As some readers may have gathered from Lindsey's rather one-sided account, I have not returned to the Trading Post Inn. Though I have no intention of being Alicia for the rest of my life, it would be foolhardy to overlook the short-term benefits of remaining as her for roughly another year. Shorn of other context, it is far from an unreasonable decision to choose to remain a young woman in good health whose job affords her the chance to travel rather than a person who, while still mentally vital and in fine shape for his age, has recently seen his reputation damaged and who will almost certainly be pushed into retirement. The choice may not necessarily be obvious, but looking past sentimental concerns, it is certainly reasonable.
Though I will miss Lindsey - she was pleasant, attractive company in our original lives, and her at-times annoying behavior as Magda far more often came from a desire to help than one to belittle - I cannot deny that it was a welcome change to return "home" after a flight and have the apartment to myself. Luxury, to change out of my work clothes into whatever felt right, whether shapeless sweatpants or counter the insufficient air conditioning with something scant (probably used as "party wear" by the original Alicia) without a lot of questions, or attached significance. Simply taking a bath was much less stressful - I could spend my time with a book without a knock on the door aking if I was "getting to know myself".
It has also been pleasant to venture out into San Francisco and the Bay Area the same way I do other cities at the other end of a flight, rather than making every excursion some sort of peculiar date disguised as a mother-daughter outing. As much as I still feel a bit strange putting on feminine attire and cosmetics in the morning, I have come to find it useful, ironically both as camouflage and as a way to gain advantageous attention. This body, I have found, can be a resource, although I have not, as yet, fully ascertained that resource's value. Having a man pay for drink or two is obviously far too little return for engaging in sexual intercourse (perish the thought!), but maybe not for a few minutes' conversation, though some do get rather insistent. A short but tasteful skirt can lead to interesting conversations in a museum while an button or two undone can improve hasten service in a restaurant or café, although, given the area, it is not necessarily male attention that it brings me.
It hand been the waitress who checked on me at least twice as often as the other patrons at my lunch, for example, the day I returned to the apartment and was shocked to hear some sort of "hip-hop" coming from Lindsey's bedroom, more so when I saw her standing there in her bra and panties, hair back in a ponytail, clothes lying on every surface of the room, applying lipstick. For a moment, I was confused, but then it sunk in that this was not Lindsey, but the new Magda. I coughed politely.
She turned around, a bit startled, but then smiled. "You must be Harmon! Or Alicia. What do you want me to call you? I'm Daryl, by the way, although I guess you might as well get used to calling me Magda, or Mom." She chuckled, sticking out her hand. "'Mom'! Can you believe that?"
"Yeah, I know - it's been a weird couple months, but I guess I've got to start acting like this is normal, even though everyone else is going to think it's weird for other reasons." Without me asking, she stayed telling me about how she'd been a man, met a girl, followed her to Maine and wound up becoming her, confronted the man who had been the girlfriend, fallen into bed with him, and decided to try and make it work but rather than staying as she was gambled in the Inn making her into another woman. It was exhausting to hear about even without considering how foolhardy leaving that all to chance seemed to be.
"Anyway, I had a quick stop in New York on the way home, and J.T. doesn't just know Elaine's body, so that's good, if you know what I mean. But now I've gotta sort through and figure out all this. I don't want to look Magda's age, but some of the stuff I tried on is just too sexy, like she was trying to keep up with her daughter or something. And then this--" She indicated the lipstick. "--just seems too red, but I kind of never paid much attention to what would make a middle-aged white woman look good, you know?"
She stopped talking but was still looking at me, up and down, in a way that Lindsey had not during the past year. I tugged at my shirt, which had conformed to my figure a bit die to the heat. It was a bit silly, since she was the one practically naked. "You do remember that you are biologically my mother, don't you?"
"What? No, I'm not thinking that, just that if you had gone to the Inn with Lindsey, it's 50/50 is look like that, which might make things easier."
"Trust me," I said, "a person with something to offer has no trouble keeping even a younger partner should he so desire. You'll be fine." Then I left for my room to change out of my work clothes.
It was a bit disconcerting for the first few days - "Daryl Magda" spent more time on her computer than Lindsey, which was fine, because it mostly meant she left me alone and I didn't have to spend much time thinking about how she wasn't Lindsey. Even after a year in this situation, the sudden, though not immediately apparent, change can be disconcerting. She doesn't play at being maternal, but I didn't mind that so much initially.
At least, not until last night, when I got in at ten and saw her on the couch, dining a beer and immediately pushing Pause when I entered. "Hey, we've got to talk."
I asked if it could wait, as I had an early flight. She said it probably shouldn't.
"My transfer went through; I'll be working at JFK by the end of the month."
I nodded, belatedly realizing something like this was inevitable, and kind of relieved, momentarily.
"So, I talked to the landlord to see about transferring the lease to you, since it was up for renewal anyway, and, well..." She handed me the document.
I felt a small heart attack. "That's twice what we've been paying!"
She shrugged. "Oakland is gentrifying like crazy, and that means the rent goes up. I think the landlord is just waiting for people to move out, so that they can jack the price up on new leases--"
"I understand the economics very well, thank you! I wrote a book on them twenty years ago! But I can't possibly afford this! And you know that!"
She looked shocked at how upset I was. "I figured it might be difficult, but maybe with a roommate or--"
She pretended to have no idea how little flight attendants make. "Ah, here it comes - if we go to the Inn and trade places, you won't have to transfer the lease, it stays affordable for me, and your boyfriend doesn't have to screw someone his mother's age. Is that the threat?"
"There's no threat, I'm just saying that I've got no reason to stay here, and as you're so fond of telling me and Lindsey, I'm not really your mother, so, like, I'm not really obligated to, you know... Unless you'd rather..."
"For this place? I would not! I may not want these assets, but they're worth more than this!"
"Fine. In that case, the lease runs through the end of September. 'Magda' will pay the last month, but after that, you're on your own."
With that she resumed watching whatever was playing, leaving me to retreat to my room like a child, knowing no argument about playing our parts would sway her.
Perhaps they shouldn't; but if she truly intends to remain Magda Polawski long-term, she should know that the identity comes with a daughter, and putting me in this situation will do her reputation no good.
-Harmon Keller/Alicia Polawski