On Writing

"Every fine story must leave in the mind of the sensitive reader an intangible residuum of pleasure, a cadence, a quality of voice that is exclusively the writer's own, individual, unique."
Willa Cather

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Robbie and David: A Story

            Some years ago my husband and I were living on the Texas Gulf coast in a small fishing village located on a series of canals.  It had a diverse population of about two thousand souls--from millionaires with boats so big they had to moor them at the Galveston marina, to college students who traversed the canals with kayaks and canoes.  The only things they had in common was a desire to live on the water and to maintain their much vaunted Texas independence.  Most of us were something in the middle, though, and the general atmosphere was one of friendliness and tolerance.  We had a city government with a mayor and aldermen and a substantial police force, which gave our place the reputation of being the “safest little city in Texas.”  Furthermore, the flat, featureless land that led to the wetlands and from there to the Gulf seemed to give a promise of the ordinary, the expected.   There seemed never to be anything ‘round the bend since there were no bends.
            Within six months of our arriving there, we went as guests of our new friends, Marge and Harry Mason, to the Third Friday Dinner Club, held at the local Community Center.  It was crowded and noisy, not exactly my cup of tea, so ultimately we never joined the group.  That evening, however, as I examined our neighbors at the long table where we were sitting, I noticed a couple at the end, who were distinctive in looks.  He was remarkably handsome, dark-haired, of medium build but strong-looking, as if he worked out.  His name tag said, “David Meador.”  Next to him, wearing a label that announced, “Robbie Meador,” sat an unusual looking woman.  My first impression was that they didn’t quite seem to match up as a couple.  She was as tall as he, sitting down, partly because of her rather out-of-date hairdo, a Gibson Girl, the platinum hair smoothed into a high, immaculate coif.  Her face was very carefully made up and her arched brows gave her a wide-awake look.  Even so, I thought her face had a mask-like quality.  I guessed them both to be in their mid-thirties.  At some point we formally met the couple, and I was struck by David’s animated personality.  He seemed to “carry” them as a couple.  Robbie was nearly mute, though she smiled pleasantly. 
            They stood to go to the buffet line and I could see that Robbie Meador was wearing a pair of off-white silk slacks that matched her tunic.   Her jewelry was impressive, if overdone, many gold chains and diamond earrings.   Asking our hosts about them, I found that Robbie worked, not surprisingly, as a jewelry clerk at a large department store.  David was an English teacher at the community college, about ten miles away, where I had applied to teach part time, also English.  I suspected I might run into him occasionally.  They were a few people in front of us, but I couldn’t help but notice how David carried on conversations with those around him while Robbie stood like a stump–or should I say, a kind of mannequin. 
            I thought no more about the Meadors until a couple of weeks later when I was at the college after completing my classes for the day and returning to my car.  It was a warm day, but the usual breeze made it quite pleasant to walk the grounds, well kept and blooming with plumeria and hibiscus.  Beside the many kinds of palm trees, the scrub oaks and water maples provided much needed shade.  I decided to stretch my legs and take the long way around to my car, going behind the Science building at the far edge of the campus. 
            Following the walk, I came upon a grouping of benches at a small fountain and although he didn’t see me at first, I saw David Meador with his arm around the back of a bench where he and a young woman sat.  I recognized her as another adjunct teacher.  We had been in the same earlier orientation and she had remarked this was her second term of teaching part time.
            David’s face was turned toward the teacher, whose name I couldn’t recall, though I remembered her petite beauty.  She looked to be in her late twenties with a sweet face and short brown hair worn in casual waves.  He seemed to be in an intimate conversation, teasing and animated, so I walked on without acknowledging him, slightly embarrassed, as if I had gone out of my way to spy on him.  But he had seen me and called out a hello.  I waved and smiled and continued on my way.  Thereafter while at the college, I looked particularly to see if David and the little adjunct were seen together again.  Once, I saw him with his arms braced against a wall, enclosing her, if you will, while they spoke.  But he broke away suddenly, and she turned away, looking unhappy.  I still didn’t know her name.
            Robbie, on the other hand, seemed to move openly in my world, both of us attending the evening garden club, and a morning exercise class.  We both worked, along with many others, on the community Fall Cleanup.  On that occasion, she even gave me a ride home from the dumpster where I had deposited some sacks of roadside junk.  The day was again very hot, and she was kind enough to offer me a lift to my home down the long canal.  She, herself, lived on another canal two streets away.  Again, I was struck by her careful makeup and clothing even on a work project.  She wore jeans, but they were beaded at the cuff and she had ropes of coral around her neck.  She really was an amazing looking woman.  I thought at the time about her husband and his apparent dallying with the adjunct.
            Time went on in the fishing village until the end of the semester and the garden club Christmas Party.  Spouses, mainly the guys, since few men attended the club, were invited, and we all went out for dinner at a nice restaurant first, then back to the clubhouse to exchange Christmas ornaments (a tradition) and play some games.  I happened to be in the restroom at the same time as Robbie, and when I commented on how enjoyable the evening was, she agreed but as was her style, said very little else
            David was on hand at the party, looking his usual striking self in black trousers and a white Mexican wedding shirt.  He, like Robbie, was also wearing some gold around his neck, but hers was even more magnificent than usual.  Her dress was pale beige and sparkled with stones.  It exactly matched her hair, and the knot at her crown, on this occasion, was pierced by a rhinestone-studded hair ornament.  Although David couldn’t be called attentive, I could detect no tension in their relationship, and decided I had read into David’s encounters at the college more than was warranted.  Robbie, as I surreptitiously looked her over, seemed to be a little too solemn for the occasion, her carefully made-up eyes a little puffy.  From tears?  I wondered.
            I left off teaching spring semester as we had some traveling to do, which would take me away from home for several weeks at a time.  While at home, however, I continued my activities with my friends, occasionally seeing Robbie and sometimes her and David together at functions or meetings.  Then one late afternoon in March, I got a phone call from my friend Marge, who sounded very excited.   I took the phone outside on the deck and sat down to enjoy a long chat.
            “Do I have something to tell you,” she repeated, almost gasping.  “Harry was on his way home when he saw two police cars and an ambulance in front of the Meadors’s  home.  He stopped to see what was going on, and being an alderman the police let him in.”  She paused dramatically.
            “And . . .” I coaxed.
            “Oh, it’s terrible.  He saw a body with a sheet thrown over it.  Robbie was dead and had just been cut down from the rope still dangling from a beam.”
            At that moment, a group of seagulls discovered a neighbor across the canal cleaning fish on his dock and swooped in, setting up their raucous, hyena-like cries.  The sound of the laughing gulls was not only noisy but seemed irreverent, considering the news I was trying to absorb.  I moved indoors.  “Robbie is dead?  How did it happen?”
             David, apparently, had called the police to break into the house after getting a phone call from Robbie threatening suicide.  The police chief told Harry that David had moved out and was living in an apartment in another town.  He’d left Robbie for someone else, which triggered the event.  But even more shocking to the little group at the scene, and later to those who heard the news second hand, was the unmistakable fact that Robbie was a man.
            “A man turned into a woman–a sex change, you mean?” I asked, incredulous.
            “No.  I mean a man, no more, no less.”
            News of this spread quickly through the community, and the reactions were mixed.  My husband believed he knew it all along.  Friends and neighbors of the couple expressed shock and disbelief, sorrow, and some even anger, feeling it unfair they’d been duped into accepting Robert (for that was his name) as a woman, and I must admit I felt a flash of resentment myself.  After all, hadn’t he used the ladies rest room as if he had every right to be there?  And with women present.  The whole subterfuge seemed ridiculously sneaky and unnecessary.  Why couldn’t Robbie have either come out of the closet openly or gone for the sex change?  How difficult for me to accept that for Robbie life without David was hopeless.  Did she–he, rather, believe he was trapped into loneliness forever, never to find someone who would accept the pretense?  I didn’t know and couldn’t guess, and it all seemed terribly sad and a waste.
             We didn’t attend the funeral, since we were not intimates of the couple, and we also didn’t want to face David, who was acting the part of chief mourner.  He’d moved back into the house, but soon we heard he’d put it up for sale.  Within a few months he’d moved out of the area and, I understood, would be teaching elsewhere.  I later heard at the college he and the adjunct had gotten married and were living north of Houston.  As far as I could tell, the names of David and Robbie were never mentioned again among the residents of the fishing village.