fiction, short stories, women


Tammy had been Tommy.


She was not my first trans patient, but she was the youngest and the first in a case which appeared to be a response to trauma. I could not discount the factors involved and there had been hormone treatments to consider in terms of their impact on a child’s development.



Jacqui, her mother had thirty thousand followers on social media. Her feed had been pictures of Tammy and her, and a few of the photos and videos gave me pause. She brushed her purple fringe from over her eyes and grimaced at me.


‘She’s my world.’ she said.


She meant it too. Tammy had experienced less internalization of trauma because she had been allowed to present as her chosen gender in an environment where she had been accepted.


Accepted, in the way someone wouldn’t wrestle a crocodile without an audience. Tammy was my patient, I told myself. Not Jacqui. I stayed as clinical as possible with the parents. These days it felt like a faithless priest delivering absolutions they no longer believe in.


‘Jacqui,my concern is to get Tammy well again.’ I said.


Tammy had started screaming at three a.m on a Sunday morning. Jacqui had scrambled to her daughter’s room, found her sat up in bed and shrieking at the darkness. The paramedics had to sedate her, and then she came under my care.


Jacqui had said Tammy was having nightmares for a few weeks before, and her art had taken a darker turn, but she put it down to a recent fascination with Tim Burton. She was an imaginative and loving child, with no trauma to repress, according to her mother.  I asked if she could bring me any drawings or writings she had. Drawings would be useful, I told myself.


Jacqui brought me a sheaf of drawings and stories she had written. There was not much evidence of Tommy, bar a few pages of scribbles. Artless loops of primary colours carved into thick layers of black before he began to develop evidence of realism stage artistry. Expressing the girl he knew himself to be, Jacqui had whispered to me, as we sat in my office. We had spent an hour with Tammy in the day room but she had unresponsive, whispering the same phrase over and over.


There has always been a maze.


A minotaur lives there.


They were the only phrases she would speak. She was eight years old and when she wasn’t rocking back and forth, she would sit there and whisper those two phrases, like a skipped record.


I thanked Jacqui and told her I would continue to oversee her daughter’s treatment until we saw an improvement in her condition. On the way out, Jacqui asked me with dry eyes, what would happen if she did not get better. I smiled and tried to put my hand on her shoulder, but I could not bring myself to do it so I pointed my index finger as though I were about to make some profound point and then decided against it.


‘She’s getting the best possible treatment, Ms Banner.’ I said.


She smiled and nodded.


‘This sort of thing, it gets politicized, you know? You should see some of the things people have sent to me.’ she said.


Her grimace was perfect and then, only then did her eyes water.


I watched her walk to the car, phone held aloft as she narrated her day to the screen.




I spread the drawings out. Jacqui had filed them in chronological order and I had bookmarked videos she posted on her social media, but those had not demonstrated anything beyond her playing for the camera, jumping at the chance to earn Jacqui’s cooing and billowing.


Her art was advanced and the expression of Tammy on paper was fuel for it.


It was the story she had drawn which gave me pause.


There was a repetition of the Tommy era drawing style, which I made notes on in terms of evidence of regressive episodes but scraped into the black was a white face.


A red nose.


White swollen hands.


The smile was a broken nightmare. Distended, broken teeth pointing in all directions.


Hair like horns on a forehead.


These were the most recent drawings. Jacqui had said she was into Tim Burton, watched The NIghtmare Before Christmas year round and dressed as Sally on Halloween twice in a row.


Three drawings of it at various points across each page. One on the left, one in the centre and another on the right, with its left arm out of the edge of the page. I swallowed, went back to the other pictures, saw the lines and details but they lacked the crude visceral glut of these three drawings.


I put everything away bar the three drawings.


My sleep was thin and restless. I woke up and my bedroom was freezing cold, but I slipped under again and only awoke when my alarm bleated at me to get up. The pillow was wet beneath my cheek. I had been crying.




She swept the crayon across the page, a flicker of frustration crossing her face as she drew.


‘I know you don’t like the crayons, Tammy.’


Tammy fixed her gaze on the page. Her blonde hair hung in her face. She had allowed me to brush it this morning. A good day, and one I would type up in the driest of terms, whilst keeping the quiet pleasure of it for myself.


‘Pencils would be nice.’ she said.


Her voice went up at the end, and I looked at my satchel, concerned at bringing the pictures out to show her.


‘What do you like about drawing?’ I said.


She stopped and glared at me.


‘I’ve told you before, Kerry. It makes me happy.’ she said.


I sat forward and rested my forearms on my knees.


‘Are all your drawings happy, Tammy?’


The crayon broke in her fingers. She wiped her fingers against the paper and picked up a pink crayon, sketching in perspective and depth to the unicorn she was drawing.


‘Some of them.’ she said.


I reached and brought my satchel up, retrieved the pictures and laid them to my left, face down.


‘Now there some drawings which I thought we could talk about. Your mum says you drew them before you had your first episode.’


She nodded.

‘You’ve seen it.’ she said.


She continued to sketch details into the flanks of her unicorn.


I took a deep breath, my heart starting to race as I turned the first one over.


‘It’s moving through the maze. Sometimes, it sees me and that’s when I go away. Its why I won’t finish the fourth drawing. It looks like a clown but its a minotaur, it told me” she said.


I glanced at the lens set into the clock above the window. The afternoon light streamed in, warm and bright, but I shuddered as though I had been plunged into ice. Some expressions of ourselves appear alien to us and those feelings remain, no matter how you intellectualise them.


I put my hand over the drawing and put them back in my satchel. Tammy looked up at me.


‘You think I’m sick because of my mother, don’t you? It told me. It told me about my mother, because that’s how it got in.’ she said.


She said it all in a single breath before she stiffened like she had been electrocuted and I was on my feet, calling for help as I put her in the recovery position.


Jacqui came to the hospital. She had a friend with her, pear shaped with a shaved head and greasy lipstick, who tried to film everything. I told her I did not agree to be filmed in any capacity, and I was there in a professional capacity. At some point, I shut my eyes and turned away.


The seizures had stabilised but she remained unresponsive. I took a cab back to my office and typed my notes up until my head throbbed with each word and I had to sit with the shades drawn. After the pain eased, I wept with my head in my hands. One of the nurses poked her head around the door and told me to go home before they committed me. I wanted to laugh with her so I avoided her gaze and muttered something about it being a hard, long day.


I took some pills to help me drift off and my chemical surrender felt like a defeat.


There was dirt beneath my feet, cold and sticking to the soles of my feet. I looked around and saw walls of palsied white marble, coated in lichen and reaching high into the sky.


Tammy ran past me, wearing a dirt-stained smock with her long blonde hair streaming behind her. She turned and looked at me.


‘It’s old, Kerry. It lives in the middle of a maze and if you find your way there, it makes you choose what happens to you. I chose right when it asked me.’


Her eyes widened in the gloom.


‘Make the right choice. Now you need to run.’ she said.


Something roared behind us and I felt the ground shake as it moved out of the darkness.


I awoke, drenched in sweat and decided to try something to save her.


I dressed and went back to the clinic, making an excuse about some reports I needed for a hearing in the morning. The orderly was too tired to argue so he waved me through. I went to my office.


I took out the drawings laid them out left to right then I stood up and reviewed them.


Children had florid imaginations which removed an element of clinicity from my work, they spoke in simple phrases and elemental symbols. I went over to my printer and took out a sheet of paper then went back to the day room and found some crayons. I picked some up, tried to imagine the warmth of her fingers on them and went back to my office.


I used most of the black, had to use my keys to gouge out the shapes, but I tore through the paper in a few places and my fingers were soon oiled with smears of black crayon. I filled in the gaps with colour where I needed it, but I lacked her skill with art.


I finished the sequence.


I stood back and saw my own breath as a plume of mist as I shivered and wrapped my arms around my chest.




It was a voice more felt than heard. It hummed in the pit of my stomach and spat bitterness up with each word it spoke. No wonder she had broken beneath it.




I looked at the last drawing.


I had let it out. Clown or demon, it was here, violating my sanity with its existence.

‘I am aware this might be a reaction to the incident today. I accept that about myself.’


It chuckled, a clotted rough thing which made me want to vomit. My headache returned as I stared around the room, shivering with the cold.




I backed against the wall of my office, fighting the urge to cry.




It chuckled again. I had chosen Jacqui because I thought she was exploiting her child for attention. I did not think about what that meant at the time. Fear made things simple.




I shook my head, decided I needed to get out of the office and see who could help me.




Something broke in me then and I sobbed as I flung open the door, into the arms of an orderly who bellowed for help as I pressed against my face against their chest, grateful beyond words for someone real to speak to.




No one mentioned the fourth drawing. It allowed me some hope of a career.


Especially when, after eight weeks in a private facility on the coast, I was introduced to the events since my psychotic episode.


Jacqui and her friend. They spared me the details but as part of my reintroduction to independence, I had internet access.


Someone took them to pieces.


Or something. Their bones had been cracked open, the marrow sucked out amidst other details which had been kept from the public. It was a naive belief in the face of a ceaseless quest for novelty and horror. It had convinced me to finish the sequence.


Tammy’s catatonia remained constant. Jacqui had been estranged from her family due to her activism and later, celebrity. They were applying for guardianship of her, back to Arizona and their church. The comments were interesting. I could consult, I was told, but there was a reluctance to allow me to practice directly with children again. I agreed with them and asked if I could go back to the clinic and pick up some personal items before taking some vacation time.


I was escorted but a chubby ten year old ran headfirst into a wall, and my orderly barked at me to stay there as he ran to assist, I slipped away down to the long term ward.


I took her hand in both of mine. It was warm but inert like a doll.


‘Tammy, its gone. It doesn’t want you anymore.’


Her fingers twitched and she blinked as she smacked her lips.


‘I know. You let it out, and it found someone else to eat.’ she said.


Her voice was a flat whisper.


‘Tammy, I know you’re not sick. I think I am, but that’s not your fault.’


She tried to sit up and so I slipped my arms around her. She whispered something into my ear and then pulled back and began to scream. I drew back with my hands pressed to my ears as she stared at me, shrieking like I had tried to murder her.


We were still in the maze. Except the minotaur was now an eight year old child, who had lured me into a compromising position which I could never explain. My life was ruined by a single act of kindness tinged with arrogance.


I should have chosen right.



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