Speaking For Those Not Voiceless

I’m not sure why, but I’ve seen more articles floating around the internet recently about, let’s say, “trans issues”. Not necessarily entirely unique conversations, but consistently framed or angled in such a way as to employ the discussion of isses as they relate to trans people. One of the things that seems to strike me the most, though, is that there’s a lot of things that — to me — are glaring omissions in a lot of these pieces. Fundamental aspects that, if you’re wanting me to take you seriously when you’re discussing trans folks in any regard, you absolutely must discuss or at least acknowledge. There’s different pieces, depending on what you’re talking about, but there’s some common ground ones that seem to come up the most.

First and foremost — and this really should not be something I need to say — is that if you’re going to talk about trans people, you absolutely must also talk to trans people. This is a non-negotiable part. If you are not trans, and if you did not consult even one person who is, your opinions on how things affect “the trans community” or those you’d say are a part of it do not matter. I don’t want to hear them, even if you’re dead-on right in what it is you’re saying. Again: this is non-negotiable. I cannot stress enough how important it is to include any marginalized group in any discussion about that group, regardless of what it is you’re trying to say about or around it.

Speaking of marginalized groups — and let’s be honest, when am I not these days? — there’s some unpacking to do here as well. This one’s not specific to discussons of so-called trans issues, but a wider berth: people of color within LGBTQ+ circles, or any other subset of humans that experiences marginalization. If you look at the history of how the “gay community”, or the “lesbian community”, or the “trans community”, or the entire gender-rainbow breadth of people (shoutout to the bisexuals, I see you there!) and how any of this has grown to the place in society it now holds, one fact holds true: it was people of color who led the way. They were the trailblazers, the risk-takers, the front line soldiers. Because this was a war they’d fought before, and they knew how to bring it. They’re still doing this right now. I’m white as hell and far behind on the revolution, but I know who I need to look to if I want to learn.

Now, one of the other things that seems to cross wavelengths so much of the time when it comes to any thinkpiece or other discourse about trans people is their inclusion (or lack thereof) within feminism. This is an intrinsic part of the conversation, if only because when we’re talking about gender at all, we’re really talking about equality. Nobody writes anything that’s centered on gender without it being a discussion of equality and inclusion. When we’re talking about trans women through the lens of feminism, things can get a bit murky. I’m not sure I’ve got the wherewithal to really pick all of that apart, but the basic problem is that there’s large swathes of women in feminist circles who subscribe to “gender essentialism” — that trans women aren’t women, and trans men are. That’s, like, a whole complete article right there, but it’s related to some of the other things, too.

One of the things I saw making its way around numerous portions of my various interwoven Twitter circles was an article that, without really saying anything at all, was written on the topic of trans women and their place in the “lesbian community”; the crux of its unanswered question was whether it’s transphobic to prefer that your sexual parters have vaginas. This is a pretty loaded question, but of course — once again — the article touched only on some broad, largely vague, statements made by a few cisgender (a.k.a. “assigned female at birth”) lesbians. No trans voices were included. Now, maybe this is just me, but maybe if you’re even posing the question as to whether an act or attitude is offensive or hateful towards a group of people, you should remember that bit a few paragraphs ago where I said that speaking to trans people is non-negotiably necessary — in this case, trans women. Hell, if you want, you probably could’ve even found a transgendered lesbian with a penchant for long-winded op-eds on topics that affect trans people. Gee, I wonder if I know any of those.

Coming back around to the article’s question, I guess I’ve got a pretty extensive number of feelings on it. Again, can’t imagine why; surely it’s not because I’m a lesbian with a penis. As to whether having a preference in sex organs is transphobic — honestly? I don’t really think it is. There’s a lot to think about there, but it boils down to a few things. Firstly, that one’s gender and one’s sexual orientation are pretty clearly not going to follow one another down any particular path. This can manifest in a number of ways, but if we’re going to agree that a person’s sexual organs do not define their gender, then I think we’re also going to have to examine the role of those organ’s in a person’s sexuality.

Here’s the thing. To me, transphobia is rooted in that gender-essentialist view I mentioned earlier. It’s a mentality built on a rejection of gender identity; people who are transphobic are typically the ones who’d say (despite the actual scientific evidence) that being transgendered is a choice, or something that someone just “decides” one day because they think they’d like to see life from the “other side”. When you express that you’ve got a preference for certain equipment when it comes to your sexual partners, that’s not an evaluation of your ability to see trans people for who they are. It’s a facet of your sexuality, and when we’re talking about sex, the things you want — the limits you set, and the things you prefer — are entirely personal. They’re not even necessarily a reflection of any other part of yourself or your worldview.

By speaking to your own sexual preferences, whether we’re talking about the gender you find yourself romantically interested in or the things you like to do “in the bedroom”, you’re setting boundaries. I think we can all agree that having boundaries in your sexual relationships is important. These can vary, of course, not just from person to person, but from day to day. Some of them, though, are things that are inherently a part of our ability to want or enjoy sex. A cisgendered straight man can enjoy being on the receiving end of anal sex — that’s not, by necessity, an expression of some latent homosexual tendencies, or a condemnation of their “manliness” or whatever else you’d like to quantify it as. Similarly, a cisgendered (or hell, even transgendered!) lesbian might prefer that the sex they’re involved in not include penises. That’s not, by necessity, an expression of latent transphobic beliefs. These things are simply facets of how different people approach their participation in sexual activity.

Some people like to include toys in their sex lives; some find the idea patently ridiculous and unnecessary. Some people like to be tied up or controlled by their partners; some people would find this horrifying or traumatic. There’s all sorts of flavors when it comes to how we, as human beings, engage in and find our enjoyment in the act of sex — whatever that may mean to you. Again, I feel that it’s incredibly important that we separate “what a person enjoys for themselves” from how a person views or treats those around them. Saying you’d rather your partner didn’t come with some extra gear down there, in part because you’re a lesbian, doesn’t mean you’re telling a trans woman that she’s not a woman — just that she’s not a woman you’d want to sleep with. I think pretty much every human ever is “guilty” of not wanting to have sex with someone because of a physical trait they possess. We like what we like.

Anyhow, I guess the point of this — all of this — is that society as a whole still has a long way to go when it comes to inclusiveness and, more importantly, intersectional inclusiveness. I’m just one transgender lesbian offering my opinion on some things here, and with time some of this may change. However, I feel remarkably confident that the following points will remain a core part of my personal philosophy for as long as I’m capable of cognitive thought: discussing how an issue impacts or relates to a marginalized group absolutely requires participation from that group, people (and, again, especially women) of color should have their voices in these conversations, and what you like in your sex life is not a direct reflection of any other facet of yourself or something for which you should be harshly judged (within certain limitations, of course, including age and enthusiastic consent).

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Confessions of a Paid Protester

Alright. By now, we’ve all heard the rumours, seen the stories linking wealthy Democratic party members to the people flooding the streets on what seems to be a daily basis now. We’ve heard about how these benefactors must be bankrolling these ongoing protests, sending cash in exchange for bodies out there holding signs, chanting kitschy slogans, and impeding traffic in major cities. We’ve seen thinkpieces about how these folks simply can’t be giving up their time for free, and the counterpoints about how ridiculous it is to think they’re being compensated. I’m here to set the record straight: the story is true. We’re being paid.

Now, you might be thinking, “but I’ve been protesting, and I haven’t gotten a dime for it!” Well, my friends, that’s pretty simple to explain away as well. You see, here’s the thing. These people who accuse the protesters of being paid off for their so-called service to the cause? They’re right, but also a bit misguided. The thing about these protests and those joining them is this: they understand, unlike their detractors, that payment and compensation doesn’t always manifest in a single way; that is to say, being paid does not mean receiving money. That’s an important piece of this equation.

I’m not being paid cash for my retweets, for my own thinkpieces about the nature of our current political climate. That’s a ludicrous idea. There’s nobody in the world who’d be willing to bankroll my life just for waving a sign with a clever slogan that advances their cause. If I’m wrong about this, well — shit, my Patreon link is over there on the right. Hit me up there; if I hit a living wage through those donations, I’ll devote myself full-time to the effort. Full stop. It’s what I’d love to do, but again, that ain’t how it works.

No, my payment comes in other forms. I’m paid in the satisfaction that the world is watching, and seeing a people stand up agains the fascism taking root in the good old U. S. of A. I’m paid in the glee I get from seeing shitbags like Betsy DeVos be turned away from a school by a collection of less than a dozen so-called “protesters” standing there and reminding her that she’s unfit for the job she bought, and being proven right as she turns tail from this tiny collective of citizens standing up for their rights. I’m paid in the furious spittle flying from Trump’s Twitter account as his potentially-unconstitutional and certainly amoral actions are shut down, time and again, by the people he’s supposed to represent and by the judiciary that stands to preserve the law of our land.

You see, standing up to this — it doesn’t require a monetary compensation. I’ve got a full-time job, working more than 40 hours per week for a pretty decent wage. The thing about that, though, is that “full time” doesn’t mean “all the time”. My job keeps me busy five days a week — excepting days like today, when I’m stuck at home tending to a sick child. On those days, I’m there and all-in on my assigned tasks from 8am until 5pm. All the rest of the time, including weekends? Well, that’s for me, and as an adult I’m able to make my own decisions about what to do with that time, and (by and large) what to do with the money I’m paid for doing that job. I don’t need to be paid to protest, because I’ve got mine from other sources.

So, yeah, I’m paid to protest. I’m paid in the knowledge that I stand on the right side of history, shouting down the white supremacists and full-blown Nazis trying to take hold of the country. I’m paid in the satisfaction that I’m working to build the world I want to see my children grow up in; one that accepts that “America First” does not mean “without immigrants” or “without refugees” or “without Muslims”. I’m paid in the sense of accomplishment that comes from the few shining rays of light coming from our judicial branch, coming from my fellow protesters, coming from every man and woman standing up today to say that we will not allow this poisonous, xenophobic, hateful rhetoric guide our country unchecked.

And there’s the real disconnect, too; it’s not that those who look at the crowds and think “they’re paid off” started from the idea that super-rich leftists are sprinkling cash down on them. No, they worked their way up to that conclusion from a much more simple idea that’s the only thing they can imagine: that people will only invest their time and effort into something if they’re getting money for it. They don’t come to this idea without reason, either; all of them, I imagine, are people who would stand up in protest of things themselves — for a monetary gain. Maybe they’ve already done things that they recognize as against their values for money, like the politicians they represent seem to. Maybe they just imagine that nobody could be that dedicated without the only carrot that they see as worthwhile being dangled above them. Maybe they just can’t understand the concept of a selfless act at all, thanks to our money-obsessed capitalist roots.

Make no mistake: the idea that money is the only compensation worth taking isn’t new, or fresh, or alien. It’s systemic to our entire nation, and exists within every single facet of our lives. It’s sold to us in television and radio commercials, it’s explained to us on the evening news, it’s laid out for us in the flailing education system. It’s a core part of what makes America what it is; money, “the almighty dollar”, is the go-to standard for what makes anything worth doing. You want food, shelter, water, power, internet access, someone to chop your veggies for you? It’s all service, and service costs cash. It’s what drives us to work every morning, what greases the gears of our prison complex, what pushes the trains on their tracks, and it dominates most every aspect of our lives. That’s a fact.

The problem, though, is that people think that “primary motivation” must mean “only motivation” — often, I think, because it is so for themselves. If you’re only ever willing to go as far as someone will pay you to, you’re not going to understand the folks who keep on going once the account runs dry. If you’ve only ever pushed yourself to try and get a few extra bucks in the bank, you’re lacking the fundamental experience that can demonstrate that others will push themselves for other rewards. If you think the only reason to do a job is to get paid, you’ll never reach a common ground with the volunteers, the self-sacrificers, the (dare I say it?) protesters.

So there you have it, everyone. That’s the ugly truth: the protesters are paid. We’re absolutely getting ours out of all of this, and while it sure as shit isn’t paying the bills, it’s filling up something that matters well more than money ever could. I’m sorry if this is seen as a betrayal of “the movement”, but I couldn’t live with the shame of hiding this dark secret anymore. See, I’m an honest woman at heart, and I just had to let loose here and admit to the truth, the reality of our situation. I’m sorry that it had to come to this, but I had to get this off of my chest and let the world know what’s really going on behind the scenes.

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This is War

You know, it’s been a while since I let myself write a rambling, half-thought-out rant here, but this is a blog and what the hell good is a blog if you’re not doing that? I’ve been focusing a lot on my fiction recently, as you might have noticed. There’s a bunch of reasons for that but the big ones really are that I’ve really, desperately needed an escape from the constant barrage of bullshit that’s coming from our government, the sweeping hatred that’s gripped our country, and all the other fuckery that’s flooding everything I look at recently. This, though, isn’t about escaping. It’s about speaking up.

It’s about speaking up when I see our president signing an executive order that results in the detaining of legal US citizens because of their national origin. It’s about speaking up when I see rights being trampled on in the name of “safety”, with thinly veiled words that prove that it’s not about safety. It’s about seeing Sally Yates, our now-former Attonrey General, standing up and doing her goddamn job, knowing full well that it would result in immediately losing that job. It’s about watching as a fucking Nazi-sympathizing fascist takes control of our country. It’s about all the people who think we’ve gotta “hear both sides”.

You know what? You’re right! We’ve gotta hear both sides! And I’ve heard them. I’ve heard one side say we should be turning refugees away, because their nationality makes them a suspect. I’ve heard that side say that I should be subjected to shock therapy until I “convert” to their definition of normal. I’ve heard that side say that we should ban immigration, and not guns, to address crime. I’ve heard that side openly and frequently say that we should be asking ourselves if a genocide of the black race is to the benefit of our world.

I’ve heard it, and I reject it. If you try to tell me that a life — ANY goddamn life — means less than yours becasue of nationality, because of religion, because of skin color or sexual preference or any other goddamn reason: you are my enemy. Maybe we were friends once. Maybe we were family. Maybe you already hated me, or snickered to yourself when I came out as a transgender woman. Whatever we were, whatever it was before this moment, it is dead. I do not accept your hatred. I do not accept that disagreeing with racism and xenophobia is a “differenece of opinion”. I do not agree that slavish devotion to our president — to ANY president — is the meaning of patriotism.

You say I should practice tolerance, that I should respect a difference of opinion. That’s great! I’m willing to respect a difference of opinion any goddamn day. No problems there, buddy. When you say that about someone who poses an eminent threat to my queer friends, to my friends of color, to my Muslim friends — I draw a line. This is not my rejecting my ideals; this is not me rejecting logic or reason or restraint. This is me, responding to an open declaration of war. We did not start this war, you and I, but like it or not, we are drawn into it. There is no option for neutrality. The current administration has made that perfectly clear.

So, hold fast to your logic and your centrist beliefs. You’re probably a white guy — it’ll probably work out, for you. It won’t work for women. It won’t work for people in skin that’s darker than yours. It won’t work for the LGBTQ community. It won’t, because our nation is led by a man who’s ear hears only what it wants — and what it wants is fed to him by the self-proclaimed “voice of the alt-right”. By the by, there is no such fucking thing as the “alt-right”. They’re the new breed of Nazis, and their goals are the same as those who laid the groundwork for them in 1930s Germany.

Maybe you think we’re being whiney little snowflakes, thinking we’re somehow special and deserving of a “participation trophy”. Fuck you. I never got a trophy for participating in anything. I’m not special, I’m human. That’s it. That’s all any of us are. It’s the only thing we can be, and the only thing I’m proud to be any more. I used to feel pride in my country — and yes, this goes back before Trump. Before Obama. Before I was even a part of the political world, when I was a part of this country’s now-dying educational system. My teachers never told me that I had to listen to a president if he was enacting laws I disagreed with; they encouraged me to think. To grow.

And yet, as we watch the nation churn in growing turmoil, the president is tossing aside all “defectors”. Anyone who questions his word is labeled an enemy, even if it is their job to do so. This nation was founded with a series of “checks and balances” — maybe you remember hearing about them? Those are crumbling before us as the direct result of a fascist ruler and a spineless gathering of weak, pathetic politicians beneath him. Democrats, Republicans — I don’t give a shit about party lines. Both side have shown their cowardice in the last week, and both will continue to empower this raging ass-hat until it’s far too late to save any of us anymore.

Maybe you think I’m a sore loser because my candidate didn’t win. I didn’t have a candidate in this election. There was nobody running who represented my interests. Not during the primaries, not during the general election. Never. Not once did a candidate come forward that gave a shit about me as a person. Most of them, though, would have agreed that I’m a person, or even that I’m an American. Trump has called me an enemy. That is his word, not mine. That is his label, not mine. This is his war, but I’m forced into it. Sure, out here in California, in the skin of your average white guy, I’m pretty safe. My life isn’t in immediate danger. Others’ lives are, and if you think we can sit back and wait while they build the walls, the camps — fuck you. You’re going to end this on the wrong side of history.

Anyway, if you’re at the end of all this, then you’re probably someone that agrees with most of what I’ve said, so there’s no real point in going on any further. All the hotheaded, safe-space-needing Nazi sympathizers are gone by now, so thanks for pulling through. On the off chance you managed to get here while still thinking that everything I’ve laid out here is somehow extremist or wrong — why? What is the endgame in your fierce dedication to supporting those who would just as soon see me dead because I present a threat to their world view? I don’t have any more words for you. Get out of my life.

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Not Home

A sharp electronic tone cut through the air, a repeating scream to return to consciousness. Delphine watched as her host stumbled in the dark, pawing at the wall for light before silencing the alarm. She watched as Megan dug through her closet, seeking out her normal dress in favor of the cloak’s embrace. She seemed rushed, like she was trying to make an escape. They spoke briefly before parting as Megan dashed out the door, headed back to the diner for another day’s work. Delphine sighed.

You never knew what you’d get with any new acolyte. Well, not an acolyte in this case, but new all the same. Fresh to the world that existed parallel to her own. Full of that youthful exuberance, the whimsy of seeing something more than you’d ever dreamed. Delphine remembered the feeling, long ago as it was. She mused on her own introduction into this world as she set about setting everything as it had been when she arrived. She smiled as she scrawled out a note, tucking it under her earlier gift to Megan. She wondered how long it would take for curiosity to give way to temptation.

Delphine finished tidying the kitchen. Everything as it had been when she arrived. Save for the note, she couldn’t risk any trace of her passing through. Once she was satisfied that her work was complete, she checked the locks and turned off the lights, her fingers tracing the wall as she returned to the bedroom. Drawing her cloak around her, she sat cross-legged on the floor at the foot of Megan’s bed, closed her eyes, and began the incantation. In her mind’s eye, she watched the ground below her give way, a gaping sinkhole into the soil below stretching out beneath her. She saw herself drift into the Earth’s gaping maw as the land sewed itself back into place above her. She saw flickers, reflections in the blackness skipping past her vision in faint flashes. She felt herself become one with the dirt.

When she opened her eyes, Delphine was standing in the dark. Dim streetlights hung to one side, and wild shadows stood above her on the other. The park. It wasn’t a bad landing; only a five minute walk back. She could get some more rest; while the sun was rising on Megan’s day, Delphine had nearly three more hours before it would find her again. She glanced around to be sure she was alone, then pointed herself towards home.

No, not home. That didn’t seem the right word. Sure, she had her own cot every night, but the shelter didn’t offer the other amenities that came from having a real home. Privacy. Quiet. No, those things didn’t come with the territory here, but it was better than nothing. Hell, it was probably better than a lot of things. People caught in relationships they secretly hate, sharing their entire lives with the ones they despise. People caught under the terror of abuse. People locked in jails for things they didn’t even do. At least she was free. Well, mostly free. Free enough.

Quietly making her way inside, Delphine found an open cot and laid down. She’d slept well enough, but they’d — well, been up late. You really never did know what you’d get. It wasn’t like her to get swept up in their wild reactions, but it had been one hell of a weekend. A slice of what normal life might be like, if she could dig her way out of here. It wasn’t as easy as all that, though; even with an income, everyone’s looking for rental history, for your last three addresses, references, all that crap. These weren’t things you could go out and pick up from the mall after a good week’s work.

She drifted in and out of sleep, listening to the shuffling around her during her moments of lucidity. It had been nice to get away from it, but she didn’t want to risk losing everything. They had to stay together, and a flash-in-the-pan romance sure as shit didn’t facilitate that. She did regret the hurry of the morning, but she didn’t want to overstay her welcome. Sending Megan off to return to her usual routine was cruel, but necessary. Above all else, keeping up the appearance of fitting in to society was important. That was one advantage she had over most here; whatever the circumstance might call for, she could dress the part.

Eventually, dawn broke and the kitchen sprung to life. She wasn’t on the cooking crew today, so her tardiness was excusable. Today was dishwashing duty. It wasn’t a particularly glamorous task, but it was something to do to feel useful and earn her keep. She ate in silence, like she always did. Most around here weren’t exactly social butterflies, and those who were soon learned to keep to each other — especially during meals. Everyone had their routine, no matter what path their life took. Everyone played their part in the grand performance of life. Most of them would never really know their role, what their existence meant on a longer timeline. Most didn’t really seem to care.

It was different for her, though, and for the rest of the Five, all of the initiates and acolytes. They still had their routines, their parts to play, and their roles to fulfill, but with an actor’s awareness of their placement. Sure, not even Lillian had the whole script, but they knew enough of the design to understand what needed to be done here and now. They couldn’t act on impulse — not when it counted. The strategy had been in play since long before Delphine had been born, but now relied on her ability to maintain it. Everything that happened with Olivia — it put everyone in danger. Olivia was a global threat.

She finished her meal and made her way to the back of the kitchen. The stereo in the corner was rattling out something between static and heavy metal; she couldn’t tell what was intentional or not in the varying distortions. She stepped to a sink and set to scraping, spraying, scrubbing, and racking everything that came in. She was quick at it, now, but there were more living here than there had been when she arrived. Whatever it was that was unfolding in the world around her, it seemed that an increasing number of down-on-their-luck folks found their way to this doorstep.

Once the dishes were done, she and the others went their separate ways. Some would stay here, backing up other work crews to stay in good graces. Some would hit the streets, playing instruments or simply silently begging for coins. Others would take a bus or carpool to a normal job, somewhere downtown or near the university or — well, away from here, the place that polite society liked to support but didn’t want to see. Delphine’s day was likely to be something more unique.

At least, that’s how it turned out to be. Her friend’s face was on a small TV in the corner; that didn’t seem right. She stepped closer and caught the tail end of what sounded like an inflammatory rant disguised as news. They were calling Celia terrible things, accusing her of ties to some nebulous group of extremists in a far-off land. It didn’t make any damn sense — what could she have possibly done? Whatever the talking head on the screen had to say, Delphine knew that he was wrong. This wasn’t a report, it was a smear campaign on national television.

This was a declaration of war.

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Drive

The remainder of her work day was business as usual. She’d calmed down, though she was still kicking herself. Regardless of the circumstance, regardless of how lucky she’d been that nothing had been stolen, she’d still brought a stranger into her home. She’d still abandoned all sense of reason for a night of passion. She’d still let her control over her own life and actions slip, and she was angry. Sure, it had been — well, pretty damn great, all things considered, but it wasn’t her. It wasn’t normal. It wasn’t — well, it wasn’t worth losing her job over. Focus. Untangle the thoughts later, she told herself. The customers are here now.

Still, throughout the day, Megan felt that same shame and guilt brewing in her mind. She felt betrayed; she wasn’t sure if she blamed herself, or Delphine, or anyone. It didn’t matter who she tried to put that on, the net result was the same. Focus, damnit. Watch where you pour the coffee. Smile. She’d always had a natural charisma that helped her rake in tips, keep light conversation. Today was a struggle. The ease with which she strolled from table to table was gone; she felt stiff, almost robotic, trying to force out pleasantries. She strained to conceal it all, but the more she struggled, the more she was sure it was painfully obvious. Nobody said anything, of course — this was a diner, not a damn therapist’s couch — but she could see concern, sense the curiosity at her unusual behavior. They knew.

As her shift ended, Megan found herself feeling uncertain. Normally, on a day like today, she’d head home and putz around, looking for small chores to keep her busy until she felt satisfied enough to rest. Today, she wasn’t feeling it; the very thought of going back to her empty apartment, of plunging back into the earthy smell and the blur of recent memory, knotted her stomach. She pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the highway. A long drive to nowhere might help clear her thoughts. She cranked up the music as loud as her crappy stock speakers would allow, rolled down the windows to let in the freezing winter air, and drove.

It wasn’t long before she was out of town, out among the woods and hills and emptiness. There wasn’t much traffic out here on a Monday afternoon, and she took full advantage of the open road. The landscapes around her became a blur, the trees and telephone poles blazing past her, the sky rolling above. She felt her thoughts, her worries, blowing away in the icy wind that tore through the car, carried off like so many falling leaves. She felt free, not just from the pressures of life, but from her own internal walls that she’d spent all day building up. She felt unburdened from every distraction; all, of course, but the sudden flash of red and blue behind her.

She spat profanities to herself as she pulled over to the side of the road. Of course. Of fucking course. I let go one goddamn time, and this has to happen. Goddamnit. Why the hell am I such an idiot? Why the hell would I- Her moment of reflection was cut short when she caught his face in the side mirror. Harris. Of all the possibilities, it had to be him.

“Miss Adams! What a pleasant surprise.” His voice grated on her, like someone dragging a bag of rocks across a marble floor. “I’m sure ya know why it is you’re bein’ pulled over. Let’s see that license an’ registration, if ya got ’em.”

She fished out the paperwork and handed it over, trembling with a mix of embarassment and fear. What were the chances that the cop to pull her over would be the same she’d found on her doorstep? That the same cop she’d run afoul of, who never seemed to join his colleagues for breakfast, would be here now, so far outside of town? He had to have been following her, waiting for her recklessness to provide an easy excuse. She stewed in thoughts of calling him out as he went back to his car, presumably running the numbers to make sure there wasn’t some other infraction from her past for him to drag out.

Hours seemed to pass, and Megan regretted her decision to leave the windows down as she drove. In the rush of tearing across the countryside, she hadn’t felt the bite in the air, but as she sat in festering silence waiting for Harris to come back, it seemed to rip into her flesh and gnaw at her bones. Her face ached. Her fingers could barely grip the steering wheel. The swirl of clouds above had yet to make good on their threats of rain, but the scent was on the breeze. She hoped this would be done before it came.

She didn’t notice Harris leaving his car until he was again standing at her window. “All looks to be in order, miss Adams. I’m sure it’ll be no trouble, comin’ up with the fine. You know I don’t like doin’ this, right? Might be a lot easier for ya if there was anything you remembered since the last time we talked…” he let these last words fade. The implications of his pressing were obvious.

“All due respect, officer,” she offered in a tone that suited the icy weather, “I have no idea what you mean. I don’t know those kids, and I don’t know where they went.”

“Well, darlin’, you figure it out, you lemme know, alright?” He handed over her license, registration papers, and significant ticket. Over a decade on the road, and she’d never been given one until now. She knew she’d earned it, but still — it couldn’t have been coincidence. She rolled up her windows and waited until he’d curled off behind her and back towards town before following suit.

Still fuming over everything that had happened and entirely unsure of what to do, she headed home as if on autopilot. Rain had begun to fall in a light patter that was just enough to secure an overnight freeze that would wreak havoc on the roads come morning. Cold, wet, miserable, and clutching her costly prize, she made her way inside.

The earthen smell hit her like a ton of bricks. It had been there before, but somehow it seemed to have grown. She tossed the ticket on the coffee table, next to Delphine’s note. I’ll see you soon; it seemed like a mockery, somehow. Like she was just supposed to agree that they’d meet again, and everything would be fine. They could sit by the window and tell fanciful tales again and she could forget the bullshit of the day, or the week, or however much time would pass before “soon” came around. Like she was supposed to think a night of lacking inhibition had meant anything at all; who knew how many other women or men had been swept up in Hurricane Delphine, their lives left forever altered in her wake.

Megan remembered her burrito, left hours ago in the microwave. She’d normally just toss it straight into the trash and find something else; but then, she’d normally not bring god-knows-who to her bedroom. She’d normally not have spent her afternoon pushing her poor, aging car to its limits on the highway. She’d normally not have a bottle of whatever the hell that was on the table, or the scent of wet dirt permeating her home, or — well, what was one more terrible decision to round out the bunch. She started the microwave up again, telling herself this was enough to kill anything truly harmful.

Burrito in hand, she flicked on the TV and plopped heavily onto the couch. It felt empty; hell, she felt empty. She still couldn’t remember the last time she’d properly eaten, but something more was weighing on her as she bit into her latest terrible life choice. The familiar tune of the local station’s evening news program played from across the room, and the droning voice of the same anchor she’d seen there for years began its daily recitations.

Exhausted and hardly interested in the same hum-drum bullshit blaring from the screen, Megan felt her eyes grow heavy. The room began to dim as she slipped towards sleep, too flustered still to bother moving from the couch to her bed. As the flickering pulse of the television began to fade behind eyelids that were barely still open, Megan nearly missed her opportunity to see a familiar face; framed to the right of the anchor’s stoic gaze was Celia. Beneath the photo, a one-word question: “Terrorist?”

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