By Strange Ways, part 5 of 6

“Good evening, Jenny,” she said. “I swept the floor in the kitchen, but I can’t tell how you take up the carpet to shake it out. Do you move all your furniture every time?”


I suppressed a laugh. “No, we have a machine for that – let me show you.”



I spent the next few days teaching Permelia to read English writing, when I wasn’t at work. She continued to watch television and go for walks when I was at work, and spent Saturday and part of Sunday at Victoria’s apartment. Since Permelia had already mastered another way of writing “English” – according to Victoria, one that was just as weird and irregular as ours, but in different ways – she picked up the basics pretty quickly, faster than children or adults learning to read for the first time. She was also starting to pick up more American English vocabulary.

Permelia also wanted to pitch in with the chores around the apartment. I’d shown her how to load and run the dishwasher, and how to refill the soap dispenser when it was getting low, and one day I came home to find her kneeling in a corner of the living room.

“Good evening, Jenny,” she said. “I swept the floor in the kitchen, but I can’t tell how you take up the carpet to shake it out. Do you move all your furniture every time?”

I suppressed a laugh. “No, we have a machine for that – let me show you.”

So I showed her the vacuum cleaner, and it didn’t take her long to get the hang of it. I think she might have had a little help from her spirits. After that, I also showed her the things I used for cleaning the tub, the toilet and so on, and warned her never to mix the chemicals.

She was a great roommate, and I wished I had more to offer her besides a sofa to sleep on. I couldn’t really afford a bigger apartment on my waitressing wages, though, and didn’t want to use up Permelia’s transition money by asking her to help with rent.

Victoria’s last class on Mondays was over by two o’clock, and Permelia and I spent the afternoon with her. We hung out at her apartment for a while, doing another reading lesson – Victoria had checked some children’s books out of the library to use – and then went out, showing Permelia more of the city and picking up ingredients for the next few days’ meals at the farmer’s market.

We were walking back to Victoria’s car when I got a text from Mike. It was disguised, as he’d said it would be, as insurance sales spam, but I recognized the keywords he’d said he’d put into it.

“Permelia,” I said, “your papers are ready.”

“Yay!” (I would have assumed she’d picked that up from TV, but when I’d asked about it, she said it was something they said back home, too.) “When can we pick them up?”

“Hey, Victoria,” I said, “you want to go with us when we pick up Permelia’s papers?”

She sighed. “I guess it’s safe enough, with her spirits showing us where to park and all.”

“Is forty-five minutes from now a good time?” I texted back.

“okay,” Mike replied a couple of minutes later.

So, after a short trip back to the bank to withdraw enough cash, we drove to Millennium Enterprises. We didn’t need to detour around a crime scene this time, and Permelia’s spirits found us a parking space a little further from the building than last time, but still in easy walking distance.

Mike had the documents ready: a Bulgarian birth certificate, high school diploma and ID card, immigration papers, and a state photo ID. We inspected them and gave him the money, and walked out of there with Permelia, to all appearances, a legal resident of the U.S.

“Now I can start transitioning?” she asked eagerly as soon as we were out of the office.

“Pretty soon,” I said with a laugh. “I think we can start by opening you a bank account and transferring your money from my account to yours.”

It was too late to go to the bank that day, but since I had to work all during bank hours the following day, Victoria told me she’d take Permelia there after her last class of the day. I went by her apartment after I got off work and found Permelia poring over her checkbook and debit card like… like magic talismans, while Victoria explained how they worked.

“So yeah, the checkbook won’t be much use use until you learn to write better, but you’ll mostly be using the debit card anyway. Jenny or I can show you how to scan it next time we’re at a store or restaurant or something.”

“Hi, Jenny,” Permelia said. “I got a bank account! And a debit card and checkbook,” she said carefully.

“Cool,” I said. “So I guess the next step is finding you a therapist. And then as soon as you know our writing system well enough, we should find you a job, because that money’s not going to last as long as I thought before you had to pay for your ID.”

Permelia nodded. “I would also like to help you with your costs, if you don’t mind my going on sleeping on your sofa. Or else I can find another place to live.”

“No hurry about that,” I said, not thinking too hard about the multiple reasons I wanted her to keep living with me. “I think you probably need some more time to acclimate to the way things are done here before you get your own apartment. At a minimum, you need to be literate enough to read the rental contract.”

“Nobody understands those things but lawyers,” Victoria said. “Speaking of which, how about another reading lesson?”

Victoria had had the brilliant idea of showing Permelia movies with English subtitles turned on. Unfortunately, Permelia’s world hadn’t invented cinema, which meant that a lot of modern movies were too jumpy and confusing for her to make sense of at first. We’d been working our way up to the present from silent movies through early talkies, things filmed for an audience that grew up on stage plays and didn’t have our cinematographic vocabulary. Tonight’s showing was The Maltese Falcon.

After the movie, we talked about next steps. “I can refer you to my therapist, now that you’ve got ID, but I’m not sure she’s taking new patients right now. If she’s not available, I’ll ask around for other recommendations.”

“Thank you,” Permelia said. “I’ll tell her that I am transgender, and she’ll tell the other doctors what I need?” (We’d finally gotten Permelia to start saying “doctor” instead of “leech.”) “That’s how it works, right?”

“It depends,” I said. “If Dr. Ramirez is taking new patients, yeah, pretty much. It’s just a formality in that case. But if you don’t have the right kind of therapist to start with, you might struggle to convince someone that you’re really trans, or go through several therapists before you find one that believes being transgender is a real thing and doesn’t define it super-narrowly. I’m pretty sure between my contacts and your spirits, we can find you a good therapist before long even if Dr. Ramirez is booked up.”

I left a message with Dr. Ramirez’s assistant the next morning before work, and got a call back a couple of hours later saying yes, she was booked up. But she recommended a couple of other therapists in the same practice who had room for new patients, so I copied down their information. During my lunch break, I called and made an appointment for Permelia with one of them for a Wednesday three weeks later. Then I asked my manager not to schedule me for that Wednesday afternoon.

With three weeks to wait before she could make progress on her transition, Permelia focused on learning written English and American culture. She was able to make sense of recent movies and television by now, and read middle-grade children’s books. On a couple of my off days, I took her to the history museum and to a meeting of a local trans group. I used to go more often early in my transition, but I hadn’t gone in over a year at that point, and there were several new faces I didn’t know. And one Saturday we went over to Chris and Marc’s house for Chris’s thirtieth birthday party.

Only once during those weeks did I find time to get out the mostly-written article about new developments in battery technology I had been working on before Permelia walked into the diner, and try to get it ready to submit. In doing some more research, though, I realized that a lot of what I’d written a month earlier was now outdated, and I’d have to rewrite a big chunk of it. Discouraged, I set that aside in favor of teaching Permelia to play chess. (Her people had a similar game, though many of the pieces had different names and/or moved differently. Later on she taught me and Victoria to play it.)

By the time Permelia’s appointment rolled around, she’d learned to read and write well enough that I decided it was time to get her a phone and show her how to use it. I entered mine and Victoria’s numbers into her contacts, showing her how I was doing it, and then showed her how to call us. “If I’m not there waiting for you when you get done with your appointment, call me,” I said. “And if I don’t show up or answer after a while, call Victoria. I should be able to call back and tell you how long I’ll be if I can’t get there quickly, but you never know what might happen.” Or did she? I wasn’t sure how much her spirits could tell her about the future. But if they were telling her anything, she didn’t seem to be worried.

This would be the first time Permelia was away from both me and Victoria and not at one of our apartments since she’d arrived, though only for an hour or so. I was planning to run a couple of errands near the clinic while she was at her appointment.

The next day, after I worked a few hours in the morning, I went back to the apartment and ate lunch with Permelia. (She’d started doing her share of the cooking once she’d learned how to use my stove and microwave, and was pretty decent at it, though she was still learning her way around my spice cabinet and sometimes overdid things. She wasn’t used to having such a wide range of spices available.) Then we left for the clinic.

“You can use your judgment about whether to tell her where you’re really from,” I said, “but be careful. The more people find out, the more danger. And normally a therapist is supposed to keep everything you say to her confidential, but there are some exceptions where they think you’re a danger to yourself – or someone else, though that wouldn’t apply here. And if she thinks you’re so delusional you’re incompetent to take care of yourself, she might report what you say to somebody in authority, and who knows where that could lead.”

“Then I won’t tell her during this first session,” Permelia said. “I’ll wait until I know her better. And I’ll see what my spirits think about her.”

“Just talk about how you’ve wanted to be a girl since long before you ever heard of the concept of being transgender,” I said, “and you’ll probably be fine. I trust Dr. Ramirez not to recommend someone who won’t listen or has too many preconceived notions.”

I went in with her and helped her check in, then made sure she had her phone (and it had a good charge) and left to run my errands.

When I got done at the bookstore and the gas station, Permelia hadn’t called me yet to say she was done, so I returned to the clinic and hung out in the waiting room, reading. Permelia emerged from the back hall about ten minutes later.

“Hi, Jenny,” she said, coming over to me. “I need to pay the woman at the desk, and then we can go.”

“Sure. Do you need help?”

“Yes, please.”

So I went over to the reception desk with her. She started to put her debit card in the reader backwards, and I had to tell her to put it in chip-side first, but other than that she didn’t really need help.

“We need to get you a job pretty soon,” I said as we walked out to the car, wincing at the amount of money she’d just spent on one therapy appointment.

“Yes,” she said. “I want to do my part.”

“But first, tell me about your appointment! Not anything you don’t feel comfortable talking about, of course, but… you know. Whatever you want to say.”

“My therapist,” she said, pronouncing the word carefully, “is named Holly. She started by asking me to tell her about myself. I was vague about where I came from, as you suggested, but I told her I had wanted to be a woman for a long time, but only learned what ‘transgender’ meant after I came to this country, and that my friend – I mean you – had recommended Dr. Ramirez, who was busy, but recommended her. And then we talked about my feelings about my gender for a long time, about how I first thought about being a girl when I was a child, and so on.”

I nodded encouragingly as I started the engine. “Do you think you might be able to talk to Holly about where you came from, and your spirits, once you’ve gotten to know her better?”

“I hope so. After we had talked about me for a while, I asked her more about herself, too, but we didn’t have a lot more time to talk before we had to part.”

“What did she say?”

“She said her sister is transgender, and came out when she was in college and Holly was in high school. Holly already wanted to be a doctor, but that made her decide what kind of doctor she wanted to be. Also, she is married and has one daughter.”

“She sounds like she’ll be good for you.”



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