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The Hardest Cut

By Wayne Austin

The wave ran up the gentle slope, swirled round my ankles, and retreated. Its soft sizzle faded, replaced by the sucking, squelching sound created by my toes as I dug them into the sand. I love the beach. It’s a great place to show off my legs. I might be coming up on forty, but if you’ve got it, flaunt it.

I cupped my left hand across my brow to shade my eyes from the late afternoon’s glare so that I could follow the white triangles drifting carefree along the blue horizon. Another wave rubbed up against my ankles, the swish of water a playful purr.

A small hand grabbed mine and tugged at my right arm as if trying to ring a church bell. My great-niece, Alishia, stared up at me, her big, blue eyes, round and filled with grave concern.

‘Uncle Pat, Great Nana says you’re sick an’ Auntie Winnie says you shouldn’t have the op’ration. Why not? Are you gonna die?’

I twisted round to peer at the arc of chairs further up the beach. My mother, the hanging judge, sat in the centre with Winnie, the prosecutor, on her right (and that wimp of a husband, Bob, next to her). Next to Bob sat Cecilia (never married), who I thought supported me, but instead had screwed me behind my back.

To Mother’s left sat Sarah (and they say I’m the black sheep of the family) with Gwyneth and Jefferson completing the kangaroo court — no defence counsel. Seven stern faces gave judgement. I knew the verdict.

As I swung back round to face the sea, I squatted to rest my hand on Alishia’s shoulder and chuckled at the concerned look on her face. ‘No, sweetheart, I’m not going to die.’ I smiled to put her at ease and like the sun breaking out from behind a cloud, her concern slid away as she broke into a relieved grin. ‘I want to change myself, but they don’t want me to.’

‘Wot do you wanna change to?’ She leant forward to whisper in my ear and giggled. ‘I know. You’re a frog! If I kiss you, will you turn into a prince?’ She kissed my cheek and squealed with laughter.

I laughed with her and hoisted her onto my hip as I stood up. ‘No sweetheart, I want to change into a princess, just like you.’

Alishia leant back and stared at me, frowning as she tried to make sense of what I had just said.

‘Tell me,’ I asked, ‘do you like boys?’

No!’ she snapped and almost tumbled out of my arms as she put her hands on her hips and stuck her chin out. ‘They’re yucky. They’re bossy. And they always push in.’

‘Really? Haven’t you ever wanted to be a boy?’

‘No! It’s much better to be a girl.’

‘You’re absolutely right. Do you want to know a secret?’ I lowered my voice to a whisper so that she had to lean close to me. Her eyes narrowed as she joined my conspiracy. ‘Some boys want to be girls,’ I said.

Alishia squeezed her mouth into a thin line, bottom lip jutting out, as she mulled this over. ‘Why?’

‘Well sometimes, when a mommy is carrying a baby in her tummy, the baby should be a girl, but something goes wrong and the baby turns into a boy. But when the baby grows up it knows it should be a girl and not a boy. And that’s what happened to me.’

Alishia giggled and poked my budding breasts, courtesy of the hormone therapy. ‘Is that why Uncle Bob says you look better in Auntie Winnie’s clothes than she does? He says your bum’s not as big!’ She threw her head back and burst out laughing again, twisting side to side while hanging onto my neck.

I hugged her close and tickled her sides. She squealed and wriggled to break free until, at last, I relented and let her drop down.

She held onto my hand and bent her knees so that my arm took her weight and then swung me around to face back up the beach. ‘You can always come roun’ and play with my dolls if you like,’ she offered. ‘Why don’ you ever come roun’ any more?’

‘Well....’ My eyes went moist and I looked up the beach toward the unforgiving daggers staring in my direction. ‘You see, your mommy and daddy, and your aunts and uncles, and your nanna and your great nanna and ... and all of them ... they think I should be a boy. They think I’m crazy and they don’t want me around.’

‘Alishia!’ Carol, Gwyneth 's daughter, waved to Alishia from behind the arc of chairs. ‘Alishia, come here! Don’t pester Uncle Pat.’

‘She’s not,’ I called out.

‘Alishia, come here now.’

I lowered Alishia to the sand and, as she let go of my hand, she cocked her head, and with one eye closed, squinted up at me with the other. ‘You know what I think?’ she asked.


‘You should have the op’ration. You would be good as a girl.’

‘Alishia!’ Carol called, her voice growing exasperated.

‘Why?’ I asked as Alishia rolled to her feet.

‘Cos then you’d buy lots of dolls and I could come roun’ an’ play with them.’ She squealed with laughter and tore away up the beach.

I shook my head and chuckled. Trust a child to see what was really important. To hell with the kangaroo court, first thing Monday morning I would call Doctor Najinsky and make the appointment. I turned back to stare out at the white triangles, drifting along the horizon, and wondered what it would be like to be free like that. Free to be who I really was. It was a scary thought and I let out a long sigh as my decision sunk in.

At last, I broke into a wry smile. Out of the mouths of babes ... who would have thought it? Another wave swept up to caress my feet and wash away my fears.

The End