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"Mr. Asanti." The man teacher looks over his generic black glasses at me and lays his hands out on the papers on his desk. I'm not sure what I'm doing here. I think this is the man who oversees the house I live in now. I'm not sure, though. I thought I knew this school, but that was only one half of it. I only know where I'm going half the time because of helpful students and nameplates on doors. The only men teachers who spoke to me before had directly to do with my classes, not anything to do with housing.
He sighs. His hands rustle on the papers. "I'm not sure how to put this, because I don't want to imply that you have done anything wrong."
Well, that's good, I guess, anyway. But that comes close to sounding like I've done something that _looks_ wrong. "Sir?"
"Sister... Well, some of the teaching sisters in fact, not just one, have mentioned to me during conversation that you are still going by the name of 'Judith'."
"Yes. I am."
His sigh is heavier this time. I think he knows what he wants to say. He's just trying to make it sound more sympathetic by taking a lot of time about doing it. "This concerns me."
I watch him as he rises from his upholstered, wheeled chair and comes around to one side of the desk. On the wall he's in front of now there's a wooden Crucifix of the kind that has enough depth to the cross to hold a holy-water vial in a sliding compartment inside. Sister Agatha has one of those on her wall, too. He takes a long time about coming up with the next words, finally continuing: "Your name could be easily adjusted to a more gender-appropriate version. This has nothing to do with who you are, and everything to do with your school and where you live. Imagine if you were in the girls' housing and had roommates who were not only changed from a male gender, but kept their male names. Wouldn't that... Well, it would make you uncomfortable, wouldn't it?"
I don't know where my reply comes from; maybe some part of me is managing to stay the same in all of this. "I don't know if it would, Sir. If it did, that wouldn't be the boy's problem. It'd be mine."
He stares at me during an uncomfortably long pause. Then, his eyes narrow behind their lenses. "The problem of many girls in a household becomes the problem of the one that caused it. The same goes for a boy, living with other boys, trying to maintain a peaceful household as we all must. Mr. Asanti, I can understand your desire to keep your original name. But, it is still your given name, and no one can take it away from you. For the sake of school interaction, I ask that you refrain from using the feminine version."
"Do you _want_ to cause a problem?"
I shake my head. "My name isn't Jude. It's Judith. My parents wanted me to come here and I've lived here since they died. If the boys have any problem with me, tell me and I'll try to talk to them. I promise I will. No one has complained yet."
The teacher finally notices that I'm shaking. I don't think he wants a sobbing ex-girl on his hands, so he sits down again and waves a hand slowly at the door. "You're dismissed, Mr. Asanti. I trust you will employ good judgement as the semester progresses."
"I'll try my best, Sir." Teachers like to hear that. I turn away from him as soon as I can possibly twist up out of the chair, and stride fast out the door.
I raise my hand. "Some people say angels are
androgynous. Are they?"
The sister looks at me sympathetically, knowing in a way why I'm asking, but that expression doesn't last very long and she stands straight and professional and explains, "Well, angels are often portrayed in art as being androgynous. But, although there are not Earthly relationships in Heaven, there do seem to be genders... The gender roles are not physical, but they are there. Now, we sometimes don't know how God's Kingdom works, specifically. But the gender of angels seems to have to do with their roles as protectors and messengers more than with physical form."
I just don't know anymore. I could ask another sister down the hall and get a completely different answer, even though they're all of the same religion and I don't think any of this is in the Bible anyway. I don't even know why I'm asking, except that somehow it must be important that if God sends these spirits to watch over us then I want to have _something_ in common with them. They can be better than us and all. I just don't want them to be aliens. "How did the Church decide to consider them male saints?"
"They appear with male names in the Bible, the four we recognize as saints. Their influence seems to be masculine, in that men were more respected than women in those times."
A girl raises her hand. She's wearing satin bows in her ponytail. I think I remember her name, Ginny, but I don't know her well. "I thought all angels were saints."
The teacher shakes her head, with a pleasant expression, glad that we're asking questions. "Anyone can be an angel, by virtue of living in Heaven. But to be a saint, meaning canonized by the Church, someone has to be involved with miraculous deeds-- think of miraculous healings at the graves of saints. Also, sainthood has to do with being able to intercede with God for those who pray to the saint. The saint is someone who has merit the rest of us don't, who can speak for us before God."
"You mean they put in a good word for us."
The sister nods to the student who just spoke. "That's right."
I speak up again. "The saints, the four angels who are saints, could they appear in either form? I mean, now that people might listen to women-- might, you know-- couldn't they appear in either form?"
The sister shrugs a little. "I suppose they could. That's not something that Church authorities seem to involve themselves much with."
I just nod. I didn't figure they would.
I put a blade in the flecked-grey plastic
razor and brave my reflection again for another
bout. The face in the mirror looks angry at me,
knowing full well I'm going to probably slice him
up somewhere during the course of this. And I
don't care. He took away everything until all
I've got left is this sad-eyed reflection that
turns angry and bleeds red darker than his own
skin. If it didn't hurt, I might be tempted to
not be careful at all. But he is me.
Damn. Another nick.
I wander into the commons area in Dales Hall
long before dinner break is over. I didn't want
to stay chatting in the dining room after I
finished eating. The food is the same, the tables
and low but vaulted ceilings are the same, but at
Bright Day house all the clamoring voices were
different. I feel surrounded by people who will
eventually kick me out for being in the wrong
place, even though there's really nothing wrong
with what I'm doing or the way I look. The boys
call me Judith and they don't seem to mind. They
don't give me too hard a time, but I think some of
them told their parents about me because I got
taken aside again by the a counselor as if some
parent got nervous about Situations at this
school. I just said something about certainly not
wanting any trouble in the school, and then the
next boy I saw I asked him if he minded calling me
Judith. He shrugged and said, "No, whatever,
man." Then he ran off to class. So if I don't
stop them from calling me by my real name, and I
don't encourage it either, I don't see how I can
be a troublemaker either way.
Someone is playing some kind of music in the commons area, but I can't see to the furthest tables because the lights in half the room are dimmed. I wander closer to the sound, and it's just one instrument, as if someone is playing a single violin but keeping its volume at speaking level.
I still can't see anyone else here, until I come around the side of a pillar and see Jezalyn, perched on the curved back of a wooden chair in one of the matching sets throughout the room. Her beak is half open, and there's no instrument or recording device anywhere.
"Is that... you?" I ask, pointing at her rudely with the planner I'm holding in my left hand.
The violin stops. I'm almost sorry I said anything. It made the room seem full in a nice way. "Yes, it's me." Her voice is as I remember it from choir tryouts the other day. It seems like a deep voice shouldn't be feminine, but she reminds me of some speakers I've heard that people really admire; women with rich, almost rough voices. Like they could build with their voices. I doubt I could ever have had a voice like that, even in my old body.
"How do you... do that?"
She tilts her head from side to side. "I'm not sure. It took some practice to get the hang of it. I'm not sure whether real macaws can do it or not, but I can."
"You are a real macaw."
"You know... hatched ones."
I nod. "Your name's Jezalyn, isn't it?"
The blue head feathers fluff up a little bit around the yellow trim on her face. "Yes."
"That's a nice name."
"Thank you. I like yours. Judith."
"Did you get into the choir?"
She scratches at the top of her head with a claw, like it's some kind of bird expression, only I'm not sure what it means. I think she's smiling. "Yes. Did you?"
"Yes. I can hardly believe it, but I still got in."
"You have a marvelous voice."
I sit down carefully on a chair across from her. "Wow I-- don't think anyone's used the word 'marvelous' to describe my singing. Thanks."
She chuckles. "Really, your voice is good. Mine is only so-so."
"No! Ha. It's a really nice voice. Honest. Mine... Well, maybe I'm just not used to mine." I pick at some paper squiggles that stick out from the top of my planner notebook.
Maybe she does. Maybe she's one of a very few people in St. Mark's who could actually understand that. "Jezalyn?"
"Um... you said... you're not Catholic. But you wanted to come here. Why?"
"Well because..." the student shifts weight from one foot to the other on the back of the chair. "Public school has more-- you know, it's not so private. Obviously. I had a bad experience with SCABS and I don't want to be in a place where it feels like it could happen again. So one of my guardians, Gabe, said I could come here."
"Why didn't your-- the other guardian-- the one you mentioned in choir--" this is plenty awkward, isn't it. Maybe I shouldn't have asked anything in the first place-- "want you to come here? Why did he or she want you to go to a public school? Too expensive or something?"
"No, he... Well, Kent's not sure he wants anyone telling me to be a certain religion. He's not sure what religion to be either."
I feel my cheeks getting hot while we talk, like I'm blushing because the room is warm-- only it's not, it's cool in here, and I'm afraid she will begin to notice. I don't know whether she notices or not, but she focuses one black eye full on me and asks, "When I tell my guardians I met a new friend here, should I tell them I met a boy or a girl?"
That's easy, anyway. "A boy."
"Okay. I wanted to ask because--"
"Okay." She does that feather-smile thing again and makes a deep chirping sound.
I shrug. "I just want to be called by the name my parents gave me." I probably sound a little defensive.
"I can understand that."
I look at her. She can't look much like her parents. I draw in a deep breath. She said she met a 'friend'. Maybe that means something. Maybe we're enough alike and new enough to each other that I can talk to her. I've been doing it so far and she hasn't gotten angry or anything.
"Can you do electric guitar?"
Her blue feathers raise even further and they seem to change into different colors of blue, with little streaks of grey, because of the angle of light. "Sure. It just didn't seem like St. Mark's style stuff. I can do individual percussion, too."
"Really?" This is beyond cool.
Jezalyn does a little snatch of the guitar from the Jade Rings' "Roses in Mourning". It's one of the best, and strangest, things I've heard, just that bit of the instrumental parts taken out and sung at whim, here.
"That's good, I like that song," I tell her, pleasing her, since she didn't tell me ahead of time what it was. "Can you do percussion from Gargoyle Ledge? Um... 'Murder Holes'?"
"I can try... But, it'll just be snatches, I have to kind of jump back and forth to make it so you can recognize the song it's from."
"Go for it."
She can even do cymbals. It's weird, but so neat. I shiver a little, listening to it, because it shouldn't be possible coming from someone who was just talking like a human. I guess birds are just made differently.
"I think we'd better head to class," she says when she's done. "Are you walking by the gym?"
"You're right, we should. And, I can be, yeah. Want me to walk you?"
"Please. That'd be nice." She opens her wings, and I'm a little startled at the span. I also notice that every other long feather in her broad, pointed wings is missing. They're impressive, though. That same blue with downy shadings in the pits where they attach to her torso. She loosens her hold on the back of the chair and flaps strongly, so I feel the wind from it brush the hair on the back of my hand. Then she sort of clumps to the floor, but not very hard.
"Why are you missing some feathers? It... seems like it'd make it harder flying. Don't you get tired walking?"
"Sometimes. But I can have a student carry me from class to class if I need it." She chuckles. "I have kind of a long tail. I wouldn't want people to step on it and then feel awful. Anyway. Well, half my primaries are clipped on purpose so that I won't get carried off by wind too easily, if I go outside. I'm not too great a flier. I could get caught up and get lost or some other thing like that. This gives me just enough lift to get to the back of a chair." She raises her feathers in her smiling expression.
"Don't you have any books to carry? Can I help you with anything?"
"That's okay, thanks. My instructors all keep my books for their classes with them, and I have other copies at home."
"Yeah. Okay, off to gym."
"You want to walk? Because I could carry you."
"Would you? If you really don't mind."
"I really don't mind. Er... How do I... How should I pick you up?"
Jezalyn walks in a sort of rolling gait with her talons clicking on the tile, over to the toes of my shoes and looks up at me. "If you like, you can just hold your forearm in front of me and I'll climb on. I have to take hold with my beak for a second, for balance. Is that all right?"
"That's fine." I can see why she warned me. That is a powerful-looking beak. I crouch down and hold my arm out for her, shaking a little and feeling my blush increase. I just hope she'll tell me if I do anything wrong.
The bird-girl climbs on. I can feel her beak through my blazer and shirt sleeve, but it's not uncomfortable at all. Her claws cling around my arm firmly and we go off to class.
We all stand for the prayer at the end of
Chapel assembly, and I stare at my hands and try
to figure out how they fit together. They seem so
strange, it doesn't make any sense that they fold
the same as before. The closing prayer ends and
when the ones who were lagging verbally are done
with their last syllables, we snatch up our stuff
and clatter to the doors. The Freshman who was to
my right in the pew clasps a Freshman English book
to his chest and looks up at me through
translucent tan glasses. He wrinkles up his nose
like something just irritated him, like it seems a
lot of the Freshmen do whether anything is
bothering them or not.
"Hey, Judith," he says.
I look down at him. "What."
"Is that your real name?"
"Yeah." I frown a little, even though I don't mean to.
"I heard you singing during Chapel."
"Well, yeah." He was standing right next to me.
"You know what? Don't take this insulting or anything, you sound like those black gospel singers. Don't take this insulting or anything."
I stumble over someone else's heels in the hall. "Sorry," I say to the student in front of me. To the Freshman beside me I say, "Thanks."
"Yeah. Seeya." He wrinkles up his nose and scutters away into a room. I don't know whether to carry myself one notch higher after that, or not.