Short Stories Jul 10, 2020

The steam was already condensing on the ceiling above the shower-rose as shards of warming water drilled into the skin on his shoulders and coursed down his body. Dr Brendan Gates, PhD, luxuriated in the soothing caress of the shower spray and the silkiness of the argan oil bodywash that he massaged gently into his neck and chest. The stresses of the day peeled imperceptibly from his body and slid slowly to the tiled floor before coursing down the drain hole and being flushed away to a place where discarded stresses go to die. It had been a huge day at his school. The daily life of a Principal is roughly divided into two parts - actioning the goals of forward planning, or responding to unplanned events. Putting out spotfires, so to speak. In the steam of his bathroom, Dr Gates reflected on his day and measured his actions. They mostly fell into the latter category. He had been in response mode all day, and like a firefighter, he was exhausted.

Brendan Gates, BA, MEd, PhD, was considered an ambitious high-flyer amongst educators. In his mid forties and single, Dr Gates was already the Principal of a large private school in a well-heeled suburb of Sydney. The parent body included corporate titans and wealthy benefactors who insisted on a large say in the governance of the school. Being the Principal often required walking on eggshells or treading a tenuous path amongst stakeholders. Brendan Gates’ doctoral thesis, which explored the correlations between Socratic questioning and student engagement, was lauded by academia, and had possibly shoe-horned him into the Principalship in this esteemed school. However, once he’d assumed the “big chair”, he quickly learned that the reality of running a school was vastly different to his visions of school management. Pragmatism trumped idealism.

Showering was only a precursor in Dr Gates’ routine for stress management and renewal. He reached for his razor and shaving cream and, basking in the warmth of steam trapped inside the shower glass, shaved carefully before rinsing, towelling off, moisturising and moving to his desk in his bedroom. Unlike the desks one would expect in the homes of academics, there were no laptops, books, printers or items of stationery. Dr Gates’ desk was awash with brushes, mascaras, lipstick tubes, blushes, powders and an ornate jewellery box. They didn’t belong to a wife, they belonged to Bijou.

There are many complex motivations for men to dress as women. Although he was single, Dr Gates loved women. He worshipped them in silence, and gave himself permission to express himself in a soft and loving way because that’s how he believed women might feel. He truly was attracted to his concept of the “femaleness” of women and wanted to demonstrate his empathy by wearing lace and jewellery. He refused to use the term ‘cross-dressing.’ Bijou was the embodiment of those feelings, but she only appeared in the privacy of Dr Gates’ apartment. He knew that societal norms would preclude him from publicly experiencing, even for a short time, what it would be like to “be” the gender that he admired and loved. Any deviance from the norm would be viewed as alarming in most societies, and particularly in his professional role.

The careful metamorphosis took just under an hour. The wig was brushed, the face applied studiously, the sheer stockings were rolled slowly up the contours of each freshly shaved leg, before Dr Gates donned lacy black underwear and stiletto heels. Standing before a full length mirror, he primped his hair and gave a small nod of approval, fascinated at simultaneously being himself, and the object of his desire.

“Good evening, Bijou,” he purred in a sultry tone, “You’re looking stunning this evening. I haven’t seen you for a few nights.”

Preparing a small plate of cheese and olives from the refrigerator, Bijou poured a large glass of chilled Riesling then retired to the loungeroom. She flicked on the stereo and soon the haunting voice of Édith Piaf flowed through the apartment. Reclining on her red leather canapé, Bijou crossed and uncrossed her legs several times to experience the thrill of nylon against nylon. Settling into a more comfortable position, glass of Riesling in hand, she was transported away to France and the 1940s by Édith Piaf. Bijou found herself singing along to, “Non, Je ne regrette rien.” Like Piaf, Bijou didn’t regret anything about her lifestyle.

As the hours washed over her on this April evening, Bijou visualizes the seedy bars and cabarets in which she sings for the German troops, clapping a Gauloises sensuously to her lips at the end of each verse. There was music and laughter, a sense of self preservation, the frisson, the war, and occupying troops at night. There was also the concern that other French citizens might perceive that she is collaborating with the Vichy, or the Germans. But during the daytime, Bijou is cycling through small French villages, puffing patriotically on a Gauloises, past swathes of crops on her bicyclette bearing a basket of baguettes, yet also delivering secret messages to members of the resistance. And as the hours tick by, Bijou recognizes that, yes, unlike Piaf, she did have one regret - she wishes she had asked more from Jean-Paul Sartre whom she met briefly during their work for the resistance. Bijou didn’t quite understand Existentialism and would have loved its finer points explained to her by the father of Existentialism.

But the olives and cheese diminish and the bottle of Riesling empties. Edith Piaf sings her last song as Bijou retires to the bathroom mirror and the process of becoming Dr Gates once more. She stares at herself across the vanity basin, basking in the satisfaction of her otherness.

“Good night Bijou. I know you’ll be back soon. I need to sleep now. I have a huge day ahead of me, beginning early with negotiating a student’s return to school from a long-term suspension. The interview with the parents will be feisty. They’re obscenely wealthy and are accustomed to getting their own way. Perhaps I’ll see you again tomorrow night.”


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