Nobody wants to fucking be here except me. I love it here. I could work on that floor for decades and I wouldn’t mind. Shelve and talk about books all day; honestly, most days that seems okay. I used to have this whole set of dreams, but now, I dunno, so many of those dreams ended up wrong or impossible. After a few years at this store I still like going to work every day, and sometimes I figure, well, isn’t getting to say that a good dream enough? Most people here want to leave; everybody’s looking for a better way up. But me, even this morning, when all my body wanted was to look at the shadows on my ceiling and listen to podcasts with the volume low and curl up in my headache-y ball in bed, even then I was kinda jazzed to go to work. I know. That’s weird.
You know that kind of hangover when you wake up and you’re shaking a little. Like you get up for water and when you lie back down your heart’s beating like you sprinted three blocks and your skin’s worming around. I always feel so connected with my body in that moment. It’s so fragile and frail. I feel every part of it. Like when it’s putting barricades up against shutdown is when I’m least detached from my body, the most aware and tuned I am to its existence, that all my systems are present, intricate, working beneath my skin. It’s not like I like hangovers. But it is a part I don’t mind.
It was still the chilly part of spring, and I put my robe over my pajamas when I got up. In the living room, the guy we were putting up was still sleeping on the couch. He had broken eyeliner around the side of his face, not smeared so much as, like, little sections of it had fallen off. Zeke, his name was.
My boyfriend Liam and I are always putting up people he meets on the Internet. Like a queer couch surf for kids he knows from forums. Sometimes friends of friends, but generally randoms. Kids kicked out of their evil families, kids just trying out small town homo life. Sometimes kids just going between coasts since we’re not too far north of the interstate, just up highway fifty-two. I really love that Liam’s gung ho about that, though once some girl stole our bathroom sink. That was stupid. Turns out bathroom sinks are worth money, who knew.
Once I’d showered and shaved, the kid was awake and stretching and looking around. Most people can’t fit on our couch, it’s small, but he was pretty short, and beyond that, his body was small, almost unnoticeable. I don’t mean that in some stupid, “Haha turn sideways and he’d disappear!” way; he didn’t look malnourished or emaciated. More like inherently unobtrusive.
Do you want tea or coffee or anything, I asked him.
No. Thank you very much though, he said earnestly.
Okay. Well I’m going to work, but Liam should still be here for a while.
Okay. Thank you for everything. This is all really nice of you.
Yeah yeah, I said. What’re you doing today?
Hand out resumes, he said. I’m going to try the strip first. I don’t know. Do you think?
Good freaking luck! I said. That’s what I think. Everyone wants to work in that area. I have no fuckin’ clue how I got my job.
Oh. He looked downcast but still earnest. Really?
I shrugged and said well who knows. Besides, you’re pretty, that counts for something. Good luck.
I went to my room, got dressed, and put my laptop in my bag. The kid seemed nice, but man, ever since the bathroom sink thing I’ve been less careless around here. That whole thing had seemed like one of those warnings Christians would say are concrete messages from God: Like, look, see what could’ve happened instead! Now don’t be fucking stupid next time, okay?!
Zeke left our couch after a week, then a little while later I ran into him working at the fair trade store. I didn’t even see him at first. He just said oh! Carla! and then there he was straightening a dream catcher. He was wearing a green flower-print dress and full make-up, and he looked so unbelievably pretty. I said hi and was about to say Zeke! then caught myself. At our place he’d said he wasn’t quite sure about transitioning, but judging by how he looked now—
But then I wasn’t sure what to say. All options to signal I hadn’t forgotten his name seemed dumb. When I started transitioning, everything everybody said to me seemed dumb, and I guess now, years later, I can’t think of anything to say that’s not dumb. And too, I was kind of excited to see the kid like this—there aren’t a lot of other trans women here.
(And by that I mean I know exactly one. Well, I guess two, now.)
Like an asshole I grinned and said: Well then, name?
It’s Zeke, he said.
Oh right, yeah.
I like your outfit! he said. He had this way of speaking that was blank and monotone but it was also sort of hopeful.
Thanks, I said.
Do you still work at the bookstore? he asked.
Yup. Just down the way.
Cool, he said. We were silent for a bit. Poor kid looked nervous. Then he said so, I don’t know, maybe we should get a coffee sometime?
Sure, definitely, I said. Come by my work, I always take lunch at two.
Great, he said. I live just a few blocks away.
Also, he said. I go by she now?
Cool cool. I smiled. Congrats?
Yeah! she said. I will certainly take lots of congrats, I think. Yes. I will take a congrats. She smiled big then, so I smiled back and said I liked her dress.
We live in a small town in the part of the country that’s north and cold and flat. It has a college so some liberals ended up here and made it a marginally less stupid place to live than most small towns. I guess I don’t really mean small town. It’s like twenty thousand people. (We’re sixth biggest in the state, if that tells you anything.) But I grew up here and it’s nice enough and a batch of queers here do okay, so after I left home I stayed. Liam’s from west Kansas, and like most transplants there’s a lot he loves and a lot he hates, but I’ve just always been here. When I was a teenager I wanted to leave. But I dreamed about it like you dream of saving the world. I stayed in town, went to school a couple years, dropped out, transitioned. Met Liam, got my job, moved in here. I’m twenty-six now.
When I got home from work, Liam was there with a bottle of Advocaat, this custard-y egg liqueur thing I find fucking delicious. We drank most of it and made out and watched a movie, then the girl on our couch came home and started drinking with us. Liam and the girl kissed eventually so I went back into my room with a glass and my book. Don’t get me wrong, we’re both okay with sluttery (and Lord knows we’d slaughter each other if we shared a room), but Liam’s a trans guy so things get a little one-sided. And I can feel awful about my body super fast, so—into my room we go.
The next morning I had the day off. After a Tylenol and coffee I noticed the girl’s shit was gone, so I went into Liam’s room. He was naked and moaning on the bed and his nipples had that tortured look where they were done swelling and starting to crust. His face was red too.
Hey gorgeous, I said.
Here, I said. I set a few Tylenol and a mug of coffee on his end table.
Thanks, he said. He downed them and held his stomach, then put his head on the wall. We had wood paneling and his hair was almond brown so it looked like the apartment was eating his head. He said: It’s your day off, right?
Good. You’re not going to like this, but we have to hunt someone down today.
Remember that guy who stayed a few weeks ago, kinda tiny, thought he might be a girl?
Oh, yeah! I said. Zeke! I ran into her yesterday, she’s a girl after all. Why do we have to hunt her down?
Oh word, okay, he said. Well I’m pretty sure she stole some of our shit.
Yeah, my passport’s gone.
I went into my room and riffled through a box in my closet. Passport was gone. So was my three-month supply of backup hormones.
Jesus Christ! I yelled and walked back to his room. I didn’t even notice that, I said.
FUCK! That was like two hundred bucks worth of shit!
Fuck, Liam said.
Wait, I said, couldn’t it have been—okay I totally don’t remember her name—couldn’t it have been the girl who stayed over last night?
Liam shook his head. I would’ve seen her; besides, how would she get into your room, she came after you got home.
Did you check on that stuff after she left?
I grunted and pressed against the wall with my palm. No. But I never do.
Make some more coffee, Liam said. I’ll be right back.
He went into the bathroom and I heard him open the window and toke up. He does that for me. I like weed, but even a few hits ruins me for hours and I get weird hangovers the morning after, like, paralyzed bed-strapped warriorgoddess-effort-required-just-to-get-up-and-empty-mybladder hangovers. I try to stay away from it but I’m bad at self-control, and if I smell it especially I’m doomed. Hence Liam in the bathroom.
The weight of the money suddenly hit me. I didn’t have to replace the passport any time soon, but my backups…
I’d run out of hormones once. A year into transitioning, not the most stable time anyway. A shipment had gotten stopped at customs, then I didn’t have the money for more right away, then InHouse went down a for a bit. Exhausted favors with the one other lady I knew at the time, and in the end I went without for a month. And after a week I’d started smelling like a boy, and morning wood returned and my skin got oily and my body hair came back growing like stepped-on weeds. And uncontrollable, debilitating waves of rage. That were, in their weird way, worse than anything before estrogen in the first place. It was like getting scooped up and thrown back in a swamp. I blew up at people, got a few warnings at work those weeks, and it was—this might sound stupid, but it was hard to believe anything would ever get better again? It wasn’t a good time. I drank close to two bottles of whiskey one night. So I hear, I guess; I don’t remember doing it. I just remember falling on my bed with the second bottle from the store and then I was in a hospital. I was living in a basement with roommates who couldn’t have given a shit and it was only because Liam was checking in on me that he found me on my floor beside a creek of vomit. Eyes in the back of my head, apparently.
Still making payments on one of the hospital bills.
So. I’ve been careful about backups ever since.
I cried a little and made more coffee and opened a window. I love the smell of the wind around here. Even where we live, next to downtown, here you can always smell grass and country. It was mid-May and the nights were just getting warm and the air was getting sweet and sticky, the kind of sticky that left nipple marks on my night T-shirts and rub marks on my thighs. I don’t mind it, really. It felt gross when I was a boy. But it’s not so bad anymore. Both Liam and I, we like the stickiness. And the gentle, placid breezes we get around here in the summer, the sweet cool air that rolls in from the north and pushes the eighty-five degree sweat back up our arms. When the students are gone and the profs go to cabins in Minnesota or Wisconsin. And everybody left descends into a kind of lazy hibernation.
Eh. College towns.
The coffee finished and Liam came back in black jeans and a flannel shirt, smelling like lotion and soap. He saw I’d been crying and rubbed my neck a little.
You okay? he said.
He hugged me and said, she didn’t get my T.
Oh fuck you then, I said into his neck.
Sorry, I just meant like. I can pay for stuff for a bit. If you need.
Thanks. I kissed him on the cheek. You know, it could’ve been just one of our regular friends, we’ve had a lot of people over.
They’re our friends, he said.
And who would take your hormones?
I don’t know! I said.
Sorry, he said. Sorry.
He got out mugs and did both of our coffees, four sugar cubes in his and a bunch of cream in mine. He leaned against the counter and looked out the window. His front half always hunched over as he did this. He looked like he was curling himself. My left arm twinged, which it’s been doing a lot lately.
Kids aren’t playing outside yet, Liam said.
It’s still kinda cold.
Young’uns these days, he said. He fingered the ripped mosquito netting in the window. I need to replace these, he said.
Do you want to go to talk to her? I said. We can go talk to her.
I would like to, yes, he nodded. You don’t have to come.
Let’s just go to her work, I said, and he nodded and shut the window and I filled up the thermos.
She wasn’t at the fair-trade store but our friend Doug was working, this trans guy who always wore horn-rimmed glasses and colored vests. Today’s was red.
She left some stuff at our house, I explained to him. We were going to bring it to her at work, but doesn’t she live just around here? I could tell Liam was chomping to tell him the whole story but I didn’t think it was worth it, and besides, what if it hadn’t actually been her.
Yes! Doug said. She’s at the Heritage Complex.
What’s the number? I said. I lost it.
He looked up her file, then I bought a new bag. It was on sale and I felt guilty about lying to him so he could illegally give me his co-worker’s information. Which we needed to go surprise-accuse her of stealing. Oh well. It was a nice bag.
Oh no! Zeke said when we told her.
Yeah, oh no is right, said Liam. He said it like it was a line he’d heard in a movie. And it kinda seems like you took it all.
Zeke shook her head. No! I didn’t. Gosh, I’m so sorry that happened, that’s terrible, but I didn’t take it.
Well you’re the only one who’s been in our house without us since, so then who did? Liam said.
I don’t know, said Zeke. Her voice was still blank, but her features softened when I looked at her. I’m sorry, I really am. I didn’t take them, that really sucks. She looked at me and said here, I have some extra estrogen actually, why don’t I—it’s an extra. May I give it to you?
She stood up and brushed her skirt. Let me give it to you, she said.
She went into her room and came out with one of those InHouse circles of estradiol. Here, she said. I sipped more coffee and took it wordlessly. Then she said, I just don’t understand, why would they take those things?
Liam snorted. Are you kidding? Passports are worth moolah like woah.
It’s a thing, I said. My friend got broken into last summer and it was all they took. Like, they even left her laptop sitting on her desk.
I shrugged and looked at Liam.
Now look, he said.
Zeke nodded attentively and waited for him to speak. She had on this big T-shirt and a big flowy skirt, like loungearound-the-house-for-the-day kind of wear, but her hair was shimmery and had that just-straightened look. It was down to her shoulders now. And there were little begin-pokey outlines of nipples behind her shirt.
Look, do you not get that we’re serious here?! Liam said. He was staring at his hands and moving them like he was shaking an invisible 8-ball. We could call the fucking cops on you! We need our shit back and we can make life in this town really hard for you if you don’t do it.
I’m sorry, said Zeke. If you want to call the cops I completely understand, and I’ll talk to them, and just, whatever you need, if that helps you, really, no problem, that’s just no problem.
Liam made a noise that pretty obviously connoted running out of steam.
We gave it up after that. I really didn’t get the sense she’d taken it, and besides, even if she had, what were we gonna do. Were we really gonna call the cops? That’s a bright idea. Liam wanted to spread word around “the community” as if we were trying to blackball her or something, but I talked him out of it.
It all kind of worked out anyway. One of the managers quit and I got promoted. A buddy of Liam’s put locks on our bedroom doors. I ordered six months worth of backups and scattered them at the bottom of old boxes of pictures.
* * *
Then, in the middle of summer, Zeke and I started hanging out.
It was late June, when the humidity really started to turn on and wear on even Liam and me, and Zeke came into my store sweating balls and said hey, I was just looking for a book? The author’s name is Lorrie Moore? I read this book by a woman named Miranda July, and someone told me if I liked her, I’d like Lorrie Moore?
Absolutely, I said. She’s fucking great, I love her. Start with Self-Help or Like Life. Don’t read her novels, at least don’t read them first. I was about to add, and ignore the way she writes fat people ‘cause it’s gross, but then I didn’t. Which was weird, because that’s my usual post-script to reccing Lorrie, but when I looked in her face I couldn’t say it. Which was weird.
(And I didn’t say anything about Miranda July. Nobody likes hearing you don’t care about a book they love. They can take it with music and movies a little better, I think?)
She bought both books and came back a few days later. She’d liked Self-Help but she wasn’t overly fond with how Like Life talked about the Midwest. She asked if I had other recommendations then said, also, if you wouldn’t be interested I totally understand, but, I was wondering if you maybe wanted to get some lunch?
It was close to my break, so I sold her Aimee Bender and we went to the diner across the street.
What brought you here again? I asked. You were in Minneapolis, right?
Yes. But I’m not much of a city person, she said quickly.
Oh, word. Where are you from?
North of here. It’s a tiny town.
Let me guess. I’ve never heard of it.
You probably haven’t. It’s in Canada.
Got it. Hey wait! I said. You have health care up there! Why would you live in this stupid country by choice?
Lots of reasons! she said eagerly. But personal ones. As she was speaking she nodded her head like a dog.
I pointed at her with the saltshaker. You are a nutjob, lady.
Shitty thing to say, and ableist to boot, and I kinda meant it too. She looked hurt then laughed a little. Shit, I’m sorry, I said. That was crappy, I’m sorry.
Oh, no, well—She moved her hands and lips as if about to say something else, then stopped. How is Liam? she asked.
Bitchy, I said.
She laughed. I don’t mean to offend or anything, but he certainly seemed a little uptight?
Offend?! I said. Lady, I live with him and I fuck him, you think I can stand it? Not that I’m better. I hate everything. She laughed at that too. She had a laugh that went in descending tones and came through her nose, like she was trying to be subdued about it.
Our food came (we’d both ordered chicken fingers), and we chatted a bit more but then she did what to me was a very strange thing: She took out Aimee Bender and started reading. She read for a few minutes then I took out my book and read too, and we read ‘til we both had to be at work. It was nice. I was surprised how much I dug it, actually. Reading’s ordinarily such a solitary activity for me. It’s not something I like to share. But it was nice, reading with her.
It became a pattern as we kept hanging out. She wasn’t much of a talker, but it was in a way I liked (and admired, because, you know, I talk a lot). For all her nervousness and quirks and shit, Zeke also had this baseline self-assuredness about her that just made you quiet and comfortable. I guess it’s not a super rare quality, though maybe it is in trans women. It turned out she’d started hormones around the end of winter, before she’d crashed with us for a bit. (You didn’t know if you were a girl, but you were taking hormones anyway? I said. Yup, she said.) So, lovely thing, I got to be around for some of those stages. The fat from her cheeks smoothing her face, her skin sprouting freckles, her hair getting fluffier. Zeke would rarely talk about that either¬— another weird thing—but she’d smile whenever I brought any of this up to her. She was so obviously guarded, but even I could see some of the weights lift from underneath her. This many years after transitioning I’ve pretty much forgotten what that feels like, or even looks like: For all the kids we’ve put up, we’ve only had a few trans ladies, and nobody fresh on HRT. So Zeke—it really was beautiful to watch her.
Mostly though, we just read and talked about books. I got her into Amy Hempel; we both agreed we loved her but didn’t understand her. (I don’t even remember the story plots the next day, she said. But she’s so beautiful, sometimes I cry when I’m reading her!) I got her into David Foster Wallace and we argued about trans bullshit in Infinite Jest (I just don’t care, she said a third of the way through it. I don’t mind seeing terrible trans characters vilified because they’re trans. I don’t know why I don’t care, I just don’t!)
We didn’t talk much about ourselves, but I learned a few things about her. She was twenty-one. Left home at eighteen. Was actually born in Nebraska, but her parents were Canadian and moved back when she was a baby. She loved riding her bike. She was starting a garden on her balcony. (She talked a lot about her damn garden when you got her going.) And she’d travelled all over the country, which I wouldn’t have guessed. When I got her into Joseph Mitchell, she told me about a night in New York she’d spent smoking on a warehouse roof with girls from Lithuania.
I didn’t want to invite her back home, so the diner and the bar kinda became our places. Liam still seemed butthurt, but I don’t think the two of them clicked even before the stealing-accusation thing. Me, I figured that either that other girl had made off with our stuff while we were sleeping or it was someone from town we’d had over, though sometimes I did still wonder if it’d been Zeke. It kinda seemed like a parlor game though, like, we’ll never find out really, so who cares.
Oh also, her voice. She switched it around so quick. It was kinda infuriating, actually. She still spoke in that hopeful monotone, but now her voice had this velvet, deep quality. It’s a weird game how getting your voice to pass means flipping its perception from high to low. And she made it work so well. She almost sounded coquettish. Except she was reserved and all.
Did you ever find out who stole your passports and your hormones? she said one night.
I shook my head. Nah. It’s okay though. I replaced them when I got promoted.
Hey, that’s good, she said.
Yeah. I grimaced and drank from my beer. God, sorry again about that whole inquisition thing we put on you.
Oh it’s okay, she said. I might’ve wanted to do the same.
No you wouldn’t have, I said. You’re so quiet and nice, I don’t think you would’ve barged into someone’s house like that.
I said I might’ve wanted to, she snapped. I didn’t say I would’ve actually done it. I grunted and swallowed from my beer. It felt nice to get a rise out of her.
A bunch of weeks went by like this. I hung with Zeke during the day and then at home Liam was always putting someone new up. It was a good summer. We got new mosquito screens that weren’t ripped to shit, and we left the windows open and let the breezes come in. Liam got a new job at the fusion cafe and brought home all this delicious food. Work was slow but steady, and all the new hires were low-drama. Everyone who stayed with us was nice and pretty, and we found jobs and places quick for a couple kids on the lam. Liam and I only had a couple blowups, and there was always good beer but I didn’t drink too much, and the days were warm and so were the nights and for a while life was kind of a beautiful haze.
One day, in the middle of August, Zeke came in looking for a gift for her grandfather.
Oof, I said. Well, histories or biographies of stodgy old dudes are what always come to mind for me. But what’s your grandpa like? Is it his birthday or something?
No, it’s just a gift.
Oh word. So what’s he like?
Well, he’s a Mennonite, she said.
Zeke had mentioned being a Mennonite a few times but never really talked about it. I felt dumb for not knowing, honestly. I’ve lived around here all my life but never actually met a Mennonite. Though I guess they keep to themselves. Sometimes they come into town. And we’ve put up a couple of their apostates. I know some wear the old traditional dress stuff like suspenders and kerchiefs and some don’t. But that’s also, like, all I know.
I nodded like an asshole for a bit then I said wait, okay, so what does that really mean?
Zeke snickered—not like, tittered or giggled, she snickered, loudly, and it was weird—and she said oh boy, it means a lot of things. But he’s very old school. He used a wood stove to heat his house until he was seventy.
I blinked. He doesn’t, like, live in Texas or something, does he.
No. In Canada.
What the fuck?! I said.
Yup, she said. He only started wearing a watch a few years ago too. And he still won’t wear it to church.
What a hardy guy, I said.
She snickered again. Maybe not quite the right word for it, she said. But yes. A book. I want to get him a book, just something he wouldn’t normally read. But no political stuff. Actually no religious stuff either. I would just get him the wrong thing.
Sure, I said. What’s he interested in?
Well I thought perhaps, like you said, something historical would be good? But not about anything too recent and nothing religious.
Would he be into Renaissance history?
As long as there isn’t too much political or religious stuff, she said encouragingly.
There’s this new thing folks have been liking, and I don’t think the Reformation is too much of a factor, hold on…
It was a book about Portugal by that Columbia professor who’d blurbed basically every popular history book from the last twelve years. It had a gorgeous-yet-subdued picture of a ship on it. She paged through it for a while then said: Thank you! This is great! Thanks!
I watched her as she went to pay. She was wearing a sky-blue cotton T-shirt and black jeans, and even like that she wasn’t getting read. You could tell from how they all looked at her. It was kind of amazing.
Though also, like, what a fucking bitch.
A few minutes later, as I was sorting poetry, she came back. Sorry, she said. I forgot that I finished Inferno last night. I really liked it. Any chance you might have another suggestion for me?
Lidia Yuknavitch, I said instantly. (I’d been prepared.) It’s a memoir. Chronology of Water. It’s heavy but you’ll love it.
I went to our holds stack and gave her the copy I’d set aside. She said thanks and left.
Shit, I thought, I really don’t know what to give her next.
Zeke always wanted more stuff to read. When she didn’t have much money she would scour the dollar shelf, or just ask for recs then check at the library. Nobody else was like that. Like, sure, we have regulars who come in every few days or weekly or whatever, but they’re lit folk. People down from campus, usually. Profs and kids alike. Or they’re collectors. Or whatever. You know. Book people. Like me and most of the other fucks who work here, see some old thing and gush, like, “Ooooh! I’ve wanted to read that forever!” And that’s great but—I dunno. It’s different than what people are like when they’re just burning for a good read, someone who misses the way they felt when they read Harry Potter and they’re looking for you to give them that feeling again. Who just want to walk out of the store dizzy to disappear for a while. It can be about anything, I really believe that. Fifty Shades of Grey sold to the same people who bought The Hunger Games.
Anyway. Point is. Those kinds of customers, the makeme-feel-that-way-again customers, they’re never the regulars. They come back between months and years, if they do at all. But not Zeke. She was so persistently bonkers for something good to read you could see it, she was just hungry for it. I loved that about her. I hoped her grandpa liked the book. Whoever he was.
I woke up the next morning with patchy-but-hot memories after a night with a thirty-year-old mega-top woman from the Christian college in Jamestown (it’s barely an hour away so we see folks from there a lot). She had really gone after me. It was nice. When I moved to get up I could feel every bruise and ache from where she’d touched me. That kind of thing hadn’t happened with someone new for a long time. My sex drive isn’t terribly high, honestly, not that there are hordes of people lining up to fuck fat trans women in the first place. But she had been so lovely to me. Though my head and stomach felt awful enough that Tylenol and coffee didn’t do shit.
Bumping around in the kitchen, trying not to wake passed-out dom-lady on the couch, I saw a missed call from Zeke and no voicemail. Made a couple hours prior. Weird. I texted her. Six-thirty call? What’s up?
In the mirror getting ready to shower I saw some hickies. I touched them and they only hurt a little. I turned on the water but before I got in I put my hands down my stomach flab and my sides. My skin was aching at such a slight touch. And my ass hurt. Right, that happened. I drew my hands up over my body and held my breasts. My left nipple twinged slightly and I could feel a tiny bit of crust. The bathroom steamed and I got in the shower and stood there with my eyes closed. I held my breasts and stood completely still, holding and feeling the water and my body. When I first transitioned, I used to do that a lot. In the bathroom, with my eyes closed, just breathing and touching my own skin. It’s so peaceful. I used to think of myself as lucky, just that in itself, a woman calming herself only by holding her own body. It was nice to feel it still working.
Zeke said to meet for lunch and she’d talk then.
My hangover stuck around for a lot of the morning and my fucking left arm got all tingly again but at least work was quiet. Only blip was some guy got indignant that I wouldn’t take a return for a book he’d water-damaged. Shouted he’d never set foot in here again. (Why do they always say the same lines?) Walked out with this dad-face looking all stern and satisfied. Then the next customer, middle-aged guy, stepped up grinning and shaking his head saying yeah boy I used to work in a store like this when I was about your age, well maybe a little younger, boy, some people huh? Let me tell you, we had this one guy…
People. They work on a sales floor a few years in college and talk about it like they’re old salts for the rest of their lives.
I don’t know why that gets my goat so much, although I guess anybody who works customer service is going to develop seventy pet peeves and it’s better to just acknowledge this than pretend you don’t have them. I dunno. I guess it’s just like—when you stop having to live with something day-to-day, you forget what it’s like. You remember the events that happened, sure, but how it felt, day in day out, is different. Even some traumatic things, I think? Like your body remembers it but your conscious self doesn’t. Hopefully you don’t forget enough to be a jerk. But it happens. Like when Liam says all hopefully that one day I won’t be harassed or misgendered by strangers anymore. Like, hey asshole, you haven’t been she’d by anyone but your dad since you were twenty, fuck you.
So I’m going to be asking you a favor, said Zeke.
And I just want to make clear. It’s totally okay if you don’t want to do it. I will completely understand if you say no, it’s just no problem, no problem.
So I’ll be asking a lot here.
My head was still pulsing. Just fucking say it.
Yes, well, she breathed deeply. You remember my grandpa. The one I bought the book for yesterday.
Yeah, we’re old friends, I said irritably, shaking out more Tylenol. What about him?
Well, she said. I’m going to see him in a few weeks. And I won’t be going as a girl, unfortunately, but. Given, well, circumstances. You know. I would really rather not travel alone.
I nodded. She was looking me in the eye with no break in her gaze, the way she did, but somehow now it was a little creepy. And, she continued, this may sound strange, but—not only do I not want to travel alone, but, he thinks I have a girlfriend. And it would really make him happy if he met that girlfriend. And so I was wondering if perhaps you could come along with me, and, well, pretend to be my girlfriend? Possibly?
I blinked. I swallowed my Tylenol.
Honey, I said—and I enunciated clear here—you don’t want me.
Yes I do.
The blind could read me, Zeke.
Well, I don’t know if that’s true.
I gave her a dark look. Don’t fuck with me.
Well Carla, she said. You have to understand. They don’t even know it’s possible.
She was sounding both reasonable and condescending as hell. Well, why me? I said. Why not a cis girl? Or if you really want a trans girl with you, there is Sophie, fuck, she looks gorgeous, besides isn’t she a goddamn Menno like—
I don’t want to bring fucking Sophie! she said. Her voice became stilted. Perhaps. Maybe. It’s possible. I don’t. Trust other people here! Right?!
Fuck, alright, alright. I let out a stream of air. Sorry.
Thank you, sorry, she said hastily. I apologize. I did not mean to get so excited.
Uh, you didn’t, I said. She’d barely raised her voice.
I know I’m asking a lot, she said. Anyway, just let me know whenever you can, and just, no pressure, that’s very okay
Even if I wanted to, I said, I still don’t have a new passport. We never put in for them.
I can pay for the new one, she said instantly.
Are you fucking serious? I said. We’d have to get it rushed; I’m pretty sure that’s like a hundred and thirty bucks.
Well of course I’m serious, she said matter-of-factly. I’m the one asking you, so I should do it. If you say okay, I’ll do it. Really, she said, nodding her head. I’d have no problem doing that. And I think we could get you a card passport anyway, instead of a full book.
I put my palms to my cheeks. She sat patiently without saying anything more. She was being so nice waiting for me to process. She looked so placid. I wanted to deck her. I imagined her sitting there just as still and unmoving, only with blood coming out of her mouth.
You’d have to tell me what to wear, I said.
I gave up the idea of not being read long ago. And I kinda started dressing accordingly, like, putting all that effort in every morning wearing shit I didn’t like just to still get sir’d was just… ach. Like, I still shave and put on make-up every day, but I mostly wear jeans and cardigans and my hair’s always a fucking mess. And I still get sir’d or the you a boy or a girl? crap, and, you know, worse. But I guess, like, now I get an extra thirty minutes in the morning? I dunno. It’s rotten and it’s awful and I hate it more than anything but at the same time I’ve gotten so used to it as an ingrained part of my life. It’s weird how that works. Anyway, the morning we left, I put on an old loose black dress, this formal thing I’d worn to Liam’s mom’s funeral down in Sublette. It had been so hot down there, and dry and mean and dead. A different Midwest. Nobody talked to us but it was whatever, we’d hung out with his aunt mostly, this badass chain-smoking woman who had huge glasses and ran a bar and hated everyone.
Makeup was trickier because Zeke told me to be super femme but not be too elaborate about it (What the fuck, I’d said.) After shaving and putting on foundation and concealer, I sat and pondered in front of the mirror. I plucked my eyebrows. Then put on mascara but no eyeliner. Then extra concealer under my eyes. I eventually decided on lipstick, muted red, but it took me a while; I haven’t worn lipstick in years.
I brushed my hair then eyed myself in the mirror a few more minutes, which was about as fun as punching myself in the face. I flat-ironed and was about to call it good when I thought of my hair clip. Perfect.
I had this pastel purple hair clip I bought when I was eighteen, way back, on one of those first-barely-able-toeven-look-at-the-woman’s-section shopping trips. It’s got a dumb green dot in the middle and the spring is wheezy and I don’t really wear it that often, but it’s also kind of elegant and pretty… the tines are curved and ornate in this way that looks like they’re made out of bone. Regardless, I feel better when I wear it. I wore it down at the funeral in Sublette too. I went back to my bedroom and opened the junk drawer where I kept my hair shit.
Fuck I couldn’t find it.
I dug through the drawer about five times then just turned the thing upside down and let shit go all over my desk and the floor. Nowhere. Nothing. I went back to the bathroom and went through all the drawers there. Nothing. Fuck. FUCK. I went back to my room and looked through the crap again. I looked through all the other drawers in my desk even though they only had stuff like cords and notebooks. I looked in places that made no sense, like Liam’s room and behind chairs. But I knew, I realized, it was gone. I hadn’t worn it for months (I think? Shit, maybe I was drunk), and we’re not the neatest of folks. We lose stuff like this all the time.
I actually started to cry a bit. For living in one town all my life, I don’t have much stuff and I don’t have a lot of mementos. Or, for that matter, a lot of things I really like to wear.
Zeke texted that she would be there in five. Fuck. Oh fucking whatever. This was stupid. It was so stupid and weak and teenage-girly to get upset about this. It was stupid it was stupid it was stupid. I combed my hair again and called it good.
Fuck it, Vans it was.
She pulled up in a borrowed Chevy Celebrity, wearing that green flower-print dress. I hadn’t expected her in girl clothes, and I hate to say it didn’t help my bad mood.
Okay, so really, I said as soon I got in, how are they going to react when you show up with a transsexual?
He’s not going to know you’re trans, she said calmly.
Fuck! I said, hitting the dashboard. You can’t say that! You don’t know! There’s at least a very good chance they’re going to think I’m a man, and you know that, at least.
I really don’t think so at all, she said. I don’t quite think he has the language for this. In fact, I know he doesn’t. Nope, you have nothing to be worried about.
How do you respond to that? I let out a slow stream of breath and turned the rear view mirror to check my face. Nothing to worry about, I repeated, and realized I didn’t really know why I’d agreed to come.
We hopped over to Carrington then went north and then took back roads to get there. She seemed to know where she was going and didn’t want to talk too much, so I sat and read and put my arm out the window when we went slow through towns. We stopped once for gas at this sad little station where the numbers on the pumps flipped over like old alarm clocks.
We stopped again a few miles before the border for her to change in a Dairy Queen bathroom. I decided to wait in the car then after a few minutes realized I was hungry. Like starving.
I looked around and just saw the highway and a few run-down houses and a fire station. There were people walking around and a bunch of other cars in the parking lot. I didn’t even know what town we were in.
I put my fingers around the door handle, and then realized I wasn’t going to open it. I knew without a question I couldn’t do it. I’m fine on my own turf usually. Like, I can deal with that stuff, just—who knows? You never know. I’ve heard such scary fucking stories come out of some of these towns… you know? And, like, even if I didn’t have anything to be physically afraid of—which I probably didn’t, but probably in the sense that when you drive in a snowstorm you probably won’t end up in the ditch—I felt so ridiculous in this stupid fucking dress and my stupid hair and I could already feel every fucking eye on me if I even stepped out in public and people snickering and old ladies huffing and some fucking dude laughing and my voice cracking if I even managed to talk at all and I just wanted to fucking walk in there and order some awful food without announcing a freak show or having a fucking panic attack—
Zeke opened the door and I jerked my face up from my hands.
Woah, I said.
Her face, so naturally drawn to calm, suddenly moved into an expression of glumness. Yeah, she said.
She was in shirtsleeves and grey cotton pants, and her shoulder-length black hair was slicked neatly back. Zeke was on the pale side to begin with—which is saying something for our stupid corner of the world—but with her soft girl-body, already so unassuming, and now passing for a boy, she looked truly ghostly. Like she was a wraith, something you could put a hand through.
Or maybe like a goth kid being made to go to church.
You alright? I tried.
Oh, Zeke said. She flapped a hand up and down. Well.
Wanna go through the drive-thru? I said gently. Zeke smiled a little and started the Celebrity. Come on. Let’s eat things that are really gross, I said. Possibly they make quintuple cheeseburgers, she said.
The border was a dinky little crossing, a guy sitting in a shack on one side and another guy sitting in a shack on another. One car ahead of us in line. I texted Going under the Canuckistan curtain to Liam and turned my phone off.
Wow, I said. I always go up I-29. And that’s so, like, imposing. And this is like—
Maybe not enlarging your faith in the Department of Homeland Security? Zeke grinned.
I’d finally updated my passport gender and I guess I looked alright, because the agent just gave us a few suspicious once overs then let us pass. Welcome home, he said to Zeke.
It was hot. I know it doesn’t get that hot in our town compared to other places, but God, it was so hot. We were blasting A/C and the canola fields were shimmering and those little white balls of fluff were flying everywhere and we drove for about twenty minutes before stopping in this town called Winkler for her to run out and get some pops, and even though there was wind the sweat rolled down me just after a few seconds in the parking lot.
(I sucked it up and got out of the car. Whatever. How bad could Canadians be.)
Zeke’s mood wasn’t exactly chipper. But she seemed a little better. There was a ten-story building in the distance and when I said I’d never seen something so tall in a town this size, she said yes, well. It’s the mothership of the senior homes, so I suppose you could call it City Hall.
It suddenly clicked to me. Hey, I said, so this is where you grew up, right? You grew up here!
Hell no, she said. I’m from Morden. That way. She pointed across the highway.
Got it, I said.
After leaving town we turned onto a gravel road. We trundled along it for a while before turning onto another gravel road, then finally onto a long driveway surrounded by dirt with a little paint-blot of a house at the end and a patch of canola behind it. The color of the house was robin’s egg blue.
My grandpa doesn’t farm anymore, Zeke explained. But he rents out the canola field for money.
An old guy needs money? Aren’t you all socialists up here? I said. I was joking around but she took me seriously. Well sure, she said. But, y’know, Mennos, they’ll never leave any money on the table. There’s like this joke? What’s a Mennonite’s ultimate dilemma? Free alcohol. She looked like she expected me to laugh.
I wasn’t really serious about the socialist thing, I said.
Hm, she said. Well.
We crunched up the driveway and knocked and there was no answer. Just from the walk we were both glossy with sweat, and a breeze came from behind us and fused my dress to my back.
She pushed open the screen door and said: Hellooooooo! Grandpa?
She beckoned me in and shut the door. We were on a landing with a little closet to our right and in front of us stairs to a concrete basement. On our left was the kitchen. The linoleum was bright blue and had imprints of flowers.
Helloooooooooo? Zeke said. She motioned for me to take my shoes off. There was a ticking from a clock I couldn’t see and a half-full coffee pot burbling on the kitchen counter. There was a single plate drying on a dish rack. Other than that the room looked long untouched. Beside the kitchen there was a table with six chairs, then past that was a tiny living room with one chair and one couch that were both fuzzy and burnt red. On the other side of the room was a radio. Zeke whispered oh no and called again: Helllooooooo!! then pivoted and went back through the kitchen and down to the basement—God it was cooler down there—but there was nothing but boxes and old board games and a water tank with stacks of softener beside it. Zeke leapt back up the stairs and I clattered after her and we went through the kitchen and the living room again and up another flight to the second floor. It was still so weird seeing her in those huge shirtsleeves and pants and slicked hair. Even as she took charge she looked gaunt, windless. We went up the stairs; they were linoleum too and the color of honey, and Zeke took them three at a time. On the landing she knocked on a closed door and it swung open but nobody was there, just a little nicely-made double bed, and beside it a nightstand with a devotions book on it, and on the other side of the room was a dresser with a picture frame on top of a few lines in Gothic script. The first line was printed bigger than the rest and I could read: “I thanked the Lord for you today.” Zeke turned around and said oh no again and then: Hellooooo! and ignored the next door and went through the last one. It was a bathroom with more blue flowered linoleum and I could see a carpet-covered toilet seat and on the floor the edge of grey sweatpants and Zeke gasped in a pitch so high it was like a squeak and soon her phone was out and calling 911, and downstairs we heard the screen door open and slam shut.
* * *
Pardon me, I’m sorry to interrupt you, the nurse said.
No, not at all! said the neighbor. He’d been coming over to the grandpa’s place to visit and now he was with us at the hospital.
Is it—she turned to Zeke—you’re Mr. Reimer’s grandson, correct?
Yes, whispered Zeke.
Okay, she said gently. As we said earlier, your grandpa’s going to be fine. At this point we don’t think his bleeding is going to start again. She put her hand on Zeke’s shoulder. It’s good that you’re here, she said quietly.
Of course, Zeke nodded. Her pant legs made a rubbing sound as she shifted them.
Though of course, the nurse said, he shouldn’t be alone. Is there someone looking after him?
I come see him every day, said the neighbor.
Oh, that’s a good start, okay, said the nurse.
I can check on him more often than that, he added.
Well. That would probably be the best idea! the nurse said. Maybe I’ll chat with you about that before you leave.
After she left the neighbor turned to me. So a thousand pardons, he said to me, I’m Abe.
I shook his hand, though I never know if you’re supposed to do that when you’re trying to pass. Carla, I said. I was trying to talk softly (airily? Breathily? No, too breathy. Fuck!) It’s nice to meet you after all that time following an ambulance together, I whispered.
He cackled. Oh well, he said. How’d Ezekiel keep a lady like you that’s lovely and funny?
Bribery, I said before I could stop myself. He gave a hoot and elbowed Zeke in the ribs. Zeke gave a little laugh and made a smile for a few seconds then stared back at the vending machine again.
That’s when I realized Zeke was actually right: They weren’t reading me. It’d been a couple hours in each other’s company by now and he wasn’t reading me. Jesus Christ, he wasn’t reading me. He’d been this close to me and he’d heard me speak in the car too and he still wasn’t reading me.
I thought it would feel different.
I thought when this happened so plainly and cleanly it would be a crossed-the-Rubicon moment. But it wasn’t. I just felt, like—wary. Suspicious, even. Like they were fucking with me or, even worse, just trying to be nice, like maybe Zeke had told them the whole thing on the phone ahead of time and even called the neighbor and explained very carefully that this was his girlfriend and call her his girlfriend and you know his girlfriend might look and sound like a big gross man but humor her and don’t mess up, okay?
When minutes later he called me a lady again, I realized: I wasn’t able to believe him. Not metaphorically; I mean that I literally didn’t have the capacity. It was like if Liam told me he’d just spoken with his dead mother. I’d believe his experience. But I wouldn’t believe it was real. I could try to believe it but internally it just wouldn’t work.
I had to try really hard not to cry when I thought about that.
So I kept talking with the guy with as few words as possible, and Zeke perked up a bit as I did, and I told him about my job, and he told me he loved being retired but he missed his family, that his daughter was in Winnipeg, his sons were in Steinbach, and his wife was in heaven. But Zeke’s grandpa was Abe’s cousin, and he lived next door, and that was certainly nice. Abe came over every day to check on him and have a coffee. Your guy’s good to his grandpa, Abe said to me quietly, motioning to Zeke. In case you didn’t know, he said.
Another nurse appeared and put her hand on Zeke’s shoulder. Your grandfather’s in room S7, she said.
I only saw an empty bed when we walked in. It was a few seconds before I realized he was actually sleeping in it.
Her grandfather was so thin and weak-looking, such a lanky, bony man. His hair was thin and so incredibly short, like a duckling’s. He was balled up sleeping on the blankets, wearing the sweatpants and T-shirt we’d found him in. Hooked up to a few monitors. Zeke touched his leg. The slick in her hair was gleaming under the light. A doctor came by and told us Mr. Reimer could go when he woke up. Was there someone around to look after him.
It was around five when we got out of the hospital. He was up and moving fine, just a little slow. Kept apologizing for messing up our trip. We drove him back in the Celebrity and he asked Zeke stuff like nothing had happened.
I liked him. He was upbeat and friendly, but not in the gregarious way older men like that often are. Like, the guy really seemed to just want to chill with his grandkid. Did he have a car now? No, this one was a friend’s! How was his job? Excellent, thanks, his boss was very nice! How were his siblings? Doing well, thanks, though they hadn’t talked for some time. They were all still out West, yes? Yes.
And Abe the neighbor hm’d and oh’d but mostly let the two chat.
We dropped Abe off—man, his house was big—then crunched up the gravel driveway again with Zeke helping her grandpa walk, and the wind had stopped and I was hammering on myself from the mosquitoes. Inside, he offered to fix us some sandwiches, then he saw the coffee pot was still on. Oh! he said. Well then, would you like some coffee? Fresh, obviously.
We laughed and nodded yes and he poured us cups. He pointed to the clock setting and said oh so yeah I just got this new thing here, it’s got this little… timer thing on it? A little extravagant perhaps, maybe, but. Well. It’s useful!
Very useful, said Zeke. It must be nice for your visitors, yup! I know I would definitely appreciate it! The guy said ahhh and grinned and waved his hand.
Then he said, so! The famous Carla! My, well, certainly hope every introduction to our family does not go like this one! I giggled at that and he said yes, well, forgive me for saying so, I just, it’s certainly nice to see Ezekiel with such a nice girl!
My brain still didn’t believe him. It didn’t. But I blushed and said: Why thank you. And I haven’t blushed for a while, I’ll tell you that.
He changed clothes and we hung out with him for a bit in the living room and Zeke gave her grandpa the book. The rubbing of her pant legs became like background noise. I wondered if her grandpa could tell how uncomfortable she was, or if this was just the version of her he knew. I spent a lot of time looking at the pictures in the place and through a family photo album on the coffee table. I thought I could pick out which one was Zeke when she was little, but everyone looked so similar it was hard to tell.
We left at eight, standing outside saying goodbye with all of us trying to face east and not get creamed by the sun. The mosquitoes were really starting to go at it, though the old guy didn’t seemed to notice and just idly slapped his leg every few seconds. But the heat had gone down, and the air was warm and sweet.
(Skeeters. That’s another vehicle for self-deprecation people love around here. You can buy little magnets at truck stops with pictures of grinning batshit mosquitoes and the words “NORTH DAKOTA STATE BIRD”. State bird, haha, good one! God, gag me with a fucking spoon.)
Are you in need of a few shekels for your gas tank there? said her grandpa.
Oh gosh, said Zeke. Well hey, certainly, if you’re offering, certainly don’t feel pressured at all, I’m doing just fine really, but if you’re asking if it would be useful—well, yes it definitely would be!
Oh no no no, he said. He pulled out his wallet and gave her a twenty. That’s just my pleasure now, absolutely.
Thank you, thank you, Grandpa, Zeke said. She nodded over and over. That’s super nice of you, thank you very much.
Aw shoot. Hey, are you getting enough to eat down there in the U S of A? he said. Maybe watch what I say, none of my business or whatever, but, maybe thinkin’ you certainly look a little pale!
Trying to get some Warenki shipped down there, Zeke said dryly
Oba yo! he said. Scheenschmakjen?
Yo, yo! said Zeke. They try to make ‘em down there, schmakjt en oot-yu-rachktah Shpanzuh Futz. The old guy really busted up at that and put his hand to his face and shook his head and said oh shoot, oh shoot, forgive us Lord, eh? Then he strong-armed her in a hug and said awwww, aww, my grandson, hey, it’s so nice you came to visit, that was just really nice, now bless you!
So what was all that about the coffee pot being extravagant? I said once we were driving.
Ummmm, she said. I would suppose he doesn’t want anyone to think he’s too—She trailed off and gestured.
Fancy, maybe. Or worldly, as they used to say.
Remember what I said about the watch?
Yikes, good thing I didn’t, like, mention I own a cell phone.
He wouldn’t care about that.
Or God forbid he find out about my iVibes.
He wouldn’t care about that, she said. He doesn’t care as much about others.
Well it’s weird, she said.
We turned off the first gravel road onto the other.
I think a lot of Christians can’t shake the fear of being judged for certain sins, even if they can shake the fear that other Christians will be judged for them.
Hmmm, I said.
I’m never sure what to make of it, Zeke said thoughtfully. On one hand, it’s great you’re not gumming up others with your bullshit. That’s good. On the other hand, if you really believe this certain thing is a sin, isn’t it almost selfish to think God would be concerned with your soul but nobody else’s?
I dunno, I said. Sorry, I’ve only been to church like ten times my whole life.
Mmm, she said.
I didn’t know you spoke another language, I said.
Low German? I only know a few words, she said.
What’d you say that made him laugh? Shmacks what? Tastes like something?
A stretched spider’s vagina, she said, and when she didn’t elaborate I realized it was time to shut up.
We filled up in the town then went back over the border and Zeke changed into normal clothes. I turned my phone back on and texted Liam: BORDER PATROL ON OUR TAIL. SEND HELP.
I really passed up there, didn’t I, I said.
Told you, she said immediately. Those two men, they have no space for us. They literally cannot comprehend that we would exist.
Neither do some people in our town, I said back. But they look at me and still see a fat dude with tits.
She cringed when I said that. Oh. Well. Now. I don’t think you’re—you look that way. For one, people in your town do actually know what the word transgender means. But, like, look. Think about it. To them I’m still a good Christian boy, even if the good Christian boy is this weird kid with long hair who moves around a lot. And so for whatever tiny spot of their brain has space for the idea of trans women, there is zero space for a trans woman either being with me, or looking like you. Who’s not in, say, a short skirt and heels or whatever. So if I say you are my girlfriend, to them you’re a cis girl, full stop, and they’ll just think oh, Ezekiel has a weird-looking girlfriend. And let me tell you, they really want me to have a girlfriend.
Weird-looking, huh, I said.
Sorry, she mumbled. Her placid face came on and she was silent and I wanted to hit her again.
Thanks for coming with me, she said at the next town. Liam texted back: This is the feds, punk! Your man is dead! Expect twenty-five to life!
Yeah uh-huh, I said. So why did you come up here again?
It means a lot for him to see me, she said.
Right, but do you actually like seeing him? You were so miserable today.
I was not, she said. Sorry, but you’re wrong on that one. Besides the death-scare thing I had a good time.
You like those shirtsleeves, do you, I said acidly.
No. Look. Can I tell you something I’ve never told anybody?
I would rather wait for him to die, she said. I honestly don’t want to know how he’d react if I came out to him. I don’t know if he’d cut me out. Maybe he would. Maybe he wouldn’t. But I don’t want to find out. I don’t want to see him looking at me like a space alien, and I don’t want to get letters in the mail about my soul, I don’t want to hear from all thirty of my relatives about how sad I’m making him. And I doubt he would cut me out entirely. He would probably still let me in the house, though I doubt I would be invited, exactly. But it’s not like I would stop calling and going up there every couple months. I wouldn’t care how shitty he’d be, Carla, I’d still go. I’ll never not love him, I’ll never leave him. He’s sick. He’s old, I can fulfill one last responsibility as a grandson. That’s a thing I can do, I can actually do it. I have to and I will do it.
You’ve given this a lot of thought, huh, I said.
Everyone else in my family became a worse person when I came out, she said. I don’t want him to be a worse person too.
My own parents came around after the alcohol poisoning thing. My mom refers to it as my suicide attempt, though I dunno about calling it that. When you can’t remember the act in question, it’s hard to know if you were really trying to die. It definitely was a point in my life where I was okay with dying. But I hadn’t thought I was in a place to actually attempt. (Can two bottles of whiskey even kill a fat transsexual?) I really don’t know. I think about it a lot. With my mom it’s open-and-shut, though. She said it absolutely turned her around; she said she was sorry and she cried at my hospital bed and she even gave me a few bucks for more hormones. My dad and I don’t have much to say to each other but we can be in the same room and he doesn’t use my old name or anything. I really am glad we talk now. It’s just hard to forget it took a trip to the emergency room. I can see and feel my mother trying, I can, and I feel like such an asshole for feeling this, but—I still don’t really feel like I can trust her. There was a period in my life, right after we started talking again, when I tried really hard. And I told everyone my mom and I had reunited and it was all magical and amazing—the whole thing was kinda 21st-century Lifetime movie ready, right? But it still eats at me. I hate it. Like, how can it be love if it takes a close shave with death to see your daughter as a person? I don’t see how that’s love. I know that’s a snarly thing to say, I know I should just move on, I feel so petty for not getting over it, but I don’t know how to not hurt about that, I don’t. I don’t want to be all magically close and loving with my mom again. I just want to forgive her and stop hurting, I want to be calm and forgive, but I can’t, I still hurt about it, I can’t, I can’t, I don’t know how.
That actually makes a lot of sense, I said to Zeke.
Liam texted again: When you getting home?
Can you really run it out that long? I said.
Who knows. It’s kind of terrible to say I guess, but he’s obviously not getting any younger.
Yeah I wondered.
We were going through a town. It was nine o’clock and the sun was half-set and you knew anybody outside was losing pints of blood by the minute from the skeeters. There was another Dairy Queen on a corner of a four-way stop next to peeling white houses with sea-foam trim and triple round holes in the windowsills. We stopped at the stop sign and a teenage girl crossed.
Sometimes, Zeke said suddenly, sometimes I have this very weird vision. I suppose maybe you could call it a fantasy. And I see it all the time. Where he dies soon. As is not unlikely. And I go to his funeral and I am dressed as a boy like usual. And I say my prayers, touch his face in the casket, and hug everyone in my family. All these people. My parents too. I hug them tight and nobody would question why I’m crying or bawling when I do. They just think I’m crying because we’re at a funeral. And then after we put him in the ground, when we are back at church, I stay in the hall. All afternoon. Until I’m the last one there, and the guy who has to lock up the church comes to tell me I have to leave. And he’s family too, I have a second cousin who does that. So I hug him and tell him I love him though earlier we had to remind each other of our names. And I change out of my boy clothes in the car and I don’t give a shit what happens at the border and I never go back again. And everybody wonders what happened to me, they go oh yes there was that nice weird boy Ezekiel, and they just think, oh goodness he was always so strange, but he was so good to his grandfather. And his faith was strong. We liked him. They’ll wonder, oh where did that boy end up, whatever happened to that strange boy? They’ll talk about it every year or three years or months or whatever. And they’ll just think: Oh I hope he’s doing well. God bless him. And they will. And it’ll be the right kind of prayer, Carla, it won’t matter they’re calling me a boy when they do this, it won’t, it’ll be the rightest possible thing, and they won’t be mad, they won’t be worried, they won’t even know, they’ll just be hopeful. And they never have to look at me, or see me, or hear me speak, I won’t even make them sad, not a little. They just pray with their little books of devotions and their husbands outside leaning on their snow shovels and they’ll just think God bless that boy. And they will, I know they’ll do that. And then none of us have to see each other. Ever ever again.
Liam and I made love when I came home. I jumped on him pretty much instantly. He stayed in my bed afterward, which was unusual for us, but nice. We both dozed, and at one point I felt him try turning me over in my sleep and I said not now and he stopped. Next morning we both had days off. I made a huge pot of coffee, a mess of eggs, and a stack of toast and brought it to bed. We ate watching movies with my door open and my computer nestled in our thighs. It was Saturday and everyone was mowing their lawn and the smell of grass drifted in with the breeze. It was lovely. We stayed in bed until two, when a kid from Minot was supposed to get in, and, for a few days, stay. Liam quietly put his clothes on and checked his phone, then kissed me on his way out.
* * *
Having drinks with Zeke, I texted Liam. It was a week or so later. Come hang if you want, I think it’d be nice if you did. I doubted he’d text back but I thought I should make more of an effort. It’d sunk in since our trip that Zeke could probably use more friends.
She was reading Consider the Lobster and drinking beer. You really love him, huh, I said, tapping the book.
He’s really smart.
It’s funny, my boss can’t stand him, she said.
Yeah? That’s not surprising, I said. Her boss was the type who wore hemp skirts and purple sweaters. She came in to the store sometimes. She liked that we didn’t call our Inspirational Psychology section the New Age section.
Saying that got Zeke annoyed though. She glared at the table. Why, she said, just because she’s a—hippie type or whatever
Please, I said. Stereotypes are true for a reason. Correct stereotypes, anyway.
I’m sorry, what? she said. She sounded both combative and genuinely confused. What do you mean?
I set down my book.
They are, I said curtly. Most people are pretty predictable. Look, you work retail, you have to get that. Eighty, ninety percent of the time, someone walks in and you know right away what their game is. The guys in trench coats with long hair are going to sci-fi/fantasy and maybe history. The middle-aged men in suits are going to mystery or politics. The nineteen-year-old girl in the cardigan hasn’t fell for a book since her last Brontë and wants something that’ll make her feel that way again. It’s like how the bro who doesn’t understand why you won’t tell him your old name will probably call you a faggot when he’s drunk or nod like a puppy at racist shit. I’m not saying people can’t be unpredictable, and, like, bigots just have the wrong stereotypes, like, look at us, right? What I’m saying is that there are patterns and most people don’t break them. Most people just aren’t that good or interesting.
When I stopped ranting, her face was contorted into the sad-wraith look that had come when she wore the boy-drag. In a small voice she said, is everyone really that bad? I remembered, then, how young she was. Though she was nine months on hormones and I had almost five years on her, in my head she was always a little older than me. In both kinds of age.
Well hey, I said softly. I got, like. Carried away. I dunno if what I said was quite right—
Ladies! Liam yelled, appearing out of nowhere. He kissed me and said, I was just walking by, nice timing. What’s up? Hey Zeke, what’re you reading? Oh God DFW I hate that fuck!
When Liam decides to get over his crap he gets over it. And the two of them ended up getting along fast. He rightup apologized for being a prick about the stolen stuff and said he wished we’d had her over again at the apartment this summer. Zeke said oh, well! You know, bygones!
Of course, Zeke. Bygones.
We hung out for a bit. I ended up chatting with the bartender, then I headed for the bathroom and of fucking course they were making out in the hallway. Before I could give them shit Liam cocked his head and Zeke nodded pretty eagerly and kicked open the nearest bathroom door handle in a surprisingly smooth and badass way.
I muffled a laugh. Then I put my ear to the door because I’m a goon. There was an unzipping sound and in a breathy voice Liam said I have low dysphoria.
I smiled. I liked to think of the kid getting some, even if it was with my nympho boyfriend. I went to the other bathroom and took a dump and tried to listen in on the other side.
Liam and I are the same height. I’ve always loved that, I loved it fierce. Five-ten. Bang-o. I love how we look in pictures. We make a good team, him and I.
The two of them were standing at the bar when I came out and I said someone got off quick. They laughed. Then Liam waved to a guy and girl at a corner of the bar and said oh shit! Hey!
It was Doug, the guy from the fair trade store with hornrimmed glasses and colored vests (today’s was pink) and Sophie, the other Tall Girl in town. We got drinks and went to their table. Sophie was already a couple whiskeys in because, you know, trans women. She was talking about going to some party out in the bush. Most of us weren’t into it but Sophie seemed to think Zeke was persuadable.
I don’t get Sophie. Girl’s been post-transition long as I have and had enough encounters with angry men to make anyone scared to go somewhere darker than a hospital, but she wants a bunch of transsexuals to go to a bush party. Search me.
It is nice out, Zeke said. It might be nice to not be in a bar.
You really wanna go out in the fucking bush? I said.
There’s a party at our new house, Doug said. We could go in my car.
Sophie nodded. Let’s get the hell out of here.
We walked down the strip towards Doug’s car and Sophie flipped off a minivan.
What’s that about, I said.
Yeah? Zeke said.
I gave that cuntball head once and he fucking choked me ‘til I threw up, Sophie said.
Jesus, I said.
Oh my God I’m sorry, said Zeke.
He’s a prof now too, Sophie added.
I’ve served him at work, said Liam.
Ho-leee, said Zeke.
He did help clean up, Sophie said, like an afterthought. But still, fuck him.
Zeke giggled then stopped and said, that sucks. I’m sorry, that really really sucks. Sophie shrugged. Zeke looked pained, as if she had to say something but didn’t know what. That’s really shitty, she finally said. Oh, said Sophie. It’s okay. I mean. It’s not, but. She got suddenly quiet. I was being dumb too, she said.
I doubt that very much, said Zeke, and Sophie fiddled with her bag and smiled at her. How was Winkler? she said. Get any Rollkuchen?
I fell back to take Liam’s hand and drag on the cigarette he was smoking. Hey, he said instantly, do you actually want to go to this?
Not really, I said.
Do you want to leave? I don’t have to go.
I shook my head. I should be there if Zeke’s there. It’s better if I’m there, I said. I knew that was bullshit but I said it anyway. Liam nodded. Oh shit, he said. Should I not have—
Oh God no! I said. No, I get a bang out of that! Fuck like bunnies, please.
Liam cracked up at that. His head flew back and his hair washed out behind him in a shag of brown. He had a really lovely laugh.
Two guys passed us on the sidewalk; one of them made a face when he saw me and the other said hi to Zeke. She nodded and they slowed their pace. The one guy said no hi?!
I nodded, Zeke said meekly over her shoulder.
God you can’t even say hi? he said. What kind of human being doesn’t even say hi?! he yelled to the street. He was drunk. His buddy put his arm around him and said hey, it’s not your fault. I was half-turned with my eyes on them though we were still walking. Hey! the guy said, are you gonna fuck her? Are you? He was pointing at me. Then suddenly his eyes narrowed. Wait, he said, and his voice sounded dangerous. Are you a guy? Are you a dude?
Sophie yelled: Oh fuck you! at the same time I stepped in front of Zeke and yelled: LEAVE US ALONE SHITHEAD!
FUCK YOU FAGGOT YOU WANNA START SOME SHIT! he yelled and hit his arms on his chest. I flipped them off and so did Sophie, and Doug jogged to his car and said hey I’m over here I’m over here. He had that sound of someone freaked trying to sound calm. We went over and piled in and the dudes didn’t follow us, they just kept yelling stuff. Doug peeled out in a way that made me almost say geez man, we’re not fleeing the Huns or anything. But I stayed quiet.
Then we were driving and the adrenaline ebbed and I immediately thought fuck, that was so fucking dumb, I might run into them again, fuck! Fuck! Doug was letting out breath like whooo and Sophie said God fuck them! and Zeke was in the front and staring straight ahead.
I took this stuff for granted—though I usually didn’t yell, I just kept my head down. Honestly, I’d kinda accepted that, passing or not, dudes were going to get on my case for one reason or another and hopefully they just wouldn’t be too aggressive about it. I’ve been lucky I’ve never been hurt, and maybe I’m getting blasé about it. Or cocky, rather. Or, at least, maybe not the best example.
I touched Zeke’s arm. Hey, I said, don’t worry about them.
She turned and smiled automatically and opened her mouth but no sound came out.
It’s okay, I said. I literally had no idea what else to say. It’s okay.
Oh hell yeah, Sophie suddenly said. Doug, turn around.
Sophie was riffling through a grocery bag she’d found on the floor. Come on, she said.
Sophie! I said. Let it go! But she was whispering in Zeke’s ear and then Zeke nodded and steadily said, that’s fine, Doug, turn around.
Doug made a strangling noise and pulled a U-turn, and Zeke and Sophie shifted to face the right windows of the car. We pulled up to the dudes, who still obviously looked pissed, and Sophie stuck her head out of the window. Hey! Hey! We’re sorry, she said.
We’re sorry, we really are, said Zeke.
You guys were just being nice, said Sophie. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I was just in a bad mood. Really, I’m sorry.
Awwww, said the calmer guy, while the other still looked pissed.
Was kinda fucked up, said the other one.
No it’s fine, it’s fine, his friend said.
Look, hey, Sophie said in a tiny voice, I dunno, we’re going to this party and maybe, like, we could make it up to you? Somehow?
They stepped forward and then Sophie nudged Zeke and they sprayed both of them in the face with Silly String.
Fuck you! I yelled then Doug gunned it and drove away.
Fuck youuuuuu! I yelled again back out of my window. We drove away and were yelling and laughing our asses off.
Jesus Christ you guys! Doug said. That was a terrible idea.
Yup, said Sophie.
Yup, said Zeke.
Whatever! I said. When was the last time you did something that stupid?
Girl’s got a point, said Liam. Doug shook his head and turned the radio up and it was some dumb alt-pop-country band. Liam took out a flask and said, I forgot to tell you I brought this, and I laughed and we drank and rolled the windows down and beat on the sides of the car with our palms, and Sophie started singing and even though she drowned us out we all joined in, the lyrics something about seeing your ghost ohhh ohhh whatever, and Zeke looked bouncy and giddy like a teenage girl who’d just snuck out of her house for the first time. Liam turned and kissed me, hard, hard, like he rarely does, and I sank into the seat and pulled him closer by his hair.
* * *
The party was kinda not great.
When we came in the house, the first thing I saw were people in the kitchen playing a drinking game with tarot cards. We were doing a reading, one of the guys said. But then we just decided this would be more fun.
I don’t like queer house parties. I actually have a hard time talking with folks at them. I always get this weird feeling everyone’s there to hook up with someone else then laugh at me. I dunno. I like to be social but I’d rather have people over at my place. Hosting means you know most of the people and no one thinks you’re weird for butting into a conversation.
It was nice chilling with Sophie and Zeke around, though—three trans women in a room, when does that happen—and it was fun telling and re-telling our story about the dudes. Why did you have Silly String in your car anyway? I asked Doug at one point.
It’s for Halloween! he said excitedly. It’s a house project. Instead of putting up decorations outside, we’re going to each write a message, something affirming, on our front lawn. Stuff that’s body-positive and queer-friendly. It’s something I want to do for the neighborhood, so we can put out something loving as new neighbors. A message out there telling people they are valued and they are loved. And any of us can write it too, not just people who live here, I want it to be a community-building project.
That’s the gayest shit I have ever heard, said Liam.
Seriously, said Sophie.
Dude, I said. My folks live around here. If my dad sees you pulling that shit he will fucking blow your house up.
Doug blanched. You think it’s dangerous?
After the drinking game devolved into a couple kissing, I bummed a couple cigarettes and went out to the back porch.
It was nice out. The house was one of those fifties bungalows with a small yard, away from campus on the edge of town, where I grew up—my parents’ house really was only a couple blocks away. It smelled musty and cool and on the edge of rain, and though it was late there was still sunlight and some kids were playing catch a few yards over. We were close to the highway and there was a gentle, distant lull of cars.
Then I thought again about those two dudes, and a level of dread washed over me. That was stupid. Maybe it’d been worth it but it was just fucking stupid.
I laid back on the porch with my feet on the ground and let the beer and the smoke go to my head. The sky was orange and there were streaks of clouds. One of the kids got hit with the ball then insisted he was okay. When my first cigarette was done, I smushed it then flicked it into the corner of the yard and lit another. The wind was blowing again.
The door opened and a new girl I knew from work came out. She was stumbling and she went awwww shit you’re my boss ohh is this awkward?
Girl, I said, not moving. I’ve been drunker at work then you are now.
Haaaaaaa! she said. I’ve kissed so many girls tonight.
Didn’t even know you were a lesbo, I said. (This was probably unprofessional.)
Haaaa yeah well—no see I don’t exaaaactly think I am?
Her head flopped forward and she lifted it back up. See I identify more, like, as queer, you know, like that feels more right, I just, I don’t give a shit. About gender. I don’t see gender, it doesn’t matter to me I just see people. You know?
Yeah, I said to the sky. People.
I sat up and finished my beer and one of the other guys who lived here came up and hugged her from behind. She giggled and so did he then he squeezed her tits. She reached up behind her and put a hand in his hair. He saw me and said hey Carla!
I hated this guy. But I hated he wasn’t trying to do that to me. I had a picture in my head of both of them feeling me. It’s not that I wanted them to do it, either. The image was just there, imagining them wanting my body. I wasn’t even attracted to them. I can’t make sense of why it ate at me, all the desire in this house, blowing past me like wind. I felt a tap on the shoulder and I turned around; it was a friend who worked at the diner Zeke and I went to. He liked to wear bow ties and give me very soft, light hugs when he was working and ask if I was doing okay. I nodded to him and then the guy who lived here. Hey guys, I said. What’s up. We’re gonna play a game. It’s called gimme your beer.
I found Liam a bit later behind a couch in the living room on a pillow. There were welt-like hickies on his neck and his pants were unbuttoned. Jesus. I kicked his shoe. Hey get up, I said. He lifted his head, waved, then lay back down.
Get up shithead, I said. I kicked his leg.
He made a noise.
You fucking slutbag cunt asshole get up! I said. Get up now! Come on!
Huh? he said. He propped an elbow up. Woah, woah, hey chill out—
Fuck you chill out, I said. I was furious and I didn’t care what I said about anything. Do you have your weed with you?
Yeah, but you shouldn’t—
Fuck you, shouldn’t! I said. I stumbled and leaned on the wall then threw my hands up. I never ask you for fucking anything, shouldn’t my tits! Shouldn’t. Shit.
He looked kind of sad but also frightened. It’s in Doug’s car, he whispered.
I rolled my eyes. In that moment, I wanted to see him shrink into the ground and wail. Well then, I said slowly. Maybe you could ask him for the key.
As we were heading out, Zeke materialized out of nowhere. Excuse me, she said, did I maybe hear you’re getting weed?
We went out to the Jetta and an old man came out on his porch and turned his light on, blinking. There was only the sound of crickets and Liam slapped a lone mosquito. Smashed as I was, I drove a block forward just because. Liam broke the silence and muttered something to Zeke about finishing a story.
Oh right! Zeke said. I parked the car and Liam resumed looking for his bag.
So I knew this doctor in Minneapolis, Zeke said. I think he was part of a gay health project. I asked him if he’d ever taken care of any Mennonites. And he said he’d once worked out in South Dakota, during an early part of his medical training. This was in the early nineties. And he ended up taking care of this Hutterite man who’d gotten AIDS. He had been driving into the city to mess around or whatever. And when he was found out, they threw him out. Obviously. But when he was diagnosed years later the community let him back in. And this Hutterite guy, his ex-wife took care of him and took him to all his appointments and stuff and everybody cared for him until he died. And the doctor told me he always wondered: Did they let him go back to church? Did he have to go back to church? Were they nice to him or was it just cold, as in, did they not actually want to see him at all, but maybe considered it a duty thing?
To be fair, Zeke continued, obviously I wonder the same. But the odd thing about this doctor was that he loved this story. You could tell he hung onto it. And geez, you should have seen his face when I asked about Mennos in the first place. He said it gave him a really positive impression of my church and my community—which was weird because my family’s not Hutterite but whatever—he said that it obviously showed they were, quote, loving and forgiving, and they could make room for tolerance in their beliefs. To say nothing of the fact, right, that he had to hold this secret for years and then they’d kicked him out and shunned him for more. They couldn’t have possibly played a part in anything, now could it have? No, that couldn’t possibly have been the case! Never mind all the other fucking families that let their sons die without acknowledging their fucking existence.
Of course, she said hastily, not that I brought that up directly, exactly.
But like, she continued, the doctor had this story he told. You could tell he told it often. And that he loved us for it. I know it’s ungrateful, maybe, petulant, maybe. And I love my people. I do. But. I can’t stand that.
Carla, maybe that’s what you mean when you told me once you hate tolerance, she said. Well, she added quickly, maybe it keeps you from being dead. So I don’t think I exactly hate it. But it’s not acceptance. And it’s definitely not love.
I was silent. Then moodily I said, how do we use the word tolerate outside of this fucking subject anyway. You tolerate colds.
You tolerate toothaches, she said.
If you can’t hit them.
By this time Liam had found his weed. Zeke helped him break some up over a Kleenex.
My mom, she said. She once said to me: Well now, even though you were a bit different, our town treated you well, didn’t they? They did. They were much nicer than they might have been.
Zeke swallowed, and for the first time since I met her she sounded close to crying.
And I said to her, Mom, my first memory of school is a boy choking me on a snow hill. And she said oh, well, yes, that’s just boys though now isn’t it?
I took her hand and nodded.
Liam finished packing the bowl. We toked up and inhaled long and hack-coughed for a while. The smoke kept recycling into our lungs so I rolled down the window. The wind was blowing a little harder. Zeke toked again.
Cold, Liam said.
Mmm, I said.
Zeke laughed like she’d heard the funniest thing in the world. Oh yes, oh so frigid, downright fucking Arctic. Here, have my sweater!
I laughed. It made sense to me somehow that Zeke would go zero to sixty when she got high. She giggled out of nowhere then cough-hacked again. Then she took another toke.
It is a nice sweater, I said. It really was, and I’d been meaning to say so all night, actually. It was cashmere and bright kelly green and hung on her in a way that somehow draped and hugged her stick-body at the same time. Like it reminded me of the existence of expensive fancy clothes.
Thanks! she said. You know what rocked? BEING RICH.
Totally, I said. Wait, what?
Oh, well, she said. I’m not really—Then she started hacking again.
Never mind, she said. She shook her head hard and said never mind, never mind, never mind.
No, what, I said. You were rich once? Tell me about this! That sounds great. Tell me about being rich.
I was kidding, she said rapidly.
I tilted my head at her. No you weren’t. Did you get that sweater here? It actually looks familiar. Are you a secret rich kid?
No! she said. I’m not!!
I laughed, which seemed to make her mad. It was always so darkly satisfying to see her riled. Liam said, hey guys, what, what’s the deal. And Zeke said, nothing, absolutely nothing, why don’t we just move on, we don’t have to have this conversation. And I said, what conversation?
Zeke toked one more time then reached for her bag. As she got out her phone, she accidentally turned the bag sideways and her wallet and my purple hair clip fell out.
Hey, I said, but she’d already shoved it back in.
That’s my clip, I said.
Oh, she said, her face fused in a scared smile. Is it?
Yeah, I said slowly. I’ve been looking for it for months.
Oh, she said, still with the dumb smile. Have you?
My heart slid into the deep end. Oh my God, I blurted, please don’t tell me it was you who took our stuff.
Her face changed into a look of hopelessness. She took out the hair clip and put it in my hand and stuttered out a sorry. I was too stunned and stoned to speak or move. She fumbled for the door handle and then I was watching her jog down the road.
I took another hit and Liam said whaaaaat?
I watched her disappear into the black. Her placid face appeared in my head and I punched the window. Then I hit the side of the car like six or seven times with my elbow until I thought I heard something break.
Fuck, stop, said Liam.
I threw up everything in my stomach that night and I threw up the water and coffee I tried to drink the next morning. Beyond shaking, almost vibrating, kneeling in the bathroom of that wretched fucking house. Every patch of my skin was tingling and groaning and alive. My left arm too was really aching. It was all to the point that I forgot I was even angry. At first I was just dry heaving, just little bits of saliva, then after a few minutes some thick green liquid. That hadn’t happened for a while. It passed across my tongue and through my teeth, more awful and alien than I ever remembered.
I’m not even sure why we were so angry about the passport thing. It’s not like we used them anymore.
The hormones though. More I thought about it—that really did piss me off.
I had an e-mail from her when I got home the next day: I’m sorry about everything. I’m moving back to Canada. I’m really sorry. The cowardly truth, the awful weak truth of me, is that my parents had stopped talking to me and I was scared out of my mind. I can’t even begin to talk about how sorry I am and I know I can’t beg your forgiveness but please know—
It went on like that for a while. You became so important to me blah blah blah. I always knew in my heart that— whatever. The girl had really made a scroll out of it. I didn’t reply. It seemed like silence would eat at her most and I was good with that.
When you live in a small place, when your friends are stupid capital-Q queers, you don’t really have to make an effort to see most people. You’ll bump into them sooner or later without much trouble. That was a thing about Zeke though. Whenever I saw her, it was always intentional. Like all the time she spent with people seemed part of a conscious choice. I rarely make that as a conscious choice myself. I see people at the bar, I go out with this guy from work after our shifts, Liam and I get bored and tell everybody to come over. It’s not that I don’t like making plans, it just works out this way. A weird thing with Zeke, thinking back, is that it was like she’d decided one day she was going to make friends with me: She came into my work, bought a book, invited me to lunch, then kept coming in and doing it over.
I liked that when I thought about it. And it made me think of this old crusty trans lady friend of mine, Lish. She bounced around in our town for a couple years but lives in Minneapolis now, and I never see her. It’s dumb that I don’t. She was one of my best friends, and I’ve got more means than she does to travel—but I never make the effort. Liam’s not her biggest fan and I don’t like leaving town alone. But still.
So, a couple weeks after Zeke left, I did. Just went to the station and bought a non-refundable ticket before I could talk myself out of it. I caught an ass-crack-of-dawn bus out of town the week after; it still hadn’t rained and when the sun went up the fields were the color of dusted honey. I took some pictures and sent them to Liam. Those are beautiful, he said. Then: Have fun today.
When I got into the city at noon, Lish was already baked and going nuts about reuniting with some girl who drove for her when she escorted in the nineties somewhere up in Canada—or maybe that had been down here? I forget. Something about driver-girl’s old cat. Anyway. I bought her lunch and we fucked around downtown till she put me back on the bus at nine. I hadn’t been to the city for a long time. I told Lish about Zeke and she was like bitch, that girl’s probably still got money, she probably got twenty grand for your passports, you shoulda clobbered her. Clobbered. I love that lady. Being a trans woman and a fuck-up means your number of living relatable elders are just this side of zero, but Lish is good people. Good for me, anyway.
When I saw Liam next, the night following, I came into the living room and he was reading a book of Sandra Birdsell stories, an author Zeke had really loved—rabidly, in a sort of creepy-obsessive way, actually. Funny to see Liam reading that, though he’d been eerily silent about the Zeke thing. I guess he didn’t know how to feel about it either.
I’m gonna watch a movie, he said. Do you wanna?
You’re going to be up for a bit? I asked.
See you before I go to bed?
He kissed me on the forehead and went into his room and shut the door. I went to the kitchen and mixed a rum and diet. My left arm twinged.
If you watch the fizz of freshly poured soda from the top, it looks and sounds like TV static.
I took out my phone and looked at the e-mail from Zeke. I finally typed a simple Fuck. You. and hit send.
Sipping my drink, I went into my room and considered what to read. The breeze coming in was solidly cold now, and I shut my window for the first time in months. I thought of her travelling north.
Aside from the recent trip, I’ve only been to Canada a few times, mostly between the ages of eighteen and twenty, obvie. Once, some friends and I were driving back from partying up there, in the middle of winter, on one of those perfectly clear and freezing nights. It was four in the morning and I was nodding in and out of hammered sleep, my vision mashed potatoes, we stopped so I could throw up at least twice. But as we drove with my face smushed on the window I noticed the field of snow along that stretch of the highway, all still and unmucked with. It looked brushed, almost. Or whipped. Designed. The patterns were the kind you’d see up close in a big rock. Sometimes you see that for far distances out here on the prairie, like a long white-blue sea. It’s so gorgeous. And even with my brain’s skeleton-crew state, I just thought, man. Everyone calls our part of the world bleak. But it’s not bleak. I don’t think it’s bleak.
Every now and then I see a doctor and she’s like, I do think you drink a little too much, and I’m like, you should see what too much really is, lady. I know I’ve got problems. But no one else really seems to get it. It’s funny what people will latch onto. Like, I did some gross straight porn a while back and Liam felt kinda fucked up about it. And I was like, dude, when Tobi Hill-Meyer came to do that workshop on campus, you fell over your face in love with her. I know you’re not anti-porn, so why are you so concerned?
And he was like, yeah, but—and then he stopped and said, that’s different. I didn’t need to hear any more though. She’s different, he meant to say. What she does is different. And I could’ve gone into it and said, yes, I like queer porn too but. Yes Tobi’s great but. But I knew his eyes, and I knew what he was feeling. And you can’t fight every battle. So I cast my eyes downward and softly said, yeah, I know. I know. I pretended to sniffle a bit and hugged him and said, I know, but I can’t talk about it now, okay? Okay? Please? Just be there for me tonight? Baby? And I knew he wouldn’t push it after, instead he just hugged me and said, of course, of course babe, hey.
It’s why I asked why was he concerned as opposed to the truth, which was why was he angry. It’s sad how manipulable even the smartest of people can be. You just need to set it up for people, make them feel like they’re decent fallible humans who had a choice and in the moment went and did something right. I’ve always thought, if you can give people that, they’ll usually stop asking questions. I thought I had that figured out, but I guess Zeke did too. I had wanted to protect her. Part of me actually thought she was helpless. Though maybe in some ways she was. I dunno. Fuck. I bet her grandpa was actually loaded too. Everything pointed to it. Probably? Nothing about her made any sense, nothing nothing.
The random thing I really dwell on for some reason? Her neatness. Her place was always showroom-clean the couple times I went over there. You could see your reflection in every counter.
How did she even know who to sell a passport to?
I hoped she wasn’t going back to her town though, that at least she was going to a city of some sort. I wondered about her grandpa and it made me sad. I felt her there. It’s shitty, but sometimes I wish my parents never talked to me again. Sometimes I’m not glad my mom and I have a relationship. It would be less confusing. Like when I call her and ask what’s happening for my dad’s birthday and she says well we’re free the day before. A friend once said it’s hard, letting that stuff go. I can’t ever imagine letting it go. I wish someone could teach me how. I really do. I wish I knew if they would still be outright ignoring me today if I hadn’t years ago started into a second bottle of whiskey. But the question’s unanswerable. Not unlike the question, I guess, of how much I really wanted to die.
People at the bookstore sometimes ask why I’m still there. Because no one else wants to fucking be here. But I’m happier in my day-to-day life than I ever was before. A lot of shit’s still awful, yes, and I’m angry and negative most days, yes. But I love my job. I love my partner. (You know, most of the time.) I like our household. I do actually like how I’ve structured most of my life. I’ve started to see a future and it’s got its shit parts, but it’s also kind of really okay. Everyone sees me as a mess, Liam included. But I don’t feel like a mess. I know what a mess feels like.
I sat on my bed and opened my laptop. Sometimes I— this might sound weird, but sometimes I put my computer on my crotch, right on my pubic bone. So I feel the heat on the top of my crotch but not my actual junk. I’ve never told anybody and it makes me feel embarrassed just saying it, but like—it somehow makes me feel like I have a vagina when I do that. I usually don’t like thinking about that, it gets me too sad, it can set me on a spiral. But then I set this warm thing on this part of my body, and touch the soft folds of my neck. And I feel better. I can feel better.