Flash Fiction by Emily Deibler
When out-of-town children
ask my gender, I tell them
I’m a witch. –Charlie Bondhus
If they had any identity at all, it was witch; their fellow witches, all wreathed in nightshade and rue, had never betrayed them. They had never denied being a woman or She, but they had never denied being anything else, either. Baphomet never had any issue being who they were. Perhaps it was part of the Capricorn blood, to be half-fish, half-goat, a moon-eyed creature of ash poppies and cysts. Most days, rocking the black lipstick and bat dresses was fine, but in others times, their skeleton poked out of their body.
The first instance of dysphoria was before a short play for theater class. They were a grim-eyed freshman with acne pocking their jaw. As if trying to do a glamor, they were dressed in a black pants, a charcoal tie, and a white dress shirt. They were a man named Ross attending marriage counseling with his pregnant wife.
After, the day had a wash of gray like the sixth dipping of a paintbrush. They went to the dining hall to get some coffee. The barista, tall and dark-haired, dimpled a brow and laughed.
“Why are you dressed like that?” the man asked. “Some kind of acting thing?”
And that was when he remembered: what he was was never okay. He had been seen. He was not himself. That white shirt had never been so stark. The weight of his breasts had never been so heavy.
It was midnight. They were sitting in the evergreen recliner in the small living room. Rain pianoed across the roof.
“He’s just a freak who wants attention,” their mother was saying. “Yeah, ‘Caitlyn,’ right. Cutting his dick off won’t make him a woman.”
“She,” they said.
“You can’t just say you’re something and be it. That’d be like saying I’m Madonna. You don’t just change what God made you into.” But weren’t Adam ribs female?
“People die because they’re dehumanized.”
“And what if I was transgender? Would you say that about me?”
Mother crossed her arms. “So you think you might be a man?”
“No, but if I did, is this how you’d treat me?”
“He’s not a woman—”
“And he won’t—”
“Shut up!” her mother screamed, rattling her bones.
They wept for hours till they slept, a migraine making their forehead tender. The day after, they were dry as salt. They messaged people on Facebook for help. One person sent the suicide hotline number. They realized no one would love them for who they were. There would always need to be the glamor, the face-mask. They were transgressing simply by existing. They were transgressing against their family, the world, themselves. Like the ribs caged the heart, they would have to pat their blood and flesh in jam jars and put them in the pie rack next to the sugar and bones, above the bruised peaches where they put the their spine, fairy dust, rapes.
It was no victory, a triumph over convention; it was exhausting.
The underside of their right rib began throbbing. They were leaking, and they were dripping from their back. A wound that never healed since their Grand died and they stopped menstruating from shock. The wound was round and alive and the size of a peace dollar. They were like the Iron Queen Persephone with her pomegranate, except the fruit had cracked inside her, the red seeds clattering like her swallowed teeth. There was no going topside every now and then, though; it was always winter in their body.
They realized skin was so heavy, too heavy. Something was pulsing and crawling in their brain, trapped and scared, just behind their left eye. They imagined doing something to unmask themselves. A cheese grater to the cheek. A C-section to bring in a new life with no sneering mommy or daddy.
They imagined running into the forest naked and finding their own coven under the glistening pines and molting birches. Going past that boundary of seen and unseen. Making a home with goats and wild girls and children of stardust and ghosts with a thousand names. Dancing in the sallow moonlight. They had tried to escape seven times, four of them by drowning, but they were no flowered Ophelia, and there was no Poseidon to make them iron. They had no gods of the dark woods embracing them as they fingered the faded purple sheets. All this time, they had never mastered how to kneel and still keep standing.
Snakes can shed their skin, so why can’t I?
The next day, their mother smiled and asked how they were doing. Getting the egg carton out, they said they were okay. Saying nothing about the curves and hairs that formed around her like alien moss.
They felt themselves swelling again: head, eyes, ribs, pussy, heavy with names that made them small. They were splintered down there, rotting cypress bark where fiddlebacks crawled. A webbed teratoma of nails and teeth and grief they couldn’t pass. It wasn’t that having a pussy made them less, but that their mother and father and grandmother had always used it to make them feel lesser. Their personhood peaked when they were a zygote who couldn’t talk back. Their loved ones’ words came out like honeysuckle and tasting like cottonmouth venom.
That was the day their period returned.
“Oh, I’m not really a woman. At least, not all the time.”
“Wow, thank you for telling me. You’re so confident now!”
A smile, teeth.
A native of North Georgia, Emily Deibler is a published poet and author. Her short story “Deer in December” was published in TL;DR Press’ Halloween 2018 Horror collection, NOPE. She has also published her poems “Turkey Hunting,” “Patty,” “Samantha,” and “Daughters of the Sun.” Her debut novel, Dove Keeper, came out in October 2018. She can be found on Twitter at @emilydeibler. She is a regular contributor to Marías at Sampaguitas.