Shishir 2022 Stories - Cathy Adams


A Catch
By Cathy Adams


I should begin by saying I am not a cross-dresser, not in the traditional sense. I am a man, and I do dress in woman’s clothes. But it’s because I love my mother. She is dying. The dying part is due to Alzheimer’s. I’ve been taking care of her for three years, and now I’ve become her sister.

My Aunt Nelle, Mother’s older sister, passed away almost twenty years ago, but Mother can’t remember that part. All she knows is that Nelle loves her and would do anything for her.In the early days of her illness, Mother was lucid a few hours a day and she knew something was wrong, but she could never put her finger on what. Sometimes she would get scared and cry because she could not remember the simplest things. She would put her eyeglasses in the freezer or a bathroom drawer, forget, and call for Nelle to come help her find them. She would look out, see the postman putting mail in the box, become frightened because a bad man was trying to break into the house, and demand that Nelle phone the police. Sometimes Mother would become agitated over things like not remembering how to turn on her washing machine, and she’d yell for Nelle to fix her “broken” washer. That was about the time she began calling me Nelle.

Then came the day when Mother saw me from behind in the kitchen. I was frying up sausages for breakfast and she hobbled back down the hall screaming that there was a strange man in the house. It took a minute to realize it was me she was calling a strange man. She locked herself in the bathroom and kept yelling for Nelle to dial “that number,” the one she could never remember, the one I had written in three inch, damn red letters on a card taped to the refrigerator: 9-1-1.
Nothing I said through the locked door would calm her, including a reminder that my name was Gerald, and I was her sixty-one-year-old son who lived with her and took care of her every damn day. All she could do was call Nelle’s name and shout “Help!” out the window. I was sure she was going to bring the neighbors running if I didn’t do something drastic. That was the day it all began. That was the first time I did it.

Mother’s dresses were too short for me, so I rolled up my pant legs and slid her blue Sunday dress over my head. At that time, I didn’t have a wig, so I opted for a scarf over my hair. That was the day I officially became Nelle.

I told Mama the man in the kitchen was gone, and that I, Nelle, her older sister, would be cooking her sausage and eggs just the way she liked them. The dress and scarf were just to calm her down and get her to come out of the bathroom. I figured I would toss them over a chair once we got back to the kitchen, but when I tried to remove the dress Mother shouted, “Nelle, don’t pull at that dress! You’ll pop the buttons off.” So, I fried up four sausage links, three eggs, over-easy, and brewed a pot of coffee for our breakfast. Then Mother and I sat down together, two elderly sisters, and ate our breakfast.

For the next week or two I tried wearing my regular clothes, but that just led to Mother getting agitated whenever she saw me in my chinos and button downs. “What are you doing in my house?” she’d demand, and then she’d head off down the hall calling for Nelle. A few times she would ask when Gerald was coming home, but when I reminded her that I was Gerald she’d look me up and down and say, “My Gerald’s at school today. He goes to Morgan High School. He’s on the baseball team.” Her eyes would glitter at the image of me she conjured up from forty-five years ago, the seventeen-year-old Gerald who wanted to be a racecar driver.

The thin Gerald in his white tuxedo posing with Vickie Fergusson in our prom picture. The Gerald with a full head of hair, wearing a Doobie Brothers t-shirt on his way out the door to the mall on a Friday night. Standing before her now was the paunchy Gerald in glasses with a balding ring of white hair, a frightening stranger. So, I went back to the closet in the guest room where most of Mother’s best clothes hung and found a comfortable looking, belted, yellow summer dress with a coordinating floral scarf draped over the hanger. This time I didn’t put it over my clothes. I stripped to my boxers, put everything on, and took a look in the mirror on the closet door. The scarf covered my balding head, the belt gave me a waistline, and the skirt fell just to the tops of my hairy knees. I went to the bathroom to find a razor.

I was pleasantly surprised at how cool my legs felt. All these years of seeing women with smooth legs, I had no notion of how comfortable hairless skin was on hot summer days as I saton the back porch in the shade. A breeze blowing over one’s skin just feels nice. Mother and I drink our sodas and read the newspaper in the afternoons, now our favorite time of day together. Doing this at home, being Mother’s sister, is easy. It’s when we have to go out together that things get complicated.

There are doctor’s appointments, endless doctor’s appointments. I thought I should warn the staff at thephysician’s office that I would be in a dress when we arrived for Mother’s first appointment after my change, so I wrote Dr. Nguyen an email explaining Mother’s confusion, and my dress and scarf. I asked him to please tell his staff to go along with everything for Mother’s sake. The shocked look on the receptionist’s face told me the email had not been shared. After Mother was called in, every one of Dr. Nguyen’s staff made some excuse to walk through the waiting room on some contrived errand just to get a good look at me, and it wasn’t long before I burst.

“For piss sakes,” I shouted, “I did it for Mother! Have some compassion for a sick old woman who is convinced her son is now her dead sister.” The silence was riveting, and it felt as if somethingknotted deep inside me had torn itself open.Erupting at everyone within earshot made something settle in me that I didn’t realize needed settling. “This is my sacrifice. An act of love!” The last word came out harsh and bitter on my tongue, and I felt a tinge of embarrassment at my outburst. I was suddenly aware of myself, of my body in my mother’s yellow capri pants and summer blouse. My right hand was pressed against my heart that thudded so hard against my chest I could swear I heard it. No one uttered a word until the nurse brought Mother back out and informed me that her blood pressure was a little high and the doctor was prescribing new meds. I dropped the script in my purse.

For the sake of looking more natural, I decided to get a wig. Not a cheap one that you mail order, but a real, fitted wig made of human hair. I was lucky because BootsieLaMere’sFine Lady’s Accessories had been in business ever since I could remember. Bootsie, in a soft pink, long feathered pixieadorned with a rhinestone hairpin on one side, tottered out to greet me.

She was even older than Mama, but she didn’t bat an eye when I told her I was looking for something to make me “look younger.” I couldn’t thinkof what other description I should use. I’d come to find the dresses comfortable in a practical way. Slipping into another identity, even if it was a woman, became an easy escape. It wasn’t as if my life as Gerald had been vibrantly exciting. No one waited for Gerald to come home. No one felt safe and secure with Gerald.
“I think I know the right look for you, darling,” Bootsie cooed.

Seated at her fitting room dressing table, I admired the wisps of amber blonde hair that framed my face, and for an instant, I could see the Nelle thatMama saw. So secure, so loved. I paid Bootsie in cash and took my wig, affectionately wrapped in pink tissue paper and nestled in a box with Bootsie’s curlicued logo on the side. She put a bony hand on my arm and said, “Every woman takes a little extra mystery with her when she shops at Bootsie’s.” I was sure she said that after every sale. How many women in our town had felt Bootsie’s little hand on their arm and heard they were special? An exclusive club of inclusion.

Going to church dressed as Nelle turned out to be easier than going anywhere else. I guess that’s because we are Episcopalians, and as Jesus, Mary, God, and everybodyelse knows, Episcopalians are the most flexible and accepting of all the denominations. I sent Father Greene the same explanation that I sent Dr. Nguyen except I added a reference to the verse from 1Timothyabout children making a return of love to their widowed parents “for this is pleasing in the sight of God.”

Except for one hard-ass named Todd whom I’d known since high school, everyone reacted somewhere between gushingly enthusiastic acceptance and casual indifference. Mother and I, or Olivia and Nelle, sat together each Sunday in the same pew our family had occupied since I was a child. By fall, I had bought some hats andlow-heeled pumps so I couldput together what I prided myself on as an attractive collection of complete outfits suitable for going out.

I even managed to lose a few pounds and Mother’s dresses became more flattering. When a wedding invitation came in the mail addressed to “Sisters Olivia and Nelle Brickman,” I knew I had arrived on a whole new level. I even splurged on a new mint green dress, wide-brimmed summer hat, and matching clutch purse from Nordstrom’s.

It was all I could do to convince Mother to take a shower the morning of the wedding. Dr. Nguyen had warned me months earlier that a fear of being immersed in water was one of the symptoms of dementia after I told him I had been struggling with her unwillingness to bath. I assured her over and over that I would be outside the door if she needed anything.

After fifteen minutes of cajoling and reviewing whichbottle was the soap and which was the shampoo, I finally was able to turn the shower head on warm, just the way Mother liked it, and exit the bathroom. In a few minutes I heard her step into the shower and the sound of the plastic curtain being pulled. I was confident I was listening to the sounds of cleaning, and while I waited I toyed with the idea of putting on a little make-up for the wedding. It was, after all, a special occasion.

“Nelle?” Mother called.

“I’m here.”

“Have you heard from Gerald?”

Mother had not uttered my name in months, and hearing it now chilled me. “Umm, no, I haven’t.”

“I thought we’d hear something before now,” she said, turning off the water. I heard the shower curtain shifting back over the rod.

A sheen of sweat popped out on my forehead, and I wiped it away with my sleeve.“Where do you think Gerald is?” I asked and put my ear to the door. I could hear the sound of Mother picking up something from the counter and then putting it down again with a clicking sound. A bottle of something. The sound repeated several times. Then I heard the cabinet door and smack shut again.


“Where’s my dress?” Mother shouted.

Damn it to hell.I took a deep breath. “It’s hanging on the back of the door.” I knocked hard on the door. “Right here, Mama, I mean-.” I shook my head at my misspeak. “Right in front of you. Where I’m knocking, Olivia. Look here!”

“Oh, well Lord-a-mercy, there it is,” Mother said, and then I heard the crinkling ofdry-cleaning plastic as she took down the hanger.

I don’t know if I did it because I was angry at Mother or because I just felt like being risky, but I went full-on Estee Lauder for the wedding. Mother had accumulated a considerable drawer full back when she was cognizant of how she looked, so I hadeverything I could want: Double Wear foundation, a tray of eye shadows, and four tubes of lipstick that were a bit dried out but still functional if I added a little Vaseline to my lips first. My only disappointment was thedried-out mascara.

“Nelle,” Mother said, when I stepped out of the bathroom. “I can’t remember when I’ve seen you so tarted up.”

“It’s your make-up, Olivia,” I said, snatching my new clutch from the hall table.

I didn’t speak a word to Mother on the drive to church. She managed to chatter the entire way making comments about every little thing she could see out the window and never seemed to notice my silence.

At the church we had to sit through two solos croaked out by Vanessa Crowder, our greatly disputed, past-her-prime singer. After each song Mother whispered how beautiful that little girl sang, even though that little girl was forty-seven years old and her voice sounded to me like she’d been sucking on pickles and Sweet-Tarts in between sips of Jack Daniel’s.

I kept dabbing a tissueat my temples because the church was burning up from the shitload of white candles lining the front of the sanctuary. I was dying to pull off my hat and fan myself, but I had it bobby pinned at an angle just like the royals do, and I knew I’d never get it back on right for the reception.

What Vanessa passed off as singinghad mercifully concluded. I was wishing we hadtaken seats near the back instead of our usual third row when Mother piped up in a voice loud enough for everyone on our side of the church to hear. “Reckon why Gerald isn’t here?”

“Wh- What?” I stammered. Heads turned towards us from all sides.

“Gerald.” Mother’s mouth fell open and her forehead wrinkled in that dazed expression she had whenever she was entering one of her confused fogs. “I was hoping he’d be here. It’s a wedding after all.” She stretched to look over the rows behind us, and then she leaned in close to me. “He never managed to find a woman who’d have him, you know. He was my boy, Nelle, and I loved him, but he just wasn’t much of a catch. I wish he were here.”

“Lord, Lord, how sad,” I heard a woman stage whisper behind me.

Before I could answer, one of Mother’s friends leaned over the pew in front of us and reached down to pat Mother’s hand. “Olivia, hon, he’s always with you.” Then she winked at me and turned back around.

“No, Gerald’s abandoned me.” Mother began to cry and fumble for her pocketbook to get a tissue. “I don’t know what I ever did to that boy. He just up and abandoned me.”

Words boiled up from the pit of my stomach and caught in my throat. My face was hot and my body trembled. But then Mother smiled and reached out with a cool and gentle hand. “But I don’t know what I’d do without you, dear. As long as I have you with me, everything’ll be fine. You really are a wonderful sister.”

I felt a hand from behind squeeze my shoulder. I turned my sweating face and caught a glimpse of a woman I had taken on a date to a Kiwanis pancake fundraiser years earlier. Her name was Pam, or Dawn, I couldn’t remember. She was smiling in this pitifully sad way,as if there was something she wanted to say, but she didn’t know the words. She looked at Mother, and then she released me and sat back in her seat.

I let out a long slow breath and looked down into my mother’s loving gray eyes, so fragile and lost, eyes that I knew would hold me with her until death released me.“I’ll never abandon you,” I said, feeling a little sick just as the piano started up to signal the beginning of the ceremony.


Cathy Adams from U.S has her latest novel, A Body’s Just as Dead, published by SFK Press. Her writing has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. She is a short story writer with publications in The Saturday Evening Post, Utne, AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Barely South, Five on the Fifth, Southern Pacific Review, and 55 other journals from around the world. She earned her M.F.A. at Rainier Writing Workshop, Pacific Lutheran University, Washington. Her works have appeared in The Loch Raven Review, The MacGuffin, The Woven Tale Press, Deep South Magazine, Bengaluru Review, magazine, and others.


Our Contributors !!

Some of our writers!

  • We occassionally invite writers to send their musings. Do send in your work, and we will host it here.
  • Do visit the Submit page to submit your work.