A picture is worth a thousand words, and this is no exception...
...although in this case it's around eighteen-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 where you come in.” she said with an expectant smile on her face. "All I need is for one of you brave and beautiful boys to volunteer."
“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 Malham Hall High School in Crickley, so I'd better let them know it's you and not one of your brothers enrolling.” 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 Malham Hall 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 page...
...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. Some if the girl's denim 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 you put a dress on of course.” 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 clothes that didn't come from a charity shop.” she added. “We don't want the neighbours thinking we're poverty stricken do we?”.
“No.” 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 'nice'. “I can't believe you used to be a boy.” Andrew said, clearly teasing me.
“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.
“What if someone sees up your dress whilst you're out playing?.” she asked. “What would they think if you're not wearing knickers?” she asked.
I shrugged my shoulders and muttered, “I don't know.” 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.”
“Maybe there's another pair you'd like.” she said softly, drawing my gaze to the six remaining pairs. I shook my head again. “Why don't we put these ones on?” she said, “Once they're on you'll forget all about them.” she said as she attempted to put my feet through the leg holes. I kicked my foot away from them... the boy inside me wouldn't let me wear them... not without at least putting up a fight. “Don't be awkward Sophie.” Mum said. “If you don't want to wear your knickers I'll send one of the boys to the shop for some nappies instead.” she threatened.
I stuck out my lip as far as I could. “I'm not a baby!”
“No you're not... but if you're not going to wear your knickers then you'll have to wear a nappy.”
she paused, then sighed, then resumed her hug. “Now I'm sure you don't want me to put you in nappies do you?” she said in a quiet, soft, persuasive tone of voice.
I gulped and shook my head. 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's 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 waist. “There you are.” she smiled as she straightened my dress. “That wasn't so hard was it?”
My lower lip stayed exactly where it was as I slowly shook my head.
“Good girl.” mum smiled as she grabbed another pack of garments. “Let's get your training bra on.”
“Noooo!” I peeped as she unfolded the girlie item.
“Oh please don't be awkward Sophie.” Mum told me, before explaining the difference between 'big' girls and 'little' girls and using the threat of a nappy once more. I reluctantly conceded. Mum unfastened my dress and pulled the sleeves off of my arms, leaving it hanging by its elasticated waist. “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, “As 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. “Why does it fasten at the back?” I asked.
“Your dress?” Mum replied. “So it looks nice from the front.” she said as she turned me around to face her. “Which it does.” she added. “Why don't we put the rest of these things away?” she suggested.
The last thing I wanted to do was hang my skirts, dresses and blouses in my wardrobe, or neatly pack my knickers and bras, socks and tights in my drawers... but that's exactly what I did. Mum made me fold every single pair of knickers, every single vest and every bra before putting them neatly in my drawer. I'd have been happy just squashing them all in in a fraction of the time, but according to Mum, girls like everything neat and tidy.
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 slumping myself down and thinking about my predicament. 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 don't even know what dreams I should have. I can't imagine wanting to be a princess, a ballerina or a nurse... I don't even know what girls are supposed to like apart from dolls, and thankfully I’m too old for those. And clothes of course.. girls are always talking about clothes.
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. “Come on, let's change this bed.” she said, grabbing hold of the duvet and forcing me to stand.
“Can't I keep my duvet cover?” I asked, almost pleaded.
“I'm sure Sophie doesn't want racing cars on her bed.” Mum said in a patronising tone as she began removing the duvet cover. “Why don't you help mummy and do the pillows?” she asked.
“OK.” I moaned, knowing no amount of pleading would change her mind. I pulled off the pillow cases and tossed them on the floor, but mum said I must fold them neatly.
“Girl's like everything neat and tidy remember.” she said as she unfolded a pale pink duvet printed with big white spots. I gulped as I watched my bed become 'Sophie’s' bed. 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 a girl'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 stripes. 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, but 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.
“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 you.” she grinned.
I wanted to burst in to tears, but with mum's words 'I'd have killed myself without a daughter' echoing in my skull, I put a brave face on... I might have even forced a smile. Mum put her arm around me and asked me if I liked my new bedroom. “It's OK.” I lied. On the upside, I'm no longer the girliest thing in the room. A pink spotty duvet cover definitely trumps my blue spotty frock.
“I didn't want to get anything too girlie in case George ended up being Sophie.” Mum said. “But this is nice for now.” she smiled as she ran her hand over my duvet cover.
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 the fabric stopped. 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 (page 5)
Adventure in the Alps (page17)
Molly Makes a Break (page 36)
No Boys Allowed (page 50)
Finders Keepers (page 62)
Sally's Magic Scarf (page 83)
The Brave Ballerina (page 99)
Tom-boy, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (page 112)
Dancing Shoes (page 136)
The Night Thief (page 152)
Sarah's Secret (page 178)
The All-Girl Detective Agency (page 198)
Adventure in Egypt (page 217)
The Flying Princess (page 236)
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. He said nothing 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 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. “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 watched over me as I scraped the left-overs in to the bin before putting a footstool by the sink so I could better reach into the bowl. “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 of your own.” 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 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 a 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 want to be friends 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 at my knickers.
“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 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 going through.
Andrew was purple and chewing on his pursed lips, clearly trying his best not to burst out laughing. George was slightly more controlled as his face was deep red and not purple. “Can we go down the park?” he asked.
“Of course you can Boys.” 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.”
“Are you sure?” Mum asked. “It's a lovely evening.”
I nodded and glanced briefly at my brothers. The look of disdain the gave me spoke volumes... but I cannot claim I'd be any different had the card game ended differently.
“OK.” Mum smiled. “Run along boys, and be good!”
They sniggered on their way out. I spied them through the window, laughing as the headed down the path and onto the street. I predicted that they'd see loads of local kids at the park and imagined them blurting You'll never guess what's happened to Peter!
“What's everyone going to say when they find out I'm 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 thing but acting like one? I'd rather not. Especially not quite so instinctively. “Won't they all just laugh at me?”
“Well you know what boys are like for teasing girls.” Mum said. “Just ignore them if they're not being nice... unless it's one of your brothers...” she added. “If they tease you I want you to tell me.”
“OK.” I moaned.
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 girls have a bath everyday.”
“Every day!” I exclaimed as my mother nodded. “Do I have too?” I sulked.
“Yes you do.” Mum grinned. “Otherwise you'll start smelling like a boy.”
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 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.
“Which is too late to be putting a clean dress on isn't it?”
“Can't I wear my blue one again 'til bedtime?” I asked.
“No love.” Mum replied. “Now you're all nice and clean I want you ready for bed.”
“OK.” I sulked.
Once I had my nightie and a clean pair of knickers on, Mum asked if I'd like to watch TV with her or read my book. I opted for my book. Sitting downstairs wearing a girl's nightie when my brothers get home isn't something I look forward to. Mum left me alone and I escaped into my Adventure Book For Girls once more. It wasn't a story filled with guns and bombs or dungeons and dragons, but I did feel a connection with the protagonist... she may be a proper girl, but she hates being a boarding school girl all of a sudden, just as I hate being a girl all of a sudden. By the end of the story, she'd foiled a bank robbery, made lots of new friends and had been awarded a special broach for her bravery by the local constabulary. For her, life in a girl's boarding school turned out to be lots of fun... I wonder how life as a girl will turn out for me?
I turned the page to begin the next story 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. I flicked forwards through the book. The covering picture for The All-Girls Detective Agency looked better; five girls stood 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.” she smiled.
“Oh...” I moaned as she tucked me into bed,. “I used to go to bed at half nine or even ten o'clock.”
“I know dear... but you need plenty of beauty sleep now you're a girl.” she said as she ran her finger's through my hair. It just didn't seem fair... All my boy stuff has been taken away and replaced with girl things, and now I have to go to bed whilst my brother are still out playing. I wanted to argue everything that was wrong with becoming Sophie, but seeing Mum so happy and content after so many years of depression is 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.
“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 'Sophie' was in bed, and that 'she' mustn't be disturbed. Then silence.
The evening sun streamed through my curtains. I rolled onto my side and closed my eyes. 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 books, my gadgets and gizmo’s. Now all I've got is knickers and nighties 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 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 fallen asleep, I peeled my eyes open and saw my pink spotty duvet cover. “So much for it all being a dream.” I thought as I woke up under my girlie duvet wearing my girlie nightie. I recalled slipping my book under my pillow, but realising it was no longer there I pushed myself up and looked around my room. Mum must have been in whilst I slept as a skirt and blouse had been hung from my wardrobe door, and my Adventure Book for Girls was back on the shelf. The blouse was cream in colour, slightly see-through and far too frilly. The skirt was deep red and looked far too short for comfort. I'm not looking forward to wearing any of my new clothes, but I'd hazard a guess I’d prefer most of them to that outfit. I buried myself under my duvet and clamped my eyes shut.... I tried to convince myself that maybe if I wake up again it will all have been a dream, but knew it wouldn't happen.
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 she removed the blouse from it's hanger. “Isn't it pretty?” she asked.
If she's asked if I liked it, or if it was nice, I'd have said 'no'... but it is pretty... far too pretty. I gulped and nodded the slightest of nods, knowing that no amount of protest would get me out of wearing it. Mum began unfastening its buttons, and asked me to get myself a pair of tights. “Which ones?” I sheepishly asked, as I had several pairs in my new 'sock' drawer.
Mum peered inside the drawer “One of these would be nice.” she said, removing a three pack; one pink, one white, one cream pair, each with a spotty pattern. “Maybe these to match your blouse.” she suggested. Thankfully it wasn't the pink pair, so I reluctantly agreed.
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. 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 short skirt landing high on my thigh, my legs look longer and thinner than ever. 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 huge. “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 once again 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 of 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 call their mothers Mummy remember.” 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?”
“We're going to visit the neighbours.” she said. “They're all very excited about meeting Sophie.”
“Have you told them already?” I asked as I realised she must have.
“Of course.” Mum replied. “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 from their slumber I was sat at the kitchen table with Mum hovering over me, wielding a pair of electric curling tongs and working her way around my head. “I'm just making your sister look nice.” Mum said when they expressed their... horror, for want of a better word.
“You look even more like a girl today than you did yesterday!” Andrew spat.
“Shut up!” I sulked.
“Is 'she' going to dress like a girl for school tomorrow!” George asked. “Because if he is... I'm not walking with him.”
“Me neither.” Andrew added.
“Now now boys. If you can't be nice I'll put ribbons and curls in your hair too.” Mum threatened. “And no, Sophie won't be going back to school until next term.”
“That's not fair!” my brothers blurted in unison.
“How come he gets to skip school?” Andrew asked, clearly feeling hard done by.
“She!” my mother corrected. “Because it's too close to the end of term for Sophie to settle in.”
“Will she be dressing like a girl at high school?” George asked.
“Yes... but she's going to Malham Hall instead of Broadoak Road.”
My brothers expressed their relief that I wouldn't be going to the same school as them, whilst throwing a few disdainful comment in my direction. Since my mother continued to curl my hair throughout the exchange, I had no choice but to sit there and take it. “Boys!” Mother spat. “If you two can't start being nice to your sister, I'll send you both to Malham Hall too.” she threatened.
“I'm not going there!” George spat. “It's a sissy school!”
“You'll go wherever I send you young man.” Mum stated. “And it's not a sissy school... it's a very good school.”
“Of course it's a sissy school... all the boys wear dresses.” Andrew claimed.
“And you'll be one of them if you're not careful... and the same goes for you to George.” Mum told them before making them apologise to their 'sister'.
I sat for a further 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 pretended I wasn't there. I can't blame them for acting weird around me. It must be strange having a sister all of a sudden.
My brothers began clearing their breakfast dishes away, but just as our mother had done the previous evening, she told the boys to leave their dishes as Sophie would tidy them up. After tying a white ribbon in my hair and fastening her apron around me, I cleared the table and washed the breakfast dishes whilst mum fussed and faffed around me, repeatedly telling me how nice it is to finally have some help around the house.
After failing to convince my mother that it would be better if the girls on the street came to our house instead of me going to their, and having my request to at least wear a coat over my horrendous outfit turned down, Mum led me out of the house and down the path.
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 walk with more grace Sophie.” my mother said each time my heel scraped against the pavement.
“Sorry... it's these heels.” I said.
“Well... just try to walk like a girl!” Mum impatiently told me. After a moment she added. “I'm sorry I snapped Sophie... I'm just so nervous.”
“You're nervous!” I thought. “How do you think I feel?” I internally grumbled as my heel struck and scraped the pavement once more. “Sorry.” I meekly said. We were nearing the end of the cul-de-sac which meant I'd soon be meeting my old friends as the new me.
“That's OK Sophie... I know you're trying your best.” Mum said as she squeezed my hand reassuringly. Not that it reassured me in the slightest as we approached Chloe and Clare Henson's front door. 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 supposed to be a girl called Sophie... but everyone knows I'm really a boy.... I'm the elephant in the room. Sally's mother suggested that us 'girls' sit in the parlour whilst she had a chat with my mother. “So... what's it like being a girl?” Sally asked.
“Weird.” I replied. “Everyone keeps telling my how nice I look but I don't feel nice in these clothes.”
Sally cast her eyes over my tights, my skirt and my blouse. “You do look very girlie.” she said. “I didn't know if your mum was being serious when she told us.”
“When did she tell you?” I enquired.
“Well she rang and told us it was you yesterday evening...” Sally replied. “But it was a few weeks ago when she told us that she'd decided to raise one of her boys as a girl.” she told me. “When did you find out?”
“Yesterday.” I replied. “I wish it was one of my brothers instead.” I moaned as I looked down at my skirt and tights.
“I bet you do.” Sally smiled. “Are all of your clothes this prissy?” she asked.
Meanwhile in the kitchen, Peter's mother and Sally's mother discuss his new role. “Do you have to dress him quite so...” Sally's mother asked.
“Girlie?” Peter's mother replied. “Yes I think I do.”
“Surely just a pair of girl's jeans and a girlie top would suffice?” Sally's mother asked. Clearly she feels Peter's mother has gone a bit OTT with his attire. “He's supposed to be your daughter, not a doll!”
“Why can't he be both?” Peter's mother replied. “I'm sure you've dressed Sally in clothes she feels are too prissy... all mother's have.”
“Well, yes... of course.... but don't you think it's better to ease him in to all the prissy sissy stuff a bit more gently?” Sally's mother suggested.
“On the contrary... almost everything I've read suggests that dropping them in at the deep end is the best thing to do.” Peter's mother replied. “After a week or two in wearing nice 'prissy' clothes he'll be more than happy to wear the more casual styles.”
Sally's mother sighed. “Well I suppose, since you put it that way.” she cast Peter's mother a reassuring smile. “But I can't help but worry about how embarrassed he must feel... it can't be easy.”
“Nobody said it would be easy.” his mother replied. “But so far it's been a lot easier than I expected.” she smiled.
“Well don't count your chickens... he might be playing along for now but in a few days or a few weeks time, the novelty may well wear off.”
“Maybe... but according to all the literature I've read, petticoated boys become more and more accepting over time... the initial novelty soon becomes normality.” his mother replied.
Meanwhile in the parlour, Peter is describing the contents of his wardrobe to Sally. “By the sounds of it you're going to be the girliest girl on the street!” Sally said. “Which is quite funny since you're really a boy.”
“It's not funny, it's horrible.” I sulked.
“You say that.... but if it was one of the other boys on the street instead of you... I bet you'd see the funny side then.” Sally said as I hung my head. “Anyway I'm glad it's you and not one of your brothers... George is too handsome to be a girl and Andrew's too ugly... whereas you're just right.”
“What do you mean?” I moaned. “I'm a boy just like them.”
“Not any more you're not.” Sally grinned.
“Are you girl's getting on OK?” my mother asked as she entered the parlour.
“Yes.” Sally replied. “I was just telling Peter how pleased I am that it's him that it's he who's become Sophie and not one of his brothers.”
“Oh that's very nice nice of you.” my mother smiled. “George is too old and far too handsome.” she added. “...and Andrew’s far too ugly.” she smiled.
“That's exactly what I said!” Sally replied with a broad grin.
Mum and Sally briefly discussed how much better suited to the role of 'Sophie' I am than either of my brothers. I've got the curls and the little button nose I inherited from my mother, whereas my brothers inherited their father's features. Mum told Sally that we should leave soon, but insisted that Sally should come round to visit. Sally said she would, adding “I'd love to see all your new dresses.” She cast me a disdainful grimace concealed behind an overly sweet smile, and turned to my mother. “She's been telling me all about them.”
I said goodbye to Sally's mother before mum and I left. I couldn't wait to get out of there, but wasn't looking forward to being out on the street where all and sundry could see me. “Try not to scrape your heels Sophie.” Mum said as we walked down their garden path. “Those shoes are brand new.”she reminded me.
“What on earth has she done to him?” Sally's mother gasped as they watched Peter and his mother head off down the street. “You'd think she'd dress him as a normal girl and not like that.”
“I think he looks nice.” Sally giggled. It was clear she felt he looked quite the opposite.
“Too nice.” her mother retorted. “She doesn't have to indulge him in all those ribbons and frills... he's more like a doll than a daughter.” she said as Peter and his mother disappeared from view.
When we got to Lauren and Paul's house, Lauren welcomed 'Sophie' with open arms whilst Paul kept his distance. She told me how nice my hair looks, how pretty my blouse is, that my skirt is a lovely colour and finally complimented my shoes. I shyly said thank you as her brother, my friend Paul, snorted and scoffed.
“I can't wait 'til tomorrow!” Lauren gushed. “You are going to school as a girl aren't you?” she asked.
“Er.” I croaked, looking at my mother.
My mother explained that I wouldn't be going back to junior school. Paul blurted “Good!” and mother berated him for it. Mum went on to tell them that I'd be starting at Malham Hall High School in September instead of the local comprehensive.
“Where's that?” Lauren asked.
“It's in Crickley.” our parents replied in unison.
“That's a bit far isn't it?” Lauren asked.
“Well not really.” my mother replied. “It's on this side of Crickley so it's only a couple of miles... Vanessa who lives opposite us goes there.” she added.
“Oh.” Lauren replied. “I don't really know her.”
“Me neither.” I said.
“Well you soon will because we're off to visit Vanessa next.” Mum said, smiling at each of us in turn. Lauren's mother asked if we wanted a drink or a snack, but Mum declined her offer. “Now don't be a stranger Lauren, I'm sure Sophie would love it if you came to visit.” Mum insisted. She noticed Paul lurking in the hallway and extended the offer to him, but I very much doubt he'd be visiting me any more. Mum said that we should get going as we still have to visit the Mullen's. “Then we've got Sunday lunch to prepare and plenty of housework to be getting on with.”
“It must be nice having a girl around to help with all the chores.” Lauren & Paul's mother said, looking down on me and smiling.
“And to brighten the place up.” Mum smiled. “It feels much more homely now we've got Sophie.”
Lauren & Paul's mother wholeheartedly agreed. It's as if all of a sudden deciding that a boy is a girl is the most normal thing in the world. Paul may not want to be friends with me any more, but at least he's not pretending that this is a normal situation, when it's clearly not.
The last port of call is Vanessa's house which is more or less opposite our house. Although Vanessa lives so close, she's the one girl on the street whom I know the least. None of the kids on the street seem to know her either. She comes across as being 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.
Her mother appeared behind her and invited us in. “Why don't you take Sophie up to your room?” her mother suggested. “Would you like a cup of tea?” she asked my mother as I followed Vanessa upstairs.
The adults settled themselves in the kitchen. “He looks beautiful!” Vanessa's mother said. “Is he settling in OK?”
“He seems to be, although his brothers aren't being as nice as I'd like.” Peter's mother replied.
“Well boys are seldom as nice as we'd like.” Vanessa's mother said. “Which is why more of them should be petticoated.”
“Well I've threatened to do just that on more than one occasion this weekend.” Peter's mother grinned. “But I can't see George nor Andrew looking quite as sweet in girl's clothes as Peter does.”
“He certainly looks the part.” Vanessa's mother said as she poured the tea. “Did he put up much of a fight?”
“Not really.” Peter's mother replied. “He understands why I need a daughter. He let me tie a ribbon in his hair and helped me take all his boy things to the charity shop.” she recalled. “It was far easier than I'd anticipated... although he was very reluctant to wear his knickers.” she confessed. “I had to threaten him with nappies.”
Vanessa's mother, who's familiar with petticoat discipline, replied, “Well nappies are recommended for the first few weeks of petticoating... especially for bed.”
“Well yes but... it seems a bit mean if he doesn't need them.” Peter's mother said. “It's not as if he wets the bed.”
“It's not uncommon though... Petticoated boys often start wetting the bed whilst they're getting used to the change.” Vanessa's mother replied. “They don't have to big terry nappies, teen nappies are very discreet.” she added.
“I know.” Peter's mother mused. “It's juist something I'd rather not do unless I have to.” she said.
“I'd at least put a mattress protector on.” Vanessa's mother advised. “Just in case.”
“Yes I suppose you're right.” Peter's mother replied.
“Is he looking forward to starting at Malham Hall? Have you told him?” Vanessa's mother asked as she placed the two cups of tea in the table. “Vanessa's quite excited.”
“Yes I've told him.” Peter's mother replied. “Although I wouldn't say he's excited at the prospect... quite the opposite in fact.”
“Well starting big school is always a journey into the unknown... one minute they're the tallest and oldest kids in school, the next minute they're the smallest and youngest.”
“True.” Peter's mother agreed.
Meanwhile up in Vanessa's room “So you're coming to Malham Hall next term.” she said. “You'll love it... blah blah blah.” She talked constantly, enthusiastically and used her hands a lot. Peter was mesmerised as she paced around the floor, grabbing things and dropping things, talking about teachers and pupils and this and that. She opened her wardrobe and pulled out a garment. “This is the summer uniform.” she said as she showed me a purple gingham summer dress, then a thicker plaid dress. “And this is the winter uniform.” she said. “It's a bit daggy but it's warm so...” she said as she put it back.
“Two uniforms.” I gulped.
“Yep.” she smiled as she removed a couple of hats from the top of her wardrobe. “And these are our hats.” she said, Vanessa said as she screwed her nose up. In one hand she held a grey felt hat with a purple ribbon, in the other a straw boater also with a purple ribbon. “It'd be OK if we didn't have to wear hats too...” she said as she put them back on the top of her wardrobe. “And that's the blazer.” she added, pointing out a grey blazer with purple trim hung from the back of her door.
Knowingly, I asked if the boys wore exactly the same uniform as the girls.
“Yes of course.” she replied. “Didn't you know that already?” she asked as she straightened her duvet and sat on her bed.
“Yeah I was just checking. It just seems weird.”
“That's what everyone says...” she said, patting the space next to her. “...but it's really quite normal.”
“Really?” I asked. “What's normal about dressing like a girl?”
“When you get used to it you'll know.” she smiled. “I think it's weird that most boys don't wear skirts or dresses.”
“Because they're for girls.”
“But girls can wear jeans and t-shirts. Nobody thinks girls are weird when we wear boy's clothes.” she said. “So it shouldn't be weird for boys to wear girl's clothes.”
“Yeah I guess... it still feels weird though.” I said, looking down at my tights and the ruffled hem of my skirt.
“Only because you're new to it.” she said, patting my lap. “At Malham Hall all the new boys feel exactly as you do, thinking its the end of the world just because they have to wear a dress.”
“It feels like the end of the world.” I moaned.
“No... the end of the world is volcanoes and earthquakes, massive tidal waves and people dropping dead.” she said in her over animated manner.
“I know but...” I gulped. “...it wouldn't be so bad if I could wear 'normal' girl's clothes.” I said looking at what Vanessa wore; a plain t-shirt with a pair of shorts over a pair of leggings. “I think my mum's making me dress really girlie just because I'm not a really a girl.”
“Even real girls have to wear really girlie clothes sometimes.” Vanessa replied. “And even real girls don't like them much either.” she added. “We all prefer 'normal' clothes like shorts and jeans most of the time.”
“I haven't got any shorts or jeans any more.” I muttered.
“Girls!” A voice called from downstairs. “Vanessa! It's ten-to-one!”
“Shit. Sorry. Got a riding lesson.” Vanessa said as she jumped up off her bed. “I'd forgotten about the time.”
I stood up and straightened my skirt. “That's OK.” I replied as Vanessa began scurrying around her room.
“I could come over if you'd like.” she said as she found a riding helmet, then a crop, “Or give me a knock sometime.” she said, finding a pair of riding boots under the rubble.
“OK.” I gulped
“Vanessa!” her mother hollered.
“Coming!” Vanessa shouted back as she pushed her feet in to the boots.
“Has she been chewing your ear off love?” Vanessa's mother asked when they finally appeared. “You can't get a word in edgeways once she starts.”
“No...” I replied. “...not really.” I said, casting Vanessa a smile.
“Sorry to cut you short, but Vanessa has a riding lesson soon.” her mother said. “But come over any time you like.”
“Thanks.” I smiled.
“Yes, thanks for everything.” Mum said. “We'd better run along too, we have to get Sunday dinner ready for your brothers... and there's a mountain of laundry.”
“I hope it's not all work and no play.” Vanessa's mother said, more to my mother than to me. “Girls just wanna have fun too.” she smiled, more to me than my mother.
“Yes of course.” my mother smiled, resting a hand on my shoulder. “But work before play eh?” she added.
“Yes, Well... it's been lovely to meet you Sophie.” Vanessa's mother said, giving me a hug and a kiss on the cheek, “Don't be a stranger.”
After a final round of goodbyes and a couple more 'you look lovely' comments, we finally left. It was only a short walk across the street back home, but it seemed to take longer than usual. I noticed Albert, the boy next door peering through the window at me. I forced a smile but he just stared at me. “Well that was nice wasn't it?” Mum said once we were indoors.
“Kind of.” I mournfully replied. “I don't think I like being a girl.... everyone acts weird with me.”
“No they don't.” Mum said insisted as we finally entered the house. “Are you boys in?” she hollered after closing the font door.
“Yeah.” my brother George shouted from the top of the stairs. “When's dinner ready?”
“It'll be a couple of hours yet.” mum hollered back.
“Can I go out for a bit?” he asked as he bounded down the stairs.
“Of course you can... but back by no later than three.” she told him. George glanced at me but blanked me at the same time. “And if you see Andrew tell him no later than three too.” Mum added.
“OK.” he said as he headed out the door.
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 climbing the stairs. Mum followed and unfastened the buttons on the back of my blouse. She suggested I wear one of my charity shop dresses instead of one of my 'new' ones, and 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. Mum said I could, but halted me on the stairs. “Can you check the boy's room first 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 whilst thinking it's not OK by a long chalk. It's just not fair that I have to do chores and housework whilst my brothers do nothing but eat, sleep and make a mess, but thinking about it, when I 'was' a boy, I didn't do any chores either. I guess Mum did it all on her own before she made me become a girl. Maybe that's why she wanted one of us to be a girl? I figured. I grabbed my book, slumped on my bed and picked up where I'd left off with The All Girls Detective Agency. I read the next few chapters and wished my life was as exciting as theirs. However my escape from reality was cut short when my mother shouted my name. I laid the table whilst Mum carved the meat. My brothers Andrew and George returned in the nick of time. “Oh there you are!” mum said when they entered the kitchen. “I was just about to send your sister to look for you.”
My brothers concealed their sniggers with a brief snort. 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.
“If she's getting two extra week's holiday... then we should too.” Andrew claimed. George agreed.
“Well if you two want to be girls too, I'm sure that can be arranged.” she suggested as his bravado sank. “I'm more than happy to have a house full of girls.”
“Er.... no.” he mumbled as he wound his neck in.
The boys took their places at the table whilst mum and I served their lunch, and no sooner had they eaten, they left, leaving us to clear the table and wash the dishes. “It's not fair that the boys don't have to do any housework.” I moaned as I wiped the table top.
“Well it don't recall you complaining when you were a boy.” Mum replied.
She had a point I guess.. but when I was a boy we all did a little bit. Now I'm a girl they don't do anything and I'm doing ten times as much. After helping to tidy the kitchen, 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. Finally I could resume reading the All Girl Detective Agency. From their tree house office, the five girls had got involved in a case of blackmail against the headmaster of their school. After a string of exciting adventures, they eventually uncovered a plot which involved members of the local council, a corrupt police officer and their school's deputy head. Not only had they saved their school, they'd saved their headmaster's career too. After finishing the story I spent a while just thinking about it. The girls in the book didn't seem like real girls as they didn't get all excited about dresses, nor did they play with dolls or have to do housework all day. I wished my life as a girl would be exciting like theirs. I turned the page. The next story is titled Adventure in Egypt and shows a colour plate depicting a young girl exploring an ancient Egyptian tomb. Clad in jeans and a jumper, she's clearly a bit of a tom-boy, like many of the girls in these stories seem to be. “I wish I was a tom-boy.” I said to myself as I began reading. With a sickly mother, the protagonist, Clara, is sent to stay with her father; a professor and archaeologist based in Egypt. She's confined to her father's apartment and is kept under the watchful eye of his housekeeper all day long; a grouchy middle-aged American woman who can't understand why any girl would want to be a tom-boy and can barely believe that Clara hasn't packed any skirts or dresses.
I could completely empathise with Clara when the housekeeper forces the girl to to wear a dress.When her father fails to return home and the housekeeper locks her in the apartment, Clara has to use her whit and skill to escape. "This'd be much easier without this stupid dress on!" she curses as she climbs out of a window. It's cumbersome skirt, ribbons and frills al get in the way as Clara is sneaking out of the apartment, via window ledges, drain pipes and vines to get to the street below. Yet again my escape into literature is halted when my mother shouts “Sophie Dear!”.
I could completely empathise with Clara when the housekeeper forces the girl to to wear a dress.When her father fails to return home and the housekeeper locks her in the apartment, Clara has to use her whit and skill to escape. "This'd be much easier without this stupid dress on!" she curses as she climbs out of a window. It's cumbersome skirt, ribbons and frills al get in the way as Clara is sneaking out of the apartment, via window ledges, drain pipes and vines to get to the street below. Yet again my escape into literature is halted when my mother shouts “Sophie Dear!”.
“Yea?” I reply from the top of the stairs. I'm not surprised when mum has found yet another chore for me to do. This time she's got me ironing my brother's school uniforms and seems to take great pleasure instructing me on how to do it properly. After supper I helped mum clear up the kitchen whilst my brother watched the telly, and after that, mum told me it was time for my bath.
“I had a bath last night.” I reminded her. When I was a boy I had two a week... at most.
“Girls have a bath every night.” Mum said as my brothers sniggered. Mum told me to take no notice of them before leading me up the stairs. No sooner had mum turned the taps on, I heard them both downstairs, falling about laughing. They were most likely at me and my predicament.
After my bath, Mum told me to get ready for bed. “But it's nowhere near bedtime.” I claimed, knowing it was barely 7.00pm.
“It's near enough.” Mum replied as she placed my dress over her arm 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.”
Mum woke me early the next morning and I was dressed and having my breakfast at 7am. After washing my bowl, mum asked me to put a couple of bowls & spoons out for my brothers, I 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 there's plenty of housework to do.” she replied.
“More housework?” I moaned.
“Well the house doesn't clean itself.” she replied in a chirpy tone. “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.”
“I'll put your hair in rags one night...” mum said as she tied a length of ribbon in my hair, “...that'll make it all nice and curly when you wake up.”
I didn't reply. Mum had me dusting furniture that didn't need dusting whilst she hoovered the floors that didn't need hoovering. I asked why and mum said that we're keeping on top of the housework, otherwise the housework will be on top of us. Cleaning what's clean and tidying what's tidy doesn't make any sense to me. After an hour of cleaning, Mum settled down in front of the radio with a pot of tea. I asked if I could go to my room, but mum said that she wanted me to sit with her. “You can bring your book down if you want to read.” she suggested.
As lunchtime neared, I asked Mum what we'd be having for lunch as I was getting hungry. Mum said we needed to go shopping, and suggested we eat in town. “Do you want to put one of your nice dresses on or you OK as you are?” she asked.
Mum's idea of a 'nice' dress is my idea of horrendous, so I opted to keep my relatively plain green dress on. Being a weekday, the street was relatively quiet as we got in the car. The sound of children playing echoed over the rooftops from my old primary school. Part of me wished I was there, but a bigger part of me was glad I wasn't. I expect I’ll be a major part of the playground gossip now my Mum has decided I'm a girl.
“Where are we going?” I asked when she turned right instead of left at the end of School Lane.
“I thought it might be nice to go into Crickley for a change.” Mum replied, Crickley being a small town on the outskirts of Covenworth. I repeated the question when Mum turned off the main road on the outskirts of Crickley. “I want to show you something.” she said as we drove down a long wide street, lined with sycamore trees. She eventually pulled in and said “There you are.”
I looked out of the window and into the school yard she'd parked outside of. It was full of girls wearing purple gingham dresses. Some wore a grey blazer on top of their dresses, and all either wore or held a straw hat. It only took a few seconds for the penny to drop... they're not 'all' girls! I turned to my mother. “Is this Malham Hall?” I hesitantly asked.
“It is.” Mum said proudly.
I gulped as I turned my gaze back to the school yard. Some of the kids were clearly boys, some clearly girls, with others it was hard to tell either way. Some gathered in groups, chatting or eating their packed lunches. Some played hopscotch, some played with skipping ropes, some played football and some played catch or piggy-in-the-middle. It would have looked normal if they all weren't dressed as girls. I tried to spot Vanessa in the school yard, but couldn't see her. “Are all the boys like me?” I mournfully asked.
“Some of them might be, but most of them are just boys.” Mum replied.
“Why are they dressed like girls then?” I asked. Mum explained to me about petticoating and how it helps some boys to behave themselves and do better in class. “Maybe George and Andrew should dress like girls too then.” I suggested.
Mum smiled at me and started the engine. “That'd cost me a small fortune in dresses.... money I'd much rather spend on you.” she said.
We drove into Crickley town centre and mum found a parking space. Walking down the high street was scary to say the least. Everyone must know I'm really a boy, but nobody's pointing and laughing at me. After popping into the butchers and the greengrocers, we went into J. J. Tate's; a large independent department store. Mum picked up some new bedding, and asked if I could see any duvet covers I liked.
“They're not very nice for a girl's bedroom.” Mum said when I pointed out a few I liked.
“Dang!” I thought. “I must have forgot I was wearing a dress.” Why Mum even bothered asking my opinion I'll never know. We left with two new duvet covers; one with princesses on, the other with daisies... both pink with matching pillow cases and both the last thing Peter would have chosen.
When we arrived home, mu asked me which of my new duvet covers I wanted on my bed first. I opted for the daisies and dreaded the day the 'princess' duvet goes on. Mum and I stripped my bed, and mum put a plastic sheet over my mattress before putting a clean sheet over it. “What's that for?” I asked. “I don't wet the bed!” I insisted after hearing Mum's reply.
“I know you don't Sophie.” Mum said with a smile. “But it's just a precaution.” Once my new duvet cover was on my bed, mum told me how nice it looks, before looking around the walls. “I suppose we should redecorate and get you some new curtains too.” she suggested.
“As long as they're not too girlie.” I replied.
“Nothing's too girlie for my Sophie.” Mum grinned before leaving me alone. I had a feeling she'd say something like that so I retreated from the reality of my life and opened my Girl's Own Adventure Book and continued reading An Adventure in Egypt. Clara makes her way through the crowded streets of Cairo to her father's office and sees him being bundled into a van, clearly against his will. She follows the car on foot (an easy task in the busy city streets) until it disappears inside an old fortified building on the outskirts of the city. The only way she can sneak inside is via a large vine which stretches up one corner of the surrounding walls, but that's not going to be easy in a dress. As she waits for nightfall, she briefly befriends a local boy who reluctantly agrees to swap clothes with her. Clad in boy's clothes, she now has he freedom to swiftly scale the walls of the fortress and hopefully rescue her father. I couldn't help but smile as I imagined the boy wearing her dress and shoes, nervously waiting for her return so he could get his own clothes back.
That evening, Mum made me have a bath soon after I'd helped her clear up after supper, and after that I had to get ready for bed. Mum didn't want me to get in to a habit of hiding in my room every evening, and insisted I watch TV with her and my brothers until my bedtime. It was a long and painful ninety minutes. I sat silently in my frilly nightie as we watched TV. George and Andrew barely spoke to me, but both frequently eyed me with suspicion. Not too long ago I'd sulk and moan if Mum sent me to bed as early as eight-thirty... now it's not soon enough. I slid myself under my new duvet cover and gulped at its girlishness. Mum was right about the plastic mattress protector though... I could barely tell it was there.
The rest of the week was pretty much the same routine. I'd start each day getting up early and helping Mum with breakfast and housework. If we didn't go out, I read my Girl's Own Adventure Book; Clara did rescue her father, but in the excitement of her adventure, completely forgot to give the boy his clothes back. Somewhere in Cairo is a boy wearing her prissy party dress and Mary Jane shoes whilst Clara is happy to be back in her preferred tom-boy clothes. I had a bath every night after clearing up after supper and spent the evenings in one of my nighties, sat timidly in front of the TV and my sniggering, sneering brothers. Most afternoons we'd go shopping or for a walk somewhere as Mum thinks it's important for me to get out of the house. I think mum just likes parading me around the streets, stopping and talking to all and sundry and encouraging them to say flattering things to me.
Over supper on Friday evening, George told mum about his upcoming graduation ceremony which would be held the following Thursday. He was looking forward to leaving school but wasn't keen on having to wear a mortarboard and gown on the day. “We'll 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, although in retrospect it probably sounded more gleeful than whining.
“I know dear.. but for George's graduation day you something 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.
A week later, my eldest brother George had graduated from high school and all the other kids have broken up for the summer holidays. Mum wasted no time in getting the film in her camera developed so she could frame the photograph she took of George, Andrew and I... and hung it proudly in the hallway.