Sounds like a good idea, to me. Don’t you agree, Jack? I’ll take you down at the weekend, and we’ll see what they’re offering.’
I could hardly believe my ears!
# # #
So, that’s how it started. I went to Mme. Estelle’s Drama Academy every Saturday. It was harder than I thought it would be, but I persevered. I couldn’t believe that Mum and Dad had been discussing me; I wished I’d screwed up the courage to say something sooner.
In the first play we put on after I joined the Academy, I was a support character; no lines, just a lot of standing around, trying not to look bored. The following year, I was chosen to be the leading man, and Mme. Estelle couldn’t understand it when I refused the part. She persuaded me to take it: ‘A leading man, at fifteen! Silly boy, you must take the part – actors need to accept all sorts of roles when they’re starting out. Be patient!’
Then, the next Christmas we put on a panto, and my dreams came true. I was the Dame. I was the Dame! I was in heaven!
As you know, talent scouts regularly tour the theatres, looking for the next star in the making, and one of them liked my work. Bob’s your uncle, as they say. I was offered a place at a stage boarding school, and haven’t looked back. It was difficult leaving home. I even missed Isobel, believe it or not, and was homesick for a couple of weeks. However, the work was so interesting, and, I have to say, hard, that I didn’t really have time to miss home too much.
Well, you know the rest; there are no secrets in this business. Now I wear frivolous frocks and sequinned satin almost every day, and I get paid for it. Handsomely.
I wonder what would have happened if Isobel hadn’t been the Christmas Fairy?