The Feast of Stephen: An Opera House Story

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Author’s note: The characters and setting for this story will be familiar to anyone who has read “An Aria for Cami.” However, I wrote it to stand on its own and I hope that readers who aren’t familiar with the longer story will be able to appreciate it as well.

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Baltimore, Maryland
December, 2020

“Cami, what’s wrong?” Nicole had emerged into the area where I had just finished a Zoom call with my faith community – transwomen who gathered every month for prayer and fellowship. Our gatherings had been remote for the past eight months or so, ever since the pandemic had shut down large portions of the country.

I was weeping uncontrollably. “God, why do people have to be like that? And at Christmas!”

Nicole pulled up a chair and put an arm around me. “What happened?”

“It was Marta – the youngest of our original group. Can’t be more than nineteen. She’s been estranged from her parents ever since she came out, two or three years ago. She called them two nights ago – Christmas eve. Tried to make peace. . . .” I choked up and couldn’t say more.

Nicole held me even more tightly. She called up the stairs, “Mags!!!” My friend the opera singer knows how to project when she wants to!

Maggie popped open the door to the basement and stuck her head in. “What’s up?”

“Tea, Maggie! Fast!”

Maggie took one look at the two of us, said, “On it!” and disappeared. Two minutes later she was back, three steaming earthenware mugs in her hands. She put all three down on my desk, went and grabbed the spare office chair from the synthesizer area, and joined us, giving Nicole an inquisitive look (I was clearly in no shape to fill her in).

“One of the transwomen in Cami’s community tried to reconnect with her parents on Christmas Eve. I guess it didn’t go well.”

I sipped some tea, holding the mug in my left hand. My right was clenched in a fist that I couldn’t seem to release.

Maggie rubbed my back. “Take your time, Cami. We’re here for you.”

I loved my roommates so much . . . . Here I was, surrounded by support, acceptance, love. More than anyone could ever ask for, and certainly more than I deserved. While not ten miles away, poor Marta was all alone, cut off from her family, living in a small apartment. No-one to keep her company. No-one to hug her when life was hard.

I took a longer pull from my mug and set it down carefully. Summoning my professional voice, I said, “They mocked her. Called her ‘Fred-Ex,’ and said she was a disgrace. Christ! I thought my parents were bad!”

“Holy shit!” Maggie said. “How can they do that to their own child?”

Nicole held me wordlessly. She was weeping too.

I thought, No, dammit! I’ve wept enough! “Can I borrow the car?”

“You’re going to go see her?” Maggie asked.

“Yes . . . and no,” I said, sadly. “We’ve got to keep our bubble intact – I’ve been a hardass about that, but it’s paid off for all of us. And for the guys, too. But . . . I can at least drop something off for her. See her, even it its only for a minute, and from ten feet away. Tell her that she’s special, and wish her a Merry Christmas. I’ve got to do something!

“Of course you do,” Nicole said. “And of course we’re coming with you. The coq-au-vin will easily serve four. And we’ve got an extra loaf of fresh-baked bread.” Nicole had been giving us cooking lessons.

Maggie nodded enthusiastically, then looked suddenly shy. “I . . . bought a bottle of perfume the other day. For Kyle’s next visit. Do you think that she’d like it?”

“God, I love you two!” I hugged them both fiercely. “Give me just a minute.”

I went upstairs. Maggie went to her room to pick up the perfume; Nicole followed me into mine. “What were you thinking of bringing her?” she asked.

I took a box off of the shelf in the closet where I had set it just yesterday. It contained a stunning, three-quarter length negligée in creamy ivory-colored silk with delicate lace at the collar and sleeves. I would need to re-wrap it.

Nicole’s eyes grew wide. “Your present from Rob? Really?”

I smiled sadly. “Really. Rob won’t be here for at least a month, and hopefully I’ll figure out where he got it by then and find a way to order another one. But even if somehow I can’t . . . Rob would understand.”

Nicole looked at me carefully, thoughtfully. Not every man would understand. Maybe not many. But Nicole nodded. “Yeah, he would. David’s like that too.”

“I’ve got Rob, and you, and Maggie. And Al and Javi, for a couple more weeks. And Fiona and Henry, Liz . . . . Marta’s got nobody. Nobody at all.”

Nicole’s eyes narrowed. “What are you holding so tight, Cami?”

I looked down at my right hand, still balled tight in a fist. I willed my fingers to unclench, but it was, strangely enough, a real effort. My palm showed red marks from my nails – and from the small, inexpensive ring I had been holding, plain silver with a Celtic design.

“I went over to the salon to wish Al and Javi – and Tina – a responsible, socially distant Merry Christmas two days ago. And Tina . . . Tina gave me this.”

“A ring?” Nicole asked.

I nodded. “She said . . . she’d managed to hang on to it. Through all those years, when her family had her locked up, and were trying to ‘re-program’ the trans out of her. She hid it from them – told me I didn’t need to know how. But it was her only link to who she knew she really was. The only thing she had that was feminine.” My voice was growing horse again. “Except for her heart.”

“She gave it to you?” Nicole’s voice held a note of wonder.

“Yeah,” I managed to get out. “She said . . . she didn’t need it anymore.”

“Okay, girlfriend,” Nicole said. “You’re a wreck. Finish your tea. Wash your face and fix your makeup. Maggie and I will take care of getting everything wrapped. You know where we’re going?”

I nodded.

* * * * * *

It was full dark by the time we arrived at the tired looking apartment building where Marta was living. A clear, cold night with stars as bright as they ever get near America’s cities. Nicole and Maggie stayed on the sidewalk while I donned 2020’s version of gay apparel – a colorful facemask – and went up the walkway to Marta’s door.

I set the presents down on her stoop – the fresh, crusty bread, the tupperware full of Nicole’s wonderful cooking, and the two wrapped packages – rang the doorbell, and stepped back.

Behind me, Maggie’s contralto and Nicole’s coloratura soprano rose together in a tight harmony which I didn't attempt to join. I was barely fit to speak, and at my best the song was beyond my ability:

Oh, Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining!
It is the night of the dear savior’s birth.
Long lay the world, in sin and error pining,
’Til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth
.

The door opened, and Marta stood framed in the doorway, golden light behind her like a halo. At the sight of the presents, and the three of us, her eyes widened.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

“Cami?” she said. “What . . . . ?”

Fall on your knees! Oh hear the angels voices!

“Merry Christmas, Marta,” I said. “You are such an amazing, wonderful, beautiful woman!”

She bowed her head, overcome by emotion.

I wanted so much to cross the distance between us, to give her the so-very-human comfort of a hug. But I knew I couldn’t. It wouldn’t be safe for either of us, and my heart wept at the restriction.

She looked up, her eyes, like mine, glistening with tears, and held her right palm over her heart. “Thank you, Cami. Thank you so much!”

I returned her gesture, my heart too full to allow me to speak.

Nicole and Maggies’ voices soared, blended, and joined in the decrescendo. Oh night! Oooooh night, divine!

The end

For information about my other stories, please check out my author's page.

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Comments

Merry Christmas to you too!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Just thought I’d drop a little Christmas present for my friends who miss Cami and the gang like I do!

Emma

I do miss Cami

I notice that you’ve left an opening for some Opera Houseparty episodes . . .

Buon Natale

RachelMnM's picture

My lovely and uber talented amiga!

XOXOXO

Rachel M. Moore...

Joyeux Noël!!!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Bonne année et bonne santé, Crazy Girl!

Emma

Oops

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Wrong button!

Emma

Ha !

I knew it wasn’t yet over. I’m grateful for these little gems... thank you and merry Christmas everybody.

Grazie, Max!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Ti auguro un Natale pieno di amore, pace e gioia sincera.

Emma

Grazie mille !

Unfortunately as I’m employed in the hospitality business I’ll work every day (December 24th,25th and 26th)... but I’m a lucky man. As soon a I finish my day I’m back home with my family.

Merry Christmas to all

Dee Sylvan's picture

Another beautiful Cami tale, what a wonderful present. I will pass along my Christmas wishes, too. I just came down with Covid for the second time and unfortunately will be self quarantined from my family for the holidays. Poor Marta, it's so sad that people can be so mean, especially around the holidays. :D

DeeDee

Oh, no!!!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Dee, I’m so very sorry. What a crummy way to spend the holiday. Consider yourself hugged — you are such a treasure! I wish that I could send Maggie and Nicole to serenade you too!

Emma

A Maggie and Nicole serenade

Dee Sylvan's picture

would be a dream come true. The first time I got Covid was a little over a year ago just before Thanksgiving. My daughter kidded me that I need to come up with a new excuse for skipping the holidays! As if... :D

DeeDee

Best I can do . . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

It’s a You-Tube video, so the sound quality isn’t great. Nicole would go higher, and the crescendo would have more punch. But with all that said, a lovely soprano alto duet of Oh Holy Night. Special for you. Stay safe!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYjjacJ0Dns

Emma

Perfect

Sabrina G Langton's picture

That was so nice, thank you for being so good to us this year Emma...

And thank you, Sabrina!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

For being so kind to a new author, and for your always amazing stories!

Emma

Perfectly fitting!

I know that last week I asked for a timely next episode of "Warp", but I don't really believe that even you could have made it as seasonal as this tender piece!
I'm not disappointed at all.
I hope all your other reader will join with me in wishing you as happy a festive season as you depicted.
Dave

I’ll have another present for you later today. :D

Emma Anne Tate's picture

MW-X is on schedule. But it’s set in the summertime, and the protagonist has a deep dread of being earnest. :D

I love Christmastime, but it’s certainly true that for people who have been cast off or rejected it can be a hard and lonely season. The world would be a kindlier place if we had more Wise Women like Cami, Nicole and Maggie — and more wise men like you. Merry Christmas, my friend!

Emma

Btw

Dee Sylvan's picture

Love your new Avatar, Emma. She looks positively Dickensian.

DeeDee

I hope . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

. . . that the indomitable spirit of the great Berthe Morisot will forgive my presumption!

Emma

Paying It Forward

Maybe you should consider blending this into Aria.

Love and compassion can be all around us, if we make the effort.

Wonderful choice of songs.

Thank you!

Jill

Angela Rasch (Jill M I)

Thought about that . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

An alternative to the way Aria currently ends was to have a series of short vignettes, set in time over a two-year period, as a penultimate chapter between “Two Roads Diverged” and “Trumpet Voluntary.” But it seemed like it was so out-of-keeping with the style and pace of the rest of the story that it just wasn’t working.

The advantage of leaving it as is, though, is that I can drop a short solo now and then, when inspiration strikes. Or, in this case, when there’s something I want to say, and these characters are so well-suited for the message.

I am so glad you enjoyed it!

Warmest regards,

Emma

Thanks, Alison!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I'm so glad that you enjoy these stories!

Emma

Good king Wenceslas

Sunflowerchan's picture

On the Feast of Stephen. That song echoed in my heart when I first heard in sung at Trinity Episcopal Church in my hometown of Yazoo City. You captured the spirit of that song perfectly. This is a perfect retelling of that ballad, and it once more moved my soul to tears. Again, I'm at a lost for words. But I will say this, your captured the meaning behind the song and put a modern twist on it. Christmas is often a lonely time for transwomen, many are shunned by their familes and are often left out. It's also a personally one my least favorite holidays because I'm also shunned by my extended family. You captured these emotions perfectly, and once more your prose was 'A+'. Thank you again, for sharing with us a lovely story, an bringing a bit of bitterness to my otherwise deary day.

Shunning

Emma Anne Tate's picture

It is so hard, at Christmastime, to see people reading and singing about the holy child, shunned and unwelcome, for whom there was no room at the inn — while in their homes, a seat is left empty at the table, and their own child is left out in the cold. But there is also good in the world, and love, charity, and the voices of angels.

Emma

Mitigating pain on Christmas

Iolanthe Portmanteaux's picture

Once again, there is a lot of punch in such a short piece. The fist that won't open... that was a nice touch, one of those pictures worth several thousand words.

thanks for another perfect story,

- iolanthe

Thanks, Iolanthe

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I'm going to get you hooked on these characters. Then you will be doomed, doomed, doomed!

Emma

Why Didn't I comment?

joannebarbarella's picture

I read the story because I kudosed it.

This is a real tearjerker for me. It epitomizes both the good and the bad in humanity. How can anybody leave their child alone and despised over Christmas? Where's the Christianity in Christmas? And then we get the Good King Wenceslas (or the magi) analogues coming bearing gifts. Not gold, frankincense and myrrh but some things for comfort and as much joy as possible during a pandemic. Just to show that someone CARES.
Coq-au-vin, a negligee and perfume. So practical but loving.

What a brilliant story or maybe a parable. And I love the new Cami pic!