Nine is the key number here, nine is everything. I open the door, I close the door. Open, close, repeat nine times. When the ritual first began it was to keep bad things from happening out there. Now I do it when I come home too, to keep the bad things from getting in. The night comes down on my western corner of the world, nothing remains of the day. I watch the door. Bad things are out there this night. Bad things want to get in.
It’s long past midnight when I hear the familiar roll of flat tires gurgling down the gravel drive, headlights staining the blinds a dusty yellow. He stumbles through the cottage door, flicks on the light, and it’s only now I realize I’ve been sitting in the dark, watching the dark, waiting in the dark all this time. He looks at me. His hair is manic, shooting up in all directions and the sides aren’t shaved down like they should be, like they usually are. His eyes are also manic. He’s been driving around all night, looking for something I don’t know what, just following the breath of his cigarette smoke, letting it trail behind into the curves of the road that vanish into the everblack trees. The stars are out this night.
He collapses into the foldout chair by the door, oblivious of the smoke that creeps from the cigarette still hanging in his lips and the slow reach of ghost tendrils that burn my eyes, water my cheeks. He doesn’t close the door, not all the way. I never hear it click shut. All it would take is a weak breeze to nudge it wide.
“What’s up,” he says to me, his eyes closed.
Opening my mouth I want to say something—like what’s up with you because I can tell something is up with you but I don’t know what said something is—though my throat is sticky and nothing escapes. How I must look sitting there, like I haven’t seen a soul in weeks. The way my thumb twitches from all the swiping I’m not sure if I can keep this up, if any of this is worth it for a fiction blog I’m to write that I’m not even sure will be fiction at all. It doesn’t matter, I can’t write about it.
Where is Tommy Tinder? I should ask him. Brian, why aren’t you at Tommy Tinder’s?
Before I can ask—if I ever would have said anything is debatable—Brian’s eyes flash open, dart to the calendar on the wall usually marked with big red Xs for each passing day. The days haven’t been marked for some time, they may as well not have happened.
“Shit,” he says. “Shitshitshitshit. Shit.” He flies into the other room, his jacket and smoke streamers trailing, and buries himself in our closet. Moments later he returns with his tin Batman lunchbox with the syringes and testosterone vials inside. Crosslegged on the carpet, he lays it all out before him. I see the writing on the calendar and I see he was supposed to put this testosterone into his body several days ago. He hasn’t been here in several days plus and maybe it’s only my imagination but as he takes the syringe to the vial, his fingers glide in graceful ways that the fingers of men don’t usually move in, he smells of apple cinnamon candles and Eve before the Fall. The syringe full and its needle pressed against his thigh, his eyes meet mine and he says—
“Not sure you want to see this.”
And he’s right, I don’t want to see this. I turn away, face the wall and listen to the tense silence of testosterone pressing into muscle, the rattle of trembling fingers no longer graceful, and then a grunt, a manly grunt, a needle pulling out. The deed is done, Eve has fallen and the candle snuffed out. When I turn around Brian is wiping a trickle of blood from his leg and I see he’s more of a man than I could ever be, the goddamn nuts of it.
His skin is bloodless as he places the lunchbox back into the closet, his movements faint. He grabs a towel, locks himself in the bathroom. I hear water move in the walls and listen as the shower rains itself down over Brian’s bare body, knowing full well that shower time does not correlate with realtime and what seems like 45 minutes to me seems like only a few to Brian. Science has yet to explain this phenomenon. I get up, lean against the front door and click it shut. I click it shut nine times. Behind me the bathroom door opens with the smell of rain and spice and Brian emerges behind a trapped cloud of storm, his towel wrapped around his waist. The storm follows him. It’s the first time I’ve seen his breasts and I notice pale strings of hair growing from them, though I’m not sure, because I’m a gentleman and only look at his eyes.
“Yo,” Brian says, feeling his damp hair with his hands and feeling what could be seen—that his hair has grown unkempt and wild in its time away from me. “Would you mind cutting my hair?”
“But you just showered.”
“So I’ll shower again.”
It’s just us cramped in our claustrophobic, humid excuse for a bathroom. I have no recollection of Tinder or Tommy or the bad things that wait outside, or anything really, and then Brian wipes the fog from the mirror meant for a small person. I see Brian, Brian’s breasts, and myself standing behind all three, the emptiest of looks in my eyes and I remember Tinder, I remember Tommy, I remember the bad things. Everything really. I ask Brian to raise his towel, to cover himself up. Brian rolls his eyes but he does as requested. I grab the clippers from the cabinet above the toilet. The blades are oily, still sharp, and I circle Brian’s head, eyeing the work to be done and I don’t know if either of us have ever been this close to the other, at least not in awhile.
Switching on the clippers, a buzz overtakes the small room. Brian’s hair is lanky and blue on the top and I’m to shave off all fuzzy sides surrounding. Don’t worry about fades, he says, just mow the sides down.
Remember that mirror trick you learned as a kid? The one where you unfocus your eyes and stare into yourself and supposedly you see into the future, what you’ll look like when you’re older? Well, I remember. I’ve never been able to erase that image, the one of my reflection aging before my eyes, the approaching death of it. I convinced myself it wasn’t real, but I still remember that image, it’s hard not to because it looks like how I look now. Now I avoid mirrors. When that’s impossible I avoid my eyes. I’m looking at Brian, his eyes, and my own eyes unfocus, but he doesn’t age. In his eyes I see his youth, the teenage girl he once pretended to be, the virgin he once was.
Brian and his virginity, he lost it when he was 13. He lost it when he still went by and looked like a Brianna. And although Brian will tell you that he was always a he and to call Brianna a she is ignorant and degrading, for the sake of this writing I will do just that—I will call Brianna a she—because this is the role that Brian played at the time. Brian won’t like this, but there are some things I must say, some things I need you to see the way most people see. During the time preceding his lost virginity, Brian was a Brianna. No one knew that the “na” at the end of Brianna had no place being there.
Picture Brianna—long dirty gold locks and the depth of eyes that swallows grown men whole. She believes in love. She’s very much in love herself, and we’re talking the movie, romantic comedy type of love, not yet disillusioned by the forced drab whatever of her parents. She’s in love with Johnny, a boy in her class with shy eyes and a quiet gait. She’s not ready to make love with Johnny, because she still refers to making love as making love and though she is in love, she isn’t convinced. She is nervous. Johnny is nervous. Then summertime. Brianna goes to church camp. Out in the woods, out of earshot from the girls’ cabins, Brianna makes something but loses something else to a boy several years older.** I don’t know his name. I’m not sure Brian knows. I’m doubt Brianna ever knew.
**Some of you may fault me for the use of such a cliche moment in the past of the young, but I will argue that it’s cliche because it happens, it happens a lot, and I’m using the cliche because it happened to Brian.
When Brianna comes home from camp she tries to make love with Johnny but something else comes of it, something in which something else is missing. They keep on doing this something because this something feels good and empties from their souls a key ingredient to the pains of life. Emptied of this ingredient, what one becomes is empty.
Growing up, Brianna primarily has guy friends, young boys who are horny and want to know what sex feels like, what it’s supposed to feel like. Hanging out in small groups at the homes of her friends, Brianna takes each of them aside, one by one, and shows them what sex feels like, what it’s supposed to feel like. Before ever stepping foot in their houses, she knows exactly where to find the porn collections of their fathers. The toolshed, she says, look in the second box of tools. They mimic the actors, become actors themselves. Friends tell friends and quickly they become friends with Brianna and they learn things and feelings and it’s these feelings they’ll be chasing ever since. Brianna becomes a sex goddess, and by goddess I mean god, because throughout all this she’s still a he, he’s still Brian, he just hasn’t told anyone yet. That comes years later.
And don’t get the wrong idea, Brian has always remained and still remains in control, Brian even now pulls all the strings, their strings. Boys, they never forget their first time. You never forget your first time with Brian. There are some things you never forget, things that make all following things worthless.
I’m afraid to touch Brian as I press the razing clippers to the place where spine meets skull. I must grab his neck, hold it steady to keep his head from repeatedly tipping down. I smell the sweat of his body, feel the weight of his blood as I lay my palm against his jugular. I raise his chin and mow the first stretch of hair revealing nothing but a pale, sunless white underneath. Nudging his head left, nudging it right, I mow the sides to nothing. It’s not until I touch the delicate cartilage of Brian’s left ear, its invisible cold fuzz, that I realize neither of us are breathing.
🤐join man next week for journal #10 (in which said man concludes the tale of the shredded hair in the night, during which other things happen)