All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Chapter 13 Antonette
On Thursday morning I went down to Stratford to shop. I wasn't looking for anything in particular, and I doubt if any man reading this could understand that. When men shop, they have something particular in mind to buy; they go to the shop that sells it and the first item that fits the bill, they buy – simple. Women take a different approach. We enjoy browsing through shops for something that catches our eye, and if we like it, and particularly if it’s a bargain – we buy it. Much better in my view!
I walked around, looking in shop windows and occasionally checking through the racks of clothes without finding anything that appealed to me. As I was walking through Bards Walk Arcade, I saw a middle-aged woman coming towards me with a pretty teenage girl by her side. As she came closer I recognised her.
“Louise!” I said. “How nice to see you.”
She stared blankly at me for a moment before saying “Harriet! How nice to see you. I'm sorry I didn't recognise you at first.”
“Goodness, have I changed that much?” I asked, then looking at the pretty girl standing beside her, it was my turn to be surprised, “And this must be Antonette.”
The girl blushed prettily. “Hello Miss Stow.” she said.
“Hello Antonette, please call me Harriet,” I said.
My mind instantly went back to the time when I had briefly boarded with Louise Burton, the secretary of Sir Edgar Wells, the entrepreneur who had organised the London season of “Dear Brutus”. She had a son Anthony, and one day I had surprised him dressed in some of his sisters' clothes. [This incident is recorded in the first volume of my memoirs 'The Might-Have-Been Girl, and happened about four months earlier]. Now here was her child again and very definitely no longer Anthony.
“This is most opportune,” said Louise. “I was going to try and contact you through the theatre. Antonette and I are visiting Stratford for just a few days.”
“Why don't we find a cafe and have a cup of tea and you can tell me what you've been doing?” I said.
There was one close by, and before we went inside, Louise said “Antonette, there's a lovely shop specialising in teenage fashion a few doors down. Do you want to have tea with us or would you like to check it out while I chat with Harriet?”
“I think I'll check the shop out if you don't mind?” said Antonette. As she walked down the arcade, we both looked after her, and then at each other, and we smiled. She was such a girl.
Over a cup of tea and some pastries, Louise told me about Antonette.
“I'm sorry Louise,” I said. “I did intend to keep in touch with her more, but I've been rather busy, not that that's an excuse. How are things going with her?”
“Well, as you can see, she's definitely made up her mind who she wants to be. Bob found it hard at first, but he's come around now. She and I went to our G.P., who referred us to a specialist, and as a result, she's now on Aldactone, and in due course I expect she'll go on hormone therapy.”
She kept looking at me, and I suspected I knew the reason, so I said “You didn't recognise me at first did you?”
“No I didn't,” she admitted. “How can I put it without seeming rude? You just look more sophisticated than when I last saw you, even though it hasn't been that long.”
I laughed, thinking to myself that the change in looks might be partly due to the hormones I was taking, but instead I said “Maybe that's what playing with the ISC does for a person. So what brings you to Stratford?”
“Antonette's completed her GCSE exams and left school. She did change schools when she decided she wanted to live as a girl full-time, and I supported her in that, since children can be so cruel. It made a world of difference to her attitude to study, and I expect her results to be very good. She wants to study Arts at university, and as she's never been to Stratford before, it seemed the perfect place for a short holiday. I think perhaps the fact that you are performing here had something to do with it too.”
I smiled. “Well I'm playing in 'Twelfth Night' now and we are having a series of matinee performances this week, mainly for local school children who will be studying it next year, but if you would like to come to tomorrow's performance I'm sure I can organise some tickets for you.”
“That would be wonderful,” said Louise.
“Why don't we go and find Antonette and see if she'd like to go too?” I said.
We walked down the Arcade to the shop that Louise had pointed out. Looking through the window, we could see Antonette engrossed in the racks of dresses.
I smiled at Louise. “Well there's no doubt she's a girl,” I said.
“Sometimes I think she's almost too feminine,” said Louise. “But I suppose I understand why. After all, she’s got some lost years to make up.”
I smiled at her. “Well I have to admit I prefer skirts and dresses myself, although there are times when trousers are more practical.”
We walked inside the shop. Antonette saw us coming and dropped the skirt of a pretty dress that she'd been holding.
“Have you seen anything you like?” I asked.
Antonette blushed slightly. “There's lots of pretty dresses here; it would be hard to choose.” She had obviously fallen in love with that particular dress.
Louise, picked up the price tag, and let it fall, but I still managed to read the figure on it.
“Why don't we leave Antonette to browse for a bit, Louise,” I said. “There's something I want to show you.” I led her over to the far side of the shop.
“Louise, I hope you don't think I'm speaking out of turn. Antonette loves that dress and I'm sure it would suit her perfectly. Would you let me pay half the cost, or would you be offended?”
Louise hesitated. “Well, if you're sure?”
“Yes I'm sure. I'm also sure you understand that I see her as a kindred spirit, and I'd like to help do something nice for her, but please don't tell her, alright?”
We walked back to where Antonette was still going through the racks of clothes.
“Antonette, would you like to try on that dress that you liked so much?” said Louise.
Her face brightened. “Do you think I could?” She didn't need asking twice, and soon disappeared into one of the changing rooms. When she re-appeared we all knew that it was the perfect dress for her. She did a twirl for us, her face wreathed in smiles.
“Would you like it?” said Louise. “I was going to buy you a present for studying so hard this year.”
“Oh Mum!” Antonette rushed up and hugged her mother. While she was changing back, I slipped Louise some cash.
“Thanks, Harriet,” she said. “To be honest, it was a bit outside my budget since Bob left, but I really wanted to do something for Antonette. I know she's got a long road ahead of her.”
“Bob's left?” I felt shocked.
“You didn't know of course, why should you?” Louise looked like she wanted to cry.
“It wasn't because of Antonette was it?” I said, suddenly concerned.
“Oh no, it's one of the young secretaries where he works. I'm guessing it's one of those mid-life crises men go through. He'll probably end up wanting to come back.”
“And will you let him?” I asked.
“I really don't know,” she replied. She looked at the notes in her hand. “This is too much,” she said.
“Well, she might want some shoes to go with the dress.” I said. Then glancing at my watch I said “It's time for me to go to the theatre for this afternoon's performance. Just call at the box office tomorrow afternoon, and the tickets will be there in your name. We can meet up after the performance if you like. Tell one of the ushers who you are and say you're invited around to my dressing room.”
“Thank you so much Harriet,” said Louise, and she kissed me on the cheek. “I'm so glad your career is going so well. You deserve everything you achieve.”
I smiled and left the shop before Antonette appeared again. I didn't want to 'play gooseberry' on a mother-daughter moment. Back at the theatre I organised two tickets for Louise and Antonette at no charge. I still couldn't get over Bob leaving. They had seemed like the perfect couple when I had briefly lived at their house.
The following afternoon, after the performance, Louise and Antonette came around to the dressing room. I was pleased to see that Antonette was wearing her new dress and told her how nice she looked in it. She beamed and blushed at the same time.
After introducing Louise and Antonette to Mary, (Effie and Jane had already left), I said “Well, what did you think of the play?”
“It was wonderful,” they said in unison. “And you were both awesome,” added Antonette.
“We've had a fair bit of practice,” I said.
Later, Louise took me aside and said “I didn't expect the tickets to be free Harriet. You're very kind, but it's too much.”
“Louise, we're allowed some free seats for matinees, and I can't think of anyone I'd rather give them to,” I replied. I had thought of offering to take them out for tea, but realised that I was in danger of going 'over the top'. Perhaps Louise was worried that I was going to offer more too, because she said. “We're heading back to London this evening, but we've had a wonderful few days here. I do hope you'll come and visit us when you're next in London. I remember you loved my roast dinners and I'm sure I can rustle up another one for you.”
I smiled. “I’ll really look forward to that, Louise. I promise to keep in touch with Antonette more often too. You must let me know how she is going, and you too of course.”
With that we parted with hugs and kisses on the cheek. You know something, whoever first said 'it is better to give than to receive' (I think it might have been St Paul) knew what he was saying.
The next time I went down to London to see Dr McLeish, I did visit Louise and Antonette and she made good on her promise of the roast dinner, and it was just as good as I remembered..
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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