December 10, 2009 by The Citron Review
by Steve Da Jarnatt
Zelda had known since long before puber-time that SHE was HE within. She’d been given up young—fostered, tossed and turned through a sad mirage of familial structure. She was hurt, grew scar tissue, coped poorly, then well—tempering herself like Swedish steel with each fresh pain, till nothing could ever get inside again.
At seventeen Zelda ran off to Cali, squatting in a kiosk on the Venice Boardwalk for a mere month before new girl ‘it-ness’ found her as it always seemed to. Whip-bright and wickedly adaptive, she was her own person in the world, emancipated, but not a man. Fashionistas were dazzled by the magnetic confusion of her androgyny. She played bass in two bands. Another Auf der Maur in the making. But foremost she worked her skills hard, and became a fearless champion street luge racer with much fandom, sweet sponsors and burgeoning bank.
Zelda looked at others with predatory, deep-set alpha male eyes, feeling that in another life she must have been a cocksman supreme—sensing a phantom dick as real as the dawn, filling blood hard, envisioning the rampaging will of it as many the lover-prey bowed down to her dark charisma.
On her eighteenth birthday, Zelda decided from this moment forth to be ZED. God’s gaffe would be rectified by whatever means necessary. The cruel fate of some puny enzyme failing to trip its proper hormone in birth mom’s fallopian funhouse so long ago was not Zed’s fault. A gender mulligan would be had.
The day before meeting with the surgeon, Zed’s lady Kar-la dropped a bomb.
“Zed, what about us? How can I know I’ll still love you, after, when I know I love you now?”
“There’s no us if I’m not me, K.”
Kar-la was sweet beyond belief but a damage collage from early life by things too unspeakable to speak of. Because Zed was seemingly immune to the thousand cuts of life, Kar-la gravitated helpless to him when he said he would kill that uncle of hers, if ever their paths should cross. Kar-la only wished for just a tiny glimpse of his doubt, some small crack in the steel sheen. But Zed withheld that from her always.
Dr. Jane Fallon was the cream of the pre-op crop and Zed had waited extra months just to have her at the helm of his transformation.
Zed and Kar-la were waiting out in the lounge, when there was a burst of shouting in the back. Zed’s limbic nature jumped him up, ready to tussle with whatever might be wrong. Dr. Fallon appeared at the door, ashen.
“Please, Zel…Zed…. Come back here for a moment please, if you would.”
In the exam room, Dr. Fallon finally entered with charts, doing her best to feign a professional calm.
“Not gonna tell me I got a cancer or something?” Zed asked.
“No, no, you’re in splendid health. But a cursory cross-filing of your DNA did lead us to find your birth mother. The one who abandoned you. She died last year. I’m so sorry.”
Zed said nothing.
“You’re not moved one way or another?”
“Saves me goin’ to jail maybe, for fuckin’ her up if I ever met her. So good thing, the long run maybe, huh?”
“As a matter of fact Zed, your mother, she was in prison when she died.”
“For things too unspeakable to speak of.”
Dr. Fallon lowered her gaze to the floor.
“Before she… when you were just …”
“Doc I don’t remember a thing about her.”
“Zed … you were born male.”
“That’s why I’m here Doc. I’ve always known that since day one. We did those umpteen psyche tests. I know this in my heart, I know it!”
“Not inside Zed. Not feelings. In fact. You came into this world, how can I put this—blue bonnet, not pink.”
Zed gave into a nervous smile.
“Heidi Mangrum, your mother, she was a trained surgical RN. But she had a sickness.”
“Nurse, huh? Always thought some trailer crackhead or something, ya know. Can I get her sickness? Is it in my bones?”
“It’s nothing contagious. Your mother, she did a series of terrible, terrible things Zed. It was a famous nightmare case we studied in school. It went beyond Munchausen’s by proxy. It went beyond anything. She was convicted of twenty-seven illegal surgeries while posing as a reconstructive surgeon.”
“So you’re saying… like if she’s my moms… I could be as fucked up in the head someday?”
“What I am saying Zed, and please listen to me very carefully, your mother made you into a girl when you were a year old. Surgically. You were not born with your vagina. It was constructed by her. From the penis you were born with. Sliced, split, peeled back and sewn up inside you into a pouch. Faux labia. She did this quite expertly. Perhaps why it took so long to catch on to her.”
Zed stared, and then stared some more.
“She did this to you, not God Zed. And I will try with every skill I have to make it right again—to make you whole.”
Zed tried to laugh but couldn’t, his breath drawing fast and shallow as every bit of the alpha began to slowly drain from his eyes.
Out in the lounge, Kar-la heard a low moan that rose to a pitiful howl like some wounded animal caught in a trap. She smiled, broke down in joyous tears. It was something she had never heard before, but she knew it was pain rendered into sound and it was music to her ears at this moment. She might never hear it again but it was enough to know Zed’s steel could crack just once.
She would comfort him, as this impossible wound would try to heal, Kar-la knew now that she was needed and they would love always and forever after Dr. Fallon restored full Zedness back to Zelda.
Steve De Jarnatt grew up in the logging town of Longview, WA where he briefly held the state high school track record in the quarter mile. He attended Occidental College, graduated from The Evergreen State College and just completed the Creative Writing MFA program at Antioch University, Los Angeles. He currently dwells in Los Angeles and wrote and directed the indie feature Miracle Mile among other film and television credits. He will be moving to Port Townsend, WA in the near future to live and write. His first published story “Rubiaux Rising” will appear in the forthcoming The Best American Short Stories – 2009, guest edited by Alice Sebold.
The story made me think of a recent article. The whole thing is worth a read, but here’s an appropriate excerpt.
“One might compare the Mowgli stories with Edgar Rice Burroughs’s eugenic fantasy Tarzan, for which Burroughs borrowed many details from The Jungle Books, including a godlike hero of superhuman strength, agility, and physical beauty raised in the wild by ferocious animals. But Burroughs departs from Kipling in his insistence that Tarzan’s birth parents are English nobility, Lord and Lady Greystoke, and that what this child nurtured by apes learns about proper behavior comes not from the beasts of the jungle but rather from the books his parents have left behind and that he miraculously learns, with no guidance, to read. Mowgli, by contrast, is adopted by wolves who happen to be model parents. He grows up not with callouses on his knees and elbows, cowering in the shadows, but rather as a virile and sensitive leader, powerful in mind and body, who can kill a tiger, make complicated moral choices, and right the wrongs in both human and animal communities.”
Christopher Benfey, “Rudyard Kipling was a Great American”, The New Republic