05 An Instrumental Loss

I suppose it had been too much to hope that she would believe me. If I hadn’t experienced it myself, I certainly wouldn’t have believed it. So on top of everything else, I was deprived of one of my few close confidants, since Tina would just shut me down if I kept on the subject. I really needed to de-stress before anything else, and I told her so.

“Teen, we’ll talk, but not just yet. I need to relax first. I’m just going to sit in my room and play my guitar for a while.”

She perked up, interested and clearly happy to have changed the subject. “You got a new guitar? That’s great!”

“Um, no,” I replied, a bit surprised. “I’m just talking about the one I’ve always had.”

She looked really confused. “Always had? When did you get it?”

It was as though she was getting revenge on me by acting stupid. “Teen,” I explained, “I mean my guitar. You know, the one grandpa left me?”

“He left you a guitar?”

“Oh come on!” Now I was starting to get a bit annoyed with her. “You know what I’m talking about. The one he toured with. The one he played all over the country? His 1955 Les Paul Special?”

She suddenly got a really funny look on her face. “Marsh,” she said, quietly, “I don’t know what you are talking about. Grandpa gave that to Joey.”

“Joey?” I laughed derisively, “Joey wouldn’t recognize a melody if it came with a name tag! He gave it to me, Teen. I’m four months older than Joey, and he always said that it was going to go to his oldest grandso…”

I realized the implications before the last word had quite left my mouth, and all the blood drained from my face. Tina had meant it. If I was a girl, I was no longer the oldest grandson, and the guitar, my guitar, had indeed gone to our cousin. My guitar, on which I had practiced for a dozen or so hours every week since I was twelve. My guitar, which I had played at many parties at school, and in numerous coffee shop gigs to earn money for tuition and expenses. If there was any one thing that my friends had associated with Marshall Steen, it was that guitar. I’d thought of that instrument as a sacred trust. Grandpa had left it to me, and I’d felt obligated to master it, devoted every free moment to learning it. And now, suddenly, it was gone. Gone completely.

I managed to choke out, “Did… did he at least get good at playing it?”

“Marsh…” she started. “You know better than that. Joey isn’t musical at all. He sold it a few years ago to get money for a car, remember?”

If I hadn’t been sitting against something, I might have fallen. Yes, the guitar had been incredibly valuable, and serious guitarists would have paid a lot of money for it, but… it had been like a family heirloom. I’d thought of myself more as its custodian than its owner. Joey had had no right to sell it. If he hadn’t wanted it, why hadn’t he given it to somebody else in the family? It was a betrayal. It was unreasonable. It was…

I’d cried myself out, earlier. I had no tears left, and just now, I needed them. There was only one thing left for me to do – a game Dad had taught us for dealing with major disappointments. It was very formalized; it really had to be, to keep you from focusing too painfully on what was bothering you. It forced you think of how you were going to deal with it, and allowed you to share your pain. To outsiders, it probably would have seemed funny, but Tina and I had used it many times together, and it had almost always made us feel better. So I rose to my feet, thrust an arm dramatically in the air, and intoned, “Miss Zucchini Bread, take a lemon!”

The selection of a ludicrous name is an essential part of the game. Not only does it alert your partner that you are playing, you get extra points if you can make her laugh. Tina had gotten me so well when she called me, “Mr. Cabbage-Celery Sausage” once that I’d almost forgotten the next step.

She didn’t forget now. Her hand poised over an imaginary steno pad, she replied, “Yes, Ma’am!”

That almost threw me, as I was used to her saying, “Yes, Sir!” but I caught myself.

“To the World at Large, Fate Division,” I started. “Dear Sirs: It has come to my attention that my 1955 Gibson Les Paul Special, the guitar that made me the musician I am today, has instead gone to my idiot cousin, who was unable to appreciate it. I have further learned that said cousin has sold this valuable instrument, this family trust, to outsiders, so that I can never reclaim it. But I…” I stopped suddenly and stared at my sister. Normally, I was supposed to propose a course of defiant action at this point, but suddenly it made no sense.

“But I will rise past this…” Tina prompted me.

Instead of continuing with my rant, I started to laugh.

Tina was shocked. This was not part of the ritual, after all. “Marsh, what are you doing?”

“Exactly, Teen!” I answered her. “What am I doing? Tina, my entire life has just been turned upside down and I’m worried about my guitar? It’s not fair, Teen, but that guitar isn’t Grandpa’s legacy. I am. I’m the one who learned to play, not Joey. All he got out of it was money. Ok, an awful lot of money, but he never connected with Grandpa the way I did. I’m the one with the skill, developed over years of practice, not Joey. The world thinks it can take me down with this? No way!” I turned back away from my sister and shouted at my imaginary adversaries, the invisible, invidious masters of fate who had done this to me. “Fuck you, world! I can take this!”

When I turned back to Tina, I saw that my language had shocked her yet again, but I didn’t stop. I was running on pure bravado, now. I refused to give in; I wasn’t going to despair. Changing me into a girl had been bad enough, but taking away my guitar as well? That was too much. That was just adding insult to injury, and I refused to play dead. “You know what I’m going to do, Tina? I’m not going to give up so quickly. I’m not going to tell those guys to change me back right away. I’m going to wait. I’m going to prove that I’m not beaten, that I can take whatever Fate can dish out. I’m going to be Marsha until after Christmas, and then I’ll tell them to change me back. For the next two-and-a-half months, I’m going to play the role of Marsha Steen so well that nobody will know I’m not her. I’m going to walk like her, talk like her, wear her clothes…”

“… date her boyfriends…” Tina muttered.

“Um,” I continued, after a quick double take, “the role might need a bit of rewriting. I’m sure I can come up with a good reason for ‘Marsha’ not to date anyone until after Christmas. But I’m going to need your help, Teen. You’re going to have to coach me, since you know Marsha a lot better than I do.”

“O… K…” she said, once more giving me that patient look. “So maybe you could stop the profanity?”

“Of course,” I replied. “How would Marsha have said that last bit?”

“Marsha… or rather you, would normally have said something like, ‘So much for you, World!’”

So much for you’?” I echoed. “Doesn’t have much bite to it, does it? Marsha sounds like a bit of a wimp.” Then I saw Tina’s eyes set, and quickly added, “I mean, of course that’s the way I’m going to have to say it, isn’t it?”

She sighed and nodded. “And I’ll be happy to help you be ‘you’, Marsh. I don’t know what this is all about, but you’re my sister, and I’ll do whatever I can.”

“Thanks, Teen,” I said, and pulled her to her feet for a hug. And got yet another shock. I was used to looking down on the top of her head, but suddenly my eyes only reached her lips! “Um, Tina… when did you get to be taller than me?”

“I’ve been taller than you for more than a year, Marsh. Isn’t that why you wear those extra high heels? So we can be about the same height?”

I stared at my sister for a second. Then, letting go of her, I opened the car door and reached across for ‘my’ shoes, which I placed on the ground in front of her. I climbed on top of them and noticed that they did indeed make me about her height, and maybe a bit taller. I stepped down again and inspected her shoes, noticing that she was wearing somewhat shorter heels than I was. “Wait,” I started, “then how tall am I…? Oh my God… I mean, um ‘goodness’ I’m tiny!”

“Well, I’m 5’4”, and you’re about an inch shorter.”

“I’m only 5’3”? Oh for…” I sighed. It was just another slap in the face, and minor compared to the others. And it was only until the end of the year, so I could manage. “OK, Teen. Let’s go home.”


  1. Maiden Anne says:

    Well, I certainly wasn’t worried about his guitar before this chapter, but I was definitely concerned about it before the end. Music is seeming to be more and more a part of his life. I couldn’t say that I really expect anything to happen to his guitar (like he buys it back, or buys one just like it) but I am expecting a little more on this, and wondering what other hardships he is going to have to go through by being a girl rather than a boy.

    I am also wondering how long his determination to take life as it comes is going to last.

    There is a bit of a hint here that he doesn’t like who Marsha is “ Marsha sounds like a bit of a wimp” . I will be watching the continuing development of Marsha with interest.

    Marsh- I like Marsh’s determination to make the best of a difficult situation. I feel like he really did an emotional turn-around, here, a ‘pulling together’ .
    Tina- Is continuing to do the patient sister act that I love.
    Joe- I know about Joe now, but I can’t say that I am all that interested in him. It doesn’t seem like he is going to really come into the book much, so I just take it that he is not at all musical and he sold the guitar that Marsh really values.
    The noticing the different height and the changing his language both do a very good job of illustrating his determination to live like a girl, and to not be defeated by difficult circumstances.

    Over all I am enjoying the book, I think it is a very interesting plot and you are handling it very differently from what I would have expected.

  2. Robert Ortega says:

    Just discovered this story today, & have not yet read past this chapter. with that in mind — I hope Marsh’s muscle memory has carried over as well as his personal identity has, or else he/she is going to be horribly shocked at the first attempt to play.

    I’m reminded a bit of a classic episode of “Quantum Leap”, where Sam leaped into his own younger self, and could not make his younger sister believe it until he picked up a guitar, and began playing John Lennon’s “Imagine” — which hadn’t yet been written. His sister is delighted at first, thinking big bro’s delusion is hilarious — then her laughter turns to horror and tears as she realizes the song is way too good, way too Lennon, for Sam to have written it. My daughter still can’t watch that scene without tearing up. . . .

  3. DS says:

    I am really enjoying this story so far, but I wish there was more detail. I mean, it’s the 5th chapter, and I don’t even know what anyone looks like.

    I also kind of feel she’s taking this rather too well. I mean, other than breaking down and crying, she doesn’t appear to be very overwhelmed. It’s only been a “few hours” since she entered this reality and she’s already planning out a patient next few months… I don’t really understand why she’s not trying to get in touch with the people who changed her.

    Still, a fun read… On to the next chapter!

  4. Um the Muse says:

    @DS’s comment: I think she’s running off of sheer bravado at the moment. I suspect that when she’s had the time to collect herself for a bit, she’ll start feeling more anxious/ helpless.
    Btw, envidious is a cool word. It would be a good name for some hi-tech product.

  5. Trax says:

    He gave it __ me, Teen.

    Yeah, I’m re-reading. :p

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