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Jezalyn stepped directly and serenely onto Gabriel's arm and from there to the dowel perch in the painstakingly selected and ordered carrying case.
This was, I felt, a good sign. I was still reeling from the story Rhoda had to tell us. I know Gabe knows that I threw up. I don't have to admit it openly; I know he was aware of the sour smell and there was only one reason I would have asked to be excused to the restroom at that time anyway. I'm not often so gut reactive to these things.
I mean, it happens to thousands of SCABS, right? Of course it does. Lovely thing, isn't it. But we deal. We can be removed from the news, or, if we can't, we remove ourselves from the SCABS. That's what my parents tried to do, and what so many SCABS victims do each year when they slash their wrists or eat boxes of unsweetened cocoa blocks or retreat into behavior they feel is truly animalistic, so there is no SCAB but an "animal."
Only, of course, it's not. Look at Ollie, back at Rhoda's, reaching out, talking, singing, eating and playing and generally _doing_. Jezalyn, next to him, was a human turned into a bird; no other truth can ever be _the_ one.
I've been fortunate; I know what I am, and it defines itself by shifting back and forth between man and she-wolf so that there is no doubt of my being a _man_, turned into a _wolf_, a SCAB and there you go.
And, for whatever reason, I don't load up on cocoa powder or blocks and I never use a razor except on my light beard.
I'll tell you why I threw up. I may as well tell you.
It's because I _realized_.
I had never _let_ it occur to me before...
Now, I sit in one of the director's chairs in the audience space at the Thim and Rosemary Kelly Theatre. Perched, silent as in the weeks since she came with us, on the arm of the next chair to my right is Jez. She does nothing but blink at me. I brought her here to show her around in a fairly quiet time, so that when we start bringing her to visit parties and rehearsals she'll know the place, if not the people. A few couldn't resist and came over to meet her right away. It was the same as with Gabriel and myself; they were mesmerized, completely bewitched. They spoke to her and complimented her and she just gazed at them with those abyssal eyes and looked pretty.
In the chair to my left sits Francis. He has one leg crossed over the other and grips the well-shined shoe with his impeccably smooth pink-white hand. I regard him warily. I have a lot on my mind. This may or may not explain or excuse my inexplicable distrust of this man.
"Hi," he said enthusiastically when I came in through the lobby to watch Larry and German work out some musical intricacies with a borrowed orchestra. "I'm Francis, and I'm a friend of Larry's." His voice was the type I would normally like to listen to-- high and delivered from just under the cheekbones.
He held out a slim hand and I took it, but my mind and nose were in a frenzy. Something about his cologne seemed wrong and still does, as I sit next to him now. I could kick myself for being inwardly so untrusting, but there's something deceptive about him, or dangerous. Jezalyn was on my left forearm, which I held close to my chest as taught by Gabe so that she would feel comforted and balanced. We have to take the bird-care experts' word for these things until the child offers us _some_ kind of feedback. She never makes use of avian body language, not anything we could read to see to it that we make her happy. We have to just assume. And since we can't assume someone else's happiness, we take occasional moments to fret before getting on with things. It's been an intense few weeks.
I introduced myself to Francis and then, out of some morbid curiosity I have yet to pin down, I followed him in here and sat sociably next to him.
He quirks his neck, presumably so that the loud-patterned grapefruit-and-red-colored scarf set into his collar will fluff and stand out a little bit more. He has snapping dark eyes and black hair tousled as if a stylist started something and forgot to finish it, and angled but fine features.
Not even this alarming creature seems to get a rise out of Jezalyn. She lifts one foot ever so slowly, nibbles it with calculated pressure and rhythm and sets it back down on the chair arm, itch or whatever it was taken care of. All around us are blue-canvas seats with the blue doors in the back corners, and these artificial colors have _nothing_ on Jez's shining midnight blue with its twilight shadings and glossy strips of light-catching texture trimmed with impossible yellow. _This_ is _punishment_? SCABS is not a degenerative disease, not in the way all the classical "God's wrath" punishment diseases are. So what's the deal? How is it that some Christians say that we are marked by the Beast or whatever, when the original beasts themselves are created and blessed by their God? Somewhere in South America there are Hyacinth macaws to perhaps rival Jezalyn in her beauty. Of course, I don't think they could quite match her. I admit my bias.
"So, are you from Pennsylvania originally?" Francis asks, seemingly unaware of my inner desire to ask him what the heck about him could be _bothering_ me so much.
"Uh-- no. Cali-- Minnesota."
"California, eh? I'm not from there originally, but I live there. Larry and I met in Egypt at an art exhibition and we re-met in Calif, if you believe that. Who's your friend?"
Oh, shit. I forgot to introduce Jezalyn. Now I feel really stupid. Maybe it's just as well Francis snagged that one would-be avoided word; I know now at least _part_ of the problem. California. I don't need to think about California right now. It had never _occurred_ to me...
"I'm sorry," I reply, "Jez, I'm sorry. I guess I'm just so preoccupied lately. Francis, this is Jezalyn, Jez, Francis."
"Hello," smiles Francis.
Jezalyn moves her wings carefully into a slow stretch, but it doesn't seem to be any kind of reply. She's obviously listening, as she does at home. We're almost certain she watches the TV and sometimes Gabriel sits with her on his lap while he works at the computer, and she watches the screen. But as for making any of her own opinions known, Jezalyn may as well be an expensive toy bird, clockwork like the Emperor's other nightingale.
Funny, though, I don't feel like we're failing. Jezalyn haunts an apartment in the pleasantest way. It's hard for me to call up the same feelings of apprehension I had before I actually saw her. That's all for the best, I suppose, since her story gave me something else entirely to think about.
Francis waits a moment, and when Jezalyn does nothing, he inquires bluntly, although friendlily, "Is she a SCAB?"
Ah, the age of SCABS and pet etiquette. I do believe there was a time when people accompanied by birds and dogs and horses were presumed to own a companion animal. I should be grateful for Francis's bluntness; Gabe says we all need to be more open about a lot of things and maybe then the world would be a better place. It probably would. Deception is a hard habit to break, though.
"Yes," I say, and as Francis nods in acknowledgment I add, "are you gay?"
He laughs, and again I feel guilty for my mistrust of him; it's the bubbling laugh of someone who finds themselves so obvious that it's amusing anyone should ask. "Yes," he says. "Are you?"
Then _he_ adds: "Are you a SCAB?"
Shit. California. He's like some gremlin from the past or something, as if I needed any. I'd rather pick through my memories at my own leisure, thank you very much. Leave it to this guy to catch my mistaken mention of my home state and then bring up the one topic that I've been forced to think on since I met Jezalyn.
On the other hand, much as I distrust him for something tugging at the edge of my senses, I like him. He's the kind of gay man Gabriel expresses jealousy of; specifically, the male-at-heart kind. I should, except for the nagging at my conscience that's been going on since I knew what I have to do, be enjoying this conversation.
I wish we _could_ identify others and make them be what we see... But if we could do that, then there would be no improvement in interaction even if we made the effort to be more honest. There _is_ advantage in that, which is why he asked about Jez and why I took his example and asked about him. We need to get in the habit, Gabe says. He claims you can weed out the people who wouldn't be honest with you anyhow, if you tell them about yourself right off the bat.
The dark eyes, lively as Jezalyn's are not, regard me closely for a moment.
German and Larry, down on the stage, are talking about possible repeatable passages in a piece of music to buy time at pre-show. I hear the words they're saying for a minute, out of context, and glean the main idea as if it will be important to me sometime. It won't, but I do it anyway. Francis looks at me and I look at him, and I get the distinct feeling that we are sizing each other up. Jezalyn sighs.
Francis nods. "Hm."
Wait a minute--
I test it. "Interesting cologne."
At that, he grins. "Canid of some sort?"
I feel myself blush. "Wolf."
"It's not my favorite," he admits, "this cologne, but with _most_ people it does the trick. I scare you though, don't I. You've smelled something."
I am about to reply when he quickly continues: "So have I. On you. You're hard to place, as well."
I don't know what to say to that... I guess I've never been in the same situation I used to put people in back at Hayden Heath. I never said anything if I could help it. Why admit to being a SCAB if it doesn't matter when they look at you? But I made them nervous... Because there was _something_, and they couldn't define it. As with Francis. He's tried to cover it up so he _won't_ make strangers nervous, but my sense of smell is too good to make even strong cologne distract me from something out of the ordinary.
I decide to just out with it. Somehow, over the years, I believe I really have hidden it in some way from people who don't _need_ to know. As if, sometime, it might go away. Then I could go home.
As if it's the _SCABS_ that's the problem, with my parents.
I never separated the two, an easy seam to make in my logic since the virus turns me into a she-wolf. And an easy way to protect the _idea_ that at some point before the SCABS my parents actually accepted me.
I don't know why Jezalyn's story in and of itself pushed the right buttons in my brain. It could be because I had already defined her as our daughter, _ours_ to care for, and there was only _one_ thing that determined that attack on her home and family. SCABS. There doesn't need to be anything else. This means something which has always been true but which my naive and fairly happy mind-set had not allowed me to absorb: that transsexuality is separate from SCABS. I _was_, before the Flu, separate from the SCAB I _would be_. It's not one and the same thing. Even if the SCABS got "better", there would still be the question of... just Kent.
"I've acquired a seizure transformation condition with my SCABS," I tell Larry's-gay-friend-from-California. "I have a little mental warning and then I change fully into a she-wolf. The only outward changes otherwise are the amberish eyes and the brindling in the hair; plus I'm a little skinnier than before."
Having told Francis, it's done. That part of it, anyway. The part that has always been filed in my brain with "things left unsaid because they may go away." My friends had known before, and then the Theatre People, and now a just-made acquaintance. I have a condition. I will have a condition. It's not going anywhere that I'm not.
"God, you're kidding," says Francis.
I shake my head.
I look at him quizzically, and I think Jez may actually pause within her stillness. "I... Rather like the wolf myself," I say.
He chuckles. "This is wonderful. I had supposed I was the only one. It's just that way, as you described it."
"You're kidding! What species?"
Francis offers his right hand again as though we are being re-introduced. "Rabbit."
I smile and shake hands, more firmly this time. And, as I guess... It must have been for anyone that knew me before but could not define the wolf, with the identification any apprehension concerning Francis vanishes. It's an unexpected relief; I have a desire to spread it to the rest of my life, make it last and apply it to everything.
Maybe Gabriel is right; maybe you make enemies faster if you're straightforward-- and friends faster, too. It probably hasn't paid me anything to _assume_ the status of myself with my family.
It's just that I like to think that I get along with everybody, even people who disown me.
If I get another Christmas card, their one acknowledgment of my continued existence since high school (aside from enough money to ensure I could afford to stay out of their sight at college), this year, so help me I'll tear it up and do something rash. I don't like to imagine myself doing something rash. I have to make things clear, and soon. They don't send those cards to their _son_ who managed to come down with SCABS, which was _easy_ on his parents because he was _queer_ before.
They just couldn't see enough reason to disown me. SCABS makes it easy. All they have to do is find the wolf hairs, note the significance of the earlier changes, and remove the SCAB. No further worry about the kid the other students teased for nothing he could recognize in himself. There just wasn't enough before the wolf.
But they _knew_ it was there. They _wanted_ me to do something girlish enough or disturbed enough to give them the permission of the neighborhood, the city, the state the nation to abhor me.
My own parents never liked me. I disappointed them. I, not the SCABS.
At Rhoda's home, I excused myself and got sick. Here with Francis and Jezalyn and the undertones of talking down on the stage I just sit in unnatural silence while I run over it again, and Francis appears concerned.
"I'm... All right. I'm usually not like this. I've just had some kind of brain switch lately, I think."
"Oh... Can I ask what about?"
I grin. "Sure."
He clicks his tongue as if irritated, but smiles and says, "_Okay_: What about?"
I make a pretense of working up to some kind of performance. "Let me ask you a question, Sir. I tend to ask it of people and it sort of ties in with my thoughts of late."
"Is there a God?"
"Because if there _wasn't_, there is by now. Human willpower is very strong, I have found."
"Cool. Okay. So, what does this God have to do with SCABS?"
"Depends on you. Since you created the creator, that is, since all the people who thought of one did, his involvement would be defined by your belief."
"So... It all depends."
"Is the majority belief the deciding factor, then?"
"That, or there's more than one God."
"Interesting." Chalk another one up on the Faith survey. I may be able to work that into my own decisions somewhere. "So it's possible that I have a God in my head who created me the way I am and the reason I would have done this to myself is why God did it?"
"Sure, why not?"
"Here's what I've been thinking about. I never came out to my parents."
"They know about the wolf."
"Mine know I'm gay. They don't know about the rabbit. It's something that's happened since I left home and I really don't..."
"Don't think it applies."
"But are they anti-SCAB?"
He admits, "I don't know."
"Here's what I've been thinking: that my parents are anti-SCAB, and they keep sending me these damn Christmas cards. They don't know _from me, directly,_ that I'm transsexual and that even if I _were_ a woman I'd be lesbian. I've always combined the two. My wolf is female."
"So?" Francis folds his hands over his black-slacked knee. "They then send a Christmas card to their dear, thankfully departed transsexual kid as well as to the SCAB kid they had before."
"That's just it. I'm not going another year receiving those damned Christmas cards if they treat a SCAB _better_ than they'd treat the kid they had all along. I've always been gay. The SCABS is an extra, to them an extra curse. If I can't send a card _back_ with a picture of my transsexual lover, _also_ a SCAB, and our absolutely lovely friend Jezalyn, and still get the same cards every year, I don't want them. They're not a concession to me. They're a concession to themselves."
"You sound angry," observes Francis.
I hadn't realized how very rarely I actually do get angry, that even a new acquaintance would see that it sits rather crookedly on me. "I probably am. At myself. I haven't even told my parents about Gabe. Because Gabe is a _SCAB_. I think... I've been waiting..."
Francis leans forward, still keeping that leg crossed. Jezalyn watches us, and I wish I knew what she was thinking, but she doesn't have to say. That's her choice. She knows that whether we ask or not we're waiting for her to communicate whenever the inspiration to do so might strike her. "Waiting for the thing that's wrong in their God's mind to go away. What's their God?"
"Money," I say. "Society."
He rocks back again, nodding sagely. "There you go-- unless you become a nationally-known, flamboyant and intriguingly controversial transsexual, most likely one sin of being is as bad in their eyes as another."
I sigh. "Yeah..."
"Not to say anything bad about your parents, you know, but it comes to mind."
"I know. No offense."
"So what are you going to do?"
"I don't know. I have to come out, I guess. But I don't like it."
"So put up with the pretense."
"I-- really don't think I can anymore. Those cards bother me. I remember things all the time, but not like that. Not like when they send you something with their handwriting on it-- well, Mother's handwriting, anyway."
Again a knowing nod. "I still visit my parents. I don't know how to go about explaining the rabbit. It's not even like something many other SCABS experience. You're the first one I know of personally, besides myself. Larry knows, and Alexander Leaf, but nobody else, because I figure if it happens so infrequently and it doesn't apply to them--"
"Yes," I nod, "I know."
"So you live here so you can be out and they don't have to worry about it?"
"That's the trick, see. It's easy to forget you're hiding something, when in your immediate surroundings you _are_ out."
"Yep, it is."
We sit there nodding wisely to each other for a minute more before Larry hops down off the stage to come greet us and talk. He makes a beeline for the indigo Macaw he saw enter with us, and I know by now that it's not necessary to request that he be quiet or hang back. Jezalyn can handle herself. Outwardly, that is. Gabe and Rhoda and I suspect that a lot of effort goes on inside, building that silence. But on the surface, nothing bothers her.