|A Tempest for Ophelia
by Radioactive Loner
© Radioactive Loner -- all rights reserved
I walked into the Blind Pig Gin Mill for the second time in my life. It had been a ... well, there's really no other way to put it: it had been one hell of a shitty couple of weeks. I woke up Monday morning with a full-blown case of SCABS: I had become a woman, complete with breasts, small waist, and all these guys ogling me. Not that I blamed them, really; I had done the exact same thing just one week ago.
But in that one week I had learned all the discrimination that comes along with being a SCAB. Unfortunately, it wasn't as easy to hide as I had thought. After all, there is no Tara Bard in real life yet, and I couldn't just magick away everyone who knew me as Paul. I don't even know for sure that my male body is gone. All efforts to morph have pretty much completely failed, but who the hell knows ... I get this feeling every once in a while, and I don't think it's gone for good.
And besides, there's a little bit of nobility in me, anyway. As an actor, a lot of my friends were homosexual, and I saw a lot of them receive prejudice -- and I always stood up for them. That's one thing I hold onto in an often otherwise rocky life. So I'm not going to take a backseat and try to hide against the prejudice SCABS get, especially now that I'm one of them. Nobody should have to put up with that sort of shit. To me, prejudice has always been one clearcut thing, sorta like the Holocaust: pure evil, with no fucking redeeming qualities at all.
Of course, I was walking into the bar today for a completely different reason, and it was a very embarrassing one.
You see, I had been fired.
I really hadn't been fired, though. If I had, I could've filed suit. Or could've tried, at least. But temp jobs are tricky like that; a temporary agency can just not call you for work or saying they're having difficulty finding positions for you and you just have to believe them. Of course, I haven't received a call in about two weeks and I was getting very desperate.
I sat down at the bar, and the big bullish guy came up to me. He flipped through a couple cards and held up one that said, "You've been in here before, right?"
I looked up at him and brushed some hair out of my face. "Yes, I came in about three weeks ago. I'm, um, a gendermorph. A recent one."
He flipped through a few more cards, then held another card up. "What can I get you?"
I looked down. I really hated -- I mean, I LOATHE -- having to lean on people.
"Uh," I began. I looked up. The world began to close in around me, it felt like, and I felt tears welling into my eyes. I looked up. "You gotta help me. I've not received work in two weeks, my rent's due, my groceries are running out, and I don't know how I'm going to do anything. I mean," and here I gestured to my body, "I know one things this body's good for, but--"
I felt a solid presence gently pinning my arm. I looked up, and the big guy was shaking his head back and forth with a very gentle expression in his eyes. He pointed his hoof at me, then pointed at the stool seat I was sitting on. The meaning seemed clear: stay where I was.
I hadn't mean to cry, but my emotions felt very near the surface. It had been one fucker of a week. I thought back to some of the worse moments.
"Franklin Temporary Services," answered the receptionist.
"Yes, this is Paul Bard," I said. "I'd like to check in, see if I have any assignments."
"Excuse me? You said your name was Paula?"
"No, Paul. I ... uh, well, recently got over a case of the Martian Flu, and--"
"Oh, I see. Um, can you hold for a moment?"
Muted strains of some insufferable easy listening pop music artist wafted through the phone for about the next five minutes.
I knew exactly what was going on.
Finally, she picked the phone back up.
"Uh, Paul, hi. I checked for you, and it doesn't look like we have anything, uh, for you. Our workload's dropped a great deal, so you may wish to check with other temporary agencies as well."
"You don't have anything?"
"No," said the girl with obviously false sympathy. "I'm sorry."
"Do you mind if I call back tomorrow?"
"Well, you're welcome to, but like I said, we're not getting as many jobs in, so--"
"Never mind. Thanks." And with that I dropped the phone back onto the hook.
"So, youse got SCABS, huh? You some sorta she-male now?"
"No, sir," I said, trying to keep my temper down. "Just totally female. Don't know where it'll go from here, sir."
"Well, you know, I cantz be spreadin no disease among my--"
"Sir, no offense meant, but the Flu's gone and done with -- I got that six months ago. Nothing's contagious. I can't spread SCABS by touching anybody, sir."
"Yeah, but de property valu--"
"Sir, I've been a good tenant for four years. All I ask is a little leeway for a week or two while I find a new job."
"I'm sorry. Dis Friday or else you're out."
"Paul, you realize what this is, don't you? It's God's way of punishing you for perpetuating filth on that stage of yours. Now if you come home and join the church, perhaps we can get you back on the road to righteousness and God's forgiveness."
"Dad, I just don't think it's an act of God."
"It came from the sky, son. It's right in Revelations: 'and the seven vials shall be opened.' Holy gift of prophecy, Paul -- one of those test vials opened, let out one of those microbes. It's God's curse on the wicked, Paul, and you have to repent. He's taken your gift of manhood away from you until you do."
"No, you listen, son--"
"I'm hardly your--"
"You're my son no matter what ungodly things you do!"
"THEY'RE NOT UNGODLY!"
"I'll pray for you, Paul. But until you see the light, we can't be there for you."
A dial tone.
I stared out into nothingness.
No money. No job. No family.
I heard the waves calling me from below, and the briny scent of the sea lofted along the brisk, cold wind and slapped me in the face until my skin was red with the cold.
My soft, delicate skin. My skin that hadn't grown a beard in a week. My long hair.
Who would've thought that I would have ever considered this a curse?, I thought. A grim smile with absolutely no element of humor came to my face.
All I would have to do would be to let myself fall. I'd hit my head along the side of the dock and fall into unconsciousness. That'd be it; I'd drown before I regained consciousness. I wouldn't feel a thing. And throwing one's self into the sea ... isn't that a customary death for Shakespeare's maidens? What better way for an actor to exit stage right than by reenacting Ophelia?
I looked at the waves as they crashed against the rocks below.
I felt the light touch of hair against my skin. Drawn out of my reverie, I looked up at a werewolf. At least, that's the way he appeared to me. I had never really bothered to get involved with people with SCABS before, so it was really a bit of a ... well, a sudden immersion.
"Hi. They call me Wanderer. Most of the people in this bar go by nicknames they've earned over the years."
I sniffed, and as I did I realized by the warmth against my cheeks that some tears had been falling unawares from my eyes. I wiped them off with the cuff of my sleeve.
"Hey. I'm Pau--Tara. Tara Bard." I extended my hand, which he encompassed in one furry paw and shook.
"I'm an actor too, believe it or not. Donnie figured you could use a little bit of cheering up."
"Really. You must've had--I mean, with your--" I stopped, at a loss for how to phrase the words.
He smiled, exposing all his teeth. It was a very scary sight, and I recoiled slightly.
"Forgive me," he said, "I keep forgetting. I know it's a bit of a startling sight."
"Well, anyway," he said, slapping his furry thighs in a perfunctory gesture, "Donnie's told me your troubles."
"Really?" I said. "I don't mean to be mean, but how?"
"Well, although Donnie's quite adept at sign language, I'm afraid the old pen and paper is his tool of choice with me. Never managed to get around to learning it -- although Donnie's certainly given me a reason to try to master the skill.
"Anyhow, you've become a bit of a pet project. First, we're going to take you over to the shelter. Splendor runs it -- your situation with the lovely chap who is your landlord is unfortunately not a new one. Then, we're going to work on your employment situation. Finally, I'm going to treat you to dinner, courtesy of the finest cuisine the Blind Pig has to offer. My tab's high enough that Donnie won't mind a few more bucks added to it."
"But why?" I said.
"My dear, we actors have to stick together."
I sat at the table, and looked at the phone that Donnie had placed on there. Across the table, Wanderer looked in my eyes and said, "Now do it, just as we practiced it."
I picked up the phone, and dialed the number.
"Franklin Temporary Services," answered the receptionist.
"Hello, this is Janet at corporate headquarters, can you please connect me with Ms. Venkins?" I said, choosing a fake name out of nowhere and naming my boss.
"Oh, yes! Um, hold on just a sec," the receptionist said. A soft ringing sound, then a new voice.
"Judy Venkins speaking, can I help you?"
"Ms. Venkins, hello. This is Tara Bard. You knew me as Paul."
"Paul, hi! Um, I think a little mix-up--"
"No mix-up, Ms. Venkins. This was the only way I could get on the phone with you in person, and I just wanted to give you a little message. I am just as good an employee as I was before the change. And frankly, I wouldn't want to have to work for such an ignorant, bigoted bitch such as you anymore, anyway."
"Well, I nev--"
"Shut up and listen. Unless you want me to file one hell of an onslaught of lawsuits against you, you are going to give me not only the last couple of paychecks which you've been dragging your feet on, you're going to also issue me the severance pay and paid sick leave that was in my contract."
"I certainly d--"
Wanderer motioned for me to give him the phone. In a delightfully British accent, he spoke, "Hello, Ms. Venkins, is it? Yes, may I have your Social Security number? Why? Oh, the lawsuit and all. Yes, I'm afraid we'll be naming you pers--oh, who am I? Ms. Bard's barrister. Yes, I'll be doing her w--oh, yes, I've taken the case pro bono. Wonderfully marketable case. Yes, all over the papers. SCAB picketing right outside your doors, and those who hire your--oh, I am so glad to hear that. Fine, I'll tell her to expect the check in--oh, no. I think it should be delivered by courier, rather, don't you? Very good then. Ta-ta!"
I gaped at him as he hung up the phone.
"You, my friend," I said, "have a talent. Do you mind?" I said as I rose from my chair.
He looked at me a bit unsteadily, not sure what I was going to do. "Sure," he said.
Walking around to the big guy, I gave him the first hug I had ever given as a woman.
He smiled, lips closed around his teeth. "Thanks," he said.
"No, thank you," I said. "I owe you -- big."
"No, you don't owe anybody here anything -- you pay us back by passing it on someday. And," he said, smiling, "we'll be around to make sure you do! I have a feeling we'll be seeing a lot more of you, my dear."
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