Benny was four when he found out he was wrong-way-round. Then he began Stewie, then he became Hyacinth, then he became Superman, then she became Penny, and went right-way-round! Sort of. She was still really naughty and wouldn't behave unless people knew she was really a Princess.
Penny's favourite colour was purple and black, not pink. She liked hot purple like magenta mixed in, and wanted it lava-hot. Black cooled everything down. Princesses needed some chill.
Penny wasn't allowed to wear purple and black at home, so she wore it in her head. She was a bit too young to daydream and didn't understand other places inside her mind. She really thought she was there when she played games.
Today, the King and Queen were watching sport on telly in her house. They jumped up and yelled whenever their team didn't win, then they moaned and sat down, hanging their heads and holding onto their hair.
Penny was behind them playing bows and arrows. She rode a unicorn with purple bits in its mane and tail, and she rode without a saddle. She was fighting the imps and not the fairies today.
Just then, Daddy King Bear spilled his beer on the electrical socket. His hair stood up on end and he screamed, once. He fell down and Mummy's hair stood up on end when she tried to free him.
Penny just played. Sometimes adults did silly things that didn't make any sense. She left Earth and went to play with the fairies. She had fairy wings, too.
Mummy Queen Turnip staggered to the armchair and found her mobile cellphone. She dialled 999 and Penny heard her talking to the ambulance driver, who was on their way to help Daddy.
Mummy was shaking all over, but refused to touch Penny in case she passed it on. Penny thought she had a bad case of the bug, or whatever had happened.
Mummy said that the ambulance would come soon. Then she sat down and cried.
The next few hours were a bit of a rush for Penny. Daddy went into hospital, Mummy went into hospital, and neither came out again.
Penny was to stay with a Great Aunt. Her name was Dotty, short for Dorothy.
Penny suspected that Great Aunt Dotty would force her to wear pink, not purple and black. Would anyone buy her purple and black? She had a good idea that it was a dress and needed purple lipstick to match.
Great Aunt Dotty came to the hospital where Penny was staying in a children's ward. They didn't know if Mummy had touched her after her parents were electrocuted, and decided to keep an eye on her.
Great Aunt Dotty carried a stick that helped her walk; she wasn't blind, but it was white and pointy.
She prodded Penny, "Are you Benny?" she asked.
"I'm Penny," she replied and curtseyed with an invisible, long skirt.
"Bl- h-," she swore. She thumped her stick on the floor. "How long have they been letting you do that?"
"For about a year now. I'm almost five. I go to school when I'm five in September."
She looked like she was praying. "Let's hope it's not that long before your parents are well again. Anything else I should know?"
Penny debated with herself about telling her she was a Princess. She realised she shouldn't and should just be an asylum seeker on the run. She was seeking to go home when she realised that Great Aunt Dotty was looking elsewhere on the sat nav on her phone.
"Where are we going, Auntie Dotty?" she asked.
"Home. To where I live," she explained as they took the elevator down. The hospital was bustling and Penny had to hold onto Great Aunt Dotty's hemline to as not to get lost.
She was wearing a short skirt, stockings that rose to the knee that had pretty lacy tops, a silk blouse and a hat that sat jauntily to one side. She was also old and wrinkly, with a feel to her that said she fought back time. She was wearing peach mostly with a flowery top that matched her skin tone well. Her hat didn't match her hair; that was pink.
Penny, as previously mentioned, didn't like pink and preferred purple. It was the girls at his nursery group liking Barbie that put him off being a girl for so long. It looked all so... scratchy.
Great Aunt Dotty and Penny took a taxi to her old-fashioned home. It wasn't a house, it was a granny flat in a care home where she could come and go as she pleased. All the other residents were old-ish, and all the flats had all the mod-cons like Internet access and a washing machine and tumble dryer each.
The people who owned the complex knew about Penny, but the receptionist didn't wave back. Great Aunt Dotty explained that help was there to help old people take their pills, and provide aid in case they fell over.
It was a bit like nursery school. Penny explained that they had people who provided aid and plasters if they fell over, too.
Great Aunt Dotty lived on the seventh floor, one away from the top. It was filled with sculptures and artwork, because Auntie Dotty had worked as an artist!
Penny was thrilled. There would be lots of paint to work with as she designed her purple and black masterpiece - her dress. Unfortunately, there were no felt-tip pens.
Great Aunt Dotty explained she would have to leave Penny there alone, and not to touch anything, while she went back to the King's and Queen's Palace to fetch Penny's things and water the plants while her parents were in hospital for about a week.
It was against the law to leave young children alone, but Great Aunt Dotty didn't mind. She was a bit of rebel, wearing pink and short skirts, thought Penny.
Great Aunt Dotty reapplied her lipstick and left in a haze of chocaholic perfume.
Penny was left alone. She'd never been alone before and tried to cry like she thought kids should. Someone banged on the wall, and she stopped that.
Most of the sculptures looked wooden like Great Aunt Dotty was a carpenter, like Jesus. They taught about him at school, and said that he liked all people, even people who painted their nails and wore facepaint like Penny. She liked pretending it was Mummy Queen Turnip's make-up kit.
Mummy Queen Turnip was called that because she once found a face on a turnip that looked like hers. It had shaggy hair and everything because all the stalks were attached. They'd all laughed, a lot.
Penny missed Daddy King Bear and Mummy Queen Turnip, but she decided to make the best of a bad day. She set out to look for make-up, specifically purple and black.
She found no paintboxes on her level, but in Great Aunt Dotty's bedroom, she managed to unlock the wardrobe by standing on her dresser stool. Great Aunt Dotty owned purple!
She helped herself to purple silk tops and purple silk skirts. She pulled one top over her head and posed in front of the dresser mirror like a rock star.
Penny didn't know what a rock star was, but Daddy liked them when he was younger. She half-suspected it was like a pop star, that Daddy turned his nose up at when the competitions were on TV (he watched the talent show, though).
It wasn't regal enough, so she shucked it and tried something in purple velvet. It matched a yellow skirt really well, so she decided to wear that, and tucked the waistband in on itself. Next, she helped herself to a black hat with a funny, wavering feather.
She dragged the dresser stool back into position, and sat on it. She pulled open drawers until she discovered eyeshadow.
Penny used her fingers to create semi-circular whorls above each eye in light purple. Next she dabbed gold into the corners like how Mummy Queen Turnip showed her. She was allowed to wear make-up at Christmas time, and whenever her birthday would be.
They were a bit weird about Benny being a girl at first, but the nursery tutor explained it all. She was a gendered unicorn, and unique. Zir just wished Penny wouldn't be so... dramatic about being a Princess like all the other girls.
It was easy being a Princess. You needed a dress, a faraway land to rule one day, and a pet steed like a horse or a unicorn to ride sideways. You needed to watch a lot of Disney films, and access the Disney Channel online. You needed to visit a Disney Store once a month to buy new outfits with saved up pocket money like older siblings did.
The King and Queen were a bit iffy about the Disney obsession, but everyone who was everyone did it! It was either that or Barbie, and Penny didn't like Barbie pink furniture, so she wouldn't collect it.
Barbie did have a lot of outfits though...
...so it was tempting. Barbie had lots of multicultural friends these days, said Mummy, and Penny wanted to fit in so it was very tempting.
She paused at the pink lipstick she found in Great Aunt Dotty's drawer. She had several lovely shades. Then she shut the drawer and decided against it.
She made herself purple lipstick out of eyeshadow and wore that spread across her lips instead. She wore blusher that matched her lighter skin tone that came out of a tube. Next, she wiped her hands all over the back of the skirt so it wouldn't show in the mirror. Mummy was very particular about that.
Next, Penny investigated Great Aunt Dotty's underwear drawers. There were lots of pairs of very old knickers with holes around the front, and some tight ones that looked like they were from Primark. She found a drawer full of pretty, lacy stockings. She pulled on a pair like tights and hitched them up to her own underwear! They were that long.
The stockings had little cat heads decorating them and looked appropriate for a child, not someone of seventy-five. Penny kept lifting up her yellow hem to look at them.
Then the front door banged. Penny hadn't kept track of time as she couldn't read a clock yet.
"Where the h- are you?"
"In here, Auntie Dotty!"
"Stop calling me that, I'm your mother's aunt for God's sake." She paused. "I've got your things. My God, have you a lot of dressing up clothes. This looks like Snow White."
Great Aunt Dotty made her way into the flat. She half-knocked over a wooden statue with a bag.
"Where are you?! I hope to h- you're not in my room!" she bellowed.
"Yes, I am, and I am pretty," called Penny, who often dressed up at home in her mother's things. With permission, of course, and a supervising Daddy King Bear.
Great Aunt Dotty strode into the room and stopped. "Oh. My. God." Her mouth hung open, revealing some slobby dentures.
Penny twirled. "Don't I look fine?"
"You look a right old sight. That's my best skirt!" She strode into the room and plucked the black hat off Penny's head. "And my hat. At least you haven't turned it inside out or something."
Her eyes took in the room where Penny had draped lots of purple clothing. "I take it your favourite colour is purple, Benny?!"
"Penny. Mummy Queen Turnip and Daddy King Bear like it when I dress up like Mummy!" Penny retorted to her tone.
"Queen Turnip?! That's what you call Maddie? I've never heard the like! You get that make-up off now, young man."
"I'm a Princess and I'll do as I please!" instructed Penny. "Bow now, and I might forgive you."
"Jesus," swore Great Aunt Dotty. "What a drama queen."
"Princess," corrected Penny, who thought of herself as often. "And I need my crown." Penny rushed to the open bags and searched for her tiaras. They were all glittery, plastic affairs from Claire's Accessories. She found none.
"I brought normal, regular clothes," said Auntie Dotty, "suitable for a boy or a girl."
Penny upended a bag onto the floor and black clothes spilled out. There were shorts and trousers in the mix with T-shirts that no longer fitted her.
"I half-thought you were a goth with all that miserable black. Or emo with the rainbow bits."
"Like Daddy!" cried Penny. That's what Daddy had been when he was younger, not a rock star.
"Oh God, don't bring him up with that horrible crowd of friends he has. All punk wannabes, I think." She sniffed. "I can't bear that music that they listen to. Your last New Years party was h-."
Penny didn't get to stay up all night either. She had to be in bed by seven, and it was nearly her teatime.
"Can I have dinner now?" she asked, taking off Great Aunt Dotty's clothing. She dumped in on the floor atop each hanger discreetly.
"You need to clean up right now, young man. I can't have you at dinner looking like a chimp."
Penny hesitated. "That's more racist for you than it is for me," she decided on saying. "They teach us at nursery that everyone should be equal."
Great Aunt Dotty snorted. "They teach you everything softly-softly and gently-does-it at school these days. We had the cane in my day, and if you were naughty... WHACK!" She gestured with her stick and slammed it directly onto a box.
The wooden statue atop it wobbled, and she righted it quickly. And pretended she didn't just do that.
"What are all these things for?" asked Penny, following her Aunt into the dining area.
"This is my work. All these sculptures are women from my heritage. I've spent years developing this collection and you are not to touch or paint it. I prefer them bare." She helped Penny into a dining chair. "The gallery wanted me to paint them after a while, but I refused. I think you need a box. The table's just too high for you." As she turned, Penny glanced about the room. It was stiflingly hot from the three radiators against one wall drying paintings.
One was of the sunset over the sea; one was of an apple tree with dots of yellow flowers in its shadow; and one was a pencil drawing of a pear that didn't really need to dry, unless Penny hadn't worked out pencils yet.
Great Aunt Dotty returned to the room with a low, rectangular box for Penny to sit on and a glass of water that was too big for her.
Penny made herself comfortable.
"I only have some ready meals for myself and microwavable veg," explained Auntie Dotty. "You'll be fine sharing. You only have a little belly."
In the kitchen area, the microwave beeped. Great Aunt Dotty returned again carrying a bowl for Penny with steam coming off it and a large, round plate for herself.
"Cutlery!" exclaimed Great Aunt Dotty and returned to the kitchen. Penny reached over to the plate and helped some into her bowl with her fingers. She sucked them as they were burning hot.
It tasted of meat. Penny had meat at the nursery school, but not at home, where both Mummy and Daddy were vegans, and sometimes flexitarians with fish and dairy, depending on where the argument went whenever they went shopping.
The veg looked ripe and steaming. Penny ate some with her fingers. It was pea and corn. Next, she polished off the meat which tasted like lamb with some curry, but it was all dark brown. She was left with gravy, when Great Aunt Dottie came back with cutlery and some bread for Penny.
Penny soaked up the gravy with the full slice and tucked in with a fork only.
"Manners! And keep your elbows off the table. Honestly, you need a napkin, young man."
Penny got off her box and found some toilet paper in another room and wiped dark brown liquid onto it.
Then she used the box as a stepping stone to reach the sink and wash her hands. Next, she used the toilet as a girl, and left the box in there for next time.
"You can watch TV like a good boy while I finish off," called Auntie Dotty. "I bet you can't flush!"
Penny tried but couldn't reach. She left. She found the living room/den full of wooden statues and tried to work out where the TV was.
The TV was tucked in corner near one armchair. Penny turned it on and sat down in the chair. It was the news starting, so she got down to seize the remote control for the Cbeebies station, when Daddy showed up on the news. Apparently, he'd died from electrocution.
Penny's hand flew to her mouth. "DADDY!"
"What is it?" called Great Aunt Dotty. "I bet you don't have a mobile phone, do you?"
"DADDY DIED!" Penny began to weep.
The news story changed to something less drastic. Penny sobbed into the side of the armchair into the arm.
Great Aunt Dotty strode over and patted Penny atop the head. "There, there, young man. At least Maddie's OK. Every child loves their mother."
"Daddy was my Great King Bear!" cried Penny. She felt terrible as tears welled up and fell down her nose. "WAH!"
"He protected me from the monster under the bed when I was three! They told me all about it."
"You have a terrible memory, young man. You were sleeping over at my flat in your spare room when you found the monster. It was one of my statues that had rolled under the bed. You were inconsolable."
"What's that mean?"
"Like you are now. Now listen to me." Her knees creaked as she tried to get down to his level. "We'll have to go to the funeral soon together as Maddie's still in hospital, and you'll have to put on a brave front. A... a brave face. And you'll be man of the household after that, Benny."
Benny sighed. He hated it when people made him feel like a boy again. He'll have no friends at school if he stayed that way.
"Why do you keep calling me 'young man'?" she wailed, feeling damply demure.
She smiled. "Because that's what you are, Princess Penny, a real, live boy!" She stood up. "One day, you'll come to your senses, I'm sure of it." She sniffed. "I don't know whether it was Maddie or your father than encouraged all of this Princess nonsense, but I know it's going to get better soon."
"WAH! He's really dead! WAH!" Penny burst into tears, and wiped her face across Auntie Dotty's short skirt.
Great Aunt Dottie bowed and picked her up. She bounced her in her arms. "Oof. You're heavy, my son."
"I'm a girl!" wailed Penny into her shoulder. Auntie Dotty led her to the spare room where it was decorated for an adult in demure cream and mahogany. The bedcover was beige.
Auntie Dotty managed to get Penny's clothing off and tucked her into bed naked. "You'll have to clean your teeth in the morning - I forgot your toothbrush and paste. Remind me, tomorrow. Good night." She drew the curtain.
Penny stared up at the darkening ceiling, her tears drying. "Night, Auntie Dotty."
"Good night. Don't let the bedbugs bite."
Penny woke up in the night, really thirsty, slightly chilly and needing a pee. She scrambled down from bed and let herself into the toilet, where she went. She washed her hands, remembering that you shouldn't drink bathroom water, and wandered into the kitchen at midnight.
It felt like midnight. She thought about how to reach the tap, so she dragged a dining chair into the kitchen area, and used her box to climb atop.
She drank from the tap like it was a water fountain, like down at the gym where there was a swimming pool that Daddy used to smuggle her into.
Then she remembered that Daddy had gone away, this time, forever! He wasn't ever coming back, just like grandma and grandpa, who died months apart.
It was like there was a curse on the family. Auntie Dotty could be next! She was already seventy-five.
The light switched on. "What the h- do you think you're doing? Up at this hour. Tsk."
"I-I needed a drink," Penny replied between chattering teeth. She'd spilled water all down her chest.
"You don't know how to say 'sir' or 'ma'am', do you? Tsk. They're so impolite these days." Great Aunt Dotty tidied up with a tea towel, and helped Penny down.
She gave Penny a half-glass of water from the kettle. "It's cooled down now, but it's healthy boiled."
Penny ran back to bed with the glass and climbed in. It was still warm under the duvet.
She pulled the bedcover over her head and cried about Daddy.
The next day, Penny ate breakfast morosely. It was stale cereal with milk, and mango juice. Great Aunt Dotty watched Breakfast TV, avidly awaiting celebrity gossip.
Penny came in when it was the weather and tried to sit on Auntie Dotty's lap for a Mummy hug. They were related after all.
"No, young man. You should sit by yourself, cross-legged on the floor like you do at school assembly."
"I'm a girl, and I can prove it," said Penny defiantly. "I know all the Disney Princesses off by heart."
Auntie Dotty put her hands over her ears. "No. I won't have it. I'm a feminist, you know. I should have never brought you that Snow White costume. She was the most sexist of the lot, staying at home and doing the housework."
Penny didn't know what some of that meant. "If you did the housework, it'll be less dusty!" she retorted. Then she faked a sneeze.
She looked around. "It could do with less dust, young man. But they built up layers of age at the gallery."
The phone rang. It was wired to the wall, and Great Aunt Dotty answered it. "Yes? We heard. It was on the news. That's terrible, Maddie. No, Benny is doing well. Yes, Benny. I call him that. She wants to talk to you," she added, handing the receiver over.
"Penny? Are you OK?! She can be a little old-fashioned."
"Mummy Queen Turnip, I is well in a foreign, faraway land," said Penny with some dignity. "I had a drink last night. And a pee."
"Oh, good. I'm so sorry about Daddy King Bear, I should have levered him away with something wooden like a broom handle. No, they won't let me out, and I haven't got much battery left. Ask Auntie Dotty for my phone charger. It looks like a black lead with a USB socket in the end. I need it, sweetie."
"Mummy needs her phone lead USB pronto," said Penny to Great Aunt Dotty. She sighed.
"You're lucky I had a spare key. You better come with me this time, and we're taking Snow White back home again. You can wear the Wicked Black Queen one this time. Why don't you have any Boy's clothes, ask her?"
Penny ignored this. "I didn't clean my teeth last night. Are they going to be OK?" And didn't ask anything about Daddy.
"Yes, sweetie. But you need to clean them twice more today than usual. Promise, sweetums?"
"Yes, Mummy. I need some girl clothing; she brought all black shorts and trousers."
"Well, you have a lot when you have boy days." Which was why Penny still liked black, but preferred to mix it up with girly purple tops. "Ask her to look for purple!"
"We need purple clothing," she said aloud. "And a phone lead charger."
"And a toothbrush," said Great Aunt Dotty. "I've just remembered! Put me back on. We'll have everything ready when we come to visit you. What time is visiting hour?"
"Eleven to five, today. The nurses don't seem to like me very much. I don't know why. Bring chocolate," she ordered, "not that chocolate perfume you love so very much."
"It's cocoa," she sniffed. "It's exotic, and reminds me of home."
"Whatever. I want Daim."
"Do you know what that is?" she asked to Penny, who was sharing the phone. Penny nodded. Mum ate loads.
Then Great Aunt Dotty put her foot in it, and Penny understood the expression. "What about funeral arrangements?!" Great Aunt Dotty crossed her legs.
Mummy began to sob. So did Penny. It was like when grandma and grandpa died on Mummy's side. They had been really old, older than Great Aunt Dotty, and depended on each other a lot. Then grandpa just withered away.
"Oh, you can't tell me you liked that giant, great -, he was too white for you, my dear." She took the phone back. "I've always thought that. He had terrible taste in music and friends. Remember New Year's Eve when they played all that rubbish?!"
"My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy is not rubbish!" yelled Mummy on the other end. "I knew you wouldn't understand, but you're the closest. I just need someone wise to take care of Penny. She's a girl now, get that into your thick head!"
"It wasn't that, it was that other gay chap, the Panic! At the Disco one they played," said Great Aunt Dotty. "I can't get that song out of my head."
"Oh, honestly!" said Penny, who wanted to be gay with girls when she grew up. And maybe icky boys, too, when they cleaned up a bit. "Grow up. It's the twenty-first century."
Great Aunt Dotty wagged a finger. "You need some manners, young man. Don't be cheeky!"
"She's a girl called Penny," called Mummy. The line went dead.
"Hello? Hello?" Great Aunt Dotty shook the phone. "Bad line. She must have run out of spare change."
Penny rolled her eyes. Great Aunt Dotty lived in old-fashioned films and TV.
It was about an hour before they were ready. Penny wore a black top with frills and black jeans with sparkles around the pockets. She wore black sneakers and Auntie Dotty's spare black hat that had to be pushed up a bit so she could see. She wasn't allowed make-up.
Great Aunt Dotty wore a longer skirt, more flesh-coloured stockings, flat shoes, and a purple top that they both liked and fought over. She wore a different handbag, in mottled, dark green.
It was raining outside the flat complex, so Great Aunt Dotty went back inside for an umbrella. It was black, with a hooked handle. Despite it, Penny still got wet as she was lower down, and Auntie Dotty's skirt was splattered too.
They took the bus as Great Aunt Dotty had a Freedom Pass and Penny went free. It was silly to order a taxi today. They arrived at Penny's house/kingdom with minutes to spare.
Penny pushed open the door and went into her room. She dumped all the black clothing there, put thoughtfully took out some dark blue leggings as she scoured the room for purple. It was all hanging higher up.
She got Great Aunt Dotty in the room to get some. Then she selected tufts of feathers, beads, and glitter out of her tops. Three would be enough to last the week, but Auntie Dotty packed seven outfits instead, tutting, "Tsk, tsk, tsk."
Several of the tops were plain T-shirts, and she complained. Then she thought of posing for Daddy in new clothing, and doing her little tush on the catwalk, and began to cry again.
Auntie Dotty handed her a tissue, and got on with things. Penny was too sexy to talk properly, and everything set her off crying again.
"My word, you have a lot of Girl clothing," exclaimed Great Aunt Dotty, pushing her way through the wardrobe. "Do you have any belts? Maddie used to keep her belts at the back," she said as way of explanation.
"Daddy bought it all on his credit card," said Penny without crying. She was all cried out. "What's a funeral?"
"It's a place where they burn the deceased body," said Great Aunt Dotty without thinking. "This is deplorable! This one reads 'Daddy's Little Feminist'. That's terrible. You-" she pointed at him "-are not a feminist. I am, I think." She turned through the rails. "At least you don't have any pink. Pink stinks."
"Black's better," said Penny. "Black's cool."
"But you made me dump all the black clothing here! Honestly, you are a monster. A little hellraiser. Don't touch that!" she yelled as Penny made a beeline to the purple clothing. "I'll put it in my bag first, folded up."
Penny took off her black frilly top and wore the beaded, glittery, feathery tops all on top of each other. She stroked them. She'd missed them.
Great Aunt Dotty stared. "You are weird." She stalked off to fetch a toothbrush.
Penny went into her parents' room/kingdom and jumped on the double bed. She jumped off and almost toppled, but clutched at her Mummy's dresser to right herself. She thought about wearing make-up and jewellery and glanced at her reflection.
She just saw a frightened boy. Her hair wasn't really long enough yet, and she needed a Disney Princess wig.
She applied perfume like Mummy showed her how to her neck and wrists. That made her feel better and she tried smiling. The reflection looked better. Next, she went into her room and selected a stuffed toy that Mummy had bought her that she liked when she was younger, and her violet-coloured blanket. The bear had a doofy expression.
Wordlessly, she went to the hospital with Great Aunt Dotty humming and hawing about the weight of her bag. It was a holdall that she used to transport Penny's clothes around, that was brown.
They went up to Mummy's ward before they remembered the Daim, and sent Penny downstairs to get it in the hospital shop. The store clerk didn't know what she was talking about, and she was forced to buy some Cadbury Dairy Milk Fruit & Nut instead.
She returned to the ward all by herself, feeling very grown up and adult. Then she was so nervous about meeting Mummy as a mother not Mummy Queen Turnip, that she nibbled the chocolate bar in the corner, and left a hole.
Penny went in.
"Sweetie!" cooed Mummy from the bed. She had blotches up both arms from where she'd tried to rescue Daddy.
"Mummy!" Penny ran towards the bed into her mother's arms.
"I've missed you ever so much," said Mummy, crying a bit through eyeliner. She still had all her make-up on from yesterday, but smudged.
It was over her pillow too. One nurse fretted and tutted. "I hope you brought her a toothbrush and some make-up wipes."
"No," said Great Aunt Dotty, holding a hand to her face. "I forgot. I just brought Penny's things. She owns a lot of purple, doesn't she?"
Penny wondered if she was being lovely in front of the nurse, and hoped that she wasn't, and she was to stay that way, forever.
"And here's your phone charger lead," said Great Aunt Dotty, holding it like holding a mouse by the tail as she passed it over.
"Lovely. Super," said Mummy, looking pleased. "I'm down to 15%."
"I better leave Penny here, while I get a taxi back to your place for your make-up remover," she said sourly. "Can't you use tissue?"
"I tried. It got everywhere instead. The nurses really don't like me," she whispered. "They won't lend me anything. What's the shop like? No Daim! Oh, no! It's just -ing Fruit and Nut!"
Penny pushed forward. "I had lamb curry last night," she said. "It tasted better with bread."
"That's nice, dear. I had fish. They made me. I don't think they like flexi-vegans," she said in a hushed tone.
"I'm wearing three different types of purple:" she said, showing Mummy. "Feathery, glittery, and beady."
"Oh, that's lovely, sweetheart. You look stunning, like a fashion model." Penny remembered Daddy complimenting her on the catwalk, and began to get upset. "Oh, honey, what's wrong? It's about Daddy, isn't it? Oh, I'm so sorry I couldn't get there quick enough. I should have used wood, like a chair, they said. All I could think about were rubber sneakers."
Penny rubbed her tears. "It's OK, Mummy. It's not your fault, it's mine. I played with the socket and pulled it out a bit."
Mummy's hand flew to her mouth. "Oh, sweetie. You shouldn't have done that. That's dangerous. Oh, honey." Mummy hugged her. "It's not your fault at all. Daddy shouldn't have split his beer during the match."
Penny felt a bit better and said it. "Do I have to live with Great Aunt Dotty?! She's too old. She calls me 'young man, Benny' all the time."
Mummy shrugged. "She lives close-by and she's the nearest relative I have left apart from you. My friends don't have enough kids to take you in. They won't know what to do."
"What about Daddy's friends?"
"Well, one chap's gay and likes you... I'll call him." Mummy plugged in her phone and into the wall set behind her, and looked him up. "You'll have to say a great, big Thank You to Aunt Dotty for looking after you last night."
Penny nodded. The gay chap - called Arthur - agreed to look after Penny on one condition: that he changed his mind about pink!
Penny agreed. The chap also needed the spare key so Penny could change outfits after a week, so they'll have to arrange something with Auntie Dotty.
Penny stayed with Mummy until Auntie Dotty returned, hot, cross and bothered.
"Here's your toothbrush, Maddie, dear, and here's your make-up wipes."
"Mmmm," said Maddie, taking one and wiping her face. "That feels lovely." She dabbed under her eyes. "You could have brought a whole toiletries bag," she accused Great Aunt Dotty.
"I did bring what I found on the shelf," she replied, holding up a plastic, see-through freezer bag.
"Mm, give," said Maddie, opening the plastic bag and rummaging through. "Okay, you've got everything."
"Yes, and here's another bag of tampons and things," said Auntie Dotty, handing it over. It was not see-through, but Mummy's real toilet bag for holidays. It was pink and pineappley.
"You're a dear," said Maddie, looking fresher and younger by each and every wipe. She sat them all on the bed. "I love you, Auntie Dotty, and I love you, Penny, dear."
"Awww, how cute," said a nurse, looking cheerfuller. "About time," she snapped to Auntie Dotty.
"Now, Auntie Dotty," began Maddie. "We think that you're not the right person to look after Penny. Now, hand over the spare key!"
"This spare key that I've had for years? Ha! No, I don't think so." She paused. "Here's Penny's bag with all that purple and black junk she likes wearing so much. And his or her toothbrush."
The nurse looked shocked for a second, then busied herself with some towels.
"You'll just have to stay here then," said Maddie firmly, brushing aside Penny's hair near her temple. "I'll arrange for Arthur to pick you up here and talk to Auntie Dotty if there's any spare clothes left, or I have to leave suddenly."
"I've looked after him all night, the cheeky rascal," said Great Aunt Dotty. "What a handful."
Penny flushed, remembering that she stole a handful of food off Great Aunt Dotty's plate.
"Sorry, Great Aunt Dotty," she said, shyly. She stole the holdall off her, containing all her clothes.
"We'll give back the bag next time I see both of you," said Maddie. "Hopefully, Arthur, too."
Arthur owed Maddie a huge favour concerning matchmaking him with a date some years ago, and came at once. He arrived within the hour. He lived another district away, and took the train by two stops.
"Hello, cheeky, little Penny," he said, rubbing her hair flat.
"Hello, Arty," said Penny, remembering that he liked to be called that by his partner.
"Penny!" said Maddie. "Be nice. She's OK once she gets talking," she said by way of introduction.
He winked at her. "Still a Disney Princess?"
She shook her head. She'd grown up overnight, or during the morning anyway. She'd left all that Daddy King Bear and Mummy Queen Turnip nonsense behind. It wasn't a kingdom, it was a house, and Snow White was sexist, whatever that meant.
She'd have a go at being a Barbie doll, a multicultural one!
"Do you like Barbie?" she asked.
"Penny!" said Maddie disapprovingly. "You are to like and be nice to pink when you're in Arthur's home."
"Yes, it's really decorated strong. My favourite is magenta, like you get online."
Penny sighed. "I like magenta too, when it's mixed with purple."
Arthur clapped his hands. "Splendid. We'll get on like a house on fire!" He took her by the hand, and leant forward to kiss Maddie on both cheeks. "Say goodbye to Maddie now."
"Bye, bye Maddie, Mummy, dear," said Penny. She kissed her on one cheek.
Maddie looked shocked for a second. "Bye, bye Penny. Come visit me soon. I'll ring Arthur as soon as you get home."
"As soon as I get home," Arthur corrected her. He hauled on the holdall to his shoulder, and slung his arm through.
When they arrived, it was pink, it was really pink. Everything, including the drapes, was pink or purple or magenta or mauve or hot, hot pink. There was a pin-up of two gay men half-naked on the wall, and one was wearing hot pink leggings and lipstick.
Arthur's partner Kenji was awaiting with lunch. Like Auntie Dotty, they were meat eaters. There was chicken in a bed of salad with couscous, and squash to drink. They all sat down at the table to eat.
"So what was it like with Great Aunt Dotty that you had to come here then?"
Penny realised she could trust them. "She called me 'Benny' and 'young man' all the time!" she complained.
"What? That's terrible. You're a little girl, aren't you?"
Penny nodded. "And she didn't like Snow White, who is the prettiest. She thinks it's sexist doing all the housework and dusting."
Arthur looked at Kenji. "Well, it is, technically. Women aren't tied to the kitchen anymore. You won't like it when you're older and you want to have a job and your husband will insist on you cooking everything and dusting."
Penny stuck out her tongue. "But she has such beautiful make-up!"
Kenji chased something around with his fork. "But she's a cartoon and you're real."
"I'm not a real boy!" said Penny, standing up and storming off. She hid in the downstairs loo, and wondered if there was an upstairs and it was a flat.
"Penny!" called Kenji, knocking at the door. "Come out, I'm sorry. I'm sorry what has happened to you and whatever that mean, old bat said to you."
Penny opened the door. "Really?"
"Really sorry." Kenji made a downcast face. Penny laughed. He picked her up and put her back down at the table where she finished lunch.
"Now I'm going to dress up as Snow White," she said. She took off her feathered top, and her glittery top, and even her purple beaded top. Then she found and put on her Snow White costume and tiara over her black jeans. "Tada! Can someone do my make-up please?"
"Where's your make-up?" asked Arthur, looking at the bag.
"I need yours."
"We don't wear make-up," said Kenji. "We're gay, not transsexual like you. You're unique!"
"Oh. Can we get some tomorrow?" Penny deflated. She shrugged out of her costume and put her glittery top back on.
Arthur smiled. "Yes, why not? I hope it isn't too expensive."
"Maddie can pay," said Penny, looking pleased and grown-up. "Can you call her please?"
"Oh, yes, we forgot." Arthur took out his phone and flipped through.
Kenji said, "It's ringing. Put Penny on." Arthur held a finger to his lips, and hit a few buttons.
"Arthur?" asked Maddie on loudspeaker. "You took a long time to get back."
He turned the phone so that Penny could see Maddie in the upper screen and Penny's own face on the lower part.
"Mummy!" said Penny with delight. "I need to go buy some make-up, right now, and you need to pay, please."
"Nothing too expensive, Arthur. And nothing pink. Penny really doesn't like it."
"I like purple lipstick and jade eyeliner," said Penny excitedly. "And blue hairspray."
"OK, we'll try Superdrug. I don't know if they sell all that cr-. Penny, you'll have to point it all out. How old is she again?"
"Five next September," said Maddie. "What? I loved make-up when I was her age."
"She's a tad obsessed, is all. Fine, we'll go today and buy some eyeliner. Or manliner, for myself," he added hurriedly. Penny glared at him.
"Let's get our coats on again," suggested Kenji. He left the room.
Penny said, "Do you like my tiara, Mum?" and twirled. Arthur laughed and put it back atop her head.
Arthur still had the phone call going as they strode out the door, leaving the washing up till they got back. "It's just down the road, Maddie. I've got unlimited."
"Calls and texts, he means," added Kenji. They had Penny between them, who reached up and caught hold of both their jackets by the pockets.
They walked down to the high street talking to Maddie. Penny was really excited and kept needing to pee! She was really going to get some decent make-up all by herself. She wondered if she could have a makeover in Boots where the assistant fixed your make-up for you.
They stopped off at Boots first. Penny dashed in while they fretted over the baskets, and found the make-up aisles. So much to choose from!
She reached for any bright colour she could find. Blue eyeliner, peach foundation, dull bronzer, green eyeshadow, red nail polish; everything she could find on the lower shelves. She went back to the nice gay couple and showed them her haul.
"How much is all that?"
She sneered. Adults! They never had any fun. Then she realised she hadn't found anything purple yet.
"Can you look for purple for me please? You're taller."
"Okay, purple, purple, purple." Arthur perused the shelves. "Here's some eyeshadow."
She hung onto his leg. "Lipstick, please!"
"I don't see any, sweetheart. I thought Snow White wore red."
Kenji nudged him. "We don't want any sexist Snow White, remember? What's the modern one, Elsa? She likes blue and cyan."
"And she has purple eyeshadow, I recall," said Arthur, pleased. "Here's some."
Penny took it. She'd only seen each Disney movie once as her parents had good memories and hoped she'd have a good one too.
She got a bit upset again as her Daddy was dead yesterday and she hadn't gotten over that.
Arthur took it the wrong way. "Okay, fine, I'll search for purple lipstick. What a proper, little madam!" He stormed off.
Kenji comforted her on his trousers, and patted her head. "Shhh," he went. When Arthur returned with the assistant and some purple lipstick, he had a quick word.
"Aww," said Arthur. "Sorry, honey, I got the wrong end of the stick."
The sales assistant said, "She's a right old drama queen, isn't she?"