‘People who don’t have children, they just don’t know. They think they know. They have no idea!’ The British comedian, Michael McIntyre performs at The Gentle Way Hospice for the terminally ill. The in-house channel broadcasts humour twenty-four hours a day to cheer patients, visitors and staff.
From the hospice bed, ‘Have no idea’, mouths the face with skin folds like sheets of failed choux pastry. ‘No idea’ creaks again past the gate of old stained dentures.
‘Did you say something Mr Moretti?’ The nurse adjusts the cannula shooting the drying, life-saving oxygen up the frail nose. The patient’s wife, eyes closed, absent-mindedly pats his skeletal arm, more from old habits than intended affection. Paolo Moretti’s hand flicks towards a black and white studio portrait of a female whose enigmatic smile is framed by the slender fingers, topped with perfect, sculptured nails.
The nurse feels the brush of her patient’s bones as he points to the photo. The woman flinches as she recalls the graphic image, the character ‘DEATH’, in all its bony glory, on the cover of the Terry Pratchett novel in the tea room. Guilty at linking the two, she begins to over-fuss.
‘Yes, yes dear, your lovely daughter: she’s a powerful-looking woman.’
The reaction is unexpected. The patient sniffs with definite disdain, and tries to turn away from the picture as the nurse moves closer to read the inscription aloud, ‘Your loving daughter April Saturday’.
Susan Moretti smiles. The man grimaces with a full body shudder which lightly jiggles the empty skin hanging from his arms.
‘Dad and April do not see exactly eye-to-eye,’ breathes out his wife with a puff of a sigh.
‘No daughter. ’ When both women touch the old man, the prune lips, purpled and wrinkled, spit forth. An amazing string of saliva, for a dehydrated man, shoots and the first sounds of the expletive are drowned.
‘Now, now, calm down Mr Moretti, you’ll give yourself a heart attack.’
‘Not on my watch Mr Moretti,’ smiles the nurse, priming some medication.
‘Poor Paolo, we have been through such a lot with April Saturday.’
‘Such an unusual name: what made you choose that?’
‘We did not choose it. He chose it. Let me explain.’
The old man calms as the nurse raises her eyebrows, questioningly.
‘When I had a little boy, Paolo was so pleased to have a male heir and insisted the child be called
Antonio after his father. Antonio was different. Even when he was little he would tell us he was not a boy, he was a girl; and even tried to pull off his little, manly bits.
‘It got worse: the tantrums, the sobbing, the hiding in all sorts of places; and when his father called him ‘his son’ he would become hysterical. For an Italian father, not to have a normal son was very challenging for Paolo. Doctors told us ‘It is just a phase he will grow out of it, though a later one correctly diagnosed gender dysphoria. Clothes were a major drama. He was constantly distraught and life at home was hell, a nightmare! ’
‘That sounds horrible. What changed?’
‘After his third suicide attempt, his father insisted we ‘put him away’. Paolo found him. His anger, sadness and frustration exxploded. ’
‘I could see for his own wellbeing Antonio had to go. I prayed and prayed. I found a Sydney specialist, Dr MacDougall, Dr. Mac., who has a small Blue Mountains’ retreat for transgender teenagers. Antonio was one of his first six in-patients who were shown their options: psychotherapy, hormone replacement and multiple surgeries and procedures: all very expensive and traumatic.’
‘Seeing your husband’s reaction, I am guessing he wouldn’t pay for treatment.’
‘Totally refused, but Antonio was blessed. Mother loved him and she left him a lot of money. When Paolo tried to claim it as ‘family money’, I had a break-down and walked out. I rented a cottage in the Blue Mountains so I could support my son. I tried to keep in contact with his father, and sent him all the details of each step. He ignored us: that hurt too. The whole transition from male to female was horrendous.’
The old man mumbles, partially rousing.
‘The last hurdle was on … ‘
‘A Saturday in April?’
The mother nods as her tears flow. Tapping high heels are heard coming down the corridor.
‘You must be jet-lagged.’
‘Certainly am. Came straight here. I wanted to say goodbye to him. ’
Paolo Moretti tries to rise, but falls back, a hand stretches limply towards April Saturday.
‘Papa, it’s o.k.’ A tall, crying woman cradles the old man to her breast. Mrs Moretti smiles at April Saturday as the old man dies.