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Winged Instruments
part 3
by Feech

        Visiting Jezalyn's apartment for the first time is kind of unnerving. I haven't met anyone else's parents outside of quick handshakes at St. Mark's for a long time. But she invited me and I really wanted to go. I'm just not used to visiting off campus and I'm sweating, which makes me more nervous. One of her guardians picks her up after school as usual and this time I'm standing there in my extra sweater and extra slacks, so I don't destroy my uniform by accident outside of school and have to spend my next allowance on new clothes.
        "It's Kent," Jezalyn says to me happily from her place on my arm. She's wearing a little jacket that velcros under her wings, as protection for her chest from the chill weather. I tug at my collar. It doesn't feel chill enough, to me, out here.
        The long, beige, oldish-looking car pulls up to the curb by the St. Mark's visitors' parking sign and I stand for a moment, not knowing whether to open the door and put Jez in the car or not. But a very tall man gets out from the driver's side and comes around to open our door for us.
        The man smiles. I feel startled. I almost don't know how to smile back, but at the same time I really like him. I don't like my own face in the mirror, but someone who resembles me shows up and I just like him right away. I'm not even close to understanding any of this SCABS thing. He's got short hair, with little highlights in it of various greys and blonds and browns, and his eyes are lighter colored than mine, but he sure feels familiar.
        "Hello," he says, holding out his left arm for Jez to climb onto. That's so he can shake right hands with me.
        "Kent, this is Judith. Judith, Kent."
        "Enchanted," Kent beams, and waves me smoothly into the car. He opens up the back door and puts Jez into some kind of plexiglass box, probably because she can't wear a seat belt. The cold seats smell familiar, like when I used to ride to church with my parents.
        "What're you two up to this afternoon?" Kent asks pleasantly, glancing into the rearview mirror at Jezalyn.
        "Um, nothing much, going to put on some music."
        "We like some of the same kind of music," I mumble, trying not to sound shy.
        Kent grins again. "Sounds good. When do you have to be back, Judith?"
        "Ten o'clock."
        "Well, we'll have to do dinner, then, and keep you out as long as you can stay. How's that sound?"
        "All right." That's more than I'd hoped for, but that also means I'll be eating with people I don't know, and I'll have to hope I don't do anything stupid and screw up the first time I've really visited Jezalyn.
        Jezalyn bobs pleasedly on her perch in the box. "Is Gabe coming?"
        "No. He has to leave for rehearsal soon, but us three'll go out. Okay?"
        Gabe is still at the apartment when we get there. I thought Kent was very tall. If I'm six foot or so, Kent's probably six-six. Now I have to come up with something that means "about seven feet tall" that doesn't mess up the comparison. I guess all I can think of is that Gabe's also pretty dang tall. I'm almost as tall as I used to be, but not quite. Although I guess I might grow some more yet.
        "Hello," he huffs in a deep voice. It's easy not to stare, because my eyes are kind of drawn to every part of him at once. He must be a wildebeest-morph. He looks just like a wildebeest in clothes. He doesn't have the yellow eyes, though. His are grey. He looks like he's brushed his fur until it's ribbon-smooth. "This must be Judith."
        "Yes." I step forward and offer my hand. He takes it. His is warm.
        His ears flick backward and then forward again. "Nice to meet you."
        "Nice to meet you, as well." I can't think of anything else to say. Kent and Jezalyn close the door behind us and hang up coats, and Jez saves me by saying, "Judith and I are gonna listen to music, so maybe you could clear out of the living room."
        Gabe rotates his ears to focus full on her, and something about his expression makes me feel a lot better. He's not completely stern. "Oh, it's just clear out, Gabe, is it? Find yourself another handsome man first semester at a new school and I'm just a throwaway. You really know how to make a guy feel special, Jez."
        Jezalyn clicks her tongue to the top of the inside of her beak. "Please let us have the living room. Please? You have to go to rehearsal soon anyway, don't you, Mom?"
        Kent chuckles softly and watches Gabe's involuntary shudder at that. "Not fair, Jez," Gabe grumbles.
        "It is fair! She does it to me and you laugh at _me_!" Kent laughs out loud now, and I smile. I guess I can get along here all right.
        "Well, I have to do whatever you say, now, Jezalyn Princess," Gabe says, going for his coat. He blows a little breath out his wide nostrils over the top of Jezalyn's head. "Have fun and be sure and drive Kent up a wall. I won't be here to do it until at least eleven tonight."
        "Will do," Jez tells him amusedly, and the wildebeest kisses Kent on the forehead and leaves.
        "All right, I'll get out of your way too, now," Kent offers. "Lemme know if you need anything."
        "'Kay." Jezalyn trots over to the wooden frame of the kind of small entertainment center. Kent closes a door to another room behind him. In this room, besides the media center Jez is heading towards, there's a computer and a couple of chairs, a long davenport, and a large, heavy parrot cage on wheels. It contains a lot of colorful equipment: dishes, toys, perching areas. I guess that's probably Jezalyn's 'room'.
        I nod towards the cage. "You like it in there?"
        "I like it. It's secure." Jezalyn begins climbing the frame of the entertainment center. Guiding and pulling herself with her beak, she sets her talons on the top level and begins lifting and moving CD's that are scattered around on top of the player. "What should we have first?"
        I'd like to hear her do some more music with her own voice, but it may be best to start out with the recordings and see if I'm not too shy to bring it up again later. Besides, maybe this will inspire her. "You said you have Shared-Space and Tiedown live?"
        "Yeah. Coming right up."
        I fold my arms together around myself and kind of stand near the front door, glancing around a bit, but then I have to watch Jezalyn put on a CD, just to see how she does it with that beak and those feet. She sees me watching and her eyes sparkle gently. "I haven't scratched one yet."
        The macaw takes up one of the cases in her talon, not lifting it all the way, just standing it on end, and clicks it open with her beak. Then she opens her beak further, touching her dry pink-black tongue to the edge of the CD, and sinks the tip of her upper beak into the center of the case. She presses until the CD is loose, then lifts the whole thing with her beak spanning half of it, taps the player eject button with one toe, and settles the CD into place.
        "Yeah... Wow, you're pretty good with your beak."
        "Thanks. You're pretty good with your body, your voice. You know, you look good. You do a good job."
        "I hope I do. I try. Thanks, Jezalyn."
        "I mean it. I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it."
        I nod.
        "Have a seat! Floor, couch, whatever. Let's see how long it takes Kent or the neighbors to complain about this."
        I sit, sprawled on the davenport. Jezalyn cranks up the volume knob and we both begin to stare at the ceiling in a sort of almost-painful vibration induced high.
        "This is cool," I say. It feels strange to talk at all with music that loud in my ears.
        Jezalyn says something in reply, but I can't hear it. She climbs halfway down the entertainment center frame, away from where she could knock any CD's down by mistake, then spreads her wings and flaps across to the davenport to perch beside me.
        I let the crashing volume get me into a zoned area of my brain where the most important thing is that someone else is listening to the same music, and not caring how loud it is, either. Sometimes I just like the noise of instrumental parts, no voices. This is good for that. A lot of heavy percussion. I and Jezalyn can be the only people, anywhere, because the only thing that matters is who's listening, not even who's playing. Sometimes I like a good long drum solo with no voices sneaking in to ruin it.
        I admire voices. I just like to hear what I don't have to emulate, sometimes. Jezalyn can emulate drums. I wonder whether the instrumental parts sound like singing, to her. I don't ask her, though. I just listen and feel grateful that she invited me over.

* * * * *

        I have the solo for "I Will Not Go Quietly," for the choir performance at an open Chapel assembly. Sister Margaret says she's been impressed with my work this winter, considering what I've been through physically.
        I believe in my parents being able to listen, but I think a lot about the teaching sisters and Kent and Gabe, too. I'd like to impress them. I know they're here because Jezalyn is here, and it's her they admire of the members of the choir, but still I am selfish enough to think maybe they'll care how well I do. The same with the instructors; they're supposed to like us all equally. But one time or another I'd like to be doing well enough that they notice me in the group.
        I know Sister Margaret is happy; she nods approval and her eyes are snapping excitedly at us as she conducts the group. Between numbers she'll whisper advice, but during she seems to be pretty pleased with how we're doing it. The visitors do a lot of smiling, but they do that anyway. I wonder how many parents will complain while they're here, about how this girl-boy named Judith is in their son's house and how they don't feel the boys should be exposed to such ambiguity. But the boys themselves don't seem to mind me. They just sort of let me exist around them and don't seem to care. Maybe it's just as well that I had to have the separate bedroom.
        Somehow, no matter what I do, my voice just doesn't sound strong enough, to me. I'm told I sing with a fervor that comes out of nowhere and that I'm almost hard to sing with, sometimes, hard to follow, but easy to listen to... But it's all just because I can't do it strong enough, right enough, the same enough. Not the same as before. No one else has told me that I sound 'black', since that one Freshman did earlier in the semester. I remember him saying that so easily that I wonder why I even bother to make it mean so much; did he know what he was talking about, anyway? I try, I sing until I feel like insides of me are burning, my blood changing where I can't see it, but nothing changes when I'm done. I've just done a good job singing. And to know that, I have to hear it from other people.
        Kent and Gabe do praise Jezalyn and I highly after the assembly. They're dressed up and Gabe looks comfortable in a suit but Kent isn't wearing one-- he's in a man's silk blouse and slacks and dress shoes. He tells me that he doesn't look good in suits and never did. He tells me I look good in mine, though, and that in a lot of ways I remind him of himself, if I don't mind his saying so. I tell him that doesn't bother me. And it doesn't. But at the same time I feel guilty, in the pit of my stomach where I was finally feeling open and clear because the butterflies were all gone from the detailed and hurried choir preparation. I don't mind being compared to Kent. And he's never been anything near resembling my ancestors in his life. I hate feeling guilty and feeling good at the same time. I can't get mad at him, this is no time and place to be upset for any other reason, so I probably confuse everyone by just sort of going blank.
        "I like singing in the same choir with you, Judith," Jezalyn says quietly, to see if I'm upset about something to do with the assembly.
        "That makes me proud to hear," I tell her, but inside I'm sinking. "I guess... I'd better go back to my house."
        "Okay." She's clearly disappointed. There's a gathering and now she won't know whether I'll come back for any of it or not. I'm not sure, myself, so I don't know what to say.
        "Want us to walk you there?" Gabe asks, I think probably to try to emphasize that I have visitors.
        "No. No, thanks. Thanks so much for the compliments." I back away and head out the doors, only now because I did a solo there are a lot of people who stop me to talk to me. Some of them know my name on the program from my first two years here. I'm sure more recognize me than stop me, but only the ones who feel comfortable with my SCABS actually take me aside to say hello and tell me I did an excellent job and ask things like isn't Sister Margaret just a wonderful choir director and don't you just love working with her. And I nod, and everything, and back in the milling people still leaving their pews I can see Gabriel and Kent and somewhere Jez is perching on a pew, but I can't see her.
        I roll up a program in my hand to stop some of the sweat, and shake a lot of hands, and hardly look anyone in the eye. Then I go back to the boys' house where I live.

* * * * *

        Jezalyn walks back and forth across Kent's shoulders and upper back, scratching it for him. The three of us play Scrabble on their living room floor.
        "Kent," Jez says conversationally, "tell Judith how it is you know you're a woman who loves women, in a man's body, when you love another woman-in-a-man's-body. He's too shy to ask and he wants to know."
        I blush. Can I help it if I never knew anybody like this, and now with the way I've been changed I might have to figure out the same sorts of things about myself?
        "I see a good word you could make, Kent," Jezalyn continues, peering over the man's thin shoulder at the tray of letters. "I see one and I'm not going to tell you."
        "Oh, _great_, thanks so much. Ummm..." Kent adds to "bit" to make "bitch".
        "Is that allowed?" I grin.
        "It is now."
        "Oh... Well then I see a few _more_ words I could make."
        "Hey! I didn't use it as a vulgar term. No purely vulgar terms allowed."
        "Isn't that kind of arbitrary?"
        "I set the rules. I'm older and wiser."
        Jezalyn laughs. Kent growls, but he doesn't manage to sound very mean. "Judith, you wanted to know what Jezalyn just told me to tell you?"
        I lower my cheek to my shoulder, not knowing what to say to that without sounding rude one way or another. It's one of those funny-but-not-funny things... You can ask someone about anything, except about being another sex inside, or loving the same sex... Then it's just never considered polite, but you can ask even a stranger about almost anything else. Kent takes that as a 'yes', and nods to me. "Took me awhile to figure it out. I didn't wonder for a long time, then I thought I was bisexual. I'd be attracted mostly to girls but to some men, too, only I didn't know that some men were actually women. But maybe that was the difference I was seeing in them. I don't know."
        I add to "keep" to spell "keeper". Jezalyn makes a clicking sound as she continues to walk back and forth across Kent. "Exciting game," she notes. "You two are really going for the big scores here, aren't you."
        "At least _he_ has some vowels," Kent protests. "I don't see you offering any hints."
        "Two against one wouldn't be fair, and I don't want to play alone."
        "Well then don't complain about our game!"
        Jezalyn fluffs up her nape-feathers in a sort of grin. "Okay. Go ahead, don't mind me, you'll never get out of the middle of the board, but that's okay."
        Kent spells "feeler" with "feel" crossing "keep", apparently having drawn at least one vowel in his last turn. Jezalyn chuckles, and Kent turns his head partially to look warningly back at her.
        "Gabe probably showed me who I am, in a way," Kent continues while I ponder my word options. "Knowing who he is kind of clarified it for me. Before that I never interacted much with girls or guys beyond 'accidentally' meeting up with them in halls at school. You know, kind of paying attention to the class schedules of cute girls."
        I nod. "I have a whole word here, in my tray, but there's no way to use it, even if I use a letter from it on the board..."
        "I still see a good word Kent could use," Jezalyn says maddeningly.
        I end up spelling "bitchy" with Kent's "bitch" from before.
        "That's borderline, there, Judith," Kent says lazily.
        "You going to veto it?"
        "Naw. You know someone else you could talk to, if you ever wanted to... I should give you Angelo Eagan's number. He's sustained similar effects from SCABS."
        Jezalyn holds out one of her long wings, showing the clipped primaries. "My groomer."
        "Oh..." Maybe there are more people like me than I realized. Maybe not many can tell, looking at me-- if I changed my name, how many people would know? I look at the board and the game we have going does seem kind of meager. "Sure, I mean, yeah I'd like his number... I don't know how to just call someone up and ask about that stuff, though."
        "That's okay, at least you'll know you're not the only one."
        "Right... Your turn."
        "I know. If you saw what I have in this tray, you'd give me some of your letters in sheer pity."
        "I doubt it. I'm too selfish and ruthless for that."
        "Fine. I guess I'm stuck making 'keepers' out of 'keeper'."
        "I still see a good one you could do," Jezalyn reminds him.
        "_Still?_ Judith hasn't snagged the space yet? Gawm, I hate having you looking at my letters when I'm losing at this."
        "But you like the back-scratching."
        "Yes." Kent stirs around in the letters that are still in the box, acting like he wants to turn them over. "I like the back-scratching."
        Suddenly I miss my parents. It doesn't seem so far away, this semester. It's as if they died when I shifted. But I don't say anything. I just don't know what there is to say. I pluralize "feeler" with my next turn, and I don't mind when Jez laughs at us, again. She has a pleasant laugh.

* * * * *

        Jezalyn perches on the edge of the fountain that's turned off for winter, wearing her jacket that velcros under her wings and covers her chest. I lean back with my palms and seat on the fountainside and look up.
        Jez leans over the side, in towards the dry concrete, and nudges flecks of granite set in the fountain, scraping them idly with her beak. "What are you thinking of, Judith?"
        I'm thinking of how pointless I am. All this my ancestors and parents went through, all it took to get me here, and now it's all pointless, because of me. I feel like the last one left alive and like I've failed. Maybe it's a hopelessness that's just from February and slow times of year and stuff; maybe it'll pass. I'd like to get up some morning and not hate what I see when I open my eyes. It'll probably pass. That's what I'm thinking of.
        "Want to see what I used to look like?" Maybe Jez of all people would actually appreciate it.
        "Sure." She leans up towards me interestedly, seeing me take out my wallet. I flip it open to my photo from Sophomore year. I'm not smiling in it; I probably look a little stuck-up. But it's better than this year's will be.
        Jezalyn makes a churring sound. "You were _gorgeous_! I mean-- you look good now, too, you know. You really are good-looking."
        I smile a little awkwardly. It'd have been nice to have met her when I was still me. "You must have looked nice, too."
        "I was too fat and I had pimples. I really did."
        "Naw, I'll bet you were pretty."
        "Thanks for saying so, but I wasn't!"
        I wonder how many races and minds and prides are obscured behind all these shapes people are in because of SCABS. It makes nationalities seem sort of passe, but still it matters to me where my ancestors came from. Only now it's hard for me to approach other African-Americans, because I'd have to explain why I have anything in common with them and why I want to talk to them about where they originated.
        I had thought I might go into cultural studies. Now I have no idea what to do. I might still do it. Make up a way to ask people, people who look like other species and other races than what they started out as: What made you who you are? What are you proud of that no one can see?
        I almost ask Jezalyn what happened to her parents, but I don't. I fold up my wallet and put it back in my pocket.
        Jez begins quietly imitating an electric guitar, to the melody line of "Tall Skies." I smile a little. This always makes me do that, when the recognition of the tune clicks in my brain. "That's neat," I say. She stops long enough to thank me, then keeps on until my watch alarm goes off for dinner; we can barely hear the bell from out by the fountain.
        "Want me to carry you to your dining room, Jez?"
        "Sure, thanks!"
        I've gotten so I'm sort of the particular person who carries Jezalyn most places. It makes me feel singled out for something important, anyway. My blazer is unbuttoned in front and lifts up over my shirt in back, from the wind and my fast pace across the cement towards one of the girls' dining rooms. That's one thing; it's easier to run in khakis than it is in a skirt. But just because I can do something doesn't mean I have to be happy about it.

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