I’m getting down to this early this week and setting it up to go live Saturday morning. We’re off to The Great Oak Bookshop in Llanidloes to promote my books and, I hope, have a chance to walk in my favourite country.
Pleased to receive my copy of the Beaumont Quarterly this week with another of my “View from the border” articles giving my slant on transgenderism. A lot of my thoughts go into the Jasmine Frame stories. At the moment the prequel I am writing is set in 2001. It may only be fourteen years ago but the world seems pretty different – since then we’ve had the Gender Recognition Act, Gay (or rather Equal) Marriage, The Equality Act to say nothing of 9/11, 7/7, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, IS, Coalition Government, The London Olympics, smart phones and tablets. How does one evoke a period from the past, recent or more distant? I’m not sure if I’ve done enough in Soft Focus to make it seem like 2001, perhaps I’ll have to do more when I revise it for publication. Anyway here is the next episode for you.
Soft Focus: Part 6
Back at the hall of residence, pushed open the door to the flat. He stepped in, beckoning Angela to follow. He hadn’t checked to see that all the blokes were decent but they didn’t tend to wander round in just their pants or less. In fact the communal room was empty but for Andy who was pouring boiling water into a mug.
‘Hi, Jim,’ Andy called. Seeing Angela his expression went vague.
‘This is Angela, Andy,’ James explained, ‘we met last night.’
Andy still looked confused. ‘Last night? At the LGBT party?’
‘Yes but I’m not a lesbian,’ Angela said, ‘And, yes, I know that James stroke Jasmine is trans.’
Andy brightened as if the complications had been sorted out. He stepped towards them holding his mug, which smelled of chicken soup, and shook Angela’s hand with his free hand. ‘Pleased to meet you. I’m glad you had a good time last night, Jim.’
‘I did,’ James replied. ‘We both did. How about you?’
Andy shuffled a bit. ‘Yeah. It was good. I made out.’
‘With those guys who had a tussle with Silla?’
Andy’s face went blank for a moment then memory kicked in. ‘Silla? Oh yeah. She’s trans.’
‘Yes. I know. I had a short chat with her last night,’ James said.
‘Did you get on OK?’ Andy asked.
‘We talked for a few minutes. Why?’
Andy shrugged. ‘I had a feeling she wouldn’t get on with someone who wasn’t a fulltime trans, uh, person.’
‘She didn’t think much of my wig,’
‘That’s what I mean.’
Angela spoke. ‘You knew her well, then?
Andy showed surprise. ‘Silla?’
Angela sighed. ‘Of course.’
‘No, I don’t. Hey! You said “knew her”. What’s happened? Why are you going on about Silla?’
James looked at Angela wondering which of them should tell Andy the news. Angela nodded towards James.
‘She’s dead,’ he said.
‘Dead?’ Disbelief showed on Andy’s face.
‘She fell from the suspension bridge last night,’ James continued.
‘Fell? You mean jumped?’
‘Jumped or pushed,’ James said. ‘I don’t think you can fall from the bridge accidentally.’
‘No…’ Andy said vacantly, shaking his head.
‘You, or rather your friends had a set to with her last night,’ Angela said. Andy looked at her as if unsure about what she was referring to and then realisation dawned.
‘Oh, that. That was nothing.’
‘I wouldn’t call it nothing,’ James said. ‘She skidded ten metres across the floor on her back. One of you must have given her a heck of shove.’
Andy waved the accusation away. ‘Oh, that was Martie. He never got on with Silla, Couldn’t stand her.’
‘They had history?’ James asked.
‘Why are you so interested in what happened to Silla?’ Andy glared at James, ‘I’m sorry she‘s dead and all that, but she was a bit of a pain. So she’s jumped off the bridge; she had issues and she decided to end it all.’
Angela spoke quietly and softly but with an edge to her voice. ‘James doesn’t think Silla killed herself.’
Andy looked from Angela to James. He searched James face for an explanation.
‘What makes you the detective? You hardly knew her?’
‘I’m trans too, don’t forget. Okay, not exactly like Silla but I’ve been out enough as Jasmine to know what people think. Perhaps I don’t fully understand what it’s like being full-time, but I’ve looked into what transitioning involves so I know what Silla was going through. When we talked she was full of what lay ahead of her. OK, she was angry about it taking so long and about how the law treats trans-people, but she was looking forward to the fight. She wasn’t suicidal.’
Andy sniffed. ‘So you’re a psychologist now, too.’
‘Believe me,’ James said, ‘I think I know what mood Silla was in last night.’
‘James is right,’ Angela said, ‘I only met Silla a couple of times and she was aggressive, angry and unembarrassable. Unless something strange happened to her last night I don’t think she was suicidal either.’
Andy screwed up his face weighing up the arguments.
‘So, Andy?’ James said, ‘What did happen last night between Silla and this Martie mate of yours?’
The door from the bedroom corridor opened and another of James’ flatmates, Gavin, shambled into the room in bare feet wearing a grubby, towelling dressing gown. It was red and had the Manchester United badge on the chest. Gavin yawned and pushed his long hair from his face.
‘What’s going on here?’ he mumbled looking at the three of them standing in a triangle. ‘Oh, it’s Andy and Jim. Not wearing a skirt then today Jim?’
James felt the muscles in his neck stiffen. ‘What do you mean by that, Gavin?’
‘You’re a tranny aren’t you? Saw you in the Union, last night, tarted up. At least, Meiron said it was you. He’s observant. Comes from his bird-watching – feathered variety. You were with a chick.’
‘That chick was me,’ Angela said.
Gavin peered at her through bloodshot eyes. ‘Oh, yeah.’ He straightened up. ‘What are you lot arguing about this early in the morning anyway.’
‘It’s mid-day,’ James said.
‘Really? As I said, early – for Saturday.’ Gavin slouched off towards the kitchen area.
James glowered at Gavin’s back then looked at Andy and Angela. ‘Let’s carry on this discussion in my room. Come on.’
‘What discussion?’ Andy asked.
James was exasperated. ‘God, are you as dozy as Gavin, Andy. I want to know what happened to Silla.’
‘Oh, right, yeah.’
Andy, still gripping his mug of soup, and Angela followed James along the corridor to the door of his room.
‘A typical bonehead,’ Angela muttered.
‘Who?’ Andy asked.
‘Gavin of course. A macho, misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, lunk.’
James was surprised at Angela’s strong feelings. ‘Oh, he’s not so bad really. He just doesn’t think.’
Angela snorted ‘As I said. Typical!’
‘It’s what we each have to face every day,’ Andy said, ‘You as a woman, me being gay, and James when he’s being Jasmine.’
‘I’m not sure which us worst,’ James said inserting his key in the lock. ‘In your face hate or the continuous, under the surface, unthinking prejudice.’ He pushed the door open and entered his room. He felt a moment’s embarrassment when he saw his unmade bed, stooped and quickly shook the duvet.
He pointed to the chair under the desk. ‘There’s only the one chair so two of us will have to sit on the bed.
Andy moved to the chair. ‘Since you’re the couple you can do that.’ He sat down.
James looked at Angela appealing for her to accept the situation.
‘It would be the same in my room,’ Angela said. ‘They’re not built for having a party.’ She sat down on the edge of the bed with her knees pushed firmly together.
James sat beside her. ‘So tell us. What was going on between Silla and this Martie guy?’
Andy shook his head in denial. ‘Not a lot, I think. Look you know enough about Silla to know that she argued with everyone, and that included all the branches of the LGBT set. I’m told it started last year when she was a first year. She kept coming to gay men’s meetings saying that since she fancied guys and still had a dick she should be allowed in. I think she did that because the Radical Women wouldn’t let her join them. A few times Martie had a go at her saying he didn’t get a hard-on for anyone who wore a skirt and that included Scots as well as trannies. But she kept on coming back for more. Last night she came and asked if one of us wanted to dance and snog or something more. Martie said get lost and gave her a shove. It was just a bit harder than he intended, that’s all.’
‘What happened afterwards?’ James asked.
‘What do you mean – nothing?’
‘Just that. I don’t remember seeing Silla again. The guys danced a bit, had a drink or several, then a few of us paired off. I left the party sometime after midnight and went back to Gio’s room.’
‘You don’t know him, Jim. He’s Italian. Or his parents were. He’s studying archaeology.’
‘You, two got a thing going?’ James wished he hadn’t asked the question as soon as the words were out of his mouth.
‘Sort of.’ Andy shrugged. James tried to imagine Andy and a dark, handsome latin guy having a snog, and more, but had to dismiss the idea from his head. Could he, James, be interested in having sex with a boy? Perhaps if he was a girl… but no, it was girls, Angela to be specific, who excited him.
‘OK.’ James hurried on, ‘so you were occupied. What about Martie? Did he go off with anyone? Was he still at the party when you left?’
Andy held his head in his hands. Seconds passed. He looked up.
‘I don’t know. I don’t remember seeing Martie when we left but by then I’d had a few and was only thinking of Gio.’
‘Does Martie have a boyfriend?’ Angela asked.
Andy shook his head. ‘No. Nothing steady. He cruises.’
Angela held up her right hand and counted off on her fingers. ‘So we don’t know when Silla left, we don’t know if Martie left on his own or with other guys, or whether he left before or after Silla.’
‘We don’t know anything at all,’ James said.
‘We do know that Martie and Silla have been getting at each other for quite a while,’ Angela said. ‘Perhaps Martie had had enough of Silla snapping at his balls.’
James eyes focussed on Angela’s. ‘You really think this Martie guy could have killed her?’
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available as e-book or paperback from all booksellers including Amazon