By Maya Lionne
The girl was saying something, but he didn’t hear any sounds coming from her – just a rash of noise that had begun with the words “Are you a fucking tranny?” Rain slapped the windshield hard enough to drown her out and for a moment, he thought about staying and dealing with it, trying to educate her, trying to help her understand that he really was a guy, that he just had to “spend some time in the shop” getting some parts corrected, removed, or added. That his name really was Nicolas and yes he bled every month, but he’d been taking testosterone shots and his high tide would be history soon enough, and he really liked spending time with her. But he didn’t stay. He didn’t offer any explanations or education, didn’t offer understanding. He just unlocked the car door, stepped out into the rain, and slammed the door behind him. She waited a full zero seconds before she started the car and drove off in the opposite direction.
It was at least a mile back to his house and in the Seaside rain, it would be a long walk. He tried to light a cigarette but found it very difficult, even when he pulled his black leather jacket up over his head. When he finally got it lit, he managed only a single drag before the rain snuffed it, so he discarded it along the roadside.
The morning fog had lingered in town, refusing to burn off with the afternoon sun, and had instead ushered in a heavy pre-autumn rain. The water ran in winding rivers through the strands of his hair, though he wished he had no hair – that he was bald and could let the water flow freely across his scalp. His packer swayed in his boxer-briefs with each step he took, and his discomfort with the girl and the cigarette was temporarily forgotten as he reached down to adjust it through his black jeans. Its weight and heft set his chest at ease, made him forget that he did in fact have breasts under his shirt and binder and that it hurt like hell to bind and he should probably strip the binder when he got home. Home – what a funny concept. He’d left home six months ago to hitchhike for a few weeks before settling in with a group of junkies that always laughed at his jokes. Left his father who still thought of him as his little princess except when he got his belt out to teach him a lesson about how it was his house with his rules, to his mother that supported him fully in his transition, provided she was lucid and not at the bottom of a bottle of Jim Beam. Faggot, his father had called him last time he’d chastised him for the smallest thing. That seemed to be a favorite of the kids at school too: faggot, bull dyke, butch, tranny. But there was also the time someone had called him boy. He couldn’t remember who, just a face in a crowd, but he’d recognize them if he saw them again – short, wavy brown hair, rimless glasses hiding brown eyes the color of wet beach sand. They’d called him boy, and at first, he’d taken it as an insult, like someone was demeaning him by calling him a boy instead of a young man or man. But he’d thought about it, rolled it around his mind, and decided he’d actually liked it, that in some way he couldn’t explain, it suited him. He’d take it. He’d own it. He was a Seaside boy.
The rain failed to abate as he walked home, his jeans, shoes, socks, shirt, and binder all soaked through as he spied his house through the fog. The street lights were on even though it was early afternoon, their beams little more than will o’ wisps in the grey mist. He could hear the ocean even through the dull of rain slapping pavement, its pace constant, its sound uninterrupted, not like the tropical beaches he’d seen in the movies on TV, where silence accompanied each wave as it broke upon the shore. The waves never quieted in Seaside.
The front door simply fell off its hinges when he tried to open it. The wood siding hung at obtuse angles, and the roof sagged under the strain of constant rain and neglect. The inside of the house stank of mold, several varieties of cigarette smoke, and a stopped-up toilet. The floors and various furnishings were draped with the comatose forms of the no-name junkies he had begun squatting in the home with after he’d run away from home six months ago. The electricity and water had been left on by the previous tenants, apparently unnoticed by the utility companies for two months before they turned things off. Nobody in the house had bothered to get them turned back on.
Wiping some of the grime off the mirror in what passed for his room, Nicolas looked at himself as he removed his binder and redressed in a new shirt and new jeans. While he was pulling his jeans up, one of the no-names stumbled through his door and collapsed on the floor behind him, startling him. They mumbled incoherently, then vomited green filth onto the carpet, and promptly passed out in it. Nicolas stood there longer than he thought he would, staring at the junkie, letting the stink of bile burn his nose, considering the various options available to him regarding his future. Leaving the junkie in their place on the floor, Nicolas collected what little clothes and possessions he owned, consisting primarily of roughly four outfits, one black leather jacket, six chocolate bars, two 10-pound barbells, and a handgun with one full twelve-round magazine that he’d accepted as payment from one of the no-names who couldn’t pay for the bag of whatever-the-hell-it-was that Nicolas had inherited when a different no-name had gone without food for four days and was finally willing to trade drugs for a hot meal, which Nicolas provided.
His earthly goods packed, Nicolas went downstairs, grabbed the keys from the kitchen counter, and walked outside to the beat-up Plymouth that belonged to one of the no-names who seemed to like the idea of letting it rust out front of the house. After several abortive attempts to start the car, Nicolas made a few adjustments, got it running, and left the house behind. He drove for a while, no particular destination in mind, following the coast at first, until he turned inland. The roads gradually transitioned from unfamiliar territory to spots of passing familiarity to very familiar, until Nicolas parked the car down the street from a well-kept white and brown ranch house with the name “Kozlow” on the mailbox out front.
The lights were on in the living room when Nicolas walked up to the house, but they went dark before he got to the front door. He waited there for a long time, making no sound, his knees ached with the effort of standing silent. When he could barely stand, he went around back of the house, found the key hidden in a fake rock beside the door, and went inside. The house was silent save for the low hum of the refrigerator. It was warm – far warmer than the squatting house had ever been, even when the electricity had been on and the heaters still worked. He breathed in the house: greasy meals, nostalgia, and cat litter. He ran his hands over the kitchen counter, examining the bumps and scratches he’d put there as a child, until he came to the silverware drawer. Moving as slowly as he could, he pulled the drawer out and felt the silverware, his fingers remembering the features of the forks, knives, and spoons. He remembered trying in vain to get the spoon to hang off his nose, and being frustrated that his father had made it look so easy. He remembered dropping a spoonful of pumpkin pie on the kitchen floor one Thanksgiving many years ago.
“Hello?” someone said in the dark. “Anyone there?”
Nicolas slipped outside and locked the door behind him, replacing the key before hiding in some nearby bushes. The kitchen light came on, and the image of an older woman glowed bright against the dark house. She looked around for a moment, until a grey cat jumped up on the kitchen counter. She pet the cat, gave one more look, even pausing in Nicolas’ direction. For a moment, Nicolas was worried that she’d seen him, that she’d come outside. But she turned away, turned the light off, and disappeared. Nicolas stayed outside in the bushes for a minute before returning to the car, choking back tears that he would never let anyone see.
On his way out of town, he came across a hitchhiker on the side of the road. He pulled over, making sure the pistol was safe beneath his seat before allowing the hitchhiker into the passenger side.
“Thanks,” the person said. “I didn’t think anyone would stop.”
“Sure,” Nicolas said. He looked at the hitchhiker, judging whether they would be trouble or not. They would not, he decided, though something looked familiar about the hitchhiker. Short, wavy brown hair, rimless glasses. Wet beach sand eyes. “I know you,” Nicolas said as he pulled over and unlocked the door for the hitchhiker. “You called me boy.”
“I did,” the hitchhiker said as they got into the car. “Did I offend you?”
“No,” Nicolas said. “You knew before I did.”
The hitchhiker nodded, half a smile on their mouth. “I’m Owen. Nobody calls me Olivia…but I’d like them to, at least some of the time.”
“Everyone calls me Nena. I’d like them to call me Nicolas.”
“Okay. Nicolas. Where are we going?”
“I don’t know, Olivia. Away.”
“Anywhere in particular?”
“Not really,” Nicolas said. “I spent the early part of my life trying to be somewhere in particular, trying to be someone in particular. Now? Now, I just want to go.”
“Okay,” Olivia said. “Then let’s go.”
And they drove. They drove until the sun came up, then they changed direction. They spoke of where they had come from, exchanging family stories that had disturbingly similar plot points, but different endings – Olivia had simply been kicked out by her parents when they found her dresses and breast forms, the disgrace of learning their son was a drag queen simply too much to countenance. Nicolas mostly listened, offering affirmation or confirmation of similar experience. He felt relief, in spite of his binder, at meeting another person who didn’t fit in – another freak, another monster. Another boy.
“It sounds different,” Olivia said, looking out past the rain through the window. “Not boy with a y, but boi with an i.”
“What’s the difference?” Nicolas asked. “They sound the same to me.”
“They sound the same,” Olivia said. “But you’ll feel different when you say ‘boi.’ The meaning is different. A boy is just a young man, but a boi? Whole other ball game.”
“And which one am I?”
“Only you can say,” Olivia said, turning to Nicolas. “But you look like a boi to me. And that’s a good thing, I figure.”
They drove round in circles for hours, until the gas tank threatened them with a little red light. They had no idea where they were, but they knew it was dark, and there was nowhere to park, so Nicolas pulled the car into an alley and found an unoccupied spot next to a loading dock behind an old hotel. Walking around the front, Nicolas and Olivia found nobody at the reception desk, and the hotel lobby in an abysmal state of disrepair. Cobwebs and dust occupied most surfaces, every painting on the walls had been slashed, vandalized, or both, and the carpet was dark with stains.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
An older person stood in a doorway Nicolas and Olivia hadn’t noticed. The person was tall, had a large pink wig, and was dressed in a sequined ball gown that didn’t fit them very well, hanging in all the wrong places. Their voice was rough, like gravel on a dirt road.
“Where are we?” Nicolas asked.
“This used to be the Hotel d’ Souza,” the person said. “Now it’s my home, and I’d like to know what you think you’re doing in my home.”
“We don’t have homes,” Olivia said.
“I don’t run a charity,” the person said. They thought for a minute. “Can you pay?”
“We don’t have any money,” Nicolas said.
The person sighed. “Can you work?”
“Yes,” Nicolas said. “I used to work summers for my dad, he was a carpenter.”
“I can do your books,” Olivia said. “I passed the Oregon Tax Preparer’s Exam last spring.”
“Then why the hell are you out here and not preparing taxes?” The person asked.
“Because my grandparents followed The Grateful Dead, and they convinced my parents that I needed to get out of the goddamn suburbs and see the world. I hitched down to Sacramento, spent a few months there, hitched my way back north, and now I’m here.”
“Uh huh. What about that?” The person pointed to Nicolas’ coat with a bony finger and low eyebrows. Olivia looked at Nicolas, unsure of where the person was pointing, but Nicolas knew without asking. “I don’t want that kind of trouble in my house.”
“No trouble,” Nicolas said. “Nobody will know, you have my word on that.”
The person nodded, hands on hips, for a good minute before speaking again.
“Then you can stay here and help out around the house until you get a job. Once you get a job, you can stay as long as you pay room and board.”
“Thank you,” Olivia said.
“Don’t thank me yet,” the person said. “The heaters haven’t worked in years, and it’s going to get awful cold when December rolls around. There are some blankets down in the basement, but they need washing.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Nicolas said.
“It’d be a help,” the person said. “May I know your names?”
The person bowed, hands folded in front of them.
“My name is Ulyana, and I welcome you to House LaCroix. Come on, I’ll show you to your room. Second floor, first door on your right.”
Ulyana smiled as Nicolas pushed the door to room 201 open. It didn’t creak like he expected it to, but the room did smell musty, like old blankets that had spent too much time in a dank closet. A single light hung from the ceiling, and flickered to life when Olivia flipped the switch by the door. There were two twin beds with sheets laid out on the mattresses, a single bureau with mirror, and an old writing desk with the wooden cover pulled down. The window was dusty, but the sky was dark anyway. Olivia sat down on one bed while Nicolas sat down across from her.
“It’s perfect,” Nicolas said. “Thank you.”
“Of course,” Ulyana said. “The kitchen’s downstairs, help yourselves. Come see me in the morning, we’ll find you some work.”
“Thank you,” Olivia said.
Ulyana departed with another bow, leaving Nicolas and Olivia alone.
“Will you…teach me to be a drag king?”
“Only if you can help me be a better drag queen.”
“It’s a deal.”
Nicolas extended a hand to shake, but was surprised when Olivia drew him into a hug instead. He felt her breast forms through their clothes, and wondered for a moment if Olivia could perceive his binder. Probably, he decided, but for the first time in his life, he didn’t care if someone knew.
Maya Lionne is a genderqueer author, staff contributor for Paper Tape, and professor of writing, currently living in Portland, Oregon. Their work has appeared in The Pitkin Review Literary Magazine, Paper Tape, and Soul’s Road: a Fiction Collection (although you might not know it was them.) They enjoy musty old books, giant robots, and model tanks.