Margaret Karmazin | Redecorating

Margaret KarmazinI lived two years as a female before surviving my surgery and now look good enough to draw catcalls from the street boys. Though born a male, my mind and soul are those of a straight female. Traditional and romantic, what I’ve always wanted is what women used to want in Lucy’s & Desi’s day: a wedding in a white dress (or cream in my case; white washes me out) and the picket fence deal. I’m a dreamer.

My longtime friend Vera Fine and I run an interior decorating business, Fine & Trevant. Offices are our specialty. Our clients are fond of eclectic mixes and the current fad is to toss in objects from old houses, farms or factories, possibly large enough to stand in a corner instead of the traditional Swiss-cheese plant or parlor palm.

“Something interesting has come up,” said Vera after a long communion with her iced coffee. “Melanthe Cadwallader died and her heirs are selling everything. They live in Europe and have no desire to come over here and get involved. Have you seen the place?”

“Of course I’ve seen the place,” I said. “There’s no one who grew up here who hasn’t.”

Vera smirked. “Bet you’ve never been inside.”

“And you have?”

She nodded. “Once, when I was a kid. My mother took over some dessert from her club meeting, some friendly gesture for Ms. Cadwallader, and she actually let us in. Not very far in though, just the vestibule. No one got to see the inner sanctum.”

Though Vera and I were only a year apart in age, at the time she spoke of I was a boy, at least on the outside, and boys did not go with their mothers to drop off cakes to antisocial witches. But they did sneak up in yards at night to peer in windows.

We never saw anything. Everyone was certain that Melanthe practiced magic, though black or white no one ventured to say. Many a person was seen making a shadowy entrance or exit from the back of her house.

“One wonders,” said Vera, “how many love matches were forced into being and babies born due to the machinations of Ms. Cadwallader.”

“Or people murdered,” I mumbled.

“Well,” said Vera, “we have tomorrow and tomorrow only to get a look at what the lady left for us decorators!”

The next morning, we climbed into Vera’s Focus Electric, me with my knees in my face, and headed to the imposing old manse of the area legend. The car radio was tuned to NPR.

“New Jersey just legalized gay marriage,” announced the well-bred voice. “And by year’s end, possibly three more states will follow—Illinois, New Mexico and Hawaii.”

“Not our stupid state,” snapped Vera as she vehemently flicked off the radio. “Certain politicians, if they have their way, will imprison us in the dark ages as long as they possibly can!”

Though Vera was not gay, I understood her simmering rage. Her brother Carl was and he had lived with his partner Michael for twelve years. Vera wanted Carl to share the rights of straight people for several reasons. For one, he now was, she suspected, facing discrimination in the workplace. A tenure-track professor in economics at a state university in a small town, he’d been passed over three years now and Vera was certain this was due to the political and religious beliefs of the department head, whom she referred to as “Bonehead.”

In addition, Michael was in remission from lymphoma and though things looked good, there was always the possibility of a relapse and Carl should have automatic rights as next of kin.

“I abhor them too,” I said to placate her. It was my nature to be less easily riled than Vera.

“It’s not only that,” she said. “I don’t want Chloe growing up in a backward society where women are second-class citizens, and those same politicians do their best to undo the laws women have fought for!”

“I’m with you,” I said. “They just keep chipping away.”

“Well,” she said, her fingers gripped tightly on the steering wheel, “if I could press a button….”

This referred to an old Twilight Zone episode where a strange man offers a financially struggling couple a box with a button to push. If they push the button, they will receive $200,000 but someone they don’t know will drop dead. Vera and I often imagined we had such a button, only we’d know whom we were offing.

“Their minds are illogical,” she went on. “They remind me of slave owners back in the nineteenth century!” The car jerked alarmingly.

“Do you want me to drive?” I offered, but Vera pretended not to hear. She managed to keep the car under control.

“Seriously, if I wouldn’t end up spending the rest of my life in prison….” She didn’t need to finish. I’d heard this a thousand times, not that I wasn’t sympathetic.

“Things will change,” I said to soothe her, though I wasn’t so sure. Our state was half right wing and half progressive. Rural vs. city, generally…fundamental religion thriving in the rural areas. It could swing both ways, an amusing way to put it.

“Not if the boneheads win the election,” Vera said darkly. “They hate women.”

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,’” I quoted in singsong.



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