California Memories,  Living Between the Lines

Dress this way…

More memories from my lone Californian trip of 1997

There was the night when I was staying in the house and Annie’s trailer flooded (the result of an out of control hose-pipe rather than the weather).  Annie must also sleep in the house.

Let me take you there.

I sense her mother is not happy with this arrangement. This is more than a sense really. As I prepare my own sofa bed and Annie prepares hers across the room, her mother, about to go out on her night shift, walks in and looks horrified.

“What are you doing in here?” she asks of the hapless Annie. Annie shrugs.

“The trailer is damp – where d’ya wan’ me to sleep mom – the garage?” she pouts. Annie’s mum bristles. I try to ignore them but the situation is becoming a tad awkward. I take myself off to the bathroom and hope they’ll sort it out by the time I return.

Annie’s mum has gone. Annie is nowhere to be seen. I hesitate before pulling back the covers and climbing beneath the sheets. I am almost asleep, despite the hundreds of pairs of glass eyes staring back at me, when the door opens and in walks Annie. To her credit, she tries not to wake me but I take pity on her as she clambers over objects that have been moved to make way for the beds and clatters around in the dark. I switch on the light. I blink in surprise. I am not sure what I am seeing. Like a rabbit caught in the headlights, Annie is standing in the middle of the room and I am sure that all the glass eyes are now firmly fixed on her.

“What are you wearing?” The words are out before I can stop them.

Annie shrugs and flaps her arms.

“My mother insisted…” she grins and looks down at the garment she has been forced to don. To me it looks like a giant babygrow, the type newborns wear, not 40 year old women. I sit up and blink a little. Yes, Annie is wearing a full size, pink babygrow complete with arms and legs and poppers down the middle. I swallow hard.


She shrugs again and mumbles something about her mom not liking her sharing a room with me and insisting she cover up. I am a little bemused. Is this an overt reference to her bi-sexuality (I do not find that threatening for goodness sake) or is it a reference to that other thing, that thing that no one has actually talked about since my arrival – the family habit of referring to Annie as ‘he’. Well, there is absolutely no way I will find out from current appearances that’s for certain. The sleep suit successfully masks everything.

Well done Mom!

Annie climbs into bed on the other side of the room and I turn out the light.

Morning finds Annie up and out in the yard early, before eight o’clock. She hasn’t been able to sleep very well – probably because it has been a warm night indoors and the body-suit is more apt for a night in the Antarctic. In the cool of the early morning California air it provides reasonable cover though.

Annie is sitting on the stoop smoking a cigarette, her leggings rolled up to her knees. I give her a wide birth, conscious of my sensitive sinuses and asthma and carry a cup of tea (I have made my own) out into the garden. I settle down to read my book since I don’t expect Annie to truly surface before ten.

I am proved right. At ten o’clock Annie is still in her sleep suit. She says it is surprisingly practical and I am slightly concerned that she will continue to wear it all day. I have vague yet disturbing visions of wheeling an outsized baby in a wheelchair across town.

My fears are groundless. Annie decides that as the weather seems to be warming up she will ‘out’ her summer clothes from storage behind the shed. To date, her pink hot pants and her casual trousers have been about the sum of her wardrobe. I munch an apple and am barely paying attention as Annie staggers by with a trunk of clothes which she hauls into the trailer.

I am only partly aware of the grunts and groans coming from the trailer over the next half hour or so as she tries on the clothes that she packed away last summer. There really is nothing like a good book to take one away from oneself!

“Hmm, I think I might have put on a bit of weight sitting in that trailer all winter after all…”

I hear Annie’s voice and feel a surge of dismay as I look up from my novel.

Annie stands there clad in a flowery print dress which she has managed to zip up but that now threatens to burst at every seam.

“It’s snug,” I remark, getting up and surveying her from every angle, “Can you raise your arms?”

She can, just.

“It’ll do,” she decides happily. I am not so sure but decide it is preferable to the sleep-suit, so do not argue.

The dress proves to be Annie’s favourite and because she is now ‘dressed up’ she applies heavy make-up and brushes her hair. The effect is dazzling. I now feel I am going out with a drag act and if that sounds harsh, well, yes, it may be but I have to be truthful and the truth is that Annie resembles a classy drag act. The wobbly high heels and straw hat, into which she tucks a rose, just serve to confirm the image.

All my suspicions return in force. I just wish Annie would tell me a little more about herself.

I catch sight of us in the museum glass as we pass through the doors into what is, I am sure, a technology exhibition aimed at children. Not to worry, Annie is excited enough for both of us. Our reflection makes me smile and I feel oddly protective towards my new friend. Her large frame, clad in the delicate summery frock, threatens to burst forth at any moment. She has removed her hat and her hair has errupted once more either side of her face like two Brillo pads. Beside her I pale into insignificance. The wheelchair, thankfully, has remained in the van.

The exhibition is interactive. I know by now that Annie adores anything that involves her pressing, pulling or thumping a button. She does all three with glee as we approach the different displays. At one point she spends so long on an activity that shows you how to divine water that a group of children have to ask her if they may have a turn.

Annie is particularly drawn to the touchy-feely devices. Being taller than the children, she can reach around and over their heads and uses her height to her advantage. I hang back, reluctant to associate myself with such bad manners. I wait my turn and chat to the children who do not ask me if I am Australian or whether there is a lot of fog in England.

We sit through a slide show of how the world began which of course does not match with any biblical account and Annie barks ridiculous questions at the guide who does his level best to answer them while I cringe in my seat.

I think Annie is trying to be humorous but neither the guide nor I laugh. The children give Annie odd looks and I smile brightly to reassure them lest they tarnish me with the same brush. What brush that would be I have no idea. I just prefer not to be tarnished with it.

“Let’s buy some souvenirs!” breezes Annie as we head for the exit some two and a half hours later. I groan. My credit card groans. Annie’s souvenirs are mounting. To date she has purchased a ‘build yourself an indoor thermometer’ set, several T shirts, a child’s atlas, a selection of computer components and a small telescope as well as an assortment of paper weights, pens and plastic bits and bobs that don’t seem to do anything but which she finds intriguing. She leaves the exhibition with an assortment of pens and paper weights and something that measures the intensity of light.

Annie is a very clever computer programmer as well as being a writer and all those other things I have mentioned. Perhaps this is her lighter side…

My credit card pays the bill and we head home to pack the van for our next trip.

I note that the sleep suit is packed with the flowery print dress and the pink hot pants. The wheelchair is folded up and stowed away. We climb aboard.

We are off to visit a petrified forest. What else can Annie surprise me with?

I can only wonder…

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • Patricia

    I am just adoring this story and think you are very brave indeed and what an experience! I am preparing for a Danish Family of 6 coming here for 14 days at the end of June. 5 days at my house as they rented an RV for the trip. They have picked many things to see – much, much of it over the Border in Canada .

    Will they think we are silly, strange, – I know they are worried about what they will eat here?

    I am very impressed that you are still figuring out how to handle everything, but then again I think lots of my children’s friends were being given High School Graduation Presents for roaming around Europe for 3 or 4 months by their parents. (I could not afford this and college – so my oldest daughter got a scholarship to Denmark for a year – she loved this experience) and second daughter went with her whole second year class in college (on scholarship) for a month ( some required visits and some freelance travel) and they were fine.

    I am rather embarrassed for myself by Annie’s behaviors

    …still I am loving reading this story and can hardly wait for the next installment – Thank you

  • Andrea Carlisle

    Annie and her curious ways–did you ever wish you hadn’t come to the U.S.? And were you sending urgent messages back home describing the things you saw? Asking for help, maybe?

    I am wondering about the sleeping outfit you describe. Those are definitely British terms. Would love to see pictures, even if from online catalogues.

    Annie seems more complex than earlier in the story. She’s showing signs of personality disorder. You’re awfully polite not to bring any of these things up with her or her family, but that’s actually why I like the story–this American with her bold and unusual ways juxtaposed with the polite British visitor. I hope to see more.

  • Katie Gates

    Oh my. This just gets better and better! I look forward to the next installment, though I’m surprised the word “petrified” has not come up earlier! 😉

    BTW, I saw your comment re Peter Cook. That’s one helluva prescient dream!!!

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