Five Months Earlier
It's funny, how people could live in an illusion throughout their lives. They think that everything is perfect, that they know what their children are doing when they're out or what their wife does when she's working late. They live in this pretence that everything is perfect when they know that's it's not. Because everyone wants to believe that everything is wonderful, because no one can really be bothered to change it. Why face the hardships of reality when you can remain submerged in a semblance?
The only issue was that the façade of a happy family is weak; it is frail, and all it takes is a push- just the tiniest hint of a nudge- for it to be sent spiralling down into the empty abyss of the grim actualities of reality.
That's how it was with Mum, but we managed to regain it, to collect the shattered pieces and patch it back together with glue and a generous amount of duct tape. Dad did, anyway, because neither Clara or I wanted to forget her, but Dad was so desperate to abandon the countless memories that drowned us all that we helped. Eventually. Begrudgingly.
I felt as if I was about to tear all our hard work down again.
The kitchen was empty except for my dad, who lurked in the far corner, bent over the oven and stirring an ominous-looking pot of ominous-looking stew which contained ominous-looking objects. Parsnips, for one. I hated parsnips. He didn't even look up as I said hello; instead flicking through his cookbook with the dedication and acute concentration of a professional chef rather than a home-baker. 'Hey, Tom.' he said, nose almost brushing the bubbling liquid on the stove. 'Get me the flour, won't you?'
That was our life back then; my dad either married to his work as a plumber throughout the day, fixing leaking pipes and installing sewage systems, then returning back home to his mistress: cooking. I barely ever saw Clara anymore. She was perched on the highest rung of the social ladder, balancing precariously at the top of the school hierarchy on a throne of expensive perfumes, low-cut tops, long legs, perfect hair and flawless makeup. Not to forget those numerous, countless selfies.
And then there was me. Living a lie- suffocated in it, really. Making friends and telling them things that they believed, repeating those words to myself and praying that I'd believe them too. Apparently just as great as my sister, but really nowhere close.
"Dad." I said, "I've got something to tell you." My voice was quiet, nervous, but the words reverberated through the kitchen like the Earth's voice- a groaning and screeching cacophony, an orchestra of moving ground and falling buildings.
I don't think that he was expecting that.
"Right." Dad stood up and dusted his hands free on his apron. "Shoot."
I don't know what he was thinking then- maybe I'd got a detention, or I wanted to quit the school football team, or maybe I'd finally found myself a girlfriend (a girlfriend! Imagine that!)
Dad often said that I was too dramatic. Once he even suggested that I should work in theatre when I grew up. He always meant it ironically though, because I doubted that he'd really want his only son to spend his life reciting Jack and the Beanstalk to an audience that knew the story far too well already. In fact, when I jokingly reminded him that I had taken drama for my GCSEs, his features transformed into an unfamiliar portrait of disappointment.
"Um... Do you want to... y'know, sit down?"
Frown creasing his tanned face like tea-stained newspaper, Dad shook his head. "What's wrong, Tom? Is it something to do with school? Is someone bullying you?"
Sometimes earthquakes are good things- useful things. When the tectonic plates press together they can create mountains, and they sure as hell gave us something interesting to study at school. My reasoning was that if something as cataclysmic as an earthquake could have some positives, somewhere, then my ruining my father's dreams of having a 'perfect, clever, sporty son' should have a silver lining. Somewhere. Even if that good thing was only that I could finally feel happy with myself, and feel comfortable, safe and at home inside my own skin.
I had no idea what he was going to say. What he was going to do. My mind was filled to the brim with a joyous buzzing, like bees that were high on honey. And this was because all I could think about, the one thing that had always bothered me, was that I had finally, finally, worked out who I was, and I needed to tell the world.
But first- my dad.
Deep breath. "I'm... I'm transgender." Deep breath. Inhale. Exhale.
My father paused, laid the wooden cooking spoon on the side, and ran a hand over his balding head. A grey strand clung to his fingers and I watched it flutter down to rest on the kitchen floor. "What?" he said, licking his lips. I was taller than him, but he seemed so much bigger, so much stronger than me in that moment.
"I'm transgender. I'm a girl." I repeated, fiddling with the end of my tie. My fingers, long and slender- 'girl's fingers', Clara always teased- were trembling slightly. I was usually the picture of self-control: calm, collected, not a hair out of place, even in the football county finals, but at that moment I was a nervous wreck, which was terrifyingly unnatural for me.
"What?" Dad frowned. "Like that Kendall kid?"
Kendall Denver. Eighteen year old transgender girl from the US. Bullied since he was fourteen for identifying as a boy and quite possibly regretted it ever since. Her parents refused to call him by his chosen name, and instead continued to call him the name they gave him. On the news, they presented a class photo; sweet Katherine Denver seated on the front row, pressed unhappily into a neatly-pressed blouse and skirt. It wasn't difficult to see that he was thoroughly miserable- the shadows collected in heavy bags beneath his eyes, the life had drained out his skin and collected in a melancholy puddle on the floor.
He tried to kill himself about four months ago- left a note on his bedroom table and walked off of a river bridge. He woke up in hospital with three broken ribs and one broken leg, with countless fractures and sprains, but failed to actually take his own life. His parents tried most things- they took him out of school, sent him to certain therapy sessions and kept a close eye on him.
Not close enough though, because less than a month later, he found his father's pistol and that was the end of that.
"Are you sure?" he said. "You've never said anything before." his voice was tinged with curiosity- and hope?- as if my words were a different language, one of which he had limited understanding, and although he had collated together a vague translation of my message, he was desperatly praying that he'd paraphrased wrong. He sounded like he didn't want to hear what I was telling him.
I shrugged. "I'm positive, Dad. It's like..." I cursed my inability to form any kind of respectable sentence whenever I was like this- nervous, worried. I fumbled and tumbled over my words like they were tripwires.
Dad held up his hands in surrender and swallowed thickly. The stew bubbled comfortingly. "I mean... was it anything I- or your mother- did? I know you often played with Clara's dolls, but I- we- never thought it would do you any harm-"
"Have you told anyone at school? You know how people can be nowadays. Some kids could really be horrible to you about it-"
Dad hesitated, doubt and worry surrounding him like a ghostly halo. "Right. So you're- you're a girl, then?"
"Yeah. That's pretty much it." Dad still didn't look content- not that I expected him to be. "Do you... you have any questions?"
"You're right. I might need to sit down after all." Dad pushed past me, eyes not meeting mine, and collapsed onto the sofa. He ran his large hands over his face. He took a deep breath and fell back into the backrest. The old leather begrudgingly gave beneath his weight with a protesting squeak. "Sit down. Stop standing there like an idiot."
I sat down.
He took another breath before sitting forward again, eyes like lazars and piercing through mine. "So. What does this mean? For you. For us."
My fingernails were digging so deeply into my palms that tiny daggers of pain were rushing up through my arms. There was a strand of dark hair that insisted on winding itself between my eyelashes and was causing my eyes to water. My throat was sickeningly, unnaturally tight, like my school tie had transformed into a python, and was casually choking the life out of me. Or a noose.
I felt so helpless. Out of control, like I was falling, because I didn't know what my dad was thinking. I didn't know what he was going to say.
I was falling fast- too fast- and there wasn't a helpful ledge or convenient bungee cord in sight.
I swallowed and choked out a string of words that sounded vaguely English. "Basically-"
Then there was a tremendous, heart-juddering crash from upstairs, closely pursued by a hoarse cry of pain and a wave of curses that rolled down the stairs in a brutal, unending torrent. "Clara?" Dad bellowed, launching himself from his seat on the sofa are charging like a crazed bull up the stairs. "Clara! What's happened?"
Clara's room was a mess; her bookshelf was collapsed onto the floor, books layering the carpet in a darkened snow of torn pages and ripped pages. She towered, triumphant, like a victorious cage fighter, in the centre of the room, the leather-bound, ink-stained corpses lying in defeat and surrender at her fee. She was nursing her right hand, which was missing three false nails and was taking on an unhealthy shade of purple.
She spun round when she heard us enter, and I'd never seen my big sister look so hostile. "What?" she snarled, and that single word was sharpened steel, red-hot and lethal.
Dad wasn't even angry at the destruction she'd caused. "What's wrong, Clara? What's happened?"
"Nothing." Clara spat, voice laced with poison, and the venom seemed to be directed at me. "What's your problem, Tomas? Come to gloat again?"
I frowned. "No. What're you on about? I'm not-"
"Shut up." And it was doubtless that whatever was wrong with her- whatever had happened for her to loose her raged on a poor, innocent bookcase- was something terrible, and it appeared to be my fault.
Could she have heard- no. She was upstairs. Wasn't she?
"Dad." Clara presented her hand to him in a brisk manner, as if the bloody gash running across her palm was something she dealt with every day. "I think I might've broken my hand. I need to get it sorted."
When Dad led her out of her bedroom- hand clasped securely around her good arm- it was impossible to miss the rancorous look she left me with. I shivered before plodding back downstairs- the sound of the car crawling out of the garage onto the road ringing in my ears- to ensure that the stew didn't burn.
I wasn't exactly positive that stew could burn, but I didn't want to find out.
I had a bad feeling that Clara had heard me talking to Dad, and she wasn't as accepting as I hoped he was.
I shivered again as the stew bubbled, the heat drowning me in waves of comforting thoughts and delicious foods. And I stirred it once, just to make sure that we didn't eat charcoal later that evening.