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Winged Instruments
part 1
by Feech
with thanks to Channing and LoveBear

        I had another one of those dreams last night.
        This time, it was storming as if at sea, rough whitecaps all along the streets of my old neighborhood in the suburbs before my parents died. I had to sail to save someone, only because it wasn't really the sea I had to fly, and I flew by billowing out a white sail like from an old ship. It battered around in the wind but I managed to fly, until I came to a little white girl standing in circling shallow currents and dressed for church, with her red hair done up in ribbons; I touched down and told her we had to go.
        The wind kept rising and everything was wet and the raindrops were huge. The street surfaces had so much water it made crashing sounds. The girl wouldn't move, and I had to try to lift her, to carry her to safety. But I couldn't do that and wrap the ship-sail around my hands to steer, so I ordered her to take hold of my hip so we could escape. But she just stood there.
        I got really irritated then, and lectured her, and tried to take off and carry her at the same time.
        Things get sort of fuzzy then, like I had a skip in the dream, they say that happens because there isn't really any filled in plot in a dream, just pictures that you string together if you remember it when you wake up. But I know I ended up in the glass-fronted lobby of our old church.
        My mother was there, and some others, and they were damp from the rain but they were wearing their Sunday clothes. And my mother looked out at the cement that had rain pelting off of it and told me I had done something good or something bad, I can't remember which now that I'm awake.
        I breathed hard and looked out at the storm, and I remembered just as I awoke that my mother always told me that I should make the most of my education, because in the years when they kidnapped people from the Gold Coast in what is now Ghana, and made them work here as slaves, they were allowed only "limited" education in religion. She said that was the biggest shame of all, because the African religions were so advanced and so beautiful, and they could bring so much to the Christians here. So I always remembered that.
        I think she said something like that in the dream, then I woke up.

* * * * *

        We all three got Martian Flu at once, for whatever reason, but I survived the first round. My parents had enrolled me in this school, St. Mark's. It has housing for the students, and I was set up for a room with the girls here and everything, so I went in with chin raised and uniform pressed and did my best to justify their choice. It was the last choice they could ever make concerning me.
        I didn't know humans were so fragile. I wasn't aware that two of them, two powerful people, could be killed with a fever-induced coma that some random version of this Flu decided to visit upon them. At any rate, there they were, laid out in separate hospital beds, and I recovering in my own room most of the time but allowed to be taken in a wheelchair to see each of my parents when it was clear they weren't going to live anymore. And they didn't. And I went home.
        The trustees that are in charge of my parents' money make sure that I get an allowance and nice things and some extra spending money for Christmas, but I don't see much of them personally. I'm supposed to talk to the teaching sisters on call as counselors when I need anything. It's worked okay, so far. But now things are strange... The whole school is different...
        I should say that it's just me that's different, but it feels like everything else changed. Maybe I'm just trying to deal with it that way.
        I wore my hair short, before I woke up from SCABS this past winter break. I survived the Flu but it got me another way. I'm back now with my hair as long as it was when I woke up, and it's brown and naturally straight. Not even a very dark brown. I still have brown eyes, but I don't feel like they're any part of the old me. The real me.
        I have to room with the boys, and they changed everything around; I used to have a roommate but now I don't. Most Juniors who don't pay extra don't get to have a room to themselves. I think they probably doubled up a couple of Seniors so I'd have my own. It's easy to guess why they did it, but they didn't say outright to me, or haven't yet, anyway. I know it's because they don't want anyone to feel strange about rooming with me. Especially if they know I wasn't a boy last semester, or for the past two years at this high school, or for any of my life until this winter.
        I'm allowed by the dress code to wear a low ponytail as long as the band is plain navy, black or brown. Girls can wear hair decorations. Boys can wear color in their ties. I'm having a hard time tying mine. I wonder if anyone's noticing that I'm gone, over in the girls' houses. I called a couple of them, but they didn't know what to say so I didn't make many more calls. One of the trustees of my parents' money came to me in the hospital and while he was there he touched the side of my face, and looked sympathetic, and that was nice. But I haven't really seen anyone else that I used to know.
        I looked forward to all the girls coming back from their homes, to hearing them talking about what they got for Christmas and all that, but I'm not where they left me. I never talked much to many of the boys. So now I'm kind of nervous to go out and ask anyone to help me with this tie, being that I am a Junior and it'd look stupid. So I keep trying to get it right. I even look old for a Junior. I think I aged forward a little compared to how long my mind has been in any body. In another way I look young, though. Almost babyish. It's probably because my face shows how disoriented I feel inside. It's a thin face, and I look worried most of the time, like right now when I'm trying to work out how to make this tie lie straight. One of the trustees saw to it that I got the right clothes for the boys' uniform. He picked out blue ties with orange, yellow and kelly-green stripes. Also one grey tie for solemn occasions. I keep feeling strange that I'm not wearing tights under my khakis, like somehow I'm underdressed. The weirdest things keep bothering me.
        I frown in the mirror at my pale face and see the blush rise before I feel it, and I get more frustrated with this whole thing...
        There. Well, I don't know if that's right. But at least it's good as best I can tell.
        I don't look dark-skinned even from a distance, and even if you squint. I've tried it, standing out in front of the shopping center downtown that I can walk to from here, backing way up in the parking lot and catching my reflection in the windows and squinting, but I don't look a thing like the person my parents enrolled in this school. I don't know where it all went. I don't understand this disease.
        I don't look like a girl, either.
        I can't wear my hair out of the ponytail, that's not allowed, but outside of class and assembly I can. This past week I tried braiding it, tight and neat as I could without any help. I've never been good at braiding my own hair, and anyway with how tall I was and my long ladylike neck that my mother admired, I looked good with my hair cut close to my head. I tried braiding this brown hair and leaving it in overnight, and combed it out in the morning to see if it would hold any shape at all. It got a little rippled, but not much. It didn't last long.
        I smooth down the front of my shirt and make sure it's even all around, tucked into my khakis, make sure my blazer isn't folded into the back or anything awful like that. I guess I look about like anyone would expect someone from St. Mark's to look. I take up my planner and pencil case and hurry down to choir tryouts.
        We have to try out each semester to find out if we're still in the same range within the choir, but now I don't know if I'll even get in.
        I'm one of the first ones to the choir room. I don't get stopped much in the halls to talk to people.
        The only other student in the room is wearing a small, modified version of a girl's shirt-collar, with the patch we all wear on our breast pockets embroidered very small on the left side. It's the only way I know that she's a student, and she must be a girl; I wouldn't know what to think she was doing here, otherwise.
        "Hi." I kind of walk up to the dark-blue parrot sideways, but I try to face forward and look proper. She's got a long tail that lies flat against the back of her chair like a banner, like some of the birds in tropical resort advertisements. No one like this was mentioned in the rooming arrangements last semester. Unless she's another one who's changed over break, she's probably new. "Do you live on campus?"
        The student tilts her head slowly. "No, I don't."
        The parrot's voice when she replies is like small hammers tapping on something, with a deep tone behind that. It's actually kind of nice. It goes with the black and grey colors on her beak. Other than that she's bluer than the navy blazers we wear; glowing blue, and there's some yellow-orange around her eyes and the black beak.
        I start out with what I hope is an easy, safe question around here: "What church do you go to?"
        "I go to Wellspring Methodist, across town, when I go outside of school."
        Ergh. I thought sure everyone here was Catholic. Me and my big mouth. "So, you're Methodist?"
        "Not really. I just go with one of my guardians when he goes."
        "So you're Catholic?"
        "No, not that either." The bird-student is beginning to see my social distress and a little something like amusement comes into the black eyes. "I used to go to a Lutheran church, with my parents. But... I don't really know, I haven't decided what religion I am yet. One of my guardians wanted me to go to public high school, but I sort of wanted to come here."
        Other students start coming in, until there's that time span when the doors don't fall shut between students. Then it slows to a trickle and then we're all here. Everyone looks different from before the vacation, but the same, too. We all kind of look around sideways at each other, and some people, some girls, are squeezing each other's hands and whispering whenever they get a chance, because we're all just returned from Christmas break. I swallow, and it aches a little. I start to try to see over heads and around backs to recognize any faces from my first two-and-a-half years here, but then I remember if I catch their eyes they won't know who I am. I'd have to go up to them and say it out loud, and I can hardly do what it takes just to sit in a chair next to the one the blue bird is perched on the back of. I lap my hands over each other on my planner and set my new-brown eyes straight at the podium where Sister Margaret will be.
        "Welcome back, everyone!" Sister Margaret beams and steps to her podium, in her grey plaid skirt and the blouse with the gold and pearl collar-pin, looking us all over with a sort of pleased expectancy. I think she's already trying to figure out how best to put this group to use. There are a few other new students in the room besides the bird, and I look new, and her eyes pause over us for a few moments as she scans the chairs. "I'll call off names, to make sure no one's lost in the halls, and if you're not on here just raise your hand and let me know at the end. Most of you have been in the choir before."
        I'm one of the first ones called, alphabetically.
        "Judith Asanti?"
        I raise my hand. "Here."
        The sister looks at me. She knows most of the students from before, and we know her. Still, she's not sure how best to do this.
        "What do you go by?"
        "I go by Judith."
        Sister Margaret blinks, and her thin lips sort of pinch together, then she seems to feel awkward at her own response and nods, and goes on taking attendance. I look around for a moment, but there are too many eyes on me, all of a sudden. Everyone who didn't know about my SCABS before knows, now, and I feel sorry that I didn't call more of them, because they had to find out in choir tryouts when I can't even talk to them easily. I swallow repeatedly, trying to prepare my voice, such as it is, now.
        I hear new names, and several familiar ones; the bird-student next to me answers to Jezalyn Milocevic. I feel her looking at me, too, but I can't look at her and I can't look at Sister Margaret anymore, so I explore my new hands. There's hardly any contrast between the skin on the outside of the nails and the skin underneath.
        "Okay, first of all we'll sing as a group so I can walk around and get a feel for where your voices are at." She starts us off on some warm-ups, then conducts the refrain of "Be Not Afraid" and steps into the tiered seating area, to hear us from within the group. This makes me almost as nervous as singing in front of parents and visitors. She might decide not to keep me in the choir.
        We stay seated for several refrains of the song, steadily demonstrating our ability to carry a tune in a group. Then Sister Margaret takes us separately into a practice room to demonstrate our ranges individually. We're supposed to warm up, but we can talk to each other quietly.
        Leah, a girl from the house I used to live in, walks up to me with her small hands holding her black folder against the front of her skirt. She looks about as uncertain as I feel. We don't have any idea how to go about this. No one ever teaches you. "Judith?"
        I cough. My throat is clear, but I feel like I'm drowning. "Hi-- Leah."
        She smiles a little. "Hi. Gosh, are you okay?"
        What am I supposed to say to that? There's way too much to talk about. I try to think how she means it; what is she really asking? I answer with, "Well, it was-- is-- it's hard, you know? But, I'm here, aren't I?" I try to smile about the same amount she did. It comes out kind of weak.
        "Yeah, it's good to see you, I mean, I'm glad you're okay. Jen told me Sister Agatha had to call an ambulance for you over Christmas break. I didn't know what had happened to you."
        I nod, feeling like it's rude of me to be here looking like this. "I called some of... I called some girls. But not many knew about it. Not many that didn't stay here for the break."
        "Yeah. I suppose this isn't anything you can change."
        My drowning goes on. The room might as well be filled to the ceiling in dark water. There's nothing I can say to really save this situation or make any difference. There's just no right answer to anything. "I guess not. I don't know. I guess I've just... I think I'm not able to."
        Leah is quiet. Voices warm up, climbing scales, around us. That bird, Jezalyn, is still sitting on the chairback next to me and she must be listening, but she doesn't want to interrupt. "I just wanted to, you know, say hi," Leah says hesitantly.
        "Thanks. Yeah, I mean, hi." My clothes feel stifling.
        "Talk to us if you need anything. Any of us Bright Day house girls."
        I'm supposed to talk to sisters on call as counselors, and now to girls from my old house, so many choices, no one to really talk to. I feel like I'm selfish and like I drew away from them when I did this, got SCABS like this. "Sure. Thanks, Leah."
        "You really okay?"
        "Sure. It's hard. But I'll be okay."
        There's nothing else she can add to that, so she steps to the top vinyl-tiled tier and starts looking into the empty student cubbies, like she's looking for something.
        I know I won't talk to her. It's not because I don't want to, either. I thought I was the same person inside and I'm not. This is all wrong. I wish I could room back with the girls and talk to them the way I _used_ to, at night in our rooms when there's no need to cut off the chatter at ten o'clock because you're all the same sex and no one has to go back to anyone's separate house. We could never really have uninterrupted talks with the boys. Not in our houses on campus.
        I can only talk to new people, now. If I've never known them from before, there's nothing so changed that it can't ever be recovered. I feel as though I'm going to cry, which of course I will _not_ do in the choir room. I thought girls were supposed to be more emotional, but I guess that's not necessarily true.
        "Judith, come on in, please?"
        I get up and turn towards the practice room. I see Jezalyn, still looking at me, raise her blue head-feathers forward on her forehead and cheeks. It makes her look pleasant, like she's smiling. My lips turn up just slightly, then I head in to do the rest of my tryout.

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