The next week went like a blast. I would dress every morning in my cleaning uniform - after putting on my breast forms and padded panties of course - and clean around the house. Nicole would supervise my work like a truly strict manager should, finding missed dirty spots or uncleaned hard-to-reach surfaces. On her days off she would spend almost the entire day with me, mostly watching TV and chatting with her friends on the phone. On her busy days, I was chiefly left to myself but I still did my cleaning routine, getting into the groove of things.
As much as it still surprised me, I found the whole experience extremely liberating - freeing me from hard thoughts and feelings, from making decisions I did not feel like making. Danielle’s lawyer got in touch with me again, asking how I was getting on with the paperwork, and I told him I was getting through it slowly and still needed time. In reality, I was so occupied with my cleaning “shifts” - and so tired after a day’s work - that I had not even have time to look at the e-mail with links and attachments he sent me. Not that I cared really. I was too excited with what I was doing.
With my cleaning skills getting better by the day - my home had never been so clean since the day we bought it probably if not since the day it’d been built - Nicole also began expanding her training program. She really seemed determined to turn me into a perfect cleaning lady in all ways possible.
One thing she did - to my futile protests - was to pack all my books into several boxes and have them donated to a local school library. One day a couple of guys came on a truck and just took them all away! I got a thank-you letter from a school principal, praising me for being such a good citizen, even as this was all Nicole’s doing! I tried to complain, but she just ignored all my protests. Was it her revenge for my earlier comments?
With Nicole, I could never be too sure if she was being vengeful or honestly thought she was doing the right thing. Since you are now a cleaner like the rest of us, you should also try to learn the things we like, she told me nonchalantly, clicking the TV remote. She opened her bag and took out a stack of brightly-coloured magazines and folded newspapers and put them in front of me on the table.
“Here, bought those for you for educational purposes,’’ she told me. “You can read them in your leisure time after you are done with your shift. Sorry, couldn’t find anything on military history, but there are some interesting shopping ideas for this season. And a couple of good interviews with actors.”
I quickly skimmed one of the magazines and put it back into the pile. It was one of those flashy publications devoted exclusively to the lives of local and foreign celebrities - their expensive clothing, their adorable babies, their posh houses, their enormous boats, their exclusive vacations… For someone like Nicole, this was the unattainable world of the rich and the glamorous - something she could try to emulate, but would never approach even remotely. As for me, I had absolutely no idea who all these well-tanned and surgically-enhanced people were. Were they TV actors? Socialites? Singers? Girlfriends or wives of footballers? I could not tell. Up to now, I had been cut off from that side of life.
“When you are ready for your big coming out, you will have to communicate with other cleaners. None of them will have read the books that you had. So you will need to come down to their level - watch the television programs they do, listen to music they like, obsess over celebrity lifestyles and so on. You don’t want to be a black sheep to them, do you?” Nicole asked me.
“I am not sure this is necessary. Surely, cleaners are capable of engaging in a conversation on a wide range of topics,” I tried to protest.
“Listen to yourself. “Engage on a wide range of topics”?! Most girls I know would have absolutely no idea about what you’ve just said. It would be like a foreign language to them. They did not go to university and don’t know fancy words. They live simple lives and have simple thoughts. They listen to R&B or pop music, not some fancy and boring crap that you probably like. So if you want to get on their level, you need to go down a step or two, understand?” she charged.
I nodded my head.
“Very well,’’ Nicole continued. I want you to read these magazines and watch MTV for at least an hour after I am gone. I will check what you’ve learned tomorrow,’’ she told me and made the TV volume louder, indicating that our conversation was over and she wasn’t interested in my response.
I did as I was told, of course. Like with everything that Nicole suggested, after some thought, I had to admit that she made a lot of sense, even as initially her ideas sounded strange. If I wanted to experience life as a cleaner to the fullest, I had to make some effort to understand their preferences better. That would help me get into their heads and become just like them. With only David’s set of skills and David’s knowledge and experiences, there was absolutely no way I could do that.
So I dutifully read all the magazines and tabloids, often not following the obscure jargon, endless abbreviations and non-stop references to events and people I had absolutely no idea about. It was almost like reading the diary of a person you’ve met for the first time - sure, you could understand the words, but much of the meaning would remain a complete mystery. Thankfully, the amount of text was not that big with the bulk of the magazines taken by full-page clothing ads and photos with very brief captions. Clearly, this type of mass media was not meant for a discerning reader - it fawned over celebrities, breathlessly describing what they wore and what events attended. Most of the articles read like poorly-concealed advertisements for clothing and shoe brands. Anyway, I finished going through them, as instructed.
If I felt that reading tabloids was a dumbing experience, watching MTV for an hour, as Nicole asked me to, was all that multiplied by ten. I literally felt that it was killing my brain cells. Even as a teenager I shunned music television, preferring some good old rock music like Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple. That interest later evolved into classical orchestral music and opera, moving me even further away from the typical musical tastes of my generation. Do people actually listen to this crap on their own, I kept asking myself as I tried to process what MTV had on offer for its viewers.
First, there were the lyrics. Sure, much of rock'n'roll is not exactly known for deep and memorable poetry, but compared to what I had to endure even the most idiotic “love, love me do” type of songs felt like Shakespeare by comparison. Often it just sounded like random words thrown together and put to a catchy tune. A lot of the lyrics were extremely suggestive and even sexually explicit to the extreme. Obviously, they knew their demographic pretty well and were catering to sex-obsessed teenagers, but wasn’t there a more subtle way of doing that?
Second, it was the videos themselves. Virtually every single one of them screamed sex. Virtually everyone was dancing - if you could call those stripper moves dancing that is. Everything was glitzy and shiny and excessive. The girls were semi-naked and well-endowed. The singers dressed like whores - heels were too high, necklines too low, skirts or jeans too tight. Nicole, with her trashy clothing and overdone makeup, was the epitome of style and restraint by comparison. As a female cleaner, are they supposed to be my role models?
At least, following my studies , I now knew what twerking was and learned a few celebrity names. The next day Nicole, as promised, checked my progress and was pleased that I could mention a couple of top 10 pop chart songs and now knew who Vincent Cassel was currently dating.
“Very nice, you’ll soon be ready to chat with your fellow cleaners like the best of them,’’ she told me excitedly. “You should continue watching TV every single day, watch some game shows too. It should become your daily habit.”
“There is another thing you need to work on,” she continued. “It’s your voice. It will give you away as a man. That’s not something we can fix with makeup, unfortunately. There are some exercises you can do, but don’t expect any wonders. I did more research for you online on the topic. Some people are blessed with a naturally soft voice, you are not one of them, you will need to practice a lot.”
She pointed me to several online tutorials on “voice feminisation” and I began practising. It was a lot harder than I imagined it to be, but after several lessons I made some small progress. I was now determined that with more effort I could begin sounding a lot less like a man. Nicole also commented on my progress, even though she initially ridiculed me for sounding like a stereotypical gay man when I was just starting out, which served to make me try even harder.
With each passing day I was becoming more and more confident in my chosen role. I was now adept at cleaning. Even Nicole, who originally did not miss a chance to criticise me for being a slacker, was now visibly pleased with how thoroughly I was doing my job. Despite my initial reservations, with help from Nicole, I’d learned to apply makeup to give me a more feminine appearance. I went for a slightly less overstated look than Nicole favoured, but the end result was still more than satisfactory - I did look passable. I also got used to daily wear of my breast forms and padded panties to the point that I felt that something was missing when I removed them to take a shower. They really felt like a part of me now.
The wig was a bit of problem, though - I did not like the feeling of wearing it over my own hair and it did not look natural at all. With all the movements I had to do when cleaning it was also periodically sliding to the side, forcing me to adjust it.
“Don’t you worry about that. You own hair will soon be long enough to get a more feminine ‘do,’’ Nicole told me matter-of-factly. Of course, I was not really planning to do anything to my own hair! Yet, she was already talking about it as a done deal. Typical Nicole. What worried me was that up to now anything she’d mentioned as necessary had happened eventually, my initial protests notwithstanding. It was if she was clever enough to know what I wanted in reality, even though I did not have the guts to admit it to myself.
Meanwhile, I got another call from the lawyer. It’d been another week and he'd still received nothing from me. The guy was furious, but I managed to calm him down by promising to deliver very soon. He gave me my “last chance” and hung up. It looked like real life was finally catching up with my fantasy. That day, following my cleaning and mandatory TV marathon, that consisted of a reality show and some music videos, I went through the lawyer’s list, sent the required documents back to him and set the wheels in motion.
With my divorce out of the picture, at least for now, we could finally concentrate on making that night shift happen. I was excited beyond words. My urges to go ahead with it and experience cleaning in a public environment were getting stronger and stronger. Just doing it in my own house was no longer enough. It was kind of silly, actually. It’s not like it required a daily thorough cleaning, to begin with, and now it was so spotless I sometimes had to deliberately spill something on the floor so that I had something to do during my “shift.” Anyway, this was all leading to my coming out. I had to do it. That was the cure I needed, as Nicole put it. I just couldn’t wait for the virus to spread any further.
Nicole was very happy with my determination and told me she’d arrange for me to take her night shift starting the following week. Of course, all of it was under the radar and illegal, but Nicole knew the people at the mall who would turn a blind eye. After all, the only thing they cared about was how well the cleaning was done. Whether it was Nicole or anyone else they couldn’t care less.
“Just one last thing before I set it all up,’’ she told me and gave me her trademark mischievous smile.
“What shall we call you? I can’t tell them you are my former manager called David, can I?”
“Yes, I haven’t thought about that,’’ I replied, admiring Nicole’s sharpness yet again. “I am not sure. Do you have any ideas?”
She looked me over and finally said: “I had a friend at high school called Sylvia. She kinda looked like you. Shall we call you that?”
“Hmm… Yes, I like that. My grandma was called Sylvia too. Let’s do it,” I replied.
“Very well, Sylvia, it’s about to happen!” Nicole told me excitedly.