I’ve been working on a new novel, The Tunnel, that I hope will be finalized and ready for publication within the next few weeks. But as most writers know, it’s often advantageous to step away from the book after it’s been sent off for editing and review, to refrain from tweaking and rewriting. (It’s also fun to play around with images for the book’s cover, hence the photo above, a shot of Coos Bay, OR.) So, in the spirit of respite from Cassandra Benniver and Fenrick Banta and their ensuing complications, I’ve been working on another story. Or, I should more truthfully say, a story has been working on me.
While in the throes of writing, it’s not unusual for a character to whisper in my ear. It’s also not unusual for a character to wake me from a sound sleep, shouting for me to, “Get up and write my story!” Such is the case of George Fairweather, a character who has become a frequent companion over the past few months.
In order to placate my own sense of wasting-away-with-nothing-to-do while I wait for reviews, and to silence this character’s pleas of, “It’s my turn!” I have decided to open the door of my comfy cave and introduce you to George Fairweather.
As of this morning, this story has no title. I don’t know if this is a short story, a novella, a full-blown novel, or just a ramble inside my head. In any case, I intend to release snippets of George’s story over the coming weeks.
Her name was Martha. Martha’s name was Martha only because her grandmother’s name was Martha. There was no standing beside the bassinet, her parents lovingly looking for clues as to the name of their sweetest darling daughter. There was no debate, no decision, really. No, it was decided that Martha’s name would be Martha long before her conception, long before her parents’ marriage, in fact, long before Howard had ever laid eyes on Rita.
Howard’s mother’s name was Martha, the perfect name, the most lovely of names, and Howard had decided that should God ever bless him with a baby girl, he would name her after his mother. So Martha was Martha, although she never felt her name fit her exactly. Long, flexible limbs and an agile personality were not the traits of a stodgy, old fashioned name like Martha in Martha’s mind. But there was no going back, no do-overs, no change-ups. Her name was Martha and that was that.
Until Martha became George, that is.
Out of respect, she’d waited for the death of both of her parents before deciding to legally change her name. And while she was at it, and just for kicks more than anything else, or so she told herself in unguarded moments, Martha Wilson became George Fairweather, for if Martha was anything at all she was the utter definition of a fair weather friend.
George Fairweather was born on August 28 at four fifteen in the afternoon. Or so says the blue clerk’s stamp beside the judge’s signature at the bottom of the document making it so. The original petition and the final order are forever married in a blue folder kept in the top right hand sock drawer of George’s bureau. Even now, after so many years, it’s still wedged in among wool knee highs and dress silks, white tubes and gray athletics, socks for any occasion George likes to think, although most are brand new and just for show. Just like the rows of dark suits and starched white shirts that crowd her closet. And the brown and black leather shoes lined up like soldiers ready for battle. Someday, they whisper. Someday, we’ll march out the door and down the street. Someday. (The socks know better, however. Never, they whisper back. And the suits agree.) But George was born long before the ink dried on vellum, long before the years of waiting finally came to a close, even before Howard and Rita made the exciting announcement to family and friends that they were, happily, having a baby girl. The spark of George existed. The how and when of it seemed inconsequential. The embodiment of George Fairweather was an undeniable fact and one that Martha relished.
“What if I’d been born in a small town?” George often asked herself, usually on Sunday afternoons as she sat on her patio and watched the seagulls fly in circles above the ocean. “What if everyone knew me, knew my parents, knew my likes and dislikes? What if I’d had to start over from scratch and everyone knew every detail of my business? Hell, oh hell, oh hell!” she lamented often. Although she’d never had to start over or hide from her neighbors or be afraid she’d run into someone who knew Martha or her mother or father. Her neighbors came and went with regularity, always a new face, a new name to remember. But George never remembered the face or the name. On the rare occasions that she met someone in the hallway, opening or closing a door, George merely sighed and hurried out, down the hallway, down the stairs, out the door, and gone. She scattered her visits to lunch counters and diners all around town, making a game of finding new and exciting places to eat where she didn’t recognize a single face. If a waitress fixed her with an eye of recognition, she was out the door like a shot, settling into the back booth of a new burger place a block or two or three away where she was sure that no one knew her name.
Martha’s life had been a piece of cake; George’s life was pie all the way.
“So, let me get this straight,” the interviewer said again. That seemed to be her favorite phrase, let me get this straight, as though the words and thoughts expressed had somehow formed a crooked line that she couldn’t quite follow.
“Yes?” George said, waiting. “What is it you don’t quite understand?”
“You legally changed your name to George. From Martha to George, not with the Washingtons in mind, I suppose.”
George winced at the blonde giggle that followed.
“Not at all,” George replied.
“And you represent yourself in public as a woman.”
“I am a woman,” George confirmed.
“And you don’t consider yourself transgender. You don’t think of yourself as a man trapped in a woman’s body.” Another blonde giggle.
“No,” George replied with a sigh. Here we go again.
“Then why change your name? Why go to all the trouble and expense of petitioning the court to legally change your name? Why all the fuss and bother?”
George blinked. And blinked again. “I never thought of changing my name as fuss and bother. It was no trouble at all and the expense was actually quite minimal. Four hundred dollars, actually. I don’t consider that an exorbitant expense to legally change one’s name.”
“But why bother?” the interviewer asked. “If there is no medical or psychological reason to change your name, why not just remain Martha? Why did you feel the need to become George Fairweather?”
“Because that’s who I am,” George said. “I am George Fairweather. For as long as I can remember, from the point just prior to my conception and for eons before, I have known myself to be George Fairweather.”
“But how can you know that? How can you possibly know that you are who you think you are? Or better yet…”
That thought, whatever it was, ended mid-sentence.
The interviewer’s blank stare startled George.
“Are you okay?” she asked. Looking around, George waved to the director, to the camera man, to the people standing just off camera for help. “I believe she needs assistance,” George said quietly.
George had seen this reaction before, this catatonic stare, the dead eyes of people thrust into a moment of realization. Not quite an epiphany, not quite an awakening, more like a blunt whack on the head, when understanding descended there seemed to be a short in the circuitry, a moment of paralysis, and an irrevocable shift in perception.
“Oh,” the interviewer mumbled. “I think I understand.”
George stood up and removed the microphone from the neck of her sweater, looping the wire around her fingers before handing it to the set coordinator who’d come onstage.
“She’ll be fine,” George said to no one in particular. “A cup of tea and she’ll be good as new.”
George blanched at her own lie, fumbled with her purse, and moved through the burgeoning crowd to the exit at the back of the studio.
“Thank you,” George whispered to the man at the door, a young boy manning the exit, maintaining security during the interview. “I’ve had a lovely time.”
The interview would never make it to the six o’clock news. Or the eleven o’clock news for which it was intended. “It was a stretch anyway,” the news director decided. “So a woman changed her name? What’s the big deal?” which was precisely what George was thinking when she’d been contacted. “What’s the big deal?” she’d asked. “Women have been named traditional men’s names forever. Michael, David, Riley, Morgan, and I’m sure there’s a George in there somewhere. Yes, women use masculine pen names, alter egos, camouflage. And yes, this is different. I don’t have an agenda. There’s no rhyme or reason other than that I know for a fact that I am George, George Fairweather to be exact.”
Perhaps it was the knowing part that had intrigued the reporter. Perhaps it was the lurking hidden story that had seemed strange and unusual. For George, there was no part of her story that was strange or unusual or campy or funny or outside the realm of normal. George felt blessed to have been born with such a strong understanding of who she was. She’d never had a moment of floundering uncertainty about her identity, her name, her place in the world. Only respect for her parents had kept her from becoming George Fairweather much earlier in her life. Her parents, her rigidly religious, non-spiritual, closed-minded parents would have been appalled to hear that sweet little Martha longed to be called George. It would have broken their hearts and that is one thing George would not consider. For all their right-minded, wrong-headed intentions, George loved her parents deeply and unashamedly. She would no more inflict on them her own beliefs than burn their house to the ground. George was patient and kind and considerate of her parents, of everyone in general, and so she had waited until she felt the freedom from their watchful eyes.
George’s lawyer, a thoughtful and competent man in his sixties, filed two petitions following the death of George’s parents by misadventure. [Her father had never been a great driver but over the years, his reflexes had diminished to the point where George refused to ride with him even on short trips to the local grocery.]
“There’s no real need to wait,” Mr. Cumberson had explained to George. “The coroner’s preliminary report is in. Your father simply ran off the road albeit at a very unfortunate turn. At this point, we can begin the probate of your parents’ estate and file for your name change simultaneously, get all of the paperwork out of the way at once.”
Both would be simple processes with all the records in order. As sole beneficiary, everything in her parents’ estate came to George who promptly sold the house, the cars, the jewelry, the furniture, and donated everything else to charity. George discarded everything that held an attachment to Martha right down to the tiny baby socks her mother had knitted so long ago. The only item George kept was a quilt made by her great grandmother. This she spread on her own bed each night, sleeping under the comfort of her own personal piece of history.
(to be continued)