All the World's a Stage Chapter 9

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All the World's a Stage

A novel by Bronwen Welsh


Copyright 2016

A sequel to 'The Might-Have-Been Girl'


Chapter 9   The best laid schemes

“Are you alright miss?” The voice seemed to come from far away. I groaned and opened my eyes but could see nothing but greyness. I moved my head in the direction of the voice and realised that my face had been buried in the airbag. A bearded man was looking at me with concern.

“Are you alright?” he repeated. I tried to move my right arm and cried out with pain.

“I've phoned for the ambulance, police and fire brigade,” he said, his voice shaking. “I think you've broken your arm. You'd better sit still until they get here.”

I nodded and winced. My head was throbbing.

“That stupid idiot in the sports car,” the man burst out. “Well the police will get him. My lorry has a dashboard camera fitted. It will have recorded the whole thing, including his number plate.”

After about five minutes I could hear sirens in the distance, approaching fast. Then a new head appeared at the car window.

“I'm Steve, a paramedic miss. I'm told you may have broken your arm? Let me have a look please, I promise I'll be gentle.”

He was gentle, but the moment he touched my right arm a stab of pain made me cry out again.

“Right. I'll give you an injection to ease the pain while we get you out of there. The fire brigade will have to cut the door off.” He disappeared for a few moments and reappeared carrying a syringe and needle. “You'll feel a slight scratch,” he said.

He was right about the effect of the injection. Within a few seconds I started to feel like I was floating. Then another head appeared. “Right miss, I'm Geoff from the fire brigade. You're going to hear a noise as we cut the door to get you out. I'm going to put this fireproof blanket over you as there'll be sparks.”

A very loud grinding noise started beside me, and then suddenly the door was gone, crashing to the ground, and the paramedic and his assistant unclipped my seat belt and eased me out of the car and onto a stretcher which they lifted up and slid into the back of the ambulance. A cuff was put around my left arm and my blood pressure checked. They also shone a light into my eyes and asked me what my name was, and what was the day and date. For some reason I found difficulty in answering, but wondered if that was due to the pain injection.

“Right,” said Steve. ” I'm going to stay in the back with you while Sandy drives you to hospital. You've got a broken arm that will need setting, and you may have concussion, so they'll probably keep you in overnight for observation.”

“What's happening to 'Bluebird?'” I asked.

“'Bluebird?'” he queried.

“My car.”

“Oh, it's probably a write-off,” he said off-handedly.

My eyes filled with tears. “Is the pain bad?” Steve asked.

“No, it's my car. I know it sounds silly, but she's my first car and I hate the thought of her being wrecked.”

“Oh, I see. Well, perhaps she's not a total write-off. They may be able to repair her”

I could imagine what he was thinking 'Women! She's got a bump on the head and a broken arm and she's crying over her car. Whatever next?'

The ambulance started up and as we moved down the road I could hear the siren wailing. It was about a ten minute drive to the hospital and by the time we arrived my head was starting to clear. Steve and Sandy wheeled me into the Emergency Department and at the direction of one of the nurses, into a cubicle where they transferred me onto a hospital trolley.

“Thanks Steve and Sandy, you've been very kind and caring,” I said before they disappeared.

“Our pleasure,” Steve smiled. “You take care now.” And then they were gone.

I suddenly realised that the hospital staff would probably want to undress me if I was staying in overnight, and that was going to lead to a surprise. When one of the nurses came in to start taking my details and doing her observations, I said “I'm sorry to be a nuisance but would you mind asking the Charge Nurse to come in to see me? I have something important to tell her.”

She looked at me a little strangely, but did as I asked, and a few minutes later an older woman appeared beside my trolley. Fortunately the Department seemed fairly empty, so I hoped what I had to tell her would not be overheard.

“Now Miss Stow, I'm Charge Nurse Atkins, what can I do for you?” she said briskly.

“Thank you for coming to see me Nurse Atkins,” I said. “I need to inform you that I am transgendered and currently transitioning from male to female. However I have not yet had surgery. I'm sure I can rely on your discretion, as it's important to me that my status be kept confidential.”

Nurse Atkins looked a bit surprised at my statement. “Of course,” she said. “Patient confidentiality is treated very seriously here. I will make sure that one nurse looks after you and I'll impress that upon her, not that I think it will be necessary. All the staff here know the rules.”

“Thank you,” I said. There was nothing more I could do of course, except hope that everyone there did follow the rules. The last thing I wanted was to feature in a sensational headline - particularly before I had notifed the people I wished to inform. How I wished that I had spoken to Dame Emily a few weeks earlier. I was put in mind of that famous couplet by Robert Burns

'The best laid plans o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley.'

Shortly afterwards a petite young Asian woman came through the cubicle curtains.

“Hello, I'm Doctor Lim. I understand you've been in a car accident and I've come to check you over.”

This she did with commendable thoroughness, and at the end said “Well, we'll have to set your arm and put it in plaster, and we'd like you to stay in overnight in case you've had concussion. Do you know if you lost consciousness?”

“Yes I believe I did,” I replied. “I don't think it was for very long, as the lorry driver stopped his vehicle and came over to see me just as I woke up.”

“Keeping you in is just a precaution, but it's better to be safe than sorry,” said Dr Lim.

“Do you mind if I ring my flatmate and also my family to tell them what's happened?” I said.

“Not at all. You seem quite clear in your mind now,” she said.

I rang the apartment first and Mary answered. I put her in the pictures and said “I should be discharged tomorrow, all being well, but I think I'll have to stay in Stratford for the weekend. I don't think I should be travelling down to London as I had planned.”

The next person to ring presented a problem. Should I ring Mum, or ring Emma and ask her to ring Mum for me? I didn't want either of them to stress. I finally decided on ringing Emma.

“Hello Harriet, are you back in Stratford?” she said.

“Well yes and no,” I replied. “An idiot in a sports car ran me off the road and into a tree, and as a result I'm in hospital with a broken arm and possible concussion, although I'm feeling alright. My poor 'Bluebird' was more damaged than me. I don't want you or Mum to stress, but I thought you needed to know. I'll ring Mum now and tell her, just so she hears my voice and knows I'm alright. She may want to come down and see me. Do you feel able to drive her down, or would the train be better?”

“I'll speak to her and David,” replied Emma. “When do you think they'll let you out?”

“They want to keep me in overnight and they have to set and plaster my arm of course. All being well, I can go back to the flat tomorrow. I was going to London for the weekend, but I don't think I can do that now. I'll let Reggie know. I was going to see Dame Emily too, but I'll have to ring her instead.”

After a few more exchanges, I hung up and then rang Mum and explained the situation to her. Naturally she was upset, although I think she was reassured when she heard my voice. She said she would ring Emma and work out something because of course she wanted to see me.

My next call was to Reggie to fill him in on the situation, and how I couldn't come to London. He was playing in a cricket final on Saturday, so said he would come up to see me on Sunday. I tried to tell him there was no need and we could talk on the phone, but he insisted. 'Goodness me, having a car accident really causes a lot of problems,' I thought to myself.

By now I was feeling rather tired, and wouldn't have minded a snooze, but the Charge Nurse appeared around the cubicle curtains again and told me that a policeman had arrived and wanted to take a statement from me about the accident.

“Do you want to see him now, or should I tell him to come back tomorrow?”

“I suppose I'd better see him now,” I replied.

“Very well,” she said and disappeared around the curtain.

A minute or so later a young constable stuck his head around the curtains, paused and said “Miss Stow?”

“Yes, come in Constable,” I said.

“I'm sorry to bother you, but I need to take a statement about the accident. Are you up to doing that now?” he asked.

So, I went through all that I remembered, mentioning that the lorry driver had told me that he had recorded the whole incident. Constable Harrison took notes while I was describing what happened.

“Yes, we've spoken to him and taken his video recording so that we can view the incident and contact the driver of the sports car. I'll arrange to have your statement typed up and you will need to sign it. Can you call at the Stratford Police Station in the next few days?”

“Yes, I'm sure I can,” I replied. “With luck they'll let me go home in a day or so. Are you going to charge the sports car driver?”

“We may, depending on the vision. Thank you Miss Stow,” he said and withdrew.

By now I was feeling rather tired, and the nurse came in to tell me they were going to do an x-ray of my arm before taking me to theatre to set the broken bone. She helped me undress and made no comment, nor paid any special attention to my body as she helped me put on a cotton nightdress. She managed to get my right arm in without it causing me too much discomfort. An orderly arrived to wheel me into the Radiology Department where several images were taken of my arm, and then it was back to Emergency.

Dr Lim came in again to tell me that I would be having a closed reduction of the ulna, since it was only broken in one place and hadn't pierced the skin, and that it would be done under local anaesthetic. She gave me a sedative injection and once more I felt like I was floating as they wheeled me into theatre. The whole procedure didn't seem to take very long, although I wasn't really aware of time passing, and after it was over, I was taken to one of the wards and transferred to a bed.

Mary had come to the hospital and was waiting in the ward when I arrived there. She sat by the bed for a few minutes, but I don't think I was keeping up much of a conversation as I was so tired and still feeling the effects of the sedative, so after a while she said she would go back to the flat, but would check in the morning and take me back there if I was discharged. I did manage to thank her for her kindness before she left, and only a few minutes after that I was asleep.

--ooOoo--

When I awoke, it was morning. Hospitals are often not the easiest of places to sleep, with the strange surroundings and noises during the night, but in my case the sedative and exhaustion had worked to keep me virtually comatose until the ward started stirring at seven o'clock, and I had my 'obs' taken.

Having last eaten at Bridchester the previous day, I was ready for breakfast, and even the inconvenience of only having the use of my left hand was no bar to my consuming everything on my tray.

Shortly afterwards, another doctor appeared and announced himself as Dr Lambert.

“I set your arm last night,” he said. “You might not remember me as you were pretty out of it.”

He examined his handiwork and pronounced himself satisfied.

“I think you can go home this morning. Is there anyone who will be available to look after you?”

“Yes, I have a flatmate and I think my mother will be coming down from Bridchester as well,” I replied.

Shortly afterwards, a nurse came in to announce that Mary had rung and upon being told I could go home, said she would be there about nine-thirty and would be bringing me a change of clothes. She turned up right on time, and helped me to put on the clothes she had brought.
An appointment had been made for me to return to Outpatients in a few days to have my arm checked and I was warned to return at any time if I felt excessive pain or was worried at all.

I thanked all the staff, and was taken out the car in a wheelchair with Mary walking beside me, my arm feeling very strange in the plaster and a sling. I felt like an invalid as Mary helped me into the car and put on my seat belt, but I really appreciated how solicitous she was for my welfare. My phone rang as we drove back to the apartment. It was Emma to say that she was driving down with Mum and should arrive in a few hours.

When we arrived at the flat, Mary helped me get out of the car, and sat me down in the lounge while she went to make some tea. I told her I had to ring Dame Emily to say I couldn't come to see her on Sunday, so she tactfully left me alone to make the call. To be honest I wasn't looking forward to making it. The accident had made me realise that I would have to tell her my 'secret' over the phone, rather than face to face as I had intended, and I hoped she would not be too shocked.

“Dame Emily, it's Harriet,” I said when she answered the phone. “I'm sorry but I won't be able to come and see you tomorrow as I've been in a car accident.”

“Oh my dear, are you alright? What happened?” she replied.

“Someone was overtaking a lorry as it came towards me and I had to run off the road to avoid hitting them head-on, but I skidded into a tree and my right arm was broken. I was unconscious for a bit so they kept me in hospital overnight while they set and plastered the arm and made sure I didn't have concussion.”

“Oh dear, that does sound serious,” she replied.

“I was lucky it wasn't worse, but it made me realise that I really need to talk to you, and since it can't be face to face, I hope you don't mind if we do it over the phone.”

“Of course you can. Please tell me all about it.”

“It's a difficult thing to say, Dame Emily. In my mind I'm sure I'm the same person I was when I was born, but the fact is that my body was that of a boy and I was christened Harry, well actually Harold, after my father. It was only after I stepped in to play Margaret in 'Dear Brutus' and afterwards at Sir Edgar's insistence had to live as a girl full-time when the production transferred to London that I realised that this was who I was meant to be.”

There was silence at the other end of the phone, so to fill it I went on.

“I'm truly sorry I didn't tell you before. I didn't mean to be deceptive, even if it looks that way. The chance to play in Stratford was so wonderful, it never occurred to me that I should tell you about my past, but after discussing it with Mum and Emma, I realised that some day it might come out, and I really should be up front, both with you and the Company, no matter what the consequences are.”

“Well Harriet, I have to say that it comes as rather a shock,” she replied. “In my long career in the theatre, I've occasionally seen young men play female parts but no matter how well they did it, I could always tell, but I never had the slightest inkling that you were not a young woman.”

I was afraid she would react that way, but I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised.

“But that's it Dame Emily, I am a young woman, and always have been. It's not a part I'm acting.”

“I'm sorry my dear, I didn't express myself very well then, in fact I expressed myself very badly. I can always tell when someone is acting, and you certainly aren't. You are who you say you are,” she replied. “So now you've told me, what happens next. Are you going to tell them at the ISC?”

“Yes, I feel I must, even though I suppose there's a good chance they will sack me,” I replied and she could probably hear the misery in my voice.

“Not necessarily,” she replied. “After all, they are an equal opportunity employer, as indeed they have to be. If they refused to employ gay or lesbian actors, quite a few famous names wouldn't be appearing there, so I don't see why being transgendered should make a difference. They might be upset that you didn't tell them though.”

“I realise that,” I replied. I was doing my best not to cry. “If I lose my position, it's my own fault.”

“Would you like me to speak to them on your behalf?” she said.

“Would you? That would be so kind, especially after me not telling you.”

She laughed. “You're very young Harriet, and we all make mistakes when we're young, and even when we are older. I can't guarantee anything of course, but I'll put in a good word for you and we'll see what happens.”

“Thank you so much Dame Emily, I really appreciate it,” I replied.

“You're very welcome my dear, and the next time you're in London I hope you will visit me and we'll have that afternoon tea together.”

What can I say about Dame Emily that hasn't already been said? Not only is she a fine actress, but she's a wonderful human being as well. She could have been very angry about my revelation and refused to have anything further to do with me, but instead she offered to help me. Even now the thought makes me tear up.

When Mary came back into the room bearing a cup of tea, she could see I'd been crying and was full of concern.

“Bad news?” she enquired.

“On the contrary, she not only forgave me for not telling her sooner, she offered to put in a good work for me at the Company,” I replied.

“I'm sure they'll forgive you too,” she said. “Where else would they get such a good young Shakespearean actress?”

'I wish I shared your confidence' I thought to myself.

“What's happened to your car?” she enquired.

“I really don't know. I've found a card from Ensign Towing in my handbag, although I have no memory of being given it. I presume that's where it's gone, but I'm glad the tow truck guy didn't ask me what to do about it, as I was in no fit state to make a decision then and there.

“Why don't you ring Dale and ask him if he can see about it for you?”

“I don't really like to, I'm sure he's busy.”

“Harriet, when will you let people help you?” she responded, sounding a bit exasperated.

“Sorry Mary, you are right, there's such a thing as being too independent.”

When I rang Dale he was very concerned to hear about my accident. I reassured him I was going to be alright and explained the situation about 'Bluebird'. He was of course more than happy to help.

“The paramedic said she was a 'write-off', but when he saw how upset I was, then he said 'maybe not', so I don't know where I stand, but if she can be saved I'd prefer that to happen,” I said.

“You leave it to me,” he replied. “I'll go down there and talk it over with them, and also ring the insurance company.”

“Thank you so much Dale. That's one less thing I have to worry about,” I said. Of course he wasn't to know what was chiefly occupying my mind.

--ooOoo--

About an hour later Mum and Emma arrived. They both looked very concerned and hugged me very carefully, avoiding my right arm.

“I'm going to be fine Mum, Emma,” I said. “But it's still lovely to see you both.”

“Well we had to reassure ourselves that you are going to be alright,” said Mum.

Mary appeared then. “Can I get us all some lunch?” she asked.

“That will be lovely,” said Mum.

“I'm afraid it will have to be soup and sandwiches. I haven't been out shopping and the fridge is a bit bare,” Mary apologised.

“Whatever you do will be fine, and thank you for offering,” said Emma.

We enjoyed our lunch and chatted about the new play.

“I'm so glad you were given a part, Mary,” said Emma.

“Well, that's partly due to Harriet,” said Mary. “She told me that a part, even if it's smaller one is better than just being an understudy.”

“And she's right of course,” said Emma. “If you come back to Brid, think of all the experience you will bring back with you.”

“Yes, I've been thinking about that,” said Mary. “I really do miss everyone at Brid, and I think this might be my last role in Stratford.”

Not so long before, that statement would have really upset me, but now I was starting to realise that I couldn't order peoples' lives around just to suit myself. Mary would move on and so must I.

Emma glanced at her watch, and said “Well Mum, now we've reassured ourselves that Harriet will be alright, I think we had better start back to Brid.”

“Must you go back today?” I asked, suddenly full of concern. “That's a lot of driving in one day for someone in your condition. I saw you stifle a yawn just now. Won't you consider staying overnight? I can easily book you into a hotel.”

Emma looked at Mum for her opinion. “Maybe Harriet's right, dear. You do look a bit tired and it is a long way,” Mum said.

Emma gave in. “Alright, I'll ring David and tell him we're staying here and driving back tomorrow morning.”

I felt a great sense of relief. The last thing I wanted was for them to risk having an accident themselves. I rang a local hotel and booked a room with two single beds. “We can have breakfast together before you go home tomorrow,” I said. It turned out both Mum and Emma had brought an overnight bag with them 'just in case I was bad enough that they had to stay'.

The following morning, I took a taxi to the hotel where they were staying and we had breakfast together before they started out for Bridchester. On the way, they dropped me off back at the flat. Reggie was arriving shortly and I wanted to make sure the place looked tidy, although it was tricky doing things with only one hand. He arrived just after ten o'clock and gave me a careful hug.

“I was so worried when I heard about your accident, what happened?”

So I had to explain the circumstances all over again.

“Is the guy going to be charged with dangerous driving?” he asked.

“I really don't know. The lorry driver said he had video of the whole thing, so I suppose it's up to the police.”

A thought suddenly struck me. “I wonder if I'll be called upon to give evidence? As you know I changed my name by Statutory Declaration so it's now legally my name, but I wonder if that applies to taking an oath in a court of law? I”d better find out.”

Seeing that I was suddenly worried, Reggie suggested “Maybe you could dress in trousers with a jumper, flat shoes and no make-up? They might think you are just an effeminate man?”

“Hmmm. I'll have to cross that bridge if and when I come to it, but that's good thinking. Thank you Reggie.”

We enjoyed a lovely day together, and the night wasn't too bad either! Lying on my left side I kept pressure off my broken arm, but we still managed to get intimate. Dear Reggie. I missed him so much when I didn't see him for a while.

He was up early to get the five-thirty train back to London, insisting on getting his own breakfast so that I could have a few more hours of sleep.

As I was having breakfast my telephone rang. “Miss Stow? It's Penelope Lane here, Mr Morgan's secretary.” A shiver ran through me. Duncan Morgan was the Executive Director at the ISC, there's no-one more senior at the Company. I knew immediately that Dame Emily must have telephoned him. It looked like my 'moment of truth' was coming sooner than I thought.

“Mr Morgan would like to see you this morning. Can you be here by ten o'clock?”

To be continued.

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Louise Anne in proofreading the text and giving me a great deal of useful advice about modern-day Britain to incorporate in the story.



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