by Kyra Kyle
After a shower, Bailey wiped away condensation from her bathroom mirror. She didn’t like what she saw. She didn’t like what others would see. She needed to drink more water to clear up her complexion and pluck or shave her unibrow. She couldn’t own a cavewoman’s forehead, even if she kept a sculpted beard. Her nails could use a manicure, too. She should trim her knuckle hair, push back her cuticles, and smooth out her fingertips. No one would see her.
She didn’t know how to express herself; she didn’t know how much of a “she” she was. In a couple of hours, she’ll meet a friend at the local comic shop, see how many books sat in her pull file since the last time she bought comics, and order a superhero-themed drink or two. She’ll ask the barista who didn’t need to work as hard to soften her edges and look natural and comfortable in her skin. No one would confuse the barista as anything but a woman. Despite wearing a comic book t-shirt under a flannel sweater and a Doctor Who knit cap like Bailey’s, she'd be a woman. Bailey wanted to know her secret.
Bailey wanted to ask her how she could look more like Lynda Carter at forty. Bailey couldn’t pull off a young Carter, like the one who played Wonder Woman when she was a child, but Carter made an attractive forty-something, and Bailey wanted to become more like her.
Instead, Bailey will ask for a drink suggestion because she liked to try new things and see if there was a secret menu. The barista will offer her a Scarlet Witch: mango, peaches, and lime.
Her friend Justin didn’t worry as much about his hair or weight or what the world saw when it looked at him, something Bailey wished she could do, and Justin will wear a t-shirt with an obscure Star Wars or Star Trek reference. Bailey will pretend she doesn’t get the reference, so he’ll have the opportunity to impress her. She liked how he got worked up and flailed his arms, unaware of his actions. Free and owning his place.
When he finishes with his speech, Justin will add a “How have you been, brother?”
Bailey cared for how close she and Justin were, even if she winced at the term brother. It’s a term of love, so the smile won’t be fake. Justin won’t notice any pain. How could he? Justin, like the rest of the world, didn’t see her.
She’ll be coded like Chandler’s other mother from Friends. Helena had left her child for her and Chandler to grow into themselves. Helena’s efforts would get rewarded with someone calling her a man. Duh. And the audience laughed.
Bailey wouldn’t find herself, or anyone else who looked like her, on the comic book shop’s walls. She struggled to find herself anywhere.
Justin will shift the conversation to his mother. He had cared for her as she underwent chemotherapy, while Bailey hadn’t seen her mother since she had caught her in a dress.
Justin will peek over each shoulder, making sure no one’s listening, and lean in. He’ll ignore Bailey’s nails, or she’ll have made them more masculine and acceptable, and taken off the poisonberry nail polish. “I don’t think Mom has much time left.”
Like Helena before her, Bailey had distanced herself from her mother; her mother didn’t understand. Bailey didn’t fully understand. She had to find herself. After she found confidence, she’d reconnect with something she and Mom could share.
Nails? They both liked having their nails done. Or scarves? Mom loved beautiful scarves and shawls. Don’t think of shawls. Father had slapped her for wearing one as a child.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Bailey says.
“Mom’s still hanging in there.” Justin will give Bailey a puzzled look as he reaches out to comfort her.
She will have said the quiet part out loud. She had quoted what a member of Mom’s church had told her. She had missed her chance to reconnect.
“You seem more upset than me, so let’s change topics.” Justin leans back in his hair, and the chair’s back leg creaks against the uneven tile floor. “Who’d win in a fight between Batman and Superman?”
Justin will roll his eyes and explain why Wonder Woman shouldn’t be included in a discussion like this because she’d have the good sense to not start a fight.
Bailey won’t argue. She’ll think of the forty-year-old Lynda Carter she’ll never become. She had already missed a chance to dress as Lynda’s Wonder Woman when she was young. Her parents wouldn’t let her.
Lunch will transition to rush hour. Car brakes will squeal outside the comic shop’s windowed front wall. Bailey will search for the car that made the noise and turn back to Justin, but he won’t be the one seated beside her. Her father, who couldn’t be older than she is now, shakes his head at her. He doesn’t approve of her wearing Mom’s shawl as a skirt when she’s eight. He traps her in the hand-me-down clothes she gets from her younger brother. Her body never fit.
“You don’t deserve to be a Douglas,” Father says, “but it’s not entirely your fault.” He tries not to make eye contact as he rips the shawl from her body. “We should’ve named you something butcher than Bailey.”
Bailey stepped out of the shower. He shambled to the bathroom sink and wiped away the mirror’s fog. Part of him won’t care about an outbreak of adult acne, another part, a part he wrestled into his gut, wanted him to drink more water. His beard had grown back a little. He should take off what’s left of the poisonberry fingernail polish.
He’ll meet his friend Justin in about an hour, and Justin will expect to see him, not some middle-aged drag queen like Chandler’s dad. Or was Chandler’s dad a trans woman? It was Bailey’s turn to pay for drinks, and even after buying the few things that made him feel like a woman and hiding them from his wife Abby and everyone else, he had enough in his account to cover the expense.
He’ll wonder what new flavors they’ll have at the comic book store’s café, but he won’t try anything new. He’ll stick with his usual order. The barista won’t care too much about her looks because she’ll be one of the only women in the shop, and she knew who she was. Bailey wanted to know her secret.
He wanted to ask her if she ever thought of how she’d look at forty and how she would feel and what she saw when she looked at him. He won’t linger too long to figure out which other flower mingled with her lilac perfume. He’ll lower his head and give a quick sniff to make sure he smelled of Axe body wash and flashes the barista a smile that he hopes won’t be taken as flirtatious. She’ll chuckle and shake her head and get him his usual Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
He’ll jockey for his half of the table with Justin long enough to sell the image the world wants from him, and then he mentions why he liked the obscure reference on Justin’s t-shirt, so the two could have a conversation about the finer points of Star Wars and Star Trek. Justin could pinpoint the issues the Star Wars sequel series and Star Trek reboot series had and how better writers and directors and actors could have fixed them. Bailey agreed with most of Justin’s points, but even the ones where they differed—like Rey’s narrative arc needing to differ from Anakin Skywalker’s—they could discuss their differences civilly. Bailey appreciated the distraction.
Justin will switch the topic to his mom and her chemotherapy. Bailey will try his best to support Justin by offering to dogsit. He would play his role.
When Bailey looks down, he’ll notice a whisper of poisonberry nail polish. He will think about hiding his hands under the table but decides to show them. No one would expect him to wear makeup and even if Justin spotted his polish, Bailey could blame it on his daughter wanting to play dress-up. He hoped Justin will notice and not care. He no longer wanted to hide.
Bailey will try to change the subject and when he turns to look at Justin, he’ll find his mother. Her brow has the wrinkles of her forty-year-old self. She places the backside of her hand on Bailey’s cheek. “You were always smaller than your younger brother. Dainty like my little girl.”
Bailey wanted to say that he was her daughter or somewhere between her daughter and son, but he will push it into his stomach. His mother massages his temples. “You were always the sensitive child.”
Bailey wanted to be more like her. After Mom had lost her father, Bailey’s Opa, when he was eight, she had plucked a white rose from a wicker basket and affixed it to her navy dress before a Father’s Day service. Bailey snatched a white rose of his own.
“No, silly.” Mom shook her head. “Your father’s still alive.” Mom’s eyes watered. “You picked the wrong-colored rose. Get a red one.”
“But it’s not Father’s Day,” Bailey says. “It’s closer to Mother’s Day.” And Bailey isn’t eight. He’s in his forties. He opens his hand and finds a white rose, and Mom vanishes.
“You seem more upset than me.” Justin will hunker over Bailey, and Bailey will have squeezed into a smaller section of the table. He’s stuck between a man with a beard and Mom’s little girl.
“Let’s change topics,” Justin will say, “Who wins between Superman and Batman?”
Justin will roll his eyes. “Wonder Woman would have the good sense of not starting a fight.”
“She’s also magical and that’s one of Superman’s Achilles’ heels—”
A squeal will come from the other side of the comic shop’s windowed wall. Bailey will check the nearby street and rush hour traffic, but the squeal will have come from a group of infants. His father, a twenty-something father who was close to Bailey’s age when he had become a father, won’t be able to find Bailey in the hospital nursery. His father will flag down a labor and delivery nurse and ask where he can find the Douglas baby. The nurse points to Bailey dressed in a pink blanket. The nurse won’t know that they had run out of blue blankets and congratulates Bailey’s father on his baby girl.
“I was supposed to have a son.”
“As long as your baby is happy, healthy, and safe,” the nurse says, “who cares about their gender?”
Bailey dripped water on the bathroom rug and schlepped to the mirror above the sink. Axe body wash and lilac. Bailey didn’t bother to wipe off the cloud. They liked the anonymity. They didn’t want to look at what stared back at them.
“Dainty like my little girl.”
Bailey covered up what confused them about their body with a towel and scanned the bathroom, hallway, and adjoined bedroom to see if Mom had sneaked into the house. No one.
Only Abby knew about his—her—secret. Bailey didn’t know how to describe how they felt. They only had Ed Wood as a reference. Hollywood had failed them. When Bailey and Abby began their family, they agreed that their children needed a standard mother and father. Bailey didn’t want to end up like Chandler’s father, so they pushed down Mother’s little girl. They didn’t tell Abby that they had begun experimenting with her clothes when she wasn’t looking.
The kids were older, and that part of them didn’t want to stay down anymore. It crawled up Bailey’s throat as they tried to swallow. It was too late. Wrinkles grew on their forehead like Mother’s when she was forty-something. She smelled of mango, peaches, and lime. “You could’ve been my girl.”
Bailey’s belly expanded. There was nowhere for Mother’s little girl to go. She wanted out. She dug her poisonberry nails into the inside of Bailey’s throat and snaked her way into her mouth.
“You don’t deserve to be a Douglas,” Father told Bailey. He’s stuck in the clouded mirror with the babies crying out for parents who weren’t there.
Bailey couldn’t hold back the girl and vomited her into the sink. She began to slither down the drain, but Bailey didn’t want her to vanish. Bailey could be both, so they picked her up in their hand. Her slick green form began to slip through their fingers, and they smeared her onto the mirror where their mouth should be in the fog. They were themselves, and they smiled.
Kyle Kyra (they/them) writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. They live in a sleepy Nebraska town. Yes, corn lives outside their back door. They hold a BFA in creative writing from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and their work has appeared in Menacing Hedge, Spank the Carp, Collateral, Shirley Magazine, The Collidescope, and other journals and anthologies.