by Mary Rawson ©
She awoke, confused about where she was. Normally when she woke, she could hear the
waves, even on a low tide. When the tide was low, she could hear the distant woooosh of
breakers on the spit. When the tide was high, the waves slapped and hissed against the concrete floodwall that ran along the sea road. The flood wall had been built after the king tide had swallowed the road and digested two houses eighty years ago.
Elsie had been six when the wave came, and she had slept through the storm that preceded the wave. Elsie had been a deep sleeper as a child and the only memory she had of that night was being woken by her father shouting very loudly.
‘Elsie, wake up!’ and then the baby had screamed and no one could have slept through that, even Elsie, the deep sleeper.
The sound of the sea had always calmed her down, because she normally woke in a panic, not because of memories of the storm, but simply because she slept deeply and dreamed deeply. Waking was always a terrible shock for Elsie. It was, she thought now, akin to being reborn: painfully, shockingly, every morning. She never got used to it. She had decided as a small child, to keep quiet about her morning waking misery, as no one else seemed to share her experience.
Elsie pulled her blanket over her head and tried to slow her breathing, tried to imagine the sound of waves, but it was hopeless. There was no wave sound and she was in a panic, halfway between dream world and waking world. Elsie felt the dull knot in her stomach tighten and erupt, spewing hot lava up through her abdomen and through her throat passage. She thought she was going to vomit, but instead she screamed and screamed and screamed.
The next thing Elsie remembered was being wheeled in to a small room, where there were women she didn’t know. She noticed she felt calmer. The stomach knot had gone, as had the hot lava. Her throat however, felt like sandpaper and when she opened her mouth and tried to speak, no words came out.
‘Where am I?’
No one looked at her.
She took a deep breath and tried again.
‘Where am I?’
A young woman with bright dyed red hair looked up from the table around which the women she didn’t know were sitting.
‘You must be Elsie’ she smiled.
‘Come and join us at the table.’ She waved to a seat next to her, and Elsie was wheeled over to the group.
Elsie decided the best policy at this moment would be to pretend everything was normal and she knew where she was and what was going on.
‘So, what are we doing?’ she enquired brightly, regaining her voice, the sandpaper retreating.
‘Valentine’s cards for Valentine’s day tomorrow Elsie’ the woman replied, showing Elsie the box on the table which contained brightly coloured paper, scissors and stickers of various sized love hearts.
‘I got a dozen red roses once from Eric’ Elsie said, and she knew that was true. She might not have known where she was or what she was doing in this place, but she definitely remembered Eric, the young man in the warehouse where she had worked as a receptionist for three years before marrying Harold.
‘I got two dozen roses from Dick three years running’ a small, rotund woman with purple hair declared.
She glared at Elsie.
Elsie decided not to reply and instead reached over to the box and pulled out a red piece of paper.
She folded the paper in half, lengthwise and then folded again. She folded again for the wings and again at the tips of the wings, for extra leverage. She could still remember how to make a paper plane and she felt proud of this. As a child in primary school, she had been the only girl to be invited on to the boy’s paper plane making team. It seemed she still had the gift.
Elsie looked over at the small, rotund woman with purple hair. She couldn’t quite remember what this woman had said, but Elsie decided there and then, she didn’t like her. She aimed her plane at the woman and let go. Her little red wonder plane sailed in a straight line in to the woman’s permed hair and lodged itself in a tight curl.
Elsie smiled at the young woman who had invited her over to the table.
‘So, what are we doing?’ she asked.
The woman with the paper plane in her hair appeared to have gone a light shade of purple in the face. She pointed her finger at Elsie and shouted
‘You are not invited to my birthday lunch tomorrow!’
Elsie decided to stay quiet, as she honestly couldn’t remember why she had thrown her paper plane at the woman, and she now felt a bit remorseful.
The young woman sitting next to Elsie stood up and clapped her hands together. She seemed to be suppressing a smile – the lines around her eyes were certainly smiling, but her mouth remained set and firm.
‘Now ladies, this is Elsie. She is new to the home, so please make her feel welcome.’
Everyone, bar the woman with the purple hair clapped. Elsie bowed her head graciously and said.
‘Thank you for coming to the show. I would like to thank the director, my fellow actors and of course, my lovers and family, for their unending support and encouragement.’
Elsie then proceeded to blow kisses at all the women at the table, except the purple haired woman who still looked the shade of a purple plum.
Later that night, Elsie tossed and turned in her narrow bed with no sea noise. She tried making a whistling sound to emulate the sea wind, which sounded quite realistic, Elsie thought. Maintaining the technique however, made her feel more awake and less sleepy.
Elsie looked at her bedside clock. It was past midnight. She peered through her blue curtains and saw the full moon casting a white glow over what appeared to be a garden area with two long wooden tables. There were rose bushes running along a wooden wall at the far end of the garden, beyond which Elsie was certain must be a road that lead to the sea.
Elsie sat up and reached for her frame. She had not cared much for the look of the cold metal contraption when the hospital physiotherapist had introduced her to it, following her humiliating fall in the shower, where she had lain for five hours before home help had come and raised the alarm. Elsie’s best friend and neighbour Pam had saved the day, by painting tiny pink and black elephants over every inch of the metal, as requested by Elsie. They had celebrated after Pam’s work, by consuming three bottles of fine red wine between them.
Elsie sighed. She yearned all of a sudden to have Pam right here, right now. Pam could have picked her up in her battered blue Ford Toyota, and they could have driven down the sea road to the wharf, where the floodwall ended. Elsie had run in to Pam at the wharves one night, a few months after Harold had died. Elsie had been smoking one of Harold’s cigars. She had been sitting at the north end of the wharf, feet dangling over the side, wrapped in Harold’s duffle coat, smoking Harold’s cigars. She even had Harold’s hip flask tucked in his coat pocket.
Although Elsie had been sobbing softly as she smoked, she had felt comforted by the sea sounds slapping the pylons and tinkling the chains that fastened the fishing boats to the wharf. Pam had been walking little Misty. She had sat down next to Elsie, helped herself to one of Harold’s cigars and had put her arm around Elsie’s quaking shoulder.
The hip flask had been shared and two more cigars had been inhaled. Elsie had found herself stroking Pam’s green corduroy thigh, then Pam was stroking Elsie’s denim thigh and then they had kissed; a cigar, whisky infused kiss that had gone on and on and on.
Elsie reached for her elephant frame and touched the two little elephants holding hands, on the front right of the frame directly under Elsie’s line of vision. It was obvious which elephant was Elsie. This little elephant sported a pink and black cap, wore lush red lipstick and had two blond plaits that cascaded down each side of her trunk. Elsie stroked the bespectacled, red haired, dungaree clad Pam elephant.
‘You could have put yourself in a frock’ she had remarked, when Pam had uncovered her fine work of frame art.
‘Butch girl elephant looks cooler’ Pam had replied and this was possibly true.
Elsie had found it almost magical the way Pam could transform herself from tom boy to glamorous frock girl. She was a gender chameleon which suited Elsie to a tee, because Elsie, as early as she could remember, had felt drawn physically and multi dimensionally, to boys, girls and the middle grounds between girls and boys.
Elsie was startled from her reverie by a gentle knock on the door.
‘Elsie, is everything ok? I’m coming in to check’
The door opened slowly and in tip-toed a tall young woman, who Elsie had never seen before.
‘Elsie, you need to get back to bed. Your son is coming tomorrow to take you out for Valentine’s Day and you need to get your beauty sleep before that.’
Elsie felt confused. This tall young woman whom Elsie had never met, seemed to know a lot about Elsie. None of her words made any sense, but Elsie decided compliance was her best policy for now. Screaming was off the cards, as her throat still hurt too much for that.
The tall young woman, drew back the blankets on Elsie’s bed, and then parted the curtains. She peered out in to the night.
‘Good night for werewolves Elsie’ she said.
A silver strip of moonlight caressed Elsie’s sheet.
‘A good night for romance’ Elsie replied, shuffling over to her narrow bed, her thumb stroking the elephant Pam on her frame.
As Elsie snuggled under her blankets, she looked up at Harold, encased in his silver frame. Harold hated having his photo taken and this one, like most of the others, didn’t do him justice.
It was just as well Harold and Elsie had gotten together because Harold and Elsie were both gender chameleons. When Elsie had come home early from her writing course to find Harold in her red stockings, black lace corset and high heeled red shoes, she had been surprised to feel desire, not revulsion, melt through her.
She had undressed him slowly, tenderly, corseted hook by corseted hook. She had licked her red lipstick off his soft, full mouth and she had licked the salty tears that settled at the corner of his eyes.
‘Why are you crying?’ she had asked, as she unfastened the final hook.
Harold had buried his face in her shoulder. He squeezed her buttocks hard.
‘Because you are so you, Elsie’ he replied in a small, choked voice.
Later they sat on the deck, watching the waves slap against the stone floodwall. It had been a full moon that night as well. Harold had handed Elsie the last cigar from his tin.
‘I’ve slept with five men in my life Elsie’ he had said.
Elsie lit the cigar and inhaled deeply.
‘I have never slept with a woman, but I have made love to three’ she had replied.
Harold chuckled deeply. He picked up a dried leaf from the geranium flower pot next to him and threw it at her. It landed next to her slippered foot.
‘How is this marriage going to work Elsie?’
Elsie kicked off her slipper and threw it at her newly-wed man. It landed like a soft blue kitten in his lap.
‘Like everything else, we make it up as we go along Harry’ she had replied.
They had made love three more times that night and thousands more times during their fifty year marriage.
‘You made me so happy Harry’ Elsie whispered, reaching for the photo.
Elsie was deeply asleep five minutes later, photo tucked between her pyjama clad thighs, which was the right place for Harold to be.
Next morning, Elsie woke in her usual deep sleep induced panic. When she failed to hear the sea and failed to recognize her room, she opened her mouth to scream, just as she had the previous morning.
She tried again.
All she managed was a wheeze of strangled air. It appeared someone had stolen her voice in the night.
She noticed something hard and cold between her thighs. She retrieved the photo of Harold and held it close to her face, the glass of the frame touching the tip of her nose.
‘How did you get down there Harry my love’ she whispered tenderly. She had no memory of the night before.
Elsie placed the photo back on the bedside table.
‘Trust you to find your way in to my bed’ she whispered, her voice still escaping her.
Elsie sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. She had forgotten about her night panic, but she was still at a loss as to what this place was, and what she was doing here.
There was a knock on Elsie’s door and an unfamiliar, cheerful voice called out
‘Morning Elsie, I’m coming in!’
In walked a red haired young woman who Elsie was sure she had never seen before.
She decided to pretend everything was normal.
‘I’ve lost my voice’ she whispered.
‘Not too much cheek coming from you today then Elsie’ the young woman laughed.
‘Let’s go, we’re all waiting for you’ the woman said, placing Elsie’s elephant frame in front of her. She crooked her hand under Elsie’s elbow and guided her magically upwards.
Later in the room with the other women Elsie didn’t know, Elsie reached for some red paper. She folded the paper in half, lengthwise and then folded again. She folded again for the wings and again at the tips of the wings, for extra leverage.
Elsie looked over at the small, rotund woman with purple hair. She couldn’t quite remember why, but Elsie decided there and then, she didn’t like her. She aimed her plane at the woman and let go. Her little red wonder plane sailed in a straight line, then curved to the left and clipped the woman’s ear.
Elsie smiled at the young woman with the red hair who had just turned around.
‘So, what are we doing?’ she asked.
Received 7 June 2014