Hello, world! I’m very excited to announce the release of my first book, Women Becoming, a 70 page collection that’s been years in the making. From the magical realist escapism of “I Know Why The Caged Crow Leaves” and the heartbreak of “Wisteria,” to the joy and rebirth of “Wishes” and the love shared in “Child of Light,” follow several unique female protagonists through their journeys of self discovery and rebirth.
One of the short stories in my book “Women Becoming” is available to read for free exclusively on Lesbians Over Everything, a website and collective I’ve been following since 2017. LOE is a safe space for lesbians to share their personal and fictional stories, opinions on LGBT media, and even gay bar reviews. I’ve previously written for their Every Woman I’ve Ever Loved category. I really recommend it if you’re a woman who loves women, like me.
I wrote most of “The Flood” directly after reading one of my favorite short story anthologies called “Queer Fear.” As little as I formally venture into horror with my magical realism stuff, I love reading it, so these stories were right up my alley. “Queer Fear” reimagines the gay and lesbian experience as if we were faeries, ghosts, zombies, haunted by the violence we’ve experienced in our pasts but finding power in the monstrous. Another story in my book, “Wisteria,” was heavily inspired by this collection.
I came up with the idea for “The Flood” while I was still closeted, but wrote after I was out. It felt very satisfying to revisit the fear I used to have it and turn into some disastrous art.
This is fanfiction that I wrote about Janelle Monae’s first album Metropolis. Enjoy!
A spaceship lands on post-Nuclear-War Earth sometime in the year 3000.
The spaceship comes from the golden planet of Metropolis. It returns to this barren earth to retrieve a droid.
It is an android to be specific, given the human name “Jane.” Jane is made of strong, white titanium and has hair made of thin, coarse, black metal fibers. Jane has a face, torso, waist, limbs, and a chest plate that bears the numbers: 57821.
Droid 57821, or “Jane,” was sent to Earth 1,000 years ago, and has walked among the humans ever since. Now, she lies unconscious and brain-dead. Now, she is scrap metal lying amongst rocks and dust. Jane is a lone droid that was left behind at the End of the Earth.
At her inception, Jane was given a high-capacity memory system. She had recording cameras installed behind her red eyes. Jane’s “brain,” a compact conjunction of wires, compartments, and motherboards, was specifically designed to capture lifelike video. Droid 57821 was meant to observe Earth, send live feeds to Metropolis, and give intellect and insight about Earth’s race. About the humans. She had the capacity to complete her mission, and she was designed to be compassionate, graceful, and friendly with the humans—but Metropolis soon became bored of her, and of Earth. As time and technology progressed, she became a dinky, old science experiment, created by an early breed of simple, foolish Metropolitans.
She was forgotten.
And at the eve of the Third Millennium, Earth went to War. The nations rebelled against each other, created nuclear weapons and battled for 20 years. The Nuclear War killed millions, and the Final Bomb annihilated what was left of the beautiful planet. The human population was completely wiped out. (Or so it appeared)
Earth is now a desolate wasteland, a toxic place where no life can survive.
A Metropolis satellite spaceship, which hovers in the black, star-filled abyss, receives an unknown signal from a sender called: 57821.
A Metropolitan Scientist calls his colleagues to the spaceship’s laboratory. They stand in front of the control panel. There, the five of them open a digital map of the known universe, to trace the strange sender’s location.
The inhospitable planet that has not held life for years. Someone or something there can connect to their ship. Someone or something there is asking for help. “It must be an android,” says one of the scientists. “Haven’t you heard the story about ‘Jane,’ the Earthbound Android? The experiment sent to earth from Metropolis for 1,000 years, to walk among humans? She is an ancient experiment now, given up on because of her inferior technology. But she must have sent the signal. She must be 57821.”
The scientist says that they must retrieve her. The other four scientists scoff. “The Rulers and The Government have given us no such order,” says one. “That android is trash,” says another. The five scientists contact The Metropolitan Laboratory of Science Center, or The MLSC, from their spaceship, and ask what is to be done about the unknown signal. “If it’s coming from Earth,” says Vortex, President of the MLSC and employee of The Government, “Investigate it.”
And so they do.
“And if it turns out that the signal comes from the Earthbound Android?” says the first scientist. “If we are to find 57821?”
“Bring her to us,” says Vortex. “She is weak, nothing but a waste of Metropolitan materials and time. She was not even strong enough to withstand the Nuclear War of Earth. If she is alive now, even just a little, hell—bring her.
“She might as well be punished for her failure to survive.”
The spaceship lands, after tracing the signal and finding its sender’s location. The five scientists, dressed in protective gear and masks, walk onto the harsh, barren land, and see a white mass of titanium, almost completely submerged in red dirt.
The first and second scientists pull “Jane” out of the rubble. Jane’s eyes are closed and her body is covered in dark ash, scratches, and dents. Her battered limbs are hardly even connected by her wire joints. Vortex was right: she is trash. The scientists drag her by her arms, clunking her titanium body against the red sand, and Jane lets out a groan. They look at her swiftly—is she alive? But Jane’s head hangs loose from its neck joint, and she gives no other sound.
The scientists re-board the golden, Metropolis, satellite spaceship. They travel back through space, signaling to the MLSC that they will land momentarily. They fly back into Metropolis’ hazy, pink atmosphere as the grand orange sun is beginning to set, landing on a large panel outside of the Laboratory of Science Center.
Jane has awoken now, and she’s gone bezerk. Her interior design is severely damaged and burned, and her brain is still half-dead, traumatized from the effects of the Nuclear War. Her metal body shakes and jerks out of control, and it takes eight Guards to bind her, hold her as they drag her inside the Center and up to Vortex’s Headquarters.
Vortex stands in the center of his Headquarters, as the white-coated Guards and the five scientists surround and walk with Jane, Droid 57821. Headquarters is a steel-paneled laboratory with high ceilings and cold floors, with massive computer panels and control boards lining the back wall. Jane’s body still seizes as they carry her, and she grunts uncontrollably, flicking and flailing her weak arms and legs. Vortex walks up to the struggling Guards, raises his fake, metal arm, and clunks it into the top of Jane’s head.
Jane stops, goes limp, and has a new grey dent in her otherwise white forehead. Vortex tells the Guards, “Drop her,” so they do. Jane falls into a pile against the steel, tile flooring. Vortex tells the Guards to leave, and the Vice President and Treasurer of the MLSC, who’d been seated across the room watching, stand and join him now in front of the five scientists.
Vortex is a tall, broad, six-foot-six metropolitan, with dark, dark skin and a bald head. He has many mechanical parts, including an arm, a leg, and a robotic eye. Vortex was in an accident of some sort that no one in the MLSC or The Government talks about.
He stares down at the five scientists harshly.
“Is she the Earthbound Android?” asks the first scientist, timidly.
Vortex says, “She is.”
The Vice President, a slender, silver-haired metropolitan woman, shakes her head.
“Take out her tapes,” she instructs the scientists. “See if she’s collected anything viable for our use.”
The five scientists scrambled to the floor where Jane had been dropped and turn her over on her back. The third scientist unscrews the panel on her back, which contains her core engine, and the second scientist unscrews the panel on the back of her head, which contains her brain.
The third scientist sees nothing inside of Jane’s core besides burned motherboards, snapped wires, and corroded batteries. When he opens up the panel completely, Jane’s interior sparks, her body twitches, and a thin trail of smoke begins to rise from the corrupted system. Vortex, The Vice President, and the Treasurer all shake their heads.
The first scientist, meanwhile, carefully powers down and disconnects Jane’s brain, which is burned as well, but not as badly. Not at all. The second scientist removes the sliver of a memory chip from the center of Jane’s brain. The technology is extremely basic, a thousand years old. He laughs.
“I don’t think we’ll have anything to play this back on,” he chuckles.
Vortex, The Vice President, and the Treasurer don’t seem to find that funny.
“Give it to me,” says the Treasurer, a skinny old man with stringy, dark hair. The Treasurer takes the memory chip and moves to one of the large control boards, in front of a giant screen. He sits before it, inserts the chip into the oldest drive that the MLSC still has.
He powers up the computer, accesses the chip. Nothing but static buzzes and snaps across the screen.
“Useless,” says the Treasurer.
“Hell, as I thought,” Vortex says.
The Treasurer returns with the memory chip.
“What to do with this?” he asks.
Vortex looks at him.
“Burn it,” he says.
The Treasurer pulls a handheld fire starter from his pocket. He lights a flame, holds it to the chip, and as it catches fire, he throws it far from it. The chip explodes with a boom, and sparks, metal, and smoke burst from the device, sputtering about and startling the five scientists.
1,000 years of Jane’s memory, gone.
The first and second scientists, meanwhile, are whispering and staring at the rest of Jane’s brain.
“For being created a thousand years ago,” mumbles the first. “It’s not so bad.”
“It’s worn,” returns the second. “But it’s still got power. Look—“ he opens up a deeper compartment, which has electric wires that are lit up, pulsating and vibrating. “—I’ve never seen a brain from so long ago with that much activity.”
“She’s excited about something,” chuckles the first.
“Burn that too,” Vortex booms from across the way at them, suddenly.
They glance at each other.
“But—her brain still works,” the first contests.
“Who is her Maker?” Vortex demands.
The fourth scientist help the first and second scientist turn Jane’s mangled body to and fro, searching for a signature imprinted on her body. Most droid Makers leave their mark on their creations, but Jane is far too dirty and damaged for a signature to be found.
“I don’t know,” says the first. “But whoever he or she was, they were talented.”
Vortex, the Vice, and the Treasure all look at each other and sigh.
“We could give her a new system, with better technology!” the first scientist exclaims. He looks at his colleagues, who are nervously and uncertainly nodding with him in agreement.
“Yeah,” says the third. “She’s a piece of junk now, but she still has a brain. We could fix her up. Make her a member of modern droid society.”
“Yeah!” agrees another.
Vortex squints his eyes, one ugly and scarred, and the other made of glowing metal.
“Fine,” he grunts. “Keep it.”
They all glance at each other until Vortex suddenly screeches at them, “Now get out.”
Her memory may be gone, the first scientist thinks to himself as he and his colleagues scramble out, with their droid, but a mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Newer androids in Metropolis are made with high quality nerve-ending wires beneath their titanium, giving them physical sensitivity and physical feeling. The new Jane is given all the finest wires, making her titanium “skin” a desirable commodity. And she would find her most sensitive place to be her thin, metal lips.
The Wondaland Arts Society, where Jane has been repaired, looks upon their finished creation: Jane-3000. Jane is powered off, looking sleek, slender and shiny as she stands on her metal platform. She will be returned to and checked up on tomorrow, when the day has dawned. The five men of the Wondaland Arts Society turn off the lights, and leave Jane and the laboratory for the night.
The door shuts.
Jane opens her eyes, then.
Her pupils glow red. Music begins to drip and pour from her the speakers of her stereo system, on the sides of her neck. And she begins to sing.
“Left the city, my momma she said, ‘Don’t come back home,’
“These kids ‘round killing each other, they lost they minds, they gone.
“They quittin’ school, making babies and can barely read
“Some gone on to their fall, Lord have mercy on ‘em.”
“One, two, three, four, your cousins is ‘round here sellin’ dope,
“While their daddies, your uncles is walking ‘round strung out.
“Babies with babies, and their tears keep burning,
“While their dreams go down the drain now.”
“Are we really living or just walking dead now?
“Or dreaming of a hope riding the wings of angels?
“The way we live, the way we die—
“What a tragedy, I’m so terrified!
“Daydreamers, please wake up! We can’t sleep no more!”
“Love don’t make no sense, ask your neighbor.
“The winds have changed, it seems that they’ve abandoned us.
“The truth hurts, and so does yesterday.
“What good is love if it burns bright, and explodes in flames?”
“I thought every little thing had love, but, uh—“
“Are we really living or just walking dead now?
“Or dreaming of a hope riding the wings of angels?
“The way we live, the way we die—
“What a tragedy, I’m so terrified!
“Daydreamers, please wake up! We can’t sleep no more!”
Jane’s music stops, and she stops singing. She looks into space, her eyes going from glowing red to beautiful brown.
She knows very little but the fact that she is currently bound with refrains on the platform. Despite this, she is calm. She knows that her name is “Jane,” and that it is a human name. But she has no recollection of where she was before this, or why she cannot remember. Something tells that she is not from here, that she was not birthed in this laboratory and that this is not where her life began, but she has no clues as to her true origin.
Jane has no memories. (She only has music).
Her eyes try to make things out in the laboratory in which she stands, but it is much too dark. She closes her eyes again to shut down and rest again, when suddenly, she hears a soothing voice talking to her in her brain.
57821, it says. It is time for you to come home, my dear.
You’ve been gone long enough.
Thank you, but you must come.
You must go.
“Brujería” is a short story about two women who are mysteriously drawn to each other. Our nameless protagonist is a butch young woman who must navigate her sexuality through a sometimes grim lens. Along the way is the elusive Verona, a self described “bruja” who may or may not have put a curse on her. Read the rest in my short story book Women Becoming, available for $2.99 on Amazon.
We’re sitting in her friend’s back yard in the dark, at two in the morning, and it hits me that she drove us here high and drunk out of her mind. She got us here in her hoopty, the beat up Honda that she drives without a license, the radio bumping nasty rap, her son’s empty carseat behind us, and the carpteted seats reeking of swishers.
“I’m not trying to brag,” she said when she picked me up, “but I’ve never gotten a ticket or pulled over or anything.”
This girl must have guardian angels or something, I think. Her friend, out here in the yard, is also a Mexican in his late twenties, sitting across from us smoking a joint, rapping over some shitty beats he made on Garage Band. He really wants to fuck her, she told me as we got out of the car just minutes earlier, “but I let him buy me dinner instead.”
He doesn’t know that Verona and I are exchanging unspoken dialogue, where we sit: my hand around her hip, her blonde head on my shoulder, my hand sliding beneath the waistband of her jeans, fingers tracing the lace band of her underwear. Once, she brushes her lips against my neck, groaning so only I can hear her.
Her friend doesn’t know that she’s like this, that she sins, and I’m not even sure she knows it either. I wonder if he’d still want to sleep with her if he knew, or worse, if he’d want to even more because of it.
We meet for the first time outside the infamous, run down steamship in Verde Beach, the S.S. Barnes. I think I’ve seen her before as she sits next to me, on the bench at the bus station. Looks Latina, could be Filipina, ice blonde locks, pink lips, overweight, still hot. Her uniform shirt is ill-fitting, buttons pulled tight across her chest. Her name tag is pinned on crooked, looks like it’s going to pop off.
She doesn’t say anything to me at first, staring at her phone and puffing a cigarette roach. I think she’s just a co-worker I’m never going to talk to as I look upon the ship, thinking, shit, it’s so cold.The ship-turned-hotel, creaky and haunted, is always hiring waitresses for the holiday seasons, nine dollars an hour. It’s a shit job, but it’s something. Christmas presents for the kids. All but two of us are women, most of us struggling, at least half of us “queer,” from what I can tell, but I don’t talk to anyone when I’m on the clock.
“You look like that singer,” Verona finally says, from beside me. I look over, read the name on her tag, and watch as she blows a cloud of smoke, tosses the roach.
“What’s your name?” she asks me. I always take my name tag off as soon I’m off the clock.
When I tell her, she snorts.
“That sounds like Sasha Fierce,” she says, tossing her roach to the ground. “You know, like Beyoncé? I hate that bitch.”
Oh, God, I think, as I remember the moment she first caught my eye. She was the one who’d mispronounced the name of the featured wine last month. When the male chef staff had gently corrected her, she’d verbally torn them each a new asshole, in Spanish, for a full minute. I didn’t see it, but I definitely heard it coming from the kitchen. Everyone in the dining room did.
I know exactly why she didn’t get fired for it.
“Can I add you on Facebook?” she says now. She’s scrolling through her phone, getting ready to search me. I hate Facebook, but I also think this woman is very good looking: Catch 22. Something about the way her sleek, dyed hair frames her face, the way her clothes are too tight for her. I would soon learn that these details were on purpose.
So I tell her the name I go by on Facebook. I watch as she looks through my page for a full minute, then looks up at me suddenly, a spark in her eyes.
“You like girls.”
She’s paused her screen on a photo of me and my ex from high school.
“Uh, yeah,” I say. This is why I hate Facebook.
The bus finally pulls into the harbor across the way, and I stand in wait, eager to get out of here.
“I had a girlfriend in high school, too,” says Verona, and I look at her. “She was mean, she used to steal my make-up.” This is stereotypical of me, but I don’t know if I believe her story.
When I get on the bus, I half expect her to sit right next to me. She doesn’t. When the bus gets crowded, she plays her rap music loud from the speakers, not the headphones. Normally, I hate when people do that.
So I should’ve let her go back then, in retrospect: the fact that she asked me first, that spark in her eyes. But as our work went on, she kept sitting next to me at the bus stop. I should’ve pretended that I didn’t see it in her, or better yet, that she wasn’t the one who’d wanted to show it to me.
Months have gone by since that time in her friend’s yard, and we keep doing this thing, her letting me touch her when we’re both drunk, but only then. We’re down the street from my house, parked in front of the Catholic church, the only car on this side of the street. The streetlights are streaming down on us, illuminating her clearly for me.
I work at a different restaurant now, and she says she does too, but she won’t tell me where it is. It also turns out that she and her four year old son, who she calls Baby, live only a few blocks up the street from me. I’ve tried not to ask about Baby’s father when she mentions him, but tonight, as we drove home from the bar, she decided to tell me the story.
“He’s thirty six now. When I was a kid in Colombia, he kept hanging out around the house. He grew up with my half brother or something. We started dating and he tried selling me a couple of times. It turned out he was a pimp in charge of this huge ring.”
Suddenly, she digs through her purse, hands me a grinder and blunt papers.
“Do you smoke?”
I used to smoke weed when I was in high school, Adderall and mushrooms every once in a while, too. My ex-girlfriend and I did it all together. I don’t remember much of those years, but I remember well what the first hit used to feel like.
The relief that washes over you, the release of your conscious thinking. Things shift and colors change and suddenly, this woman in front of me, turning up the radio and dancing in the seat, is a person I’ve known my whole life, who’s always been here. The platinum blonde hair, the bronze skin, the well-endowed of it all, it all looks so familiar. I’ve dreamed of her or something.
The following is a YA short story about Hannah Black and Marina Ziegfield, black lesbians and childhood friends who must come to terms with internalized homophobia and their feelings for each other.
Derek Black and Richard Ziegfield were perhaps unlikely friends in 1990s suburbia, the former a blue voting, honest insurance agent, the latter a red voting, dicey divorce lawyer, but the connection between their two families was solid. Their only daughters, Hannah Black and Marina Ziegfield, would go on to form the bond of a lifetime, though it took a couple rough turns at the start. Despite this fact, they have always loved each other.
It’s an evening in January, 2016, when Marina realizes that she’s been in love with Hannah her whole life, and that’s why she’s such an asshole all the time. Marina holds her red cup full of Coke in the bay of her kitchen, watching as Hannah’s cousin’s friend, Yael Ashkenazi, relentlessly flirts with Hannah across the room.
Marina is overtly jealous, watching Yael take Hannah’s hand, admire her rings, and why won’t Marina just officially come out already? It’s not like anyone at school is convinced, the more she fails to turn off her Snapchat location when she’s out with a known lesbian from another school. But Marina’s dad is conservative and an alcoholic, the “fun” kind, or at least, it seemed fun when she was young, the do-it-all dancer he became when severely inebriated.
But the older Marina gets, the more she realizes that her dad is slowly letting things go, that there are broken parts of her childhood that she’s been blocking out. This year, the mortgage hasn’t been paid up for several months, for no reason other than that Richard Ziegfield loves staying up for four days straight, work-crazy manic, destroying things in his path.
Marina knows her mom started sleeping with someone else years ago to avoid the oncoming storm, that behind closed doors, they act like strangers who just happen to live together, so this is what Marina has also learned to do: avoid the truth and act like nothing gets to you.
Some things really get to her, though. Things like Yael’s not even that good looking, generous inches shorter than Hannah, and why is she wearing a suit jacket, a full on bow tie, and black dress shoes to a house party? With no socks? Didn’t Hannah’s cousin say she goes to Bridgerton, the most prestigious high school in Chapel Hill?
Some loaded preppy girl, as if Marina doesn’t sometimes secretly wish she was one of those, shouldn’t be swooping in on Hannah during this, their senior year. This was the year that Marina always thought, if she and Hannah dated, would be the start of the next two most important years of their lives: where are we going to college? Where are we moving to? If you pick the dream house, I get to pick the campus. We’re staying together, no matter what.
While Yael and Hannah’s cousin talk up ahead, Marina takes the chance to finally grab Hannah’s ear. Nudges her best friend in the side with an elbow, grinning, says,
“So why’s this chick dressed like she’s going to the goddamn opera, am I right?”
Hannah snorts, playfully swats Marina’s elbow, then says in her ear, low,
“I think she looks good.”
It takes two more months, of Hannah and Yael going on dates, of Marina trying to be nice to Hannah’s new good friend, but never really able to let the snark stay off her tongue, of Marina and Hannah continuing to stay close, though Hannah’s phone is off, often, when she’s with Yael, before Hannah and Yael are full on girlfriend and girlfriend, out and proud, all over Instagram.
Marina knows she didn’t shoot her shot hard enough, or ever, really. She could’ve been honest, sat Hannah down on the old tire swings where they’ve spent hours, some nights, in Hannah’s front yard, and told her how she felt, straight up, no bullshit. She could’ve confessed that she wants more than friendship, wants to love Hannah for the rest of her life, wants to be gay and out and proud, but she’s afraid her father will think it’s stupid, or a phase, or maybe even hate her, for political reasons.
She didn’t say any of it, because Hannah should be free. Free to choose what she wants and how she wants to spend her life, without having to feel guilty for Marina’s insecurities.
Marina knows the old adage: if you love something, let it go, if it’s meant to be, it will return.
She just doesn’t know if Hannah knows how much she loves her.Continue reading
Lesbians Over Everything is a platform for women who love women to share their stories, heartbreaks and triumphs. A few months ago, I contributed to the segment “Every Woman I’ve Ever Loved,” a space for accounts of women who’ve moved us. The following is a concept I’d had in mind since 2015.
I would tell you what she looks like, but I can’t. She asked me not to. As a writer, it’s frustrating to be told that I can’t describe a subject, but I suppose I can tell you where we were the last time I saw her, when, and why:
The Firestone train station on the Los Angeles Blue Line, dim stone, chipped archways, and lingering smell of urine. Ten a.m. on a rainy February. She was returning some of my things. Our relationship was over.
I arrived at the platform long before she did, knowing that she was showing up late and making me wait for her on purpose. Sitting on the hard concrete slab that served as a bench, bored, I watched the rain fall on the empty tracks. This could be a scene from a romance novel, I said to myself, the trains are a symbol here, of her leaving my life, of my having to move on, or of the rapid, slapdash pace at which we modern humans live. And the rainfall, maybe, a symbol of my misery.
I thought this even though I wasn’t at all miserable. In fact, when she arrived and sat beside me, giving no hello or warning and wearing sunglasses in the rain, the moment was void of romance or sentiment.
Awkward and terse, making a strained effort to not make eye contact, she held out a plastic Target shopping bag at me. Is she seriously wearing sunglasses? I thought, taking the bag and almost laughing, though there was absolutely nothing funny about this moment.
Once the transaction was finished, she stood up, cleared her throat.
“Can you do me a favor?” She pitched her voice down to its deepest register, the way she often did when we fought. “Don’t make me a character in one of your little stories.”
She walked away, that line serving as her goodbye, and I realized that if there was a way to make me feel miserable over a break up, well. That was it.
She read all of my stories. She knew that writing about the women who have moved me, hurt me, or shamed me in the past is how I process things, how I really move on. If I can turn a random, painful situation into a meaningful narrative, write about our ending in another time and place, whatever pain I feel is worth it in the end. Was she taking my process on purpose?
The train arrived just moments later. I got on and tried to keep my mind from plotting points, coming up with idealistic character arcs for she and I. Though it went against my self imposed nature, I saw everything around me just for what it is, and not what it represents:
It was blindingly white inside the train. The light bulbs above me buzzed dull and monotone. The teal linoleum floors were sticky, and sweat and body odor permeated the steel seats. Rainwater slivered down the grey sides of the windows, whizzing and flowing in time with the moving industrial scenery. Immortal by Marina and the Diamonds played in my earbuds, the singer’s deep voice echoed and ethereal. She crooned of love lasting forever, earth’s end in fire, and seas frozen in time.
The song reminded me of her, of nights we spent in the dark, feeling like I’d finally found a love that was eternal. This was the part she didn’t want. Me romanticizing what was really a relationship wrought with fighting. Memorializing the details of her person would give it proof. Does she not want to be remembered for her wrongs? I assume she will always remember me for mine.
I looked down at the Target bag tied tightly shut in my lap, the logos redrawing images of drops of blood on white cotton pads. I opened the bag, curious as to why she tied it shut, and was overwhelmed by a sudden remorse. Everything inside of it smelled like her now, her skin, her house, her warmth and those nights. Will any of the following identify her? Aveeno lotion, men’s pine deodorant, faint hints of dust and cigarettes, burnt cinnamon incense. My t-shirts, lingerie, even the books were imbued with her scent. They weren’t just my things anymore.
Soon as the scent tinged my nostrils, my eyes watered instantly, stinging, without my permission. Tears fell, out of place and too late. I was out of the moment constantly when we were together. Always plotting the next thing, focusing on what I would write down about our hypothetical future on some date. If we got there. Fixating on both of our pasts, blaming our disharmony on our families, childhoods, society, anything.
Her scent brought her within my grasp, but not close enough, and all I wanted was not my obsession with future or the past, but a present moment:
It’s November. I’m lying on her bed alone in her room, naked, waiting for her to come home after work. I am blissful and content. I press my cheek to her still wet pillow, inhaling her sweet conditioner, that way her skin smells. Stare at the cracks in her window blinds, the chipping ceiling, the piles of her clothes, the various trinkets on her desk that haven’t been so much as nudged out of their “place” in over a year. I have existed in this room, I have loved in this room. It’s broken, and she often leaves me here alone in it. But it’s home.
I traveled further and further away from that home, as the train passed through Compton and Watts in the rain. The more miles I put between us, the more I knew and understood her intention: from now on, I can see the room in my mind’s eye, but she does not want me to have the privilege of imagining her there.
The temporary time travel, her scent on my things, overwhelmed me the point that something like miserable was going to be the next stop on the train. By that time, though, I had exited it. Moved through the Willow street station at the end of the Blue Line, walking the path back to my own space. In my solitary bedroom, I sprayed everything in the bag she gave me with my own perfume – heavy, syrupy, saccharine – suffocating the portal that pulled me back into her.
You were the flower girl at your aunt’s wedding. After your procession, you stood next to the women in your family, tall and stark in green, velvet dresses, in a line on the stage.
As the pastor spoke, you played with your now-empty basket. It’d felt like hours since you’d been in the spotlight, since your debut. You were hungry, and you had to pee. But soon, you noticed that the women were crying; you wondered why you weren’t crying too, wanting to be more like them. You started to lick your fingers and streak them down your face, trying to look more like them.
Once your face was covered in spit, you tugged on your mother’s hand, made her look down at you. “Oh, honey, don’t cry,” she’d said. It was the first time you felt like a woman, like them.
You sat on the treadmill in your parents’ bedroom, hiccupping as your Grammy fed you sugar from a spoon.
“Sugar will help stop the crying,” she said, in that all-knowing voice. You couldn’t remember how long you’d been crying, but a while ago, you’d been standing barefoot in the kitchen. Your mother, grandmother and a cop had talked over harsh walkie-talkie feedback. Your mother was holding a towel with ice to her forehead, and a head of lettuce sat in the middle of the floor. The condensation from it was dripping onto the tile.
The cop said your father threw the lettuce at your mom. He said your dad was handcuffed somewhere outside. The cop kept writing things down as your mother spoke, listening intently, nodding, sighing. You didn’t understand much of what they were saying, but at the end of it all, he knelt down to your level, took off his sunglasses, said,
“I’m sorry all this happened, little lady. Your daddy didn’t mean it.” You would go on to learn he did mean it.
That was when you’d started crying. Your Grammy took you upstairs for you privacy, and you stared at her as she rubbed the bridge of her nose, prepped more sugar for the spoon.
You didn’t think the sugar was working. You were crying too hard to say so, but even if you weren’t, you wouldn’t have stopped her. It tasted good.
That year on Christmas Eve, you set a trap for Santa in your living room: ropes tied to chairs made a maze from chimney to tree, and you even placed Jacks on the floor at every turn. An Indiana Jones path to the milk and cookies.
You were hoping he would fall, maybe twist his ankles. The sound of him plummeting to the floor would reach only you, wake only you up, and then you would finally find him, the enigmatic glutton. That plate of sugar cookies that you and your sister baked? They would be yours, and so would all the presents.
Your mother and father watched you set up your trap, every step of the way. Your father said that you were much smarter than Santa, your mother said he would be no match for your prowess. Once it was done, all night long you fought sleep; drifting off, waking up the sounds of your parents’ fighting. Didn’t they know he doesn’t come if you don’t sleep?
The next morning, you went downstairs to find your trap expertly disassembled: the floor was clean, the ropes and jacks gone, the chairs moved back to the dining room table. All six of the cookies were bitten into, and the empty glass of milk held down a handwritten letter.
“Better luck next time! – S.” You’d soon learn he wasn’t real just a couple months later.
You’d soon learn the purpose and the nature of lying: it’s okay as long as it protects people. At school, your little sister got her teeth knocked out. Too much horseplay at recess caused a boy to kick her in the jaw.
Your mother was on her way to pick her up from school, and you waited with her in the nurse’s office. She held her small, bloody hands over her mouth as the nurse prepared the mouthwash, put the tooth in a plastic bag. Secretly, you wished that you were hurt so you could go home too. At least you got to skip a class.
“Does it hurt?” you asked her.
“Kind of,” she mumbled, her hands over her mouth. “It does, but the tooth fairy will fix it. You know what they say, money makes the world ‘go round.”
That night, you realized that your parents forgot to be the tooth fairy. She was fast asleep, it was one A.M., and you were quietly sifting through the contents of her room. Trying to find pennies, quarters, anything, stuffed between cushions and stashed in the toy chests.
You found nothing a tooth fairy would leave. Instead, you listened to your parents scream down the hall, wishing you could open up their doors, see them like that. Somehow, your sister was always a heavy sleeper.
The next morning, your mom dropped the two of you off in front of your K-8 school. Your sister was upset all morning, quiet and cross-armed. She sat down on the front steps when your mother pulled away, refusing to go in. Crying.
“What’s wrong with you?” you said.
“The tooth fairy didn’t come,” she lamented. “I’m broke.”
When you got to homeroom, you asked your teacher for a dollar in quarters. You slipped into her classroom next break, told her teacher what you were doing. You left them for her under the lid of her desk.
The next time you saw her, she was gap-toothed-smiling, clutching the change against her chest and spinning ‘round.
“I knew it, I knew it!” she told everyone who’d listen. “I’m gonna be rich!”
At the end of the day, you sat together on the steps again. She was no longer happy like before, dropping the coins one by one onto the concrete.
“What’s wrong with you?” you said.
“I know what you did,” she said. “Someone in my class just told me about the tooth fairy. It’s not good to lie, you know.”