Story- Sighted Guide

(Note; This is the first of the Chris McSweeney Carlson mysteries.)

Sighted Guide by Glynda Shaw

Sighted Guide
by Glynda Shaw

1.
“You’re next,” Bethany said.
I stepped forward, to the counter. “Hello” I said. “I would like a round trip ticket to Seattle please?” I took particular care with the Ls and Rs which can set the vocal cords vibrating in the lower register, and pitched the end of my request high, like a question?

“Twenty-four dollars even,” the guy behind the counter told me. I slid over a half-folded twenty and a quarter-folded ten. A printer chattered. He put an envelope in my hand. “You helping her on board?” he asked Beth.
“Yes,” my sister answered, but sounded like he’d asked the wrong question.
“Okay,” the clerk said, not noticing or maybe just not bothering. “Good trip.”
“Thank you?” I smiled. Turning, I took Beth’s arm.
“And just don’t look so damned smug,” she hissed. I did feel pretty pleased with myself. The ticket man had asked a gender specific question, not just asked if I needed help.
“I’m not,” I hissed back. Whispering is no problem.
“You don’t know what people are thinking,” she shot back. “Are you sure you want to go through with this?!”
“Positive,” I told her. “No point turning back now.”
She made a growl sigh in her throat like she does when she’s pissed. “Okay.” Beth shoved open the exit door to the boarding gates. Tucking my cane under my arm I caught the door on the back-swing. “Here’s the end of the line. Do you want me to wait with you?”
“Would you mind?”
Beth didn’t respond but stuck in place.
It sounded like a long line so it would likely be a full bus. We stood together silently, inching toward the driver.
“Ticket.”
I extended my envelope. The driver made a ripping sound and handed back my return. “Front seat on either side’s wide open,” he said. Bus drivers generally think Disability Accommodation means Disability Mandate. I don’t like to sit that far forward in a bus. Besides, people don’t usually sit with you in the handicapped seats unless they’re disabled themselves or there’s nowhere else. Today I wanted a seat mate.
Holding my cane diagonally across my body, I hit each step riser, then turned left and with Beth following, made my way down the cramped aisle. All the seats seemed to be double-occupied. “Here,” Beth said. “Both places are empty. I’ll put your bag up above.” Turning around, I ran a hand down the back of my skirt. (If you’re going to do that why can’t you at least wear slacks!?) Leaning slightly forward, I slid into the window seat.
Beth patted my arm. “Okay, goodbye then. You get in trouble, call me?”
“Thanks, Sis.”
“Gawd,” she muttered, her voice retreating. “I hope Mom never gets wind of this!”
Alone now, I listened to the subdued conversations around me, hearing luggage thud into the cargo hold below, the driver’s shouted responses to last minute questions.
The door whooshing shut. The driver’s seat announcing with a subsidence of springs. The engine rumbling.
As we began to move I felt a body slip into the seat next to me, scented perfume, heard ragged breathing as if she’d run to squeeze on at the last minute. I turned in that direction, smiled, but kept silent during the maneuverings out of the depot and the driver’s terse recitation of rules and schedules. Soon we picked up speed and were on the freeway.
My companion also remained silent. I usually don’t initiate conversations in case the other person wants peace and quiet. This trip was a little different though. “Hi,” I said giving it a bit of an upward lilt, but keeping my voice down so as to maintain good vocal control. There was a pause, then
“Hi.”
I couldn’t tell what age she was. Women are often hard to judge by sound alone.
“Where are you going?”
“Seattle,” I told her.
“Me too,” she said.
By now I figured her for a girl no older than me.
“Do you travel by yourself very often?” she wanted to know.
“Quite a bit. I’ve got family down in Seattle and I go to school at Western.”
“Oh.” She was quiet for a couple minutes. “I hope it’s okay that I took this seat?”
Reminding myself not to be caretaking, “Of course,” I said. “I’m glad (watch the L) of the company.”
“Me too.”
So far things were going pretty well. I had a female traveling companion and a good two hours to try out my conversational and social skills.

2.
I think it’s harder to pass with females. When I was eight or so I’d dreamed about wearing a dress, my mom and aunt acting as if this was a natural thing. It wasn’t until grad school that I realized that weird bemusing dream had occurred around the time I’d first read Huckleberry Finn with the scene in which Mrs. Loftis tells Huck he’d never fool women but might possibly get by with men.
“What are you thinking about?” my acquaintance asked, jarring me back to the present.
“Oh,” I said, trying to cover my embarrassment. “Just thinking about a dream I had once.”
“Oh?” she showed a smile in her question. “What dream?” My mind raced for an answer which wouldn’t be too much of a lie.
“When I was very little, I dreamed I was with my mother and my aunt and for some reason I had on a very long dress that reached clear down to the floor, like a pioneer girl! The thing was, I’d never seen a pioneer girl, at least none I could remember. I could see until I was five, but I don’t recall seeing women dressed like that?” I shut up in order to avoid saying too much or too little.
Some seconds of silence then “How did it happen?”
I explained how I’d been born premature and had lost one eye at birth, then had accidentally been kicked in the other eye by a playmate when I was halfway through kindergarten.
“That’s really sad,” she said predictably. Then, “Dreams are strange aren’t they?”
“Yes. What sort of dreams do you have?”
“Well–” she sounded as if about to cry, “my dreams scare me sometimes. Let’s don’t talk about them just now–on such a beautiful day?” She leaned over me. “The sun is so bright. You can feel it, can’t you?”
“Yes. I can.”
“Did you say you were going to Seattle to visit your family?”
(What had I told her?) Yes, I’d said ‘family,’ nothing more or less.) “Yeah, my parents live there.”
“So you’re staying with them?”
“No,” I said, in fact,” (I lowered my voice to a murmur,) “they don’t even know I’m coming.”
“A surprise visit?”
“Mmm, not exactly.” Somehow, saying that felt kind of mean-spirited. “I’ve got a conference in the morning,” I hurried to explain. “and–well, I wanted to have some free time this evening. You know how moms are. I’ll pop in on her later tomorrow.”
“Is this something for school?” she asked then. “You said you’re in college?”
“Yes, I’m a graduate student in Psychology. It’s a seminar on sex and gender.”
“Wow,” she said, not sounding all that impressed though. Then, “I miss my Mom.”
Now we both were quiet and I felt about an inch tall!
After a while she said “I’m Norma.”
I hoped that meant she didn’t think less of me.
“Hi Norma,” My hand went out automatically, I remembering too late that girls don’t shake hands as reflexively as guys.
“Stephanie,” I said, as we briefly clasped, Norma’s hand slightly clammy. That was the name I’d chosen some time before, rather than Christine, derived from my first name, which would’ve been just too obvious. My sister, who’d thought the whole thing was damned ridiculous, hated the name.
“It’s stupid, Chris. Your second name is Steven not Stephen!”
“I’m glad we met, Stephanie,” Norma said, sounding like she meant it. “You’re a nice person.”
“Thanks, you too.”

3.
The idea had started back in my Junior year, at Western Washington University. I was a Psychology Major aiming at a career in counseling. Intrigued by sex and gender, I thought I might eventually work with persons experiencing dysphoria, perhaps contemplating sexual reassignment. The university had three relevant courses, one in Psychology, one in Sociology, the other in Anthropology. I took these as well as some Womens’ Studies courses. One of my term projects was to take on an alternate-gender role or experience. I got permission to job-shadow a house parent in the adolescent girls’ Cottage at the State School For the Blind, in Vancouver. I spent a weekend, closely chaperoned; with the girls (making no attempt to disguise my identity), sitting in on dispute arbitrations, sharing meals, watching TV, listening to records, even attending a Saturday fitness class in the gym.
My paper went over well, encouraging further study. When I was accepted into the Counseling Master’s, I stuck with Sociology and Gender Studies as my area of concentration. The gender reassignment stuff was fascinating and I had a strong affinity with women generally. Being in classes where I was often the only male was enlightening. How to turn that into a research project on which to base a thesis?
I started going down to The Ingersall Gender Clinic in Seattle, where I attended support group meetings for transvestites and transsexuals. (Easy differentiation, transvestites tend to switch between male and female roles while transsexuals generally don’t. Transvestites may not have surgery, but still consider themselves to be other-gendered while Transsexuals are about much more than clothes.)
After a couple meetings at Ingersall it became clear that other members would be more likely to open up to me if I presented in a dress from time to time. Posing it as just a lark, I had Beth (four years older than me) dress and make me up for a graduate Halloween party. Everybody was so shit-faced though, I doubt half of them noticed what I was wearing. Beth was okay about the party. She could even see why I wanted to dress for Ingersall because at bottom, though confused I think she appreciated my interest in womens’ experiences.
Then Barbara, my graduate advisor took me behind closed doors one day and inquired if I’d yet settled on a research topic. I’d kicked around a number of ideas, most of them based on population studies at the gender clinic but I had nothing concrete.
“I’ve been thinking,” Barbara said. “The whole subject of blindness and transgenderism appears to be a wide-open field. I’ve taken a brief look at the literature and turned up nothing whatever about blindness and gender; little enough about disabilities generally.”
“There’re probably not that many blind transgender people,” I pointed out. Blind people are only about half of one percent of the population and trangendered people are much rarer. The intersection wouldn’ be that big.
“True,” she said “which means anything one could discover about the interaction of gender issues and sightlessness could hardly help but be pivotal.”
Like any good therapist Barbara gave me space then to contemplate.
Finally I said “I suppose I could advertise, in magazines for blind adults, find persons I could survey or interview.”
“That’s one approach,” she said “I might suggest another.” Again she waited.
“Okay?”
“You’ve shared in class,” Barbara said, “that blind persons often receive unwanted help from sighted people and are treated as if they are helpless. You’ve commented that you feel you’ve often been treated like a female, being assumed to be weaker, less capable, even less well informed.”
“Certainly” I said, finding my Intrigue Button being tapped.
“We have a fair amount of information on transgendered persons,” Barbara was warming to the topic, “Lots of information on womens’ experiences, even a fair amount of data on blindness per se, but how would blindness affect how the sighted public reacted to a transgendered-seeming person, or for that matter the perception of transgenderism on how a blind person is treated by sighting persons she meets?” Having given the first breath of life to her monster so to speak; my advisor mostly sat back and watched it–me– take shape.
There being a lot to learn was a vast understatement.. Spending a couple of hours in a dress at a safe Location where everyone knew who I was and why I was there, couldn’t count as truly venturing out into the General Public. I needed to expend my best effort to pass.
Lisa Denke, a drama student at Western and a classmate in the Anthropology of Gender Class, heard about my project and offered her assistance. Lisa took me through walking, standing, sitting and taught me what she could of hand gestures. She started me off with some speaking techniques, modifying the way I said things, what I said and how to avoid some easy giveaways. One weekend we drove down to Seattle to meet with Cassandra Evans, a speech expert interested in transsexual makeovers. Dr. Evans showed her subjects oscilloscope traces, visual sound patterns of words or phrases as a woman would say them, then showed how they compared with one’s own. Of course I couldn’t see the patterns on the screen, but with her and Lisa describing where the anomalies occurred then with me listening to practice exercises and using my own ears to critique, I got along reasonably well. As Barbara had said though, “You don’t have to become a woman. Some agendericity should be expected and might even help you gather data.”
So now, here I was on this bus, maybe twenty miles out of Bellingham, Washington.

4.
“Where will you stay tonight?” Norma again nudged me out of my reverie, almost causing me to break character.
“I’ll get a motel room downtown,” I said. “I can catch a bus out to the U. W. in the morning.”
“I’ve got a room”” she said, “It’s near the bottom of Capital Hill. If you need a place to crash, there’s a couch and we could talk and toast marshmallows on the hot plate and you know–”
I was about to say thanks and refuse gently, since my plan involved making my way through public facilities; the intricacy of transport, motel, restaurant; but; “I’d really appreciate some company,” Norma said.
My plan modified all of a sudden. Wasn’t I after, some genuine life experiences from a female perspective, some genuine reactions from sighted people with whom I came into contact? Well, here I’d made a friend, who’d invited me for a sleep-over. What could be more genuine than that?
“Are you sure you have room?” I inquired. “I mean the couch is just fine and I’ve got some food along too, but are you really okay with me being there?”
“Oh yes,” Norma said. “It’ll be great fun! In the morning” she said with finality, “You just get on the number Four Montlake and that’ll take you all the way to Campus!”
“Wonderful!”
I can’t recall what all we talked about the rest of the way to Seattle. I couldn’t have told you the next day. I can tell you it was one of those conversations that while being about nothing very much in particular, ate up an hour and a half nearly unnoticed.
“Seattle! Those going on to to Tacoma, Olympia, Centralia, Portland Oregon please go to Gate Six, those going east to Ellensburg, Moses Lake, Spokane, Billings, Montana, Gate two. Claim your luggage at the side of the bus! Thanks for riding Greyhound. Please wait until the coach comes to a complete stop!”
Norma and I stayed where we were until most of the other passengers had debarked then as she slid out of the aisle seat, I extricated myself and my skirt from the close confines and feeling for the luggage rack, eased my pack down, sliding my shoulders into the straps.
Sensing Norma behind me I trailed my way along the broken fence of arm rests to the railing of the exit.
“Just a minute!” the driver’s voice came from the bottom of the boarding stairs. “Don’t fall.”
I stepped nimbly down the steps, remembering a little too late that to avoid drawing attention to myself. I probably shouldn’t act too independent.
“Where do you need to go?” the driver inquired as I allowed him to take my arm for the final step to the pavement.
“I’ll be getting a bus,” I told him. “You need somebody to help you?” He made it sound more like a statement.
“I’ve got somebody with me,” I replied. “Are you there?” I directed this back over my left shoulder.
“I’m right here,” the driver said.
(I felt Norma brush my arm. My hand contacted her angora sweater.)
“I meant my seat mate from this one, was I told him, wondering why Norma wasn’t speaking up.
“Here,” The driver grasped my wrist. “I’d. better get you into the depot. Somebody can help you in there.”
“We’re fine,” I nearly forgot any attempt at passing.
“I’m just trying,” he said, leaning down toward me now and sounding as if I were about four years old, “to assure your safety.”
“We’re fine,” I said again, hoping to match his level of condescension, plus bitchy. I felt for Norma’s arm and directed us toward the terminal door. I’d been here plenty of times and could tell from the pattern of foot traffic where we were, even if I didn’t have a sighted companion.
We went unchallenged through the depot and out the other side to the Eighth and Stuart corner where I knew I could catch any one of several busses going in the right direction. I felt in my coin purse, counting out enough for two fares and then returned my hand to Norma’s elbow. Using my cane to keep from stepping off the curb, I followed her closely to the bus zone.
“Number Ten will be coming here pretty soon I think,” Norma said. I kind of wondered at that. I thought it had been quite a while since that bus had stopped at this particular spot. Still, changes occurred all the time.
By the sound-scape alone we’d seemed to have come here on a weekday not a Friday evening in rather warm weather. That was a bit strange, but maybe there was a festival drawing traffic out someplace like Alki or West Seattle.
“What time does it say the next bus is due?” I asked, opening the unisex Braille wrist watch I wore and holding it up so Norma could see it. Before she could answer, I felt the rush of displaced air, heard the almost simultaneous hiss of air brakes and the sigh of the bus door opening.
“Seventy-two Meridian!” a cheerful voice announced.
“Do you go to Capital Hill?” I inquired.
“You ride long enough, we get there,” he said. “Seat across from me, by the door.” (Didn’t he figure Norma could see that?”) I hesitated for a moment to let her board ahead of me, but hell, we were both girls and I was paying! I stepped briskly up the stairs, felt along the rail to my right, dropped the double farer into the coin box.
“You’ve paid me too much, Ma’am,” the driver said, not unkindly, but it pissed me off. Bus drivers always assume blind people have special bus passes which allow them to ride for a quarter or something and if they don’t, they should.
“I don’t even live in Seattle,” I told him as if it was any of his business.
“Beautiful city,” he said breezily. ” Fare’s eighty cents except at rush hour.” I ignored him settling down in the seat indicated, feeling Norma slide in besides me, and proceeded to sulk. At least he’d called me Ma’am. That was something–.
I usually sleep on Greyhound trips and my postponed nap was catching up with me. I’m afraid I drifted off, my head against the cool glass of the window behind me. At some indefinite time later, the driver said “Where did you want to get off, Miss?”
“Ninth and Denny,” I told him, reminding myself in mid-sentence to pitch the Denny up a bit at the end like a question.
“Good thing I said something,” he chuckled. “We’ll be there in about four blocks. I’m the last bus on this run.” Reflexively I felt to make sure Norma was still there, smiled at her. She remaining silent. Guess she just didn’t feel like talking.
“Next stop Denny,” the driver called, mostly for my benefit, but carrying to the rest of the bus. I touched Norma.
“Are you awake?” I asked.
“Pardon?” the driver inquired.
“I asked if she was ready,” I told him, a little snappishly. He didn’t comment. I rose, one hand behind my skirt, the other extending my cane, as the bus slowed to a stop. Norma seemed to have slipped past me, so I climbed down the steps to the ground before the driver could fully kneel the bus.
“Watch your step,” he said as I hit pavement, then he seemed to pause there for a few moments, as if to see whether we’d have some idea where to go.
“That guy’s a little weird,” I said to my friend, feeling a flush of sisterly connection.
“Lots of weird people in Seattle I’m afraid,” Norma agreed. “Here, we need to go this way.” The sidewalk steepened as she led us up Denny way toward a destination which might as well have been on the other side of the state for all of my ability to locate it.

5.
We may’ve walked a half dozen blocks, me holding Norma’s elbow, before I apprehended odors from garbage cans emptied none too frequently and the sound of late birds serenading themselves toward nighttime slumber.
“Usually the door’s unlocked down here,” Norma told me. She rattle the knob. “Maybe it’s stuck. Not sure I have my key.” In spite of the advice I’d received against rescuing, (I’m stuck out here too!) I took over the door knob and managed to turn it. This let us into a musty entry way and a flight of carpeted stairs which, I would find switch-backed all the way to a third floor.
“I never lock up here,” Norma said. “probably I should. Here,” she gave me her elbow again. “glad you can’t see the mess.” Part of me was just as glad I couldn’t either. The entire building smelled none too fresh, but Norma’s apartment had the air (quite literally) of having been ignored for weeks if not months! I could taste the dust in the room. The echoey quality of the space in which we stood said there was hardly anything in here. I wondered how long Norma’d been vacationing or whatever up north.
“I’m here to visit you dear, not your house!” I grinned, hoping Norma’s mother had said the same kinds of thing mine had and she’d get the joke.
Norma giggled. “Good thing! Well, let’s see what we can put together.”
A rattle of pans issued from the opposite side of the room and a rather timid trickle of water in the sink. “I thought I had some tea around–” Norma said uncertainly.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ve got some bags with me.” I felt my way with my cane, to a couch and sat down–further than I expected and opened my pack. Along with two blouses and two changes of undies I’d packed sandwiches, some cookies, a package of Rye Krisp, a baggie of dried fruit and another of tea, with honey packets and a little plastic lemon. Enough for a couple of meals for one or a party for two.
“Here we are,” I said, laying out the tea and fixings.
“I was wondering what we could do about dinner.” Norma said.
“I’ve got sandwiches,” I offered, pulling out the other provisions. “Peanut-butter, also cheese with lettuce and tomato,” We halved the sandwiches, spreading out the rest on napkins Norma’d found. By now the water was whistling in the kettle.
Norma placed a metal cup in my hand, handle first. It felt rather worse for wear, scored rough in places, maybe a bit rust-spotted. A sip of the tea suggested that the pipes in the building might be overdue for replacement, but I drink my tea strong and that can cover up a lot of funny tastes. “Sorry it’s so messy in here,” Norma said again.
“Looks okay to me,” I told her.
“What?” she laughed a little then. “You know, I do believe I’ve found a bag of marshmallows!”
I whiffed the rather sharp smell of a hot plate element, long unused coming up to red heat once more. Norma began rummaging in a silverware drawer at least that’s what I assumed. “Do you like yours well done or just slightly?”
“Well,” I said. “So how long have you been gone?”
“Hunh?” she asked.
“While you were in Bellingham I mean, Have you been away long?”
“Oh–” She sounded vague, “a while I guess. Sometimes I sort of get in the mood and just need to be someplace else.”
“Here,” she said, putting the handle of a fork in my hand. “Careful. It’s hot.” I can’t say the marshmallow was exactly soft in the center, but I’d never seen anyone toast one on a hot plate either.
“Sandwiches okay?” I asked.
“Of course,” Norma said, though I’d heard no signs of her chewing since I’d divided the food.
“Say, if you want to show me your phone I could call out for pizza. I’ve got some cash with me.”
“No phone,” Norma told me. “Costs money whether you’re here or not, besides–who’m I gonna call?”
“Godfathers?” I grinned.
“No,” she said, “we’ll be just fine. Want another mallow?”
Sitting here on the edge of a frayed couch, hoping my skirt was still covering me, it struck that I was doing precisely the things I’d always been warned against. Here I was in the home of a stranger, really, in a place I’d never been before and nobody the wiser. It felt deliciously liberating. It was safer to be with another girl–wasn’t it? But as my sister’d pointed out, Mom would have a fit–about a lot of things.
“Does your mom live in Bellingham?” I tried again, feeling like an interrogator, but Norma’d said nothing so far which could really be pinned down.
“No,” she said, “she lives right here in town.”
I lifted my cup, took another swallow of the iron-tasting tea and asked in a tone I hoped was casual, “Do you see her very often?”
“No,” Norma stated flatly.
“She’s okay though?” I’d kept getting the idea there was something wrong with the lady!
“Yeah,” she said, “sort of.” This evidently wasn’t a good topic.
“I remember the summer before my Senior year,” Norma remarked suddenly in an almost discordantly bright tone. “I went to Ingram High. I was pretty popular. It was upsetting to leave my friends and go up to Bellingham for the summer. Daddy was teaching summer term at Whatcom Community College, a class on ecology or something. Daddy’s a Marine biologist. We borrowed a cottage on one of those smaller bays that branch off the big one–Bellingham Bay? A cute little ferry running out to an island with only a couple hundred people living there. I could walk on the beach any time I wanted, swim, canoe, have picnics–but I did got lonely.”
“You came back to Seattle then,” I asked. “Fall quarter?”
“Sure,” Norma affirmed. “Daddy didn’t.” Her voice caught. “Oh, for a while he did but that was the last year Mom and him were together. Dad got a research job at Western, where you go?–and he married the instructor who’d gotten him that summer position. Mom stayed here.”
“Did you go to college, Norma?”
“No,” she sighed, wistfully I thought. “I guess by then I’d had enough of colleges and professors. I went to work at a little cafe not far from here. Sometimes I still go back.”
“Go back?” I asked “To the cafe you mean?”
“To Bellingham.”
“Oh” I said, since I thought I understood perfectly. Last happy summer, bitterness against Dad, maybe both parents. No wonder she was estranged.
“Well” I said, hoping I sounded comforting rather than flippant, “you never know what time can accomplish if you just wait on things and let healing happen.”
“Sometimes,” she said.
We shared another cup of tea and the rest of my goodies. After a while I found that the toilet seemed to flush not very completely. The basin provided only a trickle. I didn’t want to be rude enough to try the tub faucet. I’d hoped for a shower in the morning, but might have to make do with a tepid sponge bath.
It was about ten-thirty when Norma yawned and said “I’m sorry Steph, but I’m having trouble staying awake. Can I help you fix up a bed then you just sit up as late as you want?” I tend to be a night owl but Mother drummed good manners into me with her breast milk and I wasn’t about to be a poor house guest.
“Great,” I said. “I’m needing to turn in myself. If you’ve got a blanket or something, I’ll just spread it out here.” I patted the couch cushion next to me, felt a spring coming through.
“Oh we can do better than that,” Norma said. “Here let me move your stuff over.” Now i heard her voice muffled and perhaps a little sniffly, in a closet or some like enclosure. “Here’s a sheet and here’s a blanket and pillow!” She emerged then and proceeded to make up my erstwhile seat as a sleeping place.
“I’ve got a spare nightie that’s clean,” she said. “Doesn’t look like you have a lot of stuff in your bag.” While usually I sleep in briefs or less, I didn’t know what the etiquette of a situation like this demanded. Maybe She’d think it was indecent of me to sleep on her couch almost naked. To be sure, I’d better not at least until the lights were out!
“Well, if you’re sure,” I complied. “That would be nice.” More rummaging and Norma came up with something which felt essentially like a T shirt, but nearly ankle length.
“There, that should fit.”
“Thanks–for this and–for everything!”
“What did I do?” she wanted to know, sounding a little self-conscious.
“You’ve just been a–friend.” I said.
“I needed a friend,” she replied.
As she busied herself with her own bed, I assumed; I slipped into the bathroom, took off my blouse and put the gown over my head. Then divested myself of skirt, shoes and hose. I was wearing a scarf over my rather long hair, which Beth had helped me fix, (not without contumely) this morning. I decided to risk taking the scarf off but to get quickly under the covers.
“When you need to leave tomorrow” Norma said, “I mean if I oversleep or something, just go out my door, take a left, find your way to the stairs there at the end of the hall, follow them down to the front door. When you step out of the building, turn left, follow Denny three blocks to the bus stop.”
I laughed a little. My seminar didn’t start till eleven. There’d be plenty of time, I thought, for both of us to wake up.
“Okay,” I said. “If I can’t manage to wake you up.”
I heard slippered feet approaching the couch. I smelled perfume, something with irises? in it I thought. I felt lips against my ear, one quick peck. “You’ll find your way just fine,” she said. And that was the last thing Norma ever said to me–save one.

6.
Lying there I thought of Mom, Dad, Beth, other people I’ve known, graduating high school, school, getting into Western, choosing a major, how I’d come to be here. I recalled how in order to help me with a story about a boy masquading as a girl to hide from enemy aliens, Mom had suggested I wear a skirt around the house for an hour or so, and what was more, had kept our secret. I reran little confidences, bits of child-hood lore Beth and I shared, huddled together in her bed or out in our back yard pup tent. Later memories, anxieties about sex, relationships, what we knew about human biology, what we wished we knew. The trust still maintained, though not without misgivings, today, this morning, now.
I took some time going to sleep and once or twice, even contemplated getting up to sit and read from the Our Special Magazine I’d brought along with me, possibly take a turn up and down the hall outside. But Norma’s very regular breathing, then hardly any sound whatever, restrained me to keep silent and eventually I must have slept.
(Something–an irritant, anger-provoking! I shove against it. My dream arm like lead. A form landing, crushes me deeply into the fetid cushions. A loathsome mountain of flesh, pressing, unyielding, demanding. I scream but my voice is stopped. Hands clutch at my nightgown. Fabric rips. Warm, wet, putrid, a mouth, mashes against mine, sandpaper cheek rasps. (“Norma!?) But no Norma. Strange, unfamiliar sensations between my legs; more wetness, pain, sharp, stinging, my breast scratched, gouged, hot, wet flowing.)
Fully awake now, I know this for no dream. I bite the lips as they impact, teeth baring, against my mouth. An oath, and the face withdraws, releasing my own cry. Frightening myself but demanding release. A resounding slap on my face. I wrench my hands free. Once I’ve heard on TV a blind man, training to fight, refusing to learn the art of gouging eyes. I feel no such compunction. I rake with nails unfamiliarly long, claw with cat’s frenzy, feel pulp, warm, satisfying. The mass atop me jerks violently, a grotesque cry. I wrench my body free from his floundering furious form. The tail of my gown ripping, trodden upon by someone, tears loose. Sobbing, panting, thrashing desperately I dive headfirst over the couch arm, across the living room–blind instinct propelling me.)
I scrabbled the door open and without cane or any clear map of where I was going, pelting barefooted, blood-soaked, praying for breath, down the hallway.
An echo warned me of the hall’s blank end, but not quick enough. I slammed into plasterboard, rebounded, fell–I must have been unconscious for a moment, perhaps longer. I might have lain there on that greasy hardwood all night if I could, but something beyond reason drove me to rise, my head pounding, hurting in all my places, crawling up the wall. Leaning now I listened, at first hearing nothing, then a series of thuds and now an outcry, deep and guttural.
Yes, I did think of Norma, for a moment, considered going back. but what could I do with no way of taking this–monster? In the apartment he could at any time, flip on a light, probably had; attacking me in any number of hideous ways. If I could lead him away though, perhaps to pass me by and then what? Run, fall, be recaptured?
I heard nothing but felt, a presence, a knowing? a direction. Somehow I knew there was another stairway leading upward from where I was now. My tender feet rebelled at the corrugated runners, I forged on; the guiding presence at my elbow. up, around, up again. I groped along a wall, like the one below, hearing footsteps, the tread of feet at the bottom of the stairs. Moving as rapidly as I could, but desperate to make no sound, I touched a door, froze for a second, then hearing the footsteps turn to the second course of stairs, I tried the knob, praying and it gave. I prized the creaking door open as far as I dared and squeezed inside, my heart stopping as the door clanged shut.
“I’m going to kill you Bitch!”
I’d come, been led? to what appeared an utility closet, smells of grease, soil worn metal, with dust and things more astringent assailing me as I rummaged my environs, contacting tool handles, old sacks, things less recognizable.

7.
“You hear me whore!?”
In one corner of the closet was a clutch of garden tools, from the feel of their handles, shovels and the like. Bending in cramping detritus I located a steel implement with three promising-looking tines. That could do some damage, if I could upend it to bring the cultivating head into position for attack.
Footsteps, nearing!
The closet was too small for me to turn the spading fork end for end, but I moved it to a position behind me and to the right, where should the door be opened, I might bring it up and into action. No more time.
“You hear me Bitch!”
On not overhead shelf at the back of the closet, I found an array of smaller things, an old rusted padlock, a pair of pliers, a glass jar, sandpaper, rags, a knife! likely a refugee of some woman’s kitchen drawer. It was dulled and felt as if it was covered with old paint, Still it had a sharp point and might, I thought with a gut-churning quaver, serve as a last resort. I stuck the knife through the band of my underwear in back where I might grab it with either hand.
“Get out here you bitch!” The voice, pain maddened, made all the more deadly. “I’ll find you!” The footsteps passed my hideout. By the shuffling sounds he made I guessed there were no lights on up here, but might there be a moon or illumination from the street?
The footsteps stopped. Now I heard him making his way back along the wall toward me. This time he punctuated his progress at every step or two with a solid blow on the wall, probably with a closed fist and how long until it would crash into my face or body?
A jar just to the left, then a solid smash right in front of me, wood splintered, then the knob wrenched.
With no time to think, perhaps by reflex, perhaps I had guidance, I shoved the knob hard throwing the door out and open, felt mass on the other side, heard a crash against the opposite wall. The next second found the cultivating fork head upward, in my hands. I lunged from the closet, sweeping the fork in an arc to the left, hoping I’d correctly guessed the width of the corridor. Steel zinged off wall surface then meaty impact as tines struck flesh.
I may’ve done some damage, for he made what I might call an astonished oink noise. Aiming on that sound I threw everything near at hand, the lock, the jar, the pliers, a paint can, more garden tools, anything to hold him at bay.

8.
The torrent of oaths and cries accompanying a few lucky hits, stopped suddenly. Part of me clamored to connect with him, use the knife; end this; but my stock of heroism seemed to be just about depleted. Seizing a broomstick in lieu of a cane I took off down the hallway, toward the back stairs. I caught the top lip before tumbling downward. (Descending is exceedingly dangerous for a blind person in a hurry.) Riding the railing I swung about rapidly as I dared and half fell to a stop on Norma’s floor. “Norma, Norma!” I cried skidding down the bare hallway floor, groping for doorways, tapping clumsily, erratically with my improvised cane.
Tap-tap tap-tap! The mocking sounds drew nearer but only by gradual horrid inches at a time. “Norma,” A falsetto mimicking voice, “Norma!”
He may’ve come down the carpeted front stairs. I judged us to be perhaps 20 feet apart and I was pretty sure there was light down here. If I could get to the apartment door perhaps I could lock myself in and barricade, but something told me that wouldn’t hold him off long. I’m not a fighter but it isn’t as if I haven’t thought of defending myself. A broom handle is a good deal more dangerous than the straws. When I figured there was more like eight or ten feet between us and I had a good idea where he was, I crammed the business end of the broom against my naked shoulder, grasping the wire wrappings with one hand, the stick with the other, Charging!! I caught him solidly–somewhere. He swore and went down hard. Hysterically I flailed at him with the stick. I got in perhaps five licks, three of them caught him I thought. Then he seized my broom yanking it out of my hands. Now I was getting the straw across my body, my face, over my head. He was obviously not in much of a hurry to kill me–yet.
I dropped to my knees, covering my face, then flat on my belly. Remembering the knife I rolled onto my right hip.
“That’s more like it,” the taunting voice said and a calloused hand slapped me over onto my back. I managed to get my left hand down the back of my underwear and around the handle as the horrid weight was on me once more.
He hurt me and I knew I had to take it for a while until I could get a chance. I’d read about women waiting until a guy comes, then stabbing him with a hair pin or some improbable thing but I didn’t think I was going to fool him that long. I felt his hand, hook-fingered, gouging along my cheek, toward my own eyes–they don’t work at all, but I don’t wish to be disfigured–. I Panicked.
I’m slight, can get into a size twelve, but a dozen years in gymnastics paid off. His weight shifting slightly let me loose my pinioned arm. Reaching around I drove the paint knife into his groin from behind. I believed, in time–he would have bled out but
With a ghastly howl he slammed me against the floor then was off me and gone with a lurching gait, making I supposed for the front staircase and the entryway. I couldn’t determine whether or not he made it though because just now, all hell was breaking loose.
From, elsewhere in the building, voices, many alcohol enhanced shouted, cursing, obscene demands after what was going on, who was breaking up the goddam place! “Somebody called the frigin cops!” Desperate and bereft of anything to check the floor in front of me I held my left hand across my body and a little ahead, trailing with my right, searching.
I contacted a door, then another, both locked. The third knob stuck midturn but gave when I applied all my remaining strength. As it swung open I caught again that whiff of iris blossoms– I slammed Norma’s door behind me but it wouldn’t seem to latch properly. I called her name aloud several times, but it was pretty clear she wasn’t there. This fact could almost have escaped me though, because of something even more strange.
The ripped gown I wore had been soaked with blood, both mine and his. Though stiff and smelling somehow corrupt it was now totally dry. Wondering how I’d made myself put it on in the first place. I whipped the gown over my head and threw it in the direction of the couch-bed where I’d begun this horrible night. (This is, if what I am recounting actually occurred at all or in this world.)
Outside the voices were even louder. Capital Hill is an area of town where police are never very far away and already I heard the sirens. I must get dressed, ready to do–what?
Now I realized that I no longer appeared to be injured. I’d been savaged at least three times, must have bled in a dozen places, covered with bruises, scratches, vileness, now only hurting from within.
Rummaging around I found my travel case, got out a clean blouse, nylons. I craved a shower but even with plumbing that worked there’d be no time. I was into my skirt and shoes before knocking began at the door, then it burst inward.

9.
“Will you step out into the hall please?” a baritone voice inquired kindly enough. “Here, may I offer some assistance?” A second officer outside the door, took my arm, whether he thought I’d run or perhaps fall down, I’m not certain. “Can you tell me how you came to be here tonight?” The first officer inquired. “You don’t live here.”
(Think fast!) “I was looking for my friend.” I told them.
“Whose name is?”
“N-Norma,” I said. (For Heaven’s sake, I’ve no idea of her last name!) “Norma Madison,” I said, just picking a name out of the the air; “I think.”
“Norma Madison,” the cop repeated. “And your name?”
“Chris Carlson.”
“Would you have some ID, Chris Carlson?”
“Um, yes, in my bag over there.” I gestured back through the doorway. “Over by the couch.”
“Have you been here long? (The first officer from within the apartment.) Good God, I’d be hard put to describe what I’m looking at right now.”
“A while,” I said. “I was waiting for Norma. She said she’d leave the door unlocked. She told me how to find her apartment. She’s not shown up yet.”
“Nor is she likely to any time soon,” Cop number 1 observed dryly. “Good thing we were in the neighborhood when the disturbance call came in. Have you looked around here, I mean,” embarrassedly, “felt your way around in here?”
“Uh, I found the couch and went to the bathroom a couple of times, otherwise I pretty much just waited.”
“Yeah?” Number 2 said noncommittally. I heard radio static as Number One made a call, to the Precinct Station and then, was it to Harborview Hospital? Something about a Special situation. “Somebody from Sex Crimes will be here soon.” he said, probably to his partner.
“Stepping past me and peering inside, were you eating in there?” Cop Number 2 inquired.
“I had a couple sandwiches with me,” I admitted. “Some crackers and dried fruit, that kind of thing. I’m down here from Bellingham, for a conference in the morning.”
Silence.
“Looks like you didn’t finish up,” said Number 1 after a rather long pause. “Here’s part of a peanut butter sandwich and another that looks like maybe cheese. Here’s a cup of tea? Good grief, what’s this here?”
“What?” I demanded.
“I guess it’s a bag of marshmallows,” Number 2 said. “Looks like they’re about twenty years old.”
“You wouldn’t know anything about a woman’s nightgown would you?” Number 1 asked gently.
“I think I touched something like that on my way to the bathroom?”
“I hope you washed your hands after,” he told me. “It looks older than the marshmallows, but whoever it belonged to in the first place, obviously bled all over it.”
“I don’t know what instructions your friend gave you,” Officer 1 said, “But you sure’s God came to the wrong place. Wow,” he added a little shakily, “it gives me the willies just thinking about someone who can’t see, wandering around in a place like this.”
“No offense,” Number 2 told me as if reading it off a clipboard.

10.
I apprehended someone approaching along the corridor, shoes clacking a staccato on the scarred floor. I smelled perfume, one of those scents that reminds of offices, leather briefcases and high-quality velum parchment.
“ID” Officer 1 said, emerging to reach past me. A moment’s silence.
“Christopher Carlson?” a female voice inquired.
“Chris,” I said.
“Chris, I am Officer Carol Anderson with Special Investigations and this,” her voice drifted as if nodding toward someone, “is Joanne Tolliver, a social worker with Harborview Mental Health Services.”
“Hello, Chris.” A lotioned hand in mine, long, rather intrusive nails. “You are a male person?”
“Ah, presently,” I said. I remembered crossdressers saying that when being stopped by the police, it is best to tell them you’re preparing for a sex change procedure.
“But, you are uncomfortable in a male social role,” more of a statement than a question, but,
“Yes.”
“Are you hurt?” Officer Anderson again.
“Not-no,” I still wasn’t clear on that point. “I’m okay.”
“Let’s walk along to the patrol car,” Officer Anderson said.
“Here is my arm? That’s the best way isn’t it?” Social Worker Tolliver placed a cashmered elbow in my hand. “Do you have a cane, or a dog?” My cane was restored to me. Eventually I’d get the rest of my possessions.
The three of us made inane small talk on the drive over to the hospital. Where did I live? Did I live alone? (yes.) What had brought me to Seattle? Details which I was sure, would end up in a case file.
“I’m supposed to be able to make a phone call aren’t I?” That sounded just too television, but why specifically was I being detained? I could guess several reasons but wasn’t sure which.
“You aren’t under arrest,” said Officer Carol Anderson, driving.
“You seem to have had an upsetting experience,” said Social Worker Tolliver, understandingly. “We want to assure your well-being.
“What about the phone call?” I retried.
“Well,” Officer Anderson, “there’s no particular obligation on the part of the Seattle Police Department at present to provide other than emergency services, but may I ask who you want to call?” I told her. Both women were silent for a few seconds.
“Well,” Officer Anderson said finally, “I don’t believe there’s need for an attorney at this point–?”
“Let’s chat,” I said, “just betwixt us girls. I can tell you right now that already I’ve listed about five things that I could turn into ADA cases. Americans With Disabilities Act,” I added in case they weren’t sure. “Besides, if uninjured and without any consent on my part, I’m being hustled off to a mental facility, I have a right to have someone present who understands my special situation–other than being blind.”
More silence, then (Officer Anderson) “Are you a lawyer, a Law Student?”
“A psychologist,” I told her.
Late that night I woke Deanna Nichols, Counselor At Law, Post-op. Transsexual, support group leader. “Oh, Steph, what have you gotten yourself into!” I heard Dee making lighting up and dragging noises on the other end of the phone. “Give me twenty minutes, honey. I’ll throw on a car coat and come right over. Where are they keeping you?” I had to ask, and to their credit, they told her.
Deanna walked in while I was undergoing a cursory physical exam and was with me while I was debriefed (not interrogated). I never made my conference and it was three days before I was allowed to go anywhere without an escort.
I wasn’t in jail, not really. It was more like a motel room. I had everything I needed, was visited frequently, but the door didn’t open on my side. After going through the story so many times I lost count, they decided what I’d been saying all along was so. I’d somehow let myself into an unoccupied apartment in a condemned building, on the anniversary of a particularly bloody murder committed there. Years later that event was still local legend. Female screams and male shouts were reported from that same location, the causes of which were still unclear. All of this went down just before I’d been “rescued.” Had the screams been mine? Honestly, I’d have to say no.

11.
I was released in the company of Deanna, who drove me to her apartment over near the north end of Volunteer Park where mansions still stand and old Seattle money still lives.
“I’ve done some checking,” Dee said as we sat in her parlor, sipping iced coffee and nibbling tea biscuits. “The police were entirely fuddled, still are. Some things just didn’t fit.” Dee lit a cigarette. “But sometimes,” she exhaled, “an apartment or hotel room, a house–will acquire a reputation, especially among those with a superstitious turn of mind. A young woman named Norma Jensen lived in the building you found your way to Friday evening, and was murdered there. This was about a dozen years ago, according to a P.I. Friend of mine. The night she died residents of the Calhoun, the name of that fleabag, called to report a disturbance in their building. The assailant or assailants seemingly got clean away.
I could tell Dee was leaning forward in her recliner. “Later that night though, A man identified as Donald Weaver a known rapist, was killed, less than two blocks away.” She exhaled in studied dramatic fashion. “Here’s the goddessawful creepy part though,” she said. “I mean the whole thing was creepy, but hold onto your panties, this you won’t believe!” Another pause for effect. “Mr. Weaver was struck by a car while fleeing from the vicinity of the Calhoun, witnesses reported, smashed right down in the intersection of Bleith and Harvard, but when paramedics got to him, they found his left eye was gouged out and there was a rusty paint covered knife buried to the handle in his groin. Darling–even after my surgeries, that still gives me sympathetic crotch distress, not that I suppose we need waste time grieving over that low-life!”
(Thank you) said a voice from an unexpected direction.
“What?” I asked, angling my head that way.
“I said it must’ve been pure agony!” Deanna replied.
“Oh–” I said, feeling the presence of someone, I’d not been fully aware of till now, slip away. A scent of irises, task accomplished.
“Okay,” I said, “Now you grab ahold of yours.” I don’t smoke but I drained my cup of strong, black coffee holding it out for more. “I’ve got a story you won’t believe.”

12.
That’s about all there is to tell, meaning there’s volumes really but other stories for other times. I spent the night with Dee, made a support group meeting that evening, which I really needed. Next morning I met with Erica Parsons, Dee’s Private Investigator friend. Erica is a paranormal investigator as well as a licensed private detective. She’s the sort of person real cops treat with ridicule or bored indulgence if they deal with her at all. Hell, I probably would have dismissed her just as handily, until I met Norma.
I never submitted a thesis, electing to take the comprehensive exams instead and got certified to teach. I eventually landed a job at the same community college where Norma’s dad taught that summer long ago. I’ve run into him and his wife on a visit to Western and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I make enough to get by, but teaching is neither my life nor my real work.
Before ink was dry on my diploma I started going out with Erica on some of her assignments. I’ve found that I’m a person that dead victims, women mostly, talk to. My passage into that other time, other world, other plane, whatever you’d call it, seems to have left a mark of some kind on me, something easy to spot. Often I go en femme as they say. Symbols appear to be important to spirits.
“At least you’re going out with a woman,” Beth said when she caught me making up for an assignment. Mom figures I’m writing the great American Feminist novel. My former thesis advisor is sure I’m immersed in denial. Whenever I doubt myself however, I have only to remember a bus ride one sunny northwest afternoon and girl talk over Lipton and “twenty year old” marshmallows.

Sighted Guide
by Glynda Shaw

1.
“You’re next,” Bethany said.
I stepped forward, to the counter. “Hello” I said. “I would like a round trip ticket to Seattle please?” I took particular care with the Ls and Rs which can set the vocal cords vibrating in the lower register, and pitched the end of my request high, like a question?
“Twenty-four dollars even,” the guy behind the counter told me. I slid over a half-folded twenty and a quarter-folded ten. A printer chattered. He put an envelope in my hand. “You helping her on board?” he asked Beth.
“Yes,” my sister answered, but sounded like he’d asked the wrong question.
“Okay,” the clerk said, not noticing or maybe just not bothering. “Good trip.”
“Thank you?” I smiled. Turning, I took Beth’s arm.
“And just don’t look so damned smug,” she hissed. I did feel pretty pleased with myself. The ticket man had asked a gender specific question, not just asked if I needed help.
“I’m not,” I hissed back. Whispering is no problem.
“You don’t know what people are thinking,” she shot back. “Are you sure you want to go through with this?!”
“Positive,” I told her. “No point turning back now.”
She made a growl sigh in her throat like she does when she’s pissed. “Okay.” Beth shoved open the exit door to the boarding gates. Tucking my cane under my arm I caught the door on the back-swing. “Here’s the end of the line. Do you want me to wait with you?”
“Would you mind?”
Beth didn’t respond but stuck in place.
It sounded like a long line so it would likely be a full bus. We stood together silently, inching toward the driver.
“Ticket.”
I extended my envelope. The driver made a ripping sound and handed back my return. “Front seat on either side’s wide open,” he said. Bus drivers generally think Disability Accommodation means Disability Mandate. I don’t like to sit that far forward in a bus. Besides, people don’t usually sit with you in the handicapped seats unless they’re disabled themselves or there’s nowhere else. Today I wanted a seat mate.
Holding my cane diagonally across my body, I hit each step riser, then turned left and with Beth following, made my way down the cramped aisle. All the seats seemed to be double-occupied. “Here,” Beth said. “Both places are empty. I’ll put your bag up above.” Turning around, I ran a hand down the back of my skirt. (If you’re going to do that why can’t you at least wear slacks!?) Leaning slightly forward, I slid into the window seat.
Beth patted my arm. “Okay, goodbye then. You get in trouble, call me?”
“Thanks, Sis.”
“Gawd,” she muttered, her voice retreating. “I hope Mom never gets wind of this!”
Alone now, I listened to the subdued conversations around me, hearing luggage thud into the cargo hold below, the driver’s shouted responses to last minute questions.
The door whooshing shut. The driver’s seat announcing with a subsidence of springs. The engine rumbling.
As we began to move I felt a body slip into the seat next to me, scented perfume, heard ragged breathing as if she’d run to squeeze on at the last minute. I turned in that direction, smiled, but kept silent during the maneuverings out of the depot and the driver’s terse recitation of rules and schedules. Soon we picked up speed and were on the freeway.
My companion also remained silent. I usually don’t initiate conversations in case the other person wants peace and quiet. This trip was a little different though. “Hi,” I said giving it a bit of an upward lilt, but keeping my voice down so as to maintain good vocal control. There was a pause, then
“Hi.”
I couldn’t tell what age she was. Women are often hard to judge by sound alone.
“Where are you going?”
“Seattle,” I told her.
“Me too,” she said.
By now I figured her for a girl no older than me.
“Do you travel by yourself very often?” she wanted to know.
“Quite a bit. I’ve got family down in Seattle and I go to school at Western.”
“Oh.” She was quiet for a couple minutes. “I hope it’s okay that I took this seat?”
Reminding myself not to be caretaking, “Of course,” I said. “I’m glad (watch the L) of the company.”
“Me too.”
So far things were going pretty well. I had a female traveling companion and a good two hours to try out my conversational and social skills.

2.
I think it’s harder to pass with females. When I was eight or so I’d dreamed about wearing a dress, my mom and aunt acting as if this was a natural thing. It wasn’t until grad school that I realized that weird bemusing dream had occurred around the time I’d first read Huckleberry Finn with the scene in which Mrs. Loftis tells Huck he’d never fool women but might possibly get by with men.
“What are you thinking about?” my acquaintance asked, jarring me back to the present.
“Oh,” I said, trying to cover my embarrassment. “Just thinking about a dream I had once.”
“Oh?” she showed a smile in her question. “What dream?” My mind raced for an answer which wouldn’t be too much of a lie.
“When I was very little, I dreamed I was with my mother and my aunt and for some reason I had on a very long dress that reached clear down to the floor, like a pioneer girl! The thing was, I’d never seen a pioneer girl, at least none I could remember. I could see until I was five, but I don’t recall seeing women dressed like that?” I shut up in order to avoid saying too much or too little.
Some seconds of silence then “How did it happen?”
I explained how I’d been born premature and had lost one eye at birth, then had accidentally been kicked in the other eye by a playmate when I was halfway through kindergarten.
“That’s really sad,” she said predictably. Then, “Dreams are strange aren’t they?”
“Yes. What sort of dreams do you have?”
“Well–” she sounded as if about to cry, “my dreams scare me sometimes. Let’s don’t talk about them just now–on such a beautiful day?” She leaned over me. “The sun is so bright. You can feel it, can’t you?”
“Yes. I can.”
“Did you say you were going to Seattle to visit your family?”
(What had I told her?) Yes, I’d said ‘family,’ nothing more or less.) “Yeah, my parents live there.”
“So you’re staying with them?”
“No,” I said, in fact,” (I lowered my voice to a murmur,) “they don’t even know I’m coming.”
“A surprise visit?”
“Mmm, not exactly.” Somehow, saying that felt kind of mean-spirited. “I’ve got a conference in the morning,” I hurried to explain. “and–well, I wanted to have some free time this evening. You know how moms are. I’ll pop in on her later tomorrow.”
“Is this something for school?” she asked then. “You said you’re in college?”
“Yes, I’m a graduate student in Psychology. It’s a seminar on sex and gender.”
“Wow,” she said, not sounding all that impressed though. Then, “I miss my Mom.”
Now we both were quiet and I felt about an inch tall!
After a while she said “I’m Norma.”
I hoped that meant she didn’t think less of me.
“Hi Norma,” My hand went out automatically, I remembering too late that girls don’t shake hands as reflexively as guys.
“Stephanie,” I said, as we briefly clasped, Norma’s hand slightly clammy. That was the name I’d chosen some time before, rather than Christine, derived from my first name, which would’ve been just too obvious. My sister, who’d thought the whole thing was damned ridiculous, hated the name.
“It’s stupid, Chris. Your second name is Steven not Stephen!”
“I’m glad we met, Stephanie,” Norma said, sounding like she meant it. “You’re a nice person.”
“Thanks, you too.”

3.
The idea had started back in my Junior year, at Western Washington University. I was a Psychology Major aiming at a career in counseling. Intrigued by sex and gender, I thought I might eventually work with persons experiencing dysphoria, perhaps contemplating sexual reassignment. The university had three relevant courses, one in Psychology, one in Sociology, the other in Anthropology. I took these as well as some Womens’ Studies courses. One of my term projects was to take on an alternate-gender role or experience. I got permission to job-shadow a house parent in the adolescent girls’ Cottage at the State School For the Blind, in Vancouver. I spent a weekend, closely chaperoned; with the girls (making no attempt to disguise my identity), sitting in on dispute arbitrations, sharing meals, watching TV, listening to records, even attending a Saturday fitness class in the gym.
My paper went over well, encouraging further study. When I was accepted into the Counseling Master’s, I stuck with Sociology and Gender Studies as my area of concentration. The gender reassignment stuff was fascinating and I had a strong affinity with women generally. Being in classes where I was often the only male was enlightening. How to turn that into a research project on which to base a thesis?
I started going down to The Ingersall Gender Clinic in Seattle, where I attended support group meetings for transvestites and transsexuals. (Easy differentiation, transvestites tend to switch between male and female roles while transsexuals generally don’t. Transvestites may not have surgery, but still consider themselves to be other-gendered while Transsexuals are about much more than clothes.)
After a couple meetings at Ingersall it became clear that other members would be more likely to open up to me if I presented in a dress from time to time. Posing it as just a lark, I had Beth (four years older than me) dress and make me up for a graduate Halloween party. Everybody was so shit-faced though, I doubt half of them noticed what I was wearing. Beth was okay about the party. She could even see why I wanted to dress for Ingersall because at bottom, though confused I think she appreciated my interest in womens’ experiences.
Then Barbara, my graduate advisor took me behind closed doors one day and inquired if I’d yet settled on a research topic. I’d kicked around a number of ideas, most of them based on population studies at the gender clinic but I had nothing concrete.
“I’ve been thinking,” Barbara said. “The whole subject of blindness and transgenderism appears to be a wide-open field. I’ve taken a brief look at the literature and turned up nothing whatever about blindness and gender; little enough about disabilities generally.”
“There’re probably not that many blind transgender people,” I pointed out. Blind people are only about half of one percent of the population and trangendered people are much rarer. The intersection wouldn’ be that big.
“True,” she said “which means anything one could discover about the interaction of gender issues and sightlessness could hardly help but be pivotal.”
Like any good therapist Barbara gave me space then to contemplate.
Finally I said “I suppose I could advertise, in magazines for blind adults, find persons I could survey or interview.”
“That’s one approach,” she said “I might suggest another.” Again she waited.
“Okay?”
“You’ve shared in class,” Barbara said, “that blind persons often receive unwanted help from sighted people and are treated as if they are helpless. You’ve commented that you feel you’ve often been treated like a female, being assumed to be weaker, less capable, even less well informed.”
“Certainly” I said, finding my Intrigue Button being tapped.
“We have a fair amount of information on transgendered persons,” Barbara was warming to the topic, “Lots of information on womens’ experiences, even a fair amount of data on blindness per se, but how would blindness affect how the sighted public reacted to a transgendered-seeming person, or for that matter the perception of transgenderism on how a blind person is treated by sighting persons she meets?” Having given the first breath of life to her monster so to speak; my advisor mostly sat back and watched it–me– take shape.
There being a lot to learn was a vast understatement.. Spending a couple of hours in a dress at a safe Location where everyone knew who I was and why I was there, couldn’t count as truly venturing out into the General Public. I needed to expend my best effort to pass.
Lisa Denke, a drama student at Western and a classmate in the Anthropology of Gender Class, heard about my project and offered her assistance. Lisa took me through walking, standing, sitting and taught me what she could of hand gestures. She started me off with some speaking techniques, modifying the way I said things, what I said and how to avoid some easy giveaways. One weekend we drove down to Seattle to meet with Cassandra Evans, a speech expert interested in transsexual makeovers. Dr. Evans showed her subjects oscilloscope traces, visual sound patterns of words or phrases as a woman would say them, then showed how they compared with one’s own. Of course I couldn’t see the patterns on the screen, but with her and Lisa describing where the anomalies occurred then with me listening to practice exercises and using my own ears to critique, I got along reasonably well. As Barbara had said though, “You don’t have to become a woman. Some agendericity should be expected and might even help you gather data.”
So now, here I was on this bus, maybe twenty miles out of Bellingham, Washington.

4.
“Where will you stay tonight?” Norma again nudged me out of my reverie, almost causing me to break character.
“I’ll get a motel room downtown,” I said. “I can catch a bus out to the U. W. in the morning.”
“I’ve got a room”” she said, “It’s near the bottom of Capital Hill. If you need a place to crash, there’s a couch and we could talk and toast marshmallows on the hot plate and you know–”
I was about to say thanks and refuse gently, since my plan involved making my way through public facilities; the intricacy of transport, motel, restaurant; but; “I’d really appreciate some company,” Norma said.
My plan modified all of a sudden. Wasn’t I after, some genuine life experiences from a female perspective, some genuine reactions from sighted people with whom I came into contact? Well, here I’d made a friend, who’d invited me for a sleep-over. What could be more genuine than that?
“Are you sure you have room?” I inquired. “I mean the couch is just fine and I’ve got some food along too, but are you really okay with me being there?”
“Oh yes,” Norma said. “It’ll be great fun! In the morning” she said with finality, “You just get on the number Four Montlake and that’ll take you all the way to Campus!”
“Wonderful!”
I can’t recall what all we talked about the rest of the way to Seattle. I couldn’t have told you the next day. I can tell you it was one of those conversations that while being about nothing very much in particular, ate up an hour and a half nearly unnoticed.
“Seattle! Those going on to to Tacoma, Olympia, Centralia, Portland Oregon please go to Gate Six, those going east to Ellensburg, Moses Lake, Spokane, Billings, Montana, Gate two. Claim your luggage at the side of the bus! Thanks for riding Greyhound. Please wait until the coach comes to a complete stop!”
Norma and I stayed where we were until most of the other passengers had debarked then as she slid out of the aisle seat, I extricated myself and my skirt from the close confines and feeling for the luggage rack, eased my pack down, sliding my shoulders into the straps.
Sensing Norma behind me I trailed my way along the broken fence of arm rests to the railing of the exit.
“Just a minute!” the driver’s voice came from the bottom of the boarding stairs. “Don’t fall.”
I stepped nimbly down the steps, remembering a little too late that to avoid drawing attention to myself. I probably shouldn’t act too independent.
“Where do you need to go?” the driver inquired as I allowed him to take my arm for the final step to the pavement.
“I’ll be getting a bus,” I told him. “You need somebody to help you?” He made it sound more like a statement.
“I’ve got somebody with me,” I replied. “Are you there?” I directed this back over my left shoulder.
“I’m right here,” the driver said.
(I felt Norma brush my arm. My hand contacted her angora sweater.)
“I meant my seat mate from this one, was I told him, wondering why Norma wasn’t speaking up.
“Here,” The driver grasped my wrist. “I’d. better get you into the depot. Somebody can help you in there.”
“We’re fine,” I nearly forgot any attempt at passing.
“I’m just trying,” he said, leaning down toward me now and sounding as if I were about four years old, “to assure your safety.”
“We’re fine,” I said again, hoping to match his level of condescension, plus bitchy. I felt for Norma’s arm and directed us toward the terminal door. I’d been here plenty of times and could tell from the pattern of foot traffic where we were, even if I didn’t have a sighted companion.
We went unchallenged through the depot and out the other side to the Eighth and Stuart corner where I knew I could catch any one of several busses going in the right direction. I felt in my coin purse, counting out enough for two fares and then returned my hand to Norma’s elbow. Using my cane to keep from stepping off the curb, I followed her closely to the bus zone.
“Number Ten will be coming here pretty soon I think,” Norma said. I kind of wondered at that. I thought it had been quite a while since that bus had stopped at this particular spot. Still, changes occurred all the time.
By the sound-scape alone we’d seemed to have come here on a weekday not a Friday evening in rather warm weather. That was a bit strange, but maybe there was a festival drawing traffic out someplace like Alki or West Seattle.
“What time does it say the next bus is due?” I asked, opening the unisex Braille wrist watch I wore and holding it up so Norma could see it. Before she could answer, I felt the rush of displaced air, heard the almost simultaneous hiss of air brakes and the sigh of the bus door opening.
“Seventy-two Meridian!” a cheerful voice announced.
“Do you go to Capital Hill?” I inquired.
“You ride long enough, we get there,” he said. “Seat across from me, by the door.” (Didn’t he figure Norma could see that?”) I hesitated for a moment to let her board ahead of me, but hell, we were both girls and I was paying! I stepped briskly up the stairs, felt along the rail to my right, dropped the double farer into the coin box.
“You’ve paid me too much, Ma’am,” the driver said, not unkindly, but it pissed me off. Bus drivers always assume blind people have special bus passes which allow them to ride for a quarter or something and if they don’t, they should.
“I don’t even live in Seattle,” I told him as if it was any of his business.
“Beautiful city,” he said breezily. ” Fare’s eighty cents except at rush hour.” I ignored him settling down in the seat indicated, feeling Norma slide in besides me, and proceeded to sulk. At least he’d called me Ma’am. That was something–.
I usually sleep on Greyhound trips and my postponed nap was catching up with me. I’m afraid I drifted off, my head against the cool glass of the window behind me. At some indefinite time later, the driver said “Where did you want to get off, Miss?”
“Ninth and Denny,” I told him, reminding myself in mid-sentence to pitch the Denny up a bit at the end like a question.
“Good thing I said something,” he chuckled. “We’ll be there in about four blocks. I’m the last bus on this run.” Reflexively I felt to make sure Norma was still there, smiled at her. She remaining silent. Guess she just didn’t feel like talking.
“Next stop Denny,” the driver called, mostly for my benefit, but carrying to the rest of the bus. I touched Norma.
“Are you awake?” I asked.
“Pardon?” the driver inquired.
“I asked if she was ready,” I told him, a little snappishly. He didn’t comment. I rose, one hand behind my skirt, the other extending my cane, as the bus slowed to a stop. Norma seemed to have slipped past me, so I climbed down the steps to the ground before the driver could fully kneel the bus.
“Watch your step,” he said as I hit pavement, then he seemed to pause there for a few moments, as if to see whether we’d have some idea where to go.
“That guy’s a little weird,” I said to my friend, feeling a flush of sisterly connection.
“Lots of weird people in Seattle I’m afraid,” Norma agreed. “Here, we need to go this way.” The sidewalk steepened as she led us up Denny way toward a destination which might as well have been on the other side of the state for all of my ability to locate it.

5.
We may’ve walked a half dozen blocks, me holding Norma’s elbow, before I apprehended odors from garbage cans emptied none too frequently and the sound of late birds serenading themselves toward nighttime slumber.
“Usually the door’s unlocked down here,” Norma told me. She rattle the knob. “Maybe it’s stuck. Not sure I have my key.” In spite of the advice I’d received against rescuing, (I’m stuck out here too!) I took over the door knob and managed to turn it. This let us into a musty entry way and a flight of carpeted stairs which, I would find switch-backed all the way to a third floor.
“I never lock up here,” Norma said. “probably I should. Here,” she gave me her elbow again. “glad you can’t see the mess.” Part of me was just as glad I couldn’t either. The entire building smelled none too fresh, but Norma’s apartment had the air (quite literally) of having been ignored for weeks if not months! I could taste the dust in the room. The echoey quality of the space in which we stood said there was hardly anything in here. I wondered how long Norma’d been vacationing or whatever up north.
“I’m here to visit you dear, not your house!” I grinned, hoping Norma’s mother had said the same kinds of thing mine had and she’d get the joke.
Norma giggled. “Good thing! Well, let’s see what we can put together.”
A rattle of pans issued from the opposite side of the room and a rather timid trickle of water in the sink. “I thought I had some tea around–” Norma said uncertainly.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ve got some bags with me.” I felt my way with my cane, to a couch and sat down–further than I expected and opened my pack. Along with two blouses and two changes of undies I’d packed sandwiches, some cookies, a package of Rye Krisp, a baggie of dried fruit and another of tea, with honey packets and a little plastic lemon. Enough for a couple of meals for one or a party for two.
“Here we are,” I said, laying out the tea and fixings.
“I was wondering what we could do about dinner.” Norma said.
“I’ve got sandwiches,” I offered, pulling out the other provisions. “Peanut-butter, also cheese with lettuce and tomato,” We halved the sandwiches, spreading out the rest on napkins Norma’d found. By now the water was whistling in the kettle.
Norma placed a metal cup in my hand, handle first. It felt rather worse for wear, scored rough in places, maybe a bit rust-spotted. A sip of the tea suggested that the pipes in the building might be overdue for replacement, but I drink my tea strong and that can cover up a lot of funny tastes. “Sorry it’s so messy in here,” Norma said again.
“Looks okay to me,” I told her.
“What?” she laughed a little then. “You know, I do believe I’ve found a bag of marshmallows!”
I whiffed the rather sharp smell of a hot plate element, long unused coming up to red heat once more. Norma began rummaging in a silverware drawer at least that’s what I assumed. “Do you like yours well done or just slightly?”
“Well,” I said. “So how long have you been gone?”
“Hunh?” she asked.
“While you were in Bellingham I mean, Have you been away long?”
“Oh–” She sounded vague, “a while I guess. Sometimes I sort of get in the mood and just need to be someplace else.”
“Here,” she said, putting the handle of a fork in my hand. “Careful. It’s hot.” I can’t say the marshmallow was exactly soft in the center, but I’d never seen anyone toast one on a hot plate either.
“Sandwiches okay?” I asked.
“Of course,” Norma said, though I’d heard no signs of her chewing since I’d divided the food.
“Say, if you want to show me your phone I could call out for pizza. I’ve got some cash with me.”
“No phone,” Norma told me. “Costs money whether you’re here or not, besides–who’m I gonna call?”
“Godfathers?” I grinned.
“No,” she said, “we’ll be just fine. Want another mallow?”
Sitting here on the edge of a frayed couch, hoping my skirt was still covering me, it struck that I was doing precisely the things I’d always been warned against. Here I was in the home of a stranger, really, in a place I’d never been before and nobody the wiser. It felt deliciously liberating. It was safer to be with another girl–wasn’t it? But as my sister’d pointed out, Mom would have a fit–about a lot of things.
“Does your mom live in Bellingham?” I tried again, feeling like an interrogator, but Norma’d said nothing so far which could really be pinned down.
“No,” she said, “she lives right here in town.”
I lifted my cup, took another swallow of the iron-tasting tea and asked in a tone I hoped was casual, “Do you see her very often?”
“No,” Norma stated flatly.
“She’s okay though?” I’d kept getting the idea there was something wrong with the lady!
“Yeah,” she said, “sort of.” This evidently wasn’t a good topic.
“I remember the summer before my Senior year,” Norma remarked suddenly in an almost discordantly bright tone. “I went to Ingram High. I was pretty popular. It was upsetting to leave my friends and go up to Bellingham for the summer. Daddy was teaching summer term at Whatcom Community College, a class on ecology or something. Daddy’s a Marine biologist. We borrowed a cottage on one of those smaller bays that branch off the big one–Bellingham Bay? A cute little ferry running out to an island with only a couple hundred people living there. I could walk on the beach any time I wanted, swim, canoe, have picnics–but I did got lonely.”
“You came back to Seattle then,” I asked. “Fall quarter?”
“Sure,” Norma affirmed. “Daddy didn’t.” Her voice caught. “Oh, for a while he did but that was the last year Mom and him were together. Dad got a research job at Western, where you go?–and he married the instructor who’d gotten him that summer position. Mom stayed here.”
“Did you go to college, Norma?”
“No,” she sighed, wistfully I thought. “I guess by then I’d had enough of colleges and professors. I went to work at a little cafe not far from here. Sometimes I still go back.”
“Go back?” I asked “To the cafe you mean?”
“To Bellingham.”
“Oh” I said, since I thought I understood perfectly. Last happy summer, bitterness against Dad, maybe both parents. No wonder she was estranged.
“Well” I said, hoping I sounded comforting rather than flippant, “you never know what time can accomplish if you just wait on things and let healing happen.”
“Sometimes,” she said.
We shared another cup of tea and the rest of my goodies. After a while I found that the toilet seemed to flush not very completely. The basin provided only a trickle. I didn’t want to be rude enough to try the tub faucet. I’d hoped for a shower in the morning, but might have to make do with a tepid sponge bath.
It was about ten-thirty when Norma yawned and said “I’m sorry Steph, but I’m having trouble staying awake. Can I help you fix up a bed then you just sit up as late as you want?” I tend to be a night owl but Mother drummed good manners into me with her breast milk and I wasn’t about to be a poor house guest.
“Great,” I said. “I’m needing to turn in myself. If you’ve got a blanket or something, I’ll just spread it out here.” I patted the couch cushion next to me, felt a spring coming through.
“Oh we can do better than that,” Norma said. “Here let me move your stuff over.” Now i heard her voice muffled and perhaps a little sniffly, in a closet or some like enclosure. “Here’s a sheet and here’s a blanket and pillow!” She emerged then and proceeded to make up my erstwhile seat as a sleeping place.
“I’ve got a spare nightie that’s clean,” she said. “Doesn’t look like you have a lot of stuff in your bag.” While usually I sleep in briefs or less, I didn’t know what the etiquette of a situation like this demanded. Maybe She’d think it was indecent of me to sleep on her couch almost naked. To be sure, I’d better not at least until the lights were out!
“Well, if you’re sure,” I complied. “That would be nice.” More rummaging and Norma came up with something which felt essentially like a T shirt, but nearly ankle length.
“There, that should fit.”
“Thanks–for this and–for everything!”
“What did I do?” she wanted to know, sounding a little self-conscious.
“You’ve just been a–friend.” I said.
“I needed a friend,” she replied.
As she busied herself with her own bed, I assumed; I slipped into the bathroom, took off my blouse and put the gown over my head. Then divested myself of skirt, shoes and hose. I was wearing a scarf over my rather long hair, which Beth had helped me fix, (not without contumely) this morning. I decided to risk taking the scarf off but to get quickly under the covers.
“When you need to leave tomorrow” Norma said, “I mean if I oversleep or something, just go out my door, take a left, find your way to the stairs there at the end of the hall, follow them down to the front door. When you step out of the building, turn left, follow Denny three blocks to the bus stop.”
I laughed a little. My seminar didn’t start till eleven. There’d be plenty of time, I thought, for both of us to wake up.
“Okay,” I said. “If I can’t manage to wake you up.”
I heard slippered feet approaching the couch. I smelled perfume, something with irises? in it I thought. I felt lips against my ear, one quick peck. “You’ll find your way just fine,” she said. And that was the last thing Norma ever said to me–save one.

6.
Lying there I thought of Mom, Dad, Beth, other people I’ve known, graduating high school, school, getting into Western, choosing a major, how I’d come to be here. I recalled how in order to help me with a story about a boy masquading as a girl to hide from enemy aliens, Mom had suggested I wear a skirt around the house for an hour or so, and what was more, had kept our secret. I reran little confidences, bits of child-hood lore Beth and I shared, huddled together in her bed or out in our back yard pup tent. Later memories, anxieties about sex, relationships, what we knew about human biology, what we wished we knew. The trust still maintained, though not without misgivings, today, this morning, now.
I took some time going to sleep and once or twice, even contemplated getting up to sit and read from the Our Special Magazine I’d brought along with me, possibly take a turn up and down the hall outside. But Norma’s very regular breathing, then hardly any sound whatever, restrained me to keep silent and eventually I must have slept.
(Something–an irritant, anger-provoking! I shove against it. My dream arm like lead. A form landing, crushes me deeply into the fetid cushions. A loathsome mountain of flesh, pressing, unyielding, demanding. I scream but my voice is stopped. Hands clutch at my nightgown. Fabric rips. Warm, wet, putrid, a mouth, mashes against mine, sandpaper cheek rasps. (“Norma!?) But no Norma. Strange, unfamiliar sensations between my legs; more wetness, pain, sharp, stinging, my breast scratched, gouged, hot, wet flowing.)
Fully awake now, I know this for no dream. I bite the lips as they impact, teeth baring, against my mouth. An oath, and the face withdraws, releasing my own cry. Frightening myself but demanding release. A resounding slap on my face. I wrench my hands free. Once I’ve heard on TV a blind man, training to fight, refusing to learn the art of gouging eyes. I feel no such compunction. I rake with nails unfamiliarly long, claw with cat’s frenzy, feel pulp, warm, satisfying. The mass atop me jerks violently, a grotesque cry. I wrench my body free from his floundering furious form. The tail of my gown ripping, trodden upon by someone, tears loose. Sobbing, panting, thrashing desperately I dive headfirst over the couch arm, across the living room–blind instinct propelling me.)
I scrabbled the door open and without cane or any clear map of where I was going, pelting barefooted, blood-soaked, praying for breath, down the hallway.
An echo warned me of the hall’s blank end, but not quick enough. I slammed into plasterboard, rebounded, fell–I must have been unconscious for a moment, perhaps longer. I might have lain there on that greasy hardwood all night if I could, but something beyond reason drove me to rise, my head pounding, hurting in all my places, crawling up the wall. Leaning now I listened, at first hearing nothing, then a series of thuds and now an outcry, deep and guttural.
Yes, I did think of Norma, for a moment, considered going back. but what could I do with no way of taking this–monster? In the apartment he could at any time, flip on a light, probably had; attacking me in any number of hideous ways. If I could lead him away though, perhaps to pass me by and then what? Run, fall, be recaptured?
I heard nothing but felt, a presence, a knowing? a direction. Somehow I knew there was another stairway leading upward from where I was now. My tender feet rebelled at the corrugated runners, I forged on; the guiding presence at my elbow. up, around, up again. I groped along a wall, like the one below, hearing footsteps, the tread of feet at the bottom of the stairs. Moving as rapidly as I could, but desperate to make no sound, I touched a door, froze for a second, then hearing the footsteps turn to the second course of stairs, I tried the knob, praying and it gave. I prized the creaking door open as far as I dared and squeezed inside, my heart stopping as the door clanged shut.
“I’m going to kill you Bitch!”
I’d come, been led? to what appeared an utility closet, smells of grease, soil worn metal, with dust and things more astringent assailing me as I rummaged my environs, contacting tool handles, old sacks, things less recognizable.

7.
“You hear me whore!?”
In one corner of the closet was a clutch of garden tools, from the feel of their handles, shovels and the like. Bending in cramping detritus I located a steel implement with three promising-looking tines. That could do some damage, if I could upend it to bring the cultivating head into position for attack.
Footsteps, nearing!
The closet was too small for me to turn the spading fork end for end, but I moved it to a position behind me and to the right, where should the door be opened, I might bring it up and into action. No more time.
“You hear me Bitch!”
On not overhead shelf at the back of the closet, I found an array of smaller things, an old rusted padlock, a pair of pliers, a glass jar, sandpaper, rags, a knife! likely a refugee of some woman’s kitchen drawer. It was dulled and felt as if it was covered with old paint, Still it had a sharp point and might, I thought with a gut-churning quaver, serve as a last resort. I stuck the knife through the band of my underwear in back where I might grab it with either hand.
“Get out here you bitch!” The voice, pain maddened, made all the more deadly. “I’ll find you!” The footsteps passed my hideout. By the shuffling sounds he made I guessed there were no lights on up here, but might there be a moon or illumination from the street?
The footsteps stopped. Now I heard him making his way back along the wall toward me. This time he punctuated his progress at every step or two with a solid blow on the wall, probably with a closed fist and how long until it would crash into my face or body?
A jar just to the left, then a solid smash right in front of me, wood splintered, then the knob wrenched.
With no time to think, perhaps by reflex, perhaps I had guidance, I shoved the knob hard throwing the door out and open, felt mass on the other side, heard a crash against the opposite wall. The next second found the cultivating fork head upward, in my hands. I lunged from the closet, sweeping the fork in an arc to the left, hoping I’d correctly guessed the width of the corridor. Steel zinged off wall surface then meaty impact as tines struck flesh.
I may’ve done some damage, for he made what I might call an astonished oink noise. Aiming on that sound I threw everything near at hand, the lock, the jar, the pliers, a paint can, more garden tools, anything to hold him at bay.

8.
The torrent of oaths and cries accompanying a few lucky hits, stopped suddenly. Part of me clamored to connect with him, use the knife; end this; but my stock of heroism seemed to be just about depleted. Seizing a broomstick in lieu of a cane I took off down the hallway, toward the back stairs. I caught the top lip before tumbling downward. (Descending is exceedingly dangerous for a blind person in a hurry.) Riding the railing I swung about rapidly as I dared and half fell to a stop on Norma’s floor. “Norma, Norma!” I cried skidding down the bare hallway floor, groping for doorways, tapping clumsily, erratically with my improvised cane.
Tap-tap tap-tap! The mocking sounds drew nearer but only by gradual horrid inches at a time. “Norma,” A falsetto mimicking voice, “Norma!”
He may’ve come down the carpeted front stairs. I judged us to be perhaps 20 feet apart and I was pretty sure there was light down here. If I could get to the apartment door perhaps I could lock myself in and barricade, but something told me that wouldn’t hold him off long. I’m not a fighter but it isn’t as if I haven’t thought of defending myself. A broom handle is a good deal more dangerous than the straws. When I figured there was more like eight or ten feet between us and I had a good idea where he was, I crammed the business end of the broom against my naked shoulder, grasping the wire wrappings with one hand, the stick with the other, Charging!! I caught him solidly–somewhere. He swore and went down hard. Hysterically I flailed at him with the stick. I got in perhaps five licks, three of them caught him I thought. Then he seized my broom yanking it out of my hands. Now I was getting the straw across my body, my face, over my head. He was obviously not in much of a hurry to kill me–yet.
I dropped to my knees, covering my face, then flat on my belly. Remembering the knife I rolled onto my right hip.
“That’s more like it,” the taunting voice said and a calloused hand slapped me over onto my back. I managed to get my left hand down the back of my underwear and around the handle as the horrid weight was on me once more.
He hurt me and I knew I had to take it for a while until I could get a chance. I’d read about women waiting until a guy comes, then stabbing him with a hair pin or some improbable thing but I didn’t think I was going to fool him that long. I felt his hand, hook-fingered, gouging along my cheek, toward my own eyes–they don’t work at all, but I don’t wish to be disfigured–. I Panicked.
I’m slight, can get into a size twelve, but a dozen years in gymnastics paid off. His weight shifting slightly let me loose my pinioned arm. Reaching around I drove the paint knife into his groin from behind. I believed, in time–he would have bled out but
With a ghastly howl he slammed me against the floor then was off me and gone with a lurching gait, making I supposed for the front staircase and the entryway. I couldn’t determine whether or not he made it though because just now, all hell was breaking loose.
From, elsewhere in the building, voices, many alcohol enhanced shouted, cursing, obscene demands after what was going on, who was breaking up the goddam place! “Somebody called the frigin cops!” Desperate and bereft of anything to check the floor in front of me I held my left hand across my body and a little ahead, trailing with my right, searching.
I contacted a door, then another, both locked. The third knob stuck midturn but gave when I applied all my remaining strength. As it swung open I caught again that whiff of iris blossoms– I slammed Norma’s door behind me but it wouldn’t seem to latch properly. I called her name aloud several times, but it was pretty clear she wasn’t there. This fact could almost have escaped me though, because of something even more strange.
The ripped gown I wore had been soaked with blood, both mine and his. Though stiff and smelling somehow corrupt it was now totally dry. Wondering how I’d made myself put it on in the first place. I whipped the gown over my head and threw it in the direction of the couch-bed where I’d begun this horrible night. (This is, if what I am recounting actually occurred at all or in this world.)
Outside the voices were even louder. Capital Hill is an area of town where police are never very far away and already I heard the sirens. I must get dressed, ready to do–what?
Now I realized that I no longer appeared to be injured. I’d been savaged at least three times, must have bled in a dozen places, covered with bruises, scratches, vileness, now only hurting from within.
Rummaging around I found my travel case, got out a clean blouse, nylons. I craved a shower but even with plumbing that worked there’d be no time. I was into my skirt and shoes before knocking began at the door, then it burst inward.

9.
“Will you step out into the hall please?” a baritone voice inquired kindly enough. “Here, may I offer some assistance?” A second officer outside the door, took my arm, whether he thought I’d run or perhaps fall down, I’m not certain. “Can you tell me how you came to be here tonight?” The first officer inquired. “You don’t live here.”
(Think fast!) “I was looking for my friend.” I told them.
“Whose name is?”
“N-Norma,” I said. (For Heaven’s sake, I’ve no idea of her last name!) “Norma Madison,” I said, just picking a name out of the the air; “I think.”
“Norma Madison,” the cop repeated. “And your name?”
“Chris Carlson.”
“Would you have some ID, Chris Carlson?”
“Um, yes, in my bag over there.” I gestured back through the doorway. “Over by the couch.”
“Have you been here long? (The first officer from within the apartment.) Good God, I’d be hard put to describe what I’m looking at right now.”
“A while,” I said. “I was waiting for Norma. She said she’d leave the door unlocked. She told me how to find her apartment. She’s not shown up yet.”
“Nor is she likely to any time soon,” Cop number 1 observed dryly. “Good thing we were in the neighborhood when the disturbance call came in. Have you looked around here, I mean,” embarrassedly, “felt your way around in here?”
“Uh, I found the couch and went to the bathroom a couple of times, otherwise I pretty much just waited.”
“Yeah?” Number 2 said noncommittally. I heard radio static as Number One made a call, to the Precinct Station and then, was it to Harborview Hospital? Something about a Special situation. “Somebody from Sex Crimes will be here soon.” he said, probably to his partner.
“Stepping past me and peering inside, were you eating in there?” Cop Number 2 inquired.
“I had a couple sandwiches with me,” I admitted. “Some crackers and dried fruit, that kind of thing. I’m down here from Bellingham, for a conference in the morning.”
Silence.
“Looks like you didn’t finish up,” said Number 1 after a rather long pause. “Here’s part of a peanut butter sandwich and another that looks like maybe cheese. Here’s a cup of tea? Good grief, what’s this here?”
“What?” I demanded.
“I guess it’s a bag of marshmallows,” Number 2 said. “Looks like they’re about twenty years old.”
“You wouldn’t know anything about a woman’s nightgown would you?” Number 1 asked gently.
“I think I touched something like that on my way to the bathroom?”
“I hope you washed your hands after,” he told me. “It looks older than the marshmallows, but whoever it belonged to in the first place, obviously bled all over it.”
“I don’t know what instructions your friend gave you,” Officer 1 said, “But you sure’s God came to the wrong place. Wow,” he added a little shakily, “it gives me the willies just thinking about someone who can’t see, wandering around in a place like this.”
“No offense,” Number 2 told me as if reading it off a clipboard.

10.
I apprehended someone approaching along the corridor, shoes clacking a staccato on the scarred floor. I smelled perfume, one of those scents that reminds of offices, leather briefcases and high-quality velum parchment.
“ID” Officer 1 said, emerging to reach past me. A moment’s silence.
“Christopher Carlson?” a female voice inquired.
“Chris,” I said.
“Chris, I am Officer Carol Anderson with Special Investigations and this,” her voice drifted as if nodding toward someone, “is Joanne Tolliver, a social worker with Harborview Mental Health Services.”
“Hello, Chris.” A lotioned hand in mine, long, rather intrusive nails. “You are a male person?”
“Ah, presently,” I said. I remembered crossdressers saying that when being stopped by the police, it is best to tell them you’re preparing for a sex change procedure.
“But, you are uncomfortable in a male social role,” more of a statement than a question, but,
“Yes.”
“Are you hurt?” Officer Anderson again.
“Not-no,” I still wasn’t clear on that point. “I’m okay.”
“Let’s walk along to the patrol car,” Officer Anderson said.
“Here is my arm? That’s the best way isn’t it?” Social Worker Tolliver placed a cashmered elbow in my hand. “Do you have a cane, or a dog?” My cane was restored to me. Eventually I’d get the rest of my possessions.
The three of us made inane small talk on the drive over to the hospital. Where did I live? Did I live alone? (yes.) What had brought me to Seattle? Details which I was sure, would end up in a case file.
“I’m supposed to be able to make a phone call aren’t I?” That sounded just too television, but why specifically was I being detained? I could guess several reasons but wasn’t sure which.
“You aren’t under arrest,” said Officer Carol Anderson, driving.
“You seem to have had an upsetting experience,” said Social Worker Tolliver, understandingly. “We want to assure your well-being.
“What about the phone call?” I retried.
“Well,” Officer Anderson, “there’s no particular obligation on the part of the Seattle Police Department at present to provide other than emergency services, but may I ask who you want to call?” I told her. Both women were silent for a few seconds.
“Well,” Officer Anderson said finally, “I don’t believe there’s need for an attorney at this point–?”
“Let’s chat,” I said, “just betwixt us girls. I can tell you right now that already I’ve listed about five things that I could turn into ADA cases. Americans With Disabilities Act,” I added in case they weren’t sure. “Besides, if uninjured and without any consent on my part, I’m being hustled off to a mental facility, I have a right to have someone present who understands my special situation–other than being blind.”
More silence, then (Officer Anderson) “Are you a lawyer, a Law Student?”
“A psychologist,” I told her.
Late that night I woke Deanna Nichols, Counselor At Law, Post-op. Transsexual, support group leader. “Oh, Steph, what have you gotten yourself into!” I heard Dee making lighting up and dragging noises on the other end of the phone. “Give me twenty minutes, honey. I’ll throw on a car coat and come right over. Where are they keeping you?” I had to ask, and to their credit, they told her.
Deanna walked in while I was undergoing a cursory physical exam and was with me while I was debriefed (not interrogated). I never made my conference and it was three days before I was allowed to go anywhere without an escort.
I wasn’t in jail, not really. It was more like a motel room. I had everything I needed, was visited frequently, but the door didn’t open on my side. After going through the story so many times I lost count, they decided what I’d been saying all along was so. I’d somehow let myself into an unoccupied apartment in a condemned building, on the anniversary of a particularly bloody murder committed there. Years later that event was still local legend. Female screams and male shouts were reported from that same location, the causes of which were still unclear. All of this went down just before I’d been “rescued.” Had the screams been mine? Honestly, I’d have to say no.

11.
I was released in the company of Deanna, who drove me to her apartment over near the north end of Volunteer Park where mansions still stand and old Seattle money still lives.
“I’ve done some checking,” Dee said as we sat in her parlor, sipping iced coffee and nibbling tea biscuits. “The police were entirely fuddled, still are. Some things just didn’t fit.” Dee lit a cigarette. “But sometimes,” she exhaled, “an apartment or hotel room, a house–will acquire a reputation, especially among those with a superstitious turn of mind. A young woman named Norma Jensen lived in the building you found your way to Friday evening, and was murdered there. This was about a dozen years ago, according to a P.I. Friend of mine. The night she died residents of the Calhoun, the name of that fleabag, called to report a disturbance in their building. The assailant or assailants seemingly got clean away.
I could tell Dee was leaning forward in her recliner. “Later that night though, A man identified as Donald Weaver a known rapist, was killed, less than two blocks away.” She exhaled in studied dramatic fashion. “Here’s the goddessawful creepy part though,” she said. “I mean the whole thing was creepy, but hold onto your panties, this you won’t believe!” Another pause for effect. “Mr. Weaver was struck by a car while fleeing from the vicinity of the Calhoun, witnesses reported, smashed right down in the intersection of Bleith and Harvard, but when paramedics got to him, they found his left eye was gouged out and there was a rusty paint covered knife buried to the handle in his groin. Darling–even after my surgeries, that still gives me sympathetic crotch distress, not that I suppose we need waste time grieving over that low-life!”
(Thank you) said a voice from an unexpected direction.
“What?” I asked, angling my head that way.
“I said it must’ve been pure agony!” Deanna replied.
“Oh–” I said, feeling the presence of someone, I’d not been fully aware of till now, slip away. A scent of irises, task accomplished.
“Okay,” I said, “Now you grab ahold of yours.” I don’t smoke but I drained my cup of strong, black coffee holding it out for more. “I’ve got a story you won’t believe.”

12.
That’s about all there is to tell, meaning there’s volumes really but other stories for other times. I spent the night with Dee, made a support group meeting that evening, which I really needed. Next morning I met with Erica Parsons, Dee’s Private Investigator friend. Erica is a paranormal investigator as well as a licensed private detective. She’s the sort of person real cops treat with ridicule or bored indulgence if they deal with her at all. Hell, I probably would have dismissed her just as handily, until I met Norma.
I never submitted a thesis, electing to take the comprehensive exams instead and got certified to teach. I eventually landed a job at the same community college where Norma’s dad taught that summer long ago. I’ve run into him and his wife on a visit to Western and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I make enough to get by, but teaching is neither my life nor my real work.
Before ink was dry on my diploma I started going out with Erica on some of her assignments. I’ve found that I’m a person that dead victims, women mostly, talk to. My passage into that other time, other world, other plane, whatever you’d call it, seems to have left a mark of some kind on me, something easy to spot. Often I go en femme as they say. Symbols appear to be important to spirits.
“At least you’re going out with a woman,” Beth said when she caught me making up for an assignment. Mom figures I’m writing the great American Feminist novel. My former thesis advisor is sure I’m immersed in denial. Whenever I doubt myself however, I have only to remember a bus ride one sunny northwest afternoon and girl talk over Lipton and “twenty year old” marshmallows.