Chapter 2 Summary

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As the second chapter, “Matchmaker,” begins, Cal suggests that she might end up the most “famous hermaphrodite in history.” Cal explains how other hermaphrodites in history made money showing themselves to physicians. Cal’s own case was quite lucrative because “to the extent that fetal hormones affect brain chemistry and histology, I’ve got a male brain. But I was raised as a girl.” In spite of Cal’s “androgenized brain, there’s an innate feminine circularity in the story I have to tell.” To tell the story, she will have to take her reader back in time. It is Greece, 1922, and Desdemona Stephanides is in her silkworm cocoonery, which is “high on the slope of Mount Olympus.” Desdemona has lost her parents in a recent war with the Turks, and now only she and her brother, Eleutherios, or “Lefty,” remain.

Desdemona spends her days tending the cocoons. Her brother takes the cocoons down the mountain to Bursa, because women are not allowed in the market. However, instead of returning home, he spends his nights in Bursa. When Desdemona confronts him, she realizes that he gambles and smokes hashish now that their parents are dead. And as he rubs palmaid into his hair, Desdemona forces him to admit that he wants a woman. Desdemona warns him against Turkish girls, asking him instead to find a good Greek girl from their village, Bithynios. Lefty explains that there are no girls left in their village. Desdemona counters that Lucille Kafkalis and Victoria Pappas still remain. Lefty rejects them both, explaining that Lucille smells and Victoria has a thicker moustache than he does. He then leaves for Bursa where he sells cocoons, prays over his unnatural urges, gambles, smokes hashish, and then sleeps with women who inform him the next morning that they are not named Desdemona.

That night, Desdemona decides to become a matchmaker for her brother. She finds her father’s tattered catalogue, “Lingerie Parisienne,” summons Lucille and Victoria to her, and advises them on how to become more attractive. In Lucille’s case, she proposes that the young woman use vinegar as an antiperspirant. She points this out to Lefty one day, who still finds both girls unattractive but has given in to the idea that he must become domesticated. However, when he goes to pay court to the young ladies, he rejects both. It turns out that he too was aware of the women in “Lingerie Parisienne,” and when he sees how Lucille and Victoria are dressed, he is able to tell which images from the catalogue they are trying to impersonate. They fail so drastically to live up to his and the catalogue’s ideal that he retreats home to Desdemona and tells her that although they are brother and sister, they are also third cousins and are allowed to marry. They begin to dance. Before “anything had been said outright or any decisions made (before fire would make those decisions for them), right then, mid-waltz, they heard explosions in the distance, and looked down to see, in firelight, the Greek Army in full retreat.”

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Chapter 3 Summary