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Chapter 1: Be the change

April 1, 2013
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Lena stood in front of the stall and evaluated their handiwork.

The repairs to the ageing marquee – a grandiose name for what was really no more than a canvas gazebo with walls – looked sturdy enough.

Inside, the stock was laid out neatly, ready for the punters arriving tomorrow. The walls were colourful, draped with Indian throws and tie-dyed sheets. Atmospheric hippie-chic. People expected that sort of thing.

Trestle tables were covered in red velveteen cloths. Andy’s plywood display cases held drifts of crystals and semi-precious stones, hand-crafted wands, dream-catchers, meditation bells. Most of it was common stuff, simple and pretty cheap – affordable, she reminded herself, not cheap – but a few special items were safely placed on suspended shelves, out of reach for the smaller, stickier festival-goers.

She had set up shelves of books and pamphlets further in, away from the patched wall – she wasn’t taking a chance on it leaking again. A beaded curtain doorway led into a partitioned area at the very back, for private consultations.

The new sign was a long banner, pale pink and edged with gold-coloured satin. “Earth Ministry!” it proclaimed, in huge letters, green and curly, that Andy had painted for her when the last sign had disintegrated in the July storms. Smaller letters underneath announced the nature of their business: “Goddess worship, Pantheistic communion, Visit the Green Man!”

Satisfied, she made her way around the side, choosing a careful path among the interlocking guy ropes between her marquee and the neighbouring traders’ set-up. She was pleased they were next to Mike and Jono, old hands who sold djembe drums and other traditional instruments. Their place was noisy, fun and always full of customers – good neighbours.

At the back of the marquee, Lena and Andy had parked the van and set up their sleeping tent to form a squarish area of semi-privacy, the drummers’ van making a fourth wall. They had dug a firepit in the centre, stacking the sod carefully, ready to replace it when they moved on in five days’ time.

Lena had already filled her battered storm kettle from the standpipe three pitches down (a good location, not too close, not too far), and now she crouched over the firepit, persuading the twigs to catch light. She was dying for a cup of tea.

She heard Andy crawling out of the tent behind her. “Want a cup?”
“I’d love one.”
She turned around with a smile that froze when she saw – “Andy?”
Andy wore a flowing ankle-length navy skirt and a loose peasant blouse, white and embroidered.

“Do you – do you mind?”
Lena stood up, looking him over while she thought about her answer. Eventually, she shook her head. It was, after all, the ideal time and place.
“I just wasn’t expecting it, that’s all. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know if I would be brave enough. I didn’t know if – ”
“If you were ready?”
Andy nodded.
Lena wasn’t sure if she was ready, either. “Jesus, Andy.”

It was all happening so quickly. Lena had only met Andy’s alter ego a few short months ago, and certainly hadn’t been expecting to spend the festival with – her. She shut her eyes and made the mental adjustment. It was becoming familiar. “Sorry,” she said at last. “I mean Hazel.”

Hazel smiled and Lena noticed the relief. It was so easy to get wrapped up in her own anxieties and forget that she had the easy part. She hugged her beloved, holding her close.

“If you can’t be yourself here, where can you?”

The Be-The-Change festival had always been their favourite – the most broad-minded and peaceful atmosphere of anywhere. The kettle agreed. It began to whistle – starting as a breathy half-cocked sighing, like a kid still working out the logistics of teeth and tongue and lips – reaching full throttle before Lena took it from the fire. She grabbed the tea-pouch.

“Do you want chamomile… peppermint… detox…” Lena sorted through the wrapped tea-bags and then looked up with a conspiratorial wink. “Or how about some of that Wise Woman tea?”
Hazel giggled and shrugged. “Why not?”
“We need all the wisdom we can get,” replied Lena, and made two cups of Wise Woman.

They sat together on the low bench Andy had set up next to the van.
“Thank God it’s not raining,” said Hazel. “I don’t think I could stand another wet festival.”
Lena lit herself a cigarette. A rollup. “Your boobs are wonky,” she said.
“Thanks,” said Hazel, adjusting. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”
“I’ll get used to it,” she said blithely. “Might as well start now.”

Truth was, when Andy had first told her, Lena had not been in the least bit blithe.

He had been drunk, and she hadn’t taken him seriously at first. She’d accused him of playing some weird practical joke – the stupid fool had picked 1 April to tell her. He’d swallowed half a bottle of vodka for the courage to tell her that he wanted to be – that he was – a woman.

Once she had understood that this was a real thing, her next reaction had been anguish: but not, strangely, on her own behalf – that would come later. It was for Andy, for his – her – evident distress.

This was the person she loved. Her hand-fasted twin soul. You love the person – no matter what. That’s what she had said. She’d meant it, too.

She drank her tea in silence, casting sidelong glances at her – partner.

Trapped in a man’s body, that’s how they always described it in the papers. Learning with Andy – meeting Hazel – she had found that it’s not so simple. Never so simple.

She was slowly getting used to “partner”, an ungendered word, simplifying things for both of them. And she was getting used to being around Hazel. Glad that Andy had agreed to take things steady, to allow her time for this adjustment.

And today wasn’t just Hazel’s first time out in public. It would be Lena’s first time out as a – as a lesbian. At college, all her mates had reckoned she was gay. And now, in a manner of speaking, she was meeting their expectations. Ironic. So much was, these days. She stood up and stretched.

“Come on, love,” she said. “Let’s go and have a bimble. Wander up the pitches and see who’s here.”
Hazel got up too. Nervous.
“It’s now or never,” she said, and took Lena’s arm.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 1, 2013 8:51 pm

    Wordcount – 1091
    Prompt – I don’t believe it / April Fool (100WC)

    Please suggest prompts for Chapter 2 in the comments!
    (Check the sidebar for a link to more info about this interactive project!)

  2. Anonymous IRL friend permalink
    April 1, 2013 10:29 pm

    How about something to do with an item of clothing ripping.

  3. April 1, 2013 11:55 pm

    nice start

  4. April 2, 2013 12:57 am

    I am sitting here sniffling. WOW I cannot wait! THANK YOU!

  5. April 2, 2013 12:04 pm

    It is only my opinion but I think that it is a bit long for a first chapter whose main purpose is to stun the reader into continuing. Also, while the descriptions are very well written, they are perhaps a little too much too soon – might it be better to drip feed information in a more indirect manner?

    For ideas, how about bringing a photographer into the mix at some point – could cause an embarrassment for Hazel?

    Good luck, I like reading your stuff. Mum

    • April 2, 2013 8:22 pm

      Thanks 🙂

Comments very welcome!

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