Every now and again Brian’s towel will slip and without my saying a thing he’ll grab it, pull it up and keep it snug. With the clippers going in one hand, I graze the empty palm of the other against the now bare sides of his scalp feeling for any inconsistencies. I sweep away loose hair, bring my hand to the crown of his head and brush my fingers through its bleach and blue. I never imagined hair could feel so soft, feel so much like sky. With my thumb and forefinger I take his chin and turn him toward me, tilt his head every which way, looking everywhere except into his eyes. The power structure feels different—I tell him to turn and he turns, I tell him to raise his chin and he raises his chin, I tell him to stop moving and he’s a statue. He’s never listened to me the way he listens to me now and it’s very disarming, my blood is moving too fast to places that it really shouldn’t. I turn off the clippers. “So what do you think?” I ask him.
He wipes the steam from the mirror and eyes his reflection. Sweeping his hair left and sweeping it right, he leans in closer to himself, plants his cheek a mirror inch from his own cheek and fingers the place where the blue hair meets pale white skin.
“Do you see this?” he asks. He means the border of blond hair so dirty it’s brown that I missed. I tell him I see it, turn on the clippers once more and very carefully, with trembling fingers, I shave the dirty border clean. I sweep my palms one last time over his head and say—
Brian nods and feels his head without looking at himself in the mirror. He’s looking at me. We’re just standing there now, staring at each other, me with the dead clippers in my hand and covered completely in the shred of Brian’s hair and really there’s only one thing left to say—
“Your friends back then, what kind of things did you show them? What kind of things do they know that I don’t know?”
And Brian nods, knowing what I’ve failed to truly know this entire time, that I’ve been sabotaging myself because I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be with a warm body, if it feels like anything at all. When it comes down to it, I’m terrified of making contact, of the lowering of clothes with a woman I don’t know, afraid said woman will only find the boy that hides beneath this costume I somehow pass off for a man.
In Brian’s eyes I see him working out some sort of problem, like a math problem but I know it’s not because Brian hates math and is no good at it. His nostrils expand with the slow intake of air and I’m not sure if I’ve upset him by the question, by asking him about the times he’d show his childhood friends the secrets of the night, practice new tricks when he—Brian—was still called Brianna.
He never answers. He removes the clippers from my hand, places it in the sink and takes my hand in his. Before I know what’s happening he’s pulled me to my mat in the corner with room enough for one and together, as one, we find room enough for two. His towel is damp against my shirt, my arms are tangled across his back, his ribs cutting off the circulation in my right arm. I feel in the slow friction his towel collapsing around him. His skin is striped milk from the pale moonlight that shreds in from the slatted blinds. I see not just the bruises from the games he plays with Tommy, but marks ancient—prehistoric even—in their scars. Light marks across his wrists and darker ones down. Also, scars across his abdomen.** My heart pumps in a lower region and I feel an alien coldness grab at this second pulse with steady, rhythmic movements.
**Brian has told me about these scars. Some time in the early adolescent years of his life, when the missing ingredients he lost yielded to a darkness that would overcome him, Brian would cut his wrists and play with the blood. His parents worried about this, wanted him to stop, but Brian didn’t want to stop. They threatened to get help, to commit him to one of the bad places of the world, the places with the really, really white walls. Brian went to his youth minister about this (her name was, and is, Winter) and when Brian told Winter about the wrist cutting, she took him in her arms and said, “Oh hun, no. No, there there. Don’t cut your wrists, cut your stomach where nobody can see. Cut yourself there if it makes you feel good, cut yourself there so no one knows.” Brian agreed this was a solid idea.
Brian’s breath is cigarette smoke and sardines and his bare skin is clammy to the touch. Taking a break from his ventures down under, he lifts my shirt and I do the rest. His breasts are pressed against my chest and all of this, all of this, every part of this feels so foreign I don’t know how to communicate, how to move my lips in a way that makes sense because his lips are on mine and mine aren’t moving. My lips are parted and my eyes are open and still he nibbles on my bottom lip, his hand once again creeping down below my unlatched belt, crawling into the sticky humidity of hair underneath. I have now two hearts—the slow rhythmic yanking beat down below and the terrified hammering of a muscle trapped beneath my ribs, desperate to escape what’s happening. There isn’t enough blood here for the two of us, one heart shouts. This body isn’t big enough for us both. Room enough for one… for one… for one… my heart echoes into the blue veined maze of my body, feeding its enemy below. But I am not listening, because in this moment even the beats of my heart are foreign.
No hablo! No hablo! No hablo español! I want to scream and from the look on Brian’s face I wonder if I screamed just that. Brian’s pulling my jeans to my ankles, his lips following the line down my abdomen, but I feel a hint of stubble and tell him to wait, wait on just a second.
He looks at me in the dark. I’m breathing heavy. I don’t think he’s breathing at all. There’s the darkness in his eyes that also lurks behind, creating a shadow halo around his head. Brian is never alone, this darkness is a very physical presence. Our eyes adjust on one another. His breasts just hang there, grazing my thighs and he asks me what’s wrong, what is it?
“What if,” I ask, “what if this isn’t you, what if this isn’t me at all?”
Brian’s shoulders drop an octave. He sits up and he waits, knowing what I’m about to say, what he knows I can’t stop myself from saying.
“It’s just, Brianna—I mean Brian—” a heavy pause “—but what if I called you Brianna?”
And Brian, not Brianna, rolls off me because Brianna was never there at all. The things that pass through my head, the things that should never be said, the things that go unsaid, forever unsaid, like— I love you, Brian, with the emphasis on the Brian, the Brian, and the Brian.
I watch as Brian gets dressed in the pale moonlight with shoulders that hang dead like a corpse’s. He doesn’t say a word. My pants are at my ankles, I don’t know where my shirt is—wait, I think that’s it under my left shoulder—and I’m covered in the shred of Brian’s damp hair. Brian is dressed now, in black pants, black boots, and a green army jacket splattered in dried white paint. He slips his beanie over his head, doesn’t so much as look at me when he leaves.
He doesn’t close the door all the way, I don’t hear it click shut. A lonely wind nudges it wide and I hear the screech of his tires burn rubber at the end of the gravel drive. In the silence that follows I don’t get up to close the door. The bad things out there are already inside, they’ve always been inside. Outside a frog croaks, another frog croaks, and another, until everything outside, everything inside, is croaking pounding screaming breathing quietly with all the things we’re too afraid to say.
nothing much happens next week, join man in two weeks for journal #11 (in which said man asks coffeeshop girl out for a non-date)