SOMETHING ABOUT THIS
The year after we graduated Junie went to Paris and I became a boy. These were the things we dreamed about during long summer days spent lying in the grass beneath her dorm window and we were proud of ourselves, then, for seeing them to fruition.
But then tonight she says that I was always a boy. She says that’s why she fell in love with me.
I say: you never fell in love with me, and she just stares. Her apartment is small, and less colorful than I think it should be. She’s placed a plain blue scarf over the coffee table, a few photos to hold it in place. There isn’t a bookcase; her books all live on one small shelf in the corner and I squint across the room, hoping to recognize any of them. An oversized clock hangs in one corner: an heirloom, an afterthought. A wineglass sits half-empty on a stool by her chair.
Remember your old place? I ask, and still, she just stares. Remember the night you said that this is where we’d be, ten years from now? That night in the basement at Andy’s, who was it that asked?
And I looked at you and said I’d be living in a little apartment in a big city, and you’d be sleeping on my couch.
You laughed, she says.
I hoped to be somewhere other than the couch.
You were a poet.
You were the poet.
I was the fortune-teller.
She holds up her palms and looks into their secrets. I know most of the men she’s been with, or know of them; we’ve kept in touch over the years. We used to imagine that our correspondence would be worth something and wrote old-fashioned letters on borrowed credit that we hoped to cash in on someday, in leaner times that we couldn’t actually imagine. She sent me a postcard once. It came wrapped in cellophane from the Louvre and I wanted to frame it. I was reading Hemingway and stuck it in three-quarters of the way through. It may still be there.
So you wanna get out of here?
There’s a little place a few blocks down. More than just Sam Adams on tap.
Sounds like a winner.
It’s not even that the night is too cold, but it hits my wrists and everything goes red for a moment. I should have dressed better.
Want to borrow a coat?
I’m sure I’ve got one that would fit, in the closet somewhere.
No thanks. I like it. Really.
The air deadens everything. Our words just hit it, and then they fall. We could be underwater. I wonder what she’d do if I pushed her into that snowbank, there. It could be a car, hidden underneath. It could be anything. I reach out to feel, but can’t bring myself to plunge in my hand. Later, when I think about tonight, I’ll regret that.
She takes her hands out of her pockets. She isn’t wearing gloves. I wonder if I should take them in my own, but they look so warm. She’ll always be taller than me, in her heels. I stretch my shoulders and wish I were wearing something less. I can’t imagine that people bother to work out, here, but I’ve only visited during the winter. Just add another layer: instant gym time. We pass a group of teenagers and I search their clothes for some sign of place, some sense of grounding, but they’re all dressed identically in puffy coats and jeans. They look loud, still, and I envy them that.
So what do you wanna do?
She shakes her head and speeds up. She puts her hands back into her pockets. No, I mean, while you’re here. What do you want to see?
I’ve seen Boston.
She bumps me with her hip. Not with me, you haven’t.
True enough. I’m still looking straight ahead. I can see our words there, and I reach out to catch those.
It’s pretty, isn’t it?
Suddenly I can see our whole lives playing out before us: ice crystals like tea leaves falling into the muddy slush at our feet. Later she’ll put me to bed on the couch – how many times did she do that – no, we’ll stumble into her bed. We’ll grow warm there in the dark, and she’ll reach out to touch my chest. I did love you, she’ll say.
Do you remember reading…
Calvino? Cosmicomics? In bed that night? You were so gone.
If this were a movie, I think, I’d pull the book out now. I’d have it in my back pocket – folded and worn – the ghost of a flower marking the place where we’d fallen asleep that night, still warm from that Texas day when we bought it. Warm from my own life.
That’s the one, I say.
“I had fallen in love. What I mean is: I had begun to recognize, to isolate the signs of one of those from the others, in fact I waited for these signs I had begun to recognize, I sought them, responded to those signs I awaited with other signs I made myself, or rather it was I who aroused them, these signs from her, which I answered with other signs of my own . . .”
She doesn’t really quote Calvino. We walk. Both wishing we could, I hope.
Yes, later she’ll reach out and touch my cyborg chest. She’ll ask if it hurt. Next week she’ll want to watch while I inject myself with testosterone. These things, I expect. This girl, I know. But what about after, when she wakes at noon and wants a lobster-tail from Mike’s Pastry? Tomorrow we’ll go to Cheers; a joke, a cliché. We’ll laugh and drink, but what happens when we’ve eaten our fill and all of our stories begin with remember when? Who is she when those stories are done?
I bought a puppy once.
Oh, two-three years ago.
You should have named him.
What should I have named him?
Okay. I had a puppy a few years back. William Barkner.
Not Sir William Barkner?
I shake my head. William Barkner. He loved sleigh bells. And strawberries.
Sleigh Bells, the band?
Nope. Just sleigh bells. Stayed up all night one Christmas.
Weird. The bar is just ahead.
Still up ahead, either way. Are dogs even supposed to eat strawberries?
He did. He was afraid of my bathroom.
Who’d you kill in the bathroom?
I stop and wrinkle my nose, remembering.
You remember that guy from physics?
Who always talked over the professor?
Good. He deserved it.
She stops to pose, and for a moment she’s him, Johnny Allsup, and I’m sitting in the back of a classroom, next to her, in the little junior college just outside of the town we grew up in, trying to stifle a giggle. “No relation to the small-town Texas Allsup’s gas station franchise,” he’d say, she says. She laughs then, tilts her head in my direction. God, that guy was a douche.
That’s right. No relation. Still carry his ID around, I say.
I reach for my back pocket.
Got it right here. Good old Johnny Allsup. Sir William couldn’t stand him.
I pull my wallet out and she walks in front of me; she puts her left hand on my right wrist. Her coat is orange, a summer color. She’d know what to call it. I remember when she was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. I would have said anything to make her love me. She was wearing these little shoes. They were turquoise. Not little, she’d say. Big feet. She smiled every time I spoke. I didn’t deserve that. I look down now, at the color of her shoes, but it’s too dark to see.
I just wanted to keep it, I say, to remind myself that no matter how old we all got, good old Johnny Allsup would still be twenty-two. Whole lives ahead of him.
Stop. Just stop. Jesus Christ.
Sure you don’t want to see it?
You don’t. You don’t have that.
Sure I do. How do you know unless you look?
I won’t remember how this night ends. Tomorrow we’ll be bashful, or she’ll be angry and I’ll be quiet. She’ll sit on the corner of the couch and we’ll watch old movies until she wants to talk. I’ll leave my jeans on the bathroom floor so that she can go through my wallet. She’ll stand there with it cupped in her hands, in that little subway-tiled room that’s still muggy from our showers, and open it to find my ID. My Texas driver’s license. She’ll wipe the condensation from the mirror to look at her own face and then she’ll look down at mine again. She’ll take it out – just to feel the weight of something so slight, there against her fingers. And beneath it she’ll find the old one tucked. You’re supposed to get rid of them, when you get a new one. New address, new name, new gender: it doesn’t matter why. I’ll never ask her where it went.
"Some days it seems to me that the transgender community must face the final frontier of social justice discrimination in America: a people so misunderstood and maligned that many don't even recognize certain truths about themselves for much of their lives. I believe in fiction's power to illuminate truth, and I believe in truth's power to change our world. Not much serious literature has been done in the trans* community, and I think that's a shame; everyone deserves to look out over the literary landscape and recognize themselves in it."
Jake D. Sauls currently lives and writes in Texas. His poetry and prose has been seen recently in or is forthcoming from Bellevue Literary Review, Bloom Journal of Queer Arts, and the corner stall at the local pub. He is currently completing an MFA from The University of Arkansas at Monticello and edits gravel magazine (www.gravelmag.com).