Sunday 1 November 2015

Puzzled at Himself

© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2015


Andrew Simon Phillips, a noted scholar at a prestigious private high school just on the outskirts of inner city Sydney, was puzzled at himself, very puzzled. He stroked his foreign chin in the reflection of his father’s shaving mirror, the common toilette mirror in the bathroom. Andrew had recently turned fourteen years of age and yesterday had felt the dire need to fully lather his face in order to shave three dark hairs that had sprouted on his chin. Today he had a very respectable growth all over most of his face. He viewed both profiles of the dark forest more to ensure himself that it was indeed his reflection he was studying and that it responded accordingly. Ah well, he thought, nothing I can do about it. He had a vague sense that the covering would naturally go away.
     Andrew’s mother, Chrissy, while making breakfast for him and his father, told him to shave.
     ‘But I shaved yesterday!’
     ‘Andrew, you obviously need to shave every day from now on. It looks like you’re suddenly a man. So shave. Instantly!’ Andrew, though, hid behind his novelty in using a razor regularly to wheedle permission to shave when he got to school. Mrs Phillips agreed and gave him some money for a packet of disposable razors. ‘But today’s the only day you’ll do such. God willing,’ said Chrissy.
     Andrew was true to his head and headed straight for the boys toilets when he got to school. He passed no teachers to pose comment on his untidiness but some of his friends tried to detain him and explore such sudden manliness. He parted from them with difficulty.
     He forgot to bring the shaving cream from home, which actually made him glad. He hated that artificial, sickly sweet scent of the foam. Anyway, thought Andrew while splashing cold water onto his face in reflection, shaving is probably easier without the foam, less stuff to cut through. Face now thoroughly wet he applied the razor to the tip of his chin.
    He paused. Why should he shave, now that he thought of it? What was wrong with a perfectly natural growth? Why must he inhibit himself in this way, curtail his full expression? Especially with such a lovely beard, a deep black, covering his face and flattering his manly features. Why indeed? He put the razor away and joined his friends, looking forward to being the undoubted centre of their attention. At least for a short while.
     His homeroom teacher noticed Andrew’s scruffiness at the morning Assembly and pulled him out of line to tell him to go and shave.
     ‘Why?’ asked Andrew.
     ‘Just do it,’ responded his homeroom teacher, Mr Villiers. ‘You look like a bum, not a model student of this fine school.’
     ‘But it’s natural, nothing to be ashamed of.’
     ‘Mr Phillips, if you don’t shave at once you’re marching straight to your form master’s after Assembly.’
     ‘Mr Phillips, you can make your way there now.’
     His form master was Mr Edgeworth, or ‘Edgy’ as his pupils called him behind his back, because he was patently crazy, beginning and ending every lesson with a story from his time spent in San Francisco during the sixties. Sometimes he smelt like he was still there. He was hired to be form master for the year nines two years ago, solely because of his assurance that his theatre training would make the blossoming teenagers all terrified of being yelled at by him and his massive voice. All students did indeed turn to jelly at his sparingly used and frighteningly loud tirades. Andrew was now almost jelly himself, waiting outside Edgy’s office, dreading the inevitable dreadful roaring when he told him that he had no plans whatsoever to shave his alluring, manly shrubiness.
     Surprisingly, Edgy didn’t yell. He just suspended Andrew when he was convinced that the boy couldn’t be swayed. Personally, he felt Andrew had a point, but rules were rules: ‘All boys must be clean shaven and with hair not to exceed collar length.’
     Andrew headed home.


His parents couldn’t sway Andrew to shave either and they all spent the first night of his suspension in trying to dissuade Andrew from ‘expressing his fullest self.’ They gave up when it was bedtime, and Andrew was still adamant the next morning, a Saturday. Daniel and Chrissy Phillips had no chance but to put up with his stubbornness.
     They didn’t have to put up with it long though, for Andrew shaved after a quiet lunch, none of them finding use for conversation. He shaved because he couldn’t stand the itchiness. His parents were magnanimous in victory and let him spend his two week suspension however he wished. He spent the time reading philosophy, curious now as to exactly what constituted correct behaviour, and what rationale decided what was acceptable and what was not. It was the best two weeks he had as yet experienced.


On his first day back at school he put up notices wherever he could announcing a new club, ‘Thinkers Unlimited’, a group he intended to discuss a chosen philosophic text each month and how it directly applies to their own school enforced lives. Naturally, he copped a lot of teasing about it but the first meeting, a month after he returned to school, was respectably attended, and all of his own friends were there. Mind you, there was a high portion of students who came along expecting to partake in a revolt against the teachers, a hazy expectation that Andrew was going to make school a lot more interesting from now on.
      Andrew eventually brought the meeting to order. There were twenty-one attendees.
     ‘So, who didn’t read our first book, Plato’s Republic?’ All except three raised their hands.
     ‘Bloody hell!’ exclaimed Andrew. ‘How can we have a serious philosophy society if we don’t even read the assigned text? What are we supposed to do now?’
     ‘We’re Thinkers Unlimited aren’t we? We can just sit around and think.’ This was said by Andrew’s best friend, Tim. ‘We could probably come up with a way out of doing homework. If we try.’
     ‘Tim,’ said Andrew, ‘we’re not here to learn how to bludge. We’re here to learn how to improve our school and teacher dominated lives. How to get what we really want and to be taken seriously. Who says the teachers know best? We know best what we want so let’s aim for our claim.’
     ‘You’ve got to be kidding, Andy.’ This was said by Rogerson Irvine, the form bully. He was there with his small band of followers, some of the several students who sensed insurrection. ‘None of us can even vote. This is all pointless.’
     ‘I know something that we’ll all like.’ This was said by Dexter Ambrose, a pupil who spent all his time by himself, reading. He was genuinely happy with Dickens or Hardy for company and the other boys eventually learned that they couldn’t ruffle his feathers for his constant reading, no matter how hard they tried.
     ‘What? You know who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays,’ said Rogerson.
     ‘Even better. I seen Edgy naked and he doesn’t have a dick.’ Everyone then burst out laughing. But yes, when they all collected themselves, Edgy had no penis. Dexter had been reading in bed all night earlier this year at the form’s camp and had heard Edgy outside the dormitory door talking to someone, even though all the students were still asleep in bed. Dexter got up to investigate.
     Edgy was indeed talking to someone, someone who wasn’t there, explaining to him the importance of knowing trigonometry. He was completely naked and obviously sleepwalking. It was when Dexter was gently guiding him back to his room that he noticed his dreaded form master had no penis. He, or rather she, had instead a Brazillian shaved vagina. A very nice Brazillian and accoutrements. Dexter had told no-one because he had no proof, but if they all came up with some sort of plan they could easily out Edgy. Who knows, maybe they could make some money out of their secret. Rogerson was certainly keen and they all set to their purpose with a will.



The Thinkers’ plan backfired. They sent Edgy an anonymous note, revealing their knowledge, and asking for weekly payments of two hundred dollars for their silence, to be left at an abandoned house near the local train station. Edgy’s response was to call an extraordinary Assembly and to out himself. He explained he was born a woman but had always thought of herself as a man. She was in the final stages of changing her sex. She revealed the attempt to blackmail her and not knowing the individual(s) responsible she was going to discipline the whole school, with the Principal’s blessing.
     ‘So, gentlemen. Every student here is to give to their homeroom teacher at least two dollars today, or face detention, and all such monies collected will be used to buy four amulets of distinction, one for each year nine prefect. An amulet, gentlemen, is simply a gem with properties to ward against evil and these prefects will wear these amulets openly to constantly remind you, and protect you from the bigotry that is a serious evil, from all exploitation that is a sin, and to remind everyone that the natural world thrives on diversity, and you will all be constantly reminded of all these facts through your year nine prefects. Dismissed!’
      The year nine boys were now awed the more by their form master, and when the prefects eventually received their amulets they soon learned to wear them with pride. The amulets, in the shape of a Celtic cross, were indeed stylish and “of distinction” and the boys soon became jealous that only the year nine prefects could wear them; they glittered and shone so well in the bright Aus sun. The prefects themselves took pride in the fact that they had become more popular because of the rare gems, albeit unwittingly, and indeed took their role as prefects more seriously. None of Edgy’s fellow faculty complained of him, and only a handful of parents made a complaint to the Principal. Edgy’s monstrous ability to yell the skin from a wayward boy is now used even less and they have even changed his nickname. They now call him Changer, ambiguously respectful on the part of the boys.

If you have been enjoying Fitzpatrick's stories here you may also enjoy his short story collections, and other books, available at as both Kindle books and paperbacks. Click this link to view them - Other ebook options are available through; go to -


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