Robin and the Pronoun They

Amanda Yskamp

They, that made sense to them, affirmed them, awarded them new kin, “they” being Robin née Robert.

Try being yourself as themselves in a town of fewer than two thousand. One woody acre in Rio Delusion was their family’s latest landing pad in a life of feckless wandering and gold-rush plans.

There had been the detoxifying products pyramid, the three-year stint of growing and trying to sell designer garlic (“business stunk”; Robin’s father Pat loved that joke), and acting as campground hosts in at least three states, which had been surprisingly good for the weird, lonely kid Robin was, thresholded by some kind of hybrid person-hood, ball of confusion. They took to the dunes or the woods or the pens where their family had goats and sheep and ponies, $1 entry to pat, $.75 the handful of barley to feed.

Robin had opted to run the pen to be mostly alone with the animals who couldn’t talk, though they expressed themselves eloquently otherwise. Robin had also started the horse chariot rides, a huge hit and moneymaker, before some kid broke her arm, and the operation closed down amid a rash of legal fees and recrimination.

Before that, Robin reminded their father, “look at how great it was.” The hallway was lined with sepia prints taken by Robin. Who could resist a toga on a redneck?

Robin was a natural and roadtrippers loved them, though they couldn’t count the times someone took a look at their long hair and ambiguous clothes and asked “are you a boy or a girl?” Robin answered “or.”

Robin’s creative economies didn’t go unnoticed by their parents, Pat and Lou, though Pat stinted Robin on praise. The two other kids kept to their genders as born, while Robin took so much more thought. Pat and Lou were already exhausted, constantly hustling to keep things afloat.

Their newest venture was a Christmas tree farm on their one acre. There was already a stand of mixed Douglas fir and Scotch pine. Robin’s brother, John, 16 to Robin’s 18 years, was tasked with shaping the branches to the classical cone shape that sold. Linda, a year younger, would man the cocoa counter in a nutcracker costume.

“And as the eldest,” Pat told Robin in the tone he often used with his children when he bestowed honor, “You will wrap and load the trees.”

Robin had seen this work done and done well by a football-playing kid with arms the size of Robin’s thighs. Pat looked over at Robin. This part of the operation, they both knew, was completely unsuited to Robin’s build, which was wiry and small, or their disposition, preferring, as they did, trees in the abstract to trees in their concrete sappy, spiny form. Robin played the pause for a count of twenty.

“No, sir. I will not be wrapping and loading,” they said, and it was on.

After the usual sallies and slings, parries and evasions, because Pat was beginning to catch on, he said, “Son, you know everyone in this family has a place. We can’t make it if we’re not in it together. Everyone has to help. Everyone,” and Pat looked at his “son,” who was standing, one hip jutted out in their skinny jeans and Indian blouse. The father didn’t know what name to give to the changes he saw in his child.

“I never said I wouldn’t help,” Robin said.

Lou came in then.

To her, a “geriatric” mother, each child was a miracle, awarded after lost hope: Robert, okay, Robin, she was trying to remember; John, and Linda, each so beautiful. Louise had nursed the three until they could speak.

“Okay. What would you rather do?” Louise asked. She was a versatile bridge, a gentle transducer.

“Leave it to me. I’ve got lots of ideas. I plan to create a village scene out in the barn with a mirrored pond and snow-sparkled branches so we can run the model train through. There will be periodic snow storms and prismatic lights and I’ll wire it up so that it can have its own soundtrack and…” Robin took a breath.

“Earth to Robert?” Pat crashed in. “This is a Christmas tree farm. You know that, right? It’s not like it’s a stretch to see it’s carols all the way.”

“Well, no. Out there, you guys, go ahead and have your Christmas music. However, in my barn, I will have winter tunes, okay, but they’ll be fraught, crystalline. You’ll see. It’s going to be amazing!”

And it was. Sunset Magazine gave Winter Limina a half page, with a quote from their father.

“My child is bursting with ideas. Sometimes I just have to step back. Sometimes in awe.” Pat denied he’d said that or not really that way, but he was happy about the upped tree sales.

The picture Sunset ran of the whole family was staged in the barn, snow machine on full blizzard mode, train circling the mirrored pond, and the whole world, but especially Robin, themselves, looking iridescent, not this time so fraught, utterly crystalline.

Robin’s Winter Limina Playlist:

White Winter Hymnal (Fleet Foxes)
Iceblink Luck (Cocteau Twins)
Winter Fairies (Derek Fiechter)
Op. 15, No. 3 in G minor (Frederic Chopin)
Valery (Amy Winehouse)
Gymnopedie (Erik Satie)
Varúð (Sigur Ros)
Sister Winter (Sufjan Stevens)
My Foolish Heart (Bill Evans)
Urge for Going (Joni Mitchell)
Winter Was Hard (Kronos Quartet)
A Single Wish (This Mortal Coil)

Editors’ Note:  Yes, it’s a real playlist, and you can listen on YouTube.

Photo on

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