It was a toss up between buying women’s hygiene products or giving Evie ‘the talk’ so I’m at the checkout disguising my purchase with a magazine and a pack of razors. Evie might need some new clothes – vest tops and jumpers with openings at the back – but we’ll have to deal with that together. She’ll disown me if I arrive home with clothes that she hasn’t chosen.
Evie is fourteen – too old to be the girl I want her to remain and too young to be the woman she’s rushing towards.
“She knows about most of it,” my sister tells me when I arrive home. “They’ve covered it in school with videos and presentations but she’s a hormonal mess. Just be there for her.” My sister takes the shopping bag from me. I raise my eyebrows, “I know. I know,” she waves me away with her hand, “you know what you’re doing. I’m just saying.”
“I wasn’t…” I stop myself. “I got the…” I nod down at the bag.
She rummages through it and frowns at the other items. “So you did,” she replies. “I see you didn’t brave the clothes shops, though.”
I put them on the tray alongside her dinner plate and then take them off again and put them on the floor outside her room. I put the tray down next to them. I knock and ask how she’s doing through the door. She tells me she doesn’t want to talk, not at the moment. I put them back on the tray before I go back downstairs.
The tray is empty outside her room the next morning. I hear her moving around above me while I’m making breakfast but she doesn’t come downstairs. I leave her food on a tray outside her room again.
I spend the rest of the day listening out for her movements and the muffled sounds of her music. We communicate without speaking. Evie shuffles about in her room, to stop me tapping at her bedroom door every hour or so, or replies by changing the volume of her music. If she’s hungry or thirsty she leaves an empty plate or mug outside her room and I refill it.
My sister calls later in the week to ask how things are going. I tell her everything is fine. She can tell that I’m lying and offers to come back over.
“It can take a week or two,” she says. “I’m just warning you. She might be showing too. It’ll be a shock for her.”
“Okay. Look, I do appreciate the help, but I need to try and… you know. I’ll give you a call if it gets too much,” I say.
After nearly a week cocooned in her room, Evie emerges on Sunday afternoon and asks to go for a walk. She looks tired.
“My room’s a mess. I’ll tidy it when we get back. I promise. I just need to get out of the house for a bit first. Get some air.”
I catch a glimpse of them on her back before she puts her hoodie on. But I don’t mention them. She pulls the hoodie tight around herself and hides her hands up inside the baggy sleeves.
We don’t speak while we walk, we’re content with each other’s company. We wander in no particular direction, making our way across some playing fields adjacent to the local park. Maybe muscle memory brings us here. We spent hours at the weekends here when Evie was younger. She started on the toddler swings, then tackled the slide before moving onto the bigger apparatus. She’d outgrown it all now.
The park is rundown. The paint on the brightly-coloured frames is either chipped away to reveal the dull metal beneath it or has been blocked out with stickers and graffiti. The only people who seem to get any kind of use out of the park now are cider-drinking teenagers. So I don’t have to worry about Evie falling from the slide anymore, I get to stress about who she spends her time with.
When we push through the metal gate, Evie darts for the swings and I realise we have a race on. I’m happy to finish second as she drops down onto her swing with a triumphant glint in her eye.
We sit together for a few minutes, rocking back and forth on our heels, and when I glance over at her she’s watching me.
“It’s hard,” I say, unsure of where to start, “what you’re going through. I can’t say I know how you’re feeling. But you’ll get through it. I know you will.”
Evie kicks at the dirt at her feet.
“We all change. We get older, fatter, thinner, greyer. It usually happens over time but you’re getting a big dose of change in one cruel lump. That’s tough. But time will catch up and it’ll get easier.” I say, adding, “you’re going to be okay.”
It’s a few seconds before she replies, “I know, Dad.”
“Talk to me if you need to. Or not. Whatever you want to do. I don’t have the answers but I can listen. Or I can Google them for you. And speak to your auntie if…”
A smile creeps into the corners of her mouth.
“Maybe just give me the money next time.”
“I’m glad you’ve said that,” I say. “I had to buy a motorbike magazine to try and man-up my shopping.”
“You didn’t? You plum.”
“Yeah, well. At least I didn’t have to ask for any for assistance. The guy stacking the shelves looked more confused than I did. How are there so many different types?”
Evie holds onto her smile for a few minutes as she looks out across the playing fields. I watch the smile fade as her mind wanders.
“Is it the same for everyone?” She asks.
“I don’t think so. We can have shared experiences, but we’re all individual, aren’t we?”
Evie watches a dog bound ahead of its owner, chasing a tennis ball. “Does everyone get wings?”
“No, not everyone. Some girls get horns. Some get tails. And us men, we get nothing.” I turn to her and add, “only the special girls get wings.”
“Do you want to see?” she asks.
I nod. “Okay.”
Evie drops her hoodie off one shoulder to reveal the tip of one wing. It’s turquoise with flecks of jade and lined with a thick black band. The oily surface shimmers in the light.
We bought her a set of fluffy angel wings for her ninth birthday, she would dance around in the garden in them, climb trees in them.
“Oh Evie. It’s beautiful,” I say. “The colour of your mother’s eyes.”
She smiles and pulls her hoodie back up over her shoulder. The material ripples as her wings flutter beneath it.
“You’re going to be okay,” I repeat, as much for her as for me.
by Steve Campbell