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Crime Transgender Fiction

Flying with Sparrows by J. M. Oxford

Sparrows parade on tree branches outside my window. They cozy up to each other until taken by flight. I dream of flight – far away to exotic territories; an island would do. Oh, Monday, Monday – coffee, and e-mail. Let’s see. August 29th, 1960, an offer from the university featuring a study abroad program – Spain, Germany, Costa Rica, and Cuba … Cuba! Oh, imagine an island get-away.

Monday mornings feel a bit confining. It's as if I need to break out of a cocoon of comfort to trudge the road of continuous success. I am willing. Two more sips of coffee and I’m out the door. Walking down the old wooden stairs, I grabbed the wobbly handrail thinking of how nice it would be to sit upon the shores of a beach in Cuba. I think of Hemingway and his many six-clawed cats. I love cats, I love Hemmingway – would I love Cuba?

A faint reminder from chirping sparrows falls upon my ears now that I am four flights down. Their songs are imprinted in my mind. The brisk air is warmed by the sun's rays. I watch as the morning dew dissipates. Little droplets vanish before my eyes. It’s early Fall in Boston.

My high-heels are too tight and my skirt … too short, women are expected to dress like sex objects in a man’s world. Pretty gets me through a lot of doors - but skills will keep me there. So, I work and go to school. It is hardly work. I answer phones in a law firm filled with people of self-importance. Not me, I am a stick figure in a short skirt and heels watching an elevator door - secretly wishing to fly with the sparrows.

“Good morning, Mr. Hoffman. Lovely morning isn’t it!”

“Ah, ya. Do I have any mail?” He walks away taking important steps towards his office. 

The elevator doors open again, and right in front of my desk stands a rather handsome man, the founder of the firm. He stands and stares at me – not a word.

 “Good morning Mr. Kaye. How may I help you?”

“It’s your make-up. You are a vision of beauty. It’s nice to arrive

and have you here greeting the clients. Welcome to the firm. Think about going to the Parker House across the street with me for lunch sometime soon.”

 He slowly walks off to the board room, which I prepared with pens, notepads, and water. He stares at me as he walks away. A bizarre stare, as if he knows my secret.

“Thank you, Mr. Kaye. I will check my calendar.” My voice rose an octave.

Lunch with the founder of the firm? I can’t imagine the questions he will ask during small talk. I wonder if this is the protocol for new employees. I’ll just focus on my education. Surely that will generate interest. If he ever knew the truth I would surely be fired.

Sparrows aren’t the only creatures that amaze me. Their dance isn’t the only dance that resonates deep within. Men amaze me, as well. I am faint in size with long, curly locks. Many mistake me for a woman. So, I dress the part. After all, everything about me is female except for the parts of me contained in frilly undergarments. As comfortable as I am with myself, I fear society at large. The idea of being found out is devastating.

The morning rush increases with important lawyers and their clients checking in. This is my second week – my second Monday on the job. I rather like the gold-leafed edging on my cherry wood desk. The firm represents high-profile cases defending the rights of multi-national corporations – the people vs the corporations. It can be disheartening. Corporate lobbying holds a place in this firm – thus, the colorful paintings donated by lobbyists.

Lunchtime interrupts the board room meeting; members stroll out toward the elevator. Some stand there looking at the numbers above the doors – one lady pushes the red-ringed down button as if ten times will make it come any faster. A crowd begins to gather as they await the arrival of the elevator. Small talk fills the air – chattering of numbers and policies not meant to be confidential. They like to hear themselves talk. I’d rather hear a sparrow sing.

Finally, the lobby clears, and I am alone with the art and the gold leaf. When they return, I can call a secretary to cover for me and slip out for my lunch. Here comes Mr. Kaye. He saunters around the corner of the desk brushing my hair with a flip of the curls. He rests his hand on my shoulder asking if ‘now’ is a good time for lunch.

I gasp, surprised. His hand's on me, his breath hitting my cheek as he bends down to invite me – ‘now’ ???

“Oh, Mr. Kaye, I cannot leave yet. I am required to stay until the lawyers return.”

“Who says?” He laughs brushing his hair away from his face. “I’m the one who calls the shots around here. Get your things. I’ll have someone cover for you.” He turns away.

Now I feel trapped. I cannot find any excuse to refuse his invitation. My breathing is labored, and I am trying to act as a professional. He returns with his secretary.

“Kate will cover for you. Right, Kate?” He asks, never expecting a reply, “Come, let’s go,” signally with a nod.

I grab my purse and thank Kate. She half-smiles and sits in the receptionist’s chair as if it were a task beneath her station in life.

Awaiting the elevator, I find myself grinding my high-heel into the carpet and biting my bottom lip. Mr. Kaye is standing in front of a painting titled, “The Streets Never Die.”

“Here’s a strange work of art. Did you ever notice, amongst all these skyscrapers and people scurrying in the street a single sparrow is sitting on a street sign?”

“No, I never got close enough to see the sparrow in that picture, but I love sparrows.”

“Quite unfortunate, he didn’t paint two.”

“My sentiments exactly.” I regain my composure and my bitten lip turns upward to a smile.

We took the elevator to exit through the main entrance. The Parker House was just across the street. It was a grand and very ornate, historical restaurant. It was also the mainstay for business professionals, offering an adjacent hotel. Crossing the street between slow-moving traffic, I could feel the warm grasp of Mr. Kaye’s hand.

  “Here. Hold my hand while we cross. These drivers cut in front of women like they were second-class citizens.”

Upon the sidewalk, he dropped his hand and looked me in the eye. 

“I didn’t want to say anything in the office. You know, I only come to work twice a month or so. I know you’re new. Can we walk a while before lunch? I’d like a few minutes to talk in private.”

 My feet were killing me walking in the heels, but I said, “sure,” and we crossed over to the commons. It was beautiful there. A huge pond was filled with bright white and pink lily pads. People stood in line waiting under shady trees, for a chance to drift among the swans in paddle boats.

 “Please do not be intimidated,” he said. “But I recognized you the moment I walked into the office.” He paused. “Last month I visited friends in Rhode Island, and we stopped to have a couple of drinks one night. There you were performing at the ‘King and Queens Lounge’. Am I right?”

I caught my breath. Looking into his eyes, mine fell to the ground. The King and Queens was a gay bar where I was featured as a female impersonator. My head filled with questions, feeling confused – not knowing if this was shame-based rhetoric or an admission of common interests. My mouth fell open to silence … and then he laughed.

“Don’t look so terrified. You put on a fabulous show. I just found it odd that you would be at the firm working the front desk. What do you want to do with your life?”

 I could hear the joyful chatter from the crowd after riding the paddle boats. People were thrilled to have shared such a lovely space with the majestic swans. I thought about sparrows.

“I want to fly with sparrows.” I smiled at him feeling at ease. "I want to go to Cuba with the university I attend. I want to be free of the stigma that follows me every day because I am a woman in a man’s body.” Then, I stopped. I searched his eyes for acceptance.

A group of people started yelling. One man shouted, “Wayward Kaye.”

They were all laughing and strutting towards us from the Parker House restaurant. Their demeanor seemed humiliating, and I felt somewhat threatened. 

He stood up to confront the oncoming group.

“Hey, I almost didn’t recognize you without your lawyers.”

One man in the group, a very tall, disheveled man, stumbled a bit, quickly walking half-bent over … closer and closer to me. His skin was very tanned, and he spoke broken English.

“You -ah- were supposed -ah- to -ah- join us last -ah- night -ah. Have you got -ah- better things to do now? Who is this you're with - some ‘commons hook-ah-?’

Commons hooker? I thought – What have I gotten myself into?

He shouted in anger grabbing my arm and pulling me toward him. Mr. Kaye walked between us. He called the man, “amigo” with a stern affection. 

“She is with my firm, and I’d appreciate some respect.” He pushed him away without force, but the other men circled us and grabbed Mr. Kaye.

“Respect? We’ve been waiting since last night for you to make good on your promise. Is this the Chica you were sending to the hotel? What are you keeping her all for yourself?”

Two of the men reached over and tore my dress at the zipper to the full length of my dress. The crowd in the commons started to run away from the area, once they heard the yelling and saw the violence.

The hairs on my chest were the focus of these men. One pointed saying, “No Chica.” Another punched me in the chest, then kicked my legs out from underneath me. A fourth man reached for my heels, and I started to kick and scream. Mr. Kaye was held by two men, taking a blow to the stomach from another. They were sloshed on booze.

An officer on horseback came riding over. He drew his pistol and yelled. 

“Everyone on the ground.” He leaned his head toward a microphone on his shoulder requesting back-up.

I froze in horror. Mr. Kaye was closely opposite me and he begged my forgiveness. Two cruisers pulled up onto the grass in the common area. They began to sort out the antagonists from the victims.

I sat there covering my chest with my torn dress. The lawyers from the firm were exiting the Parker House to return to work. They saw the commotion. Recognizing Mr. Kaye, now standing, they immediately came to his aid.

“Mr. Kaye. Officer, excuse me what is going on?” asked Mr. Hoffman.

 I just wanted everyone to go away.

“There was an altercation here. Your friend is not hurt. We’re taking in these drunks. Go talk to your friend. By the way,” the officer turns to me and Mr. Kaye. “If you want to press charges, come to the station otherwise the charges will be public intoxication.”

Mr. Kaye took off his overcoat, placing it on my shoulders. He told the lawyers that it was all a misunderstanding and he’d explain later. He asked if someone would go to the dress shop across the street and bring back a long coat for me.

We sat on the bench waiting and talking. He explained that he had defended a company that those men were opposing. They recently became citizens of the United States, having escaped Cuba. They had big business plans to take over failing companies. They may have been successful if it hadn’t been for their constant drunkenness and debauchery.

Mr. Kaye held his side in pain. He felt a deep bruise from the attack. Lifting his suit jacket away from his shirt he asked me to look at the damage - in case it was bad. His overcoat had hidden the deep gash. A knife pierced his flesh during the struggle. 

At that moment, Mr. Hoffman returned. He saw the wound and ran to a payphone to call for EMTs to assist. Mr. Kaye told me to go back to work. He apologized profusely. I insisted on waiting with him. Mr. Hoffman waited for the EMTs, then headed back to the office.

We arrived by ambulance at the hospital. Sitting in the waiting room, I began to reflect on the events of the day. How did I end up in this mess? More importantly, I grew concerned about Mr. Kaye’s well-being. Almost two hours later, a doctor came to me in the ER waiting area. 

“You’re Mr. Kaye’s company? He is ready to see you.”

 “Yes, I’m Eva. Thank you. Is he ready to leave? Or is the injury severe?”

“Just a few stitches. He’s signing the release forms. There weren’t any internal injuries.” 

I pulled aside the cotton curtain. He welcomed me with a consoling smile. 

   “What a dinner date this turned out to be. Are you ok?”

  “Well, needless to say, I have a few questions. What was all that talk about some girl you were supposed to bring to their room?”

 “Don’t take any of that seriously. They were hounding me for escorts, and I told them I’d send them up the first girl I found on the streets. It was in jest. They were rowdy and drunk. I just wanted to get away from them after our business meeting.”

He pushed himself off of the gurney. Noticing the time, he suggested we finally get dinner. As we walk a few blocks toward a taxi, he told me that five years ago he had undergone gender reassignment. He had inherited his father’s estate and decided to relocate. He chose a new identity so he could continue to practice law. Opening a firm allowed him to run the show and keep a low profile. 

It all seemed unreal. In such a small amount of time, I had survived an assault, befriended my boss who unveiled my ‘secret’ … only to share his.

 The evening sky was growing dark. We sat on a bench in front of a Cuban restaurant waiting our turn. We laughed at the unusual way we became friends.

He apologetically said, “This is the closest I can bring you to Cuba.”

Overhead a sparrow rested upon a streetlamp jumping from edge to edge. Another sparrow landed nearby. They cozied up then flew away into the dusk.

The hostess approached us with menus.

 "¡Hola! Bienvenidos a Cuba Libre. Por favor, tomen asiento ”. (Welcome to Cuba Libre. Please come take your seats.)

I felt the warm gentle grip of his hand escorting me to our table. Once seated, he asked. “How are you feeling?”

I flipped the dark curls off my shoulder while kicking my heels off beneath the table. 

“Hey, it’s all in a day's work!”

August 31, 2021 21:59

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