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"Thank you, son," said his father, pulling up the purple chair. "Isnít your girlfriend here tonight?"

"Melissa," said Billy. Marking his place with a thumb, he flipped pages until he came to the heading M, and ran his finger down the side. "Melissa," he said again.

"Melissa," his father agreed.

"What day is it?" Billy asked.

"Wednesday," said his father.

"Every night except Monday," Billy read slowly, "Melissa works at Club 666, where they have live rock music and serve alco ó alcoholic bev ó bever ó "

"Beverages," said his father.

"Youíve been there?" Billy asked.

"Billy ... " said his father. "I would have come sooner, but I had to go to Colorado for the operation. And afterward I didnít want to upset you with the way I look. How are you feeling?"

"Iím not sure," said Billy. "They say my memory is messed up, but I canít tell ó I canít remember anything to compare it with."

"I wish somebody would wipe out my memory," Billyís father said quietly. "Then Iíd know myself only as a woman."

"Thatís how I look at you," said Billy.

Billyís father rose halfway out of his chair and kissed Billy on the cheek and forehead. "Thank you. God! Thank you for that." He was clenching Billy so tightly that the bed creaked with his sobs.

"Youíre crying, Dad," said Billy.

"Thatís nothing new for me," said his father, subsiding into the chair and dabbing at his eyes with the napkin from Billyís dinner. "I just used to hide it from you."

"Your chest feels kind of funny," Billy said.

"Saline implants," said Billyís father. "They make an incision beneath the armpit" ó he traced it with a French-manicured fingernail ó "and then they slip a kind of water-balloon into the subcutaneous envelope over the pectoralis muscle."

Billy was looking at the remains of his dinner, the picture that fluttered silently across the television screen, the painting of a sad clown on the wall. Finally he reached over to the nightstand and lifted the lid from the box of Seeís chocolates. "Do you want a ó ? Would you like one of these?"

"Oh, no thank you, son," said his father.

Billy picked up the remote control and turned the television off. "What about your job?"

"I quit," said his father. "Iím temping."

Billy pushed the heels of his hands against the edge of the table and his fingers groped the air. "What did they ó what did they do with ó "



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