When Doves Cry
by Natalie Nessus
Dig if you will the picture
This is the journal of Robert Amati..
Although it sounds impressive, this so called journal is just a few pages scrounged from Julietta's study and will be, I fear, all that is left of me. Calmness has descended on me, filling me, and I am no longer constantly afraid. I am, I fear, now accepting of what I am and that means more of my memories are leaving like smoke from a candle.
And I know my memories, my male memories, will vanish. Some memories, the general historical memories, will be changed so I remember them as a woman but ones that relate to my former identity will vanish, leaving me forever. The reality is that Robert Amati will die, which is slightly humorous considering the state I was in when this happened.
I am vanishing, therefore I believe it's important for me to write things down so I don't forget who I am, who I was. Will I, the person I've become, believe what I have written? Even now, I can't believe what has occurred.
My name was Robert Amati and I am, or was, the owner of The London Mirror and various other newspapers around the world. Perhaps you've read one of my newspapers and chances are, you would probably remember me as an obnoxious, multi-millionaire who controlled the media. Don't worry, I was used to it and, after a while, I didn't care what people thought of me - success was all that mattered.
I say 'remember', as Robert Amati is dead. I'm sure you remember the mystery of his death and the police investigation? It was certainly a constant topic of conversation for a while and there were a great number of people who were glad of his passing, much more glad than sad, but that's the way he was.
It is confusing because even now, in the first days of this crazy experience, I still see my old self as separate, Robert Amati as 'he' instead of 'me'.
Robert Amati was successful in business, dominating the media, but not successful at anything outside of business. He had been married three times and all marriages had ended in divorce. Julietta was his first wife and, although she was seventeen years younger than he was, I believe she was the only one who actually loved him, at least in the beginning. At first the arguments were about the time they spent apart, then about children. Julietta wanted children but Robert laughed at the idea, saying a child would infringe on his lifestyle.
"What lifestyle?" Julietta had snapped in bitter tones.
In the end, they almost hated each other. They fought constantly and it was relief for both of them to part at last.
Roberta, the second wife, was much younger than Julietta and enjoyed herself in the social pages of the newspapers until Robert became tired of her not-so-secret boyfriends.
Brittney was his third wife, almost a clone of Roberta, and Robert endured her for only seven months. No children resulted from any of these marriages, which was not surprising considering the time Robert Amati spent involved with his business.
He/I had been alone for some time and was alone again when the doctor delivered the terrible news. "I'm afraid it's terminal, Robert," he said, getting the bad news over quickly.
"How long have I got?"
Of course, I visited other doctors, I was a healthy fifty year old man, and I couldn't just die like this!
After all the tests, each doctor gave me the same bad news and I realised I was finished. It's over, the voice inside my head chanted, you are dead!
Wandering along the riverbank, looking back at the city of London, a city I had dominated for two decades, I realised it had all come to nothing at the end. I dismissed my bodyguards and chauffeur and sent them away, what was the point? I wanted to be completely alone to come to terms with my private reality and I did not want them knowing what I was up to, how desperate I was.
As I walked alone from the last specialist, an older man with long white hair caught up with me in the hall. "Commiserations," he said and I started in surprise.
"What are you talking about?" I blustered.
"Your bad news," he said gently. "You've been to three specialists and I assume you've been given terrible news. I'm sorry."
"That's life," I muttered in what I hoped was a sharp retort and turned to walk away, but he held my arm.
"There may be an opportunity. Can I buy you a coffee and explain?"
"Explain what?" I demanded. "I'm awfully busy, I'm afraid."
"I understand. I am a scientist and I may have a solution."
That stopped me and I turned to him. "You can cure my…what's wrong with me?"
"Well, in a matter of fashion," he smiled.
"How can you when you don't even know what the illness is?"
"It doesn't matter."
"Can I explain?"
What did I have to lose? Nothing, I had nothing to lose so I said yes and listened over a cup of coffee. He introduced himself as Professor Gideon Benson and explained he was a research scientist with a radical new procedure to change DNA.
"You mean rebuild a person?"
"You could get rid of the disease?"
"Completely, and I could make you younger as well."
"What's the catch?"
"I haven't tested it on humans, you'd be the first. Of course, there is a risk. That's why I been searching for someone in," he coughed delicately, "your condition."
"Let me think about it."
"What is there to think about, I'm offering you a solution."
"I'll think about it."
I spent a sleepless night coming to terms with the fact I was dying, and that I had no one to call and tell. I thought about calling Julietta but remembered I hadn't seen her for five years so I had no idea what her circumstances were.
In three months I would be no more and, as the first morning light peered weakly into my luxurious apartment, I realised I had nothing to lose. The practical and controlling part of my character took over and I began making plans.
In case the process worked, I transferred a couple of hundred thousand pounds from my account to a safety deposit box and mailed the key to a new postal box before visiting my solicitor to change my will. "Leave everything to Julietta," I said.
"Your first wife?" James was startled, as, of all the wives, she was the only one that had not demanded any money.
"Julietta Amati, you do remember her?" I snapped sarcastically.
"Of course I remember Julietta, I think she was the best thing in your life," James said gently, "but she hasn't been Amati for a long time. Julietta reverted to her maiden name almost ten years ago. She's Julietta Rossini."
"I don't care. I'm dying, James," I said to my trusted solicitor. "In three months I'll be dead and I want her to have the money. How much will it be?"
James frowned. "On paper you're a billionaire but the company owns the media outlets as well as your city apartment and your country house. You went into debt so much to fund the expansion of the empire that I'm afraid there won't be that much. After taxes and debts, I'd say your personal wealth is, at the most, a million pounds."
One million pounds, is that all I've got to show for a life of hard work? "Leave it to her. She can give it away for all I care. We never had children so I really don't care what happens to the money or the newspapers. Do you know where she's living?'
"I think it's the same place, she hasn't moved," James said as he rang for his secretary to take notes. "Robert…" James began, looking over at me, sadness flickering within his eyes.
"Save it, James," I said brusquely. "It doesn't matter, nothing matters anymore."
While waiting for the taxi that was going to deliver me to Gideon's lab, I examined myself in the mirror. A bald man in his fifties with a grey beard stared back through lost eyes. I had shed most of my dark hair in my thirties, strange because I was quite hairy on my chest, back, arms and legs. I think all of my wives had, at some stage, asked me to at least get it thinned but, of course, I had refused. I stared at myself for the last time. It didn't matter if the procedure was a success or not; either way, the man in the mirror wasn't coming back. What was in store for me I didn't know - the only certainty was death.
The doorman rang to tell me the taxi had arrived. I looked around the cold apartment once more before taking the lift down and stepped into the cab without looking back once.
The taxi driver tried to begin a conversation but I ignored him and watched the city streets slide past. My senses were suddenly acute, living on the last edge of life does that to you, and I stared at the small unimportant points of life as we glided past. All noise had dissipated, slow scenes unfolded and I watched them all; the young girl walking the family dog, a young woman meeting her lover with a vibrant kiss and hot embrace, an old man lighting a cigarette; I eagerly sucked in all of these small scenes and more as if to preserve myself with those last fleeting images of life.
Gideon showed me in and led me to a laboratory that was crammed with equipment with a strange clear tube in the middle of it all. Soothing classical music played in the background.
"Are you sure?" he asked quietly. "There are no guarantees."
"I think I'm out of guarantees, Doc," I snapped, trying to be brave in my last moments. "Money can't buy everything, I've discovered". It buys nothing, nothing at all.
"Then if you're sure, I suggest that we start immediately. Please disrobe there."
Naked, I stood in the clear tube as Gideon, dressed in a white coat, hooked me up to some sort of apparatus. "When I launch the program, your body will start to adjust, discarding some elements and rebuilding as per the data I've coded. Your hair, I mean all your hair, will fall out and then the rebuilding will begin. You will thrash around a little so I will fasten your wrists and ankles with these straps," he said, buckling them around me, "and now I will close the door to the DNA Tube."
"How does it work, Gideon?" I asked quickly, suddenly trying to stall. "Will I lose my memories?"
He smiled thinly, recognizing my sudden panic attack. "We are not altering your body dramatically so your mind will cope and retain memories. Our object is to remove the disease and make you slightly younger so you will be able to retain your life. I suspect you're an important man," Benson said a little coldly. "However, if the changes were dramatic, say regressing you to infancy, I suspect your memories would be affected. My theory suggests that if gender were altered, say a female to male, that subject would lose all their female memories. Some would become male, not instantly, but gradually."
"But, they'd be like a baby's?" I said, still stalling nervously.
"No, in the code I would imprint natural behaviors and skills, just like I am for you. You will be younger so you will walk with the gait of a younger man and you will be able to run. When was the last time you ran?"
"A long time ago," I mumbled.
"So the behavior and skill of running will be in your new code. Now," he asked gently, "should we begin?"
"How long will it take?" I asked weakly, afraid as I realised I might not even have the three months left now as the procedure might kill me.
"The process will take five to eight hours but you won't recall or experience any of it except perhaps for the loss of your hair. You will be in a state similar to a coma. Any other questions?" I shook my head and again he asked, "Shall we begin?"
I nodded and Gideon gave me an encouraging smile. "I put your code on a mini-disc last night," he said, opening a small box. "I have several but I changed yours slightly and you'll be exactly ten years younger as you requested and, of course, completely disease free. Good luck."
He flicked a switch, a hum filled the room and I immediately felt a tingle over my body. That tingle was the last thing I remember.
The room swam back into focus, the hum of the machinery was still there and I immediately sensed something was wrong. I shrieked when I looked down and saw breasts and then it registered that the voice I'd heard screaming was definitely female… and mine! Fighting rising panic, I looked around urgently for Gideon and saw him slumped over the panel of his apparatus.
"Gideon!" I screamed out in an exotic voice, and it was a strange sensation to hear a female voice shout the words I had formed. I pulled against the straps binding me and saw that they were now very loose around my wrists. I managed to pull free, the strange sensation of my breasts moving making me feel even more frightened.
When I bent to free my ankles, I saw the legs of a woman. They were now my legs, and I also noticed the floor of the DNA Tube was covered in hair.
Pushing against the door, I managed to get out and rushed over to Gideon. "Gideon!" I demanded, shaking him. "What have you done?"
He moved suddenly and fell back, his eyes wide and glassy, staring at the ceiling. I knew he was dead, possibly from a sudden heart attack. I ejected the disc and saw written on it was 'Female, sixteen years'. "He put the wrong disc in," I whispered, fighting the sudden urge to cry. My mind raced. Should I call an ambulance? No, how do I explain me, I have no proof, no identification, nothing!
Frantically, I found my clothes and pulled the shirt on. It swam on me - further evidence of how small I was compared to the six foot six man I had once been.
"I can't wear that," I cried in my high female voice, throwing it away. At last, a lab coat, and it was a small one, perhaps a woman's, and I slipped it on, buttoning it up. As I bent down to fasten it, my hair again brushed around my face and I felt very sick in the pit of my stomach. I was suddenly wracked with pain and bending over, I clutched my stomach as my body attempted to vomit, the heaving sending more spasms of pain through me.
At last I could stand and, after rummaging through my old clothes, my fingernails catching on threads, I took my wallet and keys and dropped them into the pocket of my lab coat.
The hum of the machinery suddenly grew louder and I saw the apparatus was shaking, rocking from side to side. I have to get out of here, I thought and desperately ran to the door. No keys! Forcing myself to do it, I looked through Gideon's pockets, constantly brushing my dark hair out of my eyes, and found a ring of keys. As the machinery rocked and rattled, I tried the keys in the door. At last, it opened and I ran, barefoot, out into the car park. It was surreal, my breasts were moving as if they had a mind of their own, and the dark hair that reached below my bottom was brushing against me, constantly moving around, I could consciously feel it brushing against my back and bottom. Which car is his? I looked down at the keys and identified a BMW key and walked slowly down the line of cars. It was dark and I felt very vulnerable and frightened, my mind spinning with wild voices.
You're a woman alone in a car park, look out!
No, I'm not, I'm a man! I'm a man!
I found a black BMW and pushed the button on the key. The car beeped, its doors unlocking with a click, and the interior light came on. I felt like cheering with relief.
I leapt in thankfully and unconsciously locked the doors behind me. I had to move the seats forward a long way and lower the steering wheel but at last I could get away. Driving slowly from the car park, there was a huge explosion behind me and I just knew the laboratory was no more.
"Goodbye, Gideon," I whispered, driving onto the street and I suddenly realised I was crying.
What is happening to me? Where do I go?
The only identification I had was that of a man called Robert Amati. Noticing the disc on the passenger seat where I had thrown it, I again saw 'Female, sixteen years' on the label in the passing streetlights.
I don't even have a license to drive, I realised, and I probably don't even look old enough to have a driver's license. I have to get off the road and out of this car! Technically, it's been stolen and I have another person's wallet with me. The police would see that as clear evidence I was a thief!
No identification, no records, nothing, and I began to panic at the thought of being thrown in a jail somewhere or, worse, in an insane asylum!
Everything was strange - my body, the way everything felt, and even the way the world looked to me. Not only was I seeing everything from a different perspective but my eyes felt different, too. The steering wheel seemed so large and bulky and I felt so small.
I was still crying when I realised I'd driven to Julietta's townhouse. I turned back and parked the car several blocks away. Scooping up the disc, I left the car unlocked with the keys in it and ran through the streets. With some luck, the car would be stolen quickly. I ran up the steps, my bare feet cold in the puddles, and rang the doorbell, praying she would be home. It took awhile, she must have been asleep, but a light came on and I shrank back.
"Yes? Who is it?" Julietta's voice was crisp and detached through the intercom.
"Julietta," I said in that strange voice that was now mine. "Please help me."
"Who is it?" Julietta asked again and I detected concern in her voice, although she was undoubtedly suspicious.
"Please, Julietta," I pleaded, "you're the only one that can help me. Please!"
The door opened a little and Julietta peered out over the chain. "Who are you? How do you know my name?" Her eyes traveled over me as I shivered in the lab coat and she looked warily up and down the street. "Have you been attacked? Do you want me to call the police, an ambulance?"
My arms were clenched in front of me, my long fingernails digging into my palms, and I was now shaking from the cold and the terror. "Please," I begged again. A deepening sickness swam up and I clutched my stomach again and then the lights went out.
When I came around I was lying on her sofa and Julietta, in a dressing gown, was looking down at me with concern. "You fainted," she said reassuringly. "Take a sip," she said, offering a glass of water. "What's your name?" she asked as I sipped the water.
"I don't really have one," I whispered and her eyebrows shot up.
"No? Can't remember? And what are you doing running around in just that thin coat." She smiled at my reaction. "I carried you in, half dragged you really, so it was obvious you're naked except for that coat."
My head spun as I struggled up. "Here, let me help you," Julietta said, lifting me into a seated position.
I smoothed the lab coat down over my knees and cleared my throat. "Do you have a mirror?" I asked, voices still murmuring in my head.
"Of course." She opened her purse and handed me a compact mirror.
A dark haired young woman stared back at me, shock in her dark eyes. I touched my new pouting lips and the reflection did the same. Her hair was really long, down past her shoulders, I almost sat on it, and I shook my head, feeling the hair move.
"Are you ok?"
She won't believe me!
Putting the mirror down, I took a deep breath and said slowly, "I'm going to tell you something and I want you to promise you won't interrupt until I finish, no matter how weird it sounds."
Julietta nodded slowly. "All right."
So I told her, told her everything, and did not leave out any details.
I sat silently waiting for her verdict.
"So," she said after a long time, "you're Robert?" I nodded, my hair moving again and falling across my face, strands sticking to the corner of my mouth. "Really Robert? You're now a woman and you can't change back?" I nodded again while staring at my long fingernails and small hands. "Impossible."
"I told you it was weird," I said softly. Don't cry again, I silently told myself, not again!
Men don't cry!
I'm not a man.
Yes, you are!
"Where did we get married?"
"London," I said softly, eyes still down. "St. James' church."
"Honeymoon, where did we go?"
"We didn't have a honeymoon, you wanted to go to Paris but I wanted to go back to work. So, no honeymoon."
"What's my sister's name?"
"Madolana. She died in a car accident a long time ago."
Julietta stared at me, her face pale, and then suddenly stood. "I'll put the kettle on."
Julietta told me later that I was asleep on the sofa when she returned so she covered me, turned off the light and left me. My dreams were strange, someone was chasing me and I was chasing someone.
Animals strike curious poses
I woke early with a scream, totally disorientated and it took a few minutes before I remembered where I was and what I had become. It wasn't a dream, the nightmare was still with me - for that's what I thought it was - and I was still in this crazy body.
With my heart pounding, I raised my hand to stare at the delicate shape, the thin wrist and soft skin, the extremely long fingernails. I was a woman, it was true!
"Are you ok?" Julietta asked, rushing from her room to sit beside me, one arm around my shaking shoulders.
I buried my face against her, trying to control my body and my mind, fighting the urge to sob my heart out. "You're trembling," Julietta said, stroking my hair, arranging it over my back.
Finally I regained control and pushed back from her. A flickering smile was all I could muster. "Good morning," she said with a forced smile and I tried weakly to smile back. "Are you better?"
"I think so," I said in a small voice.
I am so scared.
"Let's get you some warm clothes." Wrapping the blanket around me, I followed her into her room and she rummaged through her wardrobe. "I have some clothes that my niece left here last year, she doesn't want them and they should fit you." Julietta laughed self-consciously. "I never throw anything away. Would like a shower?"
I looked past her into the bathroom. "I'd love a bath," I said and Julietta looked at me in surprise. "If that's all right?"
"A bath? Where did that come from?" I knew what she meant, I – Robert - hated baths. I'd always said they were a waste of time but now all I wanted to do was soak in suds.
"I don't know."
"Is there something you want to tell me?" Julietta stared at me, eyes narrowed and arms folded.
I was puzzled and looked up at her. "What do you mean?"
"Look, if you were in trouble and needed a place to stay, fine! But the joke has gone on long enough. I don't know how you got those details but…"
"It's true, Julietta," I protested and to my horror, began to cry again. "It's true! Please believe me. How could I make this up?"
Julietta shrugged. "Whatever."
She led the way went into the bathroom, began running the bath and I could tell she was angry. When she stood up, I was staring at myself in the mirror, and a young dark haired young woman, incredibly long hair tousled by sleep, stared back. Julietta watched me and I guess she saw the pain and the confusion mixed with terror on my face. Smiling softly, she stood beside me and put her hand on my shoulder. Julietta had always been tall for a woman and now she was taller than me, which was a decidedly strange feeling. Suddenly, she bent forward to stare at my reflection, examining me, and then looked me over before saying; "Your fingernails are incredibly long, almost dangerous. Let me clip them a little and then we can get a manicure later."
I felt her eyes on me as she clipped my fingernails and I smiled weakly. "That's better, I'll let you do your toenails. Enjoy your bath."
When the door closed behind her, I slipped the blanket and the wrinkled lab coat off and cautiously examined my new body. It was like watching an old movie as the images flickered before my eyes and within my mind. Dark hair and eyes, olive complexion, medium sized young breasts, abundant dark pubic hair, and shapely legs. As I turned sideways to get another view, I realised I was clinically examining the body of a naked woman and felt no sexual desire at all.
I used a small hand mirror so I could examine my genitalia within the forest of pubic hair and the sensations were definitely foreign but at the same time, not so. It was as if I was remembering the plot of an old movie, one I had forgotten but it was now slowly returning, piece by piece. Even using the toilet was the same. One part of me thought it was weird and yet another part of me was comfortable and performed automatically.
I stared at my face, my new face, the face of a strange woman and my stomach churned again.
I'm a man, I whispered, I'm Robert Amati!
No, you're not!
The bath was glorious and I soaked for as long as I could, the wash cloth spread over my breasts, before the water began to turn cold. Julietta knocked on the door and opened it as I was wrapping a towel around my body.
"Much, thank you, Julietta."
She had laid out a white bra and plain cotton knickers, a denim skirt and a white sleeveless top. "I tried to find jeans but there aren't any that would fit, mine would be too big and you'd be tripping over the legs. Are you okay about wearing a skirt?"
"I have to be, I guess," I said carefully. "I'll pretend it's a kilt."
She smiled at my weak joke and I dropped the towel to dress. The knickers fitted but the bra didn't, my breasts were too large for it. "You're probably a little larger than Sharon," Julietta said after struggling to fit it.
Through the thick fog that was moving through my brain, I still knew what she was doing. "You're testing me again. Your niece's name is Gina," I corrected her sullenly.
Julietta acknowledged my point with a wry smile and began rummaging in the wardrobe again, producing a plain white bra. "I'm bigger than Gina, she is quite small, let's see if that fits if I pull the straps in." It did after adjusting the straps some more and she watched as I struggled to fasten it. "Let me help," Julietta said. "Are you hungry?" Julietta asked, zipping the skirt for me.
You're wearing a bra! What are you doing?
I need a bra.
We sipped tea, munched on toast and Julietta started to speak and then laughed. "I can't call you Robert, what name would you like to use?"
"I don't know, anything, but definitely not Roberta!" We both laughed, as Roberta was of course the name of Robert's – my – second wife.
"I guess not," Julietta laughed. "So, which name?"
"I don't know. You choose," I said with a sad smile. What does it matter?
She thought for a moment."Pia, you look like a Pia."
Pia was Julietta's mother's name. "Then Pia it is." I put the cup down. What does it matter, a harsh voice screamed in my ear, the world will just call you FREAK!
"Pia," she said, using the new name for the first time. "Does it feel strange?" she asked after moment.
"Being a woman?" I sighed. "It does, it's weird. Everything looks different, colours are different for God's sake, everything feels different, it's a nightmare," I finished, bravely trying to stop crying. "If I could change back, I would."
"But you're healthy now, the disease is gone?"
"I don't know, I'm hoping it has. I just want to be me again."
"But you can't change back, can you?" Julietta gently reminded me and I wondered if she was beginning to believe me.
"No," I said, tears beginning to start again. "I can't and I cry all the time, I can't stand it," I sniffled."
Julietta patted my hand and began to clear the table while I sat still, staring down at this strange body, wondering what I was going to do, how was I going to survive.
"You can stay in the guest bedroom until we get everything sorted out," Julietta said later.
"I can stay here for a while?" Thank God! Where else would I go? I knew they wouldn't let me back into my apartment and, the office would laugh at me and probably have me locked away if I claimed to be 'me'.
"For a few days," Julietta said, looking away. "I work from home so it's easy but," she smiled, "you know that."
It was another testing question. "Yes, you work as a research consultant for government agencies. Whatever you do, it's never been clear, although you said you were involved in organisational behaviour studies or something like that."
I suddenly felt strange again, the spasms hit my stomach and I urgently bent over, face contorted as I fought against the pain. The room was spinning, ceiling lights dancing in blurred vision, my entire body throbbing before I thankfully slipped into darkness.
When I opened my eyes, Julietta was staring down at me, her own eyes wide with concern. "Pia, are you alright?"
"Pia?' I tried to look around. I was on a bed, probably the guest bedroom, and my hair was in my eyes again as I moved. "Yes, " I croaked, "I think so. What happened?" I asked, trying to remember but my mind was like Swiss cheese, some pieces of data seemed to have fallen away.
"You fainted again. I should get a doctor," she added worriedly.
"No! No doctor, please, no doctor. I just need sleep, I think."
Julietta smiled, absently stroking my hair. "You're probably right, you've been through a lot. Sleep for a while."
I rolled on to my side, sleep beckoning me. "No doctor," I said sleepily, "remember you promised, no doctor."
"No doctor, Pia," she assured and I fell immediately to sleep.
Alone in a world that's so cold
A man sat alone on a bentwood chair in a white room, his hands on his knees, his eyes wide, round and staring at a window. Through the glass, a young girl ran down a green hill, leaves rustling under a cloud streaked blue sky, a swing dangling from a wizened branch.
Slowly, the flesh from his hands began to peel, slipping away into the air and floating through the window, piece by piece, layer by layer until blood stained bone remained.
The girl stood next to the swing, hand resting on the rope, gently pushing it in the breeze and smiled through the window.
I woke again with a scream; my brain frying with the nightmare and Julietta was holding my shaking body as I attempted to calm down. "Shhh," she whispered, rocking me, "it's all right, you've had another bad dream."
Save me, God, if you exist! Save me from this nightmare!
"Where am I?" I muttered, still in the grip of the nightmare. "Who am I?"
"You're okay, Pia," Julietta whispered, gently rocking me until I relaxed.
The girl stood next to the swing, hand resting on the rope, gently pushing it in the breeze and smiled through the window.
Finally, my heart returned to normal rhythm. I was ok and smiled weakly at her. "I'm sorry," I apologised.
"No need, you've been asleep for a long time. It's Sunday morning."
"I slept a day, a whole day?"
Julietta nodded and I saw I was dressed in large pink pyjamas. "I changed you when I realised you weren't waking up. It was like changing a dead person. I was really worried."
"But you didn't call a doctor?" No doctors, please!
Julietta slowly shook her head. "No, I didn't. I promised. Hungry?"
Another breakfast and I managed to keep it down; my stomach wasn't churning as much. I seem to eat nothing but breakfast, I can't endure a day in this body. A trip to the bathroom and I was like a sleepwalker, subconsciously using the toilet, washing my hands and half-heartedly glancing at my reflection in the mirror.
You're turning into a real girl, aren't you? Didn't even think about it when you sat down!
Leave me alone!
Julietta left me in front of the television blankly staring at some stupid show as she worked in her study. As time wore on, despite myself, I began to become interested in the program. It was some sort of serial, history of a family or something. The relationships were easy to work out, fascinating in detail, and I began to become involved with the relationships of the main characters. I was disappointed when it finally ended. Then a mini-movie commenced and I was soon immersed in it, working out the relationships and trying to guess what was really going on behind the smiles and the words. That was how I spent my first real morning as a girl, dressed in ill-fitting pink pyjamas, watching television and I struggled to remember the last time I had watched television for pleasure or relaxation.
Julietta returned and smiled when she saw me frowning at the screen while I was watching a well-known serial. "What's wrong?'
"That Melanie is such a bitch!"
"I know," Julietta smiled. "Lunch?"
"Okay. Can I help?"
Julietta stared at me. "If you want, that would be nice."
"Alright," I said, getting off the couch, "but you'll have to show me what to do."
We had fun, I admit it, talking and laughing as we made sandwiches. Every now and again, Julietta would glance at me and I suspected she was still making up her mind about me but I also saw concern within those dark eyes of hers. I also suspected she was steering clear of subjects that may alarm me and cause what she was now calling my 'attacks'.
I was explaining what happened in the first program and Julietta was laughing when I described one of the main characters and what she wore.
"What are you laughing at?" I asked crossly, taking plates from the cupboard. "She murdered her husband!"
"I know, I'm sorry," Julietta laughed, "but you remember everything she wore, it's a very girl thing to do."
"Oh," I said softly putting the plates on the table. Is my mind turning into a woman's as well?
We ate silently until Julietta asked, "Why are you so afraid of doctors?"
I shifted uneasily, the hair again reminding me what I had become. "I don't want them to find out what I am," I said softly, eyes down, staring at my half-eaten sandwich.
"What you are?"
Warmth shone in her eyes and she quickly stood up to hug me. "You're not a freak, Pia, definitely not a freak."
"I am," I said brokenly. "A man who is a woman, alone because no one in his or her right mind would believe me.
"Pia, where was I born?" Julietta sat down and she appeared very business like.
I looked up from sandwich. She's still not convinced and who could blame her? "You were born in Milan," I sighed. "Your mother is Italian and she was visiting relatives at the time."
That's why Robert was attracted to you, you're both of Italian descent.
Don't you mean 'you'?
Leave me alone!
Julietta nodded. "My mother died last year," she said quietly.
"Oh." I put the sandwich down. "I'm so sorry, Julietta, I didn't know."
"They wondered where you were, at the funeral, I mean, Robert," she said, her eyes filling but smiling. "Mum always liked you, liked Robert, even after the divorce." Without thinking, I quickly went to her and hugged her.
"I'm sorry," I said softly. "I'm beginning to dislike Robert very much."
"Don't, he was okay."
Was okay? I smiled weakly, sitting down again and she nodded firmly, as if she had just made a decision. "Okay, I believe you," Julietta announced, "I believe your story."
"You do?" She nodded and began to munch her sandwich. "But," I said fumbling for words, excited that someone else would believe me, "Why? How?"
Julietta grinned. "Okay, you do know stuff about me that no one else knows but you could have found that out somehow. I know the all information is out there; you just have to know where to look and how to put it together. It was the combination of the things you knew and the other things I saw when you were taking a bath."
Bath? I was puzzled and asked, "What do you mean?"
Julietta put down her sandwich and began to tick off her points on her fingers. "One, your hair looks like it's never been cut or styled and it reaches below your bottom for goodness sake. No sixteen year old girl would have gone through her life without experimenting with hairstyles."
I reached out and grabbed a handful of my hair and realised she was right. "It is rather long," I said weakly.
"Too long!" Julietta said firmly, "like it's grown wild. Two," her finger ticked off another point, "your ears have never been pierced and your eyebrows are a forest. No tweezers have ventured there, ever!" I laughed at her serious expression and touched my eyebrows as she continued. "Your legs and your armpits are hairy, really hairy," she said with a mock serious expression, making me laugh aloud. "And I don't want to discuss the impossibility of a girl of your dark colouring getting through life wearing swimsuits with your pubic hair!" She wriggled her eyebrows and I nearly choked with laughter. "And let's not forget the long fingernails and toenails. Let's face it, Pia, you appear just a little primitive. It could be a nice look, many older women comfortable with themselves may choose it and I admire them, but a teenage girl would have tried to change at least one of those things."
"I suppose," I said with a smile. "Thank you," I said after a moment, "thank you for believing me."
"I didn't want to," Julietta said a little sadly, "but the evidence mounts up."
I suddenly felt good about everything; perhaps it was knowing I was no longer alone to face this nightmare. Later, when I completed my journal for the day, I reflected on that feeling. I was very fortunate in choosing to run to Julietta, I wrote later, the outcome could have been dramatically different if I had chosen anywhere else.
I began clearing the table while Julietta watched in amazement.
Humming to myself, I washed up, stopping sometimes to catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror or on a glass. Other times, I would just stop what I was doing and stare at my hands and, looking down at the basin, I couldn't ignore my breasts. The bra helped, although I hated wearing it and hated the tightness of it.
Julietta was at her computer in her study when I finished. "You've cleaned up? Thank you."
"That's okay, I kind of enjoyed helping out," I added sheepishly.
"I've checked out the disc you had, hope you don't mind?" I shook my head and she continued, "It has weird code on it so I'm guessing it's the code to change the DNA but there's no machine to use it in so that's useless. There was nothing else on the disc. I've been doing some research on Professor Gideon Benson. He's published a lot of papers on his theories. None of them have been accepted I'm afraid, but they make interesting reading. In his theories, he predicts where there would be drastic changes; exhaustion and mental turmoil would be expected for a few days after the rebuilding process. We have to remember that your body was rebuilt in a short time and all the changes that would have occurred at a much slower pace over sixteen years, are happening at once. But, your tiredness and the other things should disappear soon, so that's good news."
"But there is bad news?"
"I'm afraid so," Julietta said quietly and I stood in the doorway waiting.
"I'm going to lose my memories," I said woodenly. "He said something about it."
"The femaleness, if there is such a word, will gradually take over and the male memories will eventually go or be changed, probably a combination. It could be fast or it could be slow according to his theories, but they will go."
"I feel them going every moment," I said quietly, smoothing my skirt underneath me as I sat down.
Julietta saw the gesture and, concerned, asked, "Does it worry you, losing the male part of you?"
"What choice do I have?" I asked bitterly and then remembered how comfortable I was when I just relaxed and became the person I was now, instead of fighting. "The male was going to die anyway, I mean I was going to die! I guess I have to accept the new me, I have no choice," I said bitterly, "I can't stop any of this!" Julietta nodded and it suddenly became too much for me, the tears just flooding my face. "I'm just so frightened, what am I going to do? How am I going to live?"
Julietta immediately embraced me and comforted me. "It'll all work out Pia, it will, I promise." Sniffing, I dried my eyes. "In the meantime, you can stay here for as long as you like."
"Can I?" Relief swept through me and Julietta smiled.
"Yes, you can. We'll have to get you some clothes so you can live, we must be as normal as possible."
"Normal?" I said, still sniffling. "Can I ever be normal?"
"Of course," Julietta said firmly. "You are normal now, remember that. Now, do you feel like shopping?"
"Sounds great," I said with a smile and laughed when Julietta looked at me in amazement. "It does, weird as it sounds, it does sound great but," I said suddenly, "I can't go looking like this, can I?"
"No," Julietta said seriously. "I think you need to get some stuff fixed. Do you want to?"
"You will have to go to a hairdresser to get your hair cut and styled, maybe some waxing," she said, warily watching me. "So you'll blend in."
A salon, my mind shrieked, a woman's beauty salon! "Will you be there with me?" I asked quietly and Julietta smiled.
"Then, I guess I should, if you think it's a good idea," I added hopefully.
"I do," she said firmly, "you'll have to sooner or later." Julietta smiled warmly. "We all do it, Pia, it's life."
I took a deep breath and then sighed. "Ok, let's do it."
This is what it sounds like
Julietta rang her friend Vicky who owned a salon and she agreed to stay open after lunch to help. I noticed that Julietta didn't completely tell her what was required so it was a shock when she saw me. I was wearing the same clothes with old sneakers so I wasn't a picture of glamour.
I watched as Julietta and Vicky hugged, then Vicky turned to look at me with professional eye, an eye that was immediately horrified. "Oh," she said in a small voice, "you weren't kidding."
"Can you help?" Julietta asked softly while I shrank in a corner. "She needs help."
Vicky seized Julietta's arm and dragged her to the counter, away from me but I could still hear them. 'You are kidding! I can't do all that in just an hour!"
"Vicky," Julietta said firmly, "she needs help and I need that favour you said you would do if ever I asked. Well, I'm asking."
Vicky stared at me, then back at Julietta and then smiled. "I owe you, Julie, I do." Vicky sighed deeply. "Okay, this is going to take all afternoon and you're going to have to help me. Let me change some appointments and we'll get into it."
Later, when she was cutting my hair, Vicky exclaimed, "I can't believe this hair! It's so healthy, there's no shampoo or conditioner residue and no split ends. Amazing!"
My hair was cut to my shoulders, styled, and a wave was put through it. When I finally looked at myself in the mirror, I couldn't believe it; a beautiful young woman stared back.
"Now," Vicky said firmly, "in a moment the dreaded waxing but first, those eyebrows."
My eyes were stinging after my eyebrows had been thinned but began to water and then became real tears while the waxing took place. Julietta gripped my hand and I gritted my teeth, especially during the bikini wax.
"What about her ears?" Vicky asked Julietta. "I could pierce them and put in sleepers until she gets earrings?" Julietta looked at me and, after a moment, I nodded slowly.
It was a relief to sit back while I had a manicure and a pedicure. Vicki had called a friend in, Mary, who worked on my fingers and toes while Julietta and Vicki cleaned up.
Tingling and stinging all over, feeling strangely free now my hair was shorter and Vicky, sipping coffee, told me some make-up tips as she watched. Finally, she put her coffee down and applied a red lipstick to my lips.
I tasted the lipstick and looked in the mirror. "You are gorgeous, Pia," Vicky said, smiling at me. "She has beautiful dark eyes like yours Julietta."
Julietta stood behind me, arm resting on my shoulder and I saw her smile in the reflection. "Yes, she does, doesn't she?" Julietta said.
"Well," Vicki said, lighting a cigarette, "that's it."
"Thanks, love," Julietta said, embracing Vicki. "Thanks for all of this."
"It's ok, you were there for me so it's my turn." Vicki smiled at me. "She's turned out well, you'll be beating the boys off with a cricket bat."
"Yes," Julietta said slowly, staring at me, "I suppose I will."
That night we cooked together. Well, I peeled vegetables while Julietta cooked and we chatted lightly, talking about clothes, what I should buy and how to look after my hair. It was light conversation and I guessed Julietta was attempting to steer me away from the reality of my situation, to help me to relax.
She laughed when I grimaced a little when I sat down. "Stings?"
"Yes, a little and I'm glad it's over."
"Over?" Julietta laughed. "You'll have to go back for more waxing in a month or so. It's a way of life, my dear."
We watched a movie on DVD, a romantic comedy, and we were both sniffling at the end. As I washed my face, I stared at the new me in the mirror. A girl in pink pyjamas, a girl who was once a man! But, deep down, it wasn't bothering me as much and I was struggling to remember my male childhood, another sign that the memories were draining from me. That night, before going to sleep, I wrote in the growing number of pages that were becoming my journal, At first I hated this but now I'm beginning to see a new world and, at least, I'm alive, alive with a new life! Thank you, Julietta, thank you so much.
Even doves have pride
The girl stood next to the swing, hand resting on the rope, gently pushing it in the breeze and smiled through the window.
I woke in the middle of the night in a wave of panic, crying and shaking. "Shh," Julietta whispered in my ear as she held me, stroking my hair. I felt her slide into bed, holding me close and, reassured, I slipped back into sleep.
The next morning, I woke without a nightmare and I rubbed my eyes as Julietta smiled at me. She had obviously stayed the night in my bed with me. "Sleep well?"
"Yes," I said sleepily and spontaneously kissed her cheek. "Thank you."
Julietta appeared a little embarrassed touched her cheek and said, "You're welcome. A cup of tea and toast?"
I sat at the table in my pyjamas buttering toast while Julietta, in her dressing gown, made a pot of tea. The radio was playing soft music and I felt at home, peaceful.
"Pia, did you ask Gideon to change you to a woman?" Julietta asked suddenly.
"No, of course not."
"What did you ask for then?"
"He was supposed to remove the disease and make me about ten years younger. I wanted to keep my business; I was just going to tell everyone I had cosmetic surgery. Why?"
"It's just that, you seem so natural, almost comfortable."
"I suppose I am," I said quietly, "it must be the memory thing we spoke about." It was true, I thought, I am becoming more comfortable and I'm thinking of my former self as Robert, not as me, as if I was another person. I suppose in a way, I lose a little of me every day.
Julietta patted my arm and poured the tea. "Are you ready for shopping now?"
"Yes, really," I said. The truth was, I realised, and I was looking forward to it. "I can pay you back," I said. She was about to protest so I added, "I have money set aside in a safety deposit box, I arranged it before I went to Gideon's, so I can pay you back when the key I mailed gets there."
"Now, that sounds like Robert," Julietta said with a smile.
Julietta lent me a coat and we caught a taxi to the department store and spent the morning shopping for clothes, cosmetics and other items.
It was a weird experience but, at the same time, I loved it and gave myself over to it. Whenever I found a top or a skirt that I thought was perfect, I felt an emotional surge. "Look at this," I said excitedly to Julietta who smiled.
"Lovely colour, perfect for you."
The older woman who took my measurements for the bras smiled at Julietta as she paid. "Your daughter has your eyes." Julietta opened her mouth, glanced at me and back at the woman but before she could say anything the woman asked me, "What's your name, dear?"
"A beautiful name," she said as she wrapped our purchases.
"It was my grandmother's name," I said softly and Julietta stared at me.
"There you go, ladies," the shop assistant said, handing us both carry bags crammed with the parcels. "Enjoy the rest of your day."
"Why did you say that?" Julietta asked as we walked through the perfume section.
"I don't know, it just came to me and it just seemed right." I looked at her anxiously and Julietta smiled.
"It was perfect," she said softly.
It was when we were taking a break and having coffee in a cafe that we saw the newspaper. It was on another table and carried details of the explosion. "Police fear that at least two people were killed in the explosion," Julietta read. "Two people?"
"There was no one else there." I shook my head. "I don't understand."
Julietta picked the newspaper up. "The body of Gideon Benson has been identified but the police have yet to identify other remains found at the scene." Julietta to read more and then peered at me.
"It's just newspapers," I said stirring the coffee.
"It's your newspaper, Pia," Julietta said, tapping the newspaper with her finger.
My newspaper? "Not any more," I said softly and smiled, feeling my eyes fill. "Shit!" I said softly, "I'm crying again!"
Julietta reached over and squeezed my hand. "It doesn't matter, cry as much as you need to."
I wiped my eyes and Julietta folded the newspaper, putting it on the spare seat at our table. "Pia, when I was researching Benson, I discovered that the newspapers, Robert's newspapers, ridiculed him. Did you know that?"
"No, I didn't. What do you mean?"
"They made a laughing stock of him. Do you think what he did was revenge?"
Revenge? Benson planned this? My mind whirled with the concept. He hated me and planned to do this? "You think he did this to me on purpose?"
Julietta shrugged. "Maybe, perhaps he was just going to teach you a lesson but the excitement was too much and he had a fatal heart attack or was electrocuted, something. I don't think he planned to die so, I guess, we'll never know."
"Tomorrow," Julietta said as she was dicing the carrots, "I'll start working out how to get some things done." We were back at her townhouse after shopping and preparing dinner after a long but enjoyable day.
"We have to establish a history for you, birth date, birth place, full name and so on."
I looked up from peeling potatoes. "We?"
Julietta smiled, leaned over and kissed the top of my head. "Yes, us, even though you are so different from what Robert ever was."
"You loved him once," I said softly.
"Yes, I always loved him but love dies, Pia, it happens. When we parted we were like enemies and when we met again after a long time apart, it was like we were distant friends. He couldn't get close to anyone." Julietta looked at me sharply. "Could he?"
"I don't think he knew how to."
"No," she said slowly and I could see she regretted asking me. "I think you're right. Potatoes finished?"
I modeled the new clothes after dinner and we laughed and joked until the doorbell rang.
Julietta put her glass of wine down and went to the intercom. "Who is it?"
"Police," the stern voice echoed through the townhouse and I gasped in shock.
Julietta looked at me and opened the door. "Identification, please," she asked. The men showed her and than they were inside, introducing themselves.
They both looked over at me and Julietta said, "This is Pia. My daughter," she added quickly, glancing at me.
Both men nodded and they sat down, Julietta sat opposite, I perched on the sofa arm next to her. "Have you seen your ex-husband lately, Ms Rossini?"
Julietta glanced at me. "No, not recently."
"When did you last see him?"
I could answer that; it was five years ago at some stupid political event when we were distant friends.
"I think it was five years ago?" Julietta said.
"Not since then?" Julietta shook her head. "He was ill, did you know that?"
She's so calm, I thought, but then again, she's worked in investigation for so long, she knows exactly what to do, how to handle it. My heart was still pounding and I wondered when they were going to start on me.
Again, Julietta shook her head. "No, I didn't. What do you mean by ill?"
"I'm afraid," the older one said, "he had a terminal illness. His doctor and his solicitor have confirmed it."
The young one smiled at me but at the same time seemed to be examining me. "Terribly sad to bring you bad news about your father." I must have looked surprised and his brow furrowed instantly. "There is no record of Robert Amati having a child and yet I see a rather strong resemblance." He appeared ready to pounce, glancing at Julietta and then back at me.
"You are quite mistaken," Julietta interjected quickly, "Robert Amati was not her father." Julietta glanced at me.
"I see," the older one said and the younger one was still staring intently at me.
"Who is your father?" the young one asked me and I worriedly looked at Julietta.
"That," Julietta said firmly, "is none of your dammed business!"
The older one quickly said, "Of course. There was an explosion at a research institute last night and we suspect that Robert Amati was there at the time. The scientist who runs the laboratory was involved in," he consulted his notebook, "DNA research."
"Why would Robert be there?" Julietta asked and I was again amazed at her calm manner.
"We think he was involved in a an attempt to find a cure for his illness. According to his solicitor, he changed his will before he went and we think that was the plan. Some people become desperate when faced with a terminal illness," he said, apologetically.
"How do you know he was there?" Julietta asked quietly.
"We've identified his DNA from some remains there. I'm sorry," the older man said and looked away.
"I see," Julietta said slowly. "He's dead?"
"It's not confirmed, the Coroner will need to do that, we're just following all leads," he said, standing. "Thank you for your time."
Julietta stood to show them out and even though they spoke softly, I could still hear them.
"Your daughter appears nervous, is she ok?" It was the older one who asked but both policemen looked over at me.
"Pia is not that well," Julietta said softly. "My daughter had a mental collapse earlier this year, a mental breakdown."
"Oh," the older one said in sympathy, "I'm sorry." He turned and smiled at me. "Goodnight, miss," he called as Julietta opened the door.
"Goodnight," I murmured.
After Julietta had shown them out, she turned to me, a worried look on her face. "They'll look into it, to find out what they can. We'll have to move quickly.
I didn't understand what she meant and smiled weakly. "It's official, I'm dead."
"Not you," Julietta said, hugging me. "Robert Amati is dead, not you."
"I know," I said quietly.
Julietta held me at arm's length, staring into my eyes. "Is Robert still there, inside you?"
I smiled weakly. "Yes, but I think he is fading fast. I'm struggling to think as a male, I can't remember certain things, certain memories. I'm a sixteen year old girl with nothing," I said softly, hunching forward, fingers over my eyes.
It was a relief to cry. No, it was more than just crying, I sobbed with a guttural force, my body shaking with the pressure of it all as Julietta held me.
"You're not alone," Julietta said over and over again as I sobbed into her breast as she cradled me. "I'm here."
An ocean of violets in bloom
It was strange living within this body. So different, and I admit I had taken the male body I vaguely remembered I had inhabited for over fifty years, for granted.
There were times when a sharp slice of cold memory surfaced and I felt incredibly strange in my new body. The centre of gravity was wrong, the breasts always there, legs that could cross each other in the strangest way, a multitude of things. Those times were becoming rare though and, most of the time, I unconsciously performed all the day-to-day tasks of living as a woman. When those moments of memory happened, it came as a small shock that I was doing those things easily and unconsciously and I was beginning to be comfortable with the face that stared back at me from the mirror. A face that was sometimes foreign and enigmatic, the face of a stranger on those rare occasions when old memories glimmered, but, at other times, my face.
I awoke again the next morning without nightmares, which was a relief. After a shower, I managed to style my hair and was quite happy with the look, almost finding something I could live with.
After making some coffee, I crept outside for the newspaper in the light blue pajamas we had bought, noticing for the millionth time how this strange body moved. I made toast and carried the tray into Julietta's room where she was sleepily stirring.
"Breakfast," I said softly and smiled as her sleepy eyes focused on me. She had asked me to wake her at eight but I don't think she thought I would wake her with breakfast.
"What's this?" Julietta asked, sitting up, rubbing her eyes.
"This," I said dramatically, "is breakfast."
"You're joking, you giving me breakfast in bed?" Disbelief spread over her face and I smiled as I sat on the bed, placing the bed-tray in front of her.
"I'm doing this," I said quietly.
Concern flooded her face. "I see, is Robert still here?"
"Sometimes, I said softly. "I think he's almost gone but I can still remember bits, strange bits like where I had breakfast two weeks ago, but I can't remember my mother."
"I'm sorry," she said, touching my arm.
"Don't be," I said brightly, blinking the tears away. "I'll be a new person soon, just Pia, I think."
"I like Pia," Julietta said quietly.
I smiled. "Eat your breakfast."
"What would you like to do today?" Julietta asked later as she poured a glass of water. We were both dressed, seated in the living room and Julietta was about to do some work in her study.
"Don't know," I said softly. I adjusted my skirt. I had chosen the new skirt and top Julietta had encouraged me to purchase and wore them proudly. It's not so bad being a woman; in fact, I cautiously admitted to myself, it was pretty good.
"I think we need to talk," Julietta said firmly, sitting down, "I think we do. We can't go on like this."
"No," I whispered, my heart sinking. "Do you want me to leave?" Where do I go?
"No, of course not!"
Julietta looked away. She was a solid figure in my life, a different woman from the woman I vaguely remembered as my wife; memories of her as my wife were fading fast. It was as if I was seeing her in a different mode. Her finely chiseled Italian features, the dark hair with the hints of grey. I was seeing her differently than I had, as Robert, ever seen her.
"I don't know either," she said, sadly smiling at me. "You burst into my life and I just don't know."
"I don't want to go away, Julietta," I said softly, head lowered and afraid. "I want to stay with you."
"Why?" It was firmly asked and a good question which I struggled to answer.
"I trust you," I whispered. "I need you to guide me. I think I would have killed myself without your love and understanding. I am dependent on you."
"Really?" Her eyes were glistening and so were mine.
"I have arranged something," Julietta said calmly, stirring the noodles, that night.
I looked up from setting the table. "What?'
"I have found a way to arrange a birth certificate and all the other stuff," she said, stirring furiously.
I moved close to her, waiting. "And?"
"We have to get it done urgently as I'm sure the police will be searching. It'll cost a lot, but I figure you won't care."
"No, I won't, and?"
"Well," she said, stirring furiously, "I was wondering how we were going to do this? What name you would want."
"I thought we agreed on Pia? I like it."
"I do too, but I'm talking about your last name, and maybe a middle name."
I paused. "I don't know, what would make it easier for us?"
"Well," Julietta said, pushing the poor noodles around, "If we were related it would…"
"That's an option," Julietta said, staring at the pot, hand stirring slowly.
"Or you mean mother and daughter?" I interrupted.
Julietta put the spoon down at last. "I don't want to be your mother," she said and suddenly laughed. "I'm not, for God's sake, but we are friends and I'm thinking the age difference will cause problems, so it seems an easy solution," she said, her voice tailing off, looking away.
"I love the idea," I said with a smile and impetuously kissed her cheek. "Mum," I added cheekily and Julietta laughed.
"That sounds weird," she said, but I knew she liked it.
"How about Pia Julietta Rossini?"
"You're my family, I have only you."
Julietta stared at me with wide eyes. "Are you sure?" I nodded and she crushed me in a huge hug. "Thank you, Pia," she whispered and I knew she had tears in her eyes. Actually, so did I.
She found a way, obviously illegal, through her many connections and we had to make trip to the safety deposit box for the cash to pay for the birth certificate.
"I'll wait for you here," she said, wrapping her coat around her at the entrance to the bank.
"No," I said calmly. "I think my mother should come with me, otherwise it will look strange."
"You want me to see, are you sure? Robert hated me knowing anything about his business." Her face was puzzled and, again, I hated Robert, hated what I had once been.
"Yes, Mum," I said softly, "I trust you with everything."
I stared at the birth certificate and murmured, "Pia Julietta Rossini. Hey," I said as I noticed the date, "I've just had my birthday."
"I chose the date of the day you came here. Is that ok?'
And so I had the documents that proclaimed me Pia Rossini, daughter of Julietta Rossini, father unknown, and, you know, I didn't care how much it cost. I just cared that I had a relationship with Julietta, who was the most important person in my life.
You've got the butterflies all tied up
And then we went to the funeral.
Robert Amati was declared dead by the court and we stood in the rain as a small casket containing the last remains was buried. I tried to remember who some of the people attending were but my memories were becoming lost very quickly. Friends and acquaintances of fifty years were now strangers and that made me a little sad for Robert.
As we were walking back to the car, a young woman stared icily at Julietta and another glared at her. "Who are they?" I whispered and Julietta smiled sadly.
"Robert's other wives."
I stared at the two angry women as they strode away, trying to remember them, remember anything about them, but couldn't. "They seem upset?"
"They're annoyed, there is a rumour Robert didn't leave them anything," Julietta said with a sideways glance at me.
"He obviously didn't love them as much as he loved you," I said watching them stride to their cars and Julietta looked at me with a strange expression.
I remembered James at least, or I think I did, and he was startled when he saw me in the back of the car. "My God," he said to Julietta, "is she…"
"Yes," Julietta said, cutting him off, "Robert didn't know."
"The resemblance is uncanny." James nodded, still staring. "Then he made the correct choice about the will. Speaking of which, the reading is tomorrow. You don't have to be there but you're welcome. Or I can send the details in a letter?"
"The letter will be fine," Julietta said and we drove away from the grave of Robert Amati.
The next morning, I found her reading a letter and hugged her, kissing her head. "Good morning, Mum," I said.
"I like the dress."
"It's nice, isn't it?
"Yes," she agreed, fingering a letter.
Julietta sighed. "A letter from James, it was delivered by courier. The rumours were correct and it appears that Robert left everything to me. I'm a millionaire."
"You deserve it," I smiled.
"I don't think so, it's a gift," she said with a small laugh. "A million pounds. I'll pay off the house, it'll help, we'll need it to get settled," Julietta murmured and I wondered what she meant. "You wanted me to have it?" Julietta suddenly asked, a sad smile flickering over her lips.
"Me?" What does she mean?
"I mean Robert."
"He must have cared for you very much."
The tears came and I hugged her tightly. "You loved me?" Julietta asked.
"I guess Robert loved you, after all," I whispered into her hair. I said softly, "I love you Mum, I do."
"You're crazy," she sniffled.
"I know," I admitted. "But, without you I would have vanished, died or whatever. You took me in and, blame it on the hormones or whatever, but your kindness and your warm guidance has helped me. I'm glad I came here that night," I said and she smiled.
"I am too."
I hugged her tightly; snuggling into her where I felt safe, warm. "Thank you," I said.
"No, thank you," she whispered, fingers playing with my hair. "But," she added with a smile, "let's make sure we have pads and tampons in the house."
Julietta steered me down the corridors towards the doctor's office. "I'm really sick of doctors," I complained. It was Saturday, a week after my first period, which had been an interesting event. As my body had changed from male to female, a lot of the changes came in a rush as if they were attempting to catch up with nature. When I was complaining, she had lectured me that girls usually went through this at twelve or thirteen so I should be more mature about it. Thank God for Julietta! We had discussed that I should go for a check up that morning and I agreed to go as Mum said it was important make sure I was healthy. While I changed into black hipster jeans and a pink T-shirt, Julietta telephoned a doctor for an appointment.
"Shush," Julietta said as I complained again about doctors. "It's for the best."
The doctor asked me to call her Linda and gave me a full inspection and part of me screamed that it was humiliating and degrading while another part was resigned to the embarrassing ordeal.
"You're extremely healthy," Linda told me, Julietta sitting quietly beside me. "Perhaps a little underweight. Are you eating okay?"
"I think so," I said quietly.
"She's always eating," Julietta said with a smile. "I don't know where she puts it."
"She probably just burns it off. It's not uncommon in girls your age. Now," she said, looking a Julietta pointedly and then seriously at me, "is there anything you wish to discuss of a sexual nature?"
Julietta shifted in her seat. "I'll leave, Doctor. I'll be outside, Pia," she said and I found myself reaching out for her hand.
"Don't go. Stay, Mum," I pleaded. Don't leave me alone with her!
"Are you sure?" I nodded and she slowly sat down.
"Pia," Linda said, "is there any concerns, questions? You don't appear to be sexually active."
"I'm not ready," I whispered, cheeks flaming and Julietta squeezed my hand. Sex? You have got to be kidding!
"It should be when you want to, Pia, you're very sensible," Linda said. "What about your period? How many days?"
I glanced at Julietta and began to fumble answers to Linda's questions with Julietta's assistance.
Finally, Linda smiled. "I wished all mothers and daughters talked as openly as you two. I'll have the results of the other tests tomorrow," she said to Julietta.
"Thanks, Doctor," Julietta said.
Julietta slipped her arm through mine and smiled as we walked down the corridor. "That wasn't too bad, was it?"
I rolled my eyes. "It was horrible."
Julietta laughed. "I'll treat you to some chocolate cake."
"I've been thinking," Julietta said one night and I smiled, waiting, recognising the signs, as I knew Mum pretty well. Where was I a month ago, what was I doing? Was I here? We were close as we told each other everything and her advice was vital to my survival in the world I was now in.
"Look out," I giggled, "danger, danger, Mum's thinking!"
Julietta smiled and then grew serious. "We have to make plans, build a life and we can't do that here. People who know me will think some things are strange, new things in my life," she added, looking at me. "And I'm tired of London."
"You want to move?" Suddenly, I was worried.
"We need a new start." Julietta saw the expression on my face and smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry, darling, I said 'we'."
"You would move away from your friends and family?"
"Yes. My parents are dead."
"Where would we go? What would we do?"
"The money that," she glanced at me before continuing, "Robert left us will be enough to get settled. You'd go to school and university…"
"What!" I exclaimed.
"Yes," Julietta said firmly. "You must, you have to build a life."
"No 'buts'. You have to and when you think on it, you'll agree. I could start a consultancy business."
I sat down at the table. "You have been thinking, haven't you?"
"We have to take charge of our lives, Pia. You know that. We can't go on like we are. You staying here watching TV while I work. It's not right. You need friends, boyfriends," she added slyly.
"Someday, maybe. I'm thinking we could go to New Zealand, Canada or Australia. I have cousins in Australia. They don't know I haven't got a daughter so they won't be surprised when I show up with you."
"Am I a secret?"
"No, of course not. I like the idea of Australia, that's all."
"Australia? Won't I need a passport?"
"Don't worry about that," she said with a wink.
I stared out the window. "I think Robert went there once?"
"I think he did. Do you remember it?"
I thought deeply and then slowly shook my head. Robert's memories were almost gone. They still came and went but only very occasionally now. I could remember general, historical events from the last ten years but, beyond that, nothing, and Robert's personal memories had almost vanished. I remembered some things and obviously some skills, but specific memories were getting harder to recall. Maybe I was blotting them out but I wasn't going to discuss it with a doctor. Besides, those memories weren't that important anyhow. "No, not really." Someday soon, all of Robert's memories and, perhaps, the ability to remember Robert at all will have vanished and it no longer seems to be a bad thing, it's almost inevitable, a fact of life.
Julietta put her arms around me. "It'll be warm weather and a new start, just the two of us. What do you say?"
I patted her arm, smiling. "Let's do it, Mum." I said quietly. "You're right, as usual."
That night, I wrote in the new journal we had bought, We are migrating! I'm scared and excited!
The first papers that began the journal were on the bottom of a shoebox and I kept the new diary in the box as well. I resolved to keep track of the trip and our new life.
Mum has been planning and is busy making the arrangements. Tomorrow I am going to Vicky's for a haircut and more waxing. Ugh!
I may buy a new lipstick.
Can you picture this?
I was really excited as the day of our flight grew closer and closer. Mum was working hard at getting everything ready and I was helping where I could, but every day was a little more chaotic than the last.
Remarkably, we didn't take the stress of the pressure out on each other and, in fact, became closer under the flurry of activity we had to endure.
Finally, we were going to the airport and James, who had arranged a lot of the legal requirements for transferring the funds, selling the house and other things, drove us.
"I've been to Australia once," he said to Julietta who was in the front passenger seat. "I'd move out there in a minute but Claire hates the idea."
"We're looking forward to it," Julietta said, looking back over the seat at me, rain sliding down the car windows.
"You'll have a great time, Pia," he said, looking at me in the rear view mirror. "Great weather, lots of space, very multicultural."
"It sounds fantastic," I said, mainly because they expected me to say something.
"Robert would approve," he said quietly to Julietta and she nodded, staring out the window.
"What was he like, my father?" I asked, leaning forward. "Was he a nice man?" Mum turned and examined me and I wondered if I had said anything wrong. Why is she looking at me like that? Am I in trouble, what did I do?
"Well," James began, "he was brilliant in business but not so good with people." He looked at Julietta. "You agree?"
"Yes," Mum said, watching me closely, "I agree."
"You never met him?" James asked, looking at me in the mirror again.
"No," I replied, watching a young child waving from a bus. "No, I never did, I just wondered, that's all."
The flight was long, really long and we both tried to sleep after we had watched a movie or two. With the money that was left to Mum in my father's will, we were in business class and it was fun for the first few hours but then the novelty wore off. Some of those stewards are really condescending to someone like me. It was relief when we got off the plane at Kuala Lumpur, although the heat and humidity was stifling and, once through customs, we took a hire car to a hotel Mum had reserved so we could break the journey. We planned to stay there for five days, just hanging out by the pool and relaxing.
Both of us slept for about nine hours, completely spent after the journey. When Mum got up, she found me sprawled on the floor, scribbling in my diary and looking at a map of Malaysia. I was wearing just a t-shirt and knickers; it was so hot as the air conditioning was struggling.
"Feel like a swim?" Mum asked, stretching.
"Sounds great," I said, jumping up from the floor.
Lying by the pool in a swimsuit and sunglasses, I was really very relaxed. Mum was dozing in the sun when I slipped into the water and, careful not to get my hair wet, paddled around.
A young guy in white shorts smiled at me as I pulled myself out of the pool. "Hi there," he said with an American accent.
"Hi," I said, conscious of his eyes and suddenly my one-piece swimsuit felt small.
"English? Your voice sounds English," he quickly added.
"Yes," I said coolly, "from London." Quickly, I walked to the lounge that I had been lying on next to Mum and swiftly lay down. Mum was grinning and leaned over me as the water dripped from my body, the sun baking my skin. "He's cute," she whispered, lifting her sunglasses so I could see her wink.
"Mum," I said crossly, "don't!"
Mum and I had fun together, seeing the sights and, of course, lots of shopping and just relaxing by the pool. "Here he comes again," Mum said as she sipped a fruit cocktail through a clear straw, a miniature parasol hanging over the edge of her glass. "I bet he comes over this time, I think he's circumnavigated the pool sixteen times hoping you would see him."
"I hadn't noticed," I lied, lying on the lounge.
"Give him a break Pia, at least smile at him."
"What for?" I said, turning over so I could at least pretend to be asleep.
We were having breakfast when I asked, "Mum, when did you first meet my father?"
Mum looked at me for a moment and said, "I was working on a case and I had to question him. There was an instant attraction, even though he was a great deal older than me."
That afternoon, we were back at the pool, lying in our favourite spot in the sun. The pool was nearly deserted and I swam around for a while before lying down next to Mum, water dripping from me. It was warm as usual and I was completely relaxed, almost sleepy. "Mum, tell me what I was like as a baby," I asked drowsily.
Mum stared at me for a long while and then cleared her throat. "You were born at one in the morning and you were a surprise."
"Surprise?" I yawned.
"You came early," Mum said with a strange smile. "Just came out of nowhere."
At the end of the five days, I was quite tanned – an advantage of olive skin, courtesy of my mother, I suppose. When we got off the plane in Melbourne it was also hot and I wondered if I was going to get used to the heat. What will winter be like, I wondered, will I be able to wear coats, will fashion just be terrible, tropical clothes?
The house we rented was near the water, on the bay near St. Kilda, and it soon felt like home, especially after we unpacked the many boxes and put our things around the house.
Only three of the boxes were lost by the shipping company. Unfortunately, according to Mum, they contained all our photographs and stuff, even drawings and things I did at school when I was young. Mum was absolutely devastated.
"Don't worry, Mum," I consoled her. "They'll turn up."
She shook her head. "No, I don't think they will."
"Well, we'll just have to make new ones."
And we did, taking photographs of ourselves on the pier, on the trams and everywhere else we could and soon, many photographs began appearing in frames throughout the house.
Mum started her consulting business and I began at a private school close to the city. Every day, she drove me to the railway station and I took the train into South Yarra and walked to the school with all the other students.
The school uniform was atrocious, I might as well have worn a blue sack, but I made friends with Rachel and Wynona, two girls that lived near me in Elwood and Brighton. We hung out together and I needn't have worried about the weather as Melbourne has a very changeable climate, four seasons in one day. After about four weeks, Mum announced we were going to a party at one of her relative's houses.
"Do we have to?"
"Yes," Mum said firmly, "they want to welcome us."
They all poked and kissed me as Italians do, pointing out I was too skinny and Mum thought it was hilarious, I could tell! They were all distant relatives but all they cared about was that we were related and the older women were carrying on like I was their granddaughter or something!
I was smiling and nodding, listening to them talk while trying to eat pasta and drink the wine and looked around the party. It was then, sandwiched between two older women, that I saw him. He was tall, dark and dressed in a black t-shirt that showed his strong arms. He wore black trousers, and had a crooked smile with teeth that gleamed and hair that was thick and tickling his eyes. There was no doubt he was incredibly cute and my stomach turned over several times as his eyes ran over the room.
"Consuelo," one of the woman called, "come meet a relative from England."
God, he's coming over! I tried to smile while balancing the plate of pasta on my knees, wondering why I had worn just jeans and a sleeveless top. Thankfully, he was introduced to Mum first and then they steered him towards me, sly smiles on the women's faces, Mum watching me closely. "Hi," he said with a smile. "I'm Con."
"Pia," I managed to say and tried to smile.
"Do you like Australia?"
"It's ok," I said nonchalantly. Especially since I've seen you.
"Where do you live?"
"St. Kilda." His eyes are almost black and those teeth!
"You?" Please live in St. Kilda, maybe next door?
"Oh, where's that?" Be cool, enigmatic and mysterious.
Con looked at me strangely. "You're in Carlton now."
Shit! "Am I? It's all very confusing when you're new."
"Yeah, suppose it is." He rested his thumbs in his belt, surveyed the party, people talking in Italian, singing and drinking wine, my mother talking to some guy, but watching me. "Maybe we could have a coffee sometime."
"Ok." Yes! Yes, yes, yes!
"Or go out, maybe a movie or something?"
"I like movies." I'd like rodeos if you wanted to go!
"Ok, I'll call you." He nodded and started to move away.
How is he going to call you, you idiot? "Do you want my telephone number?" I croaked, trying to smile.
Con smiled. "My mama will have it. See you."
"Did you have a good time?" Mum asked as we drove back.
"Yes, it was nice," I said dreamily and she laughed softly.
The phone rang after three agonizing days and I met Con for coffee in St. Kilda. After a while, we hit it off and he was surprisingly funny in a dry way and I found myself laughing at his comments. He was also incredibly good looking but I don't think he knew it, which made him even more appealing.
We went out to the movies and he kissed me when he escorted me to the door. Italian boys are so sensuous and yet so courteous. The kiss was incredible, I thought I would explode!
"Did you have a good time?"
"It was wonderful," I said dreamily as I sailed past the living room.
"Pia," Mum called after me, "we should talk about things."
"Oh, just things, relationships, birth control, things like that."
"Mum," I snapped. "I know that stuff, you've only told me a million times! How embarrassing!"
We were parked in his car kissing when I felt Con's hand on my breasts, gently touching, melting me. "Oh Pia," he moaned in my ear and my fingers brushed a hard bulge in his pants.
His hands kneaded my breast and then slipped to my knee while my fingers outlined his cock in his pants. I was intoxicated by his smell, his touch and his maleness, lost in it, and my fingers unzipped his pants. Almost like I was another person, I pried his cock out of his underwear and held it throbbing in my fingers while he frantically kissed me, his hand forcing its way between my legs.
It was wrong, I knew that, but it felt good, it felt so good. My fingers were around his cock, red and glistening, and I began sliding my hand up and down it, a grey memory slipped in and I wondered why I knew what I was doing, why was this familiar?
Con moaned and I yelped as his cock suddenly spurted in the air but a forgotten memory told me to keep moving my hand.
It was a mess and he was suitably embarrassed by it all and kissed me goodbye half-heartedly but I was on fire, my entire body aflame with new desire.
In bed, my fingers slipped below and I moaned into my pillow as I remembered the night, remembered his thick fingers pushing against my wet knickers, his lips framed by stubble kissing mine.
A wave swept through me, unexpected and yet glorious and I screamed into my pillow, screamed with relief and sweet longing as I experienced my first female orgasm.
I didn't get out of bed until after ten and Mum was smiling when I finally appeared in the kitchen, yawning and rubbing my hair. "Sleep well?" she asked and I nodded and something about her grin made me look twice.
That night I wrote in my diary, God, she didn't hear me, did she? I'd die of shame if she did!
Touch if you will my stomach
Con and I drifted apart after that which was, frankly, okay with me. School was getting serious and I focused on my studies for the last year and, I think, Mum was grateful for that.
My eighteenth birthday came and I invited several of my friends over for a dinner that I cooked, with Mum's help, of course. We had a great time and Mum took a photograph of us in the garden. The photograph is now in the hall and, if you get to see it, I'm third on the right.
I think I surprised her when I told her I was going to study psychology at university and I threw myself into the first year. The course was intensely interesting and I enjoyed it but also managed to have a reasonable social life as well as learning tennis.
It was in my second year at university that Mum met Stephen. She sheepishly introduced me and I immediately felt at ease with him, I could see he was a nice guy. I called him the flower farmer as he actually grew flowers on his farm outside of Melbourne and we went out there a few times for picnics and just getting to know each other.
It was obvious he idolized Mum and I was glad for her. He was even tempered, gentle and kind while Mum was…well, she was Mum.
"He's asked me to marry him," Mum announced one Sunday night. I rushed to her and hugged her until she protested but I could see she was glad I approved.
"Well," I demanded, "are you? And who's going to be your bridesmaid?" I thought the marriage was great, Mum was turning forty-four that year and this was a great birthday present for her.
She laughed and then she grew serious. "What about you if I do marry him?"
"If?" I laughed at her blush. "I think you are, I think you are going to marry him, you're getting married," I sang, dancing around the kitchen and she laughed in spite of herself.
The wedding was a small affair with Stephen's small family and our relatives but it was wonderful. Mum was dressed in a simple cocktail dress with a hat as she and Stephen had chosen to be married in the Botanical Gardens. Thankfully, the Melbourne weather was kind and produced a beautiful day.
I wore a beaded tie back charcoal halter and a ruffled black georgette skirt with black heels and as we were getting ready, Mum said, "You're very beautiful Pia."
"You're not too bad yourself," I said with a smile and kissed her cheek.
As I walked with her into the Gardens, each of us carrying bouquets, I thought how beautiful and radiant she looked and I was fighting to hold the tears back. I stepped aside as Mum and Stephen came together and the simple ceremony began.
The applause rippled through the gardens when they were pronounced husband and wife and I felt small tears rolling down my cheeks as Mum and Stephen kissed.
"Congratulations," I said to them both, smiling through the tears.
Later, as I was helping her change for her exit from the reception as they were going away together for a week, Mum asked, "What will you do, darling? You know, I'll move out to the farm, Stephen says you're welcome to come, to live with us?" she asked hopefully.
"Mum," I laughed, "we've been through this a million times. Thanks, but I couldn't move out there. I'll find something in the city and finish uni. Don't worry, I'll come for lunch on Sundays."
"Will you?" Mum asked, her eyes filling. "Every Sunday?"
"Yes," I said softly, "I promise."
And so I did. Each and every Sunday, I drove out past the end of Melbourne to where the green hills began to their small farm of flowers. Mum always cooked lunch and the three of us laughed, ate, talked and sometimes cried just a little as we traveled down the road of life.
I began working in a practice that helped children traumatized by events in their small lives and I realised I had found my vocation. With the help of money from Mum, money she said was left to us by my father, I set up my own practice and work was mounting up. I often wondered about the cruelty of the world to children.
It was when I was in East Timor working with psychologically scarred children of refugees that I met Tom, an Australian doctor. He walked into the tent where I was listening to a twelve year old girl at last begin to talk about her life and I looked up, glaring at him and he left awkwardly.
When I finally left the tent, he was waiting, wandering aimlessly up and down in the mud until he saw me and rushed over. "I'm really sorry, I was told the medical supplies were in that tent when they were in another tent."
"That's okay," I said coldly, marching on.
"I apologize," he said loudly after me and then walked quickly behind. "I'm sorry, I was sorry the moment I came in and saw she was talking. You must have worked hard to get to that stage. I really am sorry, it was just a stupid mistake."
I stopped suddenly, realizing he just might have a glimmer of what it takes in my work. "Apology accepted," I said. "Just one of those things.
"Yes," he said with a relieved smile, "just one of those things." He smiled nervously and I saw he had tender eyes and a great chin. "I'm Tom," he said, still nervous, obviously not sure if he should extend a hand or not.
"Pia," I said firmly, extending my hand.
He smiled. "I'm pleased to meet you."
One Saturday, the telephone rang several times before Mum answered. "Hello," she said and I felt warm at that familiar and loving voice.
"It's me," I said.
"You're not coming tomorrow, is that why you're calling?" Her voice was immediately strained and I laughed to myself at how she jumped to conclusions.
"I'm coming, Mum," I sighed. "Relax."
"But you never ring on Saturdays, it must be bad news."
"Relax," I repeated, "I'm coming," I said, "but…"
"But what?" she demanded urgently.
"I was wondering if it was okay if I brought someone."
There was a pause and I pictured her smiling. "Really?"
"What's his name?"
Mum and Stephen immediately liked Tom and I saw that Tom liked them. He laughed loudly at Stephen's jokes and smiled warmly when he saw Mum and I deep in conversation.
Stephen took him off to the greenhouses while Mum and I sat on the verandah with glasses of wine.
"He's very nice," Mum said with a smile and I smiled back.
"Are you in love?"
I looked out on the beds of flowers and saw Stephen's and Tom's silhouettes in the greenhouse. "Yes, I think I am," I said softly, sipping my wine.
"I'm glad, I'm really glad."
When we drove back, Tom looked over at me in the dim car as he drove. "You're very close to your mother."
"Yes, I know." Is he jealous or upset about something?
"It's very nice, I hope you never lose that closeness, it's beautiful in a way," he said in that serious way of his and I patted his leg. That's why I love you, I thought with a smile and he saw the smile and asked, "What?"
"I was just thinking how much I love you."
He smiled. "And I love you." He turned back to the road, hands firm on the wheel, strong fingers gripping the wheel. "My parents are down here next week, I'd like you to meet them."
"Of course," I said evenly. "Happy to. From what you've told me, they sound nice."
"Not as nice as yours," he said, staring down the dark country road.
I touched his leg and smiled. "It's about us, love, not about them."
"I know," he said, driving with a faint smile.
Tom's parents were from Sydney and were disappointed the wedding was going to be in Melbourne and not in Sydney, but Tom was adamant that Melbourne was his home now as well as mine, so it was appropriate.
Mum and Mrs. Richardson got on amicably and Stephen made an effort with Tom's father but I could see it was a struggle for him. Tom's father was a barrister and a little full of his own self-importance.
Tom was the oldest of three boys so Mrs. Richardson fussed over me in a way that rapidly came annoying. "Mother is sure to want you to call her mother or mum, you know," Tom warned me one night. We were lying in bed; I was snuggled up to him while he stroked my hair.
"I can't," I replied, my voice muffled against his skin.
"I know," he said quietly. "Just call her Fiona, I'll explain."
"What will you explain?" I asked, my lips tasting his skin, smelling him.
"That you and Julietta are close, really close. For a long time there was just the two of you and, sometimes I think your relationship with her is the most important in your life."
"That's not true," I protested.
Tom, smiling, pulled me up so he could kiss me. "You mean, I'm equal first? I'm a happy man," he said with a laugh before kissing me.
The wedding threatened to become a grandiose Sydney affair, all glam and glitter until I put my foot down. "No way," I said calmly.
"But, dear," Fiona said, "these people are our friends…"
"This is our wedding, not theirs. Tom and I will decide who comes and it will be a small group. I want a celebration, not a glitzy replay of some royal wedding."
"Tom," Fiona pleaded, "you understand, don't you?"
"Well," Tom said with a smile, "actually, I don't. I agree with Pia, we have discussed it and we agree."
Mum, who was sitting calmly at the table, waiting, whispered to me as we waited for Tom to bring the car around, "I like Tom, I think he's wonderful."
We persevered and the wedding was a wonderful day. Mum couldn't stop crying, Stephen gave me away and I felt suddenly hot when I saw Tom's eyes pop when he saw me walking down the aisle in my dress.
Julietta Pia Richardson was born one year after the wedding, she's almost two now, and amazing. I look at her and I'm still filled with wonder. There are times I can't help myself and pick her up, her little arms around my neck as I burrow my face against her skin just so I can inhale her, touch her.
Mum dotes on Julietta and I smile when I watch them; there is a connection, the Rossini line continues.
Stephen took a photograph at a recent Sunday lunch. Mum was holding Julietta and I stood behind, my hand on Mum's shoulder and Stephen smiled, shaking his head. "So powerful," he smiled, "three generations of Rossini women, it's almost scary."
"She's beautiful," Mum said, cradling my daughter.
"Life is funny," I said with a smile and Mum looked at me strangely.
"What do you mean," she asked, "what are you remembering?'
"Me? Nothing, nothing at all."
I noticed that Mum's hair was now completely grey. She refused to put a rinse through it, even though I continually tried to talk her into it. She wore her glasses all the time and seemed a little smaller.
As I placed Julietta in the car seat to drive back, I remembered suddenly what it was like when I was a teenager, when the only person I had in the world was Mum. "Wait a minute, Tom," I said and he nodded. "Mum," I called and she looked at me concerned.
I pulled her tight and hugged her. "I love you, Mum. That's all."
Maybe you're just like my mother
When I watch Pia with her daughter and husband, I feel immensely proud of her and the life she has. There is no doubt in my mind that Pia is my daughter, Julietta my wonderful granddaughter, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Sometimes, in my private moments, I think what happened all those years ago was a gift, a gift to me and, hopefully to Robert.
Last Sunday, Pia told me she was pregnant again and I couldn't keep from crying as I hugged her. "We're hoping for a boy," Pia said. "We're also looking for a bigger house, maybe with some land."
"There's some nice places out here," Stephen said quickly and Pia smiled at him.
"We were thinking of looking around here. I can work from home and Tom's looking for a new practice."
"You mean it?" My heart was pounding at the thought of seeing her and her family more often.
She laughed and squeezed my hand. "Yes, we mean it, Mum. We've already looked at a few."
Pia was eight months pregnant when they moved into their new home, a large rambling house on a few acres that was very close to us.
One day, she drove into our driveway and clambered slowly out of the car, pushing her swollen belly out first. "Julietta not with you?" I asked.
"No, she's with a neighbour. We have to talk."
There was a stern expression on her face, then I saw the shoebox in her hand and my heart sank. Why didn't I destroy that stupid journal, why did I let it survive?
I made a cup of tea and she levered herself into a chair awkwardly. It was going to be a big baby and she was in the uncomfortable stage, wishing the pregnancy were over.
"I found this, I had forgotten it," Pia said softly, pushing the shoebox towards me, "but I uncovered it during the move."
My fingers trembled as I pulled out the first sheet of loose paper and read.
Although it sounds impressive, this 'so called' journal is just a few pages scrounged from Julietta's study and will be, I fear, all that is left of me. Calmness has descended onto me, filling me and I am no longer constantly afraid, I am, I fear, now accepting of what I am and that means more of my memories are leaving like smoke from a candle.
"Is it true?" Pia asked quietly, head down, hands resting on her swollen belly. "It sounds true."
I looked at her, my daughter, the piece of paper trembling in my hands, my mind racing as I wondered what to say, what to tell her. Oh, what do I tell you? I've dreaded this for so long and now it's here. Why didn't I destroy that stupid box? Do I tell you the truth, do you have a right to know? Or do I lie and let you go on with your life?
I forced a smile on my face. "I had also forgotten this. You were always very creative as a child. What stories you could make up, an incredible imagination. Cup of tea?" My hands were still shaking as I poured the tea.
"It's a story?"
"Yes, what did you think it was?'
"So I wasn't born a man?" Her voice was very low, almost a monotone and I wondered if she's been crying. Has she remembered something?
My back was turned to her and I created a shaky laugh. "A man? Darling, look at your rather large stomach and ask yourself if it's possible."
I turned around and Pia looked up at me, her big eyes sad. Her fingers brushed her hair back and I thought for a moment she was going to cry. "If that journal is true all my childhood memories that you and I laughed about, weren't real."
The memories I made up and you began to believe them, take them as yours and now, even I believe them. The reason we came to Australia was to distance ourselves from London so it would be easier for me to subtly give you false memories while our 'old' life was so far away. I pushed a cup of tea towards her and closed the shoebox firmly.
"They were real, you and I are real, and your husband and daughter are real and that new baby in your belly is real. This is just a story made up by a troubled teenager who had just recovered from a nervous breakdown. You know that," I added gently, "we've spoken about your illness before. You're the psychologist, darling, you tell me."
"Possibly," she said, stirring her tea and I could see she was reassured. "It's the start of a remarkable story," Pia said slowly and then looked up at me, "for a sixteen year old."
I managed another smile. "Well, I helped just a little bit and this wasn't the only story you wrote. There were others."
"They were in the lost containers?" Pia asked, staring at me.
"Yes," I said glancing out the window, "they were."
Pia stirred her tea and then took a sip. "It did seem strange," she said finally, putting the cup back on the saucer. "It started as a story and then suddenly, it stopped and I began writing a normal diary."
"Lost interest, I suppose and then you decided you wanted to keep a diary."
"How did I get the name Gideon Benson?"
"He was a man who lived next door, he was a sad man, a widower."
The lies keep coming, don't they, I thought bitterly, and I just keep at it.
"I see. Amazing, for a while when I was reading it, I began to think it was true, especially the first part."
"I'm sure a lot of what's in the diary is true, darling, it's just that story of yours at the beginning. It was real science fiction," I added with another shaky smile.
"It's hard remembering stuff sometimes," Pia said, her dark eyes watching me. "I guess you can see I got bored with the story or something. Well, you keep the thing," Pia said, nodding at the shoebox. "Get rid of it."
"You want me to destroy it?" I said carefully.
"No, don't, just keep it," she said, after a moment, struggling to stand and I hurriedly helped her up. "Read it if you like."
"Okay. Are you alright?" I asked anxiously as she walked to the door.
"Me? Yes, I just wish Thomas would decide to get here."
Pia smiled. "It's supposed to be a secret, but it's a boy."
She looked at me with brimming eyes and I hugged her, asking, "What's wrong, darling?"
"If that crazy story was true," Pia said softly, "you would still be my mother, you know that, don't you?"
Somehow I managed to smile and kissed her cheek. "Of course but I am your mother."
I waited until her car had turned down the road before I sat at the kitchen table and cried and cried. Did I do the right thing? Am I selfish not to tell her because I want things to remain the way they are or am I thinking only of her? I don't know anymore, I just don't know.
Later, I poured a small gin and sat down, staring at the shoebox. Stephen wouldn't be home for an hour so I had a little time to read, to go back in time to those strange days.
I put my glasses back on, my trembling fingers pried the lid off the box and I pulled the diary out. I laughed when I remembered how adamant she was at the beginning, when she still had Robert's memories that the diary was a journal. And then, magically, she called it a diary. Was it in the car to the airport that the last of Robert's memories vanished? I still remember her asking James what Robert was like. It took all my self-control not to cry there and then. Was that the moment of her real birth, when she fully became Pia?
Flicking through the diary I began to read bits and pieces as they jumped out at me.
I was very fortunate in choosing to run to Julietta, the outcome could have been dramatically different if I had chosen anywhere else.
At first I hated this but now I'm beginning to see a new world and, at least, I'm alive, alive with a new life! Thank you, Julietta, thank you so much.
I chuckled when I found the part about Con, I had forgotten about that. She had written, God, she didn't hear me, did she? I'd die of shame if she did! Yes, I did hear her masturbate and I was so glad she had finally discovered her sexuality; I had been worried that she was dysfunctional, perhaps a legacy of the change and it was a relief in more ways than one.
I was still chuckling when I found it.
Pia had written on the last page in her precise handwriting and it was dated today.
Is the story of Robert Amati, the man I thought was my father, true? It sounds fantastic but some parts resonate inside me.
I'm going to see Mum, to ask her if it is true. I know I will accept whatever she tells me because I don't want things to change. I love her, and no matter what the answer is to all this, she was the one who brought me into this world. She is my mother and I am proud, so very proud to be her daughter.
I love you Mum, but I hope you know that already as I know you love me.
Your loving daughter,
I was still crying when Stephen came home and he rushed around the table to hold me. "What's wrong, love? What's happened?"
"Nothing?" I sniffled, trying to stop crying, wiping my eyes, my glasses lying on the table. "Nothing's wrong."
"What's this?" he asked, nodding at the closed shoebox.
"Just stupid memories," I said, picking the shoebox up and shoved it in the bottom of the pantry. I dialed Pia's telephone number and smiled when she answered. "It's me," I said.
"Hi, Mum," Pia said warmly and I heard Julietta singing in the background.
"Why don't you all come over here for dinner? We can cook together like we used to."
"I'd like that." She paused and then said softly, "You read it?"
She knows me so well, just like I know her. "Yes."
"Good." And then after a small silence, I heard her say to Julietta, "Pick up your pencils, darling, we're going to grandma's." I heard Julietta squeal in delight, I said goodbye to Pia and slowly put the phone down.
"They're coming over for dinner," I said softly
"Good," Stephen said and he slid his arms around my waist. "Are you ok?"
"I think so," I whispered, "I think we are all okay."
This is what it sounds like
When doves cry.
Part 11 Maybe I'm just like my father
I sat in a chair in my daughter's house, sipping a cup of tea watching her children play outside through the window. My granddaughter, Pia, was standing close by the swing and, smiling at me, waved.
I waved back with hands that are old, my hands and the skin is loose like it is beginning to fall away from my bones.
Mum's funeral was held on a bleak day, bleak in weather and in my heart. My daughter Julietta and her husband, Peter, were worried about me and guided me to the grave.
"Grandma had a long life, Mum," Julietta whispered as we drew close to the coffin ready to be lowered into the grave.
"I know," I murmured, "but I'm going to miss her."
Thomas and his wife joined us. Thomas held my hand as Eloise kissed my cheek. I'm becoming used to funerals, I thought, remembering the burial of Stephen and, a year ago, my own husband Tom.
My grandchildren were with their parents and I smiled at them, all growing up so quickly. Pia, Julietta's oldest gave me a hug and stood next to me and I squeezed her hand as I saw she had been crying.
When it was over and they watched me throw a flower into the open grave. "Good bye Mum," I whispered, "what am I going to do without you?"
Pia said, "Here it is, Grandma, I got it as you asked."
I took the shoebox from her and, with a wry smile, dropped it into the grave. When we were in the car, Thomas asked, "What was in the shoebox, Mum?"
"Something from her first husband," I murmured, watching the trees slowly glide past, "it should be with her."
"From your father?" Eloise asked and I felt a tear trickling down my cheek, dripping from under the black lace veil.
"Something like that."
This is what it sounds like
When doves cry
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