Making Peace

Copyright © 2012 Maeryn Lamonte – All Rights Reserved.

The room was small and grey, and it smelled of old people and antiseptic. Apart from the bed and its associated paraphernalia, there was a night-stand and an armchair. There wasn’t much space for anything else.

She lay in the bed, nervously fingering the lace trim on her white, cotton night dress. The curtains were closed leaving her in self-imposed twilight. “The sunlight hurts my eyes,” she’d told them, so they had hidden it away.

She lay still and alone, and waited, a muted and regular beeping her only companion, and a comforting reminder that there was life in the old girl yet.

Only the days were like this. In the evenings there would be visitors – immaculately dressed ladies with overly large hands and feet to match their larger than life personalities, turning heads wherever they passed. They would breeze in and fill her small space with their bubbling enthusiasm. There would be laughter and memories and eventually silence and sadness, tears and tenderness.

They had their lives to live though – something she no longer had in common with them. They would stay as long as they were permitted and then leave her to her quiet loneliness.

She no longer slept much. One of life’s great ironies – more time available, less strength to make use of it. She would lay back, staring at the cracks in the ceiling and thinking on her past – and when the pain became unbearable, she would press the button beside her right hand and lose herself in a wave of chemically induced euphoria.

Small room, dark room, dingy little corner of nowhere. Just the place to end a life. Death rarely comes with any dignity. The best it could bring here was relief.

The nurses tried to be up-beat – gave her a smile and a gentle squeeze on the arm when they came in, but she could tell many of them felt uncomfortable around her and her friends. They never stayed for long – just enough time to do their regular checks, then they were off to the next patient. For some it was just that they had so much to do, for others there was evident relief when they could finally move on.

It wasn’t the cancer – they were used to things like that. It had long since won the war and was slowly sweeping through her body, fighting a few last skirmishes. Total surrender wasn’t far away – an end to all hostilities. It had eaten at her flesh and bones until very little remained – sunken eyes, sunken cheeks, sunken spirit. It was playing with her now, like a cat with a half-eaten mouse that somehow still clung on to life. Such sights were common around the ward, yet none of the other patients fazed the nursing staff in the way she did.

It might be her breasts. Two exquisite orbs perched incongruously on her shrivelled and emaciated form – liver spotted now, but otherwise as perfect as the day the surgeon had slid them into their new home. She remembered the delight she’d felt the day she’d first woken to the sensation of the added weight on her chest. They had hurt, but there had been no regrets. They’d cost as much as a small car between them, but they had given her so much more pleasure.

It wasn’t just her breasts, she knew that. The transition hadn’t been as kind to her as it had been for some. She’d come to it later in life than a great many of her friends. Even much reduced as she was, there was no hiding what she had once been. Not that it would have mattered much. Her medical history was, quite literally, an open book to these people.

No, the looks she’d glimpsed that had been aimed in her direction had been the sort reserved for the real bizarros, like that guy with the growth on his neck that looked like a mutated duck, or the girl with body integrity identity disorder who’d managed to cut off her own left arm because it ‘felt wrong’.

In a way she supposed she’d had a form of BIID. I mean why cut off a perfectly serviceable set of male genitalia, unless you felt they didn’t belong there?

She’d come to that conclusion late in life – too late really. Time and testosterone had built over the slender beauty of her childhood before she found the courage to allow her inner self to rise to the surface. By then there was no doubt about what she had once been – never would be. No way to hide the strength and ruggedness that nature’s programming had directed her cells to construct.

Still no regrets eh? Something she’d promised herself.

Who was she kidding? Of course there were regrets.

Half a lifetime estranged from her father. She thought back to the last time she’d spoken to him, over forty years ago – his words indelibly etched into her memory.

“I have no daughter. I had a son, but he is dead to me now.”

He hadn’t raised his voice. It would have been more bearable if he had. More bearable than the quiet, tremulous tones he had used. Then he had turned his back and stood there waiting for her to leave.

She wondered what might have happened if she’d refused to accept that as his answer, if she’d stepped in front of him and insisted he recognise her, if she’d yelled and screamed at him or done something. But she’d been at the very start of her real life experience, feeling vulnerable, exposed, self-conscious… weak. The words had cut to deep, hurt too much.

She’d glanced briefly at her mother – standing beside her father with hands covering her face, tears streaming down her cheeks. There had been no help there. No comfort, no support. She spun on her sensible heels, skirt swirling about her knees, and walked out of their lives. Nothing quite so final as the sound of the front door closing quietly behind her.

That was the last time she’d seen her father. Her mother had stayed in contact, but that was almost more painful than if she hadn’t.

Half a lifetime of clandestine meetings, her mother twitching nervously and glancing over her shoulder at every noise – as though she were breaking some heinous and unspoken law in agreeing to these meetings, committing some unforgivable transgression. As though she half expected her husband to find them and condemn her to the same exile he had chosen for his only child.

The meetings had always been tearful and filled with anguish. Each step she’d taken away from her former life, each change that made her less the man she seemed and more the woman she felt herself to be, brought a fresh flood of tears from her mother. The hormones softening her skin, the implants swelling out her chest, the electrolysis rendering her face progressively more hairless – her mother had cried anew each time she saw her son move further from the one thing that might mend their broken family.

She’d tried to explain – oh how she’d tried – but her mother was too lost in her grief, too busy mourning the loss of her son to fully embrace her new daughter. Unable to let him go because the new her was too great a reminder of the boy that had once been.

It had taken years – years and years before regret turned to acceptance. It came after they finally put her father in the ground. She’d worn a black dress and veil to the funeral, unable and unwilling to pretend, even for a few hours, that she was the dead man’s son, even as a sign of respect. Perhaps that was when her mother saw her for the first time. Perhaps no longer being in her husband’s shadow had allowed her a new perspective. Perhaps seeing this figure in a dress – not defiant, but regretful – had been enough for her to see that the transformation from son to daughter had not been made from choice but need.

They had enjoyed a few years of closeness after that, but her mother was too much reduced by the death of her father. It wasn’t long before she gave up on life and followed him into the ground.

She had stood apart at her mother’s funeral. The other mourners casting angry and accusatory looks at her, more concerned about her life choices and how they stood at odds to theirs, than sorrowful at the passing of their friend. So disgusted at her temerity in turning up that they forgot to grieve. She ignored them, unable to see much of their ugly expressions through her own tears.

Half a lifetime of angry and accusatory looks.

She’d always struggled to pass in public, even after the operations, the diets, the hormones. Even after she was as wholly female as she could make herself, she still looked odd – not quite right. She’d compensated with longer hair, greater efforts with her makeup and frillier, more feminine clothes, but rather than helping her blend in, they had probably made her stand out more.

Mothers with young children would look daggers at her, as though she were committing an act of the utmost indecency by simply being who she was. How dare she complicate and confuse their lives, leaving them having to answer awkward questions from their children? How dare she expose such young and innocent minds to new and unusual possibilities?

Teenagers would point and laugh, ridiculing her. Careless of her feelings, as so many teenagers are, she became a source of amusement for them. She’d tried approaching one or two groups, but they had recoiled in disgust at her approach. In the end, the best she could do was ignore them.

Men would stare at her with barely concealed hostility. She had been one of them and she had defected. She was untrustworthy. Worse than that, she was trying to be something she was not. Something that had the potential to cause them untold embarrassment. I mean what man could live down the experience of chatting up a pretty girl only to find that she had something unexpected lurking between her legs? What was more damaging to a man’s delicate ego than discovering the woman he was falling for was really a man?

To most men, the choices she was making were unthinkable, incomprehensible. They thought she was denying her true nature, when her reality was just the opposite. All her young life had been the denial, the lie, the struggle to be what her mind told her she wasn’t. This was her release from the torturous turmoil of her confused youth. This was her way to find peace. Her only way.

She learned to rise above the hateful stares, to lift her head and square her shoulders, even though such an action caused her to stand taller still than was natural for most women.

“I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses.” Gloria Gaynor’s words echoed round the inside of her head many times during those early years. “I don’t want praise, I don’t want pity – my world and it’s not a place I have to hide in – your life is a sham till you can shout out loud, I am what I am.” The song was tailor made for her. She wasn’t trying to hurt anyone by what she was doing – just trying to alleviate her own pain.

Life could have been lonely, but she’d made friends. Most from among her own kind, some from among the mundanes. The latter had been the special ones – people who were able to see past the veneer of their own prejudice and accept her for what she felt she truly was. When you wear your warts where everyone can see them, you know that the people who make it past the surface love you for who you really are.

That was another regret – love. She’d always dreamed of falling in love, of having a special someone in her life. At times she’d wondered what it would have been like to have a man to share her hopes and dreams and day to day routine, but she held no illusions about the possibility of finding a guy who would be prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to be with her. Too much at stake, too little return. She had been asked once or twice, but there had been something vaguely dysfunctional about the attraction, and she’d declined as gracefully as she could.

She wasn’t even sure if she was that attracted to guys. She’d had girlfriends when she was younger, before she’d started changing, and she felt that was where her heart was drawing her. The sad thing was, every young woman who’d accepted her for who she was, was sufficiently straight that the thought of intimacy, even with someone who had once been a man, was awkward and uncomfortable. She’d accepted their friendship and had been grateful for that much.

She thought about the friends she’d lost. Her family had been church, and most of the friends of her youth were also church. When she’d finally given in to the inevitable and started her real life test, it had been the pastor of her church who led the charge against her.

“It’s unnatural,” he had said. “It’s an abomination in God’s eyes and you risk the very fires of hell!”

Deuteronomy twenty-two verse five had been quoted at her so many times it had crept into her dreams. All her friends, everyone she knew in the fellowship had rounded on her, taken a place at the pastor’s shoulder and had stood against her. She had been given an ultimatum – stop this foolishness or leave the church. Not one of the people she had called friend had been prepared to listen to her. The closest she had come to any kindness was the few who had offered to pray with her that she might overcome her affliction.

That would have been an answer. If she could have changed her inside to match her outside, that would have been an answer. But that would have meant becoming someone else, someone not herself. Besides she’d tried. Unending nights of begging for the unnatural longing to be taken from her with no result. She’d tried to explain that, but her friends – her former friends – had been unwilling to listen to anything that didn’t fit in with their understanding of the world, and a man turning into a woman was not a part of their world.

In the end she had left the church. They had been sad to see her go, they had said. Obviously not sad enough that they were prepared to work with her. She’d met some of her old friends on the street over the years. Some had crossed the road or ducked into nearby shops just to avoid her. Those who had either not noticed her until she was too close, or who had actually made an effort to greet her, struggled to find anything to say. The exchanges had been short, awkward and uncomfortable and after a few, even she had stopped trying to find a connection there.

It had upset her at first. Weren’t they supposed to be her friends? But then what is a friend but someone who shares your interests, your mind-set? She had been the one to step away from what they believed was right, and she couldn’t blame them too much for their inability to adapt. One of the strengths of religion is also one of its limitations. Setting boundaries to acceptable behaviour builds a rigidity of thought that makes it hard to see beyond those same boundaries. Maybe that’s why Jesus had so little time for religion.

She tried other, more liberal churches, but by then she was well into ‘guy in a frock’ mode and, no matter how accepting a new church might be, her appearance proved to be too great a hurdle for most to leap. Eventually she’d given up and drifted away from her faith.

So okay, there were regrets. Life had been hard. Hard on her, and hard on the one’s she cared most about in the world. Would it have been any better if she had chosen the alternative? Most assuredly not. Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, she had chosen the devil over drowning in the incongruity of her muddled existence. Did she regret that? Well, with the end to her life looming so close and with the traditions of her church background still hovering in the back of her mind, she would have been lying if she tried to pretend there were no doubts. While she had been alive though, at least she had found a way to actually live.

-oOo-

“It will come with little warning,” the doctors had told her. The morphine would keep the worst of the pain at bay, but eventually her organs would start to shut down. When they did, it would be like the world was receding – darkness and cold were what most people spoke of at the end, it seemed.

The shadows in the room loomed large and she felt icy tendrils creep through her body.

“Oh God, no. Oh Jesus, please. Jesus, God, please, no.” Tears of helplessness, of hopelessness escaped from the corners of her eyes and trickled towards her ears.

“It’s alright.” Strong arms enfolded her, held her close. “I’m here. I’ve always been here.”

The moment was exquisite agony and it lasted a lifetime – or at least all that remained of one. Then the pain was gone and all that remained were the strong, comforting arms.

“I don’t understand,” she said, tentative and uncertain.

“What’s to understand?” the voice responded. “I love you – always have. Isn’t that enough?”

“But I turned away from you. I’ve had nothing to do with the church for years now. Why would you be here for me?”

“Because you were there for me.” There was a gentle smile in the voice. “And even if you hadn’t been, because I love you. Like I said, isn’t that enough?”

“What do you mean? When was I there for you? I haven’t thought about you for so many years.”

The answer didn’t come in words. The darkness swirled around them. Changing, becoming light, showing a familiar scene from years ago.

The church hall was tatty through regular use. Chipped paint and yellowing notices pinned to the board, trestle tables and chairs filling the space in regimented ranks, spare chairs stacked in a far corner, friendly faces handing out bowls of soup and bread rolls.

“There you go love.” The smile that accompanied the steaming bowl was a shade too bright, a little too forced. “Get that inside you, you’ll feel better for it.”

Those first few months after she had walked out on her parents had been hard. She’d turned up to work wearing a dress and been sacked on the spot. Too shocked to respond rationally, she’d accepted the unkindness without thinking of fighting back. With no friends or family to bail her out, she’d soon been unable to pay her rent and had found herself on the streets.

Those early days had been a test of her resolve. If anything could have persuaded her to turn back on her decision, it was the wholesale rejection she experienced then, but there was a rightness to the way she felt dressed and living as a woman, even if pretty much everyone she met struggled with her decision to change.

She’d been unable to find a hostel that would take her. The women’s shelters turned her away because she was not a woman, and the men’s rejected her because of the angry response she elicited from the other men staying there. Eventually she managed to persuade the council to assign her a council flat, signed on for a while until she was able to set up the modest Internet business that supported her for most of her life. Before that though, she had spent some months on the streets, sleeping rough and living off the charity of others.

This particular memory was from those days. It had been freezing cold outside with winter encroaching, and she hadn’t eaten for nearly a week. Even at her lowest she continued to live as a woman, using an old and blunt disposable razor and whatever soap was available in the public toilets to shave. The other down and outs, many of whom were at least as dysfunctional as herself, had warily accepted her as one of their own. They were reticent about sharing what they knew – limited resources spreading ever thinner in the depressed economy – but eventually she’d overheard a couple of them talking about a church that offered sustenance and shelter, and she’d found her way to it, joining at the end of a long line of needy people.

Her bowl had held the last of the soup, the very last dregs having been scraped from the tureen to fill it as high as it was. She’d accepted the last of the bread rolls – whole grain. Hard and lumpy. Not a first choice for anyone living rough – and turned to sit at the nearest available space.

“I’m sorry love. Soup’s all gone.” She’d turned to see the elderly lady behind the counter turning away a young woman with a pushchair. A small figure squirmed fitfully under a pile of blankets. “There’s still some tea and biscuits at the next table if you want.”

The expression on the young woman’s face was all too familiar. She’d seen it in her own reflection so often in recent weeks. Compassion overrode the gnawing hunger in her belly and she moved to intercept the girl as she turned away.

“I think you need these more than me.” She’d offered the soup and the roll to the young woman, placing them on a nearby table and stepping back to show there were no strings attached.

Tears of gratitude in a face too weary to show any emotion, and an angry growl from her own stomach were all the reward she received for her kindness. She joined the other queue and settled for a cup of sweet tea and a broken biscuit. The sugar brought a brief glimmer of life back into her, but it wasn’t sustaining. It would be several more days before she had anything more substantial to eat.

When she was done with her drink, she found a quiet corner out of the draft and wrapped herself in a proffered blanket. At least she had been warm that night, even if the young woman’s baby had not settled and kept all of them awake.

The image faded into darkness again, leaving her with only the awareness of the presence that still held her close.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “Why did you show me that?”

“Remember your Bible.” It wasn’t a question or even a statement, but rather a command of sorts. Familiar words drifted back to her across the decades. ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“But I didn’t do it for you, I did it for her.”

“It’s the same thing, dear-heart. It was an act of kindness, and every act of kindness reaches me.

“It wasn’t just that incident either. That was just the first. At least the first after you were pushed away from your family and friends. There were so many other times.”

Her mind filled with flashes of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times when she had put her own misery aside in order to help someone else.

“But I never went to church, I never read the Bible, I never prayed.”

“And what does that matter? Remember Micah?”

“He has shown you, oh man, what is good?”

“That’s the one. Finish it.”

“To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

“Just that.”

“Two out of three?”

“Two out of three ain’t bad.”

“I didn’t take you for a Meat Loaf fan.”

“Michael is a son of Adam, and I’m a fan of all sons and daughters of Adam. You included. You especially in fact.”

“Why?” Something of the fear was settling. Her dread of the half-expected horrors she felt sure would follow her life of self-indulgence were subsiding.

“Because your life wasn’t one of self-indulgence, was it?”

His words echoing her own thoughts sent a shiver up her spine.

“But my father, my pastor, my friends at church – they all said the same thing. I had to choose one thing or the other, and I chose this.”

“Why are you so eager to condemn yourself? Do you think you should be punished?”

“Well no, but it’s not down to what I think, is it?

“No, perhaps not. But it’s not down to what they think either. Do any of them know what you went through before you made your decision?”

“Well no, but…”

“But what?”

“But what about the Bible?”

“What about it? I seem to recall you like bacon sandwiches. So does your father and your pastor, and a whole lot of you friends. Most of the people who condemned you for the changes you made in your life were quite happy to disregard a considerable number of other laws from the same book.”

“So you’re not angry?”

“No, only sad. It’s not the life I would have chosen for you.”

“So why didn’t you change me? Why didn’t you take the feeling away?”

“Would you have still been you if I had? There’s something precious about your individuality, and when you look at the way you lived your life, so much about it that was right. It would not have been good for me to turn you into something you never were.

“If I could have spared you the pain I would have, but your pain brought an ease to a great many folk. In the end you helped a lot more people than you hurt, and the ones who were hurt were hurt as much by their own intransigence as by the choices you made.”

“I’m still not sure I get it.”

“What is the purpose of the law?”

“I don’t know.”

He raised a disbelieving eyebrow.

“Alright, let’s try it a different way. What did I say were the most important commandments.”

“’To love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, love your neighbour as yourself.’ So now I’m down to one out of two.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself. You would have continued to love me if you’d been given a clear view of what I’m like. Think about the essence of both of these. They’re about reaching out beyond yourself, about preferring other people’s needs and desires to your own. What the Bible refers to as sin is basically selfishness. If there were no laws – if everybody did what was right in their own eyes – you’d end up with chaos. Only the strong would end up with anything close to what they wanted, and only so long as they remained strong. Most people, in fact all people at some stage in their lives, would suffer, and selfishness and suffering combined only serve to break things down even further.

“The law was intended to take a bunch of people who didn’t know any better and make them behave acceptably until they could see the benefits of choosing such behaviour. A bit like with children. You tell them what to do and what not to do to start with, but you don’t explain why because they aren’t able to understand. Then as they grow older, you want them to make decisions for themselves.

“It’s still necessary for a lot of people today, but the law is and always has been limited. People are so varied, their lives so complicated, that no simple set of rules could effectively govern all of them. Besides, it has always been my desire that people choose what is right rather than being pushed into doing what is right.

“One of the down sides to the law is that it becomes the focus for many people. Evil – by which I mean selfish – people can twist a law to work for them, and you can always see when that happens. Whenever there is injustice or imbalance in society because of a law, whenever it benefits the rich and greedy few at the expense of the many, or when it justifies the actions of one group to cause suffering to another, then it goes against my intention.”

“So what was the intention for that particular bit of scripture then? ‘A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.’ What was that about?”

“It’s like all the other laws – an instruction on how to live for people whose only choices were motivated by selfishness. Your own weren’t. I know how many years you struggled with your feelings before you gave in to them.”

“But what does that say about me if my own nature causes me to break the law of God?”

“It says that you’re human, child. You only question this because you see your transgression as being so much worse than any other, and you only see it as being so bad because other people do. It’s sad, but history is overflowing with examples of how people have taken my words out of context and used them to justify the most heart-rending atrocities. Sometimes they’ve done it as a deliberate act of selfishness, other times it’s been simple misunderstanding – fuelled by selfishness.

“Think about those words you just quoted to me. How do they start?”

“A woman must not…”

“Exactly! A woman must not wear men’s clothing. If you’re going to put any hierarchy on sin – decide if one is worse than the other – then surely a starting point would be to look at the order in which things are given in a single sentence. How many women can you think of in your old church who wore men’s shirts or trousers? Did anyone complain? The only reason why you have made this one thing in your life such a very big stumbling block to yourself is that most people – men and women alike – have a problem with men wearing dresses.

“You didn’t choose to be the way you are, and I can live with the way you’ve handled it. That was the whole point of my sacrifice: to get past the requirements of the law and encourage you all to be – in the words of Bill and Ted – excellent to each other.

“When you managed to claw your way off the street – when you became self-sufficient again – what was the first thing you did?”

“Er…”

“No, don’t be modest. You volunteered at the same shelter where you helped that young girl. They had some difficulty accepting you at first, but then other people, who were struggling with the same problems as you, heard of you being at the place and they started to come.

“Remember Ruby, and Tiffany, and Juliet, and Laverne? They’d all be thrown out on the street by their families because they were confused about their genders, and their parents – fathers especially – refused to have anything to do with them. They were younger than you, more vulnerable, less able to cope. You took them in, gave them a home, helped them to understand what they were going through, helped them to make decisions that were right for them. There are dozens more I could name, and not just transgendered. All people you chose to help because you could see they needed it and because you were in a position to do so.”

Silence followed, all the deeper for the passion with which he spoke those last words.

“I wish my father could have figured this out.”

“Let me show you something.”

The darkness swirled into life again twisting and painting itself into another familiar scene. She recognised the home she had grown up in. The curtains were different, as was some of the furniture, but enough of it was the same to be recognisable. An elderly man sat with his back to her in one of the armchairs, book in his lap, head leaning back, eyes closed. She couldn’t see him clearly, but there was something familiar about him. The kitchen door opened and an elderly woman stepped through, wiping her hands on a tea towel.

“Mum? Daddy?”

“This is a memory, dear one. All you can do is watch and listen.”

Her mother looked old, but her father more so. If she were to hazard a guess, this was just a few months before his death.

“Are you alright Bill?” her mother asked from the kitchen doorway.

“Yes, I suppose so. Just wondering what Tom might be doing now.”

Anna. Her name was Anna now. But then mentioning that would only have spoiled his mood. Her mother was too wise to fall into that snare. She walked over to the back of the chair and rested her hands gently on his shoulders.

“We could always call and find out.”

His expression clouded for an instant, then cleared. He shook his head. “No. I couldn’t face the sight of my son in a dress the last time I saw him, and I doubt I could now.”

“Does it matter to you so much, dear?” She massaged his shoulders gently. That had always been mother’s secret weapon. Keep Dad relaxed while talking about sensitive subjects. It usually meant you could cover more ground before things went sour.

He leaned forward out of her reach. His own secret counter weapon. “I just wish I could understand why. I mean what possible reason could our son have for behaving like that? Is he really so stubborn that he won’t go back on it even after all these years.”

Her mother perched on the side of the armchair and leaned forward to look her husband in the eyes. “Are you sure it’s not you that’s being stubborn dear?”

“I’m not the one wearing a frock.” He was getting agitated.

“Perhaps he feels like he doesn’t have a choice.” Her mother launched one last salvo. Perhaps she would be lucky.

He froze where he was and quieted. “You’ve been seeing him, haven’t you?”

His voice was neutral, no obvious signs of anger. She took a deep breath and pressed on.

“He calls himself Anna now, and he would argue that he’s actually a she.” She waited for some sign of disapproval, but her husband remained calm. “He’s doing well for himself, or she’s doing well for herself if you’ll allow it. Has a business on the World Wide Web or whatever it’s called. Makes enough money to keep the wolf from the door.”

“Enough to pay for his pretty clothes I take it.” There was just an edge to his voice now.

She decided this probably wasn’t the right time to mention the surgery. She reverted to the masculine pronoun, not wanting to provoke her husband further. “He helps down at St Margaret’s with the homeless shelter. Apparently he’s helped quite a few young people over the years. The really needy cases you know? Taking them off the street, giving them somewhere to live for a while, helping them resolve their problems and get on with their lives.”

Her father sat quietly with his head bowed. She noticed the glimmer of a tear on his cheek, and the anger that had been building in her at his bull headedness evaporated.

“I just wish…” He choked on his own words, his voice thick with emotion. He cleared his throat. “I just wish I could understand why he’s doing this.”

“Well why don’t you talk to him about it? He says he can’t help it, but he’s older now, and wiser. She could explain.” The last was an unintentional slip, which brought her up short, distracting her briefly.

The old man was shaking his head. “I can’t Marilyn,” he said through his tears. “Too old a dog. Too new a trick. Somewhere along the lines there would be angry words and we’d be back where we started. I can only hope that wherever he is, whatever he’s made of himself, that h…sh….she can forgive an old fool.”

The scene faded to black, the last glimmer reflecting off the old man’s tears. She felt all the anger and bitterness she’d been carrying fall away, to be replaced by a deep longing to see him again.

“I wish he had called,” she said wistfully. “I wish I could have spoken to him one last time.”

“There’s no reason why you can’t,” he said with a gentle smile. “Come on they’re waiting for you.”

He held out a hand and, unburdened by regrets and recriminations, she took hold of it and followed him.

“So,” she said, regaining some of her composure, “I made the grade.”

He chuckled quietly. “It’s not a test you know, or a competition. More a sort of a gift. The only way you wouldn’t make the grade, as you say, is if you refused to accept it.”

“But isn’t that what I did when I turned my back on the church and my family?”

“We’re in danger of repeating ourselves here. That wasn’t your proudest moment, no, but neither was it theirs. They turned their backs on you at a time when you needed them. It didn’t mean I did though, and by your actions since then, I would say you didn’t turn your back on me either. The rest I’ve dealt with. I don’t condemn you any more than I would a kleptomaniac for stealing.”

She lapsed into a moment’s thoughtful silence, then another question occurred to her.

“So what am I in the end? Man or woman?”

“Oh, you’re so much more than either, Anna.” The chuckle was back in his voice. “You’re an individual.”

-oOo-

In a small, grey room, a regular beeping turned to a continuous tone. Running footsteps were followed by a minute’s frenetic activity, but there was little to be done. What remained of the old woman lay completely still, her face relaxed into a peaceful smile.

-Fin-