Since the purpose of this blog is to get a wider audience for my writings, particularly those involving Jasmine Frame, I suppose I should remind followers that Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame story is available as a paperback and e-book from all booksellers. As the weeks pass I realise what a difficult job marketing a book is. For a start there are so many of us in the same position, so many hopeful writers wishing for the big publishers to come along with a book deal or those of us who have self-published jostling to get our work noticed. Another plug – I’m willing to do my talk/entertainment, Jasmine and me, anywhere (in the UK) for the chance to promote and sell a few books.
As for writing this week, well, there was a bit of the bread and butter (educational stuff), some jam (a short story for one of my writing groups) and a little cake (the episode of Blueprint below). But no real meat, that is, I didn’t work on Bodies by Design this week but I am still hoping for something other than a rejection from a publisher.
On other matters, there’s been a lot in the media about the demise of Hayley Cropper from Coronation Street. That’s one less trans character on TV. There must be room for a transsexual detective.
Blueprint: Part 20
It was dusk as Jasmine drew up outside Caroline/Geoff’s smart little house. The rain was coming down hard now and Jasmine was not looking forward to the long night-time drive home. There was no car in the driveway so Jasmine presumed that Geoff’s daughter and grandchildren had already left. She got out of the car, ran to the front door and sheltered in the small porch waiting for her ring of the doorbell to be answered.
Through the patterned glass she saw a figure come down the stairs and approach the door.
‘Oh, it’s you. You did come back,’ Caroline said as she opened the door. She was wearing a smart grey woollen dress over opaque tights and a neat auburn wig that made her look ten years younger. There was no sign of a male paunch and her dress clung to her shapely figure. There was an obvious but not obtrusive layer of foundation on her smooth face with bright red lipstick. Blue shadowed eyes peered from feminine shaped spectacles with diamante crystals on the arms.
‘I said I would. I gather your family have left,’ Jasmine said stepping into the hall.
‘Yes, not long ago but I had enough time to change back to Caroline. Come on through.’ Caroline led Jasmine into the lounge where she saw that the tea things had been cleared away and there was no sign of the whirlwind that a visit of two young boys would have undoubtedly caused. Caroline pointed to the small sofa and sat down in an armchair. Jasmine sat and carefully arranged her legs so that her skirt did not ride up.
‘You were upset when I told you earlier that Petula was dead,’ Jasmine said. She wondered if getting straight to the point might catch Caroline off-guard.
‘Yes. It was a shock,’ Caroline said straight-faced.
‘Why? Were you close?’
A hint of pink showed through Caroline’s foundation and her eyelids flickered but otherwise her face remained expressionless.
‘I suppose we were. We met regularly and got on together. But why are you asking these questions? You said she killed herself but she lives a long way from here, down south. Are you from down there?’
‘Yes, I’m from Kintbridge where Petula lived. Something or someone drove her to suicide and I want to know why.’
‘But why come here?’
‘Petula didn’t go out a lot and yet once a month she drove up here. I know she visited Betty’s until last year and now I know that she and you were friends. When did you see her last?’
‘It was in October. As you say, her monthly visit. We should have been meeting next Thursday.’
‘So you carried on meeting monthly after she stopped going to Betty’s?’
‘Why did you change the arrangements?’
‘I suppose we decided we didn’t need Betty anymore. That sounds very ungrateful; Betty provides a marvellous service.’
‘You mean that you and Petula got on so well you didn’t want Betty in the way.’
‘Well, I’m not sure it was like that. Petula and I are both careful with money and it wasn’t cheap going through Betty. We decided we could have a good time just the two of us and save some cash.’
‘But it wasn’t just the two of you was it? What about Rosalind?’
‘Oh her. She was at the last lunch we had with Betty and overheard Petula and me making our arrangements to meet separately. Petula thought it would be polite to invite her to our first lunch. She came, but it was a mistake.’
‘Well, I don’t like to sound rude, but, well, she wasn’t very good.’
‘You mean she didn’t pass as a woman very well.’
‘She made people take a second look at you and Petula, making passers-by wonder about you too.’
‘Well, yes, I suppose there was a bit of that.’
‘Rosalind was new to dressing. She wasn’t sure about herself.’
‘She needed Betty. We couldn’t help her.’
‘You ditched her.’
Caroline avoided Jasmine’s eyes.
‘We decided not to invite her again.’
Jasmine thought they had been selfish and given little thought to Rosalind’s state of mind, but it was Petula she was investigating not Rosalind.
‘So it was just you and Petula from then on.’
This wasn’t really getting anywhere, Jasmine realised, but she felt that the relationship between Caroline and Petula was important. After all, Caroline was the only person, apart from one or two members of Butterflies, who apparently knew Petula well.
‘Why do you think you and Petula got on so well?’
Caroline thought for a moment before speaking.
‘I suppose we were similar in many ways. We were similar ages and in the same business – banking. We were both married or had been – my wife was killed in a road accident five years ago. We liked the same styles so talked for hours about clothes and wigs and all the other stuff we trannies use. You understand don’t you?’
The false breasts, the substantial underwear to hide one’s manhood, the heavy foundation, yes Jasmine knew all about it.
‘But you weren’t exactly the same were you. You have a daughter and she knows about your two personas.’
A momentary expression of regret passed over Caroline’s face.
‘That’s right. My wife knew all about Caroline when she was alive. Not that she fully approved, but poor Petula just couldn’t bring herself to tell her wife.’
‘So Petula was a secret cross-dresser while I imagine you are more open about it.’
‘Well, I can’t hide Caroline anymore, and don’t want to. I spend most of my time as Caroline now. All the neighbours know. It’s just my daughter won’t accept it and won’t allow me to appear in front of the boys.’
‘While Petula had to keep her female persona hidden away in a suitcase and spent most of her life as Peter.’
‘Petula must have envied you, Caroline.’
‘Perhaps, but I envied her too.’
‘She still had her wife. They seemed to get on OK despite the secret that Petula kept from her. I miss my wife dreadfully. Still.’
‘So you shared your regrets and desires.’
‘We did. And I was very grateful to her for it. I looked forward to each visit. You must understand – you’re not full-time or fully transitioned are you?’
Jasmine was surprised. How did she know?
‘Uh, no. I’m a man at work but female most of the rest of the time. How did you guess?’
‘I’ve been a trannie for a long time and met lots of people. I can see the signs.’
‘You wear a wig. Transsexuals of your age don’t usually need to. I can see signs of a shadow on your chin so you haven’t had electrolysis yet; your voice goes deeper every now and again so you’re not used to using your female voice all the time; and you are particular about how you sit, making sure you appear feminine. It all shows that you are still practising at being a woman, you’re not doing it every moment of your life.’
Jasmine was staggered by Caroline’s assessment. It summed up exactly where she was.
‘You’re right. I’m thinking about transitioning but haven’t decided when or discussed it with my wife.’
‘But you have a wife that understands?’
‘As much as anyone can understand what being trans feels like.’
‘There you are.’
‘That explains why Petula and I got on so well. We understood each other.’
Jasmine nodded. Where did this leave her investigation? Could Caroline give any information about who would hound Petula to her death?
‘Do you have any photographs of Petula or the two of you together?’
‘Yes, I do have a few. Do you want to see them?’
Caroline stood up and crossed the room to a unit of cupboards and shelves. She opened a door and pulled out a photograph album. She flicked through the pages and then passed the open book to Jasmine.
‘These were taken on one of our jaunts back in the summer. The waiter kindly took a couple of the two of us ladies together.’
There were four pictures on the page all taken in the garden of a pub or restaurant. Two showed Caroline and Petula standing side by side by a table with flowerbeds and trees in the background. The others were individual photos of Caroline and Petula taken across the table. Petula looked very much as Jasmine remembered her from Butterflies. Together the two of them could have been sisters, cousins or two old female friends enjoying a lunch together.
Jasmine looked closely at the photos.
‘Were these taken with a digital camera?’
‘Oh no. They’re old-fashioned film. I’ve had my camera for ages, but it’s getting very difficult to find film. I think I will have to think about getting one of those digital cameras.’
‘Have you got a camera on your mobile phone?’
‘Do I? I’m not sure. I hardly ever use it. I’ve had it since before my wife died. Why? What’s all this about photos?’
Jasmine ignored Caroline’s question.
‘Did any of the others take photos using a digital camera?’
‘People you met through Betty. Rosalind for example.’
Caroline was thoughtful.
‘I think I do remember Rosalind having one of those tiny digital cameras. Why is it important? Oh, of course, there was Geraldine.’