[First published on Writers’ Block, on March 11, 2016.]
Though “Geraldine” Atkins was considered by many to be a crazed lunatic, he was better known as an entertainer. Through his years as a performing artist and a piano player, he had cultivated a bizarre and freakish personality, which earned him much notoriety around the Home Counties. He was not world famous, nor nationwide, but mainly thought to be a local sensation.
He played the piano religiously as a young child but did not become a professional until well into his 30s. His first ever concert was at a bar in Soho, 1972, and since then he had been building on his reputation. What made him significant was his ability to flaunt his sexuality and link it with his own music. What’s more, he also liked to dress himself as a woman. This was a unique aspect of his stage persona, and he succeeded so well in this regard that it was impossible to tell at first glance whether he was male or female. Indeed, since he usually spoke with an abnormally high-pitched voice, and that in all his mannerisms he was largely effeminate, he sounded just like a woman too. His timing in entering the public scene also coincided with Britain’s generation of LGBT performers who were entering the public limelight; David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, and the like. Capitalising on this gay revolution, as it were, Geraldine Atkins was indeed, a star.
His fame and his infamy (he was rumoured to be a male prostitute, and continually harassed by the police) declined gradually into the 21st century, but in all his foppish and fabulous splendour, he was still very much in the game. As a pianist, his material was neither bawdy, nor risqué, and in fact actually sounded much reminiscent of some of the old-fashioned and respectable love ballads that he enjoyed hearing as a young child; mainly from 1920s Broadway productions, or even songs set during the wars. However, he was first and foremost a composer, and for inspiration, he looked directly up to the likes of Noel Coward and Liberace. Right at this point, dressed in a pretty pink frock, with a straw ladies’ hat, he was playing his song which he had written in the style of a wartime ballad: “Great Britain, Great Britain, Great Britain…”
“Great Britain, Great Britain, Great Britain…
On the parchment of history ‘tis written
O, how our enemies shall soon be smitten
Great Britain, Great Britain, Great Britain…
When his performance ended, he was met with a round of applause, and cutely bowed before his audience three times, then closed his piano down, and walked straight over to the counter for a drink. He had often wondered whether his fame was down to pure merit, or simply down to the controversy, but then he had never wanted to find out. By the end of his performance, he drove off in his 1980s BMW, retreating back to his cottage in the country. As he drove past, there was a notice on a nearby telegraph pole, conspicuous enough to be seen from 50 yards away, with a picture of a teenage girl’s face on it. The notice read:
“MISSING PERSON: SAMANTHA GREENWAY, AGE 16
On the 20th March at around 3:30 PM, Samantha Greenway was walking home from school when she disappeared. She was last spotted in Elmsley Common, wearing a pink dress and carrying a brown leather handbag. She is 16 years old, has brown hair, blue eyes, and is 5ft10. If you have any information that may lead to her whereabouts, then please dial 999.
-Surrey County Police”
The girl in the picture was really pretty. She had a charming, youthful and innocent smile, with delightful white teeth, and adorable blue-green eyes.
As Geraldine pulled into his driveway, he parked and moved carefully out of his old banger of a car. Then, not forgetting his parasol and his walking stick, he entered his old cottage. He carefully balanced his stick and his parasol in the closet, then walked into the kitchen. He put on the kettle, and as he did, Grimalkin purred as she leapt up near the kitchen sink. He gently stroked her black fur, as the kettle grew more noisier. Then he remembered to feed her. “There’s a good puss… good girl…” he murmured. Once the kettle was singing, he poured himself some Earl Grey, gently blew over it, and then took a sip.
There was a quiet rattling noise, coming from somewhere within the house. Geraldine sprang into action; like he had almost forgotten. “Gosh! I need to check on my new guest, don’t I!?” He carefully hobbled along to a door next to that of the living room. He fetched a key from his ring, unlocked then opened it, and walked down the stairs which lead into what looked like a downstairs attic. It had a creaky wooden floor, and the walls were wooden and bare. The room was cold, as it did not have central heating. In fact, it wasn’t even part of the floor plan. Geraldine had dug and manufactured it himself. In a remote corner of the room was a metal cage with iron bars, lying in the corner frightened, was Samantha Greenway.
Annabel and her friends were really excited. She had never owned a dollhouse before, and she could barely contain herself. It was the best birthday present she’d ever had, and as far as she knew, probably the only one she’d need for years to come. All of her friends were here, celebrating this magnificent model with her.
“Let’s let Susie in the bedroom!”
“No Susie can’t be there, it’s not her bedtime!”
Just at that moment, Mother walked in, with a wide-eyed toddler beside her. “Girls?” she called out. “Gerald wants to play with you. Are you going to let him?” Annabel sighed. Not this again. Why couldn’t Gerald play with his own friends? “But Mummy! Gerald’s a boy! Boys can’t play with us!” Mother cooed. “Please… look at him. He loves his big sister. He desperately wants to play with you. Don’t you dear, Gerald?” Gerald looked really happy, but didn’t know how to express himself.
Annabel groaned. “I wish I had a younger sister instead.” Mother opened the door. “I don’t want to hear any arguing. Is that clear? Just let Gerald play with your dolls, and be nice to him.” Gerald toddled over to his older sister, and pointed to the house, which was almost bigger than he was. In an effort to get attention, he announced in front of Annabel and her friends, in as much English as he could: “It’s big!” Annabel’s friends were beginning to feel sorry for him. “Come over here, Gerald, help Susan get dressed for her day at school.” “No! Wendy! Gerald can’t play with dolls! Don’t let him touch her!”
This made Gerald very upset. He started to cry, and suddenly all of Annabel’s friends were enchanted by him. They all gathered around him, and did their best to calm him down. Annabel stood there defiantly. “He can’t play with us, Wendy. He’s a boy. Boys aren’t allowed to play with girls.” Then immediately, one of Annabel’s friends had an idea. “I know!” shouted Barbara, with sudden excitement. “Let’s turn him into a girl!” The other girls snickered at this. Gerald was happy that he was getting all this lovely attention.
“No, you can’t do that Barbara!” Annabel retorted, as if she was telling her off. “Yes we can!” shouted Daisy. “All we need to do is make him wear a dress!”
This made every girl’s eyes light up. Gerald didn’t know what was going on, but he felt that something fun was about to happen. “Annabel, can we use one of your frocks?” asked Wendy. Annabel was hesitant at first, but after all her friends insisted, she reluctantly ran upstairs to her chest of drawers, pulling out a small, crumpled children’s white frock, patterned with acorns and leaves. With diligent care, she eased it over Gerald, who willingly stood as still as he could. All of Annabel’s friends gasped, then giggled. “He looks beautiful!” said Daisy.
“She looks beautiful!” corrected Eileen. Gerald turned around, admiring the smiles he got from his new friends. Annabel, however, was still not convinced. “He’s still not really a girl” she muttered, obstinately…
Samantha was lying against the far corner of her cage, feeling rather tired. She had little memory of what happened last night. She was walking back from school, when an elderly lady was walking near her. She continued on her course… when suddenly she fell into a deep sleep. What happened? Why would she just fall asleep in the middle of a wood? That’s just bizarre…
She soon felt more alert, and her head was beginning to feel sore from where her head had been resting against the iron bars of the cage… a cage! She was in a cage! She was still feeling partly woozy from her long sleep, and wasn’t sure if this was a dream or not. But the loud rattle of the cage door assured her that this was no dream. She did not recognise any of her surroundings; she had never been anywhere like this before. Had she been kidnapped? Then, hearing a door open from not far away, and the gentle patter of footsteps, she noticed a strange feminine figure enter the room, and the turning on of a light. She began to feel really frightened. She had no idea where she was, but was clearly nowhere familiar. And her phone and purse had been taken. Where was she? And who was that person at the other side of the room she saw? Soon, the figure moved closer. Samantha was beginning to question in her head whether it was male or female. They were wearing a pink dress, but also had a fairly ambiguous body frame and facial profile. She waited to hear this person speak, so that she would find out.
Then, she remembered! That old lady she’d seen in the park! This was her! She noticed the “old lady” walking beside her, then all of a sudden she gripped her tightly and smothered her face with a napkin, which must have been laced with some sort of sleeping agent. That’s why she felt sleepy. Then, the figure presented their face to the front of the cage. Even now she was still uncertain whether her captor was a man or a woman. “Are you awake?” Geraldine asked her. The figure spoke with soft, feminine voice – it was impossible to tell what their sex was. Maybe she’d never find out. But she felt much too frightened to ask.
“Time to wake up.” Geraldine rang in a monotone. Samantha moved towards the source of the voice, and uttered weakly “Who – who are you? What have you done to me?” Geraldine rose and turned away. “I’ve taken you to my secret room, darling. I need you here.”
Samantha had no clue what was going on. “First, I need your dress.” Samantha began to fear the worst. She looked at him, feeling more and more freaked out by each passing second. “My – my dress?”
“Yes dear, I need your dress. Kindly take it off, please.”
Samantha curled into a ball. “Please… don’t… don’t hurt me!”
“I won’t harm you if you do exactly as I say. Take off your dress, now.” Samantha wondered if he was being serious.
“And… if I do… you’ll – you promise you won’t hurt me?”
Geraldine was beginning to feel more and more impatient.
“For God’s sake, you little bitch! Just take off that dress now!”
She yelped, and began to undress. She tried not to pay any attention to the eerie gaze of this bizarre person who was carefully looking at her. Once she had removed it, she handled it with great care, and bundled her dress together. “He – here..” she delicately extended her dress. Now, wearing nothing more than her undergarments, she was beginning to feel more exposed to the cold air, and goosebumps were appearing all over her delicate skin.
Then, to Samantha’s own amazement, the strange figure of a person took her dress away, and did not seem intent on harming her. Instead, he began to strip himself, with a view to wearing it himself. Now, seeing his hirsute bodily figure, she was beginning to feel more certain that she was talking to a man. A man wearing ladies’ knickers, and a brassiere. Samantha was feeling perplexed, and more and more uncertain of her fate. She had read one or two horror stories in the news about deranged lunatics who kidnapped girls around her age, and forced them into all kinds of degrading sexual acts, before savagely killing them. She began to bite her lip… she did not want to die. Not like this. And she was absolutely freezing. Where was her family now? What about the police? Were they all busy searching for her? And this weirdo – who on earth was he? Was he a registered sex offender, on their wanted list? She’d never seen him around the neighbourhood before. She was beginning to regret being so blissfully ignorant of the goings-on in the local county.
Once Geraldine put on Samantha’s dress, he began to pirouette with practised diligence, then curtsied right in front of her. What was he going to do now? Was he going to ask her to take off her bra and knickers too? Instead, Geraldine headed back to the stairs leading out of the basement. No! How long was he going for? In this freezing cold! How was she going to survive?
“I know what we need to make her more beautiful!” exclaimed Wendy, “Let’s put a tiara on her head, and then she’ll be a princess!”
Annabel just stood in front of all her friends, wistfully longing for their attention. To her, this was nothing short of unspeakable. Blasphemous. And yet, none of her friends seemed to care – dressing her baby brother in all manner of frocks, and giving her all sorts of inappropriate headwear. And to top it all off, he had stolen away all her friends just by being cute. Annabel didn’t even think he was that cute, really. He was three years old – two years her junior, and yet, he was the one who commanded the respect of girls older than him. It was not fair!
“Come on, Annabel, help us!”
Annabel couldn’t take it anymore. She stormed out of the room and walked to the garden, where she saw Mother watering the roses. Everything in the garden looked so much more beautiful and appealing than what she was seeing in there. It was peaceful and sunny. A perfect distraction from-
“-Anna… Annabel!” She turned around, and saw Gerald – (of all people!) running towards her. She was surprised; he even sounded like a girl now. And now he followed her here. He was clearly mocking her.
“Gerald!? Is that you?” Mother called out, bewildered.Once she came up close and saw everything, she burst out laughing. “Annabel… look! You’ve made Gerald into a lady now! Now you have a little sister!”
Annabel was cross. She folded her arms.
“He’s not my sister, Mummy. He’s just being really silly. Everyone’s being silly. They think he’s a girl.”
Mother still could barely control herself. “Geraldine!” She moved forward and picked him up in her arms. “From now on, your name shall be Geraldine.” “But Mummy!” she wailed.
“It’s not fair! Boys aren’t supposed to play dress up like that!”
Mother turned affectionately to her eldest.
“Annabel, my dear… why can’t you just pretend like everybody else? He doesn’t mind!”
To this, Gerald smiled in approval. Annabel couldn’t. There was no way.
As long as Gerald was a…
Annabel suddenly had a thought. A most brilliant idea! What if she decided to really make Gerald into a girl? Then instead of an annoying little brother, she could have a pretty young sister instead! Imagine how well they would get on, and how much they’d be able to share together – it would be just perfect! And she knew exactly how she was going to do it. But she would probably need some help from her friends first. She rushed inside the house, leaving Gerald behind in a hurry.
All her friends gasped at this suggestion. “But that’s even more wrong!” objected Daisy. “Mummy will be very cross!”
“No!” Annabel insisted, “It’s perfect! It will really work!”
“But he is a girl now; we just made him one!” protested Eileen.
“No he isn’t really. It’s just pretend,” responded Annabel. “But when we do this, we won’t have to pretend anymore.” Soon Annabel’s friends were all taken by this suggestion. A mischievous smile formed on each their faces. They were all planning to do something really naughty.
“When shall we do it?” asked Wendy?
“Let’s do it tomorrow morning!” said Daisy. And once they happily reached a decision, then all resolved to walk outside and accompany Gerald. They took him to the swings and slides. Now Annabel was happy. Lifting young Gerald onto the slide, Annabel began to push. “Soon Gerald, you really will be my little sister!”
Annabel’s friends giggled mercilessly at this. Gerald laughed, still not knowing what was going on…
Samantha could see the vapour from her breath as she exhaled. It was so cold in this dank little basement. How long had she been waiting here for? How much longer would she last? While busy dwelling on this, however, a shadow protruding in the basement told her that her captor had returned. He was carrying what looked like an umbrella, and a CD player. He plugged the CD in the wall.
“Umm… excuse me… excuse me… sir?”
Samantha’s captor stopped dead in his tracks and turned slowly towards her. “I’m… I’m really cold. Can I… Can I have my dress back?” Something appeared to snap in the crazy man’s eyes. “What did you just say, dear?”
“I…” she began, nervously “I’m just… so cold. I’d really like my dress back.” The man looked like he was beginning to calm down. “Yes… yes… your dress. You’d like your dress back. I’ll umm… I’ll get you-”
He turned back and began to fumble around in a small wooden box.
“Get you… get you your-” Then once he’d found what he was looking for, he turned around, and retrieved what appeared to be a whip.
“WHAT DID YOU JUST CALL ME!?”
Samantha shrieked, and curled into a ball
“Sir!? SIR!? SIR!? Do I look like a SIR to you!??” flipped the madman.
Then, he began to reach through the cage, and whip her hard over her bare legs and shoulders. She wailed and howled at the stinging pain.
“You… you bitch! You rude little bitch! You bitch, you bitch, you rude, naughty little bitch!” Samantha did her best to apologise, despite the pain she suffered from her flogging.“I’m sorry – I’m so sorry – I’m so sorry- I’m so sorry… Miss.. Ms! Madame! Madame, please don’t hurt me! I’m so sorry – I swear! I won’t call you that I swear! I won’t call you that again!”
Geraldine moved closer to the cage. He began to undress again.
“Look at this!” he exclaimed. The old man then dropped his knickers, and Samantha saw something that was freakishly disgusting. What she saw was no recognisable part of human anatomy. It was what appeared to be an empty space with a bright pink trail of torn stitch marks where a distinct lump mass of flesh was missing. There was a small plastic tube that ran midway through it. It made him look neither male nor female. If anything, it made him resemble Frankenstein’s monster. Whatever it was that happened down there, it looked the result of several botched surgical operations that had been done by no professional. Samantha held her nose and covered her eyes. She was going to be sick. She couldn’t bear to look at it any longer.
“Huh!?” Geraldine quizzed. “You think this is disgusting!? Well, aren’t you a delightful little thing!? I was looking forward to both of us revelling in our shared womanhood together!”
Samantha could not hold it in any longer. She puked all over the cage floor. Geraldine rolled his eyes and began to lose his temper.
“You are just like everybody else…” he spluttered “You…-You don’t know what it’s like… you live an ordinary life… you’ve never even thought to question what you were! In another life… in another universe… I could have been just as beautiful and insipid as you.” Then, pulling up his knickers, he thwacked the cage door in frustration. There was a loud clink noise. Samantha did her best to distance herself from the pile of sick. “Now…” he began “First, you’re going to clean up that pile of sick, and then we’re going to try this again from the start.” He rummaged through his box and found an old tea towel and some Febreeze.
“As soon as… as… as soon…” The old man started to feel faint. His face slurred, and half of his face appeared to lag as if it was no longer functioning. He looked as if he was having a stroke.
“As… soon as we…”
Then, he tumbled down and collapsed in front of the cage door, and after nearly a whole minute writing in helplessness, he passed out cold on the floor. Samantha noticed he was carrying what looked like a set of keys in his right hand. It was too far away for her arms to reach, so, carefully navigating around the pile of vomit, she reached out with her bare leg and clasped onto it. Success!
She quickly tested all the different keys (There were 6) on the cage lock, and soon enough, she was free. She immediately snatched her dress off the lifeless old man lying before her, and wanted to bolt for the exit, immediately but stopped herself. She looked at the deranged geriatric lying on the ground, and for some reason, even she couldn’t understand, she pitied him. Whatever it was that turned him into this, she reasoned that he was, some way or another, completely wrecked by something traumatic that happened to him as a child. Then, she snapped out of her pitying trance at once, and made her way up the basement stairs as quickly as she could…
…Geraldine awoke. Where was the girl gone? She was there in her cage just a few minutes ago. What happened? The pile of sick was still there… but the door was open. How… The keys! She’d taken the keys. Geraldine let out a deep sigh of resignation. This was it. He’d taken a permanent leap across the threshold and there was no going back after this. All his life, he’d wanted to be accepted for who he was, by everyone who knew him. But he knew that he would always be seen a circus freak. Cast out by his family, his neighbourhood, and his town, he knew that his only option was to reinvent himself and make the best of whatever life he had left. But he had too much to contend with; living an excruciating charade where he lived as neither man nor woman but a freak show.
It was not enough for him to live within a perpetually degrading and unfulfilling drag act; he wanted something he knew he could never have; to actually be a woman and to be accepted as one. And with no success, he pulled this one final stunt. He vowed to conquer and revenge the very sex that had ruined him in the first place, by kidnapping a young girl and humiliating, outperforming… defeminising her. But was it not significant that his old, crippled and neglected body waited for this particular moment to shut down on him? It was just as if he had gone against its wishes. He defiled his own identity as a woman. And now all was lost. Whatever he had that kept him determined to carry on throughout his life… had finally gone. In the faint distance, he heard what sounded like sirens wailing outside. It was time. He opened his old wooden box and pulled out a service revolver, which his father had left to him. He placed the cold metal nose in his mouth. He closed his eyes. Then he heard several raps against the front door upstairs. Regretting his life, he exhaled deep pity and regret for his pathetic life. “Police! Open the door!” Then he pulled the trigger. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the swan song of “Geraldine” Atkins.
“Shhh…” whispered Annabel. “Here he comes.”
Gerald was waltzing proudly through the lounge. Then, he saw Annabel and smiled at her. “Gerald! Come here! Good boy!” Gerald ran as fast as he could. Annabel led her out to the garden and turned towards him.
“Gerald… you can’t play with us as long as you’re a boy.”
Gerald cheekily smiled with an oblivious look of excitement.
“So…” Annabel smirked, “we’re going to turn you into a girl!”
Then, out of nowhere, all of Annabel’s friends emerged from behind, jumped him and held him to the ground. Gerald was taken by surprise, and massively uncomfortable. Annabel walked across to the patio and picked up her mother’s terrifying large pair of garden secateurs. “Pull down his pants!” Gerald finally realised what was happening, and began to struggle and scream. But they blocked his mouth with their hands and held him down harder. Once Gerald’s pants were down, and the operation was underway, Annabel advanced slowly towards him, motioning to cut with the giant scissors. Gerald squirmed and fidgeted, and looked to find any trace of humanity in his big sister’s eyes.
“Hold still Gerald! This won’t hurt if you sit still!”
Then, she opened the blades, lowered them carefully, and proceeded…
“From now on, your name shall be “Geraldine” Atkins!” At this moment, Mother came into the garden and witnessed everything. She was mortified, and absolutely speechless. She began to felt unwell, and noticeably unhinged by the nightmarish scene in front of her. She immediately ran towards Geraldine and inspected the damage up close… then turned with horror to see the innocent look on Annabel’s face, as she wiped away the blood on her face.
“Look, Mummy! I made Gerald into a girl!”
3-year-old Geraldine was taken to the local hospital, which did their best to repair the damage, though he fell into a coma, and did not awaken until 3 years later. Once the details of this incident became public, Penelope Atkins was deemed unfit to be a mother and lost custody of her children. She later committed suicide. Once he finally woke up, Geraldine was left in the care of his grandparents, who would scorn and reject him, seeing him as a nothing more than a “mistake”, who would never amount to anything.
Living an isolated life, Geraldine found solace in playing the piano. It was the activity he could regularly attend to that distracted him somewhat from his complications, and his life. It took him decades before he finally managed to cultivate his stage personality. Though still not satisfied with the surgery performed on him, he would frequently inject himself with morphine, apply a needle and thread to see if he could finalise his transition into womanhood. But he never succeeded. In death, he died as much as he lived; unsexed, and alone. But in his death, he had sparked even greater curiosity and infamy than he did while he was alive. In the neighbourhood where he lived since, there has been an increase in reports of young local girls aged 15-18, who had mysteriously vanished while walking around the public footpaths. But that’s not all. Local residents have even told vague tales of the faint noise of “piano-playing” and even singing nearby every March, even though the house has since long been abandoned. And the song they reported hearing would always sound like this…
“Great Britain, Great Britain, Great Britain…
On the parchment of history ‘tis written
O, how our enemies shall soon be smitten
Great Britain, Great Britain, Great Britain!”