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Always Something Else

Fiction by Ann Garvald

It all started with what I though would be just another of my secret Diane-For-The-Day days. Whenever I could manage those days they were always sheer bliss. But unfortunately I couldn’t make them happen as often as I wanted. Rachel knew nothing about Diane. We’d been living together for over three years and I loved Rachel dearly. And she loved me. Which was why I still procrastinated about telling her everything — I was afraid I would lose her.

Well, one typical Vancouver wet November day the inevitable happened. I had the day off, but Rachel had to work. I gave her a good half hour after she left the apartment, just in case she might come back for something. She didn’t, so then I showered, shaved very carefully and — embarking on a delightful stay-in-bed morning — I put on bra, undies, sheer pantyhose, my light blue satin caftan and (finally !) my wig – dark ash-blonde, silky, swingy, bra-strap-length. Always the moment when I really became Diane. Happy now, I fluffed up the pillows and slipped back into bed, toast and coffee beside me, to lie back and watch morning TV — a lovely lazy morning. After lunch ? Nothing seriously planned. Experiment with make-up. Practice clarinet a bit. Write some letters. In other words, just enjoy living life as Diane. Which first called for getting dressed. My white silk blouse, long-sleeved to cover my distressingly masculine arms, dark tights to cover my equally distressing legs, my little red tunic dress, a single strand of pearls, pearl clip-on earrings and comfortable low heels. At perfect peace with myself. And totally unaware that a grid failure had hit downtown, that computers were down and that office buildings were in semi-darkness. But SkyTrain was still running and everyone was heading for home

And the first I knew about that was when I heard the apartment door unlock. I was in the bedroom critiquing my eye shadow and there was no way I could make it to the bathroom so I just stood there, transfixed like a deer – well maybe a doe – caught in the headlamps. And when Rachel came into the bedroom she froze too. Her eyes grew large, her mouth formed an huge “O” and we stood looking at each other in silence for what seemed like minutes. And then the corners of her mouth twitched and she began to laugh – not the sardonic, cynical laugh that was Rachel when she was annoyed or angry, but the genuine laugh that only surfaced when she was really amused and happy. That too seemed to last minutes but at last she recovered some composure, stepped back, tilted her head to one side and surveyed me critically from head to toe. And finally spoke. “Well now,” she said, “Haven’t we got our work cut out for us.”

And so, within the privacy of our Kingsway apartment, we started on a delicious new road to the future. A steep learning curve for me, but all of it wonderful, with Rachel critic and teacher (and even more ardent lover) every step of the way. Things I thought I’d worked out for myself had to be learned all over again. Always something else. Every day, as soon as I got home, male drab was joyfully discarded and I would become Diane for the evening. Right at the start, rather like an episode of “What Not To Wear”, Rachel pitched almost all the pieces of feminine clothing that for years I had lovingly concealed in a nondescript suitcase. Then at weekends we would go shopping — Rachel and Jeff — to buy dresses, blouses, jackets, skirts, lingerie, boots, shoes and accessories, supposedly for Rachel but really for Diane. We developed a system of me slipping into the changing room while Rachel stood outside. Anything we took home that couldn’t be modified to fit, we returned and exchanged. Modifications were often necessary, even if the 16-18 sizing was approximately right. Rachel was an excellent seamstress and Diane became quite good at it too.

And with all this came a welcome end to that distress about arms and legs. At last I could have the clean smooth body I’d wanted for so long.

But that was only the start. The learning went on. So many things that little girls absorb as they grow up and that have become second-nature by the time they are teenagers, and things that are purely instinctive, I had to learn. Intensive lessons in make-up. Walking with smaller steps and using my hips more – but not to the point of exaggeration. What to do with my arms and my hands when walking. What to do with my feet when I was just standing. And what not to do with my legs when I was sitting. How to carry a small purse or a bigger shoulder bag. Getting little mannerisms just right, whether smoothing my skirt when I sat down, frequently checking my hair or subtle hand-gestures when I talked. Body language, body language, body language. And voice, voice, voice. Always something else.

All this plus the tricky business of grooming eyebrows and fingernails so they would be okay for Diane, yet wouldn’t attract attention to Jeff at his workplace, at least not until the glorious day when he would disappear for ever.

I had known two of Rachel’s close girlfriends for several years, and a few weeks after that incredible November day, Rachel went to lunch with them and let them into our secret. They were fascinated and became frequent evening visitors, eager to help their new sister find herself.

Leading up to one momentous evening in March. Amy and Erin were over early, soon after I’d got home and had changed into the clothes that were now me. I thought we’d have just another relaxed evening but no sooner than the dinner dishes were cleared I found three girls looking me over and smiling wickedly. “Come on Diane” said Rachel, “Go get that nice new winter coat of yours –the one that’s never been worn outside — and get your black boots and purse. We’re all going out for a drink.” I gave them eighteen good excuses as to why I wasn’t ready for this, but in vain. Three against one. Yikes!! Diane’s first night out.

We went in Erin’s Jeep Liberty — she was our DD for the night — and she drove all the way out to Abbotsford to a pub she knew. A long drive for a quiet night out, but the roads were dry and this way it was unlikely we’d run into anyone who knew Jeff. Lots of laughter and girl talk on the way – always a thrill for me. Helping me forget my nervousness. Once we’d arrived and settled down at a table, and especially as the evening wore on, I really relaxed and could enjoy just being Diane. Four girls at a table inevitably resulted in appraising glances, but since I was the homely one of the crowd the looks were directed mostly towards my three companions, which suited me fine. This is incredible, I was thinking — all that unease for nothing. But then it came back with a vengeance. A nagging little fear, that had never really left, suddenly loomed large. “Rachel”, I whispered in a voice that did not disguise my concern, “I have to go to the washroom”. “The big test, eh ?” said Rachel with a smile. “C’mon kiddo, I’ll go with you.” She was doing her best to reassure me, making light of something I dreaded, but the anxiety continued to mount as I followed her through the crowded pub and up to the Ladies washroom door. But once through it, with none of the women there giving me a second look, I felt a little bit better. So I headed for a cubicle, shut the door, did what I had to do, then waited until I was sure Rachel would be finished. With new courage I came out, nonchalantly I thought. Rachel was fixing her hair in front of the mirror and looked across encouragingly. But then the smile left her face, she sighed and rolled her eyes. “What ?” I said, back to being terrified.

“Diane, Diane, Diane” she said, quietly so she would not be overheard. “What is it that a girl takes to the washroom that a guy never does?”

I couldn’t answer.

“Her purse, silly, her purse!”


Always something else.

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