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"The surgeon didnít cut my penis off," his father said in an equanimous tone, as if describing something that had been done to someone else. "He reformed the penile tissue into a vaginal tunnel. Itís like turning a finger of a glove inside out. I still have sexual sensitivity, though not the reproductive capacity. He also gave me a cervix with an os. Iíll be able to fool the gynecologist." He leaned over Billy. "Youíre taking notes again?"

"I have to." Billy read over what heíd written. "Did it hurt?"

"Not the operation itself," said his father. "I was under a general anesthetic. But Iím still tender."

The sad clown looked at Billy for a while. "When did you get it done?"

"On April twelfth," said his father.

Billy stared back opaquely.

"Today is the ninth of May," said his father.

Billy flipped back a page in his notepad. "Whatís wabi?"

His father took a deep breath and crossed his legs with the soft sigh of pantyhose. "According to your mother, the seemingly flawed thing can be perfect ó if it has the perfect flaw. Wabi is this state of true perfection." He watched the eraser on Billyís pencil doodle figure-8ís in the air. "Your mother told me a story ó "

"A true story?" Billy asked.

"If itís not," said his father, "that would only give the story its own wabi. Are you sure you want to write it all down?"

"Yes," said Billy. "Should I put it under W for wabi or M for Mom?"

"M," said Billyís father.

In capital letters neatly centered on the page, Billy wrote, Momís Story.

"A Japanese nobleman wanted to impress a wise old sage," his father began, "so he went out and purchased the rarest and most beautiful tea service money could buy. He had the sage over for tea, but the sage said nothing about his tea service. The nobleman smashed the expensive tea service to bits and thought no more about it. A ragpicker found the pieces in the noblemanís garbage. Every night, by the light of a candle, he sifted through the fragments and glued the tea service together again. In six weeks the ragpicker was finished, and he invited the sage for tea. After the tea ceremony, the sage told the ragpicker, ĎI have seen this tea service before. Only now has it truly attained the quality of wabi.í"

Billy stacked the empty dishes in front of him, then unstacked them. "Is that why Momís gone?"

"I donít know," said Billyís father. "But I was forced to think about a lot of things when your mother left me. I made many decisions in just a few days. Maybe too many."

"Yeah," said Billy.

"Be that as it may," said his father, "there are some decisions you canít go back on. Like one very important decision your mother and I made twenty-three years ago."

"Címon, Dad." Billyís legs were squirming under the sheet.



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