I should say before I begin that these events actually took place as described during my tenure as editor of the ill-fated e-zine Living On Land.
One evening, browsing the week's submissions, I came across the following:
I used to dress in
my sister's clothes
when she was out,
wear them while
I did my homework,
Mum knew, I know,
guessed, but turned
a blind eye,
never saw me
in front of a mirror,
pretending I was a model.
When my sister
caught me, though,
her eyes were headlights
a rabbit, paralysed.
Then she burst out
laughing and I fled.
I begged her later
not to tell her friends,
they knew, and started
pinching me, calling me
sissy, pushing me
into the GIRLS
when I needed a pee,
making me cry.
Now I go swimming
every night –
we live right by the sea.
Mum knows I go.
So I suppose
does my sister but
she doesn't care.
What they don't know is
I tape my ankles
together, my knees,
swim mermaid style
hour after hour...
I've seen they sell beautiful
plastic mermaid tails
on the internet.
If I could get one of those...
Beneath were these words:
When I saw about Living On Land and poems and read your stuff I thought you would understand so I sent you this, only it's not fiction it's real so don't publish my name or email PLEASE!
Intrigued, and wishing to publish the poem – it fitted our name perfectly – I wrote back saying: Of course I won't, but can you give me a name of some kind, a nom-de-plume, something to identify you?
He wrote: Alright, use Wendy. When we were little, my sister insisted on being called Peter after seeing Peter Pan. Peter was played by a beautiful girl with long perfect legs. So I had to be Wendy and she called me Wendy for a few months, then forgot about it. I never forgot.
So I published the poem under the pen-name Wendy and sent him an email asking him to keep in touch, and let me know how things were going. And send some more poems!
I heard nothing more.
A year or so later, a reader asked me about "Wendy". My curiosity was piqued. I asked a friend of mind, a computer whizz, if he could find the home address from the email address.
He could. It was outside a small fishing port on the coast of East Anglia. I won't say exactly where, but it was a semi-detached right by the sea.
A girl opened the door. A young woman, I should say. She looked seventeen, eighteen, but could have been twenty-something.
'Hi. I'm sorry to disturb you. Do you think I might speak to the young man who lives here?'
'No young man lives here. Who are you?'
'Actually, I'm the editor of a magazine. He was in touch with me a while ago – '
'A year. Nearly a year, now. And as I was in the area... '
'Why was he in touch with you?'
'Why was who in touch with me? You said there was no young man living here.'
'There isn't, now. You'd better come in.'
She led me into a small, cozy sitting-room. 'Would you like a cup of tea? Or a beer? It's hot today.'
'A beer would go down.'
Soon we were sitting drinking, fairly companionably.
'Now, what is all this about?'
'Nothing, really. Just looking someone up while I'm in the neighbourhood.'
'Have you ever met him?'
I shook my head.
'You just what? Exchanged letters? Emails?'
I nodded. 'But I think before we continue, you should tell me about the young man who no longer lives at this address.'
She smiled. 'You tell me something – anything – that would convince me you were in his confidence.'
'Your nickname was once Peter. His was Wendy.'
Now she gazed at me. She had beautiful grey eyes. And the long, lovely legs you would expect of a Peter Pan.
'And did you know about his swimming?' she asked.
'That he swam at night, yes.'
'Anything distinctive about his style of swimming?'
'Yes. He strapped his legs together and swam mermaid-style.'
'You know everything. And do you know what happened to him?'
I could say Obviously not, but decided rather to be gentle. There was a mystery here – and a tragedy, I suspected. 'No. Only that his swimming was a secret.'
She nodded. 'But we found out, my mother and I, and forbade him to do it.'
'Did he obey?'