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Gabe walks in with one arm supporting a grocery bag, his jacket and some library books in a library bag; he holds his keys in his dark lips and hangs up his jacket with one hand while kicking the door shut.
"Hi, 'Beest," says Kent. Kent is stretched out on the couch, only off the front, so his head is squished back against the cushions and his legs are out in the middle of the carpet. He's been sitting like that through two or three vid shows, since he stopped pacing the apartment like a caged wolf. It looks relaxed in an awkward, depressed sort of way.
"Hey," says Gabe. "And hey, Rhapsody in Blue. I got you some walnuts and Brazil nuts. Eat them-- they keep your feathers glossy. How's he been today, Hon? Did he give you any trouble?"
I peer out between the bars of my cage even though the door is open and I could perch in the open space. Sometimes I like the bars. In my mind, I express some amusement at Gabe's question, maybe a smirk or something in his direction, but of course I do nothing.
"Well, Kent, she's not talking. What did you do to make her so shocked that she won't even complain?"
"Very funny, Blue-boy."
"All right, what's wrong?"
"Same thing as always."
"Nothing's ever wrong with you."
Except that there has been something wrong with Kent, what he told that man Francis about when we toured the theatre and watched some of the work.
Kent puts a hand over his face just so he can raise up one edge of it to look out from underneath and appear more dejected. "There is now. I have realized that I am repressed."
"What are you being repressed about?"
Gabe snorts, turning from the steel bowl that he's filling with mixed nuts for me. "_You_?"
"Yeah, what's so odd about that?"
"Nothing-- I guess... What happened?"
"Those _damned_ Christmas cards."
Gabe turns back to the bowl, stirs in it with a finger to make sure he gave me an even mix of the varieties of nut, and comes to my cage to affix the bowl to the side. "I never understand why your folks send you those things anyway. What do they do it for?"
"It's also traditional to visit your offspring or update them on your phone number once in awhile. Isn't it, Jez," he says the last part to me. "As soon as you use the phone we'll keep you updated. Maybe you'll be off to high school before graduation time, yes? We can transfer you to one here in town-- I looked into it." His bluish hands brush my rope knot as he replaces the full steel bowl; it reminds me that I'd like a hug, but he leans against the side of the cage and looks at Kent. I press into the soft end of the knot.
"They changed their phone number when I got into Hayden Heath."
Kent sort of rolls and falls off the couch, picks himself up with a heavy sigh and trudges over to Gabe, bumping his head against his chest and leaving it there as if Gabriel is part of a wall. "Bleah."
Gabe pats his back gently. "So. What did happen? What about the stupid Christmas cards? I didn't even know your parents were Christian, come think of it."
"You could stop mailing return notes with our new addresses on them."
"Then it'd be my fault, not theirs."
"What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean. I have to tell them so they have the chance to disown me the rest of the way."
Gabe thinks. "They may not; they may keep sending the cards, and it would be just as hypocritical then as now."
"But... Yes, but if they'd treat me worse for being with you, than they would for being a SCAB--"
"Send a picture."
"I _want_ to! That's just it. You two are beautiful. You're my family, and you're both SCABS. They're already anti-SCAB, I know they wouldn't like to show off a grandchild as lovely as Jezalyn on their mantelpiece, just because her loveliness happens to be, well, macaw-ish." Kent leans around Gabe's side and smiles at me. I listen to him. "And _you_--" he pokes Gabe gently in the chest-- "you, She-Beest, are who you are, and on both counts you lose. A transsexual and a SCAB and, oh, third thing, you've got poor enough judgment as to have entered into a relationship with me, their less-than-optimal kid. So."
Gabe breathes on him. He has a way of doing that when he doesn't know what to say and just wants to impart something friendly. When he does it to me it blows my feathers just a little askew and warms the skin underneath. I'd kind of like to join that hug; maybe they'll care to hold me later. I don't know exactly why they keep me anyway. I mean, I know, it's a good and generous thing to do, and they keep complimenting me and their friends seem to like me, but no one here seems quite so... _Afraid_ as I expected. As if they forget about the shapes and the disease, sometimes, or even as if when they remember it's _normal_ and everyone else who thinks otherwise (like Kent's parents-- I wouldn't want to meet them) gets a look or a word like the one my father had on his face when Uncle Howard ran over the cat and kept on going.
It's not the SCABS who are wrong.
Gabe says, sometimes, that people are stupid. In general.
I'm not so certain.
This is a very difficult spell to break. I don't know how to retract the bullets that cast it. Or any of the things that have been heard or said or thought, either.
I remember history class. I enjoyed it. I wonder whether the curriculum is the same at the school here in their City.
Kent sighs and stands up taller, rumpling his grizzled hair with his long fingers and grimacing. "They never wanted the one they got. So the God in their head, if it created me, was either punishing them or somewhere along the line I turned from the perfect kid into awkwardness incarnate when it comes to nosy socialites and business partners. And if I did _that_..." He looks up with a kind of triumphant grin that makes him slightly intimidating unless you're used to him. "Then _I_ created a God, and it went ahead and redefined perfection! Yes?"
Gabe chuckles. "See. So much for repression."
Kent sobers. "I was born this way, Gabe. Not the wolf, but the gender."
"I like it."
"I know," says Gabe. "I've always counted you lucky."
"I know! Isn't it something? So much for punishment. I got to be kinda sorta female, in a physical way. And there are so many people that wouldn't know each other or even get anywhere if it wasn't for SCABS. It's either just coincidence, kind of going alongside of God while he does something else entirely, or it depends on us and there's a reason for each of us and-- and-- well... Well, that's just it. Jesymyn and I are in the same sort of situation as each other. What is it, the sex or the SCABS? The SCABS gives them an excuse to relegate us to the realm of revealed Sinner or the just plain physically sick... But..."
Kent paces around a little bit with his hand on his chin, but he's looking a good deal more lively than he was this afternoon. He seems to play bubbly to Gabe's blue haze. I like both of them. A lot. "Jesymyn... Jesymyn, back at Hayden Heath, whose name sounds a lot like yours, Jezalyn, is a skunk and a woman. What if she had been transsexual in her _original_ form? If they had found out? What if I had tried to come out to my parents and they had had no place like Hayden Heath to send me? What would we have been stuck with? Who _knows_ what? Any kind of abuse or neglect. But we're free, because the SCABS caught us and... Well, for Jesymyn it's harder, because she accepts something that wasn't there before.
"But she does it. And that's the important thing."
Gabe pulls at his beard thoughtfully. "Ad campaign: Kent Dryer's 'SCABS is Good For You' Self-Realization Seminars."
"Go on with you," laughs Kent. "You know what I mean."
"It does. It's also a Blessing."
"It pretty much sucks, Kent."
I reach into my bowl with one foot and grip a nut in my toes, turn it over to find a good starting spot and crack it easily with my big, black beak. I'm getting good at it, for someone not a born bird. They say Hyacinth macaws can exert something like three thousand pounds of pressure with their beaks.
"Jezalyn," says Kent, "I have yet to ask you. Do you think there's a God?"
I mull it over, picking out walnut-meat with my tongue and beak-tip. Not that I'm going to answer, but it seems just as well to mull the matter over. If I ever come up with anything really good to say on the topic, maybe I'll be able to get my voice back.
"There," says Kent, motioning dramatically towards me with both hands. "Wisest answer I shall ever receive."
Gabriel's lips turn up in a smile along the dark sides of his face. "So you going to send your parents a picture?"
"You bet. I'm nervous thinking about it, but that just makes me hyped up to sing or go join in some improv at that place across town or somesuch. We gotta make us all an appointment. I want to be in it with you. No weaseling into looking at it and thinking, 'Well, _our_ son wouldn't _really_ be living with people like these.'"
"Agreed," says Gabe. "I don't like to see you upset over anything. That's supposed to be my department. Whatever you say, with this, goes."
Kent leans close to the bars of my cage and whispers mock-conspiriatorally: "I still say SCABS needs another classification amongst those God's-wrathers and Beast's-branders."
"Oh?" inquires Gabe, who has, of course, heard. "And what should that be?"
"Oooohh... Um... Along the lines of a list of Things That Happen Because They Happen, Akin to Stepping in Gum on the Sidewalk That Nobody Intended to Torment You With... Or, Things That Suck But That Can Turn Out Really Good and if There's a God Then He Had a Hand in Making Them Blessings and if There Isn't Then They are What You Can Make of Them."
"Ah-hum," comments Gabe. "All right, in that case, I'll take column C: Things That Suck But That You'll Put Up With Because Your Crazy Boyfriend is on Another Kick Right Now."
Kent wrinkles his nose ingratiatingly and wraps his fingers into Gabe's. "Aww, come on, you know it's true and you're just being angsty."
"Angst is all the rage."
"Ha-ha, very funny."
I think about Ollie and Rhoda, and Mom and Dad. In a way I've had a serious one and a more outgoing one in each... Family, so to speak, even though Rhoda and Ollie are both outgoing and they're not really a pair. They just spent more time with me there in that house than anyone else, and I saw them in their roles with me. Kent and Gabe together... Match. And they knew each other before they brought me here; same as my own parents when they were married and then decided to have a child. Me. Maybe I'm not intruding. Is it possible for me to fit in as the same girl I was before, the girl I was as I grew up and began to take driving lessons and spent half a year in the school choir (that was frustrating; I'm not nearly as good a singer as someone like Kent is) and flirted with some of the boys in dance class and then... _Then_ got sick? I fit into a place before I got sick. Here I am now. I don't know where I fit, but these men remind me of my parents. If I could possibly be myself again, in some way...
"I'll... Grant you that good things come out of SCABS. Good things come out of war, too."
"I didn't say they don't," says Kent. "I said, or I meant to say, that I don't think people can pick apart the world and define what belongs to the Good and what to the Bad. I think, if they try, they'll start judging people like what happens to some of the war veterans and to some SCABS. Or... Or to your parents, Jez. I'm not saying war, or the Martian Flu itself, is or are good things. I'm saying that there are people living better because of them."
"You know you'd be treading on dangerous ground with some Fundamentalists, there, Kent," Gabe notes in his low voice. "They'll tell you it's false good, or that the ones gaining from it are Sinners. Trademark."
"Well, I haven't trademarked my Sins," Kent smiles. "I'd just as soon do without them. And if Sin is forgiven, why am I or any of us wearing these SCABS forms? Doesn't seem right to mark someone permanently for a Sin they could be at that very moment Repenting for."
"And since when did you get so religious as to ask any deity for forgiveness?"
"Don't assume what I think."
"Anyway, I don't think transsexuality is my Sin. God, of whatever sort it or he may turn out to be, made me this way. And you, too. And he made you who you are, Jezalyn, whether at first or now. And if you two, as in one theory, made yourselves, well then I admire your artistic ability very much indeed."
Gabriel chuckles and hugs Kent tightly in a way that suggests he may be offering the hug in thanks for the compliment rather than admitting he likes to be admired. This time Kent remembers me, and reaches into my cage with one arm so I can step up and be settled in between them with one foot on each chest. "Hey Sweetie," says Gabe.
Kent smoothes a feather that's out of alignment on the top of my head. "There. Perfect."
I like both of you. A lot. Thank you.
I don't know how much I can convey with my eyes. I hope my expression comes close, if at all possible, to theirs when they look at me or each other. I hope somehow that Rhoda knows they speak the truth in those phone calls where they tell her that I miss her and Ollie and the others and appreciate all they've done for me.
Sleeping Beauty. That's what it's like.
Funny, I never thought of myself as Beautiful before.
Some things are the same month after month
no matter what. Maybe that's what makes the
silence so easy, even when I don't want it to be,
and what makes the temptations to speak so
The silence has become one of the things that stays the same. Like the night, like the darkness coming every evening and the morning coming right on schedule no matter who dies or what changes. Kent sits very still on a chair near my cage, looking over some scripts and music and wanting to be with me at the same time; only one light is on in the room, making the darkness accumulating outside more apparent even within the apartment. He pauses and rubs his eyes, and I stretch my beak-joints in a yawn. He yawns too, catching it from me.
"Sooo..." he says, clearing his eyesight with a little shake of the head and flipping idly through a few pages as if he is not really seeing them. "It's darkish, isn't it. I don't really feel like getting up and turning on another light. Come think of it, I don't really feel like working on this anymore tonight."
I walk a few inches further along my perch in what I want to think is a random movement, but which I think perhaps I had better start admitting to myself may be some kind of attempt to assert that I have heard Kent speaking.
"You all set and all right here, for the night? I'll leave your cage open and the night light on in case you need anything. Are you okay with the door open?"
I make no reply. I sort of want the cage open, so that if I need anything during the night I can climb out and go to their room, instead of calling out like I would have to do with the bars latched. But I like the bars. It's a toss-up, really. He can do as he will.
"All right, I'll leave it open. Good night, Jez." Kent leans in under the beam in the doorway of my cage and moves to kiss me lightly on the beak for goodnight, and I know he's expecting me to hold in place and not reciprocate. He or Gabe does this or gives me a hug every night, so he knows from experience that I won't do anything in return.
He's very close, though. I know perfectly well what I'm doing, and it makes me deathly nervous. In a moment I _will_ have done it. It will be there, in the past, a change in this night from all the other last-nights. It won't be fair to me, what I've done. I will have forced myself to remember that I _can_ do it, that I'm me and I'm part of something. I'm scared. I'm almost sick. I'm doing it anyway. I'm not stopping myself-- I don't know if I can. I don't know if Kent is ever going to realize what it's taking, inside of me, to do this. I don't know if I even realize how hard it's going to be to live with it. No more sleeping. Contact. Before he can reach me and finish it and leave the chance unused, I extend my neck and shoulders enough to tap Kent on the face with my beak.
I'm breathing hard from the effort and I can't believe I did it. I feel ashamed of being so distressed over such a little thing. But it's not little at all. Not at all.
I believe, for a moment, that Kent has not noticed that I moved to reciprocate. If he hasn't noticed at all, then it was just practice. Somehow, though, it hurts to think that he might not have noticed. I pull back into myself and watch him as he blinks several times in my direction.
"Good... night, Jez."
I cock my head.
That does it. It didn't even take any effort, I didn't realize until after I'd done it, but I notice with some alarm and a vague, distant giddiness that this is the first time I've ever openly responded to his voice. Kent has made me realize this, because he has fallen to his knees in front of the cage and is staring at me, wide-eyed.
I'm not certain I have it in me to climb down and offer to step onto his arm, and he can't quite tell whether I want him to pick me up. Perhaps we both want to touch. I can't move. I'm motionless once more, but my mind is racing and my heart is just beginning to calm down into its regular pace after that simple goodnight kiss. Maybe tomorrow, Kent. I can't move. I'm sorry.
We stare at each other for a long time. He doesn't seem concerned about my stillness. He's just wondering whether he should hold me or speak again, or remain still himself or leave the room.
This considering goes on until the time passes when we would have hugged. The sky outside is very comfortably dark.
His question now answered, that we will wait and see what happens tomorrow, Kent rises with a hand on my cage and thinks for a moment, then closes the door and latches it with a pause before he lets his thumb drop the latch, as though there was a moment he might not have done it.
They know I like the bars feeling sturdy and safe around me. He's not leaving it open. He trusts me. He trusts me to call them if I require anything.
He smiles in at me one more time. "All settled, Jez."
He goes to the door back to his and Gabriel's own room. "Call us if you need anything."
And he walks out.