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"Twenty-three years ago," his father rolled on, "your mother and I decided to have a child. God blessed us with a wonderful baby boy." He seized Billy’s hand and began kissing it. "And I thank God, because despite everything that happened between your mother and me in the next twenty-three years, and despite all her talk of wabi, and despite the fact that she’s left me — "

He was sobbing, and Billy cried too, perhaps for his father, perhaps for himself, perhaps because he cried easily now, or perhaps simply because human beings have a tendency to mirror the facial expressions of others near them. A nurse came into the doorway, saw them, and left.

"May I have a tissue?" Billy’s father asked.

Billy passed him the box from the nightstand, and his father blew his nose with a resounding honk. Billy remembered that noise, and another, aSHAsha!, which was his father’s sneeze. It always surprised Billy to stumble across something he remembered.

"I want you to come home and live with me," his father told him. "Your mother kept your room just the way you left it. The house is too big now that she’s gone." He watched Billy for a time. "Well?"

"I don’t know," said Billy. He had just noticed that his father had left lipstick all over the back of his left hand. Billy didn’t want to wipe it off in front of him, and his hand began to tingle, then to itch, then to crawl with itches like a hundred bugs were on it. He couldn’t wait for his father to leave the room.


When Melissa came in, Billy was flipping through the pages of his blue notepad. Slowly, reading, he told her, "My father was here to see me."

"I know," said Melissa.

There was a silence, and Billy said into it, "My father is a woman."

"I know," Melissa said again, sitting at the edge of the bed and stroking his forehead. "Dr. Hansen told me about him."

"Her," Billy corrected. "Because, y’know, any man with a vagina and breasts out to here deserves to be called a woman."

Melissa smiled. "That’s true."

"My father is my mother," said Billy.

It was raining, but the drops were so fine that from across the room Billy and Melissa could not hear them hit the window, could not even see them, knew it was raining only because the mist beaded up occasionally and ran down the glass. In most places rain is an event, noticed and remarked, but in Portland it is, like time or gravity, a thing assumed. Time and gravity and rain cut canyons in the earth, change the shape of a mountain as easily as a thumb smudges a newspaper’s text. They are the agencies of erosion, and their operation is as gradual, as inevitable, as gentle and as brutal as forgetting.

"You know something?" said Billy. "If I want to know what happened to me, I have to pick up my notes and read about it." Billy closed his notepad. "At the end of the day, I feel like I haven’t done anything."



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