Three Steps

Three Steps
By Bryony Marsh

There is a device. It’s not actually a ‘machine’, but more of a user interface. It operates on a quantum level, where information is undetermined and multiple possibilities can exist simultaneously. In ancient times, it would have been described as ‘magic’.

This user interface takes the form of a strip of material, rather like a tape. It has one blue edge, and one pink.

It does just one thing: it serves as a doorway into an alternate universe, where your birth gender was different. If, as a man, you lay down the tape and walk over it from the blue side to the pink, you find that you are a woman. The universe you enter is much the same, except where it has been changed by the choices your female self has made since birth. You retain the memories of your former life as man, although it appears that they will fade if you stay in the new universe for around a month.

The device comes with you into the new universe. You can use it as often as you like, back and forth, and you can roll it up and carry it around, in either universe. Either by design (because it's a secret device) or simply because quantum states are influenced by observation, you can't make the tape work if anybody is watching.

Some of my trans- friends have tried the Tape, but none has chosen to move permanently into the other universe. Two said that if it had been available in their twenties they would have jumped at the chance, but they aren’t prepared to abandon their children. One, who has fought and sacrificed much on the slow path to reassignment surgery said that she couldn’t imagine being that other person: the woman who simply lived all her life as a woman and didn’t go through those years of struggle.

I was given a Tape by a good friend, Lynne: he’s a crossdresser like me. He’d toyed with it a few times, he said, but ultimately decided that it wasn’t doing him any good.

“It’s like heroin, or something,” he said. “Just too tempting!”

I had to try it for myself.

STEP ONE

Victoria has taken Malcolm off to a play date: some soft play place. That's perfect.

The Tape is still safe in its hiding place at the bottom of my gym bag. Deceptively heavy and somewhat rubbery: powder blue down one edge, and baby pink down the other.

What the hell...

I lay it out on the dining-room floor, still not believing.

I step over it… and nothing happens.

Too good to be true. Relieved? Disappointed?

But I had crossed from pink to blue: I’m using it wrong.

I step back the other way, and gasp.

I am different. Everything is different.

I’m about two inches shorter, and as promised I am female. My mother once told me that I would have been called Charlotte if I’d been a girl, and sure enough, I am… although it seems I prefer to be known as Charley.

Trust me to swap gender and end up choosing a masculine name!

I have memories of… well, forty years of doing different things, mostly with different people. There’s too much to sift through all at once. I notice my wedding band, and it brings a memory to the fore. Husband, I think: David. Father of Sophie, George and Grace.

Images of them – and feelings for them – threaten to overwhelm me.

Slow down, I think. And don’t forget Vicky and Malcolm!

I try to concentrate on my surroundings instead of thinking about my loved ones. It seems safer.

It’s the same house, but everything is different. Our dining room has become some kind of home cinema, with a huge TV screen and multiple speakers. The decor is tacky.

It’s not my house: Charley and her family live in Gloucester.

Of course! Vicky loved this house. She pushed for us to buy it and restore it. But in this universe, I’m not with Vicky. So we never went to the auction: never bid for it. That other couple probably bought it.

Oh, fuck… what if they’re home? I’m not welcome here!

I try to walk quietly, but Charley’s heels – my heels – make a tap, tap noise. Fortunately there’s nobody home, but when I enter the living room I encounter the baleful eye of a PIR detector. A burglar alarm begins to shriek.

Fuck, fuck, shit…

That squealing noise really does instill panic in an intruder: it makes me want to flee the building at once.

I make my way to the front door and I’m about to let myself out when I hear footsteps on the gravel. I peep out, and see Hugh, my neighbour… although of course he won’t know me. He wanders around the front and back of the house, checking all the doors and windows. Nice guy! I cower where he won’t see me, and then scoot back into the home cinema room. I step over the Tape once again – pink to blue – and I’m back in my own body; my own reality. The shrilling of the burglar alarm has stopped, but my ears are still ringing.

STEP TWO

Deciding that housebreaking isn’t really my style, I pocket the Tape and head out of the village for a walk in the woods: it should be easy enough to perform my quick-change act there.

As I walk, I think about Charley. She’s… if not exactly cute… certainly very satisfactory. For a person with my transvestite urges, the ability to become Charley is a godsend. She’s the genuine article: I’ll be able to spend time as a woman whenever I choose, and there need be no more anxiety about ‘passing’.

Making certain there’s nobody about, I lay out the Tape on the forest floor, and step over it. Once again, I’m Charley.

She doesn’t seem in any way distressed by this. Good: I’m not staging a hostile takeover of her mind, then.

I pick up the Tape and walk back into the village, just thinking about things that have happened in my life. It might feel a little voyeuristic, but they’re my own memories, sort of… Grace having a brush with meningitis. David proposing to me. The day I learned that Butler, a horse I used to ride, had been shot when he became too arthritic to be of any further use at the equestrian centre. My much deeper relationship with mum.

I say “good morning” to a couple of people. They don’t know me, of course.

Outside the King’s Head I find Sean Reynolds, fallen off his bike. His grazes aren’t too bad, but he’s really wailing. In my reality we know his family well, but here I’m a stranger.

“Hey now,” I comfort him. “You’re going to be an awesome stuntman!”

The motherly feelings come naturally. I pick him up, dust him off and tell him I’ll take him home. He’s upset that his bike is “broken” but it’s actually fine: it’s just that the handlebars need straightening, and I manage to do this for him.

A few people are watching from a distance, but they seem happy to let me take care of this.

If I were a male stranger, they would probably have interceded by now.

“Shall we go and see your mum?” I ask him, but he shakes his head: he’s a bit embarrassed by the whole thing, and he wants to put it behind him.

“Okay then,” I tell him: “you take care!” He rides away.

It’s just starting to rain, and I don’t fancy sitting in the pub on my own, so I sit at the bus stop. No doubt rural buses are still about as rare as rocking-horse shit in this universe so it’s a good place to sit, uninterrupted.

I trawl through Charley’s memories and see how she feels about a number of things. Her politics are a shade more liberal than mine, I discover, but she’s definitely ‘me’ on many levels.

She played lacrosse where I played cricket. Oh – and she can ski quite well, too. She and David have a ‘date night’ once or twice a month and on their way home they like to find somewhere for a secretive outdoor screw. It doesn’t seem seedy – it’s just that they both enjoy the frisson that they get from the risk of being discovered. They never have been, yet.

I start thinking about how much fun it would be to dress this body in some really great lingerie, but I’ve mistimed things: Victoria must be coming home soon, back in the other universe, and she’ll wonder where I’ve got to. I vow that next time I’ll set aside a day for a shopping trip.

I slip away to a quiet alley, put down the Tape and hop over it. I’m male again, and able to return to the house in time to greet Vicky and Malcolm.

STEP THREE

Ten days pass before I get a chance to experiment with the Tape again. That’s usually about the limit of how long I can go before I need to indulge my transvestite urges, but this time it’s maddening.

I don’t have to be a man in a dress: I can be Charley.

Victoria and Malcolm are visiting relatives in London. I book a day off work – having previously told them that this is impossible and I simply can’t accompany them. It’s like having an affair, although the ‘other woman’ in my life isn’t exactly other.

I’m going to spend the afternoon shopping, and then stay at the Holiday Inn in the city centre. The room will be nothing fancy, but I’m not trying to impress anybody: it’s just for me to play dress-up. Looking it up on the computer I discover that check-in is from 3pm, which is fine… except I can’t make a reservation because I’ll be in the other universe when I need the room. Still, I’m reasonably confident that there’ll be a room available if I turn up on the day.

I board the train to travel into the city, and because I fancy spending more time as Charley, I visit the toilet and use the Tape to switch over into her universe. In a Barbour jacket, jeans and boots, Charley is dressed appropriately for the shopping trip. That’s a relief: I wonder if there was a possibility that I might have yanked her out of her daily life at a time when she didn’t have her purse with her, when she was at home and didn’t have anything on her feet… when she’d been in the bath, even.

It seems that alternate universes don’t work that way – or perhaps I’ve been lucky so far.

At first I worry that somebody might notice when I emerge from the toilet a completely different person, but that’s silly: my fellow passengers belong to Charley’s universe.

There is one problem, though: as Charley I don’t have a ticket.

When I arrive at the ticket barrier, the staff are unimpressed with my flustered “I lost it!” but Charley doesn’t seem like a member of the criminal classes, so they don’t hit me with a fine: they just require me to pay the full standard fare.

Having a foot in two different universes is complicated.

Fifteen pounds poorer, I leave the station concourse and get on with the mission. I see a reflection of myself in a plate glass window, and I enjoy my new look. I’m pleased to note that I move naturally and appropriately for this body. I know that I can ‘sex it up’ when I want to please David, too.

A twinge of disappointment, though: I’m not attracted to Charley.

I’m pleased to look nice… but I don’t see myself as somebody I want to screw. Experimentally, I glance at other women, but the way I appraise them has changed, too. I evaluate them simply in terms of their fashion sense, without my previous male appreciation of females in general. I’ve always been faithful to Victoria (just as Charley has to David) but I could still admire other women: not so much, now.

I’m simultaneously thinking like a man and a woman, and it’s distracting. I try to focus on enjoying my day out as Charley, without too much analysis. I’m still determined to proceed with the plan, and that means going to the Holiday Inn and booking a room; then shopping for an outfit.

There’s no problem getting a room at the Holiday Inn. The kid on reception tells me I can have the room right away, if I want. I accept the key, but don’t bother going up to see the place: I’m sure they’re all much of a muchness.

Time to shop! I mean, to shop without having to feel shame about wanting to obtain a bra, or some lipstick. Bliss…

Although I have access to all Charley’s memories, I realise that I don’t know exactly what size I am. I’ve put on some weight, lately.

David likes it. I’m not so sure.

There’s a specialist lingerie shop, a fair distance from the Holiday Inn but as soon as I think of it, I just know that I’ve got to go there. I want not only to be measured, but to be fussed over: the full girlie experience, as I imagine it.

I’m probably going to splurge two hundred quid on underwear, here. What the fuck: if God hadn’t meant us to do frivolous things, he wouldn’t have made alternate universes, right?

I think that most of the women who shop at ‘Boutique You’ must be brides-to-be, rather than my own slightly care-worn and stretch-marked self. No matter: they’re very professional, and two members of staff show me some lovely lingerie. There are no other customers in.

I tell them that I’m looking for something special, and perhaps a little bit old-fashioned. Their polite, careful process of inquiry ensures that I’m not going to be better off buying something slutty from the Ann Summers branch down the street, and that I understand the kind of price range I’m looking at.

Ouch… I just trashed two hundred and thirty pounds – but at least I’ve been measured properly.

In the bag at my side I have a basque with French lace and heavy boning. It’s by Agent Provocateur: the kind of thing I have always wanted to own, but previously I’ve resisted such an expensive purchase because I knew it wouldn’t look right on my male body. I have matching panties (more practical) and also a thong.

Lucky old David.

Also, it’s useful to know that I’m a 36C. Charley believes that she’s going to slim down, and it’s a shame to buy clothes at her current size, but I pay no attention: I’m shopping in the here and now.

Since the basque has suspenders, I need a pair of stockings. I decide that Marks & Spencer will do for these, and go inside. I also find a bra that I like, and a sleeveless, square back dress with a bold floral print. It will be nice for summer…

For Charley, girlie shopping is accompanied with a sense of satisfaction, rather than the transvestite thrill that I normally feel.

I pick up a few items at the MAC counter in Debenhams, and browse my way through Next and House of Fraser. So different from the experience when I’m with Vicky, feigning disinterest in all the pretty things!

When I’m starting to feel all shopped out, I pause and refuel at Café Nero. I permit myself a slice of chocolate cake – not usually allowed, but I allow myself a few treats when I’m in the run-up to my period and feeling a bit shit. Bloated.

Just because I can be Charley doesn’t mean every day is going to be a perfect one.

Primark. TK Maxx. I decide that I’m scraping the barrel. Also, I’m carrying rather a lot of shopping bags now. I’ve spent maybe five hundred pounds and I know that I can’t carry on like this, or I’ll be in the shit with David. I fancy a glass of wine… but I don’t want to go into a bar on my own – or not in any of the city-centre dives that I can see.

Perhaps a glass in my room at the Holiday Inn, then.

I go there and let myself into my room. It’s entirely as I expected: It will do. For a few minutes I admire the view from the eighth floor.

I fancy a bath, but I realise that other than my new MAC cosmetics and a few bits and pieces in my handbag, I don’t have any toiletries with me. The freebie offerings in the bathroom are okay, but hardly fitting for my special, girlie day of pampering. Still, I decide to have a shower.

Once out, I rely on Charley’s skills, as it seems that her hair requires a lot more care than I’m used to. I locate a hairdryer in one of the drawers, but it’s wired in place and the cord is a little bit short: it’s hard to see myself in the mirror.

Obviously installed by some fucking male.

At last, my hair is sorted and I turn my attention to makeup. Charley is either much better at this than I am, or makeup just looks better on her: my usual laborious efforts are not required and after just ten minutes I’m looking nice.

I still don’t fancy myself, though.

I turn my attention to the Agent Provocateur underwear, and the stockings.

Fuck me, that’s nice. I feel really special.

I raid the mini-bar and pour myself a glass of wine. Well, I say a glass… plastic tumbler. Classy! After a few minutes I lie back on the bed and caress my body, experimentally. It doesn’t respond very well to my touch.

Too familiar.

Charley knows how to get herself off, though. She’s not in the mood at first, but she feels nice in her new underwear, and despite knowing that she’ll be ‘trolling for vampires’ (her term) in a day or two, she’s prepared to frig herself – although she’d prefer that David was doing it to her.

The eroticism of being in a woman’s body, of dressing, of touching my most intimate places… it falls strangely flat. I’m turned on… but Charley’s body doesn’t respond to these things. I would have orgasmed long since, but she’s on a much slower journey.

Still, it feels nice. Mostly, it feels nice to be clean, and expensively dressed. Special.

It’s enough.

The orgasm, when it comes, is different. Deep. A whole-body experience that’s at once less concentrated, and much more intense.

I lay there for some unknown amount of time. Shadows lengthen. I flop some of the duvet on top of me, but that’s about it.

I’m… not exactly tired. Sated.

My phone buzzes, bringing me back to present time, present universe.

It’s a message from David: ‘Are you okay, mouse?’

Oh, fuck.

The unstated question: where are you?

Do issues like these resolve themselves, if I use the Tape and duck out? If I go ‘home’, will Charley never have been here?

I think back, and I still remember when I picked Sean Reynolds up after his bike accident. That implies causality. And while I was here playing at being Charley, I guess she wasn’t down in Gloucester.

And now I’m missing in action. Will that fix itself, if I leave this universe?

I decide, for Charley’s sake, that I’d better go. Hurriedly, I dress, and snatch up all my belongings.

What the fuck is she going to do?

I feel like a rat, but I suspect that I’ll probably make things worse if I try to intercede. Best if she takes care of things herself…

I resolve to look in on her in a few days, and find out what happened. It’s all I can think of.

Meanwhile, time to leave this universe. I abandon the room, and bustle down the corridor with my shopping bags.

When the lift comes, there’s nobody else inside, so I decide that it will serve as a sufficiently private place in which to perform a trans-universe hop. I quickly lay down the Tape, and step across.

At once, I’m in darkness, and I’m falling.

What’s happening?

I just have time to work it out: I’ve stepped into the other universe – the one where I didn’t call a lift. In this universe, the lift is still down in the lobby.

I just have time to curse my stupidity.

It’s the last thing I do.



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