by Violet Carson
I returned home from my meeting with Jenny in a state of shock and abject fear. I had no idea what my parents would say when they found out that I’d lied to them about Dubai and no doubt they’d be absolutely perplexed and deeply hurt by my transformation intro Rose. They may even side with Mark, thinking I’d had some kind of breakdown and be very concerned for the state of my marriage. Clearly, some of those thoughts were even shared by me. In reality all of them were:
“Why was I so drawn to becoming Rose?” I asked myself. It was humiliating, frightening and degrading, but somehow I felt totally unable to break away from this person I’d created. It was as if she was completely replacing my own personality, thoughts and tastes with those of a downtrodden poorly educated old maid, and for some inexplicable reason, I was totally engrossed.
Mark returned from work, thankfully alone and I insisted he listen to my tale of what had unfolded with Jenny. I told him I expected my mother to be in touch at anytime and that we had to admit to her that we’d lied about Dubai.
My mind raced, could we say it was some kind of social experiment? Could we say I’d just had enough of my old work or it was some crazy bet? Would she buy any of it and was our marriage effectively over?
For once I had absolutely no idea what to think or what I could say when I took that fateful call from her or even worse, if I unexpectedly opened the front door to her dressed as Rose.
Whilst obviously furious with Jenny for interfering in our lives and no doubt his growing relationship with Lucy, Mark actually gave me the option of going back to being AJ until I’d seen my mother, but I knew that wouldn’t work. My teeth were going to take extensive bleaching and my hair simply couldn’t be disguised.
As I saw it, we pretty much had to come clean with her and suffer the consequences. We needed to tell her that I was simply sick and tired of my old work and that I wanted to work as Mark’s maid and do domestic work. We could also possibly back it up by saying I was trying it as research for a book. She might just buy that, but in reality I had no idea! Of course Lucy simply had to go if this was to work and also I hoped in doing so, I might save my marriage.
Mark agreed that he wouldn’t invite Lucy over until we had cleared things with my mother but he was insistent that if I was to carry on with this thing, then once my mother was safely out of the way he’d be carrying on with her as he did not find what I’d become attractive in any way. I couldn’t argue, how could he fancy me like this? But the fact of the matter was, the frumpier I became, the more I was both being turned on by it and absorbed by it. Could I ever return to being anything approximating the old AJ again?
Mark rang Lucy from his office shortly afterwards and I could tell from what I overheard, that Lucy was not best pleased and I think was trying to convince Mark that I’d made this up as a plan to try and break up their relationship. Anyway, I’m sure when she spoke to her sister she’d learn that wasn’t the case and they could engage in their own family feud without any involvement from me.
It was agreed that for the time being Mark would visit Lucy at her place and she wouldn’t come here, which I viewed as a minor victory given the circumstances.
Of course the next afternoon, just after I’d finished thoroughly cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms the telephone rang and it was my mother. I took a deep breath and sat down at the kitchen table to speak to her. She’d just come off the phone with Jenny who had obviously done pretty much what she said she would and I think Jenny must have played up the breakdown side of my new life style and played down the fetishist angle, which I suppose, given the circumstances was at least something to be thankful for.
My mother was very upset and annoyed that I’d lied to her and threatened to come over the next day. I simply couldn’t have that and have her discover that I wasn’t just cleaning for Mark, but I was actually working as a professional cleaner as well, she would be mortified.
After almost 40 minutes on the phone speaking alternately to both her and my father, who if anything was even more upset than my mother, I managed to convince them that the best thing was for me to spend the weekend with them.
As I didn’t have to work on a Friday, I planned to catch a train to Reading on the Friday afternoon which would mean changing trains in London and then returning to St. Albans on Sunday afternoon, meaning I’d be back in time to do my weekend shift at the travel company. I reckoned I could just get away with it. My parents would be shocked at my appearance but I would hopefully at least be able to convince them of my sanity. If our relationship was tested to breaking point by this, so be it but, there’s no way that within the next three days I’d be able to transform myself back into AJ, not with my teeth, poor skin and hair as it was. I might also have to convince Mark to give me some of my old clothes back, but if I was completely honest with myself I knew that for some inexplicable reason the thought of going back to being AJ with her high heels and designer clothes just seemed revolting. I don’t know why, but I was gradually coming round to the fact that whatever the future may hold for me or my life with Mark, I wasn’t going to be the same person that I was less than three months ago ever again.
I got off the phone feeling deeply stressed, and went over to the drinks cabinet and made myself a stiff Gin & Tonic. The first alcohol that had passed my lips as Rose, but I’d never needed a drink more! I then rang Mark to tell him what had arisen from the call and although not exactly pleased, he agreed that I could go at the weekend, but he wouldn’t be driving me. Despite knowing this meant he’d spend the whole weekend with Lucy, I was relieved, as the thought of his meeting my parents as well would be more than I could bear.
What I would wear to go back to my parents’ home was another concern. I would certainly be travelling light as I had minimal make-up and would simply take a change of clothes, underwear and nightdress.
I did however need a suitcase as all Mark’s were far too smart and decided that a trip to the charity shop the next day would be necessary to buy a suitably outdated cheap weekend case. I would also wear my blue trousers and my court shoes that I wore to my interview. Wearing them for three hours travelling wouldn’t be great, but my mother wouldn’t find any of my other shoes acceptable at all. Also, by wearing trousers for the entire time, I hoped I could hide my hairy legs.
The next few days went by in the usual routine of going into town with my shopping trolley, waiting for buses, cleaning the house and evening work. I was beginning to relish the evening work, yes the toilets were often particularly unpleasant, but seeing the reflection of myself in washroom mirrors, wearing my tabard, rubber gloves and sagging tights gave me such a thrill. I also enjoyed my tea breaks with Marj and we had so much in common as middle-aged women. She said that her and “the girls” as she called her friends often went out for drink together on a Saturday evening and that I should come along. I was delighted to be so accepted by her and agreed to come along soon. It was going to be exciting and thrilling to see if I could completely pass in the company of a group of older women out for an evening, but this coming Saturday was out of the question as I would be back with my parents, sleeping in my old childhood bed!
I had managed to buy myself a navy blue imitation leather suitcase that was clearly made in the 1970s from one of the local charity shops. It would hold all I would need for my weekend away. I also bought myself a pair of opaque tights to cover my legs in case I wore a skirt. I opted for a navy blue pair, a colour that AJ would never have worn but black was simply too modern for Rose. I packed a floral skirt just in case, two blouses, in cream and lilac and a spare cardigan and my nightie. I also packed the black court shoes with the side buckle in case I couldn’t manage the 2” heels for the entire weekend.
I decided to make one small change to my normal appearance and that was to leave my brown contacts at home, I think they would be one step too far for my parents but I could still wear my plastic glasses without them. I added minimal toiletries and as the weather was starting to become autumnal, wore my pink anorak instead of my raincoat and headed off to catch the bus to the train station. The bus arrived quite quickly and dropped my very close to the station. Thankfully the train into Kings Cross in London was relatively quiet as it was mid afternoon on a Friday and there were plenty of seats, a very helpful young man lifted my case onto the overhead luggage rack for me which I thought was most kind. It was beginning to seem to me that to the outside world my whole persona must simply be that of a slightly vulnerable woman in late middle age with zero sense of style, someone to be either ignored or at best pitied. I would never have imagined that such a short time ago I would have looked or felt the way I did now and despite the daunting weekend that lay ahead of me I was really starting to feel so at ease as Rose.
I took my seat and got my romantic fiction from my shoulder bag and started to read. In fact the rather elderly lady sitting opposite me who was heading into London to visit her daughter and grandchildren remarked that she had read a number of books by the same author and what a wonderful writer she was. I agreed whole-heartedly, as I was becoming fascinated by the lightweight predictable style of the text. Again, I was totally accepted by this complete stranger who was making harmless conversation with me. As AJ I would have had men eyeing me up and women checking out my expensive clothes, looking enviously or bitchily at me. This was simply bliss in comparison and also I was so thankful for the conversation as it stopped my nervous thoughts of the impending encounter. In conversation I decided to invent the fact that I was visiting my sister and her husband in Reading and if I was dragged out by mother I imagine that’s possibly how we would appear, only one would have some elegance and I certainly would not.
Of course, the downside of catching a train into London in the middle of a Friday afternoon was that on arrival at King's Cross the rush hour was just starting and I would have to put up with a packed underground to make my way around to Paddington and the train out of town to Reading. Waiting on the crowded platform, a very smartly dressed man in his late thirties or early forties tripped over my case knocking it over and actually called me a ”Stupid old cow” for leaving it there. Everyone just averted their eyes in embarrassment. AJ would have given him such a mouthful but I simply bent down slowly, still struggling with my bad back and stood my case upright, fearful that I would get dragged into a screaming fight, but thankfully he moved further along the platform. I had totally forgotten how unpleasant the underground was at rush hour and as Rose I was actually quite scared. I had to stand from Kings Cross to Paddington getting pushed and jostled by all the professionals and office workers making their way home for the weekend.
After 10 minutes or so, which felt like forever we got to Paddington where I had to wait another 30 minutes for my train out of town. This time it was absolutely packed, but much to my surprise a very friendly looking girl in her early twenties stood up and gave me her seat. I was so appreciative after my encounter on the tube that I could have hugged her and what’s more her boyfriend lifted my case up for me. The only bad part about the journey was that I had promised to ring my parents from the train to let them know when I’d arrive. But there was no way I was going to make a call from a crowded train like this and say “Mum” or “Dad” it would seem bizarre to say the least. The call would have to wait until I got to Reading and I’d simply stand outside the station for one of them to come and get me. I was starting to become very apprehensive as to what awaited me at Reading. My only consolation was that if I could just get this weekend over I could let Rose absorb me and let any lingering reminders of the old AJ fade into my subconscious. I was absolutely determined to become fully immersed in this new creature that I’d created.
I finally emerged onto the ticket hall at Reading, being buffeted by commuters delighted to get their weekend underway Whereas, I felt something akin to the condemned man forced to eat his final meal prior to execution. I stood outside the station and rang home to say I’d arrived. My mother answered saying how pleased she was to hear my voice and she’d send my father out to meet me right away and he’d collect me from the pick-up point.
After 10 minutes or so, which went by all too quickly I saw my father’s car pull up outside the station. Of course from a distance he didn’t recognize me had I had to knock on the passenger window for him to let me in. He gave me a big kiss but was clearly in a state of shock at my appearance. I tried to make light of it by saying that “Retro” was really big at present and I wanted to have my own sense of style rather than continue as the fashion victim that I felt I’d become. I’m not sure he was very convinced but as he’d never been exactly the world’s most stylish man, he was unlikely to understand anyway. I couldn’t help thinking that wearing his plain grey trousers and gold sweater as he was, he probably looked a far better fit as my husband than he would for my mother who was always the epitome of middle aged elegance.
He went on to tell me how worried both he and my mother were from what we’d heard and were especially concerned that my marriage might be on the rocks. Of course he ended all his comments by saying that both he and my mother only wanted me to be happy. This was probably quite true from his side, but I had never been quite convinced that my happiness ever entered my mother’s head. She simply wanted to parade me around as the successful daughter with the even more successful husband! She could never resist telling her friends what a wonderful even if it seemed to be childless life we were both leading.
Anyway, we got home and Dad turned the key in the door for me to come face to face with my mother wearing a very expensive pink cashmere cardigan, grey knee length wool skirt and black patent heels that were possibly too high for her but only just! She’d obviously had her shoulder length hair freshly highlighted and although now 61 could easily pass for 50. I certainly looked like her dowdy older sister, which was fine for me, but certainly not for her.
“Oh Annabelle” she screeched. She never called me AJ!
“What have you done to yourself, you simply look awful, where are your lovely clothes, that anorak you’re wearing is simply awful. You look as if you’re off to a campsite. Your father and I have been at our wits end worrying about you since we spoke to Jenny and I must say, it looks as though all our worst fears have been confirmed. Has Mark done this to you?’
“And your teeth, when did you last visit a dentist?”
“No mother, its all my doing. I’ve simply had enough of that ultra competitive life I was living and being put on a pedestal by people like you” I replied all too aggressively.
“So its my fault you’ve decided to ruin your looks and your life now, is it?” she retorted.
“No Mum, I’m sorry I didn’t mean that, I simply want to live my life the way I choose”
“And is this how Mark would want you to live your life?” she asked
“Can we please leave Mark and my marriage out of this” I cried.
“Can’t we just have a quiet weekend together?”
“Yes let’s do that” my father, ever the peacemaker said.
I sometimes wondered how he’d managed to put up with her for the last 30 odd years, and then I remembered. Lots of golf!
He offered to take my case up to my old room as my mother looked at it in disgust, whilst I hung my coat in the hall.
I was then again, verbally assaulted by my mother, over the size of my hips and how had I put all that weight on. I simply ignored those comments and of course she then started on the state of my hair, informing me how it reminded her of the way my grandmother used to wear her’s, up until the day she died about 5 years ago.
“Please Mum” I asked. “I’ve only been here 5 minutes and all you’ve done is attack me. Can’t we just have some peace and quiet and be civil to each other.”
Of course, she then pretended to be upset saying how it was only because they both loved me so much and were deeply concerned. I’ve no doubt that was true, but why I thought did she always have to make everything sound as though they were done deliberately to upset her. She really was such an exasperating woman. Here I stood dressed as a frumpy housewife and within 5 minutes I was acting like a teenager in front of her. She was just so annoying.
At least my father came back downstairs to rescue me, saying we should all have a quick drink before dinner. Unfortunately, he made the mistake of calling me AJ and so some of my mother’s anger was then directed at him, as she’d always hated the way I preferred that to the “lovely” name Annabelle that she had so carefully chosen for me at birth.
This weekend was going to be every bit as long and trying as I’d feared it might be.
When I returned to St. Albans I made a mental note to myself that perhaps I should murder Jenny as well as Lucy for the situation she’d managed to land me in!
We sat down in practical silence over dinner and I just could not wait to be tucked up in bed for some peace and quiet. I answered all my mother’s questions as politely as I could and even agreed to come out shopping for clothes with her the next afternoon. Shopping with my mother was something I’d never enjoyed as AJ as our styles were always so different, but bizarrely they were even more different since I’d metamorphosed into Rose. She offered to buy me some smart new clothes to wear and I was rather fearful of what that might mean, given my new image!
I awoke the next morning dripping in sweat from the most terrifying dream. I’d somehow imagined I was an elderly lady living in a retirement home and all the nurses were replicas of Lucy and as much as I tried to convince them that I wasn’t an old lady they just ignored my pleas and I overheard them saying that it was just my age and that “I was confused”.
It was more than scary and if anything constituted a real nightmare that certainly did, but it really made me wonder if that was what lay ahead of me if I was to remain as Rose. However insane my thoughts were, I was just unable to imagine returning to my old life quite as it was before. Even if I did want to go back to being Mark’s wife, would he actually want me? Did he really think I was as mad as my mother and Jenny seemed to think and was he actually happier with Lucy anyway? My mind raced, I even ended up half convincing myself that he and Lucy had been having an affair before I started this and he’d encouraged it so he could do it openly. But thinking rationally, I just couldn’t really imagine that was the case. I had to put all these thoughts out of my mind and simply do the menial work I wanted to or I’d go insane.
I was up far earlier than my parents as over the last three months I’d become used to early starts and was downstairs in time to prepare their cereal and toast for breakfast. My mother seemed fractionally less inquisitive, which was good, but I was still very concerned over the rest of the day ahead. However could I really blame her for being so upset and worried when over the space of three short months she’d experienced her glamorous successful daughter transformed into what now faced her across the table. I had to realize that if I was faced with any of my friends or heaven forbid, a future daughter of mine doing this I’d be mortified.
At about 10 o’clock there was a ring at the door and it was Dr. Andrews our old family doctor. He had been one of Dad’s golfing partners for a number of years and they were playing a round later that morning.
However, the reason for his early arrival soon became apparent as he asked if I minded having a quiet chat with him in my father’s study. He explained that I could refuse and he wasn’t my doctor anymore and that this was strictly “off the record” but if I could spare him a few minutes it would help to put my mother’s mind at ease.
He was no psychiatrist, but had some concerns of his own but was careful not to overstep his professional boundaries. He asked why I was compelled to live as I was and was very eager to listen and be supportive and without explaining much of the fetish elements of my behaviour I believe I managed to convince him of my sanity and my desire to get away from the overly pressurized life I pretended to have been living. I was sure though that he’d have read enough Freud to know exactly what was hovering below the surface!
I’m not sure how convinced he was by my answers but they were at least good enough for him to know there was nothing that could be done about me without my consent and I was clearly in control of my own actions and motivations and he hoped it was some kind of “passing phase”
I sensed my mother’s disappointment that he hadn’t suddenly “cured” me of whatever mystery illness she felt I was suffering from, but so far at least she had to admit defeat. They left to play golf and soon after, my mother whisked me off to the shops where it was agreed that if we did meet anyone then I was her older sister, hence the slight remaining resemblance to Annabelle and her.
She dragged me into a number of department stores and smaller shops, desperate to try and update my style to something closer to hers and she was very hard to resist. I was asked to try on so many dresses and skirts that I was truly thankful that I’d worn my thick blue tights to cover my hairy legs.
I eventually came away with a purple floral flared dress that ended just below my knees which for Rose was very stylish and I was appreciative of my mother’s generosity as Rose could never have afforded it. The downside was that she made me buy a pair of black patent court shoes with a 3 inch heel. At least they weren’t stilettos, but there’s no way I’d be wearing them as Rose. Thankfully we only bumped into one woman and her husband that my mother knew, Mr. & Mrs Wilkinson and as my mother wasn’t overly fond of her it was a mercifully brief conversation. I made some comment about the weather and not getting to see my sister very often and I seemed to get away with it.
I had suspected that I’d be forced to go out to dinner in the evening, but I explained how tired I was and it was agreed that we would all have a quiet night at home. The worst of the trip was over and I could not wait to get away, knowing that I’d at least convinced my mother that I was fit and well, even if slightly confused as to what I was doing with my life.
Over dinner I was grilled by her about Mark and the state of my marriage as my father looked on suitably embarrassed, but I feel I managed to bluff it out and give her the impression that it was sound. I lied that Mark was also very concerned about me, but nevertheless, supportive of my strange decision. My mother made the very valid point that he would not tolerate me living like this for long before he found someone else. Little did she know how true that was!
Somehow the next morning, I managed to convince them that I had some “vague” work to do and would need to leave before lunch. I think I had pushed my luck far enough for one weekend and simply had to get away. I also knew that the trains would be quieter around lunchtime on a Sunday and going through the same experience as getting to Reading was not something I wanted to repeat. This would also mean I could put my two hours in at the travel company and be back at home by early evening.
As my parents dropped me off at Reading station I felt the greatest sense of relief since I first put on Rose’s overalls. It seemed as though an enormous weight had been lifted from my shoulders and the last barrier to embracing my life as Rose had been overcome.
What also dawned on me was the beginning of the realization that Lucy had won. She had pushed both Mark and I further than either of us had intended with this experiment, but I really didn’t care anymore. I knew that I still desperately needed to become Rose and continue to delve deeper into this new psyche that had absorbed me. How much more could I push myself into her character and equally importantly, for how long. This I did not know, but I did know that this journey was only beginning and I couldn’t help but think that the chapter of my life that I had spent as Mrs. Annabelle Parfitt was coming to an end. The real question was exactly what was I going to do next?