When David went to work on the bus that same day, the downtown seemed to have fewer people than usual. Arriving at the VA building, he was chagrined to learn from the guard that it was a federal holiday and he had the day off. In the old days David would’ve read about it in the newspaper, but lately there had been distractions. He returned home to an empty flat because Jeanette hadn’t returned from her holiday trip. He was at loose ends. After napping fitfully for an hour in his chilly bedroom, feeling a phantom Pat next to him, he responded to an elemental need to get outside. Boarding an ancient ‘L’ trolley car on 17th street, he headed for the ocean with his camera.
As he sat in his customary slumped position in the car he returned to thoughts of Danielle and her mother, It was odd, he thought, that he had been closest to them when another man was in the house — a competitor.
Riding the ‘L’ to the end of the line near the zoo, he made his way through a pedestrian tunnel to the beach. He could always count on the smell of the ocean, the cool breeze and the sound of waves to invigorate him. He left miles of footprints from one end of Ocean Beach to the other, sometimes jogging and sometimes stopping to take telephoto pictures of beach people in the hazy distance.
Then he left the beach and walked through the upper-class Seacliff district before returning to the shoreline at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. The giant structure arched above him in waves of latticed steel as he heard the faint whoosh of unseen cars.
David looked out toward the ocean. Although the cold wind coming in through the Golden Gate nipped his cheeks and ears, he felt warm and secure in this thick jacket. His day had started with fears of boredom or depression but had ended up invigorating him. No wasted time, very little loneliness.
His mind began to put together the events of his recent past. Maybe he hadn’t been traveling so aimlessly in his life — maybe he hadn’t been squandering his time. Maybe, as on this hike, he had been on a straight, nearly predetermined course all along. Maybe Corky, Diane and even Gene Gatzo had served a purpose.
It was curious, he thought, that when he was in a good mood, things came together. Things made sense and the world was all right again.
David made his way up past shrubs to the bridge toll area to wait for a bus. He glanced to the south and saw the new television tower being built on Twin Peaks. The last rosy rays of the setting sun were still illuminating the tall, simple structure. It stood bravely and stalwartly like a strong mother.
Halfway home on the bus he realized he was in Karen’s neighborhood, got off, and walked the four blocks to her apartment. Karen answered the door and invited him in.
“This is a surprise, Natalie!” she said, looking thin in her bathrobe. The doctor’s real, long hair was uncombed.
David explained where he’d been. “I feel so goddamn healthy. I should get out more often! How have you been?”
“I haven’t been so fantastic. Jean left, you know. I guess you and I haven’t talked for a while. Listen, I’m taking a long vacation from work while I change over to being Karen all the time. I’ve got the date for my operation and I can’t wait! Want to see my tities?” Karen opened her bathrobe to display small, dark-nippled breasts. Something about them seemed unnatural and faintly evil to David.
“How are you making a living?”
“No problem. There’s the money I saved up and I’m helping another doctor put a medical book together. There’s some editing and proofreading work.”
“You seem kind of thin and cooped up here. Are you OK? How do you feel with the hormones?”
“I haven’t been eating as well as I should. Not having Jean here leaves a gap. To tell the truth, nothing’s going to be quite right until I have the operation. I just need to be a certified, card-carrying woman.” For a moment Karen seemed her old self. “You can see how I’m marking the days off the calendar.”
Karen went to get some beers. They drank in silence. Then Karen asked if he’d like to dress up and keep her company.
“Oh, it’s way too late to get into that now,” said David.
“Then why don’t you stay with me overnight? You could sleep on the couch or whatever.”
An hour later David was trying on some of Karen’s things — a bra, a dress, a beautiful wig and heels that were too small.
“Oh God, I need a shave,” he said. Just then he remembered starting the day at Patricia and Danielle’s. That seemed like a week ago. Now it was nighttime and he was sinning. He fell asleep on Karen’s bed dressed, with wig still on and Karen’s arm around his shoulder. An hour later he woke and took off all the women’s things. He slept the remainder of the night with his butt touching Karen’s.
In the morning when he was pretending to sleep, Karen ever so gently began caressing his back and chest. He lay still and didn’t discourage her. Karen leaned over to see if he had an erection. He did, and lay on his back to display it to the coyly smiling doctor. When Karen took its tip between two fingers, though, David could only break up in giggles. Karen tried suddenly to kiss him but David evaded like a little boy. He finally pulled Karen to him and they hugged for a long time until the alarm buzzed for David to go to work.
David ran the taste of Karen through his mind as he rode the bus downtown. Part of him took pride in being liberated, but he wouldn’t return for that sort of thing. It was OK one time. If he kept doing intimate things with her, with her still-present cock and male aura, he knew he’d feel lousy.
He wondered how much of a letdown Karen would have after the operation. He pictured her in a bathrobe in the morning making coffee, then working extra hard with her makeup to try to erase all vestiges of her former masculinity. In real life, she’d find herself competing with the genuine article. At least she’s a doctor. She’ll find a way to make it financially.
He resolved not to see her again until after the operation. Then, who knows? He might even be a little jealous.
He lay in bed the next morning, a Saturday, thinking. Jeanette hadn’t returned from Sonoma yet and the house was totally quiet. It would be a slow, carefree day. After Karen, the prospect of seeing Pat and Danielle again seemed positively error-free. They would all get together and behave like a family, or something like that. Everything would be clear and reasonable and filled with light and understanding. Their instincts would lead them to do the right things.
At eleven o’clock David got off the train in Palo Alto and saw Pat’s Volvo waiting under the shade of a large tree. Only momentarily miffed that she hadn’t gotten out to meet him, he snuck around to the back of her car. She seemed oblivious to the world, intently reading a paperback and listening to classical music. He edged around the side, hoping that no one would think him too strange. He smiled at a passerby to allay any suspicion. Then he raised his head so he could see over her door.
He received such great enjoyment from looking at her sweet face unawares. A face in repose — calm, self-possessed, and more serious than when she knew people were looking. He wished he could photograph her that way, slouched down in the car seat, totally absorbed. In that state she could be a man, she could be a woman — but most of all she was an alive, quirky human being.
“Hi,” he said softly.
Pat jumped. “The train … I was so involved with this book.”
“I’ve been sitting here looking at you for the last few minutes.”
Pat was, David noticed, made shy by his voyeurism. He got in the car and they kissed.
“What did you see?” she asked.
“I saw a woman in a classical painting. Maybe an Eakins. Or I can think of dozens of paintings of the Madonna.”
“It must be the motherly qualities you see in me.”
“I wonder if you realize how really beautiful you are.”
“Like the last time I picked you up?”
“That one doesn’t count.”
“Well, anyway. I appreciate your telling me these things, even if they’re not true. I need a hug. Give me a nice big hug.”
David did just that. Hugging was like eating, drinking and breathing for Patricia. Quite necessary.
David took to spending weekends in Palo Alto. Danielle still looked at him askance sometimes but David wasn’t so uncertain about her any more. If she took a temporary dislike to him, that was OK. If she took a shine to him, he didn’t fall over in amazement either. He began to see her as something other than a clone of her mother.
On Saturday afternoon when Pat and Dannie were out shopping and David was alone in her house began to look through Pat’s drawers. He hated and loved sneaking around behind her back, just when they’d concluded a pact to be completely honest with each other. He found some new and previously unknown lingerie and tried it on, masturbating gloriously. He’d been missing those masturbations. That evening when they were about to go to bed — and what a soft, fluffy bed she had — she found a pair of patterned panty hose that he’d forgotten to put away. When she saw the wicked run he’d left she knew what had happened.
It wasn’t so much that he’d been wearing her things as his secrecy.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I get this kick out of doing things on the sly. I mean, I enjoy our sex but there’s still the old me in me too. If I shared all the sex in me, sex wouldn’t be so exciting.”
Pat was hard pressed to understand. “To me, sex is in the open between people, the more in the open the better. Why should you want to hide things from me?”
And on and on it went.
“Oh Jesus,” she complained. “If it’s not one thing it’s another.”
One cold night in February when David and Jeanette were making their respective dinners in the Hancock Street apartment she offhandedly announced she was giving him 30 days’ notice. She said she’d decided to go share a flat with another woman artist out in the avenues, out in the fog belt.
“You don’t like it here?” he asked, taken aback.
“I’ve had a pretty good time.”
“You’re going to live with Pat, aren’t you?”
He smiled. “What gives you that idea?”
“You’re not around here that much any more. I guess I need to have someone around more often.”
“You mean you miss me? No, you wouldn’t admit that.”
She made one of those tilts of her head which revealed beautiful curves of cheek and lips. “Well,” she said with a small smile, “one does get used to another person. We had some good talks. You were around when something needed fixing. You told the neighbors off when they made too much noise.”
“I guess I wanted to hear that I was more than Mr. Fixit. But Pat and I — we haven’t talked about my moving in. So your leaving kid of puts me on the spot.” David thought a moment. “Maybe it’s for the best. I should probably thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” said Jeanette, scooping cooked brown rice out of an old aluminum pan.
“One thing, please. Can you still cater my photo show in April? I’ve been counting on you for that.”
“As long as I’m still working for Virgil’s.”
David began to make an inspired milkshake with all kinds of exotic ingredients. He had recently bought a book titled Better Health With Your Home Blender from someone at work who had self-published it.
One evening Pat invited over a transvestite couple for a foursome of Scrabble. She’d met them at the Beaux Artes Ball.
The woman loved to buy her husband female things and help him cross-dress. They often went out as girlfriends — he was able to pass in public if he didn’t talk much. Her husband’s special hobby, she was fond of saying, was no more unusual than other men’s model train layouts or gun collections.
Then David and Pat visited Harvey and Margaret’s — such were their names — and they had begun a routine. Harvey and David would dress fully as women while Pat would dress masculinely, with earrings. Margaret was always Margaret, with dresses.
These private get-togethers allowed David to be even more relaxed about becoming Natalie. He no longer experienced the unease he’d had when he first went out in public. What they were doing had a very middle-class taste to it. They talked about the rising crime rate, automobile gas mileages, grocery store produce departments and the best places to buy women’s shoes.
Meanwhile, David was learning more about Pat’s business.
She had named the business, after practical consideration, Peninsula Rental Search. Basically, she oversaw it. Five part-time employees did the front desk work and answered the phones while she, having majored in business, handled the taxes, bills, complaints, computers, payroll and advertising. Her customers were nervous, mobile techies and students from Silicon Valley and Stanford looking for places to park their lives. She put in five or six hours a day in her very efficient way — sometimes taking Danielle to the office with her, sometimes to a baby-sitter. Her company’s sterling reputation gave her the lion’s share of the rental agency work in that part of the Bay Area.
Her part-dressing as a male enhanced her self-image as capable entrepreneur. Cowboy boots, Levi’s and denim shirts were a typical work outfit.
She worried a little about David. Their emotional life had gone well enough, but she noticed his disappointment that his photography hadn’t taken off. He was only earning enough at it to pay his expenses. She herself was getting on in years, thirty-six of them, and had been counting wrinkles. If she wanted any more children she’d have to commit herself now and she did want at least one more. She wished that David would consent to work in her business, but every time she’d broached it he’d back away.
Her conservative, retired neighbors on Marwood Court knew she was different, given her penchant for male clothing, the animals in her back yard and her unmarried status. Since she’d hooked into the transvestite crowd there had been many a knotted-brow glance in her direction.
Jeanette had been out of David’s apartment for a month when the time for his show arrived. He’d been spending so much time at Pat’s that someone had broken into his flat and stolen some of his camera equipment and a pot plant on the back porch.
He took a day off work to hang the show and — after Pat’s urging — bought a new sweater and trousers for the opening. Even though he’d mailed announcements to friends and the media, he worried that no one would come.
David and Pat — Dannie in his arms — walked into the gallery on Grove Street the evening of the opening. Jeanette and an assistant had preceded them, setting up a wonderfully inventive spread of hors d’oeuvres.
Pat wore the same outfit she had on when she picked him up at The Parlour — for luck, she said. He wore a loose, tied-at-the-waist pair of white yoga pants that, if one looked hard enough, showed the faintest outline of black underwear.
The photography critic for ARTnews was also there, along with Arnold Stanton, the photographer. Stanton as usual was noncommittal. The kindest thing he said was that “Your prints look better. Try toning them with a stronger solution next time.”
David was not to have more than five minutes with any one person for the next two hours. Several photography critics who buzzed through quickly on their rounds of galleries were polite and interested. One asked for an extra print to accompany a review. Finally, there was an inebriated young man who said the photographs were passé and proceeded to spray circles of shaving cream on the sidewalk outside. Diane made a brief appearance with her son and Laura in two, saying, “It’s not my thing but you’ve done a great job.”
The entire context under which David had photographed the desert began to escape him. Now the photographs were all caged up and on display like animals in a zoo. David pondered all this as he sat on the commode in the men’s room, shaking a little from all the excitement, looking down at the little hairs on his winter-white legs and the black panties at his ankles. He had trapped the butterflies. Now all that mattered was the price.
He sold five prints outright and promised Jeanette two of her favorites.
When it was over, after countless finger foods and cheese cubes and burgundy, and after a half hour of conversation with a street philosopher who wouldn’t let him out the front door, David took Pat and Danielle to Adrienne’s Italian restaurant in North Beach. Amid lacy white tablecloths and romantic wineglasses, he felt expansive and happy. The event that he had planned, worried about and worked on for so long had come to pass, and it had succeeded. The old David, the drab, underground newspaper photographer who’d been paid peanuts by the Real Times was history.
He wished he was rich so he could overwhelm Pat with expensive gifts. The reality was that he was a guest in the home of an independent businesswoman. Still, he had to ask the question.
He fumbled for words and reached out to touch her hand. “I have to ask you this. I’m not the kind who can speak very well, but I would really love to be able to live with you and Danielle. You both have been really close to me, and … I don’t like living by myself any more. Would you mind a crazy guy like me?”
A big tear slipped down Pat’s cheek. “Yes. A thousand yesses. I love you, David.” More tears wet her cheek. A tear escaped David’s eye too and he felt himself going soft.
Danielle seemed worried. She’d seldom seen her mother cry.
“David Nunley, I know you,” said Pat. “You had to have a success before you could take a step like this.” She smiled the most soul-melting smile he’d ever seen and said again, “I love you so, so much.” They held hands across the table and then both held Dannie’s hands too. The girl smiled shyly. David for once felt thoroughly genuine, and didn’t care what the waiter thought.
“Dannie have new daddy now?”
David reached over and put her on his lap. “Can I be your new daddy? If you want me to, I’ll be your daddy.” The girl became very animated, reached up to touch his cheek and grinned an exuberant “Yes.”
That evening in bed, Pat and David lay in each other’s arms.
“Yes?” David said sleepily.
“Have you ever — well, let me put it this way …”
“I want to live with you but I need more commitment than that, too.”
David was still.
“You seem to be tense,” Pat said.
“I am, I suppose.” He shifted to pull away from her slightly. “I know what you’re going to say.”
“You think we should get married somewhere down the road.”
“You said it. How do you feel about the venerable institution?”
“I suppose with a child in consideration it would be the right thing to do. I’ll be honest, though. It scares me. I want to go one step at a time. I mean, just a year ago I was a dirty old man living by myself, beating off behind drawn shades. I’ve been on a crash course on how to live with other human beings.”
“I know. I appreciate that. Let’s give us a few months and then sit down and talk about it, OK?”
They were instantly asleep. It was three a.m.
Dear Mother and Dad –
Sorry I haven’t answered your last few letters. The excuse is that so many things have been happening.
I have recently moved (I received your last letter forwarded) to 36 Marwood Court in Palo Alto, ZIP 94306, where I’m living with Patricia Wending and her daughter from an earlier marriage, Danielle. Dannie is three years old and quite a kid.
I want you to know that this is not a fly-by-night coming together. Pat and I are quite serious about each other and who knows, there may be further developments.
Love, David and Pat
P.S. David tells me that I should write something. I just want to say that you have a wonderful son who is a fine photographer and makes our house complete once again! I hope to meet you sometime soon. David has told me all about his growing up there in Ohio and it would be fun to visit sometime.