Sea Legs || Kimberly Parish

“It’s fitting the old bastard was found with his dong in his hand.”

“Charming, Tom.”

“It happens, Charlotte. Even the best of us stand there taking a whiz, backs to the weather—never give it a thought. A big wave hits and it’s ‘Man overboard!’ If the boat’s underway and the dumbass is alone on deck, he’s a goner.”

“Surely that’s an exaggeration.” The whisky-voiced woman rattled the ice in her glass, raised it to her wrinkled lips, and sipped, leaving a waxy pink stain on the rim. She was much older than the man beside her, and the skin-tight, sleeveless t-shirt she wore did nothing to complement her figure. “Why couldn’t he just swim ashore?”

They were the only two people in the bar. Apart from the strip club up the road, there was no place else to go on a Tuesday night.

“Nah, hypothermia sets in long before you can get ashore unless you’re right on the beach.” Tom shook his head and played with a paper coaster in a small puddle on the bar. “Now, if you’re at sea, there’s nothing sticking above the surface but a head, and that’s damned hard to see if you don’t know where to look for it, but in this case, the boat was at anchor, but I guarantee you he was drunk. Maybe he had a heart attack or something. It doesn’t sound like he even tried to swim. Never even let go of his pecker.”

Charlotte made a tsk sound.

“Yachting Times said the crew was ashore and he just wasn’t there when they got back to the boat. By the time they found him, his body was halfway to Union Island. It’s a wonder the sharks didn’t take him.” Tom signaled to the bartender for another beer. “I couldn’t believe he still owned that boat.”

“Mmmm,” hummed the barfly. “Where’s Union Island?”

“Way down in the Grenadines—almost to Grenada.”

“Who found him?”

“Some cruisers radioed the authorities. I told you I used to skipper for the guy, Right?”

“Did you?”

“He was a piece of work. There was this one time we were in Corsica for a regatta—”

“A what?”

“A regatta. It’s a yacht race, kind of a pissing contest for the rich bastards. They like to get together every year and find out who has the best boat. It’s all broken down into classes so the boats are evenly matched.”

“Oh.”

“The boss was bored one day and he went off exploring Bonifacio on foot. It’s a narrow little harbor—wall-to-wall restaurants and bars. No telling how much he drank. When he came back, he fell right off the dock. Sally and I were working. We didn’t hear a thing, but some French sailors saw him go in. He’d never have gotten out on his own.”

“So’d they fish him out?”

“Yeah. It was lay day—that’s a day-off in the middle of the regatta—and we’d spent the day stocking up and getting ready for the old man’s guests to arrive.” Tom gazed off into the distance as the memory took shape.

“We heard ‘Permission to come aboard!’ and Sally peeped out over the companionway. I saw her eyes get big, and she ran up on deck. I was just coming out of the engine room. When I got up on deck there were these two big Froggies in uniform carrying Fiedler onto the boat wringing wet.

“‘What happened?’ Sally asked. Then she said it again in French then dithered about whether to help carry him or turn around and grab towels.

“‘You go get the towels,’ I told her, and took the old man off the sailors’ hands.

“Sally told the sailors, ‘Merci beaucoup,’ and they left. She always did the translating. I sure did miss that once she left.

“I got my ass chewed the next day because Fiedler’d got drunk and made a fool of himself—like I could stop him!—I had to wonder who saved him from messing up when he was home. It sure wasn’t his wife or his prissy son. He lost his glasses when he went in the drink too, but I fished ‘em out.”

“Sounds to me,” said Charlotte, “like it was a good thing those sailors saw him fall in, or you might have been the ones fishing his corpse out of the water.”

“Probably so. That was a hell of a trip. The next day this big dude named Jäger, like the drink, turned up. Looked like a bear. I never was sure what he did for a living, but he had something on Fiedler. And Fiedler told me the woman with Jäger was a call-girl. Beate—that was her name. She said she was a rep for a drug company. T’any rate, Jäger arrives the next day with his lady friend. Sally had been prepped to do some major entertaining, and she had caviar and champagne chilled; polished the silver and what not, but they wanted to see the island, so they took Fiedler off in a taxi, and me and Sally had time for a nice lunch and a skin full of wine with a Danish couple we knew who were running an aluminum hulled sloop. They were about three slips over, tied up stern-to like we were.

“They all came draggin’ in about six o’clock, and the old man was legless again. The big bear, Jäger, hauls him off to his cabin and they have a shouting match in German, then Jäger and Beate go out again. Nobody seemed to want to talk to us, so me and Sally went out for dinner. Why mess up the galley? Ended up about ten of us yachties at one big table. We got pretty toasted, but we were still compos mentis. Then, way past midnight, after we were all tucked up in our bunks, I hear Fiedler out tip-toeing around calling ‘Beate, is that you?’ Like he was expecting her to come get in bed with him!”

“Did Jäger break his face?” Charlotte asked.

“I wish he had. I ended up clearing up the blocked head he left instead. The two of them were packed and off the boat before breakfast in the morning. He didn’t say ‘thank you’ or ‘kiss my ass’ to me or Sally, and the old man never came out of his cabin—just called for V8 juice and stuck his arm out through a crack in the door when Sally brought it to him. Worst part was that big hairy bastard left the biggest turd you ever saw—like a brick, but I suppose it could have been worse.”

“That is disgusting, Tom.” The barfly made a face and stuck her tongue out. “Don’t you know any stories that aren’t nasty?”

“No darlin’. Those rich bastards are just like that.”

***

On the walk to his boat that night, Tom kept thinking of Herr Fiedler. That led to thinking about Sally. He did a quick calculation of what time it would be in Australia and fired up his computer.

“Tom! Blinkin’ Heck! What’s the time there?” Sally burbled over the patchy Skype connection.

“Late, Sal, I couldn’t sleep, so I thought I’d see if you were home yet.”

“Yeah. Just pulled in the drive from picking up the kiddos from school. It’s good to hear your voice. How long’s it been?”

“Too long. Listen, what got me thinking of you was I read that old Fiedler died.”

“No! Really?”

“Yeah, they fished him out of the water down by Mayreau. Boat was anchored up in Saltwhistle Bay, where we used to stop.”

“What happened?”

“Apparently, he was taking a piss—”

“Language, Tom, little ears.”

“Right, it looks like he fell in the water, with the boat sitting right there at anchor, and nobody knew it till it was too late.”

“Likely bloody story!”

“The crew were ashore, and there was nobody else in the bay.”

“He was bound to have been paralytic.”

“Goes without saying.”

“If the missus had been there, I’d lay money she knocked him in the head and pushed him overboard,” Sally said. “But what is there for the crew to be doing ashore on Mayreau?”

“No telling. Article didn’t say, but I looked it up. The island got electricity in 2002. There’s a little resort there now.”

“I guess it’s all changed since we were there. Don’t suppose I’d recognize it. You been down island lately, Tom?”

“Nah. I did an Atlantic crossing with Billy Jefferson a couple of years ago.”

“From Silver Fish?”

“Yeah. He’s running a sweet Perini Navi 54 meter called Mnemosyne. Great trip. We only got clobbered once—between the Azores and Gibraltar.”

“Oh! Wasn’t Billy Jefferson the guy who pulled us off when we ran aground in the Port of Andratx?”

“One and the same. I try to forget about that night.” Tom flashed back to their first night sailing with Fiedler and his gay, emo son. The old man had been so excited to be out on the new boat he insisted that they sail onto the anchor. The previous skipper had warned Tom to always set the anchor hard because the boat was so heavy, but Fiedler wouldn’t even let Tom turn the engine on. He was showing off, and they hadn’t established the chain of command yet since Tom was too green to assert himself. They’d all gone to sleep when the boat heeled over and wallowed onto her port side. After falling out of their bunks, everyone had stumbled up on deck to find that they were hard aground, right in front of Ollie’s Bar.

“Thank God the bar was closed!” said Tom.

Sally laughed. “Yeah. It’s a good thing that Billy guy kept it to himself. We’d never have been able to live it down.”

“I thought my career was over and done right there. And Fiedler laughed it off. Remember? He said, ‘Ach, you should have seen the time I went aground in the Bodensee!’”

Pixelated Sally nodded. Her mouth wasn’t moving in sync with her voice. “I’ve wondered about them over the years. What made them so miserable, Tom?”

“I don’t know, Sally, but I can tell you for sure that I have yet to work for a happy millionaire. I should have taken up a trade or gone back to college or something. Too late for that now.”

“Those people ruined yachting for me—I couldn’t deal with their filth anymore.”

“I should have quit with you, Sal, but I thought I had something to prove. I was making good money and I was still immortal.”

“I know, Tom.”

“How are Kevin and the little nippers?”

“Not so little anymore. Julian’s 12 years old now. When you coming to see us?”

“When I win the lottery, I guess, Sal. I need to stick close for my Mom.”

***

Hearing Sally’s voice brought back a flood of memories from the years they had spent together on Fiedler’s yacht. Tom closed his eyes and remembered the night he and Sally first met the Fiedlers. Sally had pushed him to get his captain’s license. They thought they were in love, and that running a boat together would be perfect. Sebastian and Claudia Fiedler looked like aging movie stars. He had thick salt-and-pepper hair that he wore on the long side, slicked back with a little Hitler ‘stache. She was tall and excruciatingly thin with a thick accent and waves in her hair. Herr Fiedler had been giddy about buying the boat. It was the biggest boat he’d owned, and Frau Fiedler made it clear that she was “allowing” him to buy it for nearly two million dollars because they’d just sold her father’s company.

They were odd, but Tom was twenty-two years old; to him, all rich people were odd. It had been his first real interview for a captain’s job, and he would have agreed to anything. The Fiedlers had been oh-so-polite. The wine had flowed, and by the time it was over, Tom and Sally had signed a shitty contract, but they were happy as the job began aboard the Claudia—the new name to honor Mrs. Fiedler. As he was drifting off, Tom thought, that should have been my warning; you never change a boat’s name…

***

Sally served boiled potatoes, roast chicken, salad and bread, just like Fiedler liked it. Boring, but it filled the empty spot. They were on an informal trip with just Fiedler and his friend, Mr. Schöll.

“It has become completely crazy,” said Mr. Fiedler. “On these new cable channels, you could even see your next-door neighbor having sex with his secretary.”

Sally looked at Mr. Schöll. “Really? Anybody can just put up a homemade porno movie?”

“Ya. It’s true.”

“That’s disturbing,” said Sally. “How can you stand to look your neighbors in the face ever again?”

Fiedler and Schöll just looked at the table wagging their heads from side-to-side. As he cleared the dishes, Tom wondered if they had filmed themselves with their secretaries. He chucked the chicken bones over the side and came back with a fourth bottle of wine.

“I don’t know what went wrong,” Fiedler said. “I worked my best years away, and now I don’t even know my family. They prefer it when I am away from home. I interrupt their lives.”

“Oh, Mr. Fiedler, surely that isn’t true,” Sally said.

“But it is the truth. My wife is so ugly, I can’t even stand the sight of her.”

“Your wife is a lovely woman, Mr. F.”

“No, Sally. She is horrible. Like the wicked witch. Maybe I deserve such a woman.”

“But, Mr. F., you are such a nice man. How can you say that?”

“I am not a nice man, Sally. I am not a nice man.”

Mr. Schöll nudged Fiedler, and they excused themselves.

***

Tom woke up with a headache. It took him a few minutes to realize he was not aboard the Claudia. For just a moment, he thought Sally must already be up. Then he remembered where he was and pulled on his shorts and shoes and jogged around the bay to his mother’s bungalow. He’d been lucky to find a job on a sport fishing boat in the little south Florida backwater where his mother lived. He let himself in the back door and found the coffee pot full and biscuits in the oven.

“Mom,” he called.

“I’ll be right out,” came a childlike voice from down the hallway.

Tom poured two cups of coffee and peeked in the oven.

“Good morning, sweetheart,” she said as she came into the kitchen. She kissed his cheek and frowned as she leaned back to look him over. “You look exhausted. Trouble sleeping?”

“Yeah. I tossed and turned all night.”

“What’s the matter? Indigestion?”

“Nah. I was thinking about my old boss. I found out yesterday that he died.”

“Oh dear, that’s too bad.”

“Nah, he was such a miserable bastard it was probably a blessing.”

The little woman frowned at the coarse language, but said, “What happened? Had he been ill?”

“He was an alcoholic. Sad case. Had everything money could buy, but his family were like strangers to him.”

“Which one was this, dear?”

“Fiedler, the German Sally and I worked for.”

“Dear Sally. How is she anyway?”

“Sounds good. I called her on Skype last night to tell her about Fiedler. She sounds happy. Her oldest boy is twelve years old already. Can you believe that?”

“Time flies. Isn’t it amazing to be able to see your old friends—even in Australia? I wish you’d stayed with that girl. She was a keeper.”

“Yeah, Mom, but I wasn’t smart enough to do that.”

“You want eggs?”

“No. Got any bacon or sausage to go with those biscuits?”

“Of course. Give me a minute and I’ll finish off the gravy. Tell me again why you let her leave that boat without you?”

“’Because I’m an idiot, Mom. I stayed for the money—thought the job was more important.”

“But you changed jobs right after that, didn’t you?”

“Old S. O. B. fired me once Sally was gone. Worked my tail off that summer like he was punishing me. Then, when the engine seized up and he had to replace it, he blamed me. I tried to tell him it needed rebuilding before we left Antibes, but he had discovered that the mechanic I’d been using was African, thought a black man couldn’t possibly rebuild his German engine.”

“And you still didn’t go after Sally?”

“She’d gone home to Australia, Mom. I called her, but she blew me off. Said she was through with yachts and the jerks who owned them. She didn’t care if she never saw another sailboat. What was I supposed to do? Give up everything I’d worked for?”

“You were young. You could have started again.” She set a steaming plate in front of him. “Never mind.”

“I should have started again. Here I am, forty-five and not a damned thing to show for all those years of hard work on somebody else’s boat.”

“Okay. You’re an idiot, son, but you’re my idiot. Now, what’s your schedule today?”

“Guests arrive at nine, fishing till mid-afternoon, then home. The usual.”

“You want me to fix a lunch basket for you?”

“No, thanks, Mom. I ordered lunch from the deli. You don’t need to cook for these knuckleheads. They’ll just puke it up. It’s choppy out there today.”

This was originally published in Fall 2017 edition of The Helix.

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Welcome Aboard the Garrett Briggs Campaign || Kathryn Fitzpatrick

Please read and sign this form to acknowledge that everything we’re going to review in this orientation tour is confidential, officially.

Your internship began at approximately 7:37 a.m. today and will end at 9:55 p.m. the day after the election. I must remind you that this job is completely unpaid, you will be required to work a minimum of six fourteen-hour days per week and there is no mileage reimbursement, no travel reimbursement, no healthcare reimbursement, no dry cleaning reimbursement.

Yes, there is a dead body on the table used by mailing campaign volunteers. Yes, that is real blood soaking the forever stamps. Today, the volunteers will be cleaning those stamps and drying them in the windows facing the Aldi’s parking lot.

Though you are unpaid, you are not a volunteer. You are an intern, which entitles you to a handsome form letter of recommendation signed by the Senator once you have completed your internship.

You are entitled to order a latte for yourself on every other coffee run you make. That’s approximately eighteen coffee runs per week, which equals nine lattes for you, so, if you purchase the most expensive of the seasonal lattes at the largest size (which I don’t suggest you do, unless you want Denise to take it out of the budget for your welcome party and your going away party – which means oatmeal cookies instead of cupcakes, which means disappointed co-workers, which means vegetable oil in your gas tank), this means the Garrett Briggs campaign is officially unofficially paying you $5.95 per every other coffee run or $53.55 per week.

The dead body was the last intern. Her name was Amber.

I must remind you that you were chosen from a highly competitive group of candidates. Mostly out-of-work campaign managers and law school graduates with immense student load debt. This does not make you special. But enjoy the moment.

Yes, that is a purple mitten in the mouth of the intern-now-dead-body Amber.

She was accepted into the internship program over more qualified candidates because Senator Briggs wanted more diversity on the staff and Amber was the only one who wore purple mittens to the interview. Anxiety, probably.

This is my office. If the door is shut, do not knock. If the door is open, buzz me through the intercom phone first, wait ten seconds, and if I do not answer, hang up and wait thirty minutes before trying again.

Finding Amber’s killer has jumped up to third on my list of priorities, behind your orientation and drafting sixteen separate press releases detailing the Senator’s stance on four different topics on which he has not yet decided his stance.

Yes, Amber is wearing a graphic T-shirt with a depiction of Naugatuck, CT. After killing her, someone painted a red X on it, stuffed the mitten in her mouth, and wrote #BriggsBabe in black Sharpie on her right arm. Maybe it means something, but maybe not. Most things do not. Do not get lost in the details.

This is your desk. This is your stapler. This is your computer. This is your penholder. Pens are kept in the supply closet around the corner, as are computer paper, highlighters, tissue, tampons, mouthwash, boxes of staples, and so on. Please only take one pen at a time. When you take supplies, please note what you take on the supply chart on the wall on the right. Senator Briggs gives a breakdown of all campaign expenses to his most valuable donors. Scrupulous questioners. Retired.

I do not think they killed Amber. They never would have let blood soak the forever stamps in such a way. Wasteful.

This is your phone. Do not answer the phone if the call is coming through on line two through seven. Line one you may answer, but only if it is a high-pitched ring. If it is low-pitched, let Sandra answer. Low-pitch means the call is coming from a wealthy home.

The woman who wears sweater vests is Sandra. Sandra handles all relations with wealthy benefactors. She may not be much to look at, but she has a way with the phone. She works around the clock and takes only six twenty-minute naps a day. Do not stare directly into Sandra’s eyes – direct eye contact makes her freeze up for the better part of twenty-four hours. That is twenty-four hours of phone donations we lose. If you look directly into her eyes, a commit-tee will determine how much revenue was lost and that will come out of your paycheck (i.e. lattes).

Sandra was frozen until approximately three minutes before your arrival. Amber was killed last night. Senator Briggs himself looked Sandra right in the eye yesterday morning after a particularly stern staff meeting where the Senator expressed frustration with the lack of negative ads being used against his opponents. He bought us plain donuts with no frosting or sprinkles in protest. He made Amber and Marsha pose with him for a series of Instagram photos. The caption read: Young people are our future. Young women have a voice. Along those lines.

Daryl shared the photos on Twitter and Facebook, but was not happy about it.

You’ll meet Daryl and Marsha in a minute. You’ve already met Amber, though she’s not really herself today… a bit drained, I’d say.

That was a joke. You may laugh—this time.

You will have to be creative to get Sandra’s attention without catching her eye. I’ve found that throwing single staples at the ceramic planter next to her desk usually gets her attention. I have great aim. I pitched for the Senator’s softball team two years in a row. If you have never pitched softball before, I suggest you find a different method. Staples go rogue. And when they go rogue, they land on the floor near Rusty’s office.

There are staples lodged in the back of Amber’s calves, which suggests she was dragged across the floor near Rusty’s office.

That is Rusty, the Senator’s graphic designer. Rusty makes the Senator look hip, like the face of the future.

Rusty walks around the office barefoot. He was treated for rage issues for many years and only recently went off his meds on the condition he stick to a strict regime of meditation, yoga, and a movement called barefoot romanticism. He does this to inhale the purest spiritual air. Believe me, you do not want to see what happens when Rusty steps on a staple and does not get his required amount of spiritual air.

Rusty does not create the negative campaigns against the Senator’s opponent. That is also part of his strict regime. So Tim creates the negative ads.

The Senator hired Tim after details leaked about the Senator’s trip to Mexico last spring. The Senator also decided to stop going to Mexico for his weekend trips and now goes to Naugatuck, CT.

Tim is Senator Briggs’ nephew. He rides a scooter and does most research using Wikipedia. He has created one negative campaign in nine weeks. The claims in the commercial could only be attributed to a Wiki user named BriggsBabe69 and no supporting evidence could be found.

Tim is in love with Madelynn, though they don’t talk. That is Madelynn at the desk by the storage closet. She handles email marketing, and is very good at asking for money through email. This means she is very good at eliciting sympathy, guilt, and sense of duty.

Last week, Madelynn consulted with beggars in the Instagram holding tank about how they could integrate email-based fundraising into their efforts and signed them all up for free Mail Chimp accounts. She and Rusty previously taught free classes on individual fundraising and spiritual fulfillment.

The beggar was the first recruit for the Instagram room. Amber was in charge of the Senator’s Instagram account and, upon seeing the need for constant photos with homeless people, babies, young Republican mothers, people in wheelchairs, and anyone vaguely “ethnic” looking, Amber decided the most efficient thing would be to keep some of these people on retainer.

The Instagram holding room is next to the supply closet. If you borrow a beggar, please sign him or her out on the form by the door.

Madelynn is a lesbian, but we are not supposed to know that. We did not seat her by the closet on purpose for some cruel sense of irony. Officially, we do not know she is gay.

Madelynn is the Senator’s illegitimate daughter. She does not know this. Tim does not know this. Officially, neither do we.

Amber knew this. The Senator told her on a visit to Naugatuck, CT, unofficially.

The Senator has not made an official announcement as to his official feelings on homosexual marriage, officially. It is best to be able to claim ignorance of her lesbianism in case it turns out the Senator is against gay marriage or homosexuals in general, whatever happens to be the best argument at the time.

In the center of the office is the social media desk. Daryl is Twitter and Facebook. There is an empty seat at his desk. That is where Amber sat. She was in charge of Instagram and Snapchat. They are in charge of exciting the younger generation.

Daryl used to date Marsha. Marsha does strategic planning for debates that the Senator usually calls in sick for. Her desk is by the water cooler but she prefers coffee. The coffee maker is near the Senator’s office door, over there. When Marsha dated Daryl, she was useless. Now she is on fire. Daryl unfollowed her the day she dumped him.

Marsha dumped Daryl in order to have an affair with the Senator. We don’t know this, officially.

Marsha offered a few tidbits about the Senator to Daryl that would humanize the Senator. Things for him to share on social media. Personal things. How he likes his pancakes in the morning. How he sleeps with a teddy bear. How he reads Goodnight Moon every night.

Amber suggested a few others. Sexual positions. Music tastes. The mole in the center of his back.

These suggestions went ignored, unofficially.

Over there is the bulletin board where you’re free to post personal flyers. Please do not post human body parts on the board. The killer cut out a small piece of Amber’s heart and pinned it up by the Girl Scout Cookie sign-up sheet. Cliché, if you ask me. Nothing original being said there. Hearts breaking and such.

To review: Daryl loves Marsha. Marsha loves the Senator. Tim loves Madelynn, who is an unofficial lesbian and his unofficial cousin.

Tim doesn’t have a desk. He prefers to be “migratory.” He works on his scooter. Tim confessed his feelings to Madelynn at the office party two weeks ago. His advances were rejected, as Madelynn was in love with Amber. I heard the smacking of lips in the storage closet, unofficially.

There are only two things that can be deduced from the smacking of lips: kissing, or that a person has eaten something particularly delicious, which I know is not true. It was a potluck, after all.

The bathrooms are to the right. Those bloody boot marks with the clumps of loose staples are usually not there. Water stations are to the left.

Tim and Daryl were caught stapling Amber’s favorite beggar to a chair. The chair still has a bloodstain on the right arm. The beggar is sitting there now. Daryl was still angry about Marsha, who was angry that Amber had also recently slept with the Senator. Madelynn was sulking in the corner because she, too, had heard that Amber was a #BriggsBabe.

Unofficially that is the title given to all women and men who sleep with the Senator.

If it turns out the Senator supports gay marriage, then we will throw Madelynn a party or get her a gift basket or however you handle such things.

Here is your invitation to Amber’s funeral. There will be no discussing of Amber’s sexuality at the funeral. She was not kissing Madelynn. She was not in bed with the Senator. She helped beggars.

That is Denise. She wears a wig to disguise her bald head. Everyone knows it is a wig, so do not pretend like it is real hair. Many assumed she was bald because she had cancer and was going through chemotherapy.

Denise did not, in fact, have cancer. When her husband left her, she shaved her head and took a vow of silence for three months. No one noticed the silence.

The Senator has no official stance on the war or when we should evacuate the troops. He does, however, support the troops.

Here is the copy machine. There is the beggar trying to choke Daryl. There is Tim taking photos of Amber for Facebook and the press and Instagram.

And here is Senator Briggs’ office. There is blood on the doorknob and the carpet.

Tim will write the official story, which will go to press later this morning: Amber was killed by the Senator’s opponent, who set out to frame him as a sexual deviant, as a corrupter of the youth. Naugatuck, CT. Mitten Mouth. #BriggsBabe.

It will be useful for you to know how to remove bloodstains from the car-pet in a Senator’s office. And from his shirt. The Senator has no official stance on this death, except that it is sad. Losing young people is never easy.

Pulls at the heartstrings. Mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers.

The Senator is in his office now, staring out his window toward the Aldi’s parking lot.

There are many things you can say about the Senator, but the one thing no one disputes is that he is very handsome and very American-looking. Especially when he perfects that tear-soaked look, that heartbroken silence in his eyes.

That just might win us the election.

This was originally published in Spring 2018 edition of The Helix.

Pound of Flesh || Michael Miller

On a Saturday in the middle of June, about a month before we moved to California one of the neighborhood kids, Dave Brinks, felt he had unfinished business with my older brother, Matt. Everyone knew we were moving since we’d had a realtor sign in our front yard for months. Over the last week, the SOLD placard was hung on it. Dave thought it was time to resolve the beef he had with Matt before we moved away, so he challenged him to a fight. I don’t know what Matt did to incite Dave to want to get his pound of flesh, but I believe it was probably an accumulation of things.

Matt was the alpha in our neighborhood. He was the first born in my family, and he was one of the oldest kids in a group of over ten in our neighborhood. Aggression, fearlessness, and a deep mean streak set him apart. If you challenged him, he wasn’t afraid to punch you, choke you, or knock you down. As his younger brother, I knew this better than anyone. Despite this, he was still liked, as much as he was feared, by most of the kids. He didn’t bully just to bully. He did it to maintain control, to be the leader of our neighborhood gang.

The kids my brothers and I played with lived no more than two blocks away. Our boundaries had been established early on. As children, we were explorers. Up until about five years old we were confined to exploring our own yards. From our yards, we saw other kids, and we were given permission from our moms to explore the yards across the street and down the block. We were kept within calling distance, thus creating the initial boundary.

As we grew up, we explored farther and found others like Dave and Steve Brinks, who lived about four blocks away. These discoveries were approached with skepticism, even hostility. A Lord of the Flies dynamic. It didn’t always remain that way. Sometimes we befriended other kids, but not Dave and Steve Brinks. They never wanted anything to do with us, and we didn’t want any-thing to do with them. My dad said the Brinks were weirdos. We made fun of them to varying degrees, called them names as we rode past on our bikes. Their parents didn’t want them playing with us. We never got along. After all, they rejected us.

I was outside ricocheting a baseball off the front steps and catching it in my glove. It was a way of playing catch when there was no one around to play with, or if I just felt like playing alone. My younger brother Tim, who was nine years old, raced down the street on his stingray with the banana seat. He dumped the bike in the middle of the yard and stormed into the house, bang-ing through the front door. I followed him.

“Matt! Matt! Dave Brinks wants to fight you!” Tim said.

Matt was lying on the floor, paging through the newspaper. Our dad was on the couch doing the same. I saw a headline in the sports section, DOC ELLIS NO HITS PADRES. I would read that article tonight when Matt and Dad were done with the paper. Matt looked up, but he didn’t say anything. I’m sure a thousand things immediately ran through his mind.

“What? Why?” Dad asked, as he set the paper on his lap.

“He doesn’t like Matt,” Tim said. “The Brinks are a bunch of fems. That’s what I called ‘em when I rode by. Dave ran and caught me and said he was gonna pound me.” Tim got a catch in his throat like he was going to cry. He probably cried when Dave threatened him. “I told the fem that Matt would pound him. He said he would pound you, Matt. He told me to tell you that. He’s such a fem.”

Mom overheard this. “Timothy, don’t use that word,” she yelled from the kitchen over “Let It Be” on the radio. That song was played a lot.

“Why does he want to fight you, Matt?” Mom asked.

“Nobody likes the Brinks,” I wanted to say, but I kept quiet. Everyone knew that.

“I hate him. He hates me,” Matt spouted.

“Don’t use that word.” To my mom, the word “hate” was about as bad as any other four letter word. I think it was about the power that could be imbued from it. “And that’s no reason to fight,” she added.

“Why not?” Tim asked. He knew we had fought for less. Giving someone the stink-eye was reason enough to get punched in our world. He was nine years old and he already knew that.

“It’s Matt’s decision,” Dad snarled. Mom usually backed off when he did.

“Hmm,” she countered, but that was all.

Matt looked at Dad like he was looking for a reprieve. He hated Dave Brinks, but I could tell he didn’t want to fight him. I could also tell that Dad wanted Matt to fight. In these situations, Dad believed you didn’t back down. There was humiliation in turning the other cheek. It was a sign of weakness to walk away.

Dad did not protect us from violence. He imposed it.

“Matt, what are you going to do?” Dad asked, like he was giving Matt a choice, but there was that familiar edge in his voice. It was the pattern we all recognized. It began subdued, but always escalated, until any beating Matt might receive from Dave Brinks would be less than the punishment he would receive from Dad if he refused to fight.

My dad carried the rage of a volcano. It erupted viciously. About a year ago when I was ten, he insisted I go out and play football with my friends. I didn’t want to because I knew he would come out and play with us. The more I resisted, the angrier he became, until he gave me a straight open handed shot to the mouth. He staggered me and I saw stars, but he didn’t knock me down. I ended up with a bloody fat lip and a headache.

The neighborhood kids loved it when Dad played with us. For my brothers and me it was a nightmare. Invariably, we would end up in tears. If we were on his team, he would get angry if we dropped the ball, struck out, or missed a shot. If we were on the opposing team he not only had to beat us, but humiliate us in the process. If we struck out, missed a shot, or dropped a pass, Dad would tease us mercilessly, especially if he was the one who struck us out, blocked our shot, or knocked the ball out of our hands. All the guys gave each other a little crap during the game, but Dad took it to a different level. When my brothers and I got upset with him, he would say, “Don’t cry. You gonna cry? Don’t cry, little girl.”

He raised his level of play and effort to make sure he won, but as we got older, bigger, and stronger, he had to increasingly try harder. My best friend John, was twelve and already taller than my dad, who claimed to be five-six but was more like five-four. John was lanky, not nearly as strong as my dad, but far more athletic, and could shoot a jump shot over him, or hit any fastball he hurled at him. That’s why my dad wanted to be on John’s team, and John liked to be on the opposing team. John was a competitor. My dad just liked to win, and he was a poor loser.

Matt vulnerably looked at Dad. “Should I fight him?”

I know he wanted to say, “Do I have to?”

“Stand up,” Dad said. “Put your hands up like this. You know, like I showed you.” Dad bought us twenty-ounce Rocky Graziano signature red leather boxing gloves for Christmas last year. We beat on each other with them, and it wasn’t long before they were getting soft from the pounding.

Matt put his hands up and tucked his elbows. He threw a jab then a right, shadow boxing.

“Is he gonna fight?” Tim asked excitedly.

Dad nodded. “Go tell Dave Brinks to come over.”

Tim bolted out the door and hopped on his bike. In about a half hour Dave and Steve Brinks walked down Johnson Street from the west towards our house. They were tall and thin, Lincolnesque. Steve was the taller of the two. He was fourteen. Dave was Matt’s age. Both were taller than I remembered. I hadn’t seen them in a while. They had outgrown the length of their blue jeans, now high-waters. Steve had brown hair parted on the side, cut above the ears. Dave had blond hair and bangs, worn like Matt, Tim, me, and almost every other kid in the neighborhood, except for Larry and Gary who always had a buzz.

From up the east side of the block came John, the best athlete, who lived exactly one block away; Gary and Larry, the fat kids who lived two doors away from John; Joey from the staunch Catholic family across the street from us; dumb Paul from three doors down from Joey; Joe, the richest kid from down around the corner; and Eric and Todd, whose family owned the boat landing and lived two blocks away. There were a few others we played with on occa-sion, but this was the core of our neighborhood gang.

Dad gave the Brinks boys a nod and a curt, “Hello.”

“Dave wants to fight Matt,” Steve said. I was amazed at his confidence.

“I want to fight him,” Matt snapped. He wanted to redefine who was the headliner and who was the opponent. Matt appeared revived by the support of all the neighborhood kids creating a ring in our yard around the fighters. I hung back a bit outside the circle behind John. Matt stood beside Dad.

Dave was over a head taller than Matt, his long arms hanging at his sides. Matt put his hands up to protect his face and walked slowly towards Dave. Thock! Dave landed the first punch to the top of Matt’s head.

“Hit ‘em, Matt!”

“Get him!”

“Knock the crap outta him!”

Matt launched a wild overhand right that landed with a meaty crack on Dave’s left cheek, which immediately made the pasty-faced Brink turn pink. Dave took a step back and the crowd roared, but he countered with another right to the top of Matt’s head. Thock! Matt winced, and Dave took the opportunity, so he followed it with Thock! Thock! The shots were hard and Matt was stunned, incapable of retaliating. It made me angry and knotted up. I looked at Dad, who seemed really pissed, to stop the fight. Do the right thing. Save your son this beating, this humiliation.

Everyone tried to will Matt to action.

“Hit him, Matt!” John yelled.

“Hit the fem!” Larry added.

“Kick his woman ass!” Paul topped all, and we looked at him for a second acknowledging it.

While the other kids shouted at ringside, I stood with my hands balled into fists. I had mixed feelings about a victory for Matt. If he won, he wouldn’t be humble about it. The victory would only affirm his dominance, and he would feel compelled to make every kid in the neighborhood comply with any demand he had. Everyone would acquiesce like always, until they got so sick of him they’d avoid playing with him until his head deflated, but I would rebel, anger Matt, then get chased down like a gazelle fleeing a cheetah. When he was close enough he would slug me in the back between my shoulder blades. The blow would send a shock through my body, momentarily paralyzing me, and I would tumble to the ground. At this point I would usually be crying, so he wouldn’t feel the need to inflict any more pain.

Everyone had experienced a beating from Matt. I’m sure everyone remem-bered their personal moment, even though it had been years, when Matt took them to task, establishing his dominance. Until now, we had perceived Matt as indomitable. I’m sure everyone else had fantasized about beating up Matt just like I did, and as we watched the fight, we also became opponents analyzing his vulnerabilities. Still, I don’t think anybody thought they could beat Matt, except for maybe John. He had height and reach just like Dave Brinks.

Matt stood within arms’ reach, his guard up trying to cover the top of his head, which exposed his chin. Dave took advantage and landed a straight shot to Matt’s mouth. It bled immediately, and Matt began to cry.

The crowd groaned. The tension had peaked; it would have only taken one of us to attack, and all of us would have leaped. Steve would have to be dealt with also, but there were eleven of us, not including Dad. Our sheer weight, especially with Larry and Gary, would have held them down to pummel. We had done this before under different circumstances, but this time everyone watched, as Matt was reduced to nothing. Everyone knew what this felt like.

Dad stopped the fight.

“Go home,” Dad said to the Brinks. Everyone took it as a cue and retreat-ed from our yard in different directions. The defeat had not just been Matt’s. We had viewed our gang as the most formidable with the toughest leader. Things were changing. Maybe it was a good thing we were moving.

Matt walked gingerly into the house with a hand over his bleeding mouth, blood dripping onto his white t-shirt. Tim followed Matt, and Dad closed the door behind them.

I went back to bouncing the ball off the steps, until John wandered back over with his glove and a grass stained baseball. We threw each other grounders and pop ups until my Mom called me in for supper.

This was originally published in Spring 2018 edition of The Helix.

The Angry Chase || Aziz Al Wehaib

Rob bent down rigidly-like a senior citizen crouching to pick up the morning newspaper-and grabbed his baseball bat, broadly enclosing his hand around the spot where his initials were scrawled “R.T” in kid’s handwriting. His rage was evident in his gritted teeth and his tightly held gaze as he locked his target on the tiny rodent that could probably fit comfortably in the palm of his hand. To his dismay, however, the mouse scurried away and sheltered itself under the fridge before he even had the chance to take a swing.

The wretched thing had defeated him once again.

You have won the battle but not the war, he thought as he lay sprawled on the dusty carpet.

Ron just recently moved back with his parents; he lived in the basement where it was stuffy and gross. Apparently, they thought it was a great idea because it was like “having his own apartment.” He knew that it was just a bullshit excuse. The real reason was that his old room now belonged to their stupid treadmill. The mere thought of their betrayal never failed to incense Ron, ever since he moved into the dingy basement a week ago. On the plus side, his seething rage also vitalized him, making him well-prepared in his efforts to kill the damn mouse that tormented him.

***

It became somewhat of a pathetic ritual to lie on the dirty floor after defeat, but it allowed Ron to recuperate and plan his next attack. I could throw knives at it next time or burn it with a flamethrower… maybe boil it in water or shoot it with a machine gun, he thought deviously, all while his bathrobe struggled to censor his genitalia. Several days had passed since he last bathed himself, and his vile odor never failed to remind him whenever the stench wafted across his face. That didn’t really bother him; there was no point worrying about his physical appearance anyway—he had no job and no interest whatsoever in meeting a romantic partner. His days were largely spent cooped up in the basement: watching TV, masturbating, and brooding. Lately it was mostly the latter that took up his time. He could sit for hours obsessing over the incident that led to his expulsion from the university. That fucker blew things out of proportion! I barely touched him! As they say, however, there are always two sides to every story, and according to Professor Graves’s and the students’ testimony, Ron was fortunate enough to escape without criminal charges being pressed.

***

It happened on a Monday morning when Ron was in a particularly irascible mood. The weather was awful, and he couldn’t bother to make it to his Philosophy class on time. He would end up regretting it soon after though; Professor Graves was a real fucker and would passive-aggressively put you on the spot for the rest of class if you were late.

It wasn’t simply tardiness that had managed to piss off Professor Graves that day. Ron barged into class so explosively when he arrived that he ended up disrupting the lecture and catching the gaze of all the other fuckers too.

Professor Graves, being his usual passive aggressive self, imprudently began prodding Ron until Ron lost it, and when Ron loses it, well… to his defense, they were discussing existentialism when he put his hands around Professor Graves’s neck to strangle him.

Fucker!

Ron settled on the propane torch as his next weapon of choice. It was conveniently stashed in a cupboard in the basement where his father kept his gardening tools. As of now, it was no longer a matter of just catching it; he was humiliated and wanted to torture the little fuck!

Damn it! Not again!

The laundry machine that rested on an area upstairs right above his bed had just been turned on. It had the peculiar effect of causing the lights in the basement to switch off intermittently, and leave the room dark. It also made an unbearably loud noise which sounded like a myriad of coins banging against the metal interior. That stupid bitch! He was without a doubt convinced that his mother rejoiced in his displeasure, even with the most trivial things like turning on the laundry machine.

A couple of days ago, she even made a comment about him being single which enraged him even more. It’s none of her fucking business! Ron’s relationship with his parents was bitter to say the least, he never felt like

he could meet their high standards, and they never believed he could meet them either. Being expelled did the relationship no favors; he was certain it confirmed every disappointment they had about him.

Turning his attention back from the cauldron that was his mind, Ron lay on his bed and ignited a small flame with the torch. He waved it at a distance close enough to where he could feel the heat against his face. This was especially unsafe considering the lights were off, but it did provide him an amusing, menacing orange glow in his reflection in the mirror across the bed.

Then, silence hit him. He paused for a moment in deep thought. This betrayed a flash of guilt that quickly vanished. Regardless of the rationality of it, Ron’s fixation with murdering this creature was how he coped with the berating that so often played in his head. Most of the time, his parents’ voices chided him for being so incapable and worthless, and sometimes, even Professor Graves’s raspy old voice bullied him for being so stupid.

***

When the lights finally stopped switching off, Ron immediately got up off his bed to set up the trap, which seemed excessively rudimentary. He was convinced that a block of cheese placed on top of a paper towel was enough to get the job done. Besides, the generic traps had failed to fool the mouse earlier, and it was time to get creative. When the setup was ready, Ron waited patiently like a wily predator, making sure to occasionally divert his gaze from under the fridge to avoid discouraging it from coming out. His ostensible casualness attracted it.

The mouse stuck its little, ugly head out and peered around as if to check whether the coast was clear. Then, it dashed towards the trap and on its hind legs began inspecting the block of cheese. Victory. Ron could taste it, and it was only a matter of time before he would incinerate the poor thing. Walking as nimbly as he could, he crouched down behind it and turned on the torch. The flame expanded as the mouse stood mesmerized and oblivious.

Then, in an instance of pure caprice, Ron grabbed the deodorant spray from the table to his left. He had remembered seeing the maneuver performed somewhere on the internet and couldn’t imagine a better way to obliterate the bastard. With both his knees firmly planted on the floor, he neared towards it and ended up spraying an excessive amount. A bellowing cry was emitted as the flames engulfed what remained of the trap. Ron had burned his hand gruesomely in what looked like a failed attempt at making fondue.

Fuck, Fuck, Fuck!

Red flesh gleamed as bits of skin hung loose. Ron screamed and grabbed the nearest cloth to wrap around his hand. He writhed in pain for several minutes while his screams failed to summon his parents. It was to his relief because the last thing he wanted was for them to see him crying on the floor with the grisly creature that replaced his hand. Reality couldn’t have been clearer at that moment; in the intensity of the pain, he was awakened to a blunt and obvious truth.

“I’m pathetic! I’m pathetic!” He laughed pathetically and got back up on his feet, propelled by the rage that was being exacerbated by his agony.

In that realization, the modicum of self-respect Ron had left vanished, and he was no longer restrained by the illusions that acted as a barrier to catastrophe. The illusion that his rage could be managed with some therapy and “effort”. The illusion that he was just going through a “rough period” and was going to recover. And most significantly, the illusion that he mattered and that as a fellow member of society he would be rewarded by conforming. He tried to persist with these illusions all his life, and finally, he reached the point where he let go.

***

Inside a different cupboard, at a far corner of the basement, was an automatic rifle. Ron grabbed it and loaded the gun in perfunctory fashion, putting his experience practicing with his father to use. Without a care to the collateral damage he was going to impose, he approached the area where the mouse usually took shelter and began shooting wildly.

Through the cacophony of sounds and the debris that resulted, the tiny fuck revealed itself and dashed up the stairs, and under the door that led to the rest of the house. Chasing behind, Ron kicked the door open and scrupulously searched around for it. The mouse was waiting at the door leading to the dining room, on the border where tile met wood.

Instead of fleeing, the rodent audaciously caught Ron’s eyes and stared through him. He was mortified. He was certain it was making fun of how fucking stupid he was! Enraged beyond what he thought was possible, Ron went after it and ended up in the dining room where the fuck climbed on top of the dinner table.

Ron let loose and began shooting erratically.

Dishes broke, as food, liquid, and blood flew high into the air.

***

After all those harrowing encounters, Ron was certain it was finally over. In the comfort of his home, he pulled a chair from under the table and sat, then poured himself a glass of wine as relief pervaded him.

He was finally at peace.

Until he heard a click, then another, and another. It was the mouse. It was the little fuck!

Dropping his glass, Ron stood up from his chair, rifle in hand. Then, instead of shooting, he paused and simply watched as the mouse scampered on top of broken dishes, pieces of chicken, and around jagged glass, before climbing on top of his mother’s head and escaping out of sight.

Rather than chase after him, Ron sat back down and grabbed a half-filled glass of wine from the table, then smiled.

He was in no hurry because he knew exactly where he was heading next.

This was originally published in Fall 2017 edition of The Helix.

Mystic Meat || Kathryn Fitzpatrick

On a Tuesday afternoon in April, the meat rises. Douglas Speck is getting a little freaky with Amy Jenkins up against the dumpster behind the high school cafeteria, and while he’s going in for the landing she whispers something like, show me your magic meat, and a pockmarked log of bologna rolls out from beneath the dumpster.

At first, this is a total vibe-kill, so Douglas jumps back and zips his cargo shorts and Amy slips on her hoodie and they scoot apart with their backs leaned against the dumpster and don’t look at each other.

Amy makes a look like, Can this be so?

Douglas says nothing but he knows the legend about the bologna as
well as she does and figures he could probably strike it rich if he exploits this situation correctly. en he could get with girls who are solid sevens or eights, and not the usual Amy Jenkins who wears scrunchies and is (maybe) a ve on a good day.

Everyone in the town knows the legend of the bologna. Once every nine years, the bologna rises up from the depths of hell and predicts the future for the community. ey bestow it with gifts: Miracle Whip and whole canned tomatoes, or Quiznos combo meals, and they ask it yes/no questions and it rolls slightly forward for yes, and slightly backward for no.

One time it appeared and local mother Lucy Tucker asked it, Will I be rich someday? It rolled forward and just about a year later she was contacted by a Nigerian prince for a business deal and word on the street was she must’ve gone o and wedded him and was probably living on a goat plantation drink- ing warm milk and honey because no one saw her after that and come to think of it, no one’s heard from her since.

Amy Jenkins is occupied picking the dirt from under her fingernail with her thumb, so Douglas sneaks the magic meat into his backpack and in- forms her that he must go home right away because the cats are sparring again and says that yes he will give her a call sometime even though he won’t.

When Douglas gets back to his stepmom’s condominium he sets up a little stand out by the storm drain and in block letters he writes MYSTICAL BOLONA READINGS 5 BUCKS, and he places the bologna in a clear plastic tub so that the juices aren’t wasted. In the past, people have been known to massage the meat liquids into their palms and run it over their thinning hair- lines, or lick their fingertips and convulse. Douglas is being economical in this business decision, and he rubs his hands together like a man on the Grilling Network who is cooking up some ribs.

Four minutes pass and the block is abuzz with Q-Tip heads and ladies with baseball caps and a man in a wife-beater who has one grease stain below

his left nipple. A few gray locals protest the business transaction Douglas has arranged, and state that the meat is a living, feeling thing meant to be shared with the community, and not cloistered away like a pig at the fair. ey tell Douglas he will regret this eventually but Douglas sort of just shrugs and makes a noise in his throat like, unuhyuh.

One girl hands Douglas five bucks and rubs some stone ground mustard on the bologna. She takes her time to pat the excess residue on her gums with her ring finger and asks the mystic meat if it thinks her boyfriend will ever propose to her, and it wiggles forward so she lets out a loud, powerful whoop and clutches her breasts and runs to her Camry to call her mom.

e next man in line asks if perhaps it would be a good idea to get the band back together so that the guys from his high school reunion will think he is cool and successful. When the meat rolls backwards he takes a Swiss Army knife from his pocket and presses it to the center of his hand and smears the blood on his chest. He swirls his wounded hand in the plastic tub and caresses his face, and a tie-dye vermilion pattern is transferred to his stubbly cheek.

The day goes on in much the same fashion, families come and go in minivans with their jaundice infants and problem teens, and they lay hands on the bologna to channel the demon spirit and bless their souls with powerful juju.

By suppertime everyone has heard of Douglas’s operation, and he is getting calls from the type of girls who live uptown in Rosewood Farms who have nice, supple thighs and at stomachs perfect for blowing raspberries and who receive SUV crossovers for Christmas. He picks one at random and closes shop for the night and after locking up the bologna in his room, he treats her to a nice dinner at Buffalo Wilson’s, where he uses a fake ID to buy her yellow drinks.

At the restaurant she talks too much and her voice is too shrill, and Douglas leans all the way back in the booth like he is being blown over by her debilitating convo, but she says she’ll go home with him, and they sneak up the stairs with their sweaty hands smashed together and they get to Douglas’s room and close the door and put a towel over the crack to keep the noise from escaping and she says something along the lines of, just so you know my dad is a stockbroker and I am a neglected daughter so I have to call you daddy during. Douglas is thinking of course, maybe he made a serious mistake with this one, but it is way too late at this point so he shrugs his shoulders and takes o his khakis. She goes, Are you going to be a good daddy? And neither one of them knows it but in the corner of the room the bologna is rolling back, back, back against the side of the plastic bin, and almost six weeks later Douglas is at the Wal-Mart buying Chee-Z-Puffs and grape juice and he gets a call from Amy Jenkins and she tells him she is pregnant.

This was originally published in the Spring 2018 edition of The Helix.

The Door || Anna Lee

A gaggle of girls made their way out of the ladies room into the slowly emptying J.C. Penny. The sun was setting outside the glass doors nearby. The mall would be closing soon. The last, indecisive shoppers rushed to make their purchases before the doors closed. Cara just stood there, staring at the large, suddenly intimidating door.

They can go in just fine, she thought to herself. They get a group. Why don’t I have a group? That would make this easier.

“Come on.” She revved herself up. “Come on, there’s almost no one left now. It’ll be fine.” Taking one final glance at her clothing, convinced that they were androgynous enough, she made her way for the door, only to swerve at the last minute, and found herself in the men’s room.

Her eyes got heavy and her vision was blurry. She felt disgusting. A freak. She left the room quickly and made another lap around the store, looking at jackets that would probably look amazing on her, but that she knew she would never buy. The clocks scattered here and there all said what she already knew. She had about ten minutes to get out of the store before a security guard came by and made her leave.

She found herself by the restrooms again. “You’re an adult,” she told herself. “Well, almost anyway. This shouldn’t be so difficult. This is something every other girl in the world does on a daily basis.” She slumped. The door was made of a dark wood. She could tell just by looking at it that it was sturdy, but nothing too amazing. It wasn’t the diamond ring that would impress other restrooms in other stores, but it might make the restrooms at public schools a little jealous.

But to her, it was huge. It was the Wall of Jericho, built to keep her and other like her out. The little girl, white paint against the black square, had cute little dress that mocked her. She could feel the little demon staring her down, sizing her up, and looking at her sideways, wondering if she really belonged.

Cara wanted to stand up, and stare back. She wanted to scream, and yell, and hit the door. “No, I don’t belong, but I’m damn trying, aren’t I?” She wanted to cry and heave and be held. More than anything, she wanted someone to go in with her. She wanted a friend who would understand, and walk her inside, and just be there with her for a minute.

As if hearing her prayers, and feeling determined to stomp on them, one of her classmates walked by. “Dylan?” he said, obviously curious as to why she was sitting on the floor against the wall while the employees closed up around her.

She cringed visibly at the sound of that name, before she heard herself say, “Hey Tim. Whatcha doin’ here so late?” She felt herself curl up inside at the sound of her voice.

“Came to get a few things from GameStop.” He held up a bag. “My ride’s comin’. Why are you still here?”

“Eh, better than being at home.” At least she didn’t have to lie.

“Oh. Hey, you played this yet?” He took some game out of his bag and showed it off. No, she hadn’t played it yet, and she couldn’t care less. She just wanted him to leave, in case she finally got the courage to make her move.

“Nah,” she replied. “But I’ve heard good things about it.

“Yeah, it’s got this cool mechanic…”

She tuned him out. He was so into the game and she was so experienced with her persona that she barely had to concentrate while he went on about it. She would give him a nod, or an “Uh-huh,” and maybe make some comment about something, and he just went on without a clue.

After what seemed like hours, a car pulled up outside, and Tim finally said, “Hey, gotta go. See ya in class,” and Cara waved him off.

She sighed. If she had done anything to encourage herself before, her meeting with Tim destroyed it. She rolled her head back and stared at the ceiling. She couldn’t have much longer before the security guard made his round. Outside, the sun was almost gone, and she knew she would be walking home in the dark. She had to make this trip worth it.

She tugged at her purple bracelet, twisted her hair, and worried of what would happen if the guard saw her walk in. What would he think? What would anyone think? What if Tim had walked by a little later, and he had seen her go in? Would he tell anyone? Would it matter?

There were only a few minutes left. She was sure she was the only customer left in the store, and so she finally allowed herself to cry. She wiped tear after tear off of her face. It wasn’t fair, but she didn’t know how to change it. She knew other people did. She heard of other people through the internet—her only safe haven—who were able to walk into the ladies room, and actually use it. That was still light-years off for her, but she just wanted to go in. Just be in there for a minute.

It wasn’t fair. She should be allowed to go in if she wanted. She felt defiant now. She patted herself down again, sure that she could pass if she just didn’t talk. She brushed her hair to the front of her shoulders, and readied herself.

When she heard the jangling of keys coming down the narrow walkway, she knew her time was just about up. She stood. She had to do something. She sauntered up to the door, and she stared down that little girl of white paint, and she rested her hand on the metal that, for some unknown reason, was meant to make the door easier to open. Her mind rushed. The guard was almost there. She took a deep breath and felt her whole body relax. She was ready. She pushed the door open and peered in. Her heart quickened but her breathing stopped, and she took a step inside.

It wasn’t what she imagined. Actually, it wasn’t really all that different from the men’s room. Urinals were replaced with extra stalls, and there was a fairly large metal box that dispensed feminine products. She considered buying a few, just to keep in her bag, before she realized that she didn’t have any change. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for her. It didn’t matter if it looked different. She wasn’t disappointed.

A moment later she stepped back out, worried the guard would lock her in without knowing. Unfortunately, he was standing right in front of her when she left. And the look on his face made her want to hide herself.

He looked disgusted, angry, and very surprised. She didn’t want to know what he was surprised at, and he didn’t make it all that clear, and she tried to make her way to the exit, wanting to say sorry but also not wanting to talk in fear of giving herself away. But his voice stopped her.

“Uh, Miss, shouldn’t you be gone already?” His face softened to match his voice now.

“Sorry,” she managed, looking down. She stepped outside, and cried.

Originally published in the Spring 2016 edition of The Helix in the “Gender & Sexuality” Section.