Clark sat up, enveloped in darkness, the echoes of his own screams still in his ears. His jaws gaped wide as he gulped for air. Sweat ran from his brow. He panted, as though he had just finished a long run.
Slowly the world came into focus around him. The vague light coming through the small window of his basement room helped dissolve the inky blackness into a vague gray scale world. He heard a sound above him, his mother's footsteps.
He lay back on his bed and waited. The grayness grew to include a line of white under his door as his mom turned on the basement light outside his room. Then the light pierced his eyes as she opened the door a crack.
“You okay, hon?”
“Yes, mom,” he replied wearily, “Just a nightmare,”
“Anything I can do?”
“No.” It was a resigned rebuttal. Clark rolled away from the door. His mother waited expectantly.
There had been a time when he would have called her closer, let her hold him until he felt safe again. There had been a time when they would have discussed the dream. That seemed a long time ago now.
His mom waited another few minutes and then sighed wearily. The light stopped abruptly. Clark sighed, far from sleep. After he was sure his mom was gone for good he got up and turned on his light. On the far wall Lady Gaga stared at him. The bottom of the poster bore in black felt tip, the cryptic message, "Don't get your hopes up."
Clark had added these words himself as a message to both his mother and himself. To his mother it said, "Don't think this one poster of this one beautiful women means your youngest son is going to suddenly become a normal boy with normal interests." For Clark it was a bitter reminder. You can wish all you want but don't think you are going to wake up one morning and be a beautiful woman like that.
Clark sank down and curled up on the floor, staring up at the poster. I should just kill myself, he thought morosely, get it over with. Life wasn't going to get any better.
I shouldn't think that way, he told himself. It was wrong. Besides it was so clichè. Emo kid takes life under Lady Gaga poster. What a depressing headline. He sighed and struggled to his feet.
He sat down at his vanity. No, he reminded himself bitterly, his grandmother's vanity. It had ended up in his room because there was no where else to put it, not because he had said repeatedly he wanted it.
He reached into the lower left drawer. He pushed aside the junior high yearbook and assorted newspaper clippings about his dad. Underneath was a small compact, some eyeliner, three things of lipstick, two bottles of nail polish and a bottle of polish remover. He selected the eyeliner and looked into the mirror.
This was the only thing to sooth him after the dream. Sleep would come again, but not for awhile. Hopefully it would come before morning, when he had to get up for school. And hopefully it would bring the other dream this time.
There were two dreams that ruled Clark's life. The first had been with him for a long while. He first remembered having it when he was four. They had been staying on his uncle's farm, back when dad was still alive.
His aunt had asked him in the morning if he slept well.
“Yeah,” he had replied. “I had the best dream ever.”
“What was it?” His aunt had asked.
“I was old” he began (To a four year old, every adult was old), “and I was a woman!”
This proclamation was greeted by howls of laughter, good natured from his aunt, less so from his brother, his uncle and, as much as it pained him to think about it, from his father.
“What else?” His aunt had asked.
He merely shrugged, put off by the reaction he was receiving. Not that there was anything more to the dream. He was grown up and he was a woman. The dream had grown in the tiniest details over the years. He was in his thirties or forties, not old old but clearly adult. He was in his house, sitting and thinking. He, no She, was thinking about how she had been a boy once. There was nothing else, no plot. No reason why this one dream should hold such happiness for him.
But it did. It sustained him for many years. It told him that whatever he endured now, it was just now. Someday things would be better. He didn't know or understand the why or the how. He just knew. When his mom had taken him shopping for school clothes and refused to buy him a single outfit he chose (because they came from the wrong side of aisle) he had endured it. When his father had forbidden the six year old from buying any more Barbie dolls, it had been hard but okay. When he was caught red handed with his mother's lipstick; always the dream saved him.
Clark paused to look at his reflection. The dream had saved him for many years, but not any more. It couldn't save him, it was only a dream. He had come to fully realize about fourteen that he was not going to some how magically grow up and be a woman. He was a boy and he would remain so as long as he lived.
It was about that time that the other dream came. This one had more action, but no more plot or meaning. He was being shoved into a bank vault. He could never see the faces of those doing the shoving, but he could feel the struggle like it was a real visceral experience. He woke sweating and sore from trying to fight them off. They would wrestle between the desks and counters of the bank as he was dragged inexorably towards the vault. Always he would wake before they got there. But he still knew somehow, intuitively, that if they got him there they would close the door and it would be blackness forever.
“But mom, I need it for school” His brother's voice grated on Clark's tired ears. At school, and around his friends, he took great pains to speak in a deep slow voice. But around mom he let a nasal whine creep in.
“I just don't know if I can afford it right now.” His mother replied.
“You want me to do well in school, don't you?” His brother, Jeremy, had their mom on the ropes and he knew it. She wanted both her sons to do their best.
“Are you sure it's broken?” She asked uncertainly.
“Yes, I keep telling you, yes.” He whined again. “It will barely boot. I can't get anything to run in less than like ten minutes! And even then it barely works. I can't get the Internet at all.”
“It's probably a virus” Clark put in sagely.
“I put Norton on it just a couple of months ago.” Their mother moaned. “Fine, let me check the bank account. And maybe next weekend when we are in Des Moines we can look around.”
“I want a mac book this time.” Jeremy put in, instantly mollified.
Their mom shot him the don't-push-your-luck stare and he shut up. Clark knew his brother would have to settle for whatever was on sale at Walmart or Best Buy. At least he had a computer of his own. Clark had to share the tower with mom. He wasn't sure which was worse, having to sit in the living room to surf the net, or having his mom read and comment on his files and writing.
He had been angling for his own laptop for some time. Now it looked like he would be waiting once again. There was no way they could afford two laptops at once. And it was not like he had his brother's pull. Jeremy was a star athlete and a good student beside. He got the first laptop, an HP thinkpad, for a 4.0 grade point average last year. Despite scoring well on all the aptitude tests he was given, Clark barely pulled a C average. Besides, unlike his brother, he require therapy just to function, and therapy wasn't cheap.
Jeremy had finished his third frozen waffle and downed his orange juice in one gulp. He got up from the table. Clark toyed with his first frozen waffle, half eaten on his plate. He thought about saying something smart about how much his brother ate compared to him, but he decided against antagonizing Jeremy right now. Instead he said, “Hey, Jer, maybe I could have your old computer.” He shrugged slightly, “Maybe I can get it sort of working you know.”
Jeremy gave him a skeptical look. Then he shrugged, “Whatever. But I am telling you, it's broke.”
Shelley Pirella's dark blond hair fell across her face, blocking her view. She tossed it over one shoulder and bent down again. Her arm fished in to the drier, manually turning the drum to make sure everything was out.
Her hand came out with a pair of white panties with bright pink dots on them. She looked them blankly for a long time. She didn't recognize them.
She crumpled the offending panties into her fist. She could almost imagine slamming said fist into the tall dark man she called a husband. Tears threatened to overwhelm her, but she held them back. She felt a strong urge to throw something, preferably at him.
She bit that back too. It wouldn't do any good and she would only have to clean it up anyway. She had thrown things at him the first time. She had threatened to leave. Threatened a lot of things she didn't do. Now she just sighed heavily. Leaving was not an option. It wasn't money, she was a nursing supervisor at a busy hospital. It wasn't the kids, though she told her self often enough that she stayed because she wanted the girls to have a father, even if it was a lying cheating father. At least he was good with the twins. He wasn't abusive like her own father had been.
Shelley Pirella was a good Catholic woman. She came from a long line of good Catholic women. When asked why she never left her abusive alcoholic husband, her mother merely pointed to the crucifix on the wall. Shelley had surrounded herself with other good Catholic women. When Marilee had left her husband two years ago, her clique had broke ties with her “to show her the err of her ways.” Shelley still missed Marilee from time to time, but she was resolute in her beliefs too.
That didn't mean there weren't other ways to show her anger, to make him pay. But first things first, she needed a new babysitter.
“All of those virus cleaning sites are scams” Jeremy said authoritatively. He had been insisting that the laptop was broken beyond repair the entire way to school. One big reason was crystal clear; he had told Clark in no uncertain terms he was not to even try fixing the laptop before the weekend. If by some chance he succeeded it would remove any reason for mom to buy a new one. Clark readily agreed to the condition, he wasn't about to fix the computer only to have Jeremy claim it back.
“Most of the sites are,” Clark allowed, “But not all...”
He was blinded by pain as he hit the nearest locker full on with his right side. His head spun.
“Faggot” he heard from the retreating back. The boy's name was John, and he was one of several jocks that routinely used that word for Clark, and almost as routinely body slammed him into the wall or the nearest locker.
“Fucker” Clark muttered at the retreating back. Looking the other way, towards his brother's retreating back he uttered one more “fucker”. He didn't know what he expected. His brother was civil enough at home, and on the way too or from school. He could even be okay at school, but he had made his position clear a long time ago about this sort of thing.
“I can only do so much” He had told Clark (Clark couldn't recall what it was he had done that constituted 'so much' but let it slide) “If you can't start butching it up a bit, I can't help you.” It was his brother's theory that bullying was nature's way of telling you to suck it up and take it like a man. He never harassed Clark himself, but he never raised a finger to stop anyone else from doing so, not even his own friends.
With a sigh Clark recovered his books and shook out his hair. He knew his shoulder length blond hair was a big bone of contention. The jocks had threatened more than once to hold him down and shave it off. He had in turn made it clear that he would fight tooth and nail if it came to that. So far nobody had made good on their promise.
Which was just as well, because he knew there were several teachers that wouldn't intervene either. He had had more talks with the principal about his hair, and it was no less a bone of contention there as well. Clark carefully kept it trimmed a few millimeters above the shoulder, and away from being expelled for violating the dress code. That most of the girls in this small town school had hair longer than shoulder length didn't matter apparently. As always, that was different.