Over the rainbow

Copyright © 2018 Maeryn Lamonte – All Rights Reserved.

This was written as an entry for a double dip contest at BCTS. Two related submissions. I’ve put them together in one story here.

Song…

Somewhere over the rainbow

Way up high

The haunting strains of Eva Cassidy’s exquisite voice slice into my soul, cutting through to the heart of me with a swift, surgical precision and resonating with my own deep sense of anguish, building it to a point that is both exquisite and unbearable. I want to laugh, to cry out, simply to cry. The tears well up, but the dam refuses to give way, and all I can manage is a dry, gasping sob.

In the land that I heard of once

Once in a lullaby

That bit’s different. The analytical part of my brain pokes at my heartache and my carefully constructed tower of self-pity collapses like a house of cards.

My brain is both a blessing and a curse at different times. Whenever it notices something out of place, it gives me a mental jab in the ribs, interrupting whatever train of thought or feeling I might be focusing on.

Like right now. In the July Garland version, she sings, “There’s a land…” rather than “In the land…” I should know, I’ve just had to sit through the whole two hours of the 1939 film.

Well maybe it wasn’t quite two hours, but it felt like four.

I couldn’t escape it though. Dad’s been worried about me recently – more so than usual. Every day, when I’ve arrived home from school, Dad’s been waiting with the same question: What did I do at school today. “Nothing,” just brought out the inquisitor in him. No-one may expect eh Spanish Inquisition, but my dad’s is far more predictable. So I’ve been rehearsing what I’d say each day on the way home. Today was easy. I told him I’d landed one of the big parts in this year’s school play.

Yup, you guessed it. Hardly a challenge though, so no prizes. We’re doing the Wizard of Oz. Dad was so excited, he didn’t even bother to ask which part. He told me to, “Wait right there,” and ran up to the loft, coming back ten minutes later with our old VCR and his rather dusty copy of the film. I mean so old he doesn’t even have it on DVD – that didn’t bode well.

Do you know how rubbish a VCR looks on an HD television?

It wasn’t just the naff resolution, or the naff acting, or the naff effects, or the, well, the general naffness of the whole thing. As usual I had to endure his running commentary all the way through the film. Did I know that the ‘snow’ used in the poppy field scene was actually asbestos? That the Wicked Witches broom and even the Scarecrow’s costume were made out of the stuff? Did I know that the original actor who played the Tin Man almost died from his reaction to the powdered aluminium they painted on his face?

I don’t really mind. He misses Mum. We both do. He has his ways of coping and I wouldn’t dream of derailing them. I know how hard it can be from my own experience. Besides, when he gets this caught up in what he calls “supplementing my education,” he often doesn’t realise he’s missing a few salient facts. Like he still hadn’t asked me which part I’d been offered.

I have no idea how I’m going to tell him.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Skies are blue

And the dreams that you dare to dream

Really do come true.

Even the weather isn’t playing fair.

Usually I can rely on the local climate to sympathise with my misery but tonight, instead of the usual gloomy, low clouds covering the sky, the heavens are filled with glistening, bright stars, and yes, they’re twinkling.

I lean against the window frame and gaze out at the sparkling sky. It may not match my mood, but I can still lose myself in it.

A streak of light stretches across the sky, fractures, breaks in two. For a brief moment the fragments form an arch; somehow welcoming, inviting.

Some day I’ll wish upon a star

And wake up where the clouds are far behind me

What the hell, it’s worth a shot. I close my eyes.

Where troubles melt like lemon drops

Away above the chimney tops

That’s where you’ll find me.

“Let me wake in a world where I belong.” I say it out loud, but not too loud. Too embarrassing if Dad should hear me, too likely to precipitate another of his inquisitions. It’s a silly thing to ask for, I know. A lifetime of disappointment, even one as short as mine’s been so far, grows in you a sense of pragmatism. You see the world in terms of what’s possible and relegate the daydreams to that dusty shelf at the back of your mind.

Fantasy is all very well, but it hurts so much more when you wake up and realise that your dreams are just that. Just so much fluff on the wind. Ephemeral enough when they’re with you, then blown out of reach at the slightest gust.

Eva’s guitar solo plays through my mind and I try to indulge myself in what-ifs for a few brief moments, but it’s no good.

The field of stars glitters before me, each one some poor soul’s impossible dream – bright with hope, but forever out of reach. If one of them ever belonged to me, it fell out of the heavens a long time ago.

Maybe that’s what shooting stars actually are. Someone somewhere finally loses faith, and the symbol of their hope falls crashing to Earth.

Well worth wishing on something like that. Hardly surprising that nothing changed when I made my wish.

Some day I’ll wish upon a star

And wake up where the clouds are far behind me

Where troubles melt like lemon drops

Away above the chimney tops

That’s where you’ll find me.

The repeat is another way Eva’s version varies from the original, but then I guess that’s the difference between a pop song where you have three minutes or more to fill, and a musical interlude in a film where you can’t afford to break from the story for too long.

I do that sometimes; go into analytical mode and dig my way through trivia just to distract myself from burrowing too deep into my pain. It’s kind of my coping mechanism. Not so different from Dad’s, except I don’t feel the need to bore anyone else with my thought process.

No, you don’t count. If you don’t like my musings, you can always put this down and go do something else.

You didn’t stop, did you? I could use a friend to talk to right now.

I mean this whole thing’s my fault, kind of.

Our school’s a pretty typical example of modern education in that it tries to do its bit to turn us all into the politically correct little drones society expects us to become. A few weeks ago, they made their annual effort to try and persuade us that homophobia was wrong

I mean, don’t get me wrong, they’re preaching very much to the choir in my case, but in a school environment, where the primal instincts of all us youngsters lie close to the surface, it seems that there is a lot of persuading still to be done.

This year the best plan of action the powers-that-be could come up with was to invite a bunch of individuals who were openly a part of the LGBT spectrum to talk to us in our daily school assemblies.

Our form tutors laid down the law regarding our behaviour during the assemblies with enough menace that even the numbest of the numbnuts paid attention. For most of the week, we had sat in obedient – and potentially unsettling – silence and listened to what our visiting speakers had to say.

In all fairness, it was worth listening too. They spoke about the bullying they’d received during their school days, the difficulty they’d had coming out to their parents, the general misery they’d experienced through all of their young lives, right up to the moment when they’d reached the decision that they couldn’t live their entire lives in denial of the way they had been made, and had reluctantly chosen to declare their true nature in public. They spoke varyingly of acceptance and rejection from among their friends and family, of the bitter sweetness to be found in discovering those who truly cared and those who didn’t.

I mean, I’m not gay. At least… Well it’s kind of complicated. I can’t imagine myself being with another guy the way I am. It doesn’t feel right to me. You know, I’m not saying it’s wrong for everyone, just for me. But then, if I were to be the way I feel I should be, then, yeah, I can see it happening. I mean is that gay? I wouldn’t say so.

The thing is, apart from that, I really felt they were talk into my life. I get picked on the same way they were in school, and for similar reasons. They never let on that they were gay when they were younger, but there was still something about them that attracted the attention of the Neanderthals.

It’s the same with me. I haven’t told anyone about what’s going on inside, but still the knuckle draggers seem to be able to sense the difference. I haven’t told my dad because I hate to think how he’d react, especially since Mum… You know? I can’t put that on him as well. The struggles are the same, just the reasons are different for me.

The last assembly of the week was different. From Monday through to Thursday we’d heard from lesbian, gay and bisexual speakers, all of them standing up there in twos and threes, looking as normal as almost anyone you might pass in the street. Friday was to be different though. Some joker in some class somewhere decided to call it T-Day, and it stuck. This wasn’t going to be the usual boring old fart sending everyone to sleep. Speculation fed anticipation, and anticipation fed a restlessness in most of my classmates. There was going to be a reckoning, and no amount of the threats and warnings from our tutors would change that.

There was supposed to be one of each, a transman and a transwoman, but at the last minute the transman cancelled, leaving one very nervous looking, somewhat large than life woman with recognisably masculine features.

The silence with which the school had faced the other guests vanished. The hall filled with muttering and suppressed laughter, and teachers prowled the aisles, staring at us all and looking for trouble-makers.

The head made his usual dull and unnecessary introduction and invited our guest to talk to us. She stood, straightened her dress and approached the microphone, giving a very good impression of a deer facing a pack of wolves.

“It’s a man in a dress!” The call came from the back of the hall, and before any teacher could identify the perpetrator, the entire hall collapsed in raucous laughter.

Well most of the hall. The teachers weren’t happy, and there were one or two other students like me who didn’t find it funny either. It took ages for the pandemonium to settle. Ages during which the head took back the microphone and started barking for silence. Ages during which our speaker seemed to collapse in on herself. She wasn’t much shorter than six feet tall and quite heavily built, so it seemed unnatural for her to break down in tears. It wasn’t fair though, and somehow it was more than I could bear.

With all the teachers busy trying to bring their separate parts of the hall under control, a managed to walk unnoticed through the chaos up onto the stage and over to where she sat sobbing.

I put a hand on her arm. “I’m sorry,” I said, unaware that the hall had fallen silent behind me. “This isn’t right. For what difference it makes, thank you for trying. I appreciate your coming today.”

She pulled me into her embrace and sobbed into my neck. I was barely aware of the renewed anarchy exploding behind me, of the teachers herding everyone out onto the sports field, of the openly hostile jeers now being directed at me. I remember the place slowly falling silent as everyone left and eventually she pulled away. Tears and makeup blended to give her panda eyes. Her features were heavy enough set that I could still see the man she used to be, but I knew from personal experience that what lies on the surface often does just that – lies I mean.

Play on words. Sorry, it’s kind of dumb.

She thanked me and let go of me so the school’s counsellor could lead me away.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Skies are blue

And the dreams that you dare to dream

Really do come true.

It seems the further into the song you go, the more it differs form the original. Judy’s version goes, “bluebirds fly. Birds fly over the rainbow, why then oh why can’t I?” As with the rest of this song, I prefer Eva’s version. For all my dismissal of romantic fantasy, I still find myself drawn to it, and this particular rendition somehow seems more hopeful, even when things seem hopeless.

I escaped punishment for the events of T-Day Friday – I was the only pupil in the school to do so, which therefore meant that everyone had reason to hate me.

Not everyone chose to do so. Quite a number of girls in my year, girls who’d never so much as acknowledged my presence before then, came up to me and told me how brave they thought I was. They’d thought it was wrong, the taunts and the laughter, but none of them had possessed the courage to do what I’d done. They thanked me for putting into action what they all felt.

Of course, they were the minority. For the most part, I found myself tripping over a lot of feet and bouncing off a lot of shoulders into walls and lockers. My one little action had turned me into more of a pariah than I had ever been before.

That wasn’t the worst of it. The worst had been the conversation I’d had with the counsellor. She’d wanted to know what prompted me to go up on stage and say what I did, and she refused to accept my answer that I just thought it was wrong what the kids had done to our guest, and that she didn’t deserve to be insulted like that. Our counsellor had the power of the patient silence though. She sat and waited, leaving me to squirm until in the end I admitted to thinking I was like her. I held out for ten minutes before I finally broke, but everyone has their limits and I think I set a new record in any case.

You’d think there’d be some sense of relief in bringing something like that out in the open, even if only with one person, but I felt scared. Scared of what everyone else in the school would do to me when they found out, most of all, scared of how my dad would react.

She promised not to say anything to Dad, at least not until I was ready. In return, I had to agree to regular sessions with her. She had some kind of patient confidentiality thing going which meant she was legally bound not to say anything to anyone else, but somehow the rest of the school found out anyway. Maybe someone dug broke into the counsellor’s files or overheard one of our sessions. Maybe it was just a rumour which found its legs. Whatever the truth of it, my persecution took a whole new direction and escalated steadily to .

I acquired the new nickname of Girly-man – spoken with an Arny accent for some reason – and lived under a constant onslaught of barely thought out jibes. My stuff was graffitied with childish drawings of me in a dress – at least that’s what I think they were meant to be – and by degrees my fellow students found new ways of picking on me. Any time I headed for the toilets, someone or other would bar my access to the boy’s and on several occasions physically push me into the girl’s. Whenever my class had PE, I’d return to the changing room to find my trousers had been stolen and replaced with a skirt.

That really messed with my head. I wanted to put that skirt on in the worst way and to go an join the rest of the girls, but I knew that if I did, it would just make things so much worse.

Plus my dad would find out.

So, I had to pretend to hate that they wanted to turn me into a girl. Our PE teacher didn’t show a lot of sympathy – at one point I thought it was him who was swapping the clothes. He’d grumble about how I was messing with his day and head off to the school office to rescue a pair of trousers from the lost property room. They were usually oversized and had that kind of funky smell common to all school lost property. Every time I found myself thinking I’d actually be better off in the skirt.

I guess that’s why Dad’s been more concerned than usual about me these last few weeks. The constant persecution has been wearing on my nerves, and it’s affected my mood noticeably. Add to that my growing number of cuts and bruises from all the little ‘accidents’ I keep having and the twice weekly loss of my school trousers, and you can see he has his reasons. Just like he has his reasons for feeling excited about my part in the play. He sees it as a sign that maybe I’m turning a corner. May this is a sign that I’m managing to insinuate myself into at least one small group of kids at school, that maybe I’ll even make friends. He keeps telling me he’s hoping that one day soon I’ll come home with a smile on my face.

If happy little bluebirds fly

Above the rainbow why oh why can’t I?

The end of Eva’s song is plaintive, and deep inside me is a cry that answers in kind. Why does life have to be so unfair? Why can’t the real me live on the surface? Why do I have to keep hiding her, pushing her down? Why is it so hard for people like me and that lady in the assembly to find acceptance in the world? Why is it that this harmless part of me has everyone so riled up that so many kids at school – most of whom I’ve never met – want to destroy me?

It all came to a head this week. For as long as I’ve been in the school, parts in the school play have been decided by popular vote from among the pupils. Some kid in an upper form somewhere figured this would be the best way yet of punishing me and kind of spread it around the school so that none of the nominees for my part had even one vote against their name; I got them all. For some equally unfathomable reason the school counsellor thinks this might be a good thing for me, so she’s persuaded the head and the rest of the teachers to go along with it. I mean I didn’t even audition!

So how on Earth am I going to tell Dad that I’ve been given the part of Dorothy?

-oOo-
…and dance

They all laughed when I stepped out onto the stage, which is hardly surprising since this whole thing’s been a setup from the start. I mean, it was pretty tame after the way they behaved on T-Day Friday, but they’re all still on probation from that stunt.

I hated them for their laughter.

I mean I looked stunning and I knew it. I’d spent ages on my appearance, and the final result had been… well, a surprise. An amazing, eye opening, enchanting surprise.

As a general rule, I kept my hair longer than school regulation would normally allow, but most of the teachers seem to go easy on those of us who’re having a hard time. Clouds and silvery linings and such. Even so it wasn’t nearly long enough for Dorothy’s long, braided pig tails, so the counsellor, of all people, brought me some hair extensions on the night and took the time and effort to sew them into my hair. By the time she was done I’d resolved that I was going to grow my hair that long naturally and stuff the consequences.

She also helped me with my makeup. All through the weeks running up to the performance – maybe as a kind of incentive for me to keep coming to my sessions with her – she’d shown me a whole bunch of tips on how to paint my face, and by the night of the play I could make myself up as well as any girl in the school.

The costume had been supplied by the school, as was the case for all the major part costumes. Blue gingham dress over a white cotton blouse with puff sleeves and a high collar. Lacy white pop-socks and those inevitable ruby red slippers.

The slippers had turned out to be something special. I’d expected a pair of old pumps painted with red glitter, but these looked so much better, so much more the part, and they fitted me like Cinderella’s glass ones fit her.

With the whole lot together, I was such a convincing Dorothy, I doubted anyone actually recognised me. Had I turned up on that stage with no-one expecting it to be me, not one of my schoolmates would have thought I was anything more or less than I appeared – a slender and quite pretty young girl.

But they knew I’d be playing the part, which meant they knew whoever stepped out onto the stage wearing the Dorothy costume would have to be the poofta, so they laughed when they saw me.

It would have gone the same no matter how I played it. If I’d hammed it up and done an overly exaggerated drag queen act, they wouldn’t have responded any differently. So in the end I did it for me – which was maybe what the counsellor had been hoping for.

She played Glinda of course. There was usually at least one member of staff in a prominent role somewhere providing a kind of calming influence on all the raging hormones us kids have to deal with. When I first caught sight of her in costume, I wondered if the cretin who’d set this up might be regretting not voting me into the good witch’s costume, pink taffeta meringue that it was. I guess he’d had to make the choice between major humiliation for the short time Glinda spent in front of the audience and slightly reduced but greatly extended humiliation in the main role.

It kind of backfired on them. Since my school mates were the only ones laughing, all the parents ended up giving them a range of confused and vaguely disappointed looks, because they couldn’t see anything to laugh at in my appearance.

I had no intention of letting them humiliate me. I looked good – in fact I looked great – and I knew it. I threw myself into my part, playing it for all I was worth. You think Judy Garland could overact, oh you should have seen me. My very small revenge on the people who’d put me in this position. To do it to the best of my ability and to enjoy it as much as I could in the process.

And I really did. Enjoy myself, I mean. It turned out that all the girls who’d been nominated for the lead ended up landing the other major parts, so pretty much everyone else on stage with me was a girl and, with the possible exception of Glinda, I was the prettiest one there.

I say pretty much everyone. Mr Maynard, our drama teacher, took the part of the Wicked Witch of the West, so I wasn’t the only one up there in drag, though as it turned out, he seemed to be. He hammed it up as badly as only a drama teacher can and really gave the audience something to laugh at.

I found my dad in the audience early on. He was the only one of the parents who recognised me, and the look in his face went beyond description. It threw me for a moment. It only hit me then how much of a shock this might be for him, and dreading his reaction once he’d recovered, I spent the rest of the evening avoiding his gaze.

In all the weeks leading up to opening night, I had never found the courage to tell Dad what part I’d be playing, and he’d never thought to ask, or maybe he’d deliberately decided not to. It crossed my mind that maybe he liked the idea of being surprised.

I rogue memory drifted through my mind. Something he’d told me a few years ago.

“When your mother was pregnant with you,” he said, “our friends used to ask, ‘So what are you hoping for?’ and I’d say, ‘A baby.’

“‘No seriously,’ they’d say, ‘do you want a boy or a girl?’ and I’d tell them, ‘I really don’t mind. Ten fingers and ten toes would be nice, but I’ll love my child whatever he or she turns out to be.”

Hey Dad, guess what? I still have ten fingers and ten toes.

So I threw myself into the part and looked everywhere except my dad’s seat. I’d worked hard in the rehearsals, and I managed to develop a pretty good impression of Judy Garland’s breathless enthusiasm – thanks mainly to Dad inflicting that dreadful film on me back when I first told him I’d be in this play. I also had a good enough singing voice, courtesy of my mum, and I was able to give as good as the rest as we sang and danced our way through the show.

My fellow – there really ought to be a equivalent word for girls in this day and age – actresses – because let’s face it, Mr Maynard really was the only man in drag that night – smiled as broadly as me through the whole evening, smiles reaching all the way to their eyes. It seemed like maybe they’d forgotten who I really was, or maybe they’d seen the new me emerge over the past few weeks and decided they liked her. Either way, it seemed I had finally made those friends Dad so desperately wanted me to have.

We all had our solos. As Dorothy mine was the first one, singing over the rainbow right at the start whilst thinking about the drabness of my life. In the film they accentuated the idea by showing the Kansas scenes in black and white, something we couldn’t really recreate on stage, but we came pretty close by changing the lighting to give much brighter colours once I reached Oz. I kicked off with Judy Garland’s version of the song and hit it pitch perfect all the way through. It’s part of the magic of theatre, when one thing goes right, the rest follows on, and everyone else built on the solid foundation of my beginning and took the show to greater heights than we’d imagined possible.

We eventually approached the end. The wizard handed out his gifts of courage to the lioness, a heart to the tin woman, a brain to the scarecrowette(?), and an apology to Dorothy when he was unable to give her what she asked for. There was an audible sigh from the audience as I turned away, head hanging with disappointment. I mean seriously? These people do know the story, Right? Anyway, Glinda stepped onto the stage and stopped me just as I was about to leave the stage.

You know how it goes, right?

“You’ve had the means to go home all this time,” she said pointing at my beautiful ruby slippers. “Just click your heels together three times and say, ‘There’s no place like home.’”

In rehearsals I’d made my sad goodbyes to everyone before following her instruction, but somewhere along the way I’d asked for something special from Mr Maynard. I’d been practising long and hard after school with Mrs Maynard, who happened to be the school’s music teacher, and after he’d sat in on one of our rehearsals, he’d agreed whole heartedly with my request.

I reprised Over the Rainbow, but this time I used Eva’s version, twirling around the stage, making my farewells to my surprised but smiling co-actresses, ending with Glinda who was positively beaming at me.

I poured everything I had into the song, every last ounce of my heart and soul. I hope Eva was out there listening somewhere, and I hope I did her proud. The last lines I sang to my dad. For the first time since I’d caught the look on his face at the beginning of the show, I turned towards him. If I could only make him understand.

“If happy little bluebirds fly

Above the rainbow why oh why can’t I?”

There were tears in his eyes. Not sad tears, not distressed, but tears that told me all I needed to know. There was pride there and the beginning of understanding.

Things were going to be alright.

They could have dropped the curtain then and I wouldn’t have minded, but the show must go on. I did as Glinda had told me and brought my feet together the requisite three times, each heel click sounding out like a gunshot.

“There’s no place like home,” I said, and everything went dark.

It was meant to. We did a quick scene change in the dark back to Dorothy’s bedroom, and the lights came back, subdued and less colourful as they’d been in the beginning, with me laying in my bed. Aunty Em – also played by the school’s counsellor – came in having done the fastest costume change in the history of the school – advantage of the meringue I suppose; she could wear Auntie Em’s costume underneath, and all she’d needed to do after stripping off her outer layer was to tie her hair back.

“I’m home,” I whispered from my bed.

Auntie Em sat beside the bed and brushed my hair. “You had us worried for a while there, but I think you’re going to be alright.”

“Yes,” I said. “I really think I am.”

Some lines you don’t need to act.

It hardly seemed enough of a scene to merit the thirty second scene change. We’d planned on doing the parade of characters as in the film, where familiar faces from around the farm turn out to be the same as the main characters from Oz, but Mr Maynard had made a last minute change, cutting that from the production. I guess he thought the song provided the right note on which to end the play. The curtain came down and I sat up as all the other cast members crowded onto the stage. We sat in nervous silence for a painfully long moment, then a loan clap reminded the audience they owed us something, and the applause built to a torrent of sound.

We all took our bows, the noise swelling with each one and rising to a deafening thunder when I stepped forward. Every person in the audience climbed to his or her feet as I stepped forward, even my fellow classmates who’d planned this as a humiliation for me. My dad was smiling through his tears as he pounded his hands together.

We took three curtain calls before the applause began to subside, then accepted our bouquets of flowers. Mr Maynard’s was larger than the rest in recognition of all the work he’d put into making the show possible, but he decided I should have it and exchanged mine for his with the audience roaring their approval.

It’s not possible to bow when you’re holding the better part of a deciduous forest, so I settled for curtsying instead. The audience didn’t seem to mind and kept applauding until the curtain dropped for the last time. I turned to my new friends, their excited faces radiating as much delight as mine.

I had that smile on my face that Dad had been longing to see and it wasn’t just the buzz of a great show, although that was a part of it. It’s just that I’d never felt so right. I belonged here, like this, and my friends seemed to sense it too. For the longest while we stood laughing, crying and hugging.

Then our parents arrived back stage. I turned to find my dad looking at me and everything else receded into the background. He stepped up to me and put a hand on each of my shoulders.

“I never realised how much like your mother you are,” he said. “She tried to tell me before she died but I wasn’t ready to listen. Not then, but I am now.”

I threw myself into his embrace, buried my tears in his shoulder. I was crushing my flowers, but I didn’t care. I was home. All of me, all the way. Maybe there was magic in the stars after all. I looked down at my ruby red slippers.

There’s no place like home.