When a girl is raised by an elderly aunt and a rogue father there are many needs that have to be met. First came the need to do my brother’s hair, so we wouldn’t look poor. I brushed it backward for the first two years then learned that forward was best when it had been cut close. I used electric clippers on the hairline to make it ruler perfect. There were days he should have been photographed and put on barbershop walls. He needed to sit still as concrete for that to happen. He needed to grip a toy car in his palm tight because to drop it would disturb his sister’s concentration, and he might have had to go to school with a patch missing from the back again. During those years there came the need to manage my breasts and teeth: wire for both when money came. After too many decades of pork rind and fried catfish there came the need for Aunt Arlene to die. It happened two months after my nineteenth birthday. College remained the only option. In college I found a roommate, a beautiful Filipina who cheated on her boyfriend with men and women. Her boyfriend had narrow shoulders, lovely lips and said to call him Lou. I borrowed Lou for the thrill and kept him when the roommate said “I don’t give a hot fuck.” Lou was a freegan and taught me how to not just endure but thrive without money. Together we scavenged dumpsters for food and décor. He said things like “you can’t really tell people about this” or “my own family wouldn’t get it’ or “don’t we look like cousins” or “I wish I looked as good as you without makeup.” Early on, sex happened out of instinct and protocol, like holding a door open for a stranger. Soon we were not strange to one another. I wore his deodorant, and he wore my eyeliner. We did nude yoga while my roommate ate agave pumpkin muffins per her glutton free diet on the balcony. On a particular afternoon Lou removed my underwear and put them on. He asked to be rubbed through the fabric. Soon after that, we stopped touching all together. Lou said, “I’m going to become a woman. In Thailand. It’s cheaper. They’re good though.” I went too. Not only were the genitals reconfigured and hormones indulged but the face as well. They shaved the skull and jaw to feminine lines. He lay on the operating room table with much of his face on a tray while the surgeon leaned over and removed the stubble of bone one measured thrust at a time. In the delirium of pain killers I told Lou that I was in love with her. She replied “you aren’t queer, just ambivalent.” I wanted to slap her new face but didn’t, thinking I too could be made over, neat again.
Tonight Jeno is a wizard, a knight, a lord, and a prophet, parting the sea of Euro-smut cars with blue high beams while his big happy pumpkin ass floats on a cushion of leather licorice black. This is Sprouts’ limo he’s driving. We call her Sprouts because she looks like white potato eye roots shot backwards and forwards when she walks her skinny white girl walk. Sprouts is a mushroom celebrity, pops up out of wet dirt spores and eventually dries out in the heat. Jeno is a big man. He’s like three or four men really, but ain’t never been strong. He’s been making good business out of taking up space since he was a kid saying dirty words into empty Spam cans for laughs. Now Jeno is Sprout’s guardian and lover.
He’s going to deposit her on a concrete curb and watch her swallowed up in a medusa’s head of velvet rope and hungry paparazzi. Jeno earns his paycheck when he keeps right up, untangling the snarling hydra of poor immigrants taking pictures and rich natives selling poison. The chemical buffet is a lemonade stand for the young, beautiful, and newly diseased. Sprouts presses close to him, to his planetary body, to his promise that you can bring souvenirs from heaven to hell and pretend we’re all on earth.
No one wants to see a German Shepherd and Chihuahua mate in broad daylight or even deep in the nighttime, but maybe that’s exactly what they want and can’t have since dogs like that are way too discreet. Sprouts poses with her pretty boys and kisses her pretty girls until a screaming woman in another VIP booth cuts her wrist and she bleeds pearls of Stoli. At last call new Hollywood is always a Dali painting where time melts. Then and there Sprouts is freed under Jeno’s arm. They travel into the dark where dilated pupils flicker with tiny memories, Sprouts kneels with her hot eyes frosted in the cold air and says to Jeno, “please, keep me like this.”
Venita Blackburn earned her MFA from Arizona State University in 2008. Her recent stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Santa Monica Review, American Short Fiction, Faultline, Bellevue Literary Review, Devil’s Lake Review, and others. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.