|A Fair Start
© Feech -- all rights reserved
I don't remember Angelo's phone number. The time I had an appointment to be groomed, the student I was travelling with made the call, and all I remember is Pennsylvania and... MacLeod University. Yes, the same one Ginger has gone to, and will go back to next year. There's even a brochure left in my room somewhere...
With shaking hands I pluck the booklet from among a pile of random papers and find the toll-free number.
"MacLeod University Main Desk, may I help you?"
"Yes... Please... Could you please give me a phone number for the city's information directory? I need to find Eagan Grooming, and I'm calling from Massachusetts, and don't know where to find--"
"All right, that's fine, I'll look it up if you can wait just a moment, Miss."
"Thank you." I know my whispery, nervous voice must sound upset, and I know the receptionist is wondering what is going on, but at least she's going to help me. I need to talk to Angelo.
"Here's the number, and it should apply to any business within the city, at least--"
"Oh, thank you. Thanks." I get the number and immediately hang up to redial. Find Eagan Grooming, get that temporarily in my head and dial again.
One ring. Two.
"Eagan Grooming, this is Angelo, how may I help you?"
"Angelo. Are you busy?"
"Anne? You sound terrible, Sweetie."
He remembers me. I knew he would. He knows everything-- he'll fix everything. I only wish I could go and see him in person. But the phone will have to do.
"Groomers are always busy, Hon," he says cheerfully. "And thank Goodness for that. Tell me what you need."
"I won't bother you-- please don't let me interrupt your work. But I need to talk. Could we, sometime, please?"
"Anne, of course. Listen, I have a customer here now, and a house call after that, but as soon as I get home I'll call you back, okay? Is there anything you need to say right now? Anything I can do for you?"
"I'll wait. Thank you so much, Angelo."
"No problem at all. I just need your number so I can call you back. Will you be there this afternoon?"
"I'll wait until you call me."
"All right. I'll be thinking of you. And you can say anything you need to say when we talk later."
"Okay." My voice is a little better-controlled already, just having someone calming like him to talk to. I know I should be talking to someone else, but I can't. I don't know what to do. I recite my dorm room phone number to Angelo, and click the receiver back into place.
Out the window is a sunny, beach-combing style day... I know Ginger will be looking for me where I go walking. I didn't answer the door when the girls came looking for me here earlier, and now it is locked. I haven't remembered to lock my room door in a long time.
I sigh a long, shuddery sigh and peer out the window, regretting the lost outing. I sit down on the bed and wait. There are too many people, and I am too emotional; I have to bring it down to one. Angelo has told me who I am, has listened to me. I know he will again.
Ginger will be wondering about me. Already I miss her. But it is not safe, and this ache is not the same one I had before. I used to ache from confusion-- now it is fear. Do I ignore the danger? Can I? I did not know humans could hurt the way they did. I knew it intellectually, I saw it, I read it in books. But I have never cowered in my room before, having felt it myself.
Danger... But if I stay in here, if I never connect again, I will just as surely be in danger... I will die. The ache of wanting overlays the ache of fear and I curl up as small as I can on the bedcovers and debate with myself. What would she want? Does she even realize how-- yes, she does, she was there. We were both hurt. Physically. But she comes as boldly to see me as before. Is she crazy? Or just decided?
Knowing Ginger, I opt for decided. But I, Anne, am still shy. I almost feel ashamed of my shyness-- more ashamed of the shyness than of anything this baffling society has told me is wrong or, in the next moment, right. I have no business being shy of Ginger, the one person I miss when she is gone. Not when she has taken just the opposite approach. It's selfish of me. But self-preserving.
I just don't know.
Angelo, I hope you can help. I really do.
I would never have had cause to think about it, if I had not met Ginger, and she had not met me. I understand that it is pointless to think on what pasts might have been, but the idea that none of this would have happened is at the same time a comforting and a horribly frightening thought. You can learn a lot about people in general by learning one thing about yourself... I had, before Ginger came to Egypt, Massachusetts for a year of supplemental study, been used to observing human-- now my-- culture from a slight distance. Now that is no longer an option.
I had understood, in a way, the terms "friend", "lover", and so on, but only in a way. I liked those who were friendly to me. Some men, women and girls spent more quality time with me than did others. I was acquainted with a lot of different people. And then I was introduced to Ginger.
There was nothing to prepare me for a person who cared not for the study of the Thylacine coat and habitat, who liked cocoa and eggs and could "just not understand" my preference for coffee and Chinese food, who volunteered to take me off campus and get me off my usual escorts' hands "just because."
I know she wasn't ready for me, either, but she was not as confused. She was human all her life before SCABS changed her into a horse, and she had a lot of ideas settled in her mind before she ever met me. But I know we were both surprised.
We are the only SCABS students at the University of Egypt, as far as I am aware, and the girls who usually take me into their charge when I need guidance or an escort thought we might be interested in meeting each other.
Now, I had smelled attraction on humans before, and often it swept into my nostrils as one person responded to another within range of my senses. Once or twice, a man approached me. I did not respond, and after it was made clear that I was a marsupial wolf, not a human, and had become human due to SCABS, the overtures stopped altogether.
I had never smelled anything quite like this. I had never seen anyone like Ginger, either. I was still fathoming that she was struck by my appearance, as well, and that my own self was scented with hints of attraction so immediate and unexpected that I did not know in mind, before in body, what was going on, when she escaped her similar trance and shook my paw-hand with her own, nearly hooved, black one. Beyond the black hoof was chestnut hair, and following it in mind up and under the sleeve of her white poet's blouse to the neck, I could see how solidly the color flowed, to the rich sorrel of Ginger's well-muscled yet light neck and the matching, rougher hairs of her mane.
"I'm called Ginger, since my change," she said boldly. Her voice floated on a slight drawl like those of characters in movies about Southern Plantations.
"Hannah Merle. Anne." I held the semi-hoofed hand for a polite moment and let it go.
"Anne, it is quite a pleasure to meet you."
I could imagine. She was more than telling the truth, she smelled completely of openness and a brightness as bright as that color, and an overlying scent was as sharp as the white strip down the center of her face.
"Ginger," I said, and giggled a little, not feeling at all shy, "I get it. From Black Beauty."
"And just as troublesome, too," She grinned, delighted that I had known. She grinned, showing large teeth, and I smiled back, unconcerned about my own teeth showing. Ginger was so straightforward, right from that moment, that I felt I would know what was right and wrong while I was with her. She hides nothing.
"I thought she was just sensitive and misunderstood," I remarked.
"You seem a sensitive soul, yourself. So, what are you here at Egypt for?"
We talked, and Ginger showed me her room and gave me her phone number and I gave her mine, and I felt no fear. Ginger felt no fear, that is why. She has no fear except of losing me. And here I am, afraid for myself. I am not worthy of her, even if she has faults-- they would never keep her from a friend.
After that first meeting, Brina and Mattie, my usual companions, left me utterly to Ginger, and I would not have really been satisfied any other way-- I had picked a favorite. It was the first time anything like that had happened to me.
I had no idea that I was the first person to ever get a reaction like that from Ginger, as well... I assumed that she had many friends, and for the reasons I myself was attracted to her. But she admitted to me within a week that no one had seemed as honest to her as I had seemed.
"You have a good soul, Anne. I wish I did. But I have denounced God."
She said it effortlessly, with a little flip of her head that suggested it was the only possible thing to do, and although I was a little startled I sensed only a twinge of sadness and rebellion in her-- typical-- and I decided in her overwhelming friendliness to ask her to tell me more.
"Why? Hon, if you'd been raised Baptist like I was, and seen as much hypocrisy and as many lies as I have, you'd denounce God, too. That ain't no way for a loving Someone to let folks treat each other. And that's all I have to say about that."
I pressed on, a little further. "I go to a Catholic church in Boston, when I visit there, and a few times I went to services here with Mattie. The church in Boston is really nice. I don't believe all religions can be like the one you were raised in."
"I'll have nothing to do with it."
"Well, then, what about God? Isn't He supposed to be a person? That's not His choice, then, what people do, is it?"
"I suppose not. But I still maintain he's a nasty old thing, letting people get away with that kind of thing. I admire that you can be such a nice person and religious at the same time. But... it'd take a lot to convince me."
"I won't argue. I don't even know yet if I am Catholic. But I'm pretty sure there's a God. I remember it from an awareness, before."
Ginger nodded, her golden-brown eyes suddenly distant and her sweet scent ambiguous. Then, "Anne?"
"Oh, those eyes. Sometimes when you look at me I think I could fall in, and I'm pretty big," she chuckled nervously. "Anne, you're looking at me."
"Sorry." I averted my gaze.
"Oh, I didn't-- I don't--"
I waited through the atypical pauses.
"Anne, there was something, the time we first met, wasn't there."
I nodded, sideways to keep my gaze from disturbing her.
"Look at me."
I did so. Ginger turned her head to get a full image in one eye. "You're beautiful," she said.
"You, too," I smiled, wrinkling my lip a bit.
"Do you mean that?"
I twitched my ears in mock irritation. "You know what I mean. I know you smell and see everything about me."
"Ever think about your sexuality, when you were beginning your human studies?"
I shook my head.
She shifted a little. "Are you thinking about it now?"
If it had just been Ginger, just Ginger and myself in the Tasmanian outback, or on the moon somewhere, I would still have had no cause to wonder. It was startling, it was even frightening, but Ginger's honesty and Ginger herself made all questions seem needless. There was nothing to say. I had no fear, with her. None. I, Anne, the shyest of the shy, was not afraid with or near or about Ginger. No-- the frightening part was what she told me about everybody else, what she felt compelled to tell me because she cared, and even though I had read it and seen it in fictions and distant news I had a painful time stomaching the same words in a friend's voice.
She was worried about me. She had been aware of her sexuality for years, but she remembered how it had been. And she saw my bewilderment at the very idea that she or anything about her could be considered "evil."
"They will not let you be, Anne," she told me, her drawling voice quiet as we sat close and nearly shivering on a rock near the ocean.
"I have been told things before that weren't true," I said, looking up at her and feeling that if Ginger were afraid, that even then there was no need to fear, because she would never let anything harm me.
"I know. And it's a crying shame. But I need to tell you, it was horrible for me. Not for long, but it was bad while it lasted. Intense. And we may both be in for it. I have not had a partner of any kind. There has been no reason to question it, for those who-- for whatever reason-- seem compelled to do so. I can't ask you to stay with me, be with me, without telling you-- I want to be your support. But if you choose to suppress it, you may be better off without me. Goodness knows, I've been told often enough that you can suppress it, that this is a choice. If you believe that, do it now."
I nuzzled her. "I was told to suppress what I was. They didn't even know they were wrong. And I have never been attracted to anyone before. Plenty of people have been nice to me, but one is as nice as another. I want you to tell me what to do. I just want you."
"Anne, no, I can't and won't tell you what to do. You need to decide. I can't be responsible for--"
"You're not responsible." I had already found that a determined, soulful look with my dark, round eyes would affect Ginger to no end, and I used one to cement my point. "I am a woman, an adult, half a Thylacine, half a human, and you can't control me. I am listening to you because you fascinate me." I turned on the gaze a little more. "Now, it's too late to leave me without hurting me."
"Anne," sighed Ginger, "you're not fair."
But in that instant Ginger's whole demeanor grew, if possible, even more determined and bold than before. I think that, despite all the confusion that overtook me whenever I was alone to think this baffling new development over, despite the dark truths Ginger had learned in the South and in the SCABS underground at MacLeod, we really believed that nothing could hurt me if she was my companion.
It makes me shudder to think of the human beings who pay such close attention to their surroundings only for decidedly negative purposes. Our actions should have meant nothing to a stranger, on the trip Ginger and I took into Boston. Perhaps they knew me from before, or from the news, but that is no-- no excuse. I don't care if I am an animal, I have rights. Angelo knows that. Everybody knows that. I was worried enough about what God would think, if He was watching me, without even thinking that someone might go out of their way to hurt for no reason other than... What? What reason?
No reason. It was senseless.
Ginger made it a point not to show any "unusual" affection for me in public, but still it surprised me that no one seemed to know. I suppose I just counted on others, students, faculty and so on, to be able to scent when someone was attached just as I could. I did know not to say anything about it, though. I had the strangest sense that most of my acquaintances did not want to know, and I began to understand what Ginger had meant when she said she did not want to be responsible for doing this to me socially.
She could not have been better for me. I told her that, and she refused to admit to believing me, but still her pleasedness glowed about her chestnut self when I pointed out that I was paying better attention in classes, that I was not so claustrophobic since becoming used to having her touch me.
"Hard to keep from touching you, you're just so-- beige," she teased.
"You ought to be proud to know me-- I am the only Tasmanian wolf in 'captivity'," I teased back, swiveling my rounded ears for emphasis and sliding my stiff tail once in a wag of sorts.
"I am proud to know you."
I wrinkle-smiled up at her and she blew a little warm breath over my forehead. "Well, Anne, Darlin', I hope you're captive, I wouldn't want to let you go."
I laughed my rather coarse laugh and leaned into her, as had already become a habit. "I don't know about you," I said.
"Yes you do, that's why you like me."
"Mmm... You're right."
The next week we were in Boston, and I knew I had to go to the church. It was weighing on my mind, distracting me, and although Ginger did not fully understand she agreed to see me to the door.
"I'm not going in-- you know how I feel about these places."
"Where will you be, and when do I expect you back?"
"I'm getting a cocoa at that shop we saw back there. Back in twenty minutes."
I did, a quick one on the bridge of her muzzle, and then I entered the cool silence of the church. As I looked back, I could see Ginger peering up at the Christ on the building wall and grimacing. She was not angry, seemed instead more curious. Seeing me looking at her, she tilted her head at me once more and then walked off in her boots and loose slacks to the coffee shop. She manages a grace I have not achieved, despite half-hoof feet and what should be a top-heavy form. In her full mare form she could not be denied as impressive by even the most skeptical of the possibility of SCABS beauty. Even in this, her half-horse shape, as I had first seen her, she made it fit. Ginger makes things fit, even something, someone, like myself, who should be permanently lost.
Lost. We shall see.
The church was as I remembered it from my last few visits, although I was disappointed to see that the rose was not there. I had never spoken to the rose, but I had had the idea that I might, that day. I needed someone to tell me that they had the answers, and would share them with me. The one thing Ginger is truly hesitant to discuss with me is religion, mostly because she feels I am more knowledgeable than she is about it, and she does not want to take any spiritual help I may have away from me.
Who do I talk to, then? I don't know how to talk to the priests-- I don't go to church on Sundays without Mattie, and there are so many people around her church's preacher, or whatever he specifically is called... I forget... at the end of the services that I need to get out, away from the crowd.
Mattie says that any clergyperson is available to talk to a newcomer at any time. But I am not ready, yet, to try to seek out some one person in a church directory and call him or her my one resource on this mystery. I know that all humans have different feelings and laws on these things. I have seen that, and heard it.
It was the same with the question of me. Only two people were right, Angelo and myself. Now, almost everyone knows we were right all along. But they tried for a long time to tell me that I had been human, and that I had forgotten. They tried to make me forget what did not fit their assumption... That only humans get SCABS. I needed to find someone in the church who smelled right, who at that moment would be willing to talk to me. We don't always get what we want... I decided to stay the twenty minutes until Ginger returned and think for myself, hoping that perhaps the rose might arrive.
I genuflected, recalling the procedure I had seen performed before, and made certain as I did so to face the gold-lined box where Jesus's body is kept.
"This is my body," Christ had said, and I had thought about that, when I read a translation of the Bible to myself, in my dorm room. I had looked back through the stories and found other quotations from Jesus. I recalled our studies on grammar. So, when I discovered that the Catholics eat the body of Christ, it was easy for me to understand.
Perhaps that is why I feel most at home in this church... if it will have me, being as I am. Of course, the door was open, and the candle burning, just as ever. Christ never said "This is like my body." He said, "This is my body." Over and over, in the stories, Jesus would tell the people, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like..." and fill in what it was like. But He never used a simile about the bread.
So I genuflected, because that much I do understand. This is, after all, my body, and if this is possible, then so is such a transformation as man to bread and wine. They say the priest has the power to do that with the bread kept in the box, but I believe God must give him the power. I don't know for sure, though.
I stepped into the main area of the building and felt almost as though someone was there, when the tiled figure of Jesus on the far wall gazed at me with simulated eyes, golden hands outstretched and circle of light tiles surrounding His head. I nodded to the depiction, and slunk to a seat. I wanted to call out to see if anybody was there, but did not feel comfortable disturbing the air that was so silent except for the slightest of movements with the circulation system. I slid into the seat and felt over the varnished maple with one hand.
The yellow-painted brick walls made me feel soothed, the decoration made me feel welcome. Still the light burned in its thick red glass lamp, and I looked down at myself and wondered, "Will it stop burning... If I am the only one here and I say I want to be with Ginger? Will it flicker up again when I leave and someone else, someone holy, comes in, or will it shine for me, if I say I will stay away from-- but I cannot stay away."
I said aloud, and my voice was so soft it did not even echo-- "I can't stay away. If she is one of those-- tests-- Mattie and her friends talk about, then what kind of test? To what end? I would like to thank You for her, if You're there. And if you didn't mean it that way, then... I'm sorry. But I made up my mind."
That resolve in my head, I thought I felt stronger, as strong as Ginger was, ready to let her reach me. I looked at the church and thanked Him, silently, again, for inspiring such a nice place.
It had been almost twenty minutes when I pulled open the double doors to the sidewalk again.
That was the first, and only, moment that I had any kind of warning. I sniffed the air reflexively, getting a feel for the street, and I thought I caught a whiff of some men, their skins smelling as if they were hunting something.
I looked around, idly, as I stepped onto the cement sidewalk, automatically scanning for whatever it was that the hunters were hunting.
"Bitch!" Said a harsh, spitting male voice, and I turned to see an unknown man right at my shoulder.
I didn't get a breath in and out to speak before--
This is hard to explain. I had never felt anything like it. The force of sickness, as when the Flu took me, is puzzling, and it hurts, but it is nothing on the crack of a human being's body part against your own-- I could smell the sweat in his curled-up palm, stronger and more pungent than any human scent that had passed through my nostrils, and I knew the hand was in a fist and attached to a man I didn't know and who was, as far as I could figure out, randomly angry, possibly mad.
It took me as long to... register the pain as it did to realize what the ravening men were saying, all three of them, one young, two older, as they closed me in. I couldn't run and I couldn't get back into the church. Biting would have been foolhardy. I coughed a threat, but they laughed it off. I knew anyhow that it was useless.
"Think you're gonna take our women to the Devil with you, eh, Bitch?"
They had to be mad. No one hunted human beings in broad daylight in the middle of Boston, I thought. Surely... It came to me that I was not any more human than I was wolf. These men weren't afraid. They had the right to beat me up-- to kill me-- I had ID in my pocket that didn't matter. It didn't matter. They could do whatever they liked with a Thylacine they found wandering the grasslands by herself, just parted from her mother and siblings and constituting competition on their ground.
I felt they were too much for me and I did the only thing I could do-- hunched in a submissive posture with my chin up, I'm just a baby, leave me alone...
My ears flattened in an automatic defense against ripping and tearing, but these men fought unnaturally.
"Die, Bitch," one of them instructed me, and two of the hunters, one on either side of me, threw punches at the same time.
With nowhere to go, no way to bend with the force, the sides of my cheeks crunched in and I think I tasted blood from the right man's knuckles before it blended with my own. I did not differentiate the blood and the cracking noises and the pain, they were all one and the same, and I hunched lower under the strange limpness of my jaws and forced my eyes to look aside in submission, but always in every direction was one of the three men.
I heard a scream that seemed almost too sharp and high and angry even for my own ears, and suddenly the man blocking my path to the street was bowled into me with such force that I impacted the church doors and felt a knock against my shoulder and the back of my head that distracted me from my mouth-- then I saw Ginger. One of the men grabbed her kicking leg and gave it a yank and a twist, but the other two were picking themselves up and running, just like that.
I grabbed the man who was fighting Ginger, and as he lost balance she managed to reach back and sink a bite into the side of his neck. He rolled away and stumbled into a run, disappearing between two high buildings.
Ginger, favoring her left rear leg, lowered her face to mine. I began to separate out and feel the pain, and tears forced their way in an unending stream into the fur under my eyes and down into my bloodied gape. I tried to inhale and get Ginger's scent, but my nose seemed clotted and useless and I could get nothing. I really began to cry then, and put my arms around Ginger's neck.
Ginger lifted me to my feet as I clung to her, but I remember that she could not get me to let go so she could get her clothes, so she stayed in the form of a mare until I would listen and calm down, then she tried to find someone to call a hospital so she could stay with me. In the end, there was no one near, and Ginger had to go herself.
She limped away, assuring me that she would be back very, very soon, but I don't think I believed her. I couldn't smell my environment, my ears were ringing, my mouth useless and Ginger walked away. It didn't even occur to me to go back into the church-- I just slumped on the cement in front of the doors and felt the Crucifix over me-- I wondered if it might fall and kill me. It seemed almost to be hanging there impossibly, a dark bronze on the brick, hovering, watching, never mechanically attached.
When the sirens rounded a corner onto the block where I sat I almost thought it was another attack of some kind-- the streets had been so quiet until then. I pleaded to the statue of Jesus to save me. The white ambulance stopped, flashing and winding down, in front of me, and two men hopped out. They were agitated, but they were there to help-- I gave in to everything easily. One of the men clucked his tongue in distaste at what had been done to my face, and told me everything would be all right, and I began to come back to myself and to start to believe him.
Ginger came back. She moved slowly, and the men put her in the ambulance, too. I tried to talk, but realized that it was impossible. I willed Ginger to look at me, so naturally she did, and that was enough.
Jesus watched the ambulance-loading and the immediate procedures.
It amazed me, in my state of mind at the time, that even on the cross, exhausted and suffocating, with a broken leg, He was watching. Maybe it was a feverish, silly thought to have about a statue, but I have still not gotten it out of my mind.
The sirens started up again and we pulled away.
Ginger pointed out later that no police cars had shown up on the scene. I hadn't noticed.
Mattie and Brina came to see me in the hospital, but I think that in the shorter time she was there no one visited Ginger. And when she came to see me, after she was released, I did not speak to her.
It wasn't because I couldn't either. I even looked away. But I had had time to think, and in my mind it seemed to follow-- respond to Ginger, we both get harmed.
When I got out Ginger was there to bring me flowers, but even with her head outstretched to me, bringing them horse-style in her mouth rather than her hands, typical Ginger, I felt cold at leaving the hospital. It reminded me of the research centers I had stayed at in Australia, when, compared to my life since coming to know Ginger, things had been relatively simple.
I didn't want to leave, and I didn't want the flowers. I reported in at the University as still recovering, and I have not gone to class nor left my room. Ginger and Mattie have both come looking for me, separately, but I kept my door locked and did not answer.
I know she's out there, sweet-smelling and worried and sorrel.
Angelo, please call. You were there. You answered. Please call.
The light outside is just now beginning to seem that of afternoon... He said he would call this afternoon. I know he will, but I can't help worrying. For some reason I find myself missing the rancher who took me to Australia. Or maybe I just miss everything about not knowing. Maybe I miss looking in his mirror and not recognizing myself, being just mildly curious... Maybe I miss telling the doctors that I couldn't remember my name.
I balk when I begin to get past that first halting bit of human communication... It was fine until I began to know too much. But it is not enough to protect me. I had no warning. I thought... I mean, Ginger told me, but neither of us had any idea it could be so treacherous. If she had known, she never would have left me. The only course I can see to take now is to stay away... Not invade their churches, not--
But it is His church, isn't it? And since when does Ginger belong to anybody?
Oh, please, Angelo, call...
I half-roll off the bed and pad over to my CD player. I don't feel like hunting or Thylacine calls... I can't think of anything else to put in, so I just tap on the plastic for awhile.
My jaw aches and I look at the time, automatically noting that the pain medication time is almost up-- I duly swallow another two of those poisonous pills and spend five minutes irritatedly licking my chops and wincing, as usual.
I didn't expect to be attacked...
What is it they say about love? Or maybe it was Jesus himself that said it. I forget-- is it good to sacrifice for a friend or just plain stupid? Sometimes the Thylacine and the human minds cross and these things make no sense to me.
I am nearly startled out of my skin when the phone rings. I leap to grab it and bump my wrist, slip, grab the receiver firmly and gasp, "Hello?"
"Hello, Anne, this is Angelo."
Oh, God, thank You. "I don't... I don't know if you can help me..."
"Would you still like to talk?"
"Anne, you not only sound upset, you sound different. Really--"
"I had surgery on my jaw."
"Angelo, I think I'm a lesbian."
I can hear him sit down on a creaky couch and flip on the TV quietly in the background. As if he has all the time in the world, very casual, but I know he's deeply concerned. The TV isn't loud enough for him to be watching.
I tell him. I tell him of all the individuals I have met and the difference in my reaction to Ginger, and that she warned me of the dangers of being her partner, and of how classes had been going before the attack and of how much difference he had made to me, listening, before, as he listens now.
"So," he says, when I pause and he realizes that I need encouragement to get to the hard part, "Why did you have to get surgery on your jaw?"
I tell him.
I have never experienced being on the phone with someone so silent and so angry at the same time. I can hear the catch in Angelo's chest as he fights off some inappropriate exclamation. The television snaps off.
"Anne, Honey, if anything like that ever happens to you, or to Ginger, again, I want to be informed immediately. I will get somebody at your university to take action. They should have stood up for you. There should be no question of whether to press charges or where the police resources are being used. Do you understand? You have rights."
I nod, then remember to speak and say humbly, "Yes."
"I still think I'm a lesbian."
"Is that okay?"
He thinks for a moment. "Anne, I need you to tell me-- what is it that's wrong with it? I understand that you're afraid right now. But if you really want my opinion, then I will give it to you, and I want to know where to begin."
"Ummm... Begin with-- with-- well, tell me. You know who I am. I want to know what you think. I want to know if this could be true, and whether I can still be-- Angelo, do you believe it's evil? With God, I mean?"
I wait through the pause after the initial answer, and as I relax, knowing Angelo does not think ill of me, he begins to speak again, slowly.
"First of all, not only humans may be homosexual or practice homosexuality. Other species can, too, so it may have been, probably was, a part of you before the SCABS changed you. Are you with me?"
"And as for God, I don't believe we can randomly say He disapproves of any of these practices. There are bad and good relationships of all kinds. I have to deal with the fact that I am beginning to be attracted to women, due to the nature of my particular case of SCABS. Does that make me evil?"
"No! But it's your disease's fault."
"Anne, attraction and desire, as long as they do not harm another, are no one's fault. Here's a question for your animal brain, okay? Tell me this-- is pleasure good or bad?"
"Because-- it means you're full, or with someone you like, not hurting, all is well."
"Is sexual pleasure good?"
"If it's heterosexual, yes, then people won't stop you, and--"
"Oh, but they will. They will. I know a man who frequents the bar that I also frequent, and he is a heterosexual man-- the same as I am, actually, becoming. He met a woman who had changed into a male of a different species. They live together, and he has come in for flack from it, being called homosexual, bestial, what have you, when in fact--"
"It is a heterosexual relationship."
"If you count the soul as the person, then yes. And I, for one, must count the soul as the person, or all the memories I have from before SCABS must be discounted as delusions, for my brain, my body, everything has changed."
I mull that over for awhile. The light is turning metallic outside with afternoon, the color of strips of sun on Ginger's chestnut coat when she stands out on the beach and watches me poke around for horseshoe crabs.
"We could have been killed."
"Anne. I don't know what to say-- that was awful, I know you hurt just thinking about it, but you can't rot in your room. Please don't. You didn't let a few silly mistakes about your origins stop you before. There are always risks. Don't hide-- I've done it, and I almost died of loneliness."
I cut off and pause. Angelo waits, then prompts softly, "Yes?"
"But that's not really a bad relationship-- it wasn't their fault, she had a disease. I am this way. Ginger is this way. This is... Different. Bad, maybe. Right?"
"No. You asked for my opinion and this is it, and you will make up your own mind what is best for you-- the key being what is best for you. Anne, do you want to go back to your friend?"
"Tell me, then, what reasons you might have not to do so. Has she shown you any disrespect?"
"All right. You get my point. Why not go back?"
"I don't know if God approves."
"Of love for a friend."
"Right..." I say, helplessly.
"Are you going back to church, if you rot in your room? Who took you last time?"
He knows perfectly well. "Ginger."
"This is your decision to make, Anne. Not some 'expert's' somewhere. Remember how wrong they were last time." I can hear the smile in his voice. "I believe you are a lesbian. You can suppress it, but you've been there before. Whose approval is most important to you?"
"Well... Yours, and-- and hers, but also God's."
"A religious group, or God?"
Saying that, I sigh. Something comes through me that feels like a wash of wind or water that brushes my fur lightly and leaves me so clean I can almost feel the contrast of my stripes on my clean tan coat. I breathe in and out, another sigh, and Angelo hears me and asks, "You with me, Anne?"
"Yes. I feel... I think I feel better."
"I'm giving you my home phone number. Call anytime."
"Thank you, thank you Angelo."
"I... You called me, but there are others, and Ginger may know some. You said she attended MacLeod... There are some support groups of many kinds there. I'm afraid I'm a poor substitute..."
"No, I wanted to hear you."
"I know you're scared. Good luck and God bless, Anne. I can't stop you from being scared, but whatever I can do, you know, don't hesitate."
"Oh, I won't, Angelo, thank you."
"No problem. Honestly. I hope things go well for you."
I hang up.
Instantly a means of support and a line of confidence are lost-- I almost feel myself physically weaken.
Now is the time, before I lose my nerve again. I straighten my blouse in some show of bravery to myself, as if by keeping a front of physical strength I can fool the world into thinking I'm not terrified.
Mattie meets me in the hall.
I nod to her. I feel a test coming on. I feel it, I know it, I brace myself. Or maybe I'm just being paranoid...
"Anne, I... want to ask you something."
"Yes?" I stand as tall as I can.
"I-- I had heard, and I didn't want to assume anything. I mean, the-- attack... I thought, we all thought, it was because of your SCABS. But I... Well, someone said, and I was wondering... is it true that you..."
I watch her. Her smell is regular Mattie who takes me to church, nothing outwardly threatening, but she is obviously apprehensive. She usually has complete confidence in her speech.
"Anne, is it true that you and Ginger have been considering-- a-- homosexual relationship?"
I peg the scent. One of concern. For me. I nod, hesitantly. I almost whisper: "I am a lesbian."
All of her confidence comes back. "Anne, I can help you. I know people who support the recovery of men and women with your problem. I don't know Ginger all that well, but I am sure that if you speak with her..."
I have a sudden, blinding vision of the therapists in Australia, and then here in New England, telling me I would get better... I had just forgotten being human... Must suppress those dreams of Thylacines and things I could not speak of...
"Mattie," I say, hoping I appear as confident as she does, "Thank you for your concern, but I do not need curing."
"Anne, I'm your friend, I want to help you. You know the Lord wants to help you."
I almost laugh. I have never heard anything quite like this from anyone calling herself my friend. In my overwrought state it sounds so ludicrous as to be almost comical. I wonder if God is watching... My guess? He is. I whip up a quick prayer in my head for guidance in facing the mistaken, the "lovingly concerned".
"I wouldn't want anything awful like that-- like what happened in Boston to happen to you again. I can connect you with people who can help you."
"Help me what?" I hear myself say. "Deny myself?"
I didn't mean to sound angry. Mattie looks taken aback, then replies, "Anne-- you are diseased. This is part of your SCABS disorder, perhaps. I know you are a pure and loving person. Let people solid in Christ release you from what the virus has done."
She just waits, hopefully. Learn one thing about yourself...
"Mattie, I was a lesbian before. SCABS made me human. Are you saying that is a bad thing?"
She lets her breath out quickly and presses her lips together. "Anne, sometimes oppression..."
I have to leave. She's not listening to me-- or I'm not listening to her-- or something.
"Anne, I really think we should talk about this-- don't you think so?"
I thought I was talking about it. "Maybe," I say, to get her to back off. "Please, excuse me."
She doesn't want to, but replies, "All right."
My hackles rub against the inner surface of my blouse as I stride purposefully to the beach.
When Mattie is ready to listen, if ever, then we can talk. I am beginning to understand the subtler things Ginger was warning me about. The tactics of the "caring". Mattie has a goal in mind that fits with her own image, the one she built of me when we met during my freshman year, just as Ginger's family had a goal for her that made her feel rebellion was the only way to go-- they just wouldn't listen. When the discussion becomes one-sided I really think...
The ocean. I drink in the smells and the sounds and feel it almost envelop me as I stand, still several yards away, on a pile of natural rubble and gaze over the finer pebbles and sand of my favorite exploring place.
The water is rainbow-colored, undecided on what to reflect from the gradually shifting, almost cloudless sky above.
I thought for sure she would be here. I need my dose of courage. I think sometimes, when I am in a metaphorical mood, that her breath has courage in it.
I have never been so melodramatic or just plain romantic about anyone.
The beach is empty... She must have come and left, thinking I still want nothing to do with her, having no reason to believe otherwise.
A few seagulls, not many. Different-colored rocks. The beach changes every time I walk here, even when I try to find and stand in the same place.
This is, of course, a good thing. If we always looked at everything the same way-- well, I need to let go of the religious discussion until I have calmed down.
I am on the point of crawling to Ginger's dorm on my knees and begging forgiveness when I see her.
Far down the beach, scanning as I have been-- the white on her face glows even at this distance. She is a bit awkward on the stones, and has not yet seen nor heard me.
I cry out-- a contact call, "Here I am! Over here!" in Thylacine, one short, sharp, high-pitched yelp.
Immediately the woman-mare's ears roll in my direction, her head shoots up, and she whinnies-- stay there. I'm coming. I wait as per directions.
Ginger picks her way a little closer to me, then looks down in obvious frustration at her legs and feet. Looking up, apparently in her typical bold and mischievous fashion, she stops and-- sure enough. She takes off her clothes.
Once bare, Ginger jumps forward, hooves hitting the beach already at a gallop-- the rest of her catches up so quickly I can hardly tell whether it is glints of light or shifting muscles and skin that change her appearance as she thunders up to me, pulls up short and nearly sits down in halting right in front of me.
"Hi," I say, meekly.
"Anne, you will be the death, I say the tragic, Gone-With-the-Wind death of me."
"Please-- don't say that."
"Sorry. But, Honey, what--"
"I was scared. I have no other excuse. I'm still scared. Can you forgive me?" Tears taste a lot like seawater.
She licks the tears, rumpling my short facial fur and almost making me giggle reflexively.
"Anne, I would never do anything to hurt you. If I had known..."
I wrap my arms around Ginger's neck and don't say anything for a minute. Finally I catch her eye and ask, "Will you go in with me next time?"
She snorts, not in a derisive, but almost a submissive manner. "If that's all it takes..."
"I know you don't like to. Please. I'll go less often, if you'll go in with me."
"You won't want me with you all the time."
"For now I do."
Ginger nuzzles me. "All right. Just tell me next time you're going to be hiding yourself away, you hear?"
I nod. "That's fair. I'm sorry. I was wrong-- I'm sorry."
"Have you eaten today?"
I make a noncommittal answer.
"Well, then, you need to. Let me get my clothes and we'll get you fed, all right?"
"What are you thinking of?"
Lots of things. "I don't know-- lots of things. You. Seagulls."
"Me and seagulls?" Ginger chuckles. "Now that's an interesting match."
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