January 03, 2005


His mom’s girlfriend is getting a sex change. In a few months she will become his mom’s boyfriend. The boy is great about it, he’s cool. You know kids nowadays, they get everything from the media. If they go online to research a second grade science report, they end up who knows where learning who knows what.

He gets along great with his mom’s girlfriend. They’re pals. They watch football games together. They toss the ball around. She teaches him how to use tools. They saw wood. They drill holes in walls and screw in brackets. He listens to her voice get deeper, watches hairs begin to grow on her chin.

He keeps looking at her when she’s not looking. He’s trying to figure out where maleness and femaleness come from, where they’re located. He knows the technical answer, but surely that’s not enough. It’s got to be something more, something surrounding a person, issuing from her head. Maybe there’s a whole bunch of different selves inside your head and you can pick one or another at any time, like picking the candy you want from a wall full of candy jars.

The big day approaches. His mom straightens up the house like mad. Buys new window treatments, gets the upholstery cleaned. Everything is perfect for the convalescent. Every five seconds it’s, “Can I get you anything, honey? Do you need another pillow, honey?” The boy wonders if it’s nice to be treated like that.

When the boyfriend is feeling fit enough, he takes the boy’s mom out to dinner at the fanciest place in town, a place where everyone calls him “Sir.” Italian suit and silk tie for the boyfriend, slinky black dress and pearls for the girlfriend. Corsage at the door like at a prom, the school prom where the boyfriend, as a girl long ago, despaired.

The boy can’t sleep. He stays up impatiently waiting for their return. But when they return he has to pretend he’s asleep, because of the storm around their heads. His mom is weeping. Every half minute a thunderclap bursts from her mouth. Each time, the boyfriend replies with something acquiescent and sorry. Then the boy’s mom rushes around the house shutting off all the lights, and comes into the boy’s room for such a quick kiss he’d rather believe he dreamed it. Then everything goes silent.

Everything seems normal in the morning, but a couple of days later the boyfriend stops his hammer swing in the midst of hitting a nail and turns to the boy. “Did your mom tell you I’m going to be moving to a place of my own?”

The boy can’t say anything for a while. Then all he can say is a small, “No.”

“I love your mom. It’s just that a man needs to be on his own, you know?” The man tousles the boy’s hair. “We’ll still be pals. I’ll take you to a football game sometime.”

The boy tries nodding.

Soon there’s more room in the house. The boy’s mom says she’s thinking of advertising for a roommate to help pay the mortgage.

The boy sits in his room playing with decks of fantasy game cards. He wishes he could help his mom pay the mortgage but he just can’t think how.

Going for a bathroom break, he stops at the sight of himself in the mirror. He cocks his hip and flips his wrist, wiggling coquettishly, and gives himself a sultry come–on wink. But the attempt is a sour disappointment, it doesn’t feel like him at all.

Then he opens a drawer and takes out his mom’s razor, the one she shaves her legs with. He opens the tap and wets his scalp with his hand. Carefully he separates the strands of hair on the top of his head, and draws the razor blade down the length of the part. In there, that’s where all the selves are. He needs to give them more room, he needs to let them out. He makes a second swipe with the razor, and a third, and pulls at the skin to make more space. But it doesn’t work.