You Can't Go Back Home Again


By Time Lady

I should have listened to my better instincts. When Su Yee came running up to me with my mail, I should have taken it and set it on the side.

"Open it Feathers-chan," said Su excitedly.

"Su," said Tegan, "you're supposed to put the mail into the mailboxes.

"It's okay," I replied. Then I took the important looking envelope that excited Su. It was an invitation, addressed from my son and his wife. I opened it and read through the card. "My grandson is being barmitzvahed," I said. Could it really be 13 years since he was born?

"When is it?" asked Tegan.

I scanned the invitation until I found the date. The bar-mitzvah was in two weeks. I looked at the postmark. It had only been sent two weeks ago.

"You're going, right?" she asked.

"I don't know." I hesitated. "I haven't seen my son and his family in over three years... since before Madame WWW... he doesn't know how much I've changed... and then there's Ryuji. I don't think it would be a good idea for me to take him to New York with me. What if those crazy men attacked again? What if he turned into a cabbit and was attacked by a rabid dog?"

"Is a bar-mitzvah something important?" asked Su.

"Yes. It's one of the most important events in the life of a Jewish boy. It marks his passage into manhood," I explained.

"Then you should go," returned Su.

"I can keep an eye on Ryuji," added Tegan. "It's not like you would be away for a month, right?"

"I need to think," I said. "Let me talk to my son tonight."

That night, after I tucked Ryuji into bed, I sat staring at the invitation. The date told me it had been sent later than the proper etiquette my son's wife favored would dictate. Particularly if the invitation had to be sent overseas. But I hadn't seen my son or my grandchildren since right after my granddaughter's bat-mitzvah. I sighed to myself. Since the day Jeffrey, my son, married, I felt like an outsider. I looked at a picture of me and Jonathan, my late husband. The picture had been taken on the last trip we went on together before Jonathan died. A tear rolled down my cheek. My communication with my son and his family, since I had been freed from Madame WWW's power, had been limited to calls on birthdays and holidays. I sighed, then dialed my phone.

A woman answered. "Schwartz residence."

"Sheryl? This is Marion."

There was a pause on the other end. "Oh, hello Marion." Sheryl's voice was less than enthusiastic.

"How is everything?"


"I received the invitation to David's bar-mitzvah. Mazel Tov."

Another very tense pause. "Thank you," Sheryl replied coldly. "Let me get Jeffrey for you."

"Thank you dear," I returned, hiding my irritation. What ever did my son see in her?

Sheryl must not have covered her end of the phone. Or my hearing had become more sensitive since my... mutation. I could hear a muffled conversation on the other end of the line. "You said she wouldn't get the invitation until after the bar-mitzvah." "How was I to know the international mail would get to Japan so quickly? We'll discuss this later..." The phone picked up again.

"Hi Ma."

"Hello Jeffrey," I said, fighting back the urge to comment on his "conversation" with his wife. "I received the invitation."

"Yeah Ma."

"David must have been working hard."

"Yeah Ma."

"How is Amber?"

"Isn't she going to graduate high school soon?"

"Next year."

I made the decision I am now regretting. "I'll be coming in the Thursday of that week."

There is silence on the other line for a moment. "How will you be in for?"

"I'll be leaving Sunday or Monday. I have a job, you know. Then there's also Ryuji."


"The young boy I'm taking care of."

"Is he coming?"

"No. A friend of mine offered to look after him until I get back. But I don't want to impose on her for too long."

There is more silence on the other end. "OK Ma. I'll reserve you a hotel room."

"A hotel room?"

"Yeah Ma. We're going to be full up here. Sheryl's parents are going to be in for three weeks."

"The hotel will be fine, dear," I replied coolly. Mentally I calculated their home. They had one extra bedroom, which his parents would be using. Had he been a mensch, he would have suggested I share a room with my granddaughter Amber. Or even offered me the couch. But then I realized a hotel room would give me more privacy.

"OK Ma. Let me know what your flight plan is going to be."

"Yes Jeffrey."

"This call must be costing you a fortune." Meaning he wanted to get off the phone. "I'll talk to you later Ma."

"Good bye."


I hung up the phone, hoping I didn't make a mistake. I had spent two years under the control of Madame WWW. No one had filed a missing person's report. When I first called Jeffrey after being released, he acted like it had only been a week since he last heard from me. I barely spoke with either of my grandchildren, and my conversation with the woman my son married has been limited to "Hello" and "Good-bye".

Quietly, I went to check up on Ryuji. He appeared to be sleeping peacefully. I wished I could take him with me, but it wasn't safe. At least if he stayed in Nerima, if those men decided to attack, he would be protected. I decided to take him shopping with me, to help me pick out gifts for David and Amber.

A couple of weeks later, Tegan drove me and Ryuji to the airport. I was wearing a short brown wig and white gloves. In Nerima, it didn't matter how I looked. But no one in New York knew about my physical changes.

"You sure you want to go through with this?" asked Tegan.

"I have to do this," I said. It was true. I needed to see my son and grandchildren again. "Ryuji, you be good."

Ryuji nodded and gave me a hug. Then I hugged Tegan. Sighing, I entered the gate.

Hours later, after a layover in San Francisco, I departed the plane in LaGuardia airport. I saw Jeffrey waiting. He had put on a little weight since the last time I saw him. There were now a few gray hairs mixed in the brown. A lump formed in my throat. Jeffrey closely resembled his late father in every way except personality. That part had been reshaped by Sheryl. I put on a smile and went to meet him.

"Hi Ma. How was the trip?" No hug, no kiss.

"Just fine. Could you please help me with my suit cases?"

"Yeah Ma."

The trip to Jeffrey's Long Island home was filled with inane chit-chat. Even with me right there, Jeffrey still doesn't inquire about my 2 year disappearance. We just talked about the weather, the economy, and the news. Jeffrey pulled up in front of a large home in a well-to-do neighborhood.

"Here we are Ma. Sheryl has dinner ready. I'll take you to the hotel a little later."

"That will be fine, Jeffrey." I got out of the car. "I need to get something out of the trunk."

Jeffrey popped the trunk. I opened one of my suitcases and took out three boxes. Then Jeffrey opened the front door. "We're home," he announced.

Sheryl was in the formal living room with her parents, Alicia and Edward Zabel. They don't bother to stand. "Hello Marion," said Edward.

"How was your flight?" asked Alicia.

"Just fine. And how are you two?" I made myself say politely.

"Oh, we can't complain," returned Alicia.

Unassisted, I put down the boxes. "Where are the children?" I asked.

"Upstairs in their rooms," answered Sheryl. "Jeffrey, would you call them to dinner?" Not call them down to see their grandmother. Call them to dinner.

Jeffrey went to a built-in intercom and summoned his two children. Amber came down first. I thought I had to be mistaken. Where was the girl with the blond curls? The one who loved pink and frills? The curls were replaced with a crew cut, dyed black. Four earrings glittered from each ear. She wore black bicycle shorts and a black aerobic top. If I even thought of dressing that way at her age, my father would have killed me. "Oh my Lord...." I said to myself.

"What _is_ it?" complained Amber. "I was on the phone."

"Your grandmother Marion is here," returned Jeffrey.

For the first time, Amber noticed me standing in the living room. Amber then noticed the three wrapped boxes that weren't in the living room earlier. Her now materialistic mind must have put two and two together. "Hello Grandma," she said, coming to embrace me. There was no warmth in the hug. Not like the kind I get from Ryuji, Sumire, Jessica, and Nezumi. I sighed.

"Hello sweetie," I said, stepping back. "My... you've certainly... changed."

"You like it?" Amber spun for me.

"It's... different," I replied diplomatically.

"Where's David?" asked Jeffrey.

Amber shrugged. "Probably playing video games."

"Go tell him to come down right now," ordered her father. With a backwards glance at the boxes, Amber ran upstairs. She returned five minutes later with her younger brother in tow. I noticed instantly that David resembled his father at the same aged. David was sulking.

"Daaaaad...." he whined, "I almost had the high score and Amber shut off my game... she wouldn't let me pause...."

"I told you three times Dad wanted you," returned Amber, her arms crossed on her chest.

"Why you..." began David.

"Stop it both of you," commanded Jeffrey. I glanced at Sheryl and her parents, who were apparently ignoring the whole exchange. "David, you are supposed to come the first time you are called. Do you want me to take away the games?"

"No Dad..." he groaned.

"Now go say hello to Grandma Marion."

David sighed, then muttered "Hello Grandma."

"Hello David," I said, becoming increasingly disheartened.

"I don't know about anyone else," interjected Jeffrey, "but I'm starving."

"Everything is ready," replied Sheryl. "Let's go into the dining room."

In the dining room, I nearly choked. Boston Market take-out bags sat on the sideboard along with several plastic containers. "Maybe she's just so busy with preparing for the bar-mitzvah," I said to myself, "but at least she could have taken everything out of the containers and made it *look* like she cooked." I sat down between the kids. Dinner was accented by more useless chit-chat. I had to grin and bear it.

"Ma, why don't you take the gloves off," said Jeffrey.

"Oh... ah... I had a .... small accident.... a few months ago," I stammered, groping for the right words. "Some people find my hands... disturbing. So I generally do not take the gloves off in company."

"If your mother wants to wear them, that's her choice," said Sheryl, ending that part of conversation.

"So... Grandma....," said Amber, "What's in the boxes?"

"As soon as everyone is finished with dinner, you'll see," I replied, forcing a smile. Amber looked at David, a gleam in her eye. The kids rushed through their meal. I sighed and excused myself to go to the bathroom. Looking in the mirror, I straightened my wig. When I came out, the others were in the living room. Amber and David were still eyeing the boxes. I took a deep, cleansing breath, then walked over to the boxes. I handed David a long, thin box. Then I passed a large, rectangular box to Amber, and a large, square box to Jeffrey and Sheryl.

David practically ripped his box open. "It's a bokken," I explained as he looked at it. "It's like a sword, made of wood. I didn't think I could bring a real sword on the plane. Bokkens are very popular where I live. Some of my friends use them for practice, and even for limited combat."

"Err.... thanks Grandma..." He muttered, looking uncertainly at the bokken. Ryuji had helped me pick it out for him. David appeared... disappointed... I guess. If I had given the bokken to Ryuji, I certain he would have been thrilled to receive it.

Amber opened her package more carefully. She pulled out an elaborate pink silk kimono, embroidered with red and green. Amber looked at me. "It's a ceremonial kimono. You could hang it on your wall. Though I know some young ladies back in Japan who wear them."

"Thanks Grandma...." Amber said in a disappointed tone.

Jeffrey opened the last box. He pulled out a porcelain saki set and passed it to Sheryl. "Oh... how... nice," murmured Sheryl.

"Gee, Ma, you shouldn't have," said Jeffrey.

"I wanted to," I replied, disappointed by my family's reaction to their gifts. Something told me that those items would wind up as gifts to other people. We sat and talked for a few more minutes. I was starting to get very uncomfortable... and I don't mean the wig and gloves. I feigned a yawn. "I guess I'm a little tired from the flight. Jeffrey, could you take me to the hotel?"

"Sure Ma."

I said good-bye to Sheryl and her parents, then hugged David and Amber. They appeared less than enthusiastic. I overheard David mutter to Amber "Man, how lame...." Sighing, I went out to the car with Jeffrey. He drove me to the hotel. Amazingly enough, he stayed around long enough to see me up to my room.

"Will you be okay Ma?"

"Yes Jeffrey. This room is fine."

"Okay Ma. Services tomorrow begin at 6:30. I'll pick you up at 5:00"

"I'll see you tomorrow." I kissed my son's cheek, then closed the door behind him. Alone, I pulled off my gloves and tossed them onto the bed. Then I opened one of my suitcases and took out a wig form. Carefully I set my wig onto the form. I didn't want it to get messed up. God, it felt good taking that off. I ran my fingers through the white feathers I had now instead of hair. I should have listened to my first instincts. I knew coming here was going to be a mistake. But I also knew I had to face my family sooner or later.

The next morning, I woke up and looked at my clock. 8AM. One thing about being a human/bird hybrid. Jet lag apparently didn't affect me. I figured Jeff would be working. The kids would be at school. Sheryl would probably be spending the day with her parents, or finishing last minute preparations. None of it really mattered. As much as I would have liked to have had someone ask me if I would like to do something with them, that would be expecting too much. Besides, I had something I wanted to do. I dressed, including the wig and gloves. I was glad it wasn't hot. After breakfast in the hotel restaurant, I went to the front desk and ordered a taxi. An hour later, I got out in front of the offices of a cemetery. "I'll need a return ride in about two hours," I told the driver as I paid him.

"Okay, lady," replied the driver. "Someone'll meet'cha here in two hours."

"Thank you."

I turned and walked into the cemetery. It was a fifteen minute walk to my destination. A tear rolled down my cheek as I picked up some small pebbles. As a mark of remembrance I placed small pebbles on the headstones of my parents and my in-laws. I sighed, then turned to the fifth headstone.

"Oh Jonathan..." I murmured. "I miss you so much...." More tears began flowing. "These last few years have been so difficult... you must be turning over in your grave to see how Jeffrey and his family turned out...." Then I completely broke down. Tearfully I spoke as though I was talking face to face with my dear, departed husband. I told him how I went to apply for a job at an apartment building and was trapped by Madame WWW. How Madame WWW subjected me to her mad experiments. How I spent nearly two years under the witch's control. I told him that, in the two years I was imprisoned, the witch had move the building to the Nerima district of Tokyo, Japan. How I was finally freed... and how I changed. Most of the mutation was magically reversed, leaving me with white feathers instead of hair, and feathers on my hands and a few other places. Finally I told him what happened when I called after being freed, speaking to our son for the first time in two years, and how our son acted like I had spoken to him only a week ago. How I became disheartened, and took Tegan's offer to remain at Mystic Manor.

"Now I have a good life in Japan. I have a nice apartment. There are several young people in my building, like Jessica, Nezumi, and Sumire, who live on their own. They come to me with their problems. And then there's Ryuji. He's becoming my own child. The poor dear. So alone. But if all these people accept me, why do I feel so alienated from my own flesh and blood? My own son and grandchildren?"

I sighed. "Jonathan... I don't know what to do... For now, I'll try to bear it, but it hurts." A breeze blows past, as if a ghostly caress to dry my tears. I smiled. "After this is over, I'm going back to Nerima." Gently I placed a pebble on my husband's headstone. "I don't know if or when I'll be back." I glanced at my watch. "The time is passing way too quickly. The taxi will be here soon. Good-bye Jonathan." Slowly I walked back to where the taxi left me earlier. I felt more alone than before. I missed my husband. I also missed everyone back at Mystic Manor.

The drive back to the hotel seemed even longer than the drive did going out to the cemetery. I paid the driver, then walked into the hotel lobby. Jeffrey left me a message to remind me to be ready at 5:00. I had a quick, late lunch alone in the hotel restaurant. If it had been me, and Jeffrey was being buried, close relatives wouldn't have been left alone. It was over 30 years ago, but I still remember making room at my home for another one of Jonathan's relatives. No one was left alone. Wearily I paid for my meal and returned to my room. I wanted to have enough time to relax and get ready.

Promptly at 5:00, I was waiting in the lobby, wearing a blue skirt suit, matching hat with a long peacock plume, wig, gloves, and dark hose. My son arrived promptly at 5:15.

"So, what did you do today Ma?" asked Jeffrey. "I tried to get off work today so I could spend a little time with you, but I couldn't get someone to cover for me."

"That's OK Jeffrey. I went out to the cemetery."

"I went up a few months ago to check everything out there. You need to check from time to time to make sure these guys are keeping up the maintenance."

"It's rather hard to do that from Japan," I returned dryly.

"You know what I mean Ma. I try to get up there once every six months."

"So... what's for dinner tonight?"

"Sheryl was out most of the day shopping with her parents. She's brought something in again."

I bristled slightly. "If I had known, I would have come over and fixed something while she was out. I was free for the last few hours."

"Nah, Ma. You're on a vacation. You should be taking it easy."

Before I could reply, Jeffrey pulled up in front of the house. "Some vacation," I said to myself.

Dinner was a repeat of the previous night. This time, though, there is no anticipation of gifts on the part of the children. David nervously picked at his food. I smiled at him understandingly.

"Jeffrey, do you remember how nervous you were at your bar-mitzvah? You tied the fringe on your father's tallis into so many knots it took me days to get it untangled."

"Yeah. To take my mind off things I tried a few knots I learned in Boy Scouts," Jeffrey reminisced. "Pop was furious."

I smiled, a tear in my eye. "I brought it for David. He should have his grandfather's tallis. You have your grandfather's."

"Oh, but we brought him a brand new one straight from Israel," said Alicia. "I found it on our last trip there."

I stiffened. Hiding the hurt in my voice, I said "David can decide if he wants to use the new one or the one that his grandfather wore at his own bar-mitzvah." I turned to David. "Grandpa Jonathan wanted you to have it. It belongs to you, regardless of your decision. It's in my tote bag."

"Thanks," he replied. I think he was hoping to avoid a battle between his grandparents.

After dinner, while Sheryl, Alicia, and Amber went to freshen up. Jeffrey and Edward lingered over coffee. I called David into the living room. I picked up my tote bag and pulled out a small case. "Your great-great-grandmother Sadie embroidered the cover herself," I told David. He looked at the elaborate patterning. Jeffrey and Edward joined us. The white background yellowed with time, but the blues were as vivid and the silver and gold as sparkling as it was when the first owner received it. "She told me it was very difficult to find the silver and gold thread. It was very expensive 50 years ago. But Sadie believed nothing was too good for her first grandson." I smiled, tears in my eyes, remembering my husband's grandmother.

Edward looked at the cover. "My grandmother embroidered one for me, but it was nothing like this," remarked Edward.

"If I'd get sleepy during services," said Jeffrey, "you'd put the case on your lap like a pillow. God, this brings back memories." Jeffrey pauses. "Is Pop's yarmulke still in there?"

Open it David," I said.

David unzipped the case and pulled out a blue yarmulke, hand crocheted, with silver and gold trim. Carefully I removed the tallis. Like the case, it had yellowed with age. Some of Jeffrey's knots were still in the fringe. "I gave your grandfather the clasp in our first year of marriage," I told them. Alicia and Sheryl joined us. They looked at the antique disdainfully. Alicia handed David a blue velvet case, overly embroidered in silver by machines. The blue velvet yarmulke is covered in loops of silver and gold, rather than hand crocheted. The tallis, though vividly white and machine embroidered, is stiff and awkward, the clips fancy and elaborate. David looked at the two laid out side by side - one stark and new, the other worn, but full of stories and memories.

"You don't have to decide now," I said gently.

"You know," mused Edward, "I wonder what happened to my father's tallis and case. I know he wasn't buried in it."

"That old thing?" commented Alicia. Didn't we donate it to the synagogue rummage sale?"

"I might have liked to have given it to David," said Edward. "I would have liked to had my grandfather's."

"David, you choose whichever you want to use," I said.

"We should leave," interjected Sheryl. "You know how difficult it is to find parking, let alone good seats, when we're late."

We divided into two cars, Sheryl and her parents in one, the rest of us with Jeffrey. The synagogue was a short distance away. We found an empty row of seats. I sat at the end, next to Jeffrey.

The service was briefer than I remembered. Most of it was in English. The parts that were in Herbrew came back to me after a few moments. Yet I found on comfort in the service. I missed the way Jonathan and I shared a book, Jonathan wrapping his arm around my waist. I remembered the beautiful voice of the cantor, loud enough to be heard with out a sound system. This synagogue's choir was no replacement.

After the services, there was a small buffet supplied by Edward and Alicia in honor of David's bar-mitzvah. The spread was overly done and overly elaborate. More to impress than to eat. Years ago, it was just bagels, lox, cream cheese, and maybe some chopped liver and egg salad. Frankly, I found no need for caviar and brie.

I had to admit, I was glad to get back to my hotel room. The wig and gloves were becoming irritating. I tried to make myself more comfortable, then collapsed onto my bed.

The next morning, Jeffrey picked me up after breakfast. Services were a longer version of the previous day, except David and another boy being bar-mitzvahed read from the Torah. I was disappointed, but not surprised to see that David chose the new tallis instead of his grandfather's. Still, I was proud to hear him as he did his reading.

The other family provided a small buffet after services. This one was not as elaborate as the other. Afterwards, Jeffrey dropped me back at the hotel. "The party starts at 5:00," he reminded me.

I came downstairs promptly at 5:00. I greeted a few of the people I met at services. Regretfully, there were little of mine or my husband's family present. Most of our remaining cousins had move to other parts of the country over the years. I was seated with some of Jeffrey and Sheryl's older friends. None of them knew I was Jeffrey's mother until I told them. A couple of people remarked that they thought I had passed away. I felt awful.

The dinner buffet featured several different entrees and side dishes. A separate dessert table waited off to the side for after the main meal. All of the children's attention, however was on the loaded gift table. The moment dessert was finished, everyone crowded around the gift table, the younger people up front. Amber passed boxes and envelopes to her brother. A large number of the gifts were envelopes with checks, savings bonds, and gift certificates. Sheryl recorded each of the gifts and who gave what. I stood nearby, waiting for David to open my gift. I was really hoping he would enjoy the video games I got him. None of the games had been released in America yet. A friend of mine translated all of the instructions into English for me. David didn't see me standing there. Another of David's friends stood by the gift table. He looked at a big box.

"Hey David, want this one next?"

"Who's it from?" asked David.

"It says Grandma Marion on it."

"I'll open it later. It's probably another lame-o piece of Japanese junk," said David. My jaw dropped open as I stared at my grandson in shock. To say something like that in front of all these people.... I glanced at Sheryl, who didn't say a word. If it was my son, he would have been grounded for a month.

"You *idiot*," hissed Amber.

"Wha...?" David turned around and looked in my direction. I'm sure he could see the hurt expression on my face. Hurt was an understatement. I was upset, angry, and embarrassed as well. "Oh $h!t," he muttered under his breath.

I was at a loss for words. The emotional pain was unbearable. I did the only thing I could do. I turned and walked out of the room. Tears began to roll down my cheek as I waited for the elevator. My own grandson... how could he say something like that? And how could his mother just *sit* there and say nothing?!?

That was the final straw. There was no way I could.... would.... stick around another minute. Angrily I started throwing my belongings into my suitcases. I was glad I hadn't really unpacked most of my things. Then I sat down and wrote a note to my... son...:

"Jeffrey, by the time you open this, I will be out of your life forever. That should make everyone there happy. Pretend I am dead, as you certainly must have done in the two years I was missing." I paused, and wiped a teardrop off the paper before continuing. "Meanwhile, I will be back in Nerima, where there are people who respect me, need me... care fore me. It is more than I get from my own family. Your son's remarks are only the final brick in a huge wall that has slowly been built up between us."

I stopped and dried my eye before continuing. "You are not the same person I raised. That person disappeared the day you met Sheryl. Even when you were first dating, I knew your father and I were not good enough for her. She never had any respect for me, and still doesn't. Neither do each of the children. After your father died, to both of you I became a second class citizen." My stomach lurched as I brushed another tear off the paper. "I will be leaving on the next available flight to San Francisco, where I will wait until my flight leaves for Japan. Now I know where I stand with you."

Again I paused, deciding what to write next. "In case you ever wondered what I was doing during the two years I was missing (though perhaps I am deluding myself in believing that you would care), I spent two years as an unwilling guinea pig in a mad experiment. As a result, perhaps I am not the same person you knew either."

Ending the note was the hardest part. "It might be for the best if, in my mind, I convince myself that my son died. The, perhaps, I will find some peace in my life. Don't worry about me being alone. I have Ryuji, as well as plenty of friends in Nerima. At least I'll be with people who make me feel needed. And who seem to care. I am not coming back to New York. There is nothing for me here but pain and heartache. Good-bye Jeffrey." I signed the note and blotted off a few more tears. Then I dried my eyes and called for a bell hop to retrieve my luggage and a taxi to take me to the airport.

Downstairs, I managed to compose myself and walk over to the desk. "Checking out early Mrs. Schwartz?" asked the clerk. "Your party isn't over yet."

"For me it is," I said to myself. Aloud I said to the clerk "I'm needed back in Japan. Once I get to the airport, I'll see about changing my ticket. If my... son... comes looking for me, give him this note." I handed the clerk an envelope with the note.

Once I arrived at the airport, I had no trouble getting a flight to San Francisco. It would be another two hours before my flight though. I wasn't hungry, but I needed to do something to get my mind off things. Spotting some souvenir stores, I decided do some souvenir shopping. My friends would certainly appreciate being remembered when I got back to Japan.

I was browsing in one of the stores when I heard "Hi Ma," from behind me. There was no mistaking the voice. I decided to ignore him. "Ma," he said again.

"I wonder if Sumire, Jessica, Su, Kiwi, and Nezumi have pierced ears," I mused aloud on purpose. "I'm sure *they* would appreciate a souvenir. But then, the bracelets aren't that expensive." I thought I saw Jeffrey wince at the direct reminder of his family's reaction to the gifts I brought them. "Perhaps a T-shirt for Ryuji. Or maybe the soccer ball shaped like the apple. I wonder if Death and the Ringwraiths wear I love New York T-shirts." My eyes lighted on a stuffed figure looking like a big, red apple. "Oh, Tegan would just love that. She's so sweet."

"Okay Ma, you've made your point," he grumbled.

Slowly, purposefully, I turned around, looked Jeffrey in the eye, and said "Do I know you?"

Jeffrey looked like he had been slapped in the face. "Ma, don't be like this."

My eyes narrowed angrily. "I once had a son of my own. Now I have a foster son and some friends in Japan." I brushed past him. "If you'll excuse me, I have to pay for these souvenirs that I'm bring back _for_my_friends_." With that, I turned around and took my purchases to the counter. Jeffrey followed me.

"That's a low blow Ma."

The man at the counter, who had been watching the exchange, checked out my purchases. "Live a long distance from family, huh," he asked me.

"You could say that," I said.

"My mother's been thinkin' of movin' to Arizona. I asked her 'Ma, if you move out there, who's gonna make dinner every other Sunday?' The family and I alternate Sunday dinner at her house and my in-laws."

"How sweet," I said with a smile. "My husband and I did that when our parents were alive. My son couldn't be bothered. When I lived here in New York, I was lucky if I saw him and the grandchildren once every three months."

Jeffrey muttered something under his breath as I took my packages and walked out of the store. My son followed me. "That was totally uncalled for," he said. I ignored him and walked toward the gate where my flight was scheduled. "Ma!" I kept walking. Frustrated, Jeffrey grabbed my arm and spun me to face him. My wig wasn't on very tightly. The momentum was enough to spin my wig off. It fell to the floor. Jeffrey stared at me wide eyed. "Oh God Ma.... your hair...." he stammered.

Quietly I bent over and picked up my wig. "All feathers now. I also have small, downy feathers on other places of my body as well." He watched as I straightened out the messed hair of the wig with my gloved hands. I could see the realization begin to filter through his mind about the gloves. "I did write that I spent two years as an unwilling guinea pig. Not like you cared. I wasn't listed as a missing person."

"I... I thought... you were... mad...."

"Did I *sound* mad when I first called you? I was so relieved to be out of there..."

"Sheryl said..."

"Sheryl *convinced* you that I was angry with you, and had gone off somewhere. I'm not surprised. What does surprise me is that you didn't even bother trying to find me." I put my wig back on, straightening it in a polished metal column. "I thought I taught you better than that."

Jeffrey hung his head. "I don't know what to say Ma..."

"FLIGHT 310 FOR SAN FRANCISCO LEAVING AT GATE 32," announced the PA system, interrupting Jeffrey.

"You're really leaving?"

"What reason do I have to stay? To sit alone in my hotel room? To hear my grandchildren complain how lame my presents are? To be ignored by the woman my son married? To be forgotten by my son?"

"No Ma...."

"Then what reason could you give me that would keep me here?"

"Ma.... I've... missed you... If I had known about those two years.... Sheryl said you were angry..."

"Sheryl *said*! What cause did I have at that time to be angry at you or the kids?"

"FLIGHT 310 FOR SAN FRANCISCO LEAVING AT GATE 32," announced the PA system.

"Please Ma, don't go." Jeffrey's eyes pleaded with me in a way I hadn't seen since he was a young child. "I love you Ma... I've really missed you...."

It was so tempting... but no. I had to be firm. I looked Jeffrey right in the eye. "At this point, words are empty Jeffrey. You've always been one for talk. Don't tell me. Show me that you care."

Forcing back an outburst, Jeffrey hugged me. "C'mon... Stay an extra couple of days. I'll take Monday off from work. We can go to a museum, have lunch, just the two of us."

I pulled away, blinking back tears. "I'm sorry Jeffrey, but it's too little too late. I've made my plans." I picked up my flight bag, purse, and shopping bag. "I'm not coming back to the states, not for a couple of years at least. You know where I'll be."


I walked over to the gate, then stopped and turned. "Remember, don't tell me, show me." Before Jeffrey could say anything else, I disappeared through the gate. I had to admit, I was surprised that Jeffrey left the party to find me. He would have to deal with Sheryl and Alicia when he got back to the hotel. I almost felt sorry for him.

After spending a day touring San Francisco, including lots of souvenir shopping, I returned to Tokyo. Tegan and Ryuji were waiting for me. Ryuji's strangling embrace was more than welcome. "I missed you so much," I said, really meaning it. Tegan came up and also hugged me, her hug less crushing, but not lacking in warmth.

"How was the trip?" asked Tegan.

"About how I expected," I replied with a sigh.

"Not good, huh?"

"It could have been better."

"Everyone's missed you."

"And I've missed everyone."

"Come on," said Ryuji. "Let's go home."

I smiled. "Yes. Let's go home." Mystic Manor. It may be strange, but it's home.