by Violet Carson
My mind raced as I sat down on the surprisingly empty train. It was so quiet that as the guard checked my ticket he made polite conversation about how much easier it was travelling on a Sunday and it dawned on me how readily I was now being accepted as Rose!
I desperately hoped that after I’d finished my shift, Mark would be home alone as I needed to have a serious talk with him. I needed to get him to understand that working for him was fine, but being at Lucy’s beck and call wasn’t and if he wanted to keep her, then I needed to move on with my life and for the time being at least that would be as Rose. I simply couldn’t comprehend pulling on my old silk underwear and designer clothes any longer. I wanted to disappear from my old life and emerge fully as Rose. I even thought such insane things as if I divorced him with my settlement, would I be able to find some crazy plastic surgeon to actually make me look older. But I quickly pushed those stupid ideas to the back of my mind. I wanted to look older and plain now, but did I really want to look like that for possibly up to another 50 years, probably not! However, somehow I felt I still wasn’t quite living as Rose would and that other than my sore back and knees from all my bending down and scrubbing floors was I genuinely experiencing life as a poor cleaner? The answer was obvious. No I wasn’t. But how exactly could I move this beyond the charade it sometimes appeared to be to really make this become my life?
Then it dawned on me. The reason this didn’t seem real enough was I that I was still actually living in my old home. Sleeping in a small spare room yes, but I could easily actually say to Mark I’ve had enough of this I want to be AJ again and in reality he couldn’t stop me.
I needed to feel more trapped as Rose and submit to this new being. I felt that I had to live as she was in such a situation that it would unimaginable for me to live as AJ. I was doing that when I cleaned at Getaway Holidays and when I was out shopping, but was it really my life? No it wasn’t. If I wished I could just turn it off at a moment’s notice. I needed to feel trapped and submissive with no easy way out.
I resolved to give Mark an ultimatum. If he wanted Lucy he could have her but I wanted my own life. I mulled a million different scenarios over in my mind. Surely, there must be some small flat in Parfitt’s portfolio that I could live in entirely as Rose and experience this new life completely 24/7. By doing that I would discover if that humdrum repetitive existence was what I truly wanted for the rest of my days or whether I would just work it out of my system over the next few months or even years. Or was it simply a phase as our family Dr. Andrews had suggested. Mark’s comments to me had been so true. If I didn’t go along with this, it would be gnawing away at me forever. I had to see it through and follow whatever path it led me to. I could feel myself getting wet with the excitement of it, This was just so wonderfully all embracing.
I finally emerged at St. Albans and headed straight to the offices for my cleaning shift. I had never actually been there on a Sunday before and had no idea how quiet it might be.
The main door to reception was closed and so I had to ring the buzzer to be let in by some surly black youth who must cover security at the weekend, He didn’t look pleased to see me as he stomped across the reception area to let me in. I could still hear the rap music blasting out of his headphones.
“Hey lady waddya want?” he asked.
“I’m Rose the cleaner” I replied
“Oh yeah lady, sign in at the visitors book – bye”
“Of course” I politely replied”
I left my case in the storeroom, took off my anorak and put the overalls and tabard on and set to work.
Three hours later after completing my shift as I slowly walked towards home, Mark’s Porsche sped past without slowing for me. Two things immediately sprang to mind.
- I hope Lucy’s not with him and
- I wonder what on earth he actually thinks of me when he sees me outside. Is he horrified at the sight of his wife, or pleased at how in three short months both he and Lucy have removed every last remaining strand of my dignity and style?
This really is madness I told myself, but I knew I just couldn’t stop, it seemed as though some invisible force was driving me on to further humiliation and degradation.
Luckily, as I walked through the front door Mark was there alone and greeted me.
“Hello Rose, how was your weekend?”
“Fine, thank you” I lied
“They were very glad to see me and although I think that their worst fears were confirmed, they realized it was my life and there was no point in fighting me, but they are understandably deeply concerned”.
“Mr. Parfitt: I continued.
“Can I tell you something that’s been on my mind”
“Well if you really must Rose” he responded.
“Is it important?”
“Yes very” I blirted out.
“I can’t go on like this”
“No Rose you can’t give up yet, you simply can’t. We’ve discussed this already”
“I’m sorry no, that’s not what I meant. I meant to say I can’t go on living here when you are with Lucy. I need to get away and really let Rose take me over. I want to properly live as she would on her income, but somewhere else. But I don’t know how”
“Rose that’s a huge step. Is that what you really want?” he asked
“Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve spent the whole weekend dreaming of a totally different repetitive life with no worries or cares, other than to clean and get through one day until the next one starts in exactly the same mundane way”
“AJ” he exclaimed ”You are absolutely crazy. Have you really thought what that would mean, living in some awful flat with virtually no money and hardly any possessions”
“I know its utter madness, but I’m hopelessly addicted to this thing, like some worthless junkie needing an ever increasing dose to get high” I replied
“I just can’t stop, so it please can you help me with this” I pleaded
“Let’s sleep on it” he sensibly answered.
“If you feel the same way in the morning then I’m sure I can arrange it. I can think of just the place. As you know Parfitt’s purchased an old local authority housing estate about a year ago that we’re gradually clearing the tenants from prior to redeveloping the site. There are plenty of small very unappealing apartments there. They’re very run down and some have squatters, I’m sure Rose could live there very cheaply. But believe me it won’t be fun. It’s the sort of place you would normally run a mile from but I can imagine it would be just the sort of place that the Rose’s of this world could very easily find themselves trapped. It will really be quite unpleasant for you and you would have to catch the bus here each day as well as to the travel company. You’ll have no spare time of your own. But if you insist on living that kind of mundane, desperate life with no spare money for any luxuries I’m pretty sure I can make it happen”
“Oh Mark!, sorry I mean Mr. Parfitt it sounds perfect. I promise I won’t change my mind please, please find something for me. We can move my bed there and buy a second hand sofa and table and a couple of old chairs. That’s all I’ll need. It will be just the life I’m looking for!”
“Really!” he sighed
“If that’s genuinely how you feel tomorrow, I can get one of those flats and have you moved in by next weekend I’m sure”.
For some crazy reason I hugged him, but I could actually feel him wince within my arms. That was the final realization that he didn’t love me or find me attractive in anyway. It was how I imagined he would react if the original Rose had suddenly hugged him. He said nothing but stood there frozen hoping the embarrassing moment would end.
I pulled away and apologized for my actions.
“That’s alright Rose, but I wouldn’t advise you to make a habit of hugging your employers. It could be construed as sexual harassment!’ he joked half-heartedly.
I took my case upstairs and started to unpack my few clothes including my new dress that I actually quite liked and looked at the shoes my mother had so kindly bought for me. I’d have hated them as AJ for simply being so boring and safe and I actually hated them even more as Rose for being too high and having the slightest hint of style. What had I become I thought?
I cooked an evening meal for Mark, with no Lucy around thankfully and retired early to bed, knowing I wouldn’t get any sleep but also that my mind was made up.
First thing tomorrow when I served him his breakfast I was going to confirm my decision. I could not wait. I’d buy some cheap ornaments and chintzy curtains and furnish it in a wonderfully out-dated style. AJ would be completely forgotten. I’d also accept Marj’s invitation to go out with her friends the following Saturday and get my hair done, but not by Zoe, but in a salon run by two middle aged women that I always walked past in town. They specialized in senior citizen style perms. My hair was going to be just perfect for my new home!
As soon as I’d finished serving Mark’s breakfast in the morning I told him of my decision. I said I’d thought it all over last night and that it was definitely what I wanted. I just had to immerse myself in every aspect of a cleaner’s lifestyle. I asked him if he meant what he said and he confirmed that he could get me a place by the weekend. He knew that one of the apartments was being cleared out in the week. It was a small one bedroom place where and elderly lady was going to live with her daughter as she could no longer care for herself. He even thought that if he offered a few hundred pounds they’d probably leave all the furniture which form what he’d been told would be ideal for Rose. The woman had been in her 80s and everything was very old fashioned and of pretty poor quality, so he thought they’d be delighted to get any offer for it.
“Oh Mark!” I squealed
“It sounds perfect. I’ve never really had my own place, as we moved in together straight after university. I can’t wait”
“Really” he sighed.
“If you must do this, leave it with me and I’ll let you know but I see no reason why you can’t be in there by Saturday and it will give you even more cleaning to do as I think the old lady had become pretty sloppy in taking care of the place.
“Thank you” I replied, not knowing exactly what lay ahead and realizing what a huge life changing decision I had just made as if it was nothing,
Soon after Mark left for work I phoned the hair salon I had in mind and made an appointment for 2pm that afternoon. It felt so exciting. I couldn’t wait to sit there under the dryer with my hair in curlers. I was going to get myself the most perfect perm. I was almost overcome as waves of emotion swept over me just dreaming about it!
I don’t know how I got through my morning’s work. I was absolutely unable to concentrate on anything. It was as if Mark’s agreement to my suggestion was the last obstacle min my way to living as Rose was being removed. I had no idea what my new home would be like but I was committed to living there as Rose with any last traces of AJ hidden from the outside world.
The clock finally ticked round to 1.30pm and I put on my raincoat and black flat courts and headed for the bus. Just before two, I took a deep breath and pushed open the door of the salon to be greeted by the middle aged lady that I’d seen through the windows a number of times in the past. There were two other customers, both mature ladies. One having curlers removed from her fresh and elegant perm and the other, sitting under a large dryer reading a women’s magazine. I explained I wanted a nice curly perm and a trim and she immediately said she knew just what would suit me. We made small talk about her respective children. Her’s were both away at University and I made up the tale about mine trying to remember how much fake background for Rose Mark had invented on my CV.
I seemed to convince her I was telling the truth and two hours later I left with the most wonderful head of permed grey hair that would grace the head of any 70 year old. I looked at myself in the mirror torn between thinking it was exactly the image I wanted for Rose and was I being completely crazy, a woman not quite 30 possibly passing for a 60 year old. As I left it started to rain slightly and I had not brought an umbrella with me. So I walked the short distance to a large store and managed to buy a clear plastic headscarf. It was exactly the type worn by elderly ladies to protect similar hairstyles to mine. As soon as I paid I walked outside and put it on, feeling overwhelmed by the experience. I caught sight of myself in a shop window and even I couldn’t recognize a single element of AJ. I really was Rose. It was so stimulating. I simply floated to the travel company to start my evening shift. I was also determined to speak to Marj and tell her that if “the girls” were going out together this weekend she could most definitely count me in.
Within the next few days I was going to experience two completely new aspects of my life. Going out with a group of women all aged 60+ who I barely knew, which would be a real test of how my new person had been absorbed into me and secondly I was going to live on my own for the first time ever and as a new person: Rose Edwards.
Marj told me that my new hairstyle was delightful but she thought it made me look older than I actually was. Part of me was thrilled that I was achieving the image that I was hoping for but inside me, there was a worrying feeling that she may have seen through me. Anyway there was no turning back now. She said she was thrilled that I could come out with them and that they were going for a cheap meal in a fairly down-market Italian restaurant chain and it would be her and two friends. Anne who was a widow who lived close to her and Beth the other cleaner from Great Getaway Holidays. So there would be the four of us in total. She said we may even all go for a quick drink in the pub close by later, especially if her husband and a couple of his friends were going to be there.
“Oh Rosie, we’ll have such fun” she exclaimed.
Suddenly I felt a shudder of fear. Not only did I have to keep up my new persona with three other women, one of whom I’d never met, but also possibly a group of assorted men. I would definitely be diving in at the deep end!
When I returned home from work, both Mark and Lucy were there. Mark confirmed he had been able to acquire one of the apartments for me and that he had organized for some of Parfitt’s employees to check it out and organize some charity shop furniture if necessary.
Lucy informed me it would be perfect, especially as the past resident had left most of her old furniture behind which would make life so much more comfortable for me as an older woman. She hoped it would be just to my taste. Whatever that was supposed to mean.
I had images of chintzy curtains and an old mattress, possibly with urine stains from where the elderly old woman had no doubt had a few “little accidents!” Of all the changes I’d gone through over the past three months or so, this seemed to me to be the most drastic, but also the most exciting. When I moved into that apartment, unless one day I turned the key and simply walked away, it would be my life and despite having a share in the house with Mark, to all intents and purposes, all my worldly goods would be in this new home however unappealing it may seem to almost anyone else.
Friday finally came around and I returned home pushing my shopping trolley in front of me in the light drizzle. Thankfully I had remembered to take my plastic scarf to protect my hair or my perm would have been ruined as it was impossible to hold an umbrella and push the trolley.
Mark and Lucy were going out to the theatre in London in the evening so I would have time to get myself ready before heading into town. I felt like a teenage girl preparing for a night at a disco! My wardrobe may have been limited but I must have tried in almost every possible combination of blouse and skirt. I finally settled on the purple knee length floral dress that my mother bought me along with navy blue opaque tights and the blue 2” heeled court shoes that I’d worn to my interview. I put on more make-up than I’d ever worn as Rose and covered my face in a fairly light powder that I felt a woman of Rose’s age would wear. I added a string of cheap fake pearls and the clip on earrings and with a few sprays of my “Chanel No.5” I was finally ready.
When I got to the restaurant, Marj and Beth were already there and had opened a bottle of white wine. They complimented me on my dress, but again, Marj made a very troubling comment, that if I changed my hair and wore slightly more stylish clothes and that certainly I should pluck my eyebrows, then I could look maybe 20 years younger. I managed to stammer out some reply as to how flattered I was, but my mind was racing. Had she seen through me, or had she been told by someone at the cleaning company that I was a fake. I had absolutely no idea how much information Mark had given them before my interview, but I would need to be on my guard for any slip-ups.
Anyway, I got through the meal which other than that scare was great fun and after a few drinks all three of them became fairly vulgar, which I wasn’t really expecting from three women who must have all been about 60. After my third glass of wine I was also feeling a little tipsy and hoped I didn’t let anything slip. I really felt I should then leave, as I was obviously pushing my luck, but they insisted that I go to the pub with them to meet the menfolk!
Marj’s husband Alf was there as well as two of his friends Pete and Jack. Jack was divorced, was probably in his 60s, was overweight and balding. He however seemed particularly interested in me, which rather caught me by surprise. After a few minutes it dawned on me that I was actually being chatted up and he complimented me on my hair and was actually rather sweet. The other two were quite larger than life characters who when they were younger would undoubtedly both have been a real handful, but I found Jack to be rather interesting and polite. I was not ready for any of this and it clearly hadn’t ever entered my thinking that someone could find me attractive. I also suddenly started feeling quite turned on. It had now been well over three months since I’d had sex. Could I actually go to bed with someone as Rose. Things started to look as though they might take a very unexpected turn. I simply had to get away, so as soon as I could politely leave I did as I needed to get my thoughts together and after a few drinks too many I wasn’t able to and may end up doing something I would seriously regret.
I told everyone what a wonderful evening I’d had but that I had to catch my bus and as I turned to leave Jack said
“We do this most weekends. I do hope you’ll come next time as I’ve really enjoyed meeting you”I said I’d try to and I waved to everyone and gave Jack the best smile I could muster under the circumstances. Taking a deep breath, I headed for the door and my bus home to what may be my last night spent in my old marital home.