Autumn 2020 Prose

The Tortoise and the Harry

Harry perched on the loveseat in his family’s rarely used living room, or as his mother liked to call it “the parlor” and braced himself for the most awkward conversation of his life. He reached up to wipe away the bead of sweat trickling down his forehead from beneath the brown shaggy curtain of his hair and tried to subtly rub it into the dusty slipcover without his mom noticing.

“Honey, I know it was hard, especially because I knew you weren’t expecting to, but your father and I are so proud of you for waiting until marriage,” his mother cooed, posed on the opposite loveseat next to his father, who looked even more uncomfortable than himself, if that was possible.

They wish…

Harry tensed up and his eye started to twitch, a nervous tic that had cropped up about three years ago. Whenever he fell asleep too early on school nights before he had prepped his lessons and had to teach his sixth-graders chemistry on the fly, rather than his favored zoology, his eye twitch spontaneously appeared. Apparently, it also popped up when he was hiding things from his mother.

She reached over and daintily grasped his father’s hands in her own, “When we got engaged it was just the hardest thing to wait, but we knew it was for the best. And it was just perfect in the end, wasn’t it honey? I don’t think we said a word out loud our entire wedding night.”

That is a frightening thought.

Harry shifted around as they gazed into each other’s eyes for a sickeningly long time, looking uncannily like two Agapornis roseicollises. Watching your parents cuddle like lovebirds was not Harry’s picture of an ideal afternoon. He glanced down at his feet where his pet tortoise, Darwin, had parked himself a few minutes earlier, in a much-appreciated show of moral support.

You’re twenty-seven years old, for tortoise’s sake. You can handle your parents.

Deciding he had suffered through the silence long enough, Harry finally said “Yup… It will be great, but Mom, can you please send your adoring thoughts to Dad on your own time. Also, did you happen to think about what I asked you before, which, by the way, had NOTHING to do with waiting to mind-meld until marriage.”

“Well, yes, honey, I think Darwin as a ring bearer would be adorable, but I expect you probably have a lot of questions about the mind-meld, and I just wanted you to be able to ask them before your father leaves to make his tee time at the club.”

He rolled his eyes as another bead of sweat trickled down, trying to feign nonchalance. Even the kids in his classes knew about the mind-meld; once they had figured out that he was engaged, they spent the first five minutes of every class speculating what thought he would send to Wren first, once their thoughts linked up. Little did they know…

His eye twitched as he squeaked out, “Mom, I’m pretty sure the logistics of it are not so difficult to understand, given that humans have been joining and amplifying the waves from their cerebrum and prefrontal cortexes since before we even evolved into homo sapiens. We think at each other and then we can think to each other. Pretty simple stuff.”

“You and your biology talk. I’m still surprised Wren even agreed to go out with you with you blabbering on about this and that all day long. Fine, I guess if you don’t need anything, we’ll just see you tomorrow. Eight o’clock sharp, honey.”

“I know, Mom. I’m not gonna be late to my own wedding. Also, for your information, Wren loves it when I talk nerdy to her.”

He quirked up the corner of his mouth at his little inside joke that had begun when he had met Wren wearing a talk nerdy to me t-shirt.

“Well, since we’re done here,” he jumped to his feet, “I’m gonna head back to my apartment with Darwin before the rehearsal dinner tonight.”

He bent down to give his mom the requisite kiss on the cheek, and then bolted out the door, Darwin following as fast as he could. Once he and Darwin were securely situated in his car, he exhaled. T minus 18 hours until it was Wren confession time.

Honestly Harry, I don’t know how you’re gonna get out of this one.


Seven thirty p.m. saw Harry sitting to Wren’s left at the head of the long rectangular table that dominated the formal dining room of his parent’s club where they would be holding their reception the next day. Tomorrow the room would be filled with small round tables and slightly tipsy guests who had imbibed one too many drinks from the open bar, but at the moment, he only had to face down their two sets of parents, his best friend, Paul, who would be serving as the best man, Wren’s bridesmaids: her younger sister Larken and her two girlfriends from college, and of course, Darwin.

Not that many at all. You’ve got this, probably…

The eye twitch was back, and he felt himself tense up at the thought of disappointing so many people the next day. He felt a familiar hand rest on the clenched fist he had hidden under the tablecloth and tilted his chin up to meet Wren’s sympathetic gaze. Her raised eyebrows asked him questions he didn’t want to answer at the moment. He shrugged.

“You gonna tell me what’s going on in there? Or am I gonna have to wait until tomorrow when I can weasel it out myself?” She asked, her voice teasing, but her stiff shoulders belayed a little stress. Odd.

Eye twitch. Apparently, the reaction wasn’t exclusive to his mother.

You are so dead.

The natural curiosity he had adored since they met was a little less adorable right now. She was going to see his eye twitch and then he was screwed.

“I’m all good. Nothing to worry about,” he murmured, trying to avoid the attention of both of their parents who had been fairly quiet all evening, for different reasons; his parents had fallen into their usual thought-sharing pattern that most traditional married couples used once they decided to mind-meld. Wren’s just glowered at each other like they tended to do these days whenever they were forced to be in the same room, most likely using their connection to privately yell at each other.

“If you say so. No backing out on me though, Mr. I’m-never-gonna-fall-in-love-because-only-my-tortoise-understands-me. If I can get past my fear of the mind-meld, you can make it to the altar,” she replied with a wink of one of her chocolate brown eyes, and shot him the grin that had made him melt instantly from across the bar a year and a half ago. The slow-burn kind that warmed his insides like a Bunsen burner until he was just a puddle at her feet. It was hard to believe a girl as wonderful as she was had fallen for one of his science pick-up lines. He had known she was the one when she had fired one of her own right back.

“You’re never gonna let me live that one down, are you” he said, with a wince, the barest hint of a smile teasing the corners of his lips as he remembered how badly he had bungled their first conversation. It was their mutual love of Jeopardy that saved them.

With his mind far away from their rehearsal dinner, distracted by memories of their first meeting, he almost missed her whole comment. But, after a moment, the second part of what she said sank in.

“Wait, fear of the mind-meld? What does that mean?”

Wren looked like a kid with her hand caught in the cookie jar. “Oh. Well… Obviously, you know about my parent’s issues. I just got really freaked out a few nights ago about us and all the what ifs. Like what if you turn out to be a yeller like Dad? And what if I end up having to take migraine medicine for the rest of my life like Mom, but then I realized that I trust you, and I can do this.” She nodded. The last part seemed more for herself than for him. He winced.

“I love you,” She smiled.

“Wren, I…” He started, but then his eye twitched again, “I… love you too.”

Oh boy… This is worse than I thought.


When Wren stepped through the large wooden chapel doors the next morning, Harry’s heart almost stopped. She looked more graceful than a swan, with her simple white dress trailing behind her. The morning sun streaming in through the windows behind him cast a warm glow that brought out the blond highlights in her curly caramel hair, pinned back beneath her veil. As she strode towards him, the soothing chords of Pachelbel’s Canon in D started to feel like his personal funeral march. After her admission last night, he felt even worse. When she found out what he had done, she was going to kill him, or worse, jilt him at the altar.

Wren reached the base of the altar where he was waiting and grasped his hands tightly, which he attributed to anticipatory jitters. She looked up at him with her eyes shining. She was perfect. And after today, if he told her, he was going to lose her.

Most of the ceremony passed in a blur. He responded when prompted, although if you asked him what he had said, he had no clue. He must have said the right things though because before he knew it, he heard the officiant say, “If anyone can think of any reason why these two young lovers should not be bound in heart, and especially mind, speak now or forever hold your peace.”

At the mention of minds, his eye twitched yet again.

Come on Harry. Fess up.

Silence ensued, although Harry could feel the sweat pouring down his neck into his collar, which suddenly felt a lot tighter. He wanted to reach up and loosen it, but his hands were firmly in Wren’s grasp, in preparation for the mind-meld to start.

Harry, if there was a time to tell her, it would be now…

“I neither see nor hear any impediment to this union. Without further ado, I now pronounce you Husband and Wife. You may now meld your…”

“Wait!” Harry exclaimed to the officiant and then turned back to Wren, “I have something I need to tell you.”

He heard a sharp gasp from the congregation; he didn’t even need to look to know who it came from.

“Can’t it wait? We do have an audience, you know” Wren nodded her head towards the guests filling the chapel, whose faces ranged from intrigued to veritably horrified, his mother falling decidedly in the second category, mouth still open after her earlier aspiration. His father sat stoic beside her. No surprises there.

No, it most definitely cannot.

“Ummm, not really,” he grimaced, teeth bared in an expression that was trying really hard to be a charming smile but looked more like a chimpanzee’s grin.

“Not even until after the mind meld?”

“Ya… about that…”

Her eyes got the biggest he had ever seen them, so big she bore an uncanny resemblance to his favorite primate, the Philippine Tarsier.

“Harry, what is it?”

“So you know how I always used to joke about dying alone with my tortoise?”

“Of course. I tease you about it all the time. What does that have to do with our wedding?”

“Well, when I was about thirteen, I hit peak nerd.”

“Yes. Your mom has showed me the photos. And…” She waved her left hand signaling him to continue, the ring they had picked out together catching the light.

Come on Harry, Don’t be a dolt. She loves you. You can do this.

He took a large inhale, and all of a sudden, his deepest, darkest, most well-kept secret came spilling out in one giant mumbled burst that only Wren could hear.

“Imind-meldedwithDarwinonaccidentwhenIwasthirteenandstupid. ha ha”

Ha, Ha? Really, Harry?

Oh, shut up, Darwin.

“Woah, slow down. You WHAT?” She exclaimed, blinking.

By the sound of the murmuring of the crowd behind them, her shout had carried farther than he had wanted. He looked down at his own left hand and started twisting his new ring around nervously.

“Can we talk outside for a bit?” he asked.

He turned to his wedding guests now squirming in their pews. He was sure they thought he had cheated or gotten cold feet at the worst time, but both of those things would probably have made more sense to Wren, who was looking at him like he was the tortoise.

“If you could just give us a few minutes? We’ll be right back,” he said, and pulled Wren out the side door near the altar into the hallway.

Away from the appalled audience, he took another deep breath. Her entreating glance gave him the courage to continue.

“I used my one chance at thought-sharing to meld minds with my tortoise. It was a complete accident. We had just learned the particulars in school, you know. The stare into the persons eyes and concentrate until you feel their consciousness type stuff. Well, later that week, I had a particularly bad day. Paul was out with a cold, so there was no one to intimidate the group of jocks who sat behind me in science class. They spent the whole period calling me amphibi-noob and chucking pieces of paper at the back of my head when the teacher wasn’t looking. I had never felt more alone. After school, Darwin was the only person around to talk to, like usual, so I rehashed my whole day out loud more for my benefit than anything else, but it really felt like he was listening this time for some reason. So then, I had my genius idea. Try reaching out to Darwin. I didn’t think it was gonna work. But I thought really hard about Darwin with my hand on his shell to establish the necessary point of contact, and all of a sudden, my voice in my head changed and my thoughts felt really sporadic. Then I realized that they weren’t my thoughts at all. They were far too sarcastic to have originated from me. And I flipped out because my shoddy and stupid experiment worked. I never knew I would meet someone like you who was amazing and everything I could have ever wanted but never knew I could have. I promise I would share my thoughts with you if I could. Will you forgive me?”

He looked up to see tears in her eyes. His stomach dropped. He knew he was screwed. He knew it. He…

“Oh, thank goodness!” She blew out a forceful breath and wiped away the tears dripping down her face, almost giggling with what seemed to Harry like relief? She wasn’t mad? He scanned her over to make sure. Her shoulders had relaxed. Her eyes were no longer of monkey-sized proportions. She seemed suspiciously too happy. Was that bad?

“I didn’t know how to tell you, but I was really trying to put on a brave face yesterday. I didn’t want to meld minds either. You saw what it does to my parents. I didn’t ever want to risk that, not that you’re like them of course, but I don’t want us to have to live with that pressure… so, of course I forgive you. Not that this is really something you can guess about, but I always was a little suspicious of how helpful Darwin was whenever you two were in the same room. What kind of normal tortoise brings you the remote?” She laughed and wiped her cheek, “Can you forgive me, for not being honest with you either?”

“Forgive you? I could kiss you right now for not slapping me and storming out of here.” So he did.

And then he remembered that it was his wedding that he himself had so rudely interrupted.

“I guess we should probably go back out there, right? I think by this point my poor mother has had an aneurism,” He said with a sigh.

“Maybe not an aneurism, but at least a minor conniption,” she said, and they both laughed.

“What should we tell them?” As much of a relief as it was to tell Wren, he wasn’t ready to publish his experiment results too widely yet.

“Leave that to me,” she said and grabbed his hand.

They slipped back through the door, hands still linked, and took their places at the altar again.

“Are you ready to meld minds now?” the officiant asked incredulously.

“Of course, sir. Don’t mind Harry. His tortoise must have rubbed off on him, because he had some cold-blooded feet for a moment,” She winked at Harry, her dimples finally making an appearance again, and mouthed just go with it.

All the guests chuckled except for his mother; she still looked a little shellshocked. But if he had had any doubts about Wren’s genius before now, they would have been erased. They grabbed hands and stared at each other for the requisite ten seconds, willing each other not to laugh while trying to look convincingly telepathic. The officiant proclaimed them married and melded, and after a quick peck, they ran down the aisle to the car waiting outside to take them to the reception.

Crisis Averted, Darwin.

Told you it would be fine. Although, you realize they’re gonna find out eventually, don’t you?

Harry’s eye twitched.

Autumn 2020 Prose

Independence Day

14th August, 1947. The end of the day approaches. Clocks freeze at 11:11 and time stretches to make space for the generational suffering that hangs in the shadows of this dingy New Delhi parliament house.

“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny…”1

I was sixteen and at summer camp when I first met a girl that I wanted to be with. Not as friends, but in that classic Gay soft sapphic Lana Del Rey kind of way. It was scary to think that I might be. You know. Not straight rolls off the tongue quicker than gay or bisexual or.

I once asked my parents what the word ‘lesbian’ meant. They responded in kind.

“Where did you hear That Word?”

Some time between 900 and 1300 AD is their best guess for when the Khajuraho temples of India were built. Tall stone facades depict homosexual acts that only the BBC will ever summarise as “a wide variety of people getting lucky, in every possible combination.”

I was shocked when I first heard this. Not just the way the BBC2 paraphrased it, but the content itself. Resistance to homosexuality in the West has its roots in tradition, and I assumed the same was true for my people. But the more I read about our history, the more progressive our origin story seems.


It’s still 11:11 and Nehru Ji, soon to be the first Prime Minister of independent India, continues:

“A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”

In the Indo-Pak war that will take place in October of ‘47, and then in ‘65, 18 years from this date. When our country comes of age, will utterance be enough to protect us from ourselves? From each other?

Luckily, history makes it easy to acquit ourselves of blame. The real reason the country that invented the Kama Sutra itself sent people to prison for 69ing and blowjobs for a large part of its independent history was Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. First imposed by the British in 1861, this piece of legislature criminalised all forms of intercourse “against the order of nature.”3 They weren’t being particularly creative. The law was modelled after the Buggery Act of Britain, and in accordance with international norms for sexual suppression at the time. Only, the British moved on. From homophobia and from our country.

In August of ‘47, they left but Section 377 stayed.


“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to light and freedom.”

In 2009, the Supreme Court overturned 377 for the first time. That year marked the inauguration of a host of since regular pride parades, as whole sections of society sidelined for generations were given the green light to openly and freely practice love.

And my breath hitched but I did it. I shoved the words off my tongue for the very first time. “I like girls,” whispered in a voice-note Whatsapp-ed to my bestest friend. My country, my tribe and myself, we each found our declarations of Independence, through objections in court and on foot, in words spoken and swiped, over wine and under duress.

But two months later I’m in a polyamorous relationship with internalized homophobia, myself, and a girl 2200 kilometres away.

In 2013 a local High Court recriminalised Gay.

In 2018 they took 377 down again, so eventually things turned out okay, but this is to say

It’s my first week at college and my bestest friend is too many time zones away when the girls in my quad start to venture out into the world of boy-talk. They’re not at all homophobic, but that’s almost worse. I am so used to shoving, I don’t know how to casually bring up this cute girl I saw at the NSO bonfire the other day.


Perhaps my skepticism of collective liberation is misinformed. I judge in the context of what further freedom is viable, forgetting I have inherited a liberty that is already the culmination of years of reaching for further freedom. Of years of sacrifice. Death. Hope. All kinds of things coming full circle.

In an interview with the CNN4, the two female lawyers that led the second crusade against 377, Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju, revealed that the verdict was not just a professional, but a personal victory. They were together. Had been. Hope to continue to be. In that classic Gay soft sapphic Lana Del Rey kind of way.

And incomplete as a turnover of the law may be — in making Gay more than an insult thrown around schoolyards, or in making Gay ‘appropriate’ enough for classrooms — two women were able to come out on national television without fear of being thrown into prison.

I am in a polyamorous relationship with coronavirus, myself, and a girl 5900 kilometres away. The girls in my quad are rooting for us, though the distance certainly doesn’t want to co-operate. I Whatsapp voice-noted my bestest friend that I wrote to my new girlfriend the other day,

“Before the birth of freedom we have endured all the pains of labour and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now. Nevertheless, the past is over and it is the future that beckons to us now.”



Prose Summer 2020


Summer started when the fair came to town. Bundles of spun sugar, shrieks from rides that twirled and dipped, tents with sharp points, eager faces behind booths, urging you to throw a dart, pop a balloon, win a stuffed monkey. Don’t worry, sweetheart, you’re guaranteed to win!

My sister asked me why I liked the fair so much, why there were stars on my calendar for each day it was in town. Buttery, I replied. The fair felt buttery.

My sister told me that didn’t make sense. But that’s what the fair was to me: indulgent, comforting, like watching butter melt on a warm roll. That buttery feeling left when the fair packed up and moved on, when the second half of summer began.

The warmth of June began to weigh on our foreheads, suffocating and oppressive. My mom would twist my hair into a long, sweaty braid, her fingers lightly grazing my neck. Eventually, we retreated into the shadows like rats, stripping off our clothes and laying wet towels on our chests.

Prose Summer 2020

The Customer

Every Thursday night Birdie sat in the corner booth and ate two sunny-side up eggs with a side of breakfast potatoes before she fucked whoever sat across from her in the Motel 6 down the street. If her client was late, she would order coffee.

“Could I get a cup of black coffee?” she’d say, prefacing “coffee” with “black” as if there were any other way to serve diner coffee, as if she wasn’t going to immediately subdue its bitterness with a dozen packages of Half-and-Half creamer and Sweet-n-Low. Her client was late again.

I thought it was rather rude to be late to anything, although I suppose infidelity is a difficult thing to be on time for. Not that I knew if all of her customers were married. The dentist, Dr. Clifford, certainly was. So was the mayor. And the mayor’s wife.

I wondered who it was this time that was sitting in their car just outside, maybe smoking, certainly shaking, as they weighed the worth of an orgasm against their reputation. Was it worth more or less if it was induced by the captain of the high school volleyball team? More or less if you had children? If you were fucking miserable?

I was refilling Birdie’s mug for the third time, imagining Dr. Clifford hypocritically puffing on a cigarette in the parking lot, when suddenly I was sitting across from her.

“I’ll pay you double your hourly rate,” I said. Birdie’s stirrer kept up its circular motion around the rim of her cup. I was almost offended by her lack of reaction.

“You don’t even know my hourly rate,” she said. She was right — I didn’t, nor did I really think I could afford it. Not with a wage from Mama’s ‘Merican Diner, for whom “rush hour” meant a few extra truck drivers. But there was broke and then there was teenage broke, soon-to-be-college broke, turning-to-sex-work broke.

But Birdie was damn good at sports, was on a full-ride scholarship to some far-away university. It was all her parents and coaches ever talked about, as if her glimmer of potential was a direct result of their decades of lived mediocrity. Maybe she needed a new car, new clothes, a new something to get high on. All were causes I was willing to donate to.

I rambled on.

“You don’t even have to do anything.”

Now Birdie looked up. Where I expected to find relief I instead found a smirk.

“Why? You think I haven’t been with women before?” she asked.

“No.” The women, if anything, were more memorable than the men. The women were my banker and hairdresser, my former classmates and former friends who always struck up a conversation so they could explain why they were there with Birdie, as if opening a savings account was something that needed to be discussed over chili fries.

“Then you haven’t been with a woman before,” Birdie said.


“No you haven’t? Or ‘no’ I’m wrong?”

“No, I’m just trying to help you out.”

My words bounced around the booth until they soured, reeking of pity and disdain. In response, Birdie piled more than enough bills in the center of the table. She was always one of my best tippers.

“What am I supposed to tell Mr. Hewitt?” she asked. She casually relinquished his name as if that couldn’t ruin his entire life.

“Say you’re sick. People get sick,” I said.

“What about your shift?” Birdie asked.

I wish I could say that the mention of my job, my livelihood, made me pause.

“I’m sick too,” I replied.

Birdie glanced out the window, and I discreetly did the same. Mr. Hewitt’s jacked up Ford was nowhere in sight. I wondered if he drove a less notable car when he was screwing a barely-legal teenager.

“Meet me at the Motel 6 in five,” she said, smiling at the cleverness of her own phrasing.

“And could I get a to-go cup for this?” She tapped the side of her mug.

“Oh, of course!”

I returned wielding a paper cup with the word “Pepsi” emblazoned on its side — “Be careful, it’s not really made for coffee,” I cautioned — and watched Birdie flit out the door and into a trashy white Buick.

The swinging door that led to the kitchen was propped open, as Mr. Baxter complained he was too goddamn hot working next to the grill all day and needed the air. I stood in the doorframe watching him scrub salt-encrusted silverware until he sensed the restlessness radiating off of me and glanced in my direction.

“I just threw up in the bathroom,” I said. Mr. Baxter turned off the faucet and cupped one ear.

“I just threw up in the bathroom.”

“Oh.” He dried his hands, staring intently at the tattered towel as he did so. Those hands always looked cartoonish-ly massive to me, as if he were a child playing in his diner dollhouse.

“Is it a — a menstruation thing?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Alrighty, well, you go on home. I’ll probably be closing early tonight anyways.”

I flashed him a smile, not too cheery because I was sick, and carried myself and my purse to the door. I nearly collided with Mr. Hewitt, who took several gentlemanly steps sideways.

“Hi Mr. Hewitt.”

“Well hey there, Lyla.”

I could feel his eyes on me as I shuffled past, like he already knew what I’d done.

I walked all of the way to the Motel 6, convinced that if I got in my car I would just drive home. Birdie stood leaning against the hood of a pick-up that wasn’t hers, pinching a white key card between her fingers like it was a cigarette. When I got near, she wordlessly strode to room 112. I changed course to follow.

“Doesn’t the manager get suspicious?” I asked. The door beeped, clicked, and opened.

“No. I’m fucking him,” Birdie said.

We stepped into the room. I liked motel rooms. They were always exactly what I expected.

“To be honest, I’d wish I’d thought of this,” I said.

“Thought of what?”

“Your … business.”

Birdie shrugged, not so much with humility as with acknowledgement. Doesn’t everyone wish they thought like me?

“I bet it pays pretty good,” I said.

“It does.”

“What’s it all for?”

Birdie cocked her head to one side, looking like a bird, I thought. A birdy.

“You have to be savin’ up for something big. Don’t you?” I forged on, stacking my queries between us like concrete bricks. If I asked enough questions, I’d be safe for a little while longer, safe from that insufferable second of tension that preceded the first touch. I wanted the touch. But I couldn’t stand the tension.

“No,” she said. Then, “Not really.”

The conversation I’d painstakingly charted in my head — which car dealer? who to call for Vicodin? — disintegrated. Luckily Birdie picked up the pieces, chewing on the inside of her cheek.

“I always looked forward to this time, right after graduation. Thought it would feel different, like I was finally bigger than this town. And better.”

I’d tried to forget that bloated, hot summer between high school and college. I didn’t have a full-ride scholarship to anywhere but Mama’s.

“Everyone knows I don’t need the money. Not for school, at least. But they’re ready to hand cash and everything else to me.”

Birdie laughed uncomfortably. I didn’t know she could do anything uncomfortably.

“It’s like, if I can’t be bigger than this town today, then at least I’m going to be the biggest thing in this town.”

That she was.

“And you?” she asked. She slipped off her shoes, slipped off her jacket. Each item fell to the carpet like it knew its ceremonial presence was no longer needed in this dingy temple of curled fingers and folded cash.

“What do you want? To kickstart your divorce?”

“No. Not really,” I said.

I’m sure Birdie thought I was mocking her, or flirting with her, but I just liked the mystery those words left in the air, even if it was manufactured. I didn’t have a husband or a wife at home, or a toddler from a long-gone lover bouncing on the hip of a teenage babysitter checking the time right about now. No, here I was with someone who could’ve very well been that babysitter and no one to notice my absence.

What’s worse, this wouldn’t ruin me. Fuck, we could elope tonight and move into her parent’s basement without worrying about my lost status. Once the town got over our mutual female-ness, they’d move on. “Birdie could do better,” they’d scoff behind their coffee cups. They’d come to my work just to see who landed that pretty blonde girl, to see what dyke was holding back the only promising thing to ever come out of this community. But they’d let me keep my job; maybe it’d even increase the diner’s revenue. Maybe I’d get offered a position as a dental hygienist to ensure I didn’t divulge Birdie’s former clients.

I wished I had a life that could be ruined by this. I wished someone would find out and spread the word of my deviancy until I was forced to move to a new ghost town. A fresh start, I’d say. I’m so sorry honey, I don’t know how it happened. It will never happen again, I swear. I love you. There’d be marriage counseling and secrets kept from the kids. Birdie would text me when she passed through. I’d politely decline drinks — I can’t destroy my family again, Birdie — but masturbate in the bathroom to the explicit messages she’d send.

No one should be able to act so impulsively with no consequences.
I’d stopped talking. Birdie started moving towards me, slowly and soundlessly, like she was approaching a feral animal that was just as likely to bite as it was to run.

“Why breakfast potatoes?” she asked.


“Why does your menu say breakfast potatoes? They’re just hash browns.”

“Oh. Because Mr. Baxter doesn’t think anyone knows the difference. And we can charge more when we say breakfast potatoes.”

She was inches from me, so close that I wondered if we were actually touching and my skin was betraying me.

“Sounds fancier,” I said softly. Just as softly, Birdie kissed me.

When I pulled away, her eyes stayed closed. They didn’t open until I stumbled into the bathroom door. Then those green things watched me, curious, drowsy, amused, as I fumbled with the knob and apologized repeatedly for I don’t know what until I was safely on the other side of the door.

Tile. Toilet. Toilet paper. I made a mental inventory of my grimy surroundings as I tried to bring down my blood pressure with sheer willpower. I glimpsed myself in the mirror and was surprised to see a normal face — not flushed or blotchy or sweating — peering back at me. If anything, she looked unaffected. I washed my hands before I began to masturbate.

I left the door unlocked the entire time, some sick part of me hoping Birdie would walk in, that she’d do again what she’d done moments before. She never did, because what kind of person barges into an occupied bathroom? — but just the thought of it was enough.

I stepped out, hormones flooding my veins. Birdie was sprawled on her back, staring at the television although nothing was playing. She didn’t move when I laid down next to her and put her finger in my mouth, or when I undid the top button of her jeans. She just looked at me and didn’t look away.

Birdie returned to Mama’s ‘Merican Diner only one time after that, on a Tuesday instead of a Thursday. She ordered two sunny-side up eggs with a side of hash browns and left a tip that was more than her hourly rate or even double her hourly rate. I had just finished brewing a pot of coffee when I discovered the empty corner booth. I towered over the table, one hand stupidly dangling by my side, the other stupidly clinging to the pot of unordered coffee.

“Why was that pretty blonde here today?” Mr. Baxter asked, peering out from the kitchen.

I sat across from Birdie’s pile of dishes and cash and poured coffee into her untouched mug. I finished the first cup and had three more, using plenty of Sweet-n-Low.