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Patron Saint of Gay Outlaws : Amy Silver

Margaret dropped by the day after my ex-girlfriend moved all her furniture out. Partner was what PJ wanted me to call her. PJ was my ex-partner. Does that sound right? She was my first girlfriend.

"Don't mind me, I'm just nosy." Margaret stood in the middle of the empty living room and looked around. Wiry hair, deep set eyes, long legs in sweat pants. "I have an extra couch to get rid of if you want it."

Margaret lived on the other side of my bedroom wall. This was my first conversation with another tenant in the building.

Margaret and I brought the couch in and we both sank into it, our heads rested on the back.

"It's kind of ugly." She shrugged.

"Comfy, though! I was starting to feel weird about being the biggest thing in the whole apartment."

Margaret said, "I don't get it, women who cut their hair short and bleach it like that. It's not flattering, you know? Especially on her." She was talking about PJ.

I smiled. One of PJ's complaints had been that I had no sense of style. Stubbornly unreformed bumpkin was what she called me.

"Why don't people just put it on a name tag if they want to advertise to everyone. 'I'm a lesbian!' Then they wouldn't have to wear those ugly pants either."

I looked down at my legs. Brown corduroys. My hair was pulled back in one big ponytail.

"Not that I have anything against lesbians." She waved a lazy hand in my direction. "I just don't get people going around putting themselves out there. Personally, I don't want anyone to know anything about me."

I clamped my lips together and nodded.

She stood up. "Anyway, you have a couch now."

I spent the night in PJ's old apartment on Margaret's couch. Margaret's couch was all I had, besides the duffel bag I'd arrived with at the bus station a year ago. I lay on the couch watching patterns from headlights on the popcorn ceiling. I wondered whether PJ had told the landlord she was moving out and if he would let me pick up the lease. I hadn't considered staying until now, but now I had furniture to anchor me.

Margaret came over the next morning with a small coffee table. "It goes with the couch," she said after she set it down.

Margaret stood and looked at the two pieces of furniture like they were a math problem she couldn't figure out. She rubbed her forehead. Then she said, "I'm going for coffee if you want to come with me."

Half a step behind, I followed her down the sidewalk. We sat on barstools drinking black coffee and looking at the paper. I read the classifieds, she read the advice columns and horoscopes.

I made up my mind to get to know Seattle. I'd get a new job. I'd always suspected that Lupe, my boss, was PJ's ex-girlfriend.

After coffee with Margaret I tried out some new bus routes to see what it would be like to commute to different areas. I knew that PJ was at her weekly lesbian brunch and I realized that she had moved out just in time because I'd run out of excuses for skipping it.

Over the next two weeks I received a dining table, a dresser and a pair of hanging ferns. One of the dresser drawers was full of Margaret's clothes.

I finally called the landlord and found out that PJ's lease was up at the end of the month. One more week, and the new tenants would be moving in.

I told Margaret, "I can't take any more of your furniture." I was nervous about upsetting her, so it came out wrong. I sounded like a frustrated lover saying, "I can't take it any more!"

Margaret didn't ask me if I had anywhere to go. I wouldn't have known what to say if she asked, anyway. I was thinking I would probably just take my duffel bag, get back on the Greyhound bus, and surprise my family.

The next day Margaret showed me a car. I don't know if she had always had this car, or if she had just bought it. It was a mustard-colored Chrysler and the whole interior had been chewed up by a dog. Strips of fabric dangled from the ceiling and fluttered around my head like flies.

I was shocked at myself, but Margaret acted like it was perfectly logical that her shy, jilted, broke young neighbor would toss her bag into the back seat without asking any questions.

We drove south until the city traffic was behind us. Margaret popped a tape into the cassette player and accelerated to eighty. "Highway to Hell" was the only song on the tape.

We stopped at a Denny's sometime after dark. I couldn't finish my BLT. Margaret only had coffee.

"My cousin," Margaret explained. Her jaw was tense. "A long time ago, he told me that if he ever disappeared I would be the one who knew where he was. And he disappeared three years ago. For three years, I didn't know anything. And I was supposed to know."

The sandwich, the lighting, Margaret's story, the fact that I had no idea why I was here, all of it made me incredibly sleepy. When I was in school I used to sleep for ten hours before a test, never study. Stress makes me sleepy.

Margaret took a big gulp of coffee, looked around and ground her teeth. I told myself, she might be a little nutty. I'll have to make sure she gets to a comfortable place, then I'll just find the nearest bus station.

Our next stop was a motel in the same town. The motel was all pink, outside and in. While I was digging in my bag for pajamas, Margaret whisked the two pillows away. She left the room and came back a few minutes later with two pillows in brighter white cases. "Lazy," she said. "I hate it when they don't change the pillow cases."

Margaret didn't turn the TV on and I didn't either. I picked up the phone book and learned that we were in Carson City, Nevada. It seemed impossible that we had driven so far. But I hadn't paid attention to highway signs or counted how many times we listened to "Highway to Hell." I hadn't wanted to think about it at the time.

Margaret took the phone book from me and opened the yellow pages. "Churches... Catholic... Roman Catholic... Mass. Sunday at eleven." She snapped the light off.

In the morning Margaret asked me if I had ever been to mass. I went with her out of curiosity. In the parking lot, before we went in, Margaret told me more about her cousin Mark.

They were born on the same day, twin cousins. For years she was the only one in the family who knew that Mark was raising a little girl with his lover, Eric.

Mark's parents didn't have time to react to the news that not only was he gay, he was calling himself a stay-at-home mom. The day after he mailed his coming out letter, while he was at a park with the little girl, Eric and several of their friends were arrested for operating a meth lab. Mark disappeared and the little girl went to a foster home.

Throughout the following year or so, police popped in on Mark's parents, Margaret and Margaret's parents. No one knew where he was.

"I felt like he was close when we drove through Reno. I just felt like he was right there." Margaret pulled the keys out of the ignition and we went into the church.

Mass was boring at times, silly at times. The music was simple and even I could tell it wasn't being done right. But Margaret sang and chanted every word. She never took her eyes off the altar except to peek at me to see how I was affected. I'm usually offended when people try to "save" me, but this was Margaret, the woman who gave me furniture when I got dumped and took me out of town when I got evicted. It was cheesy, but I was touched.

After mass we drove around Carson City just to see what it was like. Highway 395 was a strip of motels, restaurants and gift shops with a casino and the state capitol right in the middle. Highway 50 ran east and divided newer tract homes from older, shabby ones.

"Do you like it here? Want to stay for a while?" she asked.

I didn't answer right away.

"Why did you bring me with you?"

"Why did you come?" Margaret was defensive.

Carson City was gradually fading into desert. Margaret parked on the street outside a casino. "They should have food in here," she said.

The casino was loud, even though it was mostly empty. Margaret and I each ordered a cheeseburger and she taught me how to play keno while we ate. Neither of us won. "I have the worst luck," Margaret forced a nervous laugh. Too loud.

I won fifty dollars on the second game and we celebrated with ice cream. I felt slightly outside of reality the way you do when you're drunk. I saw that Margaret was not a fun person by nature, but she was laughing a lot and she really wanted me to stay.

"I'll stay." I said. "Until my luck runs out." I knew exactly how much it would cost for a bus ticket. Later, in a bathroom stall, I folded twenty-six dollars into my coin purse.

The next day Margaret and I got jobs at a factory. Margaret got to work on the assembly line because she had experience. I got stuck in a little room counting tiny rubber stoppers all day. It was the longest eight hours of my life.

After work we drove around Carson City. Didn't see anything new. Margaret told me more stories about Mark.

When we got back to the motel room I said, "Explain it to me again. What are we doing here?"

Margaret looked at me like I was some one else's frozen entrée that somehow ended up in her grocery bag. "You know. Mark is here."

"How do we know that?"

Margaret sighed and sat down on the bed.

"And why is it so important for me to be here?"

"Elizabeth Sherwood was a nun who hid fugitive priests in her school. They were fugitives because they were gay. She is the patron saint of gay outlaws."

"My name is Eliza Sherwood. And your cousin is a fugitive because he had a meth lab." I said this gently.

I fell asleep imagining Margaret driving around in that car, working in factories, living in motels, getting old, looking for her cousin for the rest of her life.

I went to work again the next day. You get a discount if you buy your bus ticket ten days in advance so I had ten days to kill. And the factory wasn't so bad. I graduated from the tiny rubber stoppers and I got to spend the day checking odd-shaped plastic parts that went to God knows what. Wash the good ones and throw out the bad ones.

On Friday we took our paychecks to the casino. We'd heard that they cashed paychecks for free and then they let you spin the wheel and you got a coupon for something.

The man I handed my paycheck and driver's license to said, "Eliza Sherwood. That's an interesting name." I looked around to see if Margaret had heard but she was already spinning the wheel.

That night I asked, "Does Mark know about Elizabeth Sherwood?"

"I don't know. There's a website about her, that's how I found out."

I thought about going back to that cashier and saying, "What's so interesting about my name?" He would say, "It's a saint's name isn't it? Patron saint of?" Then I would go get Margaret and when she saw the cashier they would both be laughing and crying, mission accomplished, and I could go home. His name tag said Robert, but of course a fugitive would have fake ID.

I saw "Robert" working at the casino a couple more times and I was really starting to think he might be Mark. He was about the right age and he looked like Margaret around the eyes.

The day before I got on the bus I asked him, "What's so interesting about my name?" I felt like an old bootlegger cracking the door open and saying, "What's the password?"

He looked confused. "I don't know. What's your name?"

"Eliza...Elizabeth Sherwood?"

He smiled.

I smiled.

He said, "It's my daughter's name."


When I said good-bye to Margaret I said, "If you don't find him, you know. I hope you find him soon. Take care of yourself." She sat on the motel bed with her back to me, like a pissed off cat. But we were really nothing to each other. She was obsessed with her crazy search and I was a person who had the wrong name.

I've moved back to Seattle, I live just a few blocks from the building where I lived with PJ and met Margaret. I wouldn't expect to see Margaret around here but I keep an eye out. I found the Elizabeth Sherwood website. It was created by a "Robert Wolf" in Carson City, Nevada. And I found newspaper articles about the bust Mark evaded. One of the men sent to prison was Eric Sherwood.

So. Elizabeth Sherwood is probably in her teens by now. I am not the patron saint of anything.