GH Wednesday: Day 04 Scene 18
Max Beaumont (f) & Wooster
The next day I woke up a woman. I headed for the loo and discovered I was also menstruating lightly. At least Mother wasn’t around to make me feel dirty, as was her way. I suffer from gender mutation disorder. Like all mages, I have higher levels of magic in my body than the general population (cadjin, as we mages call them). My levels are particularly high, which could have led me to becoming a powerful mage. In my case, however, it has led only to me abruptly changing gender overnight and to an over-sensitivity to certain types of magic. Mother never got over the disappointment. As she prefers her sons to her daughters, it’s my feminine form she particularly disapproves of. Despite all the doctors have told her down the years, she still thinks I could stop changing gender, if I only set my mind to it.
“After all,” she would say, looking down at me, “isn’t the point of being a mage that we control magic, it does not control us?”
No amount of scoldings, beatings, being locked in a cupboard, starved for days, deprived of sleep - all the various punishments my mother devised for me - worked. When I was younger I changed gender regular as clockwork, every 24 hours. These days, I can sometimes go several days in one or other form. I’ve not managed a week yet, but I have hope. At twenty five, I’m still maturing and being so far away from my family’s disapproval seems to be helping.
I dressed in my usual thermal underwear, wool trousers and sweater. I put wax on Wooster’s paws before heading outside, so the salt wouldn’t hurt them so much. The sun was hidden behind a veil of bright cloud, but the day already seemed warmer than it had been. Commuters were walking briskly to the subway, and the local students had already filled the Starbucks, sitting upstairs at the window and looking down on us. Wooster and I walked through the Yard. Someone had carved sigils into the snow sculptures the students and tourists had been building the previous day. The magic brought them to some semblance of life, so snowmen chased snow dogs, or pelted each other with snowballs from their snow forts. It was proving a popular attraction, with a crowd gathered to take photos. Personally, I thought it was a little creepy, the snowmen lumbering on their legless torsos, their stick-arms grasping the snowballs clumsily. Like a kitsch zombie movie. I joined the others in taking photos of them, however, including video.
Wooster enjoyed them, though, chasing after them with more enthusiasm than skill, tail wagging. He barked happily and the snowmen threw snowballs which he tried to catch. When they disintegrated into powder, showering him with snow, he shook his head and looked bemused. Where did the ball go? He even stuck his nose into the snow like a snow plough, looking for where it might have gone, before looking up at me, his nose powdered white like a drug addict.
My phone vibrated, a text from the Chief, telling me to take it easy that morning, there was nothing that couldn’t wait until the afternoon. I wished he’d told me earlier, Wooster and I could have had a lie-in. I was getting cold, so I called Wooster to me. We picked up our coffee, delivering the usual latte and muffin to the homeless woman, who didn’t look up from her embroidery as I set them down beside her. The undertaker’s ghost handed me his usual card. No invites to funerals today, thank goodness, just the usual urging to Memento Mori.
Back at my basement flat, I could see the commuters’ passing feet through the high-up windows. There were bars on those windows and sometimes it seemed like I was in a dungeon, albeit quite a nice one, trapped underground. I ate my porridge while Wooster ate his kibble, and read the news. In France, a little girl was found in the boot of a car by mechanics. The mother had kept her hidden there for nearly two years, though she had three other children (not kept in the boot). No one knew why she’d decided to keep the little one’s existence a secret from her own family. Two years, living in the boot of a car, and your family don’t even know you’re there.
In the Globe, the snow was no longer news. The headline was the president calling for help for the middle classes, the ‘squeezed middle’ as everyone now called them. The new poor, it seemed, squeezed by taxes, high prices, stagnant wages. Was it really better to be truly poor and on benefits, though?
A homeless man had been found on the streets in a vegetative state, his dark hair turned white, his white skin turned dark. There was a photo of him, in case someone recognised him. His eyes were eery, the iris a barely darker grey than the whites, the dark pupil enlarged.
I decided to do some work on my blog, as the Chief had given me the morning off. I post photos and videos of ghosts, focusing particularly on the unwanted ones, not the tourist attractions, but the shadows scuttling in alleyways, the shriek in a stairwell, the stench of rotting flowers (I have to write about some phenomena as there’s no other way of recording them) in the second-hand car. I posted up the photos I’d taken of the snowmen, though they weren’t the sort of thing I was particularly interested in, they’d get me a few likes on Tumblr. I have 102 followers and counting.
My phone rang, it was the Chief.
“Change of plan, sorry,” he rasped with no introductory hellos, how are yous? “The Campbells want you back at their place.”
“The ghost came back?” My pride was stung. My exorcisms were usually flawless.
“No. Apparently, that’s the problem.”
“They want it back?”
“I can’t just bring ghosts back. They should have thought of this before getting me to exorcise the bloody thing. I even gave them the opportunity to think about it, asked them if they were sure.”
“Hey, I’ve set expectations,” the Chief said, calmly. “I’ve told them there’s probably little to nothing you can do. But they want you to try.”
“I hope we’re billing them for this,” I said sourly.
“Just be nice to them, Max. Laura Campbell sits on a lot of committees in this town, she’s very highly regarded. And David comes from an old Cambridge family. His father was mayor, back in the day and still likes to stay in touch, though he’s got to be in his eighties by now. They’re not the rich or the powerful, but the Campbells are very well connected.”
“All right,” I said. “But honestly, I don’t hold out much hope of being able to call the ghost back. Not when they couldn’t tell me much about her in the first place.”
“That’s what I told them,” the Chief assured me.
© Essie Gilbey, 2014