The following excerpt is from Sugar Land by tammy lynne stoner, published on October 23, 2018 by Red Hen Press Copyright (c) 2018 by tammy lynne stoner.
Sugar Land – excerpt
My step-daughter, Edna—who wanted to be called Eddie, pushed open the door. I watched a moment of realization pass through her as she saw how big I’d gotten—my size no doubt highlighted by my yellow T-shirt and matching sweat pants. It must’ve looked like I was merging with my mustard-colored couch, as if it was just a puddle of me.
Eddie’s hair was a little longer now and could maybe be a bob if she didn’t keep it so far back behind her ears. It made me wonder if she did that in case there were times when she had to wear a bob to feminize herself. It’s tough living so consciously all the time.
“Come on in.”
She took a few steps in and looked around as if she expected to be attacked by a giant pan of fudge.
“Don’t worry. I’m working on my weight—I’m turning it around.” I took in a breath. “And I want to tell you something I should have told you all those years ago on the night you didn’t go to your prom.”
“Which prom that I didn’t go to?”
“The first one.”
While I stammered, Eddie sat down on the rickety chair with her legs spread and her hands locked in the middle, like she was watching football. When she looked up at me, she broke out in a big smile. “Why don’t you let me guess what you are going to tell me?”
I lit a cigarette. “Sure.”
“You’re a lover of Sappho.”
“What now?” I asked.
She clarified: “You’re a lesbian.”
I nearly dropped my cigarette. “How did you know?”
“Other than the shoes you wear? Miss Debbie.”
“That girl leaks more than a wooden bucket of termites.”
“She called and read me the act—said it was my doing, that I had ‘poisoned the waters of our family well.’”
“Lord.” I leaned back.
Eddie smiled. “She goes crazy sometimes, Nana Dara, usually after Bible study or her third gin and tonic—or both.”
“Eddie,” I said, staying on track, “all of your pain is my fault. I should have been there for you. I should have been a role model for you. It’s my fault you suffered.”
“I had chances—like prom night—to tell you about me so you wouldn’t feel so alone.”
She sighed. “That is even crazier than your rampages about aliens.”
“Well, they are breedin’ with us-”
“Oh, here we go! Between you and Miss Debbie, I’m looking like the sanest one out there—me, a woman with a bow tie collection.”
Eddie had a new ease to her, I noticed. She even smiled without hiding her teeth and just made a joke about her ties, something we never even addressed before much less joked about.
I hoped there was someone out there thinking about her right now.
“Seriously now, I should have told you earlier. I should have said something. Instead I made you hide and be someone you weren’t and then you did dangerous things and got pregnant and had to give up your baby-”
She looked down at her trimmed, plain fingernails. “You really taking all that on, Nana Dara?”
“Yes. Yes, I am.”
Eddie took the cigarette from my smiley face ashtray and sat back down. “I did what I did. I didn’t love the man who got me pregnant, but he was fun and when my friends and their boyfriends went out, I had someone to take along. Then he enlisted. I slept with him because I wanted to, not because of anything you did or anyone I wasn’t yet able to be.”
I nodded, unconvinced but trying to look the opposite.
Eddie stared down through her knees at my stained and worn carpet. Her face grew dark. “But I will tell you this—the pregnancy sealed it for me. Made it all clear what I could and could not do. I love my daughter, you know I do, but I hated it, Nana Dara. I hated being pregnant. I didn’t really want the body I’d been given and there I was with it in its highest female form. And the doctor visits. Do you know what they do to check on the baby? Oh, I could barely handle it. And I was alone.”
“Honey, I’m so sorry.”
“I finally told Miss Debbie in the second trimester. I told her because I didn’t know if I could keep on going. I didn’t know if I could do labor. I needed some reason to keep on…”
I tried to catch her eye, but she kept her head down.
“Once I told her I wanted to give her the baby, she drove me to every doctor’s appointment and bought me all my clothes and didn’t say a word when I cut all my hair off. She said I was in ‘the crazy point’ of pregnant. She’d read it in a book.”
I smiled. “If you got Miss Debbie to read, you know it’s serious.”
“She told me all about the stages and made me write down what I was eating every day. It was Miss Debbie in the room with me when I found out it was a girl. We had some wine later that night to celebrate and I asked her if I could name the baby. At that point I could have told her I wanted everything she owned—and her husband—and she would have given it to me.”
“You could probably still have him, I imagine.”
Eddie met my eyes. “Nana Dara, we both know I’d never want him.”
She smiled—beamed really—and took another drag off my cigarette.
I said, “Can I ask you something?”
“I don’t quite get how you don’t want to have a woman’s body—I mean, what does that mean?”
“It took me so many nights, many of them more than a little dark, for me to come to understand that. And by understand I am not saying I understand but, rather, that I just accept. It’s like what you learn in Eastern Religions, like Buddhism.”
“Buddhism.” She smiled. “I learned about it when I was in California. It’s just like a different religion, only they don’t like to call it a religion—they call it a philosophy.”
“Alright,” I said, wary.
“Buddhism teaches a lot about self-acceptance, or at least that was the focus when I was studying it, seeing that I needed a lot of self-acceptance. I learned to stop asking ‘why’ and start accepting the fact that I have these strange yearnings, which put me somewhere between the two genders, and having something is enough—you don’t always need to know why.”
I didn’t say anything, my mind playing a tug of war between how I’d been raised and how I truly felt.
She went on: “There’s a saying I repeated to myself fifty times a day, every day for three months: ‘What you are is what you have been. What you’ll be is what you’ll do now.’ Buddha said it.”
“He’s like Jesus—actually a lot like Jesus, only not Jesus.”
I smiled. No one in Sugar Land, Texas sits around talking about an alternative to Jesus.
“Nana Dara, the way I’ve come to love myself as I am in every moment, is the way I want you to love yourself. Start by giving away all those notions that who I am is your fault. Maybe even thank yourself for who I am.”
It hit me then: I had just apologized to Eddie for being the way she was, which means that I thought her being this way was wrong—but I didn’t, did I?
“I’m just sorry you felt so bad for so long,” I said.
“I know.” She smiled like someone who didn’t mind waiting five hours on a lake for one measly bite. “Thank you, Nana Dara.”
I took in a breath and recollected, hitting the maximum of new information I could process in one day. I pulled us back to our original topic, letting Eddie know she had to ease off or my head would pop. “OK, so then you had the baby…”
She nodded, telling me she got it. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Was that hard for you, given what we just talked about?”
“I came to think of it like this, Nana Dara: It’s what needed to happen, for a million reasons. A million.”
“That’s a big number.”
“Yes.” Her dark eyes dulled to a far away place. “Yes it is.”
“And now there’s my little girl.”
I said “Yes, yes there is” all the while wondering if she gave up California and their crazy philosophies that seem to suit her so she could be near her daughter.
“Well,” she said, clearly also at her limit for the day, “it’s time for me to head out.”
I pushed myself up with arms, which were getting stronger every day. “You think you might want to have a visit again some time this week?”
“Good,” I said.
“Are you fine with Miss Debbie—with the way her mind goes?”
“I just hope it passes.”
“Most storms do,” she said.
“Even on Jupiter.”
Eddie tucked her shirt in and headed for the door. She turned back to me. “So, you have a girlfriend?”
“What? No, no.”
She laughed. “Why not?”
“I’m an old woman!”
“So, that’s nasty.”
She stepped outside. “That so?”
“No,” I said, taking a minute in our safe space to consider the words I’d just used. “No, it isn’t nasty. It’s just not available.”
“Well,” Eddie said, looking feisty and proud, “I’ve found that it’s more available than folks think.”
tammy lynne stoner was born in Midland, Texas. Her work has been selected for more than a dozen anthologies and literary journals. She was nominated for a Million Writers Award and earned her MFA from Antioch University. tammy has lived in 15 cities, working as a biscuit maker, a medical experimentee, a forklift operator, a gas station attendant, and a college instructor, among other odd jobs. She is the creator of Dottie’s Magic Pockets and the publisher of Gertrude. She lives in Portland, OR and Basel, Switzerland with her lady-friend, Karena, and their three kids. Learn more at her website.