After a discussion about gendered terms such as actor/actress, a friend on Facebook challenged me to write a piece where the gender of the main character was ambiguous. This is what I came up with.
Let me know if/when you guessed where it was going.
The phone on the desk rings. Jamie swears and pauses, foundation stick in one hand, magnifying mirror in the other, and glances at the screen.
The photo shows a badly lit pic of a handsome, smiling woman holding a Chihuahua to the screen to take a double selfie.
Wonderful! Anyone else would hear the voicemail message once and either leave a message or ring back later. Not mum. She’ll ring and ring, ring and ring. Jamie sighs and puts the panstick down. Jabs at the screen.
“Hello love!” comes the sing song voice. “How was the opening night?”
Jamie’ teeth set on edge. “Hi Mum. Opening night was two weeks ago and I told you then. What do you want?”
“Oh, sweetie!” The eye roll and pout are almost audible. “Can’t a mother even call her…”
“I’m at work, Mum,” Jamie, cuts in, knowing that from weary experience these calls can go on for maybe twenty minutes with no clear purpose. “I’ve got maybe ten minutes before I need to be on stage for vocal warm up and this new foundation is a really bad blend. I can’t talk for long.”
“Ahhh! You always did like borrowing my make up when you were little. Now your father said I shouldn’t let you use it but I could always see how much you loved playing when you came into my dressing room. And now you’re on the stage too so I was right after all to let you. It’s in the blood, you know.”
Jamie can’t help smiling even though the story is years old. Jedda Matthew, Hull’s foremost (and probably only) female female impersonator who only gave up the stage when the early death of her husband left her as a single mother.
“Mum! Please!” Jamie’ voice sounds sharp and feels tight. It’s a bit of a worry as the last number of the first act is really tricky, at least two notes too high for comfort. That’ll need some working on this evening.
“I’m sorry, dear. Now, I was calling with some news. I hope you’re sitting down. Your sister is expecting a baby.”
The warning should have come earlier. Jamie sinks to the stool on legs that have turned to iced water. Stares into the brightly lit mirror and sees a face peering back that is cloud white even underneath the heavy stage makeup, with a mouth that is a scarlet streak of a smile. False eyelashes frame eyes that are suddenly filmy with tears.
Jamie looks from the mirror to the photo board that has a special place in the dressing room and finds the photo of two children holding green balloons with the number eight on them. Jamie and Lee. Twins named by a mother who loved horror movies. Jamie and Lee consider themselves lucky that they weren’t named Carrie and Freddy. They’re enough of a pair of clichés as it is, being such opposites. Tomboyish Lee scowling into the camera who later took a Masters in Forensics and Jamie with a sequinned scarf and a beauty queen smile plastered on wide even back then.
Streamers swirl in Jamie’s belly in a pit that is huge and wide and gaping. A Mardi Gras of emotion too big to be contained.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes! And what I want to know is, have you been feeling anything?”
“Feel what?” Jamie asks. The only feeling is a slight resentment that Lee called their mother first, but it is buried almost immediately beneath an avalanche of the urge to scream and dance round the room.
“Did you feel that your twin sister is going to make me a grandmother,” Mum continues in an exasperated manner, oblivious to the bombshell she’s dropped. “Because Mrs Noah who lives next door to Annie Blake’s bungalow says that when one twin gets pregnant, sometimes the other knows even before the expectant mummy. So have you felt sick at all? No strange cravings for pickles. Have you been wanting to eat meat?”
Jamie sniggers but manages to rein it in. Too rude for mum, though she probably wouldn’t understand it anyway.
“I’m vegetarian, remember,” Jamie says. “If I start craving steak I’d probably puke.”
“I know you are. And I did hear you snort, and I do know why, you know. I was on the stage for twenty years.”
She pauses to let it sink in, reminding Jamie that she has a broader mind than her children remember at times.
“Ah well. Perhaps it only works for identical twins.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Jamie agrees, glancing quickly at the clock. “Mum, I have to go. I’m needed for warm up. These numbers won’t sing themselves.”
“Aren’t you happy for your sister? I’m sorry, it must be a shock. I know you and Chris have talked about starting your own family. I’m open minded as you know and I know a lot of couples make it work one way or another, but but really, with your line of work being so uncertain…”
Mum’s voice is consoling now and Jamie can hardly bear it.
“No. Yes. No, I’m happy for Lee. Really happy. I’ll call her as soon as I finish tonight. Love you. Gotta go.”
Jamie hangs up while mum is still saying effusive goodbyes and is halfway to finding Lee’s number when the two minute call comes over the tannoy. The call will have to wait.
By the time the performance is finished and Jamie is back in the dressing room there are five missed calls, all from Lee. Jamie finds a seat upstairs on the Night Bus before punching the speed dial with trembling fingers.
Lee starts apologising before Jamie can even get a word in.
“Jay! She told you! I’m so sorry you had to find out like that. I didn’t want to say anything to anyone until I was sure but Mum dropped round this afternoon and found me chucking up into the kitchen sink. She wouldn’t stop badgering me until I did a test. You know what she’s like. ”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It does. You and Chris should have known before anyone else. What did Mum say?”
Jamie grins. “Oh, she was full of some weird stuff about whether I ‘felt your sickness’ or ‘sensed your womb’. She asked if I’ve been wanting to eat meat.”
Lee explodes into snorts. “No! I bet you almost pissed yourself laughing.”
“A little bit. She also told mentioned how pleased she is that you’re going to make her a grandmother. So, you didn’t tell her everything?”
“I thought I’d leave that. Why don’t you and Chris come up next Sunday. I’ll do a roast and we can tell her over the chicken.”
Jamie laughs and grins, knowing from Lee’s tone of voice that her expression will be almost identical as they discuss the secret they’ve shared for seventeen agonising, heartbreaking months of planning and failure and more planning. Because Mum might have heard about Lee’s pregnancy first, but she got one thing wrong. Lee isn’t making her a grandmother, Jamie is. With Chris’ sperm and Lee’s gladly donated eggs and womb.
“Sounds great. We can tell her everything. Chris can take a photo of her face and we’ll put it on a babygrow.”
Jamie grows serious for a moment. The enormity of impending parenthood suddenly becoming real and a mild punch to the guts that Lee will get to experience something Jamie never can.
“Lee, I don’t know what to say. I don’t have the words to thank you enough. You know what this means for me and Chris.”
“Don’t got getting soppy on me!” Lee warns. “I know you’d do the same for me if you could. Just don’t expect me to change nappies or tap me for babysitting too often,” Lee laughs.
They kiss into the phone and Jamie hangs up, counting the minutes till the bus pulls in at the stop round the corner from the flat.
Chris is lying on the sofa, long, lean legs buried underneath the cats. He’s working his way through a box set of Frasier. Beside him is a pile of exercise books and an empty wine glass. Chris decided a couple of years ago that he’d had enough of soul-destroying auditions and walk-on parts in local theatre, and that teaching nine year olds was his calling. He doesn’t miss the stage and they’ve already agreed that when the baby arrives Chris will be the stay at home dad and Jamie will continue to work.
Jamie bends over, covers Chris’ eyes from behind and kisses the top of his head.
“Hi Honey, I’m home!”
Chris leans round smiles the smile that made Jamie’s toes curl with instant desire from the very first moment they met.
“Good night? You’re later than I expected. Want some wine?”
“Mmm-hmm. I caught the bus rather than the Underground.” Jamie flumps onto the sofa, legs across Chris’ lap. “I called Lee. She had some news.”
Jamie looks into Chris’ eyes, which are full of anticipation. Fear. Hope. They’re chocolaty brown and flecked with a touch of green with thick lashes. Jamie knew instantly that Chris was The One when he winked across the room at an open audition for Hello Dolly in Slough.
“Lee’s pregnant.” Jamie reaches out a hand, strokes Chris’ face and smiles, feeling tears starting to prickle behind his eyes.
“We’re going to be dads.”