DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing, was placed second in the Writing Magazine 'Mid-Story Sentence' competition and short-listed for the 2015 Carillon 'Let's Be Absurd' Fiction Competition, and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Sorcery & Sanctity: A Homage to Arthur Machen (Hieroglyphics Press), State of Horror: Illinois (Charon Coin Press), and issues of The Literary Commune, Sirens Call, Tigershark and Carillon, as well as having a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor).
DJ Tyrer's website is at http://djtyrer.blogspot.co.uk/
The Atlantean Publishing website is at http://atlanteanpublishing.blogspot.co.uk/
One Ray of Light
“Would you like to share my brolly?” I asked Liam. It was a typical British winter with rain falling in sheets and I was standing by his front gate. We were in the same class at school and regularly walked there and back together. For me, that was my favourite time of the day as we were alone together; I loved spending time with him.
“Thanks,” he smiled, slipping under its black dome. We were very close; I felt a thrill as his arm brushed back and forth against mine.
“It’s good to see you’re well again,” he said after we’d walked a little way in silence. I’d been off school for a week; I was prone to illness, unlike Liam who never missed a day. The doctor had suggested it was a physical manifestation of stress; my mum had been sceptical, but it made sense to me, but then she was unaware of just what pressures I faced at school.
“Yeah, it’s good to be back.” What I really meant, of course, was that it was good to be with him. I had the biggest crush on him.
“Will you be coming to the game tonight?” he asked.
“Yes.” We played D&D every Wednesday night; I enjoyed the escapism. “What happened last session?”
“Simon’s character was killed in an ambush by some orcs, but the rest of you made it to the dungeon. You’re going in tonight. Simon rolled up his new character on Friday. He’s going to play a sorcerer.”
We chatted on in that manner until we reached the school gates.
“Hi!” Simon had spotted us and gave us a wave; he was in another class to us. There wasn’t time to do more than return his greeting as the bell was ringing.
“Better get inside,” I commented, needlessly.
We headed inside and took our seats for registration. Next to us in the row was short, scrawny Brian who was also in our group. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was kind of glad to have him in our class, as he was a natural target for bullies, distracting their ire from me. Sometimes, I’d stand up for him, but more often I wouldn’t, grateful it wasn’t me being tormented.
I made sure that my gaze was fixed on anything but Liam: I didn’t want my crush to be noticed, mocked. Being in class could be torture: so close to him, yet unable to enjoy it.
We answered our names and I handed in my absence note: I hated to be called forward like that; there was always some snide comment.
The first lesson of the day was German for me; Liam was taking French, so I wouldn’t see him till Geography. I took my seat next to Lily Jones. We’d become good, if not close, friends over the last two years of sitting next to one another for this lesson. We were both shunned by the rest of the class, leaving us little choice but to sit and work together. She wasn’t the prettiest of girls and not very academic, yet an outstanding gymnast who’d represented the county in competitions; naturally, she was a perfect victim for those jealous of her success with plenty of insecurities for the bitches to target. She was the one person I knew who hurt more than I did; we’d discussed suicide as a means to escape the cruelty of the world and whilst I could see little help for myself, it disgusted me that her obvious talent was at such a risk of being wasted. Did the bullies understand just how much power they wielded? Did they care? Or, did they delight in the possibility of destruction? Perhaps...
Geography. That meant I was sitting next to Liam, even if steel-grey haired Mr Clarke was too strict to let us chat. Mr Clarke was the other reason that this was my favourite lesson: I had almost as big a crush on him as I did on Liam. He was maturely handsome, with a military bearing, and whilst stern was very pleasant when not engaged in a struggle of wills with a recalcitrant class. He always had my full attention: the only problem was that I was certain I blushed whenever his gaze fell on me.
Break followed and I made sure to stay close to Liam, Simon and Brian, who were discussing the latest D&D supplement Liam had bought. My bladder was full, but I held off visiting the toilets; the toilets were where you could easily fall prey to bullies unless you went with backup and none was currently available.
Maths was a nightmare. None of my friends were in the class as, for reasons I could never fathom and despite my many absences holding me back, I’d somehow managed once more to gain admittance to the top set. The hour felt more like a lifetime and the only aspect of the lesson I considered an achievement was that Miss Davies never called on me to answer a question. I was just glad Christmas was fast approaching and I’d soon have a break from the lesson.
Having struggled through to lunchtime, I scuttled immediately to the nearest loo, thankfully arriving and exiting whilst it was empty. I then caught up with the others in the quad for some lunch – we all brought packed lunches rather than waste time in the queue; we had other plans for our lunch-break. Once we’d eaten, we headed up to the library where we settled in a corner and Simon ran us through the latest instalment of a Savage Worlds campaign we fitted in most days. As long as we didn’t make much noise, our presence was tolerated. It certainly beat being outside where I always expected to be picked on.
After lunch was History and, once again, I was seated next to Liam. Mr Harris was more lax in his approach to teaching, offering some opportunity for chatting, which was enjoyable.
The last lesson of the day was English and, once again, I was on my own. Mrs Lewis was the sort of teacher who just droned and it was all too easy for my mind to wander. I was doodling on a spare piece of paper and, without realising it, had broken my golden rule: never let my feelings for Liam show. I was doodling one of those hearts with an arrow through it with his name in it.
“O-M-G!” exclaimed Natasha, one of the bitches, looking over my shoulder. “You fancy Liam!”
Reflexively, I attempted to cover the drawing with my hand, but already she’d torn the page away from me and was presenting it to those on her table to a chorus of laughter.
“You fancy Liam?” May shrieked with amusement.
“Shit, Jim’s a fag!” exclaimed Steve.
“I’m not a fag...” I mumbled.
Just then Mrs Lewis seized the paper from Blake who was scribbling something, doubtless obscene, on it.
“I’ll take that. And, you four can stay behind for ten minutes for being disruptive.”
I suppose I could be thankful I hadn’t had a chance to make a scene myself and so wasn’t kept behind, too: instead, I was being offered a chance to escape without confrontation. Of course, it would be all over the school the next day, so I was just delaying the inevitable. I could only hope it wouldn’t be too bad: after all, I’d been called a fag and a freak more than once. They were right about the latter, but I didn’t consider myself the former, no matter what they thought.
The bell rang a few minutes later and I bundled my things into my bag and ran as quickly as I could from the classroom, tears pricking at my eyes.
“Hey, Jim, you okay?” Liam had spotted me. I’d forgotten I’d be walking home with him, was desperate to just get home as quickly as possible and lock myself in my room.
I tried to answer and started to sob. I felt pathetic and confused. I sucked in a breath and managed to say, “I’m not feeling too well.”
“You still coming tonight?”
Damn, I’d forgotten about gaming. “No, I don’t think so. Sorry!”
I didn’t wait for his response, just strode away as quickly as I could. Liam would be waiting for Simon and Brian, and I didn’t want them to see me crying, didn’t want to be pestered for explanations.
“Fucking baby!” someone from the year above spat at me as I walked past them. Never let them see you cry; boys don’t cry, that was what I was always being told. Yeah, well I’m not, not really, and I do. I bit down on the urge to retort and just scurried away.
I’d managed to stop my tears by the time I got home and thought I might just get away with just saying I felt sick – not exactly a lie – as a pretext for why I was home without going to Liam’s.
I didn’t even have the chance to put my bag down before Mum had shouted out, “Get in here, now!”
Warily, I went into the lounge.
“The school has just rung,” she said and I felt a horrible lurch in my guts. “They said you’re being bullied.”
I crossed my arms and looked up at the ceiling. “I’m not.”
“And, they said...” Her voice choked and I thought she was going to burst into tears. I felt my tears returning.
Looking at her, pleading with my eyes, I whispered, “Please....”
“Jim are... are you gay?” she asked.
“I’m not gay,” I whispered, feeling sick.
“But, the school says you... fancy Liam.” The words were clearly distasteful to her.
I closed my eyes and admitted, “Yes, I do.”
“Oh, my... you’re gay...” She sounded heartbroken.
“I’m not gay!” I shouted. “I’m a girl!”
“What? What the hell are you talking about?”
That shocked me: Mum never swore.
“I’m a girl. In my mind, I’m a girl. I was born with a boy’s body, but I shouldn’t’ve been. It’s wrong; really, I’m a girl.” I was in tears now and thankful that I felt my Mum’s arms about me, embracing me. She was crying, too.
When we both finally stopped crying, we sat down together and talked and talked. Mum made tea; she was a great believer in the healing power of tea. I explained to her that I’d felt this way as long as I could remember, that it was truly who I was and not some sort of phase or fad. I knew it would be hard for her to understand, to accept; hell, it was not something I fully understood or accepted, and I knew it was true.
“It’s been destroying me.”
“Then, why not just be a boy?” She was talking as if it were just a lifestyle choice.
“Not that; the pretending to be something I’m not has been destroying me. Suppressing the real me, suppressing my feelings.”
“I should’ve realised,” she murmured, as if I hadn’t spoken. “You always were... well, girly. Deep down, I mean.”
She was right. No matter how hard you try to pretend, traces will leak through: when I was little, before peer pressure and parental assumptions pushed me to conform, I’d had my girly traits. Later, doubtless, aspects of my personality must have seemed at odds with the masculine norm. But, most of all, I’d always protested at having my hair cut and preferred to grow my nails long – despite mockery at school – in a minor rebellion against what was expected; I’d also always sought to wear jackets and tops that hung in such a way as to give a sensation of wearing a skirt. Nothing too noticeable without a context – after all, I’d often refused to admit to myself why I felt such urges – but, obvious in hindsight, I guess.
At least, Mum seemed to be accepting what I’d told her was true.
“But, you fancy Liam?” she still made that sound unpleasant. “Doesn’t that make you gay?”
“Mum, my mind is a girl’s mind and my heart is a girl’s heart. Don’t you understand? Girls like guys. I’m a girl and Liam’s a guy. I’m not gay.”
I could see it would take a while to sink in.
The big problem was telling Dad. I knew he wouldn’t be impressed. Damn, he’d even called me ‘girly’ in the past: he’d hate to have his abuse verified! Eventually, Mum agreed that she wouldn’t tell Dad until I was ready, although she made it clear that she expected the revelation to come soon. Unfortunately, until I admitted the truth to him, there could be no meaningful discussion of my adapting to my true nature. After all, if I started wearing skirts, he’d know something was up! I needed to get my head around the concept of coming out and had to make sure Mum would fully back me against the anger I was certain would follow before I took the step of telling Dad.
Mum would talk to the school: initially to put the issue on hold, then, once Dad had been told, to sit the Head down and explain all this.
Of course, none of that helped as regarded the fact that rumours would be all over school the next day.
“Do I have to go in? I don’t think I can do it; I feel ill.”
“You can’t let bullies rule your life.”
“Rule it? They ruin it!” If I stay off a few days, hopefully something else will grab their attention. After all, it was only the four of them who saw the heart.”
I wheedled and pleaded with her until she finally conceded that it might do to let things die down.
Of course, I’d not factored Liam into my calculations.
Liam knocked on my door the next afternoon.
I felt a sickening shiver of cold run up and down my spine when Mum called up to say he was there. I was in bed, reading a Gallagher Girls novel. I knew why he was there; he’d heard the rumour and wanted the truth.
Walking down the stairs, as soon as I saw his face I knew he was upset. This wouldn’t be good.
I went to the front door. The day was chilly and I shivered. Nervously, I played with the cuff of my left sleeve as I waited for him to speak.
“Is it true?” His voice was strangely devoid of emotion. “Is it true what they’re saying? That you fancy me?”
I did consider lying, but I couldn’t. Even though I knew the truth would hurt us both, I knew denial would be far worse.
Lowering my gaze, I said, “Yes.”
He didn’t say a word, just turned and walked away.
“Liam!” I called after him. “Let me explain!”
He paused for just a moment by the gate, then kept walking, ignoring me.
I fell to my knees, sobbing, clinging to the doorframe as if it were the only thing keeping me alive.
I felt my mother’s arms enfold me, lifting me back inside and carrying, half-dragging me to the lounge where she held me and comforted me until I fell asleep.
I returned to school on Monday and, although whatever wave of rumour had swept through it was past, there were the looks and the snide comments that would be expected. Worse was the fact that Liam was ignoring and avoiding me. Simon gave me a pitying look as he went off with Liam, but Brian seemed to share Liam’s feelings.
Without them, I was left alone at break and lunch and felt very exposed. Lily, though, did seek me out at the beginning of break to offer a few words of comfort.
“Hey,” she said, as she approached me. “You okay?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “People call me a lesbian and make fun of me. I’m not, but I think I understand a bit of how you feel.” She gave me a hug.
It wasn’t much of a pep talk, but it did leave me feeling a little better as she scuttled off to do whatever she did at break.
Lunchtime was worse as Steve, Blake and Ben cornered me in a stairwell and proceeded to give me a kicking for being ‘a fucking fag’. That was to become a regular occurrence over the next few weeks, whenever my attempts at evading them failed.
My Mum was livid at the beatings and my Dad, who’d noticed their aftermath, even if he had no idea why they’d happened, was insistent I should stand up for myself: easy enough to say, even if I had been anything of a fighter, when I was outnumbered three-to-one.
I had to tell Dad the truth. Mum wanted to talk to the school about what was happening and we couldn’t do that and keep Dad in the dark.
So, at last, we sat him down and told him.
“No wonder he’s having the crap kicked out of him,” he stated as soon as I told him. “He’s sick.”
It hurt to hear him say that, especially to say it as if I wasn’t there, but I could understand his reaction. It had to be a shock. I’d always, deep down if not always fully acknowledged, known that I was really a girl and I’d still felt the disgust, shame and self-loathing. He had none of that certainty, unlike Mum had probably never suspected I might be different: no wonder he was reeling. If I hadn’t been hurting, I might have felt sorry for him.
Over the next couple of weeks, he began to soften. I don’t know if he will ever be comfortable with the idea that he has a daughter rather than a son, but he doesn’t seem to hate me and I count that as a victory of sorts.
At first, so as not to rile him too much, Mum and I compromised on my new feminine look. My hair wouldn’t grow out until after the holidays began, helping give my Dad a chance to grow used to my transition from male to female and I agreed not to wear make-up until the holidays started, either, and then to keep it to a minimum around him. School uniform was straightforward for now as girls were allowed to wear trousers and a blouse looks exactly like a shirt beneath an ill-fitting jumper; wearing a skirt in the new year was something we’d discuss with the school. At home, I agreed to initially restrict myself to leggings and long jumpers or tops and sensible shoes, again so as to not force Dad’s tolerance too fast.
“You can dress more... feminine when the holidays begin,” Mum promised. At least I could call myself Jenny now.
Although Dad hadn’t been keen to acknowledge my femininity, having told him Mum felt able to approach the school and discuss my issues with them. They agreed that I would be able to attend as a girl and that they would ‘implement anti-bullying strategies’ which seemed to consist solely of an assembly just before the end of term telling everyone about me, attracting even more mockery and abuse my way. It became a ritual for me to be punched or spat at in-between lessons and I had to spend my breaks and lunches in a classroom with a teacher.
Worst of all, Liam still wasn’t speaking to me.
That last day of term was when it all came to a head. Someone, I never saw who, tripped me on the stairs between lessons and I hurt my wrist. Then, there was the usual spitting and punching. It was a half-day and we surged out when the lunchtime bell rang t calls of “Merry Christmas!” and choruses of School’s Out! I felt glad to be out of there and just hoped things would be better in the new year.
I was jolted out of my reverie by cries of “Get the fag!”, “Kill the tranny!” and “Bloody she-male!”
They were on me before I could react: Steve was among them and probably Blake and Ben, too, but there several others, including some older boys and, I think, a couple of girls.
I really did wonder if I was going to die, the beating was so ferocious and full of hate, but it finally halted and I was left lying there on a filthy pavement, my hair sticky with my blood and their spit, my nose gushing and my body feeling as if I must have bruises atop bruises. I could only be grateful that I wasn’t dead as I slowly pulled myself upright and staggered painfully homeward.
Mum was distraught when she saw me and insisted on rushing me to the hospital, then calling the police, who arrived a little while later and ferried me to the police station when the doctor was done. They took swabs and photos in a process that felt horribly intrusive. Finally, I was able to get cleaned up a little before giving a full statement. Not that I had much to say: I’d only seen Steve and couldn’t say exactly what role he’d played. Eventually, I was allowed home to shower and change. I had a broken finger and two cracked ribs, as well as plentiful bruising and a broken nose.
A few days later, a very nice policewoman arrived to say that although some DNA would remain on file ‘just in case’, nobody other than Steve had been arrested in connection with the attack and that he’d been given a caution.
“A caution? A caution! He could’ve killed Jim! Jenny...” shouted Dad leaping from his chair. I was grateful he made that emendation.
“Unfortunately, we have no evidence he was directly involved in the attack. He admits he was there, but it’s his word against... Jenny’s. That he didn’t contest the caution was a minor victory. I wish we could do more, but there was no CCTV and without suspects, the DNA is useless. Sorry.”
I could only hope that police involvement might deter any repeat performances.
After that, Mum was insistent I not go out alone ‘just in case’. To be honest, I didn’t mind: I was too scared to go out alone, anyway, and kept having panic attacks as memories of the attack resurfaced in my dreams and waking nightmares.
I was in quite a mess, anyway, and wouldn’t have wanted to be seen out: my nose was a mess from having been broken; there were stitches on my scalp where it had been gashed and there was a cut and an angry bruise on my left cheek and, to cap it all, my right eye was blacked. Beneath my clothes, there was a patchwork of colourful bruises across my body. My strapped finger was positively invisible in comparison.
But, there was one ray of light: being the holidays, Mum kept her promise that I could dress properly like a girl.
I’d already been nervous about the idea of going to a shop to try on clothes and definitely couldn’t face it now, so we shopped online. Mum measured me so that we knew what would fit and I ordered a selection of skirts and tops and revelled in being able to wear them and look as I’d always wanted.
“It’s for you,” Mum said, handing me an envelope that had arrived in the post.
I looked at it in surprise: it was addressed to Jenny, not Jim. Although the clothes orders were in my new name, I’d had no personal post addressed to me under it.
I opened the envelope slowly, a little scared that it would be some sort of sick joke, but it wasn’t: it was an invitation.
“Simon has invited me to his Christmas party!” I could hardly believe it.
“Do you want to go?” Mum asked.
“Yes, I think so... I’m a little nervous, but... I do want to.” That he’d remembered from that awful assembly that I wanted to be called Jenny had touched me more deeply than I would’ve thought.
“Then, we’ll have to get you a party dress, won’t we?”
I leapt from my seat and hugged her. “Thank you, Mum! Oh, thank you!”
The day of the party had arrived. I was in a sparkly, red knee-length dress that I thought looked pretty good; although short-sleeved, I wore a red cardigan with it to cover the bruises on my arms. My hair was back in a loose ponytail and I had a silvery alice band on my head. On my legs I had black tights and my shoes were lovely red ballet pumps.
“It’s good,” I said as I twirled before the mirror, savouring my look.
“Yes, perfect,” Mum said with a smile.
She helped me with my make-up: I was still a long way from perfecting my skills with it, especially as my bruises needed covering.
“Right, well, we’d better not dally any longer,” she said. “Dad’s waiting.”
I went down to the car and climbed in.
“You look... nice,” Dad said as he turned the key. I was surprised at the grudging praise.
“Thank you,” I replied, not trusting myself to say more. Maybe he would be able to accept me...
A few minutes later, we arrived at Simon’s house, which was decorated in a suitably festive manner and festooned with lights.
As I reached to open the car door, I felt my breathing begin to surge, my heart hammer, my head spin and my face grow numb; I was having a panic attack.
“You alright?” Dad asked, concerned.
I pulled a paper bag out of the small sequinned clasp bag I carried and breathed into it until I felt more normal.
“Yes,” I told him. He still looked concerned. “I’ll go in, now.”
I climbed out and nervously walked up the path before pausing at the front door. Taking a slow breath, I reached out and rang the doorbell.
A few seconds passed, then the door opened to reveal Simon with a Santa hat on his head. Last Christmas drifted out past him.
“Hi! Merry Christmas, J-Jenny! Come in!” He stepped aside to allow me to enter and closed the door behind me.
“A few people are already here,” he continued.”A few more are still to come.”
I knew there wouldn’t be too many: Liam and Brian, of course, a few other school friends, other geeks and gamers, and friends of his from the choir he sang with.
“Don’t worry,” he told me, “I’ve made sure everyone is cool with you being here.”
“Thanks.” I smiled with a shyness I hadn’t felt with him before.
“I’m glad you came.”
“I’m glad you invited me.”
“You’re welcome. Well, come on in!”
Just then, over his shoulder, I saw Liam standing in the dining-room doorway. I suddenly felt incredibly nervous, wondering how he’d react.
I walked over to him.
“Hi,” I said, eyes downcast.
“Hello.... Jenny.” He was silent for a moment. “I’m sorry how I reacted. I was freaked-out at the idea you were gay and hitting on me.”
“I’m not gay,” I responded. “I’m a girl.”
“I know...” He fell silent again. Then, he looked up and said, “We’re under the mistletoe...”
He leant in and kissed me on the lips and I eagerly kissed him back. In that moment, everything felt right and I suddenly felt as if I had hope. Perfect.