Footprints In The Sea – Chapters 15 & 16
By Frances Penwiddy
Copyright © Frances Penwiddy 2015
Footprints in the sea is a work of fiction and any similarity to persons living or dead is coincidental.
This novel is not considered suitable material for minors and is rated X
I suggest you read Footprints In The Sea in chapter order so if you haven’t read Chapters 1 and 2, please do so.
An Engagement is announced, a new friend and mentor is discovered and the mandatory Little Black Dress is mentioned.
“If the navies or governments who are going to man the wireless stations, hospital and whatever else were kept to the south side of the island, the land behind Goats Cove for instance and we kept the residential and agricultural area to the north, do you think that would work?”
Will smiled, “Taking on the duties of planning officer now?”
“Well I think I have to. I don’t want them muscling in and building all sorts of stuff willy-nilly and spoiling the island and beaches.”
“It was one of the things I was discussing this morning with the first lieutenant. The New Zealand authorities, which means the government have offered to oversee any development on your behalf and under your orders to stop the willy-nilliers. There isn’t a great deal of very flat land anywhere else other than behind Goats Cove and anything built there will be single story and easily hidden from view. Aerials and radar scanners will need to be at the top of the hill and one section where there is little more than exposed rock may be a likely place to put solar panels and there is another place on slightly higher ground where one or two wind turbines could be erected. Oh yes, they will almost certainly want to erect a small unmanned lighthouse close to the end of the reef on that side and if the underwater section goes out too far, they will place a marker buoy there with a warning bell but I doubt you will either see or hear them from where the house is being built.”
“What would they say if a few carefully selected people were allowed to come and live here?”
“I can’t see how they can object, you will still have full rights over the island and if you invited them to make checks on the people that were going to settle, that would be enough to keep them happy. It’s not as if anybody is going to build a security sensitive facility on the island though I understand that there is some talk of placing an ecological monitoring and research establishment here but that too would be self-contained.”
“It would mean we could find work for Pacific Wanderer,” I said rubbing my hands together in anticipation of making millions from my own shipping line.
“Running back and forth with supplies, mail and staff going on or returning from holidays and business trips.”
We reached the beach and having learned a little of the value of etiquette, I waited whilst Will climbed out and came to the bow and lifted me and placed me gently and dry footed on the sand. “Come on I want to see the house first.” I took his hand and led the way to the new steps the navy had built up to the lawn. I stopped and looked in surprise, there was a house there, in just a few days they had rebuilt the log walls and there were ladders and scaffolding where men were working on the new roof. “This is much larger, Will,” I said as he joined me and we walked up the lawn and onto the veranda, “Quite a bit larger.”
“I thought you would need an office, study or computer workshop here rather than a separate building or the cave.”
“I was going to use Pacific Wanderer as an office if we manage to keep her. There is going to be a lot of room in the holds and the cabins will be empty.”
“There’s a snag to using her. What will you do if she’s away doing her shipping line duties or there’s another monsoon, even a storm. As she is at the moment half beached she’s fairly stable but if we get hit with hurricane force winds and thirty feet waves, she could be seriously damaged, even lifted off the beach and driven against the reef again and sunk.”
“But doesn’t the same apply to this house. It isn’t that much higher than sea level and has already been knocked down by a storm?”
“We assume it was storm damage but that aside, the way the house is being constructed this time is going to make it a lot stronger. Some of the techniques being used in hurricane affected cities are being incorporated.”
“I’m not complaining, I like it, I was just thinking of the amount of work it is taking.”
“Forget that side of it. The cost of building the house is being met by salvage rewards, government help and the rest from your business enterprises and I’m paying half.”
“You are definitely going to live here then?”
“Of course. Some of the work I do will mean leaving the island to visit other countries but I want a home like everybody else and I certainly don’t intend to live most of my life separated from my wife.”
What he had just said didn’t impact me immediately, I was pacing slowly up and down subconsciously working out where I wanted windows, which section for an office and what patterns and colours for the soft furnishings. I stopped pacing and we returned to the top of the beach when what he had said came to the front of my consciousness, “Did I hear you correctly, you wanted to come home to your wife?”
“It slipped out, I was going to wait until this evening and get you drunk and in a state of euphoria and whilst you were under the influence, I was going to ask you to marry me.”
“Yes, there’s nobody else I know that can catch and cook lobsters or crayfish, help me move the ship about and save me if I’m drowning.”
“But I’m sober at the moment?”
“I know; like I said, it slipped out. I didn’t want you in a condition that allowed you to think clearly about my proposal. I know it meant my acting like a secondary glazing contractor and pressuring you to sign on the dotted line whilst the free offers and discounts were still available but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.”
“So if I agree to marry you, do I still get the free offer of double glazing?”
“Yes. Well not exactly, it isn’t a special offer because it was free yesterday as well. One of the navy blokes found it in a hold when he was having a look for what we could steal for the house.”
“You were prepared to embark on a life of crime just so you could marry me?”
“A tall, strong, handsome and desperate criminal on my island, it sounds dangerous and I came here to live a peaceful life. I suppose I’ll have to marry you.”
“I’m okay now, I’m not desperate anymore,” and he placed his hands on my shoulders and pulled me into a full wrap-around embrace. His eyes were large and soft and a smile turned the corners of his mouth and he kissed me, softly but for a long time and then he unwrapped me from his arms but placed his hands on my shoulders, keeping contact. It was just as well because a new feminine trait surfaced and I felt a touch of the vapours coming on but before I swooned, I stepped forward until our bodies were touching, “Do that again.”
He was very obedient and carried out my instructions to the letter.
I could have been happy to stand there all day just kissing but Will had urgent work in the cave and I had to return to Pacific Wanderer and my old shipmates and help with packing. So like Romeo and Juliet we had to indulge in a little ‘sweet sorrow’.
Will walked me back to the bow of the ship where the boarding steps had been moved forward and I took one step up but he stopped me, “Wait just a moment and he put his hand in a trouser pocket and pulled out a small jewel case and began to open it.
“Is that my engagement ring?”
“Not yet, Will,” I stepped back onto the sand and placed my hand over his, “Not now, save it until this evening. Place it on my finger then, out on the promenade deck before we go to bed, then I’ll be able to dream about the moment all night.”
He hesitated and then nodded, “Okay, if that’s what you want,” and he gave me another much shorter kiss, “But don’t go meeting anybody and running off.”
“I promise,” I started up the steps and stopped on the first landing, “I’ll bring the champagne,” and then I run up to the deck where Mark was waiting to help me settle in the passengers.
“I hope you don’t mind but I saw you and Will on the beach kissing,” he pointed to where we had stood when Will proposed, “But it was a lovely setting and you two were so romantic, I thought you would like them,” and he held up a digital camera.
“Oh that’s lovely, Mark, show me.”
“Not yet, later when we’re inside the ship and the sun won’t spoil the playback screen. Pick the ones you like and I’ll download them onto your computer and you can order prints. They’re worth it, it was so romantic.”
“Yes, please, we’ll do that. “He proposed to me.”
“I knew he would eventually, I’m happy for you both, you were made for each other and you’ll be very happy.” The smile left his face, “Now I have sad news, a duty I must ask you to perform. It’s the couple who drowned when the lifeboat was smashed on the reef. The bodies have been recovered and their personal effects will have to be packed ready to be sent back to the UK. Aurora will be here for some while yet and the duty has fallen on me. In view of the fact that Aurora has large parts of its crew here and on the island carrying out necessary tasks, there is a shortage of an officer to oversee the job which makes things difficult. It was hoped that the personal effects could be returned with the bodies in tomorrow’s helicopter otherwise there may be more than an extra month’s delay before the relatives receive them. The Captain said he wasn’t sure when he would have somebody free and I reminded him that we had you and Will. This happened before you became engaged otherwise I wouldn’t have mentioned you, you see there is another lady from lifeboat three who died and her husband is obviously in a bit of a state and I don’t really think it would be suitable if I helped him because… Oh blast it, Charlotte, I don’t know how to put this…”
“The husband has emotional problems with packing his wife’s things, doing something that finalises her life, packs it away, and he doesn’t want to do it so you need Will or me to help him?”
“Not Will, if it were me, I don’t think I would want a man going through my wife’s things, I was going to ask you but I don’t think you should be asked to do something sad on a day when you should be happy, celebrating, having fun and planning your wedding.”
“Mark, stop worrying, I know exactly how the man feels, he’s lost his partner in life but he is having problems coming to terms with it, so did I when I lost my parents and again only a few months ago, when my Auntie Mo died. Of course I’ll do it and the couple as well. Will and I can delay the announcement of our engagement until tomorrow if necessary and I’ll have to wait a little longer for the huge diamond engagement ring.” I slipped my hand under his arm, “Come on, we’ll do it now, before you show me the pictures and we’ll need to pop into the shop first and steal some of the tissue paper they use for wrapping and a nice box for her jewellery.”
It was very poignant for me. When my parents died, Auntie Mo had been there to pack away their things, keeping things she knew I would want, things that were not necessarily useful but carried memories. When she had died I had to do what I was now doing for the man whose wife had drowned and of course it brought back so many memories but now, most of those memories were good ones. I still felt sad about the job I was doing but the sadness was more for the man than for myself. He was working with Mark most of the time but occasionally came over to where I was putting his wife’s things away and watched, occasionally picking something up and looking at it, stroking it before giving it to me without saying anything. One was her hair brush and it was one of the few times he did say something; “She had lovely hair and the only time I can recall her not brushing it for at least a half hour before going to bed, were the nights we were in the lifeboat, she forgot to take the brush when we abandoned ship but she still ran her fingers through her hair at night until she became so ill.”
He handed the brush to me and didn’t say anything else, just walked away and went back to Mark. I started to wrap it in tissue when I noticed there were a few hairs in it so I carefully pulled them out and wrapped them and tucked them away in my bra. There were some nice lockets in the shop, I would place the hair in one of the lockets and give it to him before he got into the helicopter.
Later that evening we had a goodbye dinner with the passengers and crew and Lieutenant Bryant of Aurora our acting captain gave a short speech wishing a safe journey and God Speed to the passengers and ended by inviting Will to reply on their behalf which he did and then after a quick smile at me said he had a special announcement to make and taking me by the hand he said, “Charlotte is no stranger to any of you so needs no introduction from me other than to tell you that earlier today, she consented to be my wife,” and then he lifted my hand and slipped a ring on my finger, a diamond, a large diamond and around it a circle of tiny sapphires. “I didn’t steal it, I bought it so you don’t have to worry about receiving stolen goods,” he whispered, a smile on his face. He lifted my hand and turned it to show everybody and ended with, “My future wife and here’s the proof and I consider myself a very lucky man.” Everybody started clapping and then the stewards came round with trays of champagne and we had an hour to party.
“Congratulations to you both,” said Gwyneth and whilst David congratulated Will, Gwyneth gave me a hug, took my hand and admired the ring, “It’s a beautiful ring don’t forget to take it off when you go swimming.”
Later, just before everybody went off to their cabins they came to us again, “We understand that you have made a claim on the island and the navy and others are going to build one or two things on the other side?”
“And we have also heard that you are considering inviting a few people to come here to establish a small settlement?” Gwyneth added.
“You’ll need a doctor here in case anybody goes sick,” David said.
“And somebody to act as postmistress or something like it,” Gwyneth looked first at Will and then me, “We would like to come here and do those jobs. I know we said David was going to give up practising and retire completely but because it will only be a small settlement there won’t be very much work to do and this is a lovely island and just what we’ve been trying to find on this trip.”
I looked at Will, “There is going to be some sort of medical facility built alongside the ecological unit isn’t there?”
“That is the plan, yes.”
“But until then, we have a surgery and can do operations and stuff on board Pacific Wanderer?”
“Yes, so Mark tells me.”
“And if we have about a hundred people living here with us plus the people at the weather station and other facilities, we’ll need a doctor?”
“Definitely,” he smiled.
“And doctors with only a hundred and fifty or so patients will struggle to make a living?”
“Without a doubt, what we need is a part time doctor and they’re difficult to find out here.”
“Gwyneth, I’ll have to take you around so you can pick a nice spot for your house and surgery.”
We stood in a group looking at the helicopter, waiting for the crew who had gone over to Pacific Wanderer for a rest and something to eat. All the passengers were ready and their luggage had been loaded save for the two injured people who were still on board Aurora being strapped into their stretchers.
We said our goodbyes and I increasingly felt that though I had hardly got to know these people I was also saying goodbye to an old life and making space for the new. With the exception of David and Gwyneth who I now knew a little about, I had lived through an experience with a group of people that was for me certainly and to some lesser extent to them, life changing. Yet as far as our relationship with each other was concerned would not merit adding a lot of names to our Christmas card lists. And yet, had the shipwreck not happened, would I have continued to live my life as I had in the past? My two doctors, Duncan and Randolph both thought not, something would have happened in the future that would have made my brain complete a job it had started whilst I was still an embryo but how would I have handled it? Suppressed it and gone to my grave without ever admitting I had lived a life outwardly in the wrong gender or accepted it, as I had on the island?”
I began to realise that two events had controlled who I was, had woken up my physical programming and both were traumatic losses; my parents first and then later Auntie Mo. In a few weeks when I started my treatment I would have to speak to Randolph about that but if I had to make a categorical statement now, I think it was my loss of Auntie Mo, she was the one who had steered me through those early pre-teen years when I changed from child to adult and she was the one who had done what she could to prepare me with her lessons and soft prods in the right direction Aunty Mollie was the one who had detected something, recognised it and did what she could to make the impact less painful. I hope she can see me now, see how her gentleness, her light touch on my steering wheel had been so successful. True I had been frightened by what had so suddenly happened to me, especially when I saw that reflection in the shop mirror but in reality, I had been well prepared by her and with Will’s easy acceptance of my intersexuality, thus far becoming a girl had been relatively painless. But would it continue so, would I be able to carry my change through to its logical conclusion without the help of Auntie Mo, someone to stand by my side and help me to learn in months what a woman of my age would have had twenty plus years to learn. It was no good telling myself that there wouldn’t be any serious problems because that would be a lie. My brain had no doubt about my gender so I could rely on my own instincts but they were never going to be enough if I was to fit into modern society and be accepted as Charlotte and not Charles and that is what I had to do, what everybody who had problems similar to mine had to, even want to do, be accepted. Humans are programmed to be gregarious, when we have a choice we would rather work together as a couple, a team or a group. We are like a single blade of grass. Alone we are unnoticed but as a group, the blades produce an expense of beautiful lawn. I needed a woman friend, a woman who I could share my woes with, a woman to share my joy, a woman with whom I could sit and chat about things that interest women.
And now I had a problem, the passengers had left before I had a chance to get to know them, except David and Gwyneth; my own fault I know, I kept myself to myself before the wreck far too much. Aurora had no women in her crew, the Royal Navy had a few amongst the scientific crew and I would no doubt meet them as the research station was built and there were one or two on Penguin but they were on the other side of the island and I would have little chance to meet and bond with them socially.
I felt a hand rest on my shoulder and break my period of introspection, “You look very worried about something.”
“Not really, Gwyneth, just thinking about my future.”
“You’re forthcoming marriage to Will perhaps?”
“Oddly enough no, I’m quite certain about that and how I feel about him and he about me?”
“Well I know it’s not about the island and uncertainty about that. You never stop making plans.” She stopped and waited a while whilst one or two others went past and then stepped in front of me and took my hand. “I know a little about you. I haven’t been prying, don’t think that of me but I am a doctor’s wife and have been so for a considerable number of years and I’ve been putting two and two together and of course most of the crew may not have been told anything officially but in the small world of a ship there are few things than can be kept completely secret. I wasn’t going to say anything to you but I was watching you a moment ago and the changing expressions on your face. Now if I am butting into a place where I have no right, tell me now and I’ll shut up, if not, I’ll speak and it is personal.”
I smiled, “It’s certainly that, Gwyneth but not here on the beach, there are too many people about. I have a meeting with the captain on Aurora in a couple of hours, would you like to come up to my cabin and we’ll have coffee and a muffin?”
“Coffee and muffins is fine and with David on Aurora talking to Duncan I won’t be reminded to watch my waistline and cholesterol.”
“How much do you know about me?” I asked once we were comfortable in the cabin.
“David hasn’t discussed your case, in fact he only knows a little himself but I did overhear one or two words when he was speaking to Duncan about looking after you and your special needs when Duncan is away and Randolph was unavailable and later I heard Mark ask him if it wouldn’t be better to keep your medication separate from the other drugs intended for general use and finally when the helicopter arrived this morning and a carton of drugs were handed to Mark and he gave the list of contents to David to check if all my stuff was there and David double checked with me, I noticed there was far more than I required and there were also drugs I have never used I queried it and David said they were for another passenger. He slipped up there and said passenger and not person or crew member and the only other female passenger remaining here is you and it fitted the stories going around Aurora Female hormones are sometimes used for treating certain types of carcinomas but again, unless there is an epidemic on one of the ships, the quantities involved were excessive. David has in the past treated patients with complications, relating to sexual orientation. Putting that together and seeing your face today my instincts as both a doctor’s wife and a mother made me wonder if the drugs were for you? Charlotte, don’t ever be slow in asking me for help if you need a woman to talk to. There, I’ve said it and if I have overstepped the line when it comes to patient confidentiality, tell me to shut up but as I have said, I’ve been a doctor’s wife for many years and have helped his patients from time to time and I can’t stand by and ignore somebody’s need for help if I can do something.”
I put down my coffee and looked at her, her face was calm but there was concern in her eyes, “Have you ever come across or met a person who is intersexed?”
“Twice, David had one he diagnosed and passed on to specialists and another, he took over as their GP when they moved into his area and I met them, so I know a little about the condition. Is that you?”
“Yes but it had an odd way of manifesting itself. I wasn’t diagnosed at birth or during puberty, in fact I didn’t even know about it until the second day here after the shipwreck and even then I only thought I might have been transsexual but it was Duncan who discovered it when he saw me after I saved David from the sea.”
“But Randolph knows?”
“Yes, Duncan called him in for an assessment. I’ve had X-rays but haven’t been scanned yet and there are enough other symptoms to make it likely and when Duncan examined me physically he said he was pretty sure I had one, possibly two ovaries and there are signs of partial early breast development and later it was confirmed by X-rays and my hormone levels.”
She smiled gently, “A convenient time to discover something like that, no wonder you looked worried and confused earlier.”
“It’s not so much about suddenly discovering I’m female but when everybody left in the helicopter I began to realise I know little about being a woman, I’ve always thought of myself as male and if it hadn’t been for my Auntie guessing that there was something amiss and teaching me a few things a woman should know I would have been lost. Auntie Mo was the sort of woman that some would describe as old fashioned, the world of computers and androids were gizmos that kept the men and children quiet for an hour or two and when I bought her a mobile phone for a birthday present she was delighted, asked me to show her how to make and receive telephone calls and access the internet page for recipes, add my mobile number to her friends list and put it down and said, “Now we can speak to each other any time we like and I won’t have to keep thinking of new ways to make you eat vegetables and fish,” and that was all she wanted from the Internet She taught me how to help her to style her hair, use make-up, sow, darn, iron and wash delicate materials and cook; things like that and always disguised it to make me think I was helping her, never that she was preparing me for something that she had a premonition about.
“When the others left in the helicopter, I started worrying about how I was going to learn everything else. Some of it is common sense but there’s a lot that I need to learn and I don’t have anybody to teach me apart from perhaps one or two of the scientists and staff on Orca.
“I have to go to New Zealand soon for scans and things and I suppose I’ll have to go to the UK as well, Duncan and Randolph both act as consultants there but I want to live here and it’s not because I’m embarrassed by my condition and want to avoid people, it’s because I genuinely love the island and want it to be my home, so does Will but I still need one or perhaps more women who might be able to understand my problem and help me,” and then I told her what had happened with my search for clothing and how I had made the discovery in the shop when I was trying on floppy hats. I had just about finished when there was a knock on the door, “Its Phillips, Marm; the Lieutenant’s respects and the captain of Aurora’s boat will be calling to take you over in ten minutes and if Mrs Jenkins is with you, PO Mark has her prescription ready.”
“Duty calls,” I sighed, picking up my bag.
“We’ll talk some more if you wish.”
“Over lunch, I’ll only be on Aurora for an hour or so and this afternoon we can go and pick a spot to build your house.”
“It’s a little like being born all over again. A couple of weeks ago I was marooned here, a grieving young man and now I’m a young woman, still grieving a little but missing my Auntie for different reasons. I have over twenty years to catch up on, years spent learning the rights of passage as a young man when I really needed to be learning to live as a young woman.” I shook my head, “Its worse than learning to speak and understand a classical language, Latin or Greek.”
“I’ll have to make sure you have as much fun as I did when I was a young girl,” offered Gwyneth as we reached the top of the steps and stood at the bottom of the lawn looking towards the house. “We gain a great deal of our knowledge of life skills as children and young adults when we play.” She stopped and looked out across the beach and lagoon, “I can see why you picked this spot. Are there many other places like this?”
“Lots and there are places where it might be possible to build a cabin at the top of a cliff overlooking the sea.”
“And you call that mansion at the top of the lawn a log cabin?”
It only has three bedrooms.”
“Where’s the ballroom, at the back?”
I laughed, “It’s not a bad idea, I used to teach ballroom dancing. No all we’ve done is extend the place where the original cabin was.” We started walking up the lawn, “Over to the right behind the trees is the cave and that’s where most of the work is being done at the moment. It’s going to be a storage area and a refuge against extreme weather. I’ll show you the rest of the house and the area at the back where the allotments are and then we’ll go over to the cave and you can have a look at the waterfall and river and then we can climb up a bit and get a good view of this side of the island. Will tells me the end of the spur and reef can be seen from there and part of the lake.”
“Are there any roads?”
I looked at her in surprise, “Roads on an uninhabited Pacific atoll!”
“No motorway traffic or noise to worry about then?”
I shook my head, “Sorry no. There are some animal tracks through the scrub and around the hill and one of the officers from Aurora said we will probably need to build a couple of wide tracks in the near future. We’ll need one going over the island to the south side where all the official buildings and labs are being built and the second one down the length of the island to the spur.”
“No buses then?” Gwyneth asked with a grin on her face. We’ll have to walk everywhere.”
“David would approve, its healthy exercise.”
“David doesn’t have to go shopping or carry it back.”
“There aren’t any shops.”
“We’ll have to build one somewhere, I couldn’t go through life without going shopping at least once a month. Joking apart if you are going to allow a hundred or so people to settle here and add the people from the south side, there is going to be a need for a shop of some sort. It’s okay to ship stuff in from New Zealand, stuff like white goods, clothing and soft furnishings but for the everyday bits and pieces, a shop is necessary.”
“It’s not something I’ve considered but you’re right, I’ll have to see what the science lab people and ships crews have to say. Shall we set it up? If we added a tea room and a pub, we’d be able to collect all the gossip.”
“Did the captain say much about the plans the navy and others have for the island?”
“Quite a lot, it has received official recognition from the UN and everybody seems happy about the discovery of the island provided no attempts are made to militarise it and it remains neutral and access is available to any sea vessel in the event of a storm or other emergency. Something else came up and that was the exploration of this part of the South Pacific. New Zealand is doing quite a lot of research because it’s virtually unknown below the surface and islands like this are havens for wild life and very important for the world’s ecology, not just the local stuff. Wellington has said that Pacific Wanderer is to be offered the opportunity to be refitted in Auckland and leased from us as a support ship, not like Orca but logistical work so that means my concern about access to the rest of the world has been smoothed away and I don’t even have to worry about finding a crew because the navy will find one for us when it’s required.”
“She’ll spend all her time at sea then?”
“No, about a quarter of the time, the rest of the time she will be here or working locally helping with the underwater research that is going to be done around the island.” We reached the house and climbed the steps to the porch, “Here we are, what do you think now?”
Gwyneth turned around and looked across to the lagoon. “My goodness, it’s how I imagine Heaven will be, I’m jealous.”
“There’s plenty of clearings like this on the island, pick one and we can show it to Will and then make sure you’ll be okay for electricity and water.”
“And your house, it’s huge.”
“There’s three bedrooms. This area here will be our sitting room with a section on the west side for a study and along the east side are the bedrooms, they will all have the sun in the morning and the kitchen and dining room will be on the south side. We’ll go up to the cave now and see what’s happening up there but we mustn’t stay long if we’re to climb higher and see the whole of my kingdom spread before us.”
We lost interest in the cave quickly, there were cables, generators, boxes of electrical equipment and sweaty sailors everywhere so I took Gwyneth along the path to the river and waterfall and showed her where Will and I had had our picnic on the first day but she didn’t fancy a swim so after admiring the beauty of the setting we returned to the cave and when we passed the entrance Will came out. “Still house hunting?” he asked.
“Gwyneth likes the waterfall but there’s nowhere along the river where we can build a house so we’re climbing the hill a little and having a look across the island. What’s happening here with all the men and equipment?”
“We’re getting ready to install the main generator inside the cave tomorrow. The floor is prepared and the trench for the cables to the house are ready, we’re just sorting things out now.”
“I thought we were going to use a generator close to the house?”
“It would be easier if we installed the large one here. It will produce enough power to feed twenty or thirty houses and save having smaller generators kicking out noise and pollution all over the island.”
“What about the solar panels?”
“We’ve earmarked them for the installations on the south side and as a backup, if the generator fails some of the power can be diverted here. Eventually more solar panels will be installed to supply this side and eventually, eventually,” he grinned, “The river has possibilities lower down there’s a flow strong enough to drive a turbine. But all that’s for the future. There’s more news; one of the biologists on Orca has discovered a new species of butterfly and she’s coming over this evening for dinner and is going to tell you all about it. It’s quite pretty, I’m told.”
“Oh good, I was wondering if there would be any unique species of plants and animals,” I turned to Gwyneth, “You’ll come as well won’t you, it will give David a chance to speak to the scientists and find out if there are any cures for incurable diseases.”
“Yes, definitely,” she smiled warmly at Will, “We’d love to stay and help you with the generator but we’ll only get in the way so Charlotte and I will get from under your feet and go up the hill.”
“I fully understand, just take care you don’t upset the giant iguanas, poisonous spiders and snakes on the way.”
I nodded, “We’ll keep our eyes peeled but you forgot the man-eating Venus fly traps,” and trotted off after Gwyneth. “Was that a lesson?”
She smiled and nodded, “How to present men with a reason for not getting involved in one of their projects. On this occasion it was simple because we probably would have got in the way, well I would, you might have avoided it due to past experiences but don’t let lessons learned in the past prevent you from becoming forgetful when the circumstances demand it. And always keep at the back of your mind that men do the same to us. You need pictures hung, shelves put up or a bedroom decorated but they can’t because they have made a previous arrangement to meet your brother or father or even second cousin twice removed to have a drink and watch footy on the pub telly. You can’t object because they will counter it with; ‘It’s your family I am meeting, not a load of mates you’ve never met. What are they going to think of you when I have to explain that you don’t want me to meet them?’ So don’t have moments of guilt.”
“Can visits to the beauty salon or protecting long nails be used?”
“Definitely if you remind them that you go through all that just to make yourself beautiful for them so that their mates envy them and their street cred gets a boost.”
“Do you think Will looks upon me as a trophy wife candidate?”
“Yes, all men want beauty in their wives and they all want to be the envy of other males, it flatters their ego but in Will’s case I think it’s more than that. He still boasts about the way you started organising things within minutes of discovering you were marooned over a thousand miles from the nearest civilisation, and he always brings up the way you dived into a stormy sea and rescued a man. He tells people how capable you are and have a terrific sense of humour, and when we were speaking to him a short while ago he was taking note that the sailors that were in the area kept looking in your direction. You definitely want to marry him then?”
“Yes. A lot of the things he says about me apply to him as well. He’s good looking, very funny at times and kind, kind enough to realise I had a serious problem and was a very confused person and he accepted it in a low key way and helped me to come to terms with it. I know he’ll be there when I need him and he won’t for a second stop to think what other people will think. He loves me, Gwyneth and I love him?”
“That’s all that’s needed.” We stopped climbing to take a breather and she studied me for a few seconds. “How long have you been on hormones?”
“I’ve just started, there’s enough in the ship’s pharmacy for more than a month but I am on a low dose. Raymond told me that they would keep it low until I’ve had the scans and they can measure how my body is coping.”
“Well if you can look as good as you do now, by the time you’ve finished your adjustment, I was going to say transition but in your case you only need adjustment, but by the time you’ve finished, you are going to be a really beautiful girl, Will is going to fall more in love with you each day and you can cook very well I hear?”
“I have my Auntie Mo to thank for that. She taught me a lot more than I ever thought I’d need and always under the guise that she wanted to be sure I would always be able to cope, no matter what happened. The odd thing is that I accepted it easily enough, it’s unusual for a teenage boy to accept lessons in sewing, darning, even hair care and use of cosmetics. Most fourteen year olds would want to be out playing sports, climbing trees and teasing girls.”
“You think she knew?”
“Yes, I have no doubt now. She might not have been able to classify it but she knew that I would be lousy as a man - incomplete. The skills I didn’t have a chance to learn were the subtle things; how a woman copes with the everyday things like how to coax a man into agreeing to something, all those things a woman knows instinctively. Not major things but the way we managed to escape just now and get away to enjoy our house hunting.”
“I suspect you learned more than you realise. The dancing lessons allowed you to switch rolls when teaching the women’s way of dancing. Life skills are acquired rather than learned in most cases and you have one or two things going for you that will make it easier; you are receptive, want to learn and unlike a teenager your priority will be in learning rather than having a good time. You have the wider perspective that comes with age nicely blended with a need to know, a curiosity. You’ll learn quickly enough, even in the rarefied atmosphere of the island. When you go to New Zealand or the UK for your scans and operations, I’ll come with you if you wish. You won’t be stuck in hospital all the time, there will be times when having company, a woman friend may help even if it’s only finding your way around department stores.”
“Shopping trips you mean. You’re using me as an excuse to get David to agree to your visiting London with a purse full of credit cards.”
“I told you, you’d learn quickly.” Gwyneth smiled and opened her arms as if to embrace the island, “And what a beautiful home to have as a place to do that learning.”
“From here it seems so much larger and look down there at the cove next to the lagoon. I saw the entrance when Will and I were going around the island in one of the lifeboats but we didn’t land. I didn’t realise that it opens up into an enormous lagoon, almost a lake, I wonder if anybody from the ships has found it.”
“Or that American aircraft that flew over you when you were first discovered?”
“They wouldn’t have been looking at the island, they were trying to find us and once they did, they came down to a few hundred feet and when they circled and came back they were even lower and were concentrating on dropping the supplies by parachute. The entrance to the lagoon is very narrow, easy to miss from sea level. I wonder why Will never mentioned it.” I took my walkie-talkie out and pressed the island button. There was a long pause before he answered, “Sorry about that, I was inside the cave and only noticed the light flashing when I came out.”
“The red one at the top of the set, it flashes if a call comes in and is not answered, the same as a ‘missed call’ on a mobile phone.”
“Oh, right. Will when you came up here to look at the island, did you notice the large lagoon next door to ours?”
“Lagoon, no,” there was another pause, “I looked down the length of the island but there were trees blocking the view to our lagoon so I only glanced that way and concentrated on the south side. How large?”
“It must be three or four times the size of ours and there’s a small island in the middle.”
“I’ll try and get over there for a look after we’ve finished here.”
“Don’t rush yourself, Gwyneth and I can be down there in a half hour, I’ll take some pictures and we can explore it properly tomorrow. We’ll take a lifeboat and I can dive and see what the bottom is like. It might be a good anchorage if more ships turn up.”
“Take care walking down there okay.”
“Of course. See you later because we’ll go back to Pacific Wanderer after looking at the lagoon and get ready for dinner.”
“Dinner isn’t till eight!”
“It takes two hours to get ready.”
“There’s another woman coming and she may bring others from Orca, even invite some from Penguin. Bye, love you.”
Gwyneth chuckled, “See, you’re learning skills all the time, two hours to get ready so you outshine any likely opposition.”
“Well of course, it wouldn’t look nice if I wore jeans and the other women turned up dressed to the nine’s. Apart from that we’ll have to go into the shop and see if there is anything suitable to wear.”
“You’ll need to buy the mandatory little-black-dress.”
In chapters17 and 18: Charlotte has a party and having already shocked herself with her uncertainty about gender, proceeds to shock everybody else as she celebrates the grace, poise, fluidity and beauty of dancing.
I’m close to having volume 2 finished and will let you know when I put it on Kindle. Thank you again for the reviews and kind emails I have received.
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