David began to invent reasons why Pat would leave him. He wrote them in his diary, not so much that he believed them, but to expose them to the light of day.
He wrote that she’d tire of him because he was dull, or because he wouldn’t get along with Danielle. Then there was the fact that he lived too far way. She’d find someone closer and more exciting, someone who was more loving.
Several times when Pat phoned, David felt sluggish and unresponsive. Finally she asked why. He said he didn’t know. “Probably something passing,” he said. She asked if she’d done something wrong. “No, no, it’s nothing like that.”
One quiet weekend at 36 Marwood Court, David dragged around the house. He was making an extra effort to be friendly with Danielle, helping her feed her pet rabbits. When Dannie went to bed in the evening Pat helped David become Natalie. Then they went to cuddle on the sofa and watch Masterpiece Theater. David was silent and stiff.
“David, what is it?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t know. I feel out of it.”
“I don’t think you want to be here.”
“But I do,” he protested, wondering what miscalculation had gotten him in this jam. After a long, heavy silence he said meekly, “I wish you’d tie me up and whip me.”
“So that’s what you’ve been thinking about all this time.” She sat back and looked up at the ceiling like an awkwardly-propositioned college student. “I don’t like to see you like this. Why do you want to be punished? You remind me of some religious flagellant.”
“It’s exciting. I fantasize about it. Haven’t you ever been turned on by pain?”
“Oh yeah, biting and so on. But I draw the line when the whips and chains come in. I’m not a hardware person.” She chuckled.
He was at least relieved to air his secrets. He realized that she’d behaved exactly as he’d wanted her to. He worried, though, that he’d made himself too weak before her and that she might want to push him away as Corky and Diane had done.
He changed his position on the sofa. “Let’s do something different.”
“I know this sounds crazy, but let’s camp out, outside the house, like we used to do when we were kids.”
“We can’t leave Danielle alone in here. But hey, we could get out the sleeping bags and sleep right here on the living room rug. We’ll just open the patio doors all the way and it’ll be like being outside.”
They zipped two bags together. Then, makeup and female accouterments removed, David enjoyed cuddling for a time. He felt the heat of her body, the heat that both comforted and burned. Eventually they turned their backs to each other and dozed off. Sometime during the night David heard rain spattering on the bricks and plants in the patio. A cool, wet air slid over his cheeks and into his nostrils. He relaxed, imagining himself to be in a tent in a deep redwood forest, protected from the elements. He turned over on his side and Pat said something like “How’r'ya doin’?”
“It started raining. I love rain.”
“That’s nice.” She immediately fell back asleep. David lay a few minutes longer, feeling microdrops of rain hit his face. Then he too drifted back to sleep.
He worried about his moodiness, and thought he shouldn’t overdo being with Pat. So he told her on the phone that the following weekend he was going hiking in the woods ” … to be by myself a little and take some pictures.” Instead, he wound up staying at home, lazing around the house and taking in a movie. Sunday morning he answered the phone. It was Pat.
“I thought you were going out hiking.”
“Changed my mind. Didn’t feel up to it.”
“Something funny’s going on with you.”
“Oh, hell,” said David, getting an instant headache, “I’m getting in over my head. Things are getting too complicated.”
“Well, I certainly don’t want to give you any complications,” she said, and hung up.
David thought about dressing up to help his mood, but it didn’t seem to fit. No doubt about it, he was involved with this woman. Maybe he did love her. The only problem now was that she wouldn’t be mean to him — she wouldn’t whip or reject him. Now I’m forcing her to do that too, in my own way.
He finally walked over to Castro Street and ate in an expensive gay restaurant where the waiter was much too formal. The VA clerk doodled on a napkin gloomily, sure he was the only single person in the restaurant. He replayed his relationship once more. Surely he’d taken Pat too much for granted. She’d been an absolute angel, so supportive of him and his crossdressing.
He remembered her coming for him at The Parlour and how he’d thought only of his own embarrassment when he’d first met Danielle. What had he done for the two of them, anyway? The surprise was that the relationship had gone as far as it did. maybe it was because he was a good fuck. Yeah, sure. David suspected that Pat was this nice to whomever she became involved with.
The cold winter winds of November were blowing, drying out streets wet from an earlier storm. On his evening walk home from yet another restaurant — eating out improved his morale — he kept himself warm inside a down jacket. Alone again. Who would he spend Christmas with? He’d alienated Pat, and Jeanette planned to go visit relatives in Sonoma. He would end up all alone. In the old days when he was in college in Michigan he could still return home to spend the holidays with his parents.
But he was a big boy now. Maybe he could go down and take pictures at one of the charity dining rooms that gave free meals on Christmas Day. He could get in line himself in old clothing to get an idea of how it was at the bottom of the heap.
He thought about his upcoming show. Pictures of the desert, he muttered to himself. Some kind of phony mysticism. Something in vogue now. I should really be out photographing people like bums and prostitutes and workers. He kicked himself for channeling his energies into safe, uncontroversial photography.
Upon returning home, he got into a discussion about Pat with Jeanette. Uncharacteristically, he asked her for advice.
“Do you love her?” Jeanette asked abruptly. They sat at the wooden table where they always talked, the table where they did the monthly bills.
“I honestly don’t know what the word means. What do you mean by love?”
“I mean, it’s misused. Everybody says love, love, love, like it’s water out of the tap.”
“Well, then. Do you like to be with her a lot? Do you think about her a lot?”
He took his time before answering. “I feel like I want to be with her some of the time. I certainly think about her a lot but don’t want to be taken over by her.”
“Does she love you?”
“I think so. She said so a couple times, but I’m not sure if she really means it. I’ll tell you this, though — I think she likes me quite a bit more than I like her. That’s the kind of person she is. She more generous and loving — there’s that word — than I am. That’s one of the things that bothers me. I know I can’t give back equal amounts.”
David began to wonder if her should be so candid with a woman whose own choice of partners left something to be desired.
Jeanette looked serious. “I’ll tell you something. I like Pat and I think you’re alike in many ways.”
David urged her on.
“You both are honorable people.”
“Honorable. God, what an unusual word to use. About the last one I’d expect.”
“And you both seem to be into magic. I mean, I can see this by your both dressing up to change yourselves.”
“Magic. That’s a nice way to look at it. But you know that Pat’s daughter complicates things.”
“Sometime you’re going to have to come to terms with kids. When you accept yourself then you can accept kids.”
David laughed. “Jeanette, you’re a goddamn oracle. I’ve never seen this in you before, but I should have known.”
David stopped going to society meetings. The club had gone further downhill and now seemed to exist chiefly as a newsletter and a few scattered meetings in homes. There was, however, a very active chapter in Pensacola, Florida. David put on panties once in awhile or wore a bra in the stressful environment of the darkroom where he constantly had to make decisions. He wrote several letters to Pat but pitched them all in the wastepaper when he thought he was chicken not to call — and he didn’t call because he felt weak.
At nine o’clock one evening something clicked and he phoned her, ” … just to say hello.”
“I was wondering.” Silence.
“Ah … What I need to say …” — the words wanted to come out like blood from a cut artery — “is that that I’d really like to be with you and Danielle for Christmas if t-that would be possible.”
“We’d love to have you. But there’s one thing. Marty asked to come out for Christmas and I said yes.”
David remembered her descriptions of the research biologist.
“Oh. Then you wouldn’t want me to come.”
“You’re so silly. You can both be here as far as I’m concerned, if you don’t mind being around him.”
“I guess not. I’d like to meet him.” David’s throat clenched.
At work the women put together a Christmas office party and the head of the local VA district came by on his annual visit to tell them what good team players they were.
David inwardly smirked. If he, David, were the big boss he would sure as hell visit installations more than once a year. Sitting on a desk across the way was Gene Gatzo, laughing at the director’s heavy-handed jokes. The grapevine had it that Gene had been seeing a new woman for several months. David had finally seen her pick him up one day after work — a slender woman with so-so hair. On the other hand, she’d been driving a new Audi so maybe she did have something on the ball.
As the party drew to a close, David and Gene had a few tentative words. Across the way, even though only nonalcoholic punch had been served, The Jock had managed to become inebriated. Mrs. Johnson took Polaroid pictures, David wore red-lace panties under his clothes and Vince Grasso loosened up to sponsor a few toasts.
David felt a jerk as a Southern Pacific engine began to pull his passenger car out of San Francisco’s train station on Christmas Day. Children traveling to holiday gatherings watched out the windows as the many pairs of tracks gradually narrowed to two. David hoped the gray skies overhead would clear. After all, what was Christmas without some sun?
He liked riding trains, especially since they went by people’s back yards, through long tunnels and behind the facades of well-known businesses, which often turned out to be junky and overgrown with weeds.
In a few minutes he’d meet Pat and Marty. He had Marty pegged as a kind of Carl Sagan in heels, an intense, friendly guy. David expected he’d have to play second fiddle to the intruder. He checked to make sure he still had his travel bag next to him. Within it were Christmas gifts and his ammunition — a favorite dress, a long wig, makeup and lingerie.
Ten minutes after he called from the Palo Alto train station the familiar shape of Pat’s station wagon rounded a far corner. His heart raced. It had been a long time. She unlocked the door and he got in. She had dressed carelessly, making her look overweight.
“It’s so good to see you,” said David, along with a perfunctory kiss. “Are you mad at me?”
“Of course not,” said Pat, allowing a wan smile to creep across her tight lips.
“I almost forgot to say Merry Christmas — ”
“Yes, well, it certainly is Christmas, no doubt about that.”
As she drove away, he decided to lay low. He wondered if he’d feel like dressing if she was acting this way. Suddenly he didn’t like the drift of things.
“Pat, I don’t think it’s going to work today,” he said in a small voice. “I think you’d better just leave me on the corner here. I’ll catch a train back.” There were tears in his eyes.
Pat pulled to one side of the street abruptly and said, “You think I’m mad at you. Well, I’ll tell you. It’s Marty. He’d been here two days now, all the time in drag. First off, when he heard about our relationship and that you were coming, he behaved like a jealous child. Then he wanted to marry me — right away. He’d been like glue — he just attached himself to me. I’m afraid he’s a little off his rocker.” She let loose a pent-up breath and looked at David with tired eyes.
“Oh.” David imagined a harried female pigeon being chased by a single-minded cock pigeon.
“So, my friend, that’s what you’re walking into on Christmas Day. Marty’s back there now, cooking things for dinner. I’m trying to keep him occupied.”
Marty was a model of politeness when David arrived. She wore a curly blonde wig, pants and blouse. There was a resemblance to a middle-class English woman on a holiday.
Marty was behaving so like a woman, busily measuring flour and spices for a pumpkin bread, that her feminine presence seemed quite natural. David wondered how long the Easterner could maintain her frenetic pace. Busy, busy. David announced that he’d dress up later, giving him some time to play a new board game with Danielle, who’d received it from her absent father.
When David did finally dress, the taut magic of attiring himself for his eyes only was missing. The only spark of enjoyment came when he put on makeup, which transformed his face enjoyably. At two in the afternoon, with sunlight breaking through the overcast and pouring in through the patio window, they all sat down to the Great American Spread. The ritual of eating always put David-as-Natalie in a better mood.
“You two worked so hard on this,” Natalie said, sitting erect and proper, “that I hereby promise to do all the cleanup.”
“Hear, hear,” said Pat, finally smiling. “You’ve got yourself a deal.” She had transformed herself, now wearing an Asian-print dress with a low V-neckline. A black velvet choker and silver earrings contrasted nicely with her lightly-powdered face. Her hair gorgeously cascaded down from a barrette.
Danielle played with her potatoes and gravy. “Have some turkey, Dannie,” her mother coaxed.
“I think she saw me make my potatoes this way,” said Natalie, pointing to the gravy lake she’d carved in the middle of her mashed potatoes.
“Davie dress like you, mommy. Davie look like you.”
Natalie didn’t think she’d embarrass that easily, but she did. Why didn’t Danielle say that about Marty?
“Davie likes to dress that way sometimes. But now you should call him Natalie, because that’s his girl name.”
“Dannie like to dress that way now.” All those around the table laughed.
“You can dress up, sure you can,” said Pat, “but let’s eat first.”
Natalie’s long, hippie-girl wig put her in a softer, more feminine mood, and she felt more comfortable with Marty. She asked the guest about her trip west.
“They almost got me,” Marty said speedily, looking at Pat, who’d obviously heard the story.
She explained that she’d stopped midway in St. Louis to see some relatives. On the way to a motel in a rented car — she was in drag — a cop stopped her for a bad brake light.
“He asked for my ID. I showed him my male driver’s license. He kept popping questions — what was I doing here, and so on. Finally I just showed him my card from the Sexual Identity Forum which explains why I dress. Then he backed off, but he said I should be careful. Phewww! So I came the rest of the way here as a male.”
“You’re brave,” said Natalie.
“Brave or stupid.”
Natalie began to appreciate Marty’s plucky spirit and energy, as though the woman’s mainspring had many more years before it would wind down. Natalie herself was already tiring from food and wine but managed to get Marty to talk about her high-tech job and failed marriage.
Patricia Wending lay in her darkened bedroom with a faint patch of moonlight falling across a curious scene. On one side, Marty’s coifed head lay over Pat’s arm. A couple tears ran down her cheeks, eroding her makeup. Pat couldn’t see them, but felt them on her arm. On the other side Natalie lay stiffly, similarly held.
Marty whispered, “I am so turned on by you.”
“And I can’t do anything about it.”
Natalie had slipped into a favorite nightgown. She moved her hand to cup Pat’s breast. That way they all fell asleep.
The next morning Natalie-as-David got up early to leave for work. Making toast and cutting up a banana over cereal, he startled when something touched his back. It was Danielle. David was hungry to respond to her freshness. She was after some breakfast too and wanted what he was having. He felt on an even plane with her for once in this little oasis of time.
“Can tie shoe?” she asked, holding her tiny sneakers.
Danielle’s mother eventually ventured out in her bathrobe, looking rather down-to-earth again, saying that Marty was still sleeping after a restless night. Pat was in a buoyant mood and had breakfast with them.
When he left for work it was with a warmth, a feeling that domestic tranquillity might just be possible. As he lightly napped on the train back to San Francisco, though, someone threw a rock against his window. After the shock of that, he settled back and replayed the events at Pat’s. A resentment against Marty set in. I’ll bet he’ll whine until Pat gives him her body. I’m glad he’s leaving. I hope he doesn’t come back.