“Genderflection” by Patrick Falconi

Categories: ISSUE 02: Billie

Dmitry Yevovka, the great Russian nihilist, once wrote that women are inherently weak and do not possess the moral stamina to love more than one man at a time; his wife, Marfa Ignorovka, proved otherwise. In a letter immediately following Dmitry’s exile, Marfa confessed to her long-standing, extramarital affair with his brother, Pyotr and within a week, they were married. Unable to reconcile himself to the betrayal, the nihilist strangled himself in a region of Eastern Siberia and was found swaying from a Linden tree six months later in the summer of 1946. Marfa never retrieved the body and had her husband buried in the permafrost in Viliuisk. I would never argue that political exile is a punishment easy to endure however, self- imposed banishment may even be more taxing on the soul since one has the nagging option of returning home.

I moved into a large doss house off route 12, behind the Blue Ridge Mountains in Smith County, Virginia in a small town known as Mossville. The economy in rural Virginia was depressed and my options regarding employment were limited. In college, I majored in ethnography, but aside from research, there wasn’t much I could do with a specialization on the Yanomamo and Jivaro tribes of South America.

I took a job as a dishwasher at a local restaurant on Main Street in order to pay rent for the room I occupied. The owner’s name was Schultze. He was a sad, heavy set German with a pockmarked face. He had tiny blue eyes that bulged out of his head like a pair of abscesses. Business was slow and my workdays were restricted to three, two-hour shifts. I often left dishes in the sink at night to squeeze in extra hours the following morning.

One particular afternoon, after a heavy lunch rush, I sat on the curb in the parking lot to dry off. It was a bright, cloudless day. Black asphalt reflected hot sunlight like an iron radiator. I could smell the dumpster behind the kitchen and watched a dove on the sidewalk swallow pebbles. I wore a yellow tank top, smoked a cigarette, and started to doze off in the afternoon heat. A few moments later, I heard someone yell out, “Hey man, nice armpits!” Two young kids, not older than sixteen, stood at the entrance by the front door. They laughed at me and walked away.

At home, the bathroom situation was far from ideal. I shared it with four other tenants who polluted the air with an odor of carrion and bleach, so I decided to shave my armpits in my bedroom. I remembered watching my ex-wife shave under her arms while taking a bath. Her only challenge seemed to be keeping her slippery breasts away from the safety razor. I stood over a washbasin, trimmed up with a pair of dull scissors, moistened the stubble with warm, soapy water and shaved in the direction of growth. I splashed on a cooling aftershave but recognized the fragrance as too masculine and it seemed inappropriate.

The following night, the dinner crowd at the diner was light and I finished washing the dishes around seven o’clock. It was warm and humid in the kitchen. I tore off my plastic apron and threw it into the trash bin. Schultze gazed at me through the greasy square window of the swinging doors, the glass was opaque and distorted his face like an eye ravaged by cataracts. I pulled off my overshirt, wiped sweat off my brow and tucked in my tank top. Schultze noticed my hairless armpits and smiled. He quipped about a former dishwasher whose hair often fell into the sanitized water and stuck to the drinking glasses.

That evening, I stood in front of a mirror at a thrift shop off Main Street. As I straightened out my curved shoulders, I noticed the virility of my young looking face. My hair was short, cropped close to the sides, and the bryl cream provided a subtle shine. I browsed through a shirt rack and found a woman’s satin halter-top; I bought it and tried it on once I got home. It was soft and like my hair, shined under the right light. I tied the two straps of the blouse around my neck, which resembled a dog collar from the front and a bow-tied shoelace from the back. I held my hands behind my head and gazed at my bare armpits, I felt attractive.

It wasn’t long after being hired that I learned a little about Schultze’s life. He immigrated to America with his wife, Gudrun, in nineteen fifty-two. Soon after they settled in Washington DC, Gudrun suffered kidney failure within four months of her first pregnancy, she died in Georgetown. With their small savings, Schultze traveled west hoping to abandon all memory of his poor wife. As he reached Virginia and crossed over the Blue Ridge Mountains, the rolling hills and fence lined pastures tormented him. He recalled the German countryside where he married his wife and grief nearly killed him as he approached Mossville. Eventually, Schultze recovered his health, opened the diner, but his loneliness persisted.

One morning, gray drops of rain stippled my bedroom window like beads of frost. As they gathered into a silver puddle and dripped over the ledge, the chorus of splattering water woke me. It was my day off and I fell into a deep reverie as I watched the gray sheet of clouds hang over Mossville like a stitched southern quilt. I thought about my wife, and like the nihilist, was eventually betrayed by a restless woman. Although I’ve never considered ending my life, I did manage to change its wounded course.

That afternoon, I stopped by the thrift shop and bought a white pleated skirt to accompany my satin halter-top. I waited for the lunch crowd to settle before I paid poor old Schultze a visit. I walked into the diner wearing my shiny blouse and vintage skirt. Schultze sat at a booth beside a large window and read the newspaper; I sat across from him.

As the gray sky continued to descend upon Mossville, Schultze folded his newspaper and stood up. He took a few steps away from the table and calmly suggested that I work a full eight-hour shift the following day.

Story by Patrick Falconi
Background photo by Sarah Edwards
Foreground photo by Misti Rainwater-Litesshort url link | Nike Dunk Low Coast UNCL – Grailify