The Symmetrical Face

Between August 2003 and October 2004, I wasted an awful lot of my spare time writing a novel entitled ‘The Symmetrical Face’.  It was, I thought then, a clever and entertaining exploration of how the life of a young, professional, heterosexual man could go wholly down the toilet if he mishandled the process of coming out as a transvestite (which, at the time, was how I thought it most accurate to describe myself), told in elegant prose, and with a Wodehousian gift for balancing epigrammatic sub-clauses with well-placed semicolons.  The end result was a little over 100,000 riveting, ground-breaking, tragi-comic words, which I would never have bothered finishing at all if the woman I was living with at the time (and on whom the character of Camilla was largely based) hadn’t read an early draft of the first three chapters and expressed a degree of horror regarding the social and professional consequences for her of it ever being published.  Her faith in the likelihood of an agent being impressed by my manuscript inspired me, ironically enough, to return to the story a few years later and finish it.  Sadly, however, her fears were unfounded, and, by the beginning of 2005, I had nothing to show for ‘The Symmetrical Face’ but a fistful of polite but unequivocal rejection letters.  Like every aspiring artist with a fragile ego, my response was to shove the disks containing my chapters in a drawer and forget about them.  Recently, though, I have found myself drawn back to the story: as matters transgender become increasingly common in the media and entertainment, as well as in social and political life, I find myself wondering whether there might be more of an appetite for my book now, and whether I ought to try sending a few thousand words of it to a handful of literary agents again.  It needs tidying up and trimming down, of course: the first draft, for example, contains far too many obscure references to the life of Frida Kahlo, and describes Rolf Harris in terms that seem wholly inappropriate in light of new information about his sexual conduct.  In order to spur myself on, therefore, I have rewritten the first chapter, and present it here with a request for feedback that I hope doesn’t come across as too needy.  At the risk of sounding like an internet attention whore, I would love to know whether anyone is interested in reading more.  If I do receive encouragement, I will start editing and redrafting the subsequent chapters, and serialise the whole story here.  If not…  Well, I shall probably delete this post and pretend the conversation never happened.  Be brutal, darling; be brutal.


Chapter One

When Camilla and I moved into The Lighthouse, I knew I would forever remember this as the most special time in our relationship.  When I was very young, I saw a film that, with the exception of the opening sequence, I can barely remember.  I can’t recall the plot, any of the characters, or even the film’s title.  All I can recollect is the way it opened with a lightning quick tour of all the inlets and cliff-faces of Britain’s coastline.  In grainy black and white, the camera thundered around the fjords of Mallaig and Cromarty; galloped over the deserted mudflats of Cromer and Lowestoft; skipped through the docks at Folkestone and Weymouth; weaved between the cliffs and rocky outcrops of Gower and Bardsey; and skimmed over the beaches of Blackpool and Morecambe.  This listing, lurching journey ended as abruptly as it had begun: at the foot of a lighthouse on a promontory washed by the turbulent, grey Irish Sea.  The images in this short film, whipping headily past the eye, haunted me throughout childhood, so when Camilla announced that her bank had acquired the property known as The Lighthouse, I knew before I’d even seen it that I would be infatuated and enchanted by the place.

Which I was.  The Lighthouse stood strong and tall at the end of a causeway projecting a short way out to sea from the mainland.  It was striped red and white like a candy cane in an American cartoon.  The day we drove up to see it was one drenched in glorious sunshine, and the sea around the rocks and caves was blue and still.  The hexagons of glass at the apex of the lighthouse scintillated like burnished silver in the brilliant, clear azure sky.  The estate agent’s tour was wholly superfluous: there was no way we were ever going to ignore the opportunity to live somewhere as uniquely idyllic as this, irrespective of how much work we would have to do on the structure ourselves.  Camilla had recently been promoted by the bank for which she worked.  Her new job carried many perks, including a generous sum of money to assist with the cost of relocating.  We would have to find a substantial amount from somewhere ourselves, we realised, but we were certain it would be worth it: The Lighthouse was like somewhere from a dream.

A newer, automated, more dependable lighthouse had been constructed a small distance further along the coast.  As a result, the old one had been converted and had its beacon decommissioned, but all the antiquated equipment was still locked away in the glasshouse on the roof.  At the base of the structure was a gravel drive fringed on two sides by lines of sturdy sycamore trees.  On the inland face, a flight of five concrete steps led to the small front door that opened into a tiny vestibule and a wooden staircase that turned a right angle onto the first floor.  Here, where the building was thickest, was a sitting room that Camilla filled with cushions and rugs and drapes.  Another staircase led up to the kitchen and the dining room, with its black and white checked floor tiles.  From here, as the lighthouse tapered towards a narrow point, a tight, wrought-iron spiral staircase led up to the study and the guest bedroom.  More steps then twisted up to the master bedroom with its gorgeous windows in every wall.  On the fifth floor was another small sitting room.  On the day I moved out, this room still contained the boxes of stuff we’d never got around to unpacking.  The bathroom was on this floor as well.  That room was a palace of ferns and mirrors and candles, with an Olympic swimming pool-sized bathtub where Camilla and I drank champagne and swallowed oysters we pretended we’d caught ourselves and built the daydream castles of our future.  A ceiling hatch opened into an airlock that in turn permitted access to the iron gantry that haloed the beacon house.  From here, an open staircase circled down to the ground, clinging to the steep slope of the outside walls before meeting the ground on the side that overlooked the ocean.  It was over an hour’s drive to the nearest small town, but there was a wooden jetty for a rowing boat; a wholesome breeze; the endless panorama of the ocean to the west; gently undulating countryside rolling away to the east; the perpetual music of the water slapping against the shore; an obscene mortgage to pay; but we didn’t care if we never saw another human being ever again.

Like the first day of the summer holidays after your first year at school, this was a time of infinite and exciting potentiality.  We had an eternity of days and years ahead of us, and a mutually unexplored ocean to navigate and explore together.  In this continent, we were so strong we could deflect bullets, and we found one another so fascinating and sexually alluring we would never tire of one another’s company.  This, I was convinced, was the beginning of our conjoined life.  We would weather whatever the world hurled at us together, sharing every inch of ourselves and every moment of our existences.  It would be perfect.  We would be perfect.  Camilla was perfect.  I loved her wholly and totally, with, in reverse order of proximity to the ground, my head and my heart and my libido.  On our first morning in The Lighthouse, as we stood in the ground floor lobby with our books, clothes and belongings spilling out of tea-chests and trunks around us, there was a wonderful and magical sense of standing at the threshold of an undiscovered country.  That glorious feeling of beginning-ness grew and intensified as we gradually started finding the perfect places for our possessions – as, indeed, we lined our nest.

In the principal months of our inhabitation of The Lighthouse, I discovered – to my infinite delight – that I was nowhere near as hopeless at housekeeping and DIY as everyone (including myself) had feared I might be.  I soon became adept at putting on door handles upside down, and hanging wallpaper with Polyfilla.  In no time at all, I could build flat-packed furniture in less than eight days, and I quickly had grand and ambitious plans to nail down a bit of carpet on the first floor landing and move the television into the attic bedroom.

These were the glory days, fully two years before David’s fatal illness.  At that time, I was so highly regarded at work that I was granted a munificent six-month secondment from my teaching post at the college, during which I was supposed to be conducting research for my PhD and getting set up for the rest of my life.  My career at St. Catherine’s was to be so long and prosperous, evidently, that the Principal wanted my domestic circumstances firmly established.  Initially, I filled this time with home repairs and preparations for the thesis I never get round to writing.  At home, Camilla managed our finances, and I took care of the important things, like tuning in the video and tidying the cupboard under the stairs.  I astounded myself by becoming a reasonable cook, and worked on improving my personal best for ironing shirts (a record which eventually plateaued at twenty minutes per shirt).  I claimed my new enthusiasm for practical household matters was postmodern and detached, but secretly, I adored every moment of it.  I started watching television programmes where teams of camp fops wrecked one another’s houses by turning their living-rooms into mediæval banqueting halls and Turkish bordellos.  Suddenly, I knew what a throw was when used as a noun; the difference between a sconce and wainscoting ceased to elude me; and I could confidently point out which colour was mauve – even if it was side-by-side with taupe.  I began to form opinions on upholstery, and always kept a colour chart by the bed in case I got any nocturnal urges.  I could hold my own in discussions over stencilling, and positively pore over the IKEA catalogue when Camilla was watching.  For the first time in my life, I was rubbing shoulders was plasterers, carpet fitters and feng-shui experts.  I became highly skilled at rubbing my hands and frowning at monumental home improvement tasks, sucking knowingly on my teeth with my head cocked on one side, chortling, “It’ll cost you, love,” in a Cockney accent.  I acquired a multiplying collection of tools in a durable plastic carry-case – some of which I even knew the function of.  I could tell the difference between a Philips-head screwdriver and whatever the other kind is called.  I owned a rich variety of different styles of nail, including some with crinkly edges, which a friend of Camilla’s later informed me – doubtless due to his years of do-it-yourself experience –  were called screws.

Grunting and sweating, I levered the kitchen door off its hinges and manhandled it onto the gravel outside to strip the paint off it with a lethal mixture of KY Jelly and hydrochloric acid.  Using a drill I’d borrowed, I fixed shelves to walls at daring and avant-garde angles, and put up tiles in abstract and daring patterns.  I didn’t use the drill to put up the tiles, of course: I used a non-adhesive form of gritty toothpaste, but only after using a special implement to smash them into a thousand pieces.  (Well, actually, I did briefly flirt with the idea of using the drill to put the tiles up, but had to stop when Camilla observed that I didn’t have a fucking clue what I was doing.  We argued about that, and I was forced to concede that she was fully justified in calling me a clueless bastard.)

Under such pressure, it was hardly surprising that we argued long and loud and often, although I did always ensure that I put the toilet seat down.  I did realise at this time, however, that men possess a counter offensive in the toilet seat lowering debate, which is that women rarely replace the shower-head at a level appropriate for males of average height.  Thanks to Camilla, most of my early showers in the Lighthouse began with an invigorating nipple massage.  I found arguing about trivial matters to be cleansing for the soul.  A wholesome rant about something that wasn’t important left me fatigued but warmly refreshed; going absolutely mental can be beneficial for one’s circulation and respiration.  But the best bit about arguments was always making up afterwards.  Sometimes, I think I initiated disagreements because I was subtly addicted to the fizzy, emotional rush of being subsequently forgiven, as well as the reward of an energetic session of conciliatory love-making.  In fact, I enjoyed these bouts of recently reunited screwing so much, I would end arguments as quickly as they had escalated to screaming pitch by accepting sole responsibility for whatever had caused them in the first place.  (“No, no, don’t worry about it.  It doesn’t matter; I’m just being childish.  You can buy me a birthday present next year.”)

After six months in The Lighthouse, we were proud of the eyrie we had moulded around ourselves.  We fell out periodically, but it didn’t matter.  Perversely, I got a kick out of the stomach-turning, white-knuckle roller-coaster ride of our relationship: every couple experiences peaks as well as troughs, and I vainly believed ours to be the unavoidable consequence of packing two such charismatic personalities into finite space.  I adored Camilla, and she gave the impression she was rather fond of me, too.  When she entered a room, I never ceased to buzz with a mixture of pride, excitement and adolescent embarrassment.  Thinking back now, on a good day, I would offer ten fundamental reasons why I would have lain down and died for her when we first moved into The Lighthouse…

One: I loved the fact that she had been the one to ask me on our first date.  Camilla had enrolled for the evening classes in psychology I was teaching at the college.  She had left school at sixteen, and returned as an adult to sit a couple of A-levels so that she could apply to university.  Two weeks before she sat the final examination, she had suggested we go for a drink after class.  Unromantically, my response was, “I’m sorry: I’ve just sneezed on my hand.”  She gave me a paper tissue, and despite my appearing so singularly ungallant and unsophisticated, she thought I was worth getting to know better.  Under my tutelage (or so I liked to think), she achieved quite a respectable grade, but her promotion and us finding the Lighthouse became a more attractive prospect for her than attempting to subsist in student penury.

Two: I loved the way she asked me in Spanish to kiss her.  She always accompanied this request with a smouldering, Latin-American glance that happily bridged the divide between coquettish and passionate, and I found it impossible to resist.  For a long time, I only had her word for it that kiss me was what she was saying.  She might have been telling to stick my head up a badger’s bum for all I knew, but the onomatopoeic pout of words was so lyrical and lilting, I would have kissed her anyway.  She used to tell me to fuck off in Spanish as well, but it always sounded so strange and exotic, she could’ve murdered me in a foreign language and I wouldn’t have minded.

Three: I loved it that we seemed born to sleep together.  I don’t mean this sexually: I mean it in the dreamy, eyes closed, lost in the arms of Morpheus sense.  Our sleeping forms jig-sawed with perfect compatibility.  We could even share a single bed without any irritable discomfort.  As if agoraphobic, we required only the very centre of the mattress, where we slept like child siblings in a fairy story: Camilla’s back nestled against my chest; my arm draped protectively and possessively over her hip.  Soon after dozing off, our breathing would synchronise, and we would awake next morning simultaneously, without a trace of clammy, night-time perspiration.  There were no fights over the duvet, and in the morning we would invariably be lying in the same tessellated letter V formation in which we had turned out the light.  I was very fond of listening to Camilla fall asleep.  The delicate crisp of her lips parting; her hand in mine slackening but not letting go; and the regular pant of her breathing becoming fractionally more shallow.  This sounds slushy, I know, but the little involuntary muscle spasms of her sleeping limbs made my heart melt.

Four: I loved how she hooked her hair behind her ear when it fell across her face.  This gesture was alluring, I think, because of its quintessential femininity.  If she were poised over our dining table, papers and documents spread around her, Camilla would sweep her hand over her face in a thoughtless, liquid movement to tidy stray wisps of hair behind her ears.  In the cartoon Pocahontas, there is a scene in which Captain Smith is making his way down a pier over steaming green water towards the titular heroine, who waits in a small, bobbing wooden boat.  As he gets closer, she gathers her long, black hair into her hand and scoops it over her shoulder.  She looks delightful, and this is a cartoon, for goodness’ sake, so what I am talking about?  Pocahontas would never leave her tribe for me, and I know it.

Five: I loved the fact that, when I talked, she listened.  She listened to my opinions and attitudes; she listened to my ideas and my feelings; she listened to my drunken reaffirmations; she listened to what I had to say about art and politics, and tried to remember what I’d said.  Whilst she was listening, she showed that she respected and cared about what I had to say, even though some of the things I told her must have been extraordinarily difficult to hear.  As a teacher, naturally I thought I was interesting, but Camilla’s wide-eyed attentiveness made me believe I could ramble until peace and democracy were restored to the western world.  It was the occasions when she refused to listen to me that most graphically demonstrated I had seriously erred, but I couldn’t help loving the signals she gave me by denying me the oxygen of publicity.  If I were ever excessively patronising, insulting, unreasonable or outrageous, Camilla would warn me to mend my ways with a wall of silence.  I learned from her that, sometimes, knowing when to put your fingers in your ears can be just as important as listening.

Six: Camilla remains one of the only people I’ve met prepared to stick her finger up my bottom.  It’s difficult not to love someone for that.  I’ve read that, if men do possess a G-spot, it’s located up their arses, where the flesh of the anus can be pressed against the pubic bone.  My enthusiasm for this form of intercourse started when Camilla was exploring that region during a bath together.  I had manoeuvred my hips experimentally so that she really had no choice.  (“Do you like that?” she had asked.  I’d asked her whether she was comfortable with it, to which she’d replied, “If you like it, then I like doing it for you.  Provided I don’t end up with anything unpleasant beneath my fingernails.”)  To the uninitiated, it’s an odd sensation that can be moderately painful, but welcomely intrusive and filling.  I’m not an ambassador for anal intercourse, though.  It clearly isn’t for everyone, and, apart from anything else, the number of women prepared to bugger their boyfriends is quite small.  It isn’t an easy subject to broach, either, and a person prepared to poke their finger in another’s fundament must never, under any circumstances, be asked to make breakfast in the morning.  Camilla, however, was willing to perform this most intimate of acts.  At least, if she wasn’t, she was very good at pretending she was.  It wasn’t something I demanded every time we popped between the sheets, of course – an individual very much needs to be in the mood for easing objects up their behinds.  Selfishly, I have to admit I wouldn’t be keen to root my finger into Camilla’s rectum: here is a case when it categorically is better to receive than it is to give.

Seven: I loved her ability to teach me about myself.  Until I’d met her, I’d tended to base my self-image on how I was perceived by others.  Without praise and approval, I was nothing; if I was alone and fell over in a forest and there as no-one there to hear it, I would make no sound.  I wanted my students to find my classes riveting, laugh at my jokes, and approve of my dress sense.   I thought that a hermit’s existence must be truly awful, for we are defined by our presence in the lives of others.  Many years previously, David won a writing competition with a short story in which he described a lone figure drifting unnoticed in the spaces between other people’s lives.  This character was a hoarder of knick-knacks and bric-a-brac, which he travelled to flea markets and car boot sales to acquire.  One evening, he’s riding the bus back to his dingy flat.  He’s sitting at the back, gazing sightlessly out of the window into the gloaming, when he realises something peculiar about his reflection in the glass.  What’s peculiar is that he doesn’t have a reflection.  It’s gone.  Without contact with other human beings to nourish and feed it, the essence of himself has evaporated.  He has become nothing.  Camilla showed me, however, that my sense of identity was not dependent on the recognition of others.  She refused to over-indulge me, and demonstrated that the way you behave towards your significant other is much more important than anything you could say to them.  She didn’t spoil me, but she was always there to say well done if I’d succeeded, or tell me I’d fucked up if I needed it.  Through Camilla, I saw that the unquestioning loyalty and respect of another human being is something you have to earn and work hard to preserve.  Love is not easily won, and is never sustained by sycophancy or empty promises.  Whenever I felt unsure of the way I was conducting my life, I only needed to ask myself whether Camilla loved me.  If the answer was, all things considered, yes, then I knew I remained a decent human being.  That knowledge generated a sense of well-being that came from beautifully from within.

Eight: I loved her smile.  It was a million dollar, Hollywood, light-up-a-room smile.  She had a smile bright enough to read at night by.  She had the rare gift (which I have never had) of being able to throw on a smile even when she felt terrible.  When I’m pissed off I can’t hide it, but Camilla could mask her true feelings with a wholly radiant, beaming smile.  There was more to that smile than just making the muscles work, though.  Anyone can grin wide enough to show you their fillings, but no-one can fake that genuine twinkle in the eye like she could.  She had a giggle to match it, too.  The sort of headline-grabbing giggle that cuts through extraneous noise and creates silences, like swearing in church.  When Camilla laughed – I mean, really laughed, from her soul – people turned and stared.  For some reason, she laughed most easily when she was with me, and that made my bosom swell with pride as well.

Nine: I loved the things we had in common.  We shared the same ambitions, conceits, vanities, priorities and passions.  We also shared the same jealousies, insecurities, prides, egocentricities and failings.  Our mutual obduracy led to times of rocky uncertainty, when the only means to achieve compromise was through a team of trained UN negotiators, but it also made us strong.  It made us aim for common goals, and feel mutual satisfaction over things we both felt to be important.  Our relationship even acquired its own slogan.  The first time Camilla tried to dump me, I told her a story about something I witnessed in a city somewhere in Eastern Europe, sitting in a pavement café on a seventeenth century market square.  “The sun beat relentlessly down over the tall, gabled town houses and onto the cobbles,” I explained, “and the capacious goblets of beer I had already drunk had taken me well beyond the point of feeling slightly tipsy.”  We had been arguing, but this made Camilla fall silent.  She stood in the centre of the kitchen, her hands on her hips and her jaw set stubbornly, expecting to be anything other than impressed by my poetic attempt to wheedle my way out of trouble.  Nervously, I continued, “I was watching this boy – he’d have been about two or three years old, and he was charging about the place, having a great time chasing pigeons and waving a great fist full of paper streamers in the air.  He was shrieking and laughing and grinning his little head off.”  Camilla was softening, I could tell.  “Then his mother grabbed him to wipe the trail of snot he’d exuded in his hysterical excitement.  He shuffled his feet and twitched while she did it, gasping to be off again waving his streamers about.  But when she’d finished and the boy was ready to hurtle off again, he couldn’t move.  A look of frustrated confusion crinkled his face.  He tugged at his arm, snuffling with tiny sounds of exertion, but his big sister was standing on his streamers.  He couldn’t wave them: they were anchored to the floor.”  Camilla let her hands fall to her sides, and I knew I’d been forgiven; that I was only moments away from a conciliatory embrace (and, hopefully, a shag too).  “That’s what you’re doing by ignoring me:” I concluded, “you’re standing on my streamers.”  And that was it.  Her heart broke and that became our watchword whenever one of us was in danger of spoiling any joint enterprise with cowardice, laziness or self-interest: you’re standing on my streamers.

Ten: most importantly, I loved the way she made me feel when I was with her.  When we were apart, I always got the uneasy feeling that one of us was in the wrong place.

If this list reads like the lyrics to a soppy love song, that’s because that’s how I felt. When we first arrived at The Lighthouse, our life was exactly like a soppy love song.  Each morning, in the beginning, I awoke with an unreal sense of how amazingly fortunate I was.  I would peel myself from our sleeping chevron embrace and skip down the wrought-iron spiral staircases to make breakfast, singing Disney tunes and grinning from ear-to-ear.  Camilla didn’t mind that I could be wimpy sometimes.  She didn’t mind that I wasn’t the sort of boyfriend she could watch playing rugby on a Saturday morning, nor that I didn’t have a square, rugged jaw-line.  She found my phobia of birds trapped indoors endearing rather than infuriating, and was very forgiving of my ignorance of car mechanics and electrical repairs.  She respected me because I wasn’t troubled by my uselessness with these things.  My self-esteem didn’t suffer under the knowledge that I was far from a trophy boyfriend.  She loved me for who I was, and it was totally reciprocal.  I was alarmed, therefore, when, at the start of our second month in the Lighthouse, she sought my opinion on cosmetic surgery.  “I’m thinking of having my tits done,” she said.

We were decorating the small, circular hallway.  I was teetering recklessly at the top of a stepladder, tentatively dabbing brush-fuls of emulsion at the ceiling of the stairwell.  Camilla was sitting on the base of the ladder to hold it steady.  She took her breasts in her hands and jiggled them illustratively.

“You want to have your boobs insured?” I asked.

“No, you idiot: enhanced.”  She looked at me.  “Wouldn’t you prefer it if I had a cleavage you could lose yourself in?”

I pondered her chest for a moment.  I liked it precisely the way it was, and told her so as I stretched out my paintbrush.  The ladder wobbled dangerously.  “I’m extremely fond of your breasts.  They’re your breasts.  I love you, ergo, I love your breasts.”  I looked down at her from my perch.  She was gazing up at me, her breasts still cupped in her hands.

“But if they were just a size or two bigger, you’d have more to play with, so to speak.  Imagine: a décolletage like Niagara Falls, all of your very own!”

“Are you winding me up?”

“No!  Big boobs are the fin de siècle status symbol.  Women can twist men around their lipsticks if they push a big chest in their face.  Men don’t prefer blondes: they prefer big jugs.  The bank is a male dominated environment.  Most of these men are so animal and basic that even a tiny bit of feminine guile is enough to manipulate them.”

“By feminine guile, do you mean big tits?”

“Well… yes!”

“But what if one of these Neanderthal dullard males tries to take more than you’re offering?” I said, sitting on the top rung, the paintbrush dangling between my knees.  “I acknowledge that any man short-sighted enough to allow a woman to walk all over him because he thinks he has even the smallest chance of sleeping with her deserves all he gets, but there are risks inherent to that kind of sexual politicking.  For starters, what if a man attempts to get his mucky paws on you?  What if he tries to cop a feel?  You assume your victim is stupid.  What if he is so dull, he doesn’t realise that to take the sex he isn’t actually being offered is wrong?”

Camilla bristled with wounded pride.  “I can look after myself,” she said.

I know that.  But if you’re going to use sexuality as a weapon, you have to be prepared for unpleasant consequences.  I hesitate to say it, but if the ensuing sexual harassment case went to court, I would hate for the judge to rule you’d been asking for it.”  (I drew inverted commas in the air with my free hand.)  “If you won’t take my word for it, read Camille Paglia.  Her book’s upstairs.”  I rose to my feet gingerly and mustered the courage to dab the paintbrush into another corner.  “I’ll tell you what,” I said, “you have your breasts enhanced, and I’ll have my buttocks shaped.  Or lifted to make a headrest.”

“You’re laughing at me,” Camilla said, “and you have an archaic attitude towards plastic surgery.  Breast enlargement is a simple operation that’s relatively inexpensive – and it’s reversible.  It won’t be long before minor cosmetic procedures are no more complicated or time consuming than having a tattoo or buying shoes.  You’re making a big deal of it because you assume the surgery is still dangerously in the Dark Ages.  Silicone implants don’t really explode on aeroplanes.”

“I don’t want you to have a boob job.  If you started shoving silicone pouches in them, they wouldn’t be yours anymore; they’d become the property of some surgeon who thinks he’s an artist.  I fell in love with those breasts: don’t you dare alter them in any way!”  I felt inexplicably paranoid.  Irrationally, I was afraid that, if Camilla undertook to have her body altered, she would want a similarly enhanced boyfriend to match.  On a day-to-day basis, I was quite lazy about my appearance, if not actually downright scruffy.  I wondered whether Camilla was issuing me with a warning of some kind: Smarten yourself up a bit, or else!  Stupidly, I added, “Besides, I like your flabby thighs and conical tits.”  I did all the cooking for fortnight to apologise for that parting shot.

Our first year in The Lighthouse was a happy one, and, by Christmas, we had completed enough of the decoration for Camilla to invite her family to stay.  The September before that, Camilla returned to work, and I had the house to myself during the daytime.  I worked hard on preparations for my thesis.  I intended it to be an examination of the social function of teenaged girl’s magazines.  I wanted to prove that exposure to these rags, with their advice on dating, personal cleanliness, and general growing up, gave girls a head start over boys that was distinct from essential biological maturation.  I bought more copies of Seventeen, Mizz and Sugar than is really healthy for an adult male.  I searched in vain for a boys’ equivalent that hadn’t been relegated to the gay lifestyle sections of newsagents.  Upon my return to the college after the Christmas holidays, I was to be serving as head of the social sciences department, and hoped that having something published would add invaluably to my academic kudos.  Camilla willingly read every word I wrote, and her feedback was enthusiastic and instructive.  By the time I returned to work, however, the thesis remained unfinished, and – although it was never actually forgotten – it fell shamefully into neglect.

Camilla and I enjoyed a period of wonderful honeymoon.  We sat in the window seat of the lounge watching the waves together.  We danced salsa in the living room together.  We dressed for dinners we had cooked together.  We went for long walks across the cliffs together.  We went down to the beach and made sandcastles together.  We talked and laughed and cried and fought together.  We enjoyed gymnastic, balletic sex together.  At a fund-raising jumble sale for David’s thespian cronies, we bought a set of tarot cards.  I wrapped a shawl around my head and kept the instruction booklet concealed in my lap. We had thick, drippy church candles staining the wood of our dining table and I lied about the rosy future the deck failed to foretell for us.

For her birthday, I gave Camilla an easel and oil paints.  She had always boasted about how good she had been at art at school, and she began painting, hesitantly and inexpertly at first, but with increasing alacrity.  Her favourite place to paint was on the white-painted balcony at the top of The Lighthouse.  The occasional canvases she produced began as seascapes, but evolved into fantasy scenes thick with allegory for fertility and childbirth, where fish copulated in the air above the waves, and drifts of kelp and bladderwrack squirted milky fluids from phallic protuberances.  When the weather was bad, she set her easel up beside the freestanding mirror in the bedroom and painted amateurish self-portraits with claustrophobically foreshortened perspective.  Most of these, mercifully for the art establishment, ended up being thrown in the bin.

Like all good things, however, these magical days did not last forever.  Camilla learned things about me she was unable to bear.  She tried hard to stand by me, but ultimately it proved too much for her.  At the time, I hated her for her disloyalty, but now I understand I was asking for more than any woman could realistically give their boyfriend.  Now, what I remember of our joyful times are mostly images: catching one another’s eye across the crowded room at our housewarming party; touring Spain the summer after David’s death; the dress she wore for her graduation from my psychology class.  I remember the way she fell to the floor and cried with her hands pressed into her face when she came home from work and found me curled foetal on our bed wearing it.


Still reading?  Thank you for sticking with this self-pitying, solipsistic nonsense to the end.  If curiosity gets the better of you, I have a number of short stories available to read at – none of which are about trannies or gender-benders.

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