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I took the last picture I still have of you with a cracked old Polaroid we found at a yard sale in Andersonville. I think I copped it for like five bucks, but I don’t remember exactly. I do remember that I got that and a VHS copy of Stop Making Sense, and you dug your old VCR out of storage, and we decided while watching it that the Talking Heads were the coolest fucking thing to ever happen to music, and we stayed up way past five a.m., and the sex was still new. We were figuring it all out.
I drank with you even though before you I was sober for a couple years. I never told you that, never told you any of it. I think the self-hatred lent something unique to the dynamic. So we drank.
Back then, my gender identity wasn’t something I consciously gave much thought to. I tried not to, anyway. But you’d see the way I watched you put on that deep red, that ashen gray, and there I sat, soon enough, in front of your light-switch, ultra-magnify makeup mirror, and you put foundation on past my stubble, shadowed my eyes into something more striking than I thought possible on my face, and later that night, long after you’d shown me how to use makeup wipes to get it all off, I cried for how beautiful you’d made me, what that meant to the image I had of who I could be. And when I came back out and you asked about my red eyes, I said I must’ve gotten too close with the wipe. I’d get it right with practice. You agreed.
Your roommate took me to my first gay bar. I wasn’t sure of the etiquette, proper decorum. I didn’t really know who I was, and you didn’t come with us. I think you had to work or something. You’d told him about my experimentation, so he brought along a mini kit and applied what he could to my face on the Uber over, passing streetlights as guide. He paused on my lips. Had to consider. Gave them ruby, showed this in compact mirror. I was perfect. I wish you could’ve seen it.
I don’t remember what music was playing that night. It didn’t really matter. I just saw David Byrne, hot sweat, VHS damage past tracking, and I drank too much, slithering smoke, too much light, and the feel of the hot metal mouth of your roommate. The pause after, excuse to go to the bathroom, and wondering if that really just happened or if I imagined it. If I hoped for it.
I remember taking out my phone, pulling up your number. I told myself that it was too loud for a call, and a text was pointless. I put my phone away and tried to continue the rest of my night.
There was something with bass, and dancers up on mini stages in all the corners, and people who wanted to dance with me, on me. Your roommate took me aside when he could tell I was getting overwhelmed. It was actually very considerate. But then he kept buying me drinks after that, and I kept drinking them. I had a distinct image, in the middle of it all, of the time years back when I’d decided on sobriety. Of pouring bottles down the sink, one after the other. Dropping them into the garbage, first one landing hard but staying intact, the rest breaking against their brothers.
I waved your roommate off and went to the bathroom to let it all out of me.
I don’t remember much else. I know I stopped drinking after that. Got my own Uber back home, thanked your roommate but declined when he offered to ride with me. When I got home, I made myself a sandwich to blot out the burning that was left inside. I smeared the ruby, the gray, all of it all over. I didn’t have any makeup wipes.
From then on, we were loving on borrowed time. We both knew. And we played that old VHS out, do you remember? Watched David Byrne sweat through his shirt and keep going, through the cheers and applause, through it all, and the last sounds were Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt closing out “Crosseyed and Painless,” and the way we sang along with them, “I’m still waiting . . . I’m still waiting . . . I’m still waiting . . .” And it was that night that I took the last picture I still have of you, sure enough, with a cracked old Polaroid we found at a yard sale over in Andersonville.
Nick Olson is an author and editor from Chicagoland now living in North Carolina. He was a finalist for Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award, and he’s been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, decomP, and other fine places. When he’s not writing his own work, he’s sharing the wonderful work of others over at (mac)ro(mic). His debut novel, Here’s Waldo, is available now.
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