A bit of a rush this weak as I am at Dysprosium, the EasterCon for SF and Fantasy fans at Heathrow – no, not actually in the airport but in The Park Inn, a huge airport hotel. The main point of being here of course is to promote Evil Above the Stars but it is interesting meeting other writers and fans and aliens.
Anyhow, I have written the next episode of Soft Focus which is taking me into my memory of the layout of Bristol. Haven’t actually been there for some years but the Clifton Suspension Bridge is still there I think.
Soft Focus is the fifth prequel to Painted Ladies, the novel that introduced transsexual detective, Jasmine Frame. I have really filled in Jasmine’s back story now but there’s still room for more cases. Let me know what you think of this episode.
Soft Focus: Part 4
‘That’s seriously suicidal,’ James said imagining standing on the parapet and looking at the river far below. ‘Silla must have been drunk.’
‘I doubt it,’ Sid replied from the sofa. ‘She hardly drank at all. Used to carry a can of lager around with her for show.’
‘But why would she do it?’ James shook his head.
Tiff crossed the lounge from the kitchen area and handed James a steaming mug. ‘Who knows? Perhaps she was having problems with her sex-change.’
James thought back to his brief meeting with the transsexual the previous evening. ‘She did grumble about the delays in getting her treatment and the people at the clinic but she seemed eager to get on with it.’
‘She was very aggressive,’ Angela said sitting down beside Sid and tugging her dressing gown around herself. ‘She didn’t seem to get on with anyone – gays, lesbians.’
‘Perhaps that was it,’ Sid shrugged, ‘she just couldn’t cope with everyone and everything.’
James sipped his coffee, well the hot, black liquid that filled the mug. ‘How did you find out? It can’t have been long since Silla died. How do they know it’s her? Have they got her body out of the river?’
‘Oh, she didn’t fall in the river,’ Tiff said. ‘She jumped off the approach to the bridge, almost landed on a car on the road beneath. She had her keys and union card on her so the Police have been round looking into her room.’
‘She lived here?’ James asked.
‘Not with us. In another flat in the block with a few other year 2 girls,’ Sid answered.
‘Friends?’ James said.
‘Flat mates,’ Tiff replied. ‘I’m not sure Silla had any real friends. She usually pissed off anyone who took an interest in her.’
Angela stood up. ‘I’m going to get dressed. Then shall we go out, James?’
‘Yes, of course.’
Angela hurried out of the room. James took her place on the sofa.
‘So you fancy, Angela, then,’ Sid said. James looked at her in surprise.
‘Um, yes. How did you know?’
‘Oh, the look in your eyes and the bulge in your jeans.’
James felt his cheeks glowing. He hadn’t thought about it but the sight of Angela in her night clothes, albeit well wrapped up, had produced an effect, but he hadn’t thought it was that obvious.
‘You think you stand more chance with her as a boy than a girl?’ Tiff asked with a leery smile on her face.
‘I don’t know,’ James replied, ‘We talked for hours last night and I think we got on. She didn’t seem to mind me being dressed as a girl.’
‘She’s broad-minded even though she’s not a les,’ Sid nodded in agreement, ‘She likes you. Hardly stopped going about you since she got up this morning. You’re in there – boy, girl or both.’
James contemplated. A girl who liked him whether he was dressed as a boy or a girl? It seemed incredible. Could he be so lucky?
Angela reappeared dressed in jeans and already wearing her coat.
‘Ready, James,’ she said heading towards the entrance. She paused ‘You have finished your coffee?’
James gulped down the remaining, still hot, liquid. ‘Yes, coming. Thanks Tiff, Sid.’ He handed the mug to a grinning Sid and hurried after Angela. In moments they emerged into a bright Saturday morning. The sky was blue with fluffy clouds and the air had a much drier, warmer feel to it than the previous dreary day.
Angela grabbed James arm, and dragged him away from the block. ‘So were they giving you the good cop, bad cop routine?’
‘What?’ James replied his brain befuddled.
‘Tiff and Sid. Were they assessing you as suitable or not?’
‘Um, I don’t know. Why?’
‘Oh, they’ve taken it into their heads that I have to be looked after, protected from any boys who might coming sniffing around.’
‘Oh, I see.’
‘But they like you.’
‘Oh, do they?’
‘You’re different. You’re almost a girl.’
‘Almost?’ Was that what he wanted to be – somewhere between boy and girl, almost one but not quite the other?
‘Well that’s what you said last night?’
‘You said you didn’t think you wanted to go all the way like Silla does. Oh, I mean, did.’
‘Yes, I did say that.’ But did he mean it? Perhaps he did if it meant he got to go out with a girl like Angela.
Angela stopped mid-stride and James felt her arm tug on his. ‘Oh, I can’t believe it?’
‘What?’ James said.
‘That Silla’s dead.’
‘Did you know her well?’
‘Well, no, not really I suppose.’ They began to walk again. Angela went on, ‘But she lived in our block, so I saw her around the place. She was usually making a noise, complaining about her treatment, organising this protest or that. But I didn’t know her. She ignored me I think – a normal girl. She probably couldn’t bear to look at me. That sounds awfully conceited doesn’t it. As if I think that Silla saw me as something like what she was aiming for. I don’t mean that. Oh, I don’t know what I mean.’
James had tried to follow Angela’s monologue. ‘I think I do, Angela. You’re an attractive, sexy girl. You’re relaxed about yourself. No hang-ups about your body. The opposite of Silla.’
‘Do you think so?’
‘She knew it would be years before she got to be the woman she felt she was and should be. You were a role model, but although I only met her once I could see she had this anger with everyone because of her impatience. She had a go at me because she thought I was mocking her by not wanting to be a TS like her. She said wearing a wig made me a fraud.’
‘Do you think that was why she killed herself?’
‘What, because of me?’ James was horrified that Angela could make the suggestion.
‘No, silly! Her anger and impatience. Did that drive her to suicide?’
James considered. The thing was that despite her anger, Silla seemed full of life, full of determination to get what she wanted and what she thought other transsexual’s wanted.
‘I don’t think she was planning on killing herself when we were talking,’ James said, ‘she was talking about a campaign to get gender recognition for transsexuals. She seemed to have plans.’
‘I never thought of her as being depressed,’ Angela said, ‘angry, aggressive, aggrieved but not depressed.’
They carried on walking arm in arm while James thought about Silla.
After a few minutes, Angela spoke. ‘You know where we’re going, don’t you?’
James looked around, examining the Victorian and earlier facades. ‘Uh, no, I hadn’t thought. I thought you were leading.’
‘I wasn’t. I think we’ve both been going there, unconsciously,’ Angela said.
‘Where?’ James wasn’t sure what she meant. How could they be guiding themselves without thinking?
‘The bridge, Clifton Suspension Bridge. Where Silla died.’
James looked around again. He had a vague idea of where they were, somewhere in Clifton. Angela was right. They weren’t far from the approach to Brunel’s bridge over the Avon gorge.
‘You’re right. Well, since we’ve come this far. Let’s see where Silla supposedly jumped off.’
James shook his head. ‘I can’t believe she did it.’
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available as e-book and paperback from all booksellers including Amazon