By Sapphire Crimson Claw

Too many heartbreak songs were on Jai’s iPod.

I try to stay busy. I do the dishes, I mow the lawn. I try to keep myself occupied, even though I know you’re not coming home. I try to keep the house nice and neat, I make my bed, I change the sheets. I even learned how to use the washing machine. Keeping things clean doesn’t change anything.

Daytime TV sucked. Wendy Williams, barf. Too much news. Those Animal Cops shows were too depressing.

I caught myself thinking. I caught myself thinking once again. Have to try to keep my mind out of this; try not to pretend.

They should’ve got the dog like zhe had wanted to. At least then, zhe wouldn’t have to be all by zhimself.

Funny, how zhe could use these pronouns inside zhis’ head, but didn’t have the balls to tell zhis wife them.

Finding a lipstick in the bathroom that wasn’t pink, her color, but purple instead, well, that could mean a lot of things. So couldn’t chatting with strangers online. So couldn’t keeping to oneself. It took a lot of thinking, these things. Realizing that you had lived a lie for almost forty years really could take a man unawares. Zhe had had no clue, however, that it could in any way possible resemble having an affair.

The sun is gone; it fell into the fall, but I don’t want it this way… Why can’t you stay? Don’t run away… Don’t slip away, my dear…
Why the fuck had zhe downloaded all these synthy sad songs, anyways?

Zhe couldn’t cook worth a shit, not like her. Manwiches. Hungry Mans. Even zhis food was misgendering zhim.

There had to be a way to call her back and explain. She wouldn’t be thrilled to hear from zhim, but zhe couldn’t live like this.
It was hard enough coming to terms with being trans, let alone doing it all by zhimself.

Too much CNN. All they did was talk about the same damn things. Some asshole let their kid get into the gorilla pit at the Cincinnati zoo; that had been back in May, before the fight, before the split. Now all they would talk about was that mosquito thing coming to the U.S. What the hell was it called again? ZIBA? Jai couldn’t remember.

That was something zhe practiced, spelling zhis name different. Zhe had never been very creative as a fake-man, and it carried over into being genderqueer. Jason, Jay, Jai. Spelling it with an “I” rather than a y made it seem like he was Asian, or something. Or like he was trying to be like that kid on TLC, Jazz. At any rate, with no one in the house, zhe could wear a dress, paint their toenails purple, and try trimming zhir beard. Zhir hair was growing out well. If zhe had felt like a woman, zhe supposed zhe could be pretty. But this wasn’t going to go like Caitlyn Jenner.

Few people outside the internet and certain big cities knew about genderqueer. Zhe wasn’t a woman, nor a man. Zhe was just a pretty, though still hairy, person. Maybe if Colleen couldn’t understand that, zhe was better off without zhim.

Only… they had been married for close to fifteen years. There was no conceivable way that Jai could just… start all over again.

One time, in college, zhe had made out and gotten zhis dick sucked by another man. Or, should zhe say, a cis man. Had he been gay, or just drunk? Zhe didn’t remember, and they had never seen each other again. Now, all of a sudden, zhe wondered if that hadn’t meant something. Gender and sexuality were different, but let’s just suppose it had meant something. Jai didn’t even understand how that would translate: bisexual? Pansexual? Or just a fluke, and zhe was straight? No, zhe couldn’t be straight. Would that then make Colleen and zhim queer?

Zhe didn’t leave the house much, but when zhe did, Jai didn’t wear a dress. Zhe wore sneakers to hide zhirs’ toes. Zhe hoped zhe didn’t smell too much like zhe was borrowing zhirs’ wife’s perfume. Easy in, easy out. Funny, zhe didn’t know where all the meat had went.

People were coughing too much. It wasn’t the right time of year for that. Yeah, summer colds in July, but usually most of this shit was gone by now. Also, people’s eyes seemed bloodshot. Something in the air?

Colleen had hated The Walking Dead. Despite the show seeming singularly masculine, especially considering zhir predicament, Jai had always loved it. Fucking Negan. Fucking cliffhanger. Colleen had snapped, “If you’re going to bitch about it, just stop watching the damn show!” No, Jai couldn’t do that. Jai had to find out who had fallen by that barbed-wire bat.

Zhe had never read the comics, so zhe didn’t care that Richonne had, according to the readers, essentially been grafted onto Rick’s fling with Andrea. Who gives a shit? Richonne was canon. Michonne was Jai’s favorite character. Zhe was white, but still, zhe was never sure if zhe would rather fuck her or be her. Zhe was jealous of Rick.

Except… people bitched about Richonne. They would rather see Carol and Daryl. Jai didn’t agree with that ship. Anyways, it was unlikely, given the events of the finale. But people still bitched. People bitched about the wrong things, zhe thought. That new all-female Ghostbusters, for example. Or people tried to say that Bill Cosby was innocent. Just all around stupid, pointless shit. No wonder the country was going to hell in a handbasket. And here came CNN again, the ultimate bitchers. Maybe another plane would go down and they would have something else to talk about besides the election, that gorilla, or Prince.

Nope, still that virus. ZIKA, that was it. Turns out it was affecting more than just pregnant women now. It would be over soon, and Jai knew it. Just like that Ebola. People used to die from polio or tuberculosis. Just fear-mongering, as CNN always did. They were getting as bad as Fox with it.

Jai didn’t like to complain about things, which could very well have been another factor in the split. In the bedroom, Jai had started to feel more submissive. He asked for a switch. Nothing like pegging, Jai wasn’t into that kinky shit. Just maybe zhe could bottom for a while? Colleen had been perplexed, and possibly, this had been the first seed of suspicion planted.

Jai suddenly wished that they had had kids. But then, how would they feel going through zhir’s sudden gender questioning? It felt selfish.
Jai decided to turn off CNN and take a nap.

Today was June 27, 2016 BCE, roughly two-o’clock-PM.

Little did Jai know that today would officially be the start of some real serious shit.

***

Two weeks passed. Jai kept eating Manwitches and Knorr pasta sides. No word from Colleen. Oh, well. Maybe it was time to start moving on.
Zhe hadn’t done a thing for the holiday. What was the point? Zhe hadn’t felt the spirit. But secretly, Zhe had started lurking on transgender message boards. It was sometimes depressing, zhe would admit. A lot of divorcees. Wasn’t that statistic something like, 60% of married couples survived transition? Jai didn’t buy it. Or else they were talking binary trans folks, not freaks like zhim.

Zhe was feeling down in the dumps… did this mean zhe was dysphoric? No, it wasn’t about zhir’s body. It was about the split. Zhe was hesitant to call it a divorce, there were no lawyers yet. There would be, though, if zhe wouldn’t stop being such a pussy and owned up to Colleen about it. But that sounded like a nightmare and a half.

CNN was really dwelling on this ZIKA shit. Sometimes, Jai wondered if it didn’t have something to do with the Brazilian government. Or maybe the experts were right and we really were creating superbugs by using too much antibacterial hand sanitizer. Either way, Jai couldn’t make heads or tails of it, and it grew boring, too melodramatic, so zhe changed the channel. Here we go, River Monsters. Jeremy Wade, biologist and extreme angler, was trying to catch a really fucking big fish.

After that, Jai tried switching to the local news, but was met by something… odd.

“What’s this shit,” zhe actually said out loud.

The channel… wasn’t there.

CNN again. Breaking news with all the bells and whistles. In early June, the first case of hydrocephaly caused by ZIKA had been reported in the continental United States. Jai lived in Addison, just north of Painted Post aka who the fuck knows where. Zhe was far from that, and also far from the football player that had contracted, getting flu-like symptoms.

The big news was when it had jumped the bay and gotten into Manhattan. It had wreaked havoc there. Then somehow, it had gotten onto rats and changed. Now, it gave you the sniffles plus the pukes and diarrhea. And there were some that said if you didn’t know what it was and didn’t get it treated right away, it went almost like syphillus, into the brain, making you go mad. But those were just rumors, right? Conspiracy theories, like the morons who said we’d never gone to the moon and Obama was a Muslim. They wouldn’t be reported on CNN.

Except now, they were, and worse.

It was like that time that guy in Florida had bit then bum, only it had leveled up. A guy had gone to a gas station along the Jersey turnpike. Some businessman. He hadn’t been feeling well, all sniffles and a barking cough, but he apparently hadn’t been able to get out of that damned meeting. Whatever his intentions, he had pulled in, caught a seagull, ripped out its throat, and then doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire. His work-buddy had seen him pull off ahead and found him, covered in bird blood, ablaze, and the worst part… laughing.

Earlier in the day, they said, a report had come out of Scranton. A woman had walked out of his front door, into the middle of the street, hysterical. Both of her hands were saturated in blood. Concerned neighbors had approached, and she had only pointed wordlessly back inside. Inside had been a bloodbath. She’d killed her dog, some kind of little one, a Yorkie or a Pomeranian. Not just killed, but had ripped it open, ate its entrails.

“Son of a bitch,” Jai whispered to zhimself in abject horror.

Over the course of the next three hours, Jai watched CNN. Rounds of experts. The CDC. The FDA. Sanjay Gupta. Cuts to Manhattan. Sidewalk preachers caterwauling about the Apocalypse. References to World War Z and the Walking Dead with nervous laughter. They chuckled, but in their eyes, they were scared. More news, again out of Pennsylvania. Hunter found shot in the head, not an accident nor a suicide, but murder. Hallstead. A dozen raving people checked into Robert Packer in Sayre. Then the worst yet, in Syracuse. Streets filled with SWATs and armored vans, tear gas, only this wasn’t Ferguson, and the people in the street weren’t BlackLivesMatter. Three of them on one street, six on another, then a mob of ten. Some just standing there, others trying to bust down glass entrances, shouts of “shoot them in the head!”

Without even thinking of switching it off, Jai had grabbed the portable phone and gone straight to the bathroom. Sat in the tub, closed the shower curtain.

The phone clattered; zhe couldn’t dial, too much sweat. Hands too shaky. Zhe wondered how zhir voice would sound, what to say, knew zhe had to get her, knew she wouldn’t care, so long as zhe was safe and out of danger. Busy signal, busy signal, the skin on zhe’s balls crawled, head spinning, stomach lying cold and flat like a stone slab.

Voicemail. Damn it. She had to be there. It didn’t matter what she thought, it didn’t matter if she was still mad, how could she still be mad?

How could she still be upset over a presumed affair? There was no affair, she would see that, she would just be afraid, was she alone? Where was she? Jai needed her, didn’t care, just needed her voice, needed her there, needed her alive, needed her sane, needed her to be her and not some goddamned–

“Jay,” came her voice. It was small, distant, trembling.

“Where are you?”

“Still home,” she whispered, “downstairs.”

“What’s wrong?”

“The Kussards–“

That sweet couple, the young engineer with the pregnant wife, the guy who always stood out back and texted while he grilled every summer.

“What happened?”

Sobs, tears, her voice came back high-pitched, not Colleen’s but a clone made out of fear. “I think… I think he… killed her…”

They talked for several minutes. Zhe had longed to hear her voice, longed to explain, for over a month now, but at the moment, none of that mattered.

Once she was calmer, even offering up a laugh, Colleen surprised zhim by asking, “So… how you been?”

Jai must have sat silent for only a minute, but the silence must have been long enough to concern her, because she grew slightly scared again.

“Jason? You there?”

Taking a deep breath, Jai finally answered, “Yes.”

Reading zhir’s mind, as she always did, that dear, that god-sent woman of zhir’s, Colleen said soothingly, “Jay? If there’s something you need to tell me–“

Jai interrupted, finishing her sentence, as zhe always did, “Better late than never.”

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