How Can You Even Think You Know
He took the oath, standing beside her, his right hand about shoulder level, with the lawyer to his right and the woman from Immigration, a fat, sad, balding woman who was strict and endearing like a well-loved teacher, opposite. Then, it was done and she felt relieved. She'd made him an American; when necessary, she could die.
He realized that he loved his father most when overcome by the fear of losing his mother. Working backwards, he controlled the fear by keeping his love meager.
Because it came naturally to him to be daring, because he was compulsive about imagining the unimaginable, he dared to see himself as a woman.
He couldn't explain it to anyone, not even his mother, what it felt like to know one thing: he would make a beautiful woman.
Someone Like You
"Do you remember how crazy you and Dad used to think those mothers were, running after their children holding full plates and a forkful of food? Back on the island? And the mothers who sent tupperware containers of food to their children studying in faraway university towns?
I finally understand what that was all about.
Every so often, I wish I had a plate of food, a perfect plate of delicious food made in a real kitchen by someone like you."
He thought that maybe after all the organic salads, chicken breasts, and tofu, he'd become a junk-food junkie.
But, he reasoned, did it really matter what went in when it was all going to come out again anyway?
He knew he'd never be able to understand the process of digestion, liked best to wolf his food, always threw away the crusts.
He did wild things: popped the buttons off a dozen shirts. Later, they retrieved the buttons from between their toes.
Ever since they turned off the boiler, an odd, intermittent drip sounded in his apartment. He called people in to hear but it never played for them. "I'm beginning to think this place is haunted."
Through the door always sounds better than in the room to the hordes waiting to audition, but that morning, inside the room, they told him: You have the most amazing pipes!
Then he said: Glottal sounds can be death to a singer.
He called to say he'd lost his cell phone. Well, he said, not lost exactly. It fell out of my pocket when I was leaving the cab. But now it's lost, just the same. I keep calling, but no one picks up. I'm sure that cab driver's going to steal my identity.
Halloween, he decided, was his favorite holiday. Not counting Christmas, of course. In his country, Easter was about slaughtered animals, not colored eggs.
He kept saying: But why didn't they fight? Why didn't they just rise up and kill all the Nazis?
He needs: a nightguard, retainer, acting coach, chiropractor, acupuncturist. Visits to a dentist, throat specialist, family physician.
Three weeks later, the drip kept him awake all night.
"I'm going to have to take out my savings and move to a hotel."
He kept saying: But what will my mind be doing while my body is being cut into? Won't it know? How can it stay asleep?
His scar was longer than the inch the surgeon promised but much shorter than the massive slash he'd imagined.
It took him forty-eight hours to slough off the morphine. In the hum of the recovery room, two a.m., then three, and four, he kept saying: I don't think I can do situps right now.
She asked if he missed his brother. He said: No, but I miss Miami a lot.
At a trendy brunch place, he nagged her to dye her hair, explaining the single treatment wash-out method.
Through complimentary Bellinis, Cobb salad and omelette, he wouldn't let up. Finally, she said: Okay, let's make a deal. If you agree to wear a yarmulke, I'll dye my hair.
After the plumber left and the toilet still ran, he had a little temper tantrum. Clenched his whole body, made fists, and screamed a high screech. When he woke up the next morning with a sore throat, he knew it was his own fault.
He told her he'd had such a funny dream that his own laughter woke him up.
Shopping was a bloodless version of hunting: He put on the simplest clothes he could find, wallet in his front pocket, excited as if he were embarking on a safari. Outside, he was in the urban swing of things--he hailed a cab.
"I put gobs of 15 SPF around my eyes. When I left the tanning salon, everyone stared."
A homeless man, in torn jeans, with a good deal of stubble, was getting the royal treatment in Barney's. Looking closer, he recognized Bruce Springsteen.
He insisted he couldn't dance. She thought he was a person whose dance steps were too fast and complicated for most partners.
Now it was his tonsils. First it was his hair, then his intestines, appendicitis, moles, lower back. He was back around to his tonsils.
His body delivered up a new symptom every few months, just to make sure he didn't take control of his life.
Every time they met, she had to labor as if giving birth to him again.
He walked out of the building and saw police cars, ambulances. The man's groceries were all over the street--tomatoes and milk. Cans of soup. The people lined up on the sidewalk said they'd just taken away the body. An older man, they said.
The man had gone out in the morning to get his groceries and then he was gone.
It was startling to see men dressed so convincingly as women that he kept having to remind himself they weren't. Eventually, he said, he realized that the key lay in the jawline--men just have heavier, more defined jaws than women. Saying this, he touched his own.
"The people on the show said it made them feel twenty years younger. Imagine! They just stick something up you and pour water into your intestines. Everything comes out, all the stuff that's been stuck there your whole life. Bubble gum, paper napkins, candle wax."
Out of the blue, he said: Goats are much prettier than sheep. She was surprised he knew the difference.
After difficult times --- arguments, freezes, or flare-ups --- they watched television. Laughing at the people on the screen created a jocular alliance.
While he switched between his own recorded version of the Tony Awards and clips being shown on daytime t.v., the commercials advertised prescription pills that promised to improve their lives.
At the airport, watching all the people separate with tears, he turned to the woman next to him and said: My mother never cries.
She said: How can you even think you know what your mother does when you turn from each other and walk in opposite directions?
As she stepped off the curb outside the hotel, she just missed stepping on a dead pigeon. In the taxi, she wept.
By the time the plane touched down, she was wondering pigeon or dove, almost positive they were the exact same thing.
About the author:
Anne Germanacos' stories and essays have appeared recently or are forthcoming at AGNI online, Black Warrior Review, Florida Review, Fourteen Hills, Chattahoochee Review, Salamander, The Diagram and others. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.