Thoughts on “How We Behave”

This short essay is part of a series called ‘Publication Reflection’ where I look back at my published work. Want to see content like this more often? Consider supporting me on Patreon.


I think “How We Behave” (published by Valparaiso Fiction Review) is one of my favorite pieces I’ve done. I wrote it in the fall of 2018 and was so in love with it that I used it in my writing sample for MFA applications. According to every ‘veteran’ offering advice at the time, this was a terrible idea, because ‘older pieces are more polished.’ Obviously, my new piece did well for me, considering I got into my dream MFA. So who knows what the best choice is.

This piece was pretty directly inspired by a Disney river cruise I went on with my parents in the summer of 2018. I’m really afraid of Disney though, so I didn’t make direct references. That’s why it’s “the largest entertainment company in the world” and I just describe Mulan instead of actually saying what it is. I was also reaching the end of my own gender journey, finally setting into they/them pronouns and starting to come out to a few people, so I was interested in exploring something that was a little more non-binary. I didn’t want any part of it to feel cut and dry.

One other thing worth mentioning, I think. When VFR promoted my work on their Facebook, they described it as being about a mother coming to terms with her trans child. I thought this was interesting because, in my mind, the mother didn’t have much to do with anything. She was just there. Not the most supportive, necessarily, but not particularly unsupportive. So I don’t know if I agree with them about what the piece was about. But that doesn’t really matter, in the end. They published it, and that’s what I really cared about.

If you’ve got the time, take a look at this piece and let me know what you think. Love and gratitude, as always.

Last Month in Art – June 2022

This short essay is part of a series called ‘Writing on Writing.’ This series takes a few different forms, and in this post, I’m featuring some of the art that fuels my creativity. Want to see content like this more often? Consider supporting me on Patreon.


It’s been a really tough week, but the month was alright. So here’s the art that kept me going.

A Sea of Glass by C. Drew Harvell

This interesting little book explores some of the more unusual creatures in the ocean, focusing on finding the real-life counterparts to incredible glass-blown pieces made decades ago. It can be a tad sad when nit highlights how climate change is affecting the oceans, so only look into it if you can handle that.

All That Jazz 1979

This masterpiece of a movie is Bob Fosse’s autofiction in film. I happened to watch it the night before I found out about my grandmother, which I think was good. The movie has a lot to say about reckoning with death, and I found that comforting after the fact.

Everything Everywhere All At Once 2022

This absolutely stunning piece is about complicated family relationships, but is also hilarious and has some of the best performances I’ve seen in a film. It’s still playing in theaters, and I highly recommend you go watch it.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

I’m late to the party on this one. The slow, subtle horror of it will be swirling in my head for months. Having this floating in my subconscious is going to do wonders for my writing, I can feel it.

Hot Fuzz 2007

I’m late to the party on this one, too. If you need something that’ll warm your heart and crack you up, this is the way to go.

John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch 2019

This is worth watching just to see the wonderful André De Shields. He’s nearly as magnetic on film as he is in person. Not to mention, there is some great kid acting and singing that’ll really blow your mind.

Memoria 2021

This odd, quiet film takes place in Colombia. It’s about sound as much as it’s about the plot, and Tilda Swinton is stunning.

Neptune Frost 2021

This radical Afrofuturist musical hates the Western viewer just as much as it informs. I’ve truly never seen anything like it.

As always, I would love for you to share the things that are inspiring you right now. Love and gratitude, friends.

On Motivation (or lack thereof)

This short essay is part of a series called ‘Writing on Writing.’ This series takes a few different forms, and in this post, I’m discussing some of the things affecting my writing right now. Want to see content like this more often? Consider supporting me on Patreon.


I am writing this very reluctantly. Not because I don’t value all of you (because of course I do) and not because I’ve stopped liking doing Patreon (I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done). I am just feeling very, very tired.

I suppose I’m still recovering from Covid just a little, though my energy feels back to normal overall. There’s a lot of uncertainty in my life right now, too. There’s the job hunt, which is generally unpleasant, and then larger issues around the news and midterm elections and the general state of the world. 

I have this really bad habit of looking at really negative things on Facebook. There’s a particular profile belonging to an extended family member of mine that I seem to enjoy torturing myself with. I won’t go into details, as it’s unnecessary to put all of you through it, but I’m sure you can form an idea of what I mean. I tend to excuse looking at it by saying I’m ‘doing research’ or ‘understanding the other side.’ But really, what am I actually learning from looking at it? The particulars of pro-gun talking points or the newest anti-Pride rhetoric? And what do I actually gain from ‘learning’ those things?

In the end, all I’m doing is making myself sad. What’s so tragic about this is I’ve always liked this extended family member. Our interactions have only ever been kind, and they have always made an effort to keep up with me and check in. We’ve never been close, but nothing they ever said or did gave me the impression that what they’re really thinking is so negative. Because really, what I’m seeing when I look at that Facebook, is that they hate me.

That sounds extreme, of course. Like I’ve said, they’re very nice to me when we interact. Just a few months ago they reached out to see how I was feeling after my first bout with Covid. They tend to like my posts when they’re about things like traveling with my parents or school accomplishments. In fact if asked, they’d probably say they don’t hate me at all, despite the fact that I’m queer or pro-choice or any of the other stances they don’t agree with. But I also know that if they didn’t know me, if I was just some person that was described to them as being all the things that I am, they would say the most vicious things. And that is really disheartening. 

I think deep down what has me so tired right now is that I feel kind of hopeless, but not in a way that I’m used to. I’ve struggled with depression for years now, and that personal hopelessness is something I’ve learned to manage. This is a different feeling. It’s a lot less personal, but also a lot bigger. As much as I tell myself that the true majority of the country is more left-leaning, or that the only thing I have the power to do is live my own life the way I think I should, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that it doesn’t matter. It seems like the bad guys are winning.

I’ve always considered art to be incredibly powerful as a tool for empathy and compassion. I still think that’s true. But in my day to day, when I’m sitting down to try and work on my own art, I’ve wondered what the point is. It’s a really awful feeling, and so far, I’ve been very unsuccessful at talking myself out of it. Things aren’t all bad, though. For the first time in months, I’ve finished reading two books and I’m quickly working my way through two more. I’m going on walks by myself or with Peggy Sue in the sun, which I know is good for me whether I feel it in the moment or not. I’m applying to jobs at companies and institutions I believe in. I’m going through the motions, waiting for the good feelings I normally have to come back. And I’m sure they will come back. It just kind of sucks right now.

I hope you don’t find this post too depressing, and please don’t spend any time worrying about me. I honestly feel a little better now that I’ve gotten to the end of this, which I think says something about the value of my strategy. If I just keep doing the things I know are good for me, I’ll get out of this funk. It’ll just take time.

Love and gratitude to all of you.

Thoughts on “Indiscretion”

This short essay is part of a series called ‘Publication Reflection’ where I look back at my published work. Want to see content like this more often? Consider supporting me on Patreon.


Illustration that accompanies my zine Indiscretion

When I promised this zine a couple weeks ago, I’d thought I would only use old pieces–one published (“Coffee Talk”) and two that I considered unpublished.

“Coffee Talk” went in seamlessly. I think it’s a lovely little piece, so I didn’t change a thing. Then, I dropped in the other two pieces: “Observations From a Pew in Church” and “When It’s Over.” These are pieces I wrote as an undergrad around the same time as “Coffee Talk.” For that reason, I was thinking they were stylistically similar, and in general, I was right. All three of the pieces were in third person, and all three operated on themes of sexual indiscretion.

The theme wasn’t quite tight enough though, I think. The original version of “Observations” didn’t mention cheating at all, instead, the main character spends a bit of time fantasizing about Lacey. I wanted the ‘indiscretion’ to be more explicit, so I cut the fantasy and instead dropped a sentence that clearly showed Mary was actively cheating on her husband. I like this version a lot better than the original, which I think bordered on melodrama. It feels a bit more realistic to me, even if it is kind of bleak.

Then I looked at “When It’s Over.” I just didn’t like it. It was depressing in a way that I just didn’t find enjoyable. So then, I found myself a tad stuck. I felt that the piece needed three pieces to truly count as a collection, but I didn’t have anything else about cheating. After I got over the messiness of my relationship, the topic lost interest for me.

So I wrote a new piece.

“The Thing About Cheating” was something I wrote pretty dang quickly. I wrote the first three paragraphs ending with “Can you remember that first time?” and then turned to a software called charNG that I discovered on Gnoetry Daily. Gnoetry Daily was introduced to me as a service to help create super weird poems, but I wanted to use it for fiction. I wanted to revisit those moments of cheating I’d just outlined but disorient them. So I plugged the original paragraphs into charNG and edited them down to create what I thought was a good-sounding (and good-looking) re-visiting of the beginning paragraphs. I wanted it to feel like the narrator was starting to lose their way, desperately trying to find the reason they started this in the first place and realizing it just wasn’t worth it. Then, I had to think through the ending. It felt amazing to end it on not knowing what happens next because the next two pieces explore that. “Observations” has the cheating character contemplating her wedding, and “Coffee Talk” has the woman deciding to stay with her husband despite what he did.

Overall, I think it ended up being a lovely little collection of things, and it was great to have Patrons to thank on the acknowledgments page. I am so, so grateful for all of you, and it felt incredible to put that in a zine.

Love, gratitude, and happy reading.

Last Month in Art

This short essay is part of a series called ‘Writing on Writing.’ This series takes a few different forms, and in this post, I’m featuring some of the art that fuels my creativity. Want to see content like this more often? Consider supporting me on Patreon.


Interestingly, I didn’t finish any books last month. Not sure what that’s about, aside from just so happening to be in a bit of a slump. I did, however, watch a lot of movies. Here are the ones I gave five stars–

Drive My Car 2021

This movie was absolutely beautiful. I think it’s way better than the short story it’s based on. Some people think it’s slow, but I wholeheartedly disagree. It was a beautiful, riveting movie that I highly recommend.

Writing With Fire 2021

This documentary about a women-run newspaper in India reminded me that documentaries can really be excellent sometimes. I’d watched quite a few bad ones before getting here, and this one restored my faith in the medium. It’s the right amount of uplifting while still exploring a very difficult, very complex culture.

The Hand of God 2021

This incredible little movie tells the story of growing up without being cliché. It’s a movie that manages to be about film without feeling self-indulgent. Plus, the aunt is hot. I left it feeling good about family and how much they can mean to us.

The Queen of Basketball 2021

This short documentary is literally the best documentary I’ve watched in years. It features a woman basketball player whose personality shines on camera. If you want to watch something but don’t have two hours, this is the thing to watch.

BoxBallet 2020

Another short one here. Some people really hate the animation, but I think it’s delightfully quirky. It’s a sweet little love story that I found incredibly touching.

Flee 2021

I’m now of the opinion that more documentaries need to be animated. Re-creations are overrated. The animation isn’t the most sophisticated, but the story makes up for it. 

Cyrano 2021

So I gave this movie five stars, but I’m not sure if my reaction to it was completely rational. I spent the first half being kind of angry, and the second half being in love, then I screamed at the ending, then I gave it five stars. So who knows what that means.

Living In Oblivion 1995

This is a movie about making a movie that also is somehow about a dream in a dream in a dream. Plus, a surprise appearance from Pete Dinklage. A lovely little comedy that is well worth a view.

The Power of the Dog 2021

I’m obsessed with this film. Jane Campion did a stunning job, Benedict Cumberbatch did a stunning job, Jesse Plemons did a stunning job, Kirsten Dunst did a stunning job, Codi Smit-McPhee did a stunning job. Everyone moment is riveting because every single moment has meaning.

What movies are you loving right now? Let me know! And if you want, give me a follow on Letterboxd.

Thoughts On “Equality”

This short essay is part of a series called ‘Publication Reflection’ where I look back at my published work. Want to see content like this more often? Consider supporting me on Patreon.


The image above, a painting by Carl Napolitano, was printed alongside my piece when it was published. I love butterflies. What a joy to have this one associated with my first publication.

Before rereading “Equality” for this post, it had been years since I looked at this strange little flash fiction. Part prose, part script, a little naive. Perhaps very naive.

I wrote this piece as a freshman in college. By the time it was accepted at the undergrad-operated lit mag there, I’d already decided to transfer. But, it was still my first publication. I won second place in the fiction category judged by Trenton Lee Stewart, and he wrote me some nice feedback on it. I even got a bit of money for it.

All of that to say, I certainly don’t look at this piece and think that it’s bad. I think there are spots to improve it, some instances of repetition that I should have eliminated, basic sentences that could have been elevated. But for who I was at the time, for where I was at with my writing and with my life, it’s a solid little piece.

What I wonder about is where I stand on the moral of it.

It’s simplistic, of course. The kind of thing an 18-year-old thinks is very clever but is only sort of interesting. I still agree that we should be nice to Prejudice, though, which is different than letting him walk all over us. We have to be nice to him while also trying to stop him from dictating laws and public policy, which is a very tricky line to balance on. We have to be nice to him like I’m nice to the prejudiced people in my family, sending them well wishes while desperately hoping that their opinions and ideas weren’t passed down to their kids. And I think jokes about white people not seasoning their food are hilarious. It’s true in a lot of cases, after all.

It’s the nuance of it, though. That’s what I think about when I look at this piece now. It’s not a bad point, overall. I just wish I’d been capable of explaining it better.


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Deeper

This flash fiction originally appeared in the print magazine Please Xerox.

Like what you read and want to help me create more? Support my work through PatreonVenmo, or Paypal.


I feel bad for not picking Nicki because she is so desperate for appointments. I have been here for two hours and her chair has stayed empty, and as Dave whispered to me, this is like a barbershop. If the chair is empty, they aren’t making money.

Nicki is in the corner drawing while Dave adds color to my skin. At first he penned the lines he wanted to follow, but now he knows how he wants it to look. He’s free-handing purple and green across my thigh and I trust him because Dave is the same age as my hairdresser and they start the same conversations. How’s your mom? Tell me about that girl you like at work. Have I told you why I hate my sister’s new girlfriend?

“I overheard these women talking about their kids getting tattoos,” I say, “and the comparisons they make are so weird.”

“I used to hear it’s like wearing the same shirt for the rest of your life,” Dave says.

“These women were saying it’s like wearing the same hairstyle forever.”

Dave smiles, his eyes never leaving his work. “Like they’ve changed their hair in the last twenty years.”

Blood is pooling on my leg that he wipes away before continuing to cut me open with a needle. “I wanted to tell them it’s more than that. It’s deeper than a shirt or a haircut.”

“I don’t think they would find that comforting,” Dave says.

Nicki finishes her drawing and pins it on the bulletin board by her chair. She says, “I love this. I hope someone picks it.”

It’s a character from an adult cartoon, a mad scientist with bugged out eyes. “Put it on yourself,” Dave tells her. “That way it’s yours.”

Nicki doesn’t comment on his suggestion. She goes back to drawing and the store remains quiet except for the buzzing of the needle.

“People get so afraid of changing their minds,” Dave says, almost whispering. “But we don’t change nearly as much as we think we do.”

“So why do you make such a good business on cover-ups?” I ask.

Dave draws a line at the top of my thigh and my skin jumps. “Almost done,” he says. He adds white to my body and I think he’s forgotten my question but he sighs as he finishes the last line, rubs my leg with the wipe one last time.

“Sometimes people get what they think they’re supposed to get,” Dave says. “And then they decide to get what they wanted in the first place.”

“Are they hard to do?” I ask. I get up, look at myself in the mirror.

“Yes,” Nicki says. I didn’t know she’d been listening.

Dave shrugs. “It’s all about understanding how colors work together. You just have to know how to layer them.”

I look at Nicki in the mirror, curious to see if she’s still listening, what she thinks about Dave’s assessment. But she’s looking at the drawing she made, chewing on her lip.  She takes it off the bulletin board and drops it into the trashcan by her chair. She looks up then, sees me watching. She looks back down at the trashcan. I think maybe she’s going to rescue the drawing, but she doesn’t. She just stares down at it. 

When I step out the door, she’s still looking down. 

The One Who Does Hair on Corpses

This short story originally appeared in the now-defunct online literary magazine Carbon Culture Review.

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Nick has never been to a sad funeral before. He’s been to funerals of course, but they were for old people, people who everyone knew were on their way out. He’s never been to a funeral for someone his age, someone in their twenties. And he’s never been to a funeral for someone who committed suicide.

He’s halfway down the center aisle of the small Baptist church when he realizes that he doesn’t know anyone here. Every other funeral he’s attended was for a family member. Here he doesn’t have anyone to sit with, to talk about Kenzie with. And, damn, his mouth hurts. He’d thought about taking a pain pill, but he doesn’t want to be groggy, so now he’s stuck with a sore jaw and aching gums. At least the swelling is gone.

Nick scans the church, looking for an empty pew. There isn’t one. But there is a pew with only one person, a girl his age, in a nice blue dress and heels. Apparently she’d thought to dress nice, unlike Nick who’d been dumb enough to show up in jeans and a button down. He should have worn a suit.

He doesn’t currently own a suit, but that’s beside the point.

Nick slides into the pew and sits next to the girl. He gives her a half smile, one that says things are sad but manages to convey politeness.

“I’m Claire,” she says. “Mackenzie and I were best friends in high school.”

“I’m Nick,” he tells her, thinking she must not have kept in touch because she doesn’t use Kenzie’s nickname. “I worked with her. At the hair salon.”

Nick can tell the exact moment she recognizes him from the narrative that Kenzie’s mother had created and told over and over again about the day’s leading up to Kenzie’s death.

“Oh,” Claire says. “So you, I mean, you’re—”

“—the last person who talked to her,” Nick says, cutting her off. Everyone seems to think it’s this huge deal, when Nick knows it isn’t. It just is.

“I’m so sorry,” Claire says. “That has to be hard on you.”

Nick gives her the same half-smile from earlier as a response. He wishes people would leave it alone. It was just a phone call. Despite what they’re all assuming, he doesn’t blame himself for anything because he couldn’t have done anything. And he didn’t know her well enough to notice anything before she called. They just worked together.

There’s nothing he could have done. That’s what he keeps telling himself.

* * *

They were all liars. Every person he’d asked about this damn procedure had assured him that getting his wisdom teeth out wouldn’t be a big deal. Nick now realizes that was bullshit.

He’s lying on his couch half-asleep when his cell phone rings. He can’t really talk because his face is so swollen, but he answers anyway. Maybe he can convince whoever it is to bring him soup, or something stronger than hydrocodone.

“Hello?” he says.

“Hey, it’s Kenzie,” comes through the phone. “You don’t sound so good.”

“I had four teeth cut out of my gums this morning,” Nick says, fumbling the words.

“Do you think you’ll feel better in a few hours?” Kenzie says. “I was hoping you could come over and fix my hair.”

“Why do you need your hair done?” Nick asks, trying to focus around his spinning head.

“You remember how I had a falling out with Andrew?” Kenzie says.

Yes, Nick remembers her falling out with Andrew. They have one about once a month. Andrew is a jerk, but no matter how terrible he is, Kenzie goes back. He’d given up trying to talk sense into her a long time ago. Now he just tries to be supportive.

“Well, he called today,” Kenzie continues, “and he said he’d be willing to go to couple’s therapy. You know, I really think things are going to work this time.”

“That’s great, Kenzie,” Nick says. Couple’s therapy is new. Maybe it really will work, but he isn’t too optimistic. “What does that have to do with your hair?”

“He’s taking me out to dinner tonight, somewhere nice,” Kenzie says. “I want to dress up, and you’re better at hair than I am, so I thought I’d ask if you’d come do mine.”

“I’m sorry, Kenzie, I’m just not up for it,” Nick says, really meaning it. “I can’t even sit up without getting dizzy. I can’t fix your hair. I’d probably just burn you with the curling iron.”

“I completely understand,” Kenzie says, though Nick thinks she sounds a little disappointed. “You just feel better, okay?”

“I really am sorry,” Nick says. “And I hope tonight goes well for you.”

“Thanks,” Kenzie says. “You know, I have this potato soup recipe that I keep meaning to try. I’ll make it tomorrow and bring you some.”

They say goodbye and Nick hangs up, sinking back down onto the couch. He falls asleep there, only getting up occasionally to take more medicine. He doesn’t fully wake up until the next morning when his cell phone rings again. It’s one of Kenzie’s friends calling to tell him that Kenzie slit her wrists and bled out. Andrew found her in their apartment.

Nick runs into the bathroom and throws up his pain pills.

* * *

The first job Nick had gotten after graduating beauty school was at the Olmstead Funeral Home, and he’d held on to it even when he’d gotten the job with Kenzie at the one hair salon in town. He’d never really thought about who did the hair on corpses for funerals, but obviously someone had to. His friends think it’s creepy, but Nick doesn’t mind it. He’s figured out how to make it not creepy. Or at least, less creepy.

He’d learned at school that a large part of being good at doing hair is talking. He did it with the live ones, so he might as well do it with the dead ones.

Two days after getting his wisdom teeth out, Nick takes three Advil, showers, puts on real clothes, and drives to the funeral parlor with his bag of hair and makeup supplies. His face is

still a bit swollen, but Murray, the embalmer, doesn’t say anything when he lets Nick in, and he knows Kenzie won’t care. When Murray had called him yesterday, he’d asked if it was okay, offered to try and call someone else even though they both knew that there was no one else to call. Besides, Nick always did Kenzie’s hair, staying late to dye it different colors, having her trim his while her color set. He’s been doing her hair for the past three years. He wasn’t going to let anyone else do it now.

“Well, Kenzie, I finally met your mother,” Nick says as he walks into the room. “She gave me a terrible picture of you to copy. It looks like you’re at an eighties costume party.”

Murray has rolled her close to an outlet and placed a small table nearby for Nick to lay his things out on. He puts his bag down and digs out his curling iron, plugging it in to heat and carefully setting it down on the table.

“I guess I’ll do your makeup while this thing gets hot,” he says, digging a few brushes out of his bag. “Now I know you’re thinking that’s a terrible idea. I promise I told your mother that the drag makeup I do is way different than normal makeup. She didn’t listen.”

He pulls out the makeup bag Kenzie’s mom had left at his door. She’d gotten it out of Kenzie’s bathroom for Nick, so he could make her look like she normally did. Nick didn’t tell her that in the time he’d known her, Kenzie had never really worn makeup.

“What are you doing with blue eyeshadow?” Nick says, digging through the bag. “Honestly, Kenzie, do you have anything in here that’s a normal color?”

He manages to find a broken container of eyeshadow in sparkly neutrals and a little bottle of base makeup. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing.

“This is the part that’s difficult,” Nick tells her, getting out two more containers of base from his own bag. “The goal is to make you look like you do when you’re standing, so I have to do some extra work with highlights and shading. That in itself isn’t so bad if you can airbrush it on, but I don’t have an airbrush.”

Nick turns to Kenzie and realizes he hasn’t actually looked at her yet. So he looks. It’s definitely her. Paler, thinner lips, and limp hair, but still her.

“The problem,” Nick says, putting the base he’d found in Kenzie’s bag on a sponge, “is that your skin is too firm. It makes it almost impossible to mix the base in so it doesn’t look streaky.”

Nick looks at Kenzie’s face and hesitates. This is weird. It had never been weird before, even when he was working on little old ladies who used to come to him for perms or old men who he’d seen at one of the local diners.

Nick isn’t sure he can do this anymore. He puts the makeup he’s holding back down on the table and unplugs the curling iron. He gets a chair from the other side of the room and drags it over, sitting down next to Kenzie.

“God, my mouth hurts,” he tells her.

Nick knows Kenzie isn’t going to talk back, but the silence bothers him anyway.

“I’m trying to remember what we talked about before, you know?” Nick runs his hand through his hair, realizing it needs to be cut and now he’ll have to do it himself. “Surely we talked about something. We stood next to each other all day.”

They did talk of course, talked all the time, but Nick’s starting to realize now that none of it is real. He heard all about Kenzie’s failing relationship but he never thought to ask why she wouldn’t leave. She always wanted to know how his parents were doing but never asked him to explain when he told her that he hadn’t been back home in years, that his parents always drove an hour in to town to come see him. The reason, if she’d asked, is that his parents wanted people to think they didn’t have anything to do with him anymore. But she didn’t ask and Nick never thought to tell her and he’s starting to think that those years of working next to each other didn’t actually mean anything.

“I looked up the symptoms of depression yesterday,” Nick says, looking at a spot on the wall because he can’t look at her. “You didn’t have any of them. You came to work, you ate normally, you didn’t talk about dying. You even said you were going to bring me soup.”

The silence is painful. It’s pushing down on him, making him feel claustrophobic.

“I didn’t know,” Nick says, making himself look at her body. “How was I supposed to?”

Kenzie doesn’t answer.

“If I’d known, I would have gone to do your hair,” Nick says. “I promise, Kenzie. But I didn’t know.”

His eyes are starting to itch and he’s starting to feel like he’s going to throw up again which doesn’t make any sense because he hasn’t eaten anything since he got that phone call. Nick can’t do this, he can’t sit here with Kenzie, being expected to fix her up like it’s just a normal job. It’s too quiet, his mouth hurts too much, Kenzie is too young.

“There was nothing I could do, there wasn’t—” Nick’s voice cracks, and he stops talking because what if there was? If there was some sign that he’d missed that could have saved her, if his surgery had been on a different day, if he’d just made himself get up and go fix her damn hair.

Nick didn’t cry when his parents kicked him out for being gay, and he didn’t cry when they took him back the next day. He didn’t cry when his first boyfriend broke up with him so he could go to conversion therapy. But he lets himself cry now because this time someone died and it’s normal to cry when people die. It’s not because he thinks he could have done something. It’s just because she’s dead.

* * *

Nick doesn’t go up to see her body. He spent three hours agonizing over every detail of her appearance. He doesn’t need to see her again.

People slowly start filing out of the church, likely heading to the reception that Kenzie’s mom is hosting at her house. Nick realizes it would be polite to go, but he doesn’t want to.

“Are you going to the reception?”

It takes Nick a moment to register that someone has asked him a question, and even longer to realize that someone is Claire. She’s standing in the aisle looking lost. It occurs to Nick that she probably doesn’t know anyone at this funeral either.

“No, I’m not going,” Nick says, standing up and walking over to her. “You?”

“I don’t think so,” Claire says. “You did a great job with Mackenzie. She looked beautiful.”

“Oh, uh, thanks,” Nick says, not sure how to respond. People don’t typically compliment him for the work he does on dead people.

“Look, I’m sorry about earlier,” Claire says. “I shouldn’t have acted like it’s such a big deal, you know? The phone call.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Nick says, hoping she’ll change the subject.

“Still,” Claire says, apparently set on the phone call. “It’s just, I haven’t talked to Mackenzie in a couple years, but I still feel like I should have done something. I wonder if she had called me, if I could have stopped her.”

Nick doesn’t say anything, waiting for her to realize what she’s just implied.

“Oh my gosh, I didn’t mean that,” she says, her eyes wide. “I am so sorry.”

“It’s fine, I know what you were trying to say,” Nick says, attempting to smile at her.

“That doesn’t make it any less terrible,” Claire says. She looks like she’s about to cry.

“I think about it, too,” Nick tells her. He’s not sure why he admits it. He just doesn’t want her to cry. “I mean, I realize there isn’t actually anything I could have done. But I wonder.”

A few moments go by before Claire gets brave enough to ask, “What did you talk about?”

Nick had told Kenzie’s mom that she had sounded completely normal. He said he’d been shocked to hear the news because Kenzie had been her same old self on the phone. Her mom had accepted that, not wanting to hear details. Claire won’t be satisfied with that version.

“I was really doped up on pain pills from getting my wisdom teeth out, so I don’t remember it all that well,” Nick explains. “But I do remember she asked me to come over, and I said I couldn’t. Then she said she would see me the next day.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Claire says, a bit of a smile on her face. “How are you supposed to get ‘suicidal’ from ‘see you tomorrow?’”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out,” Nick says, running a hand through his hair.

“It’s impossible,” Claire says, her tone definitive. “And I was so terrible about it earlier. No one would have been able to tell there was a problem from that.”

“I don’t know about that,” Nick says. “I think someone might have been able to figure it out. Just not one of us.”

They stand there for a few moments in silence, avoiding making eye contact with each other. Nick doesn’t know what to do now that they’ve admitted that their only part in all of this is not knowing Kenzie well enough. Sure, Nick might have worked with her, but in the end seeing her every day hadn’t done anything more for her than if he hadn’t seen her in years.

“Well, it was nice to meet you, sort of,” Claire says, startling Nick out of his thoughts. “I’m gonna go.”

“It was sort of nice to meet you, too,” Nick says, smiling at her as best he can.

She hurries off and Nick sits back down in the pew, the only one left in the small church. The only one aside from Kenzie. He’s sure that someone from Olmstead’s will be there to take her away to the cemetery soon. Her mother hadn’t wanted to do a graveside service because she thought they were too depressing. Nick doesn’t really see how that could be any more depressing than what’s already happened.

“It was a good funeral,” Nick says, not sure if he’s talking to himself or to the casket at the front of the room. “I think everyone was the proper amount of sad.”

His voice echoes back to him, bouncing off the walls of the sanctuary. Nick looks at the casket and thinks maybe he should go up there, to pay his respects. But for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem right. So he gets up and walks off and refuses to look back no matter how much he wants to. He keeps his eyes forward, focused on the paintings on the back wall of the sanctuary, Jesus surrounded by children, angels playing harps and trumpets, flying between streams of light that cut through the clouds. Paintings that are supposed to be comforting, meant to depict a happy ending for the woman in a casket at the front of the church with expertly curled hair and perfect eyeliner.

Nick sits in the parking lot and watches as the cars pull out after the hearse, watches the people driving down the road pull off to the side and stop, waiting for the funeral procession to pass before starting to drive again. Of all the things that happened for Kenzie that day, the scriptures and the songs, he thinks this might be the best tribute to her. Strangers stopping, waiting, then driving away once the last car has passed. Taking a moment then moving on with their day. Nick waits until every car that had stopped is out of his line of sight and the funeral procession has been gone for several minutes before pulling out of the parking lot himself and driving off, leaving the church behind.

That’s Not a Favor

This piece originally appeared in the print magazine Soundings East.

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You are fascinated by the hippies sitting by the river. They remind you of puppies, the way they sprawl on top of each other in a pile on the stone steps leading down to the bank of the Mississippi. There are even a few dogs mixed in with the people, mutts that flop on to their backs and demand to be scratched. You’ve only seen hippies like this once before at a gas station on the highway between your university and your hometown, a group of four or five traveling in a rusted, run-down RV. They fascinated you then, too, but this is a bit different. This is a group of thirty people. Did they get together like this intentionally? Or are hippies naturally attracted to New Orleans, and then to the river? You aren’t even sure you should be calling them ‘hippies’ really, but you don’t know what else to call them. New wave hippies? Millennial hippies? Hippie wannabes? 

“When do you think the last time they showered was?” Nathalie asks, following the direction of your face to the pile of people by the Mississippi.

“Judging by their hair?” you say. “It’s been at least six months.”

Nathalie giggles and lays her head on your shoulder, bits of her brown-red hair flying up into your eyes. Her natural inclination towards public displays of affection amazes you, especially considering that while you two may be staying in a liberal city, you’re still in the South. Two years out of the closet and you still find touching in public unsettling. You aren’t sure if you can blame that entirely on dating a girl, though. You were just as uncomfortable touching Andy last year which really was a miracle, considering he looked like an underwear model.

“We should become hippies.” Nathalie scoots closer to you, forcing you to put your arm around her shoulders. “We could drop out of college. Get a dog. Sell our cars to buy an RV.”

“Think of the weight we could lose,” you say. “No money to buy food and all.”

“I think it’d be fun,” Nathalie says. “Like camping.”

“Camping isn’t fun.” No electricity so you can’t straighten your hair, no decent mirror for you to do your make-up. Nathalie thrives on being unkempt, her naturally wavy hair looking fixed when it isn’t, her eyelashes so thick she doesn’t need mascara. You have to work much harder to look like you belong next to her.

“Amy!”

You turn even though no one has called you Amy since high school, not even your mother. It’s a reflex, really. The idea that someone you know from high school, someone who you haven’t seen in such a long time that they call you Amy, would be in New Orleans.

“Amy Yancy!”

Nathalie sits up and looks around. “Who’s yelling?”

You see the girl before Nathalie does. She disentangles herself from the arms of a man who could be tan or could be dirty. Among the mass of people in brown-tinted clothes with brown-tinted hair she’d blended in, but by herself, you recognize her. Lexa Denizen, dressed in a long skirt and a stained tank top, is running towards you, smiling with square teeth.

“Do you know her?” Nathalie asks.

“Did I ever tell you about the first time I had a crush on a girl?” you say.

It’s all you have time to say before she’s there and you’re standing, giving her a hug, breathing in sweat and thinking you’ll have to take a shower after touching her.

“Amy, it’s so good to see you!” Lexa says, letting go of you. “You look beautiful!”

You’re blushing. It’s a ridiculous feeling. Nathalie is looking between you and Lexa, her eyebrows raised, amused.

“It’s good to see you, too,” you say, not adding that this is not how you would have wished to see her. “Lexa, this is Nathalie. My girlfriend.”

“It’s so great to meet you!” Lexa says, not stopping for one second to mention ‘girlfriend.’ You wonder if Lexa is being kind or if your interest in both genders had always been obvious to everyone but you.

Lexa hugs Nathalie, still smiling, and Nathalie hugs her back, giving you a look that clearly indicates that hugging is not what she wants to be doing. Had Lexa always been a hugger? Or is that only now that she doesn’t regularly bathe?

“What are you doing in New Orleans?” Lexa asks, turning back to you. You recognize the necklace she’s wearing, a little silver cat that you know she got from her mom right before she died of pancreatic cancer when you were both in junior high. It’s the nicest thing she’s wearing.

“It’s spring break,” you say. “We drove down here from school.”

“You’re still in school? Shouldn’t you have graduated already?”

You shouldn’t have, actually. You’ve only been in school for three years. You aren’t sure just how concerned you should be by Lexa’s misplacement of time.

“Come have a drink with us!” Nathalie says once she realizes you’ve been stumped by Lexa’s question. “It’s almost five.”

“Oh, no,” Lexa says, looking back and forth between you and your girlfriend. “I wouldn’t want to crash your vacation.”

“We insist,” Nathalie says, the hand she places on the small of your back asking you to play along, pressing nails into your skin.

“Our treat,” you say, hoping your smile doesn’t look fake. Really, one drink couldn’t hurt. Maybe you could get her some food, too. The way her collarbones are sticking out makes you uncomfortable. 

“Let me just tell Dylan where I’m going,” Lexa says, bouncing back towards the river.

“Sorry,” Nathalie says, the hand on your back dropping down to her side. “I just wanted an excuse to give her food.”

“It’s fine. We were friends in high school. It’ll be nice to catch up.”

“Or maybe sad. You don’t become a hippie for a good reason.”

The bar the three of you end up at is nice and dark, the kind of classy place you imagine your dad goes to with his accounting clients after an expensive steak dinner. You think it’s perfect for this situation. The dark will help to hide just how dirty Lexa is and there won’t be drunk people around to harass any of you. 

The three of you settle in a booth, Lexa on one side and you and Nathalie on the other. A waiter shows up within seconds, a young guy with nice hair and a smile that proves he knows he’s cute, cute enough to maybe score with one of the three girls now sitting in his section. Nathalie orders a Pinot Grigio and Lexa asks for a Shirley Temple. You order the first cocktail on the list of specials, handing over your ID before asked because you know he will ask. No one ever asks Nathalie for an ID even though you’re both the same age. Nathalie says you aren’t confident enough when you order, but you think it has more to do with your lack of cleavage, especially when compared to her. You are stuck looking perpetually fourteen. 

“So,” Nathalie says once the waiter has walked off, looking at Lexa, “tell me all about your life. I love the idea of roving the country, but I can’t get Amelia to join me.”

Nathalie smiles and reaches under the table to squeeze your leg, letting you know she’s joking. You have trouble smiling back at her.

“It was my ex’s idea,” Lexa says, carefully adjusting the headband holding her curly red bangs back form her face. “College wasn’t a good fit for us.” 

“You were at Wesley, right?” you say. “Pre-med?”

“Right.” Lexa’s expression drops into a frown. “I hated it. When Jonah suggested getting rid of everything and hitting the road it sounded like a dream. And then we found this whole community. It’s like having a family.”

The drinks arrive and Nathalie spends a few moments flirting with the waiter, likely hoping to get a second glass of wine on the house. You almost feel bad for him. Of the three women at this table, Nathalie is the only one he has absolutely no chance with, having declared herself uninterested in boys in elementary school. 

“Tell me about your life,” Lexa says, stirring her drink with her straw, the cherry bobbing around on top. “What’s the real world like?”

You take a sip of your drink before you answer, disappointed at how fruity it is. You’d wanted something closer to kerosene.

“The real world is okay,” you say. “We both graduate next year, which is terrifying. I’m getting a degree in psychology.”

“I don’t know how you stand it,” Lexa says, innocent, not realizing that could come off insulting. Or maybe she does realize it and doesn’t care. “School was so draining for me. All of those crazy expectations and false knowledges. It’s no wonder our generation has such mental health problems.”

“We should order an appetizer,” Nathalie says. For someone who’d said she was interested in Lexa’s life, she doesn’t seem too thrilled to hear about it. “Sliders, maybe? Or nachos?”

“I’m a vegetarian,” Lexa says. “Do you think they have mozzarella sticks?”

Nathalie has no trouble attracting the waiter and you take advantage of his presence and complete devotion to your girlfriend to down half your drink without her noticing. Nathalie is picky about drinking, thinks it should be done slowly, with care, especially when the drink costs twelve dollars. You don’t care about enjoying the drink. You just want to get a good buzz going so you can handle seeing Lexa, a girl you were so obsessed with you actually wrote poems about her, wasting away with a group of delinquents. You then realize that thinking of Lexa’s ‘family’ as a group of delinquents is exactly the kind of thing your father would do and swallow the rest of your drink.

The waiter walks off, promising to bring the three of you a round of drinks on the house, and Nathalie settles her hand back on your thigh, tracing a circle with her pinky. 

“I have to go to the bathroom,” you say, pushing Nathalie’s hand off. 

“That’s what you get for drinking that cocktail so fast,” Nathalie says, smiling at you as if she isn’t serious. 

The bathroom doesn’t have a window. For some reason you thought it would, imagining yourself climbing out of it like people do in sitcoms when they have bad first dates. Climbing out of the window wouldn’t have actually worked though, because then you would have been abandoning Nathalie which doesn’t seem right. You’re staring at yourself in the mirror now, your straightened hair pulled back into a messy bun that took you thirty minutes to look perfect and your make-up applied to make it look like you aren’t wearing anything. Despite the dirt in her hair, Lexa has managed to pull of the look you’ve barely managed to achieve far better than you did, even with all the time you took and all the money you spent. It doesn’t seem fair.

The door opens and Lexa walks in, the light of the bathroom highlighting just how disheveled she is in a way the light outside and the dark in the bar hadn’t.

“Was I taking too long?” you say, turning to face her and making yourself dizzy. The drink is starting to kick in.

“No, you’re fine.” The smile on Lexa’s face is a little strained. “I just wanted to talk to you alone for a bit. I have a favor to ask.”

A favor. You do not want to commit to a favor for Lexa, no matter how simple it is. She’s a problem, you can feel it. People don’t become hippies for no reason and Lexa has always been a bit unstable. Losing her mom like she did was hard on her and you never thought that she fully recovered from it.

“Amy,” she says, taking a deep breath, making eye contact with you. You always thought her eyes were nice, a watery blue-green. In your memories of Lexa her eyes are always happy, but now they look sad.

“Amy,” she repeats, reaching out and grabbing your hand. “I’m pregnant.”

That’s not a favor. It’s a statement, a very scary statement, one that you are certainly not prepared to deal with. 

“Lexa, that’s. . .I mean, congratulations?” It comes out like a question even though you hadn’t meant for it to.

“I can’t have a baby,” Lexa tells you, her grip on your hand tightening. “Not like this. Some of the girls do, but it isn’t right.”

“Why do you want to stay like this?” you ask.

“I’m happy like this, but I wouldn’t be happy with a baby.”

“Look, Lexa, I can’t pay for you to have an abortion.”

“I don’t want an abortion,” Lexa says, her hand dropping yours and going to her stomach.  “Why would I want an abortion?”

If she doesn’t see why that makes sense, you have no way of explaining it to her. Lexa was always childlike, approaching the world with a strict right or wrong mindset. Her wide eyes tell you what you should have already known. Lexa is in love with the clump of cells in her uterus and nothing will convince her to get rid of them, even if that would be the simplest thing to do.

“Amy,” Lexa says, grabbing your hand and pulling it towards her until it rests on her stomach. “I want you to have her.”

There is nothing for you to feel at this point, no kicking, barely even any firmness. Lexa’s hands are hot, hotter than Nathalie’s have ever been. She’s burning you, trapping your hand between her hand and her stomach. You think that she must be branding you somehow, forcing some sign on to your palm so everyone will see that you didn’t help an unwed pregnant woman. 

“It’s Amelia,” you say, not sure why it matters now when you haven’t corrected her before.

You take your still burning hand back, wishing you could run it under cold water and scrub away whatever she’s left on it. Lexa is standing in her baggy, stained clothes, holding her belly, looking at you like she doesn’t understand. What could there possibly be to not understand in this situation?

“You want me to just take your baby?”

Lexa smiles. It looks like she might be about to cry and you really can’t handle that. “I’ve been praying to the Universe to give me an answer, to tell me what to do, and now you’re here. This was a sign. I can’t just let a stranger adopt her.”

“I can’t adopt a baby, Lexa. I’m in college,” you say. “I want to go to grad school. I’m going to have debt. I’m not married—”

“You have Nathalie,” Lexa says. “Your parents have money. You can afford a baby. You can giver her real parents and stability, all those things I can’t. She would even look like you, I think. People always used to think the two of us were sisters.”

There are a lot of reasons Lexa’s plan is wrong. Your parents money is for not yours. The baby’s appearance has nothing to do with anything. Nathalie has only been around for six months which is not long enough to count on for eighteen years. The whole idea of being ‘stable’ is unfounded, considering you decided to go on this road trip with your girlfriend a day before you got in the car and left, not to mention you find the idea of not being able to act spontaneously more terrifying than thinking of life after college. Of all those reasons, acceptable reasons, reasons that may convince Lexa that she has picked the wrong mother, you pick the one that will guarantee Lexa will never ask you for help ever again. 

“Why would you want a life for yourself that you don’t want for your kid?”

You had thought this would make Lexa angry at you, that she’d start yelling at you here in the bathroom with a quiet bar full of people right outside the door. But she doesn’t. She shrinks in front of you and her hands drop to her sides. Your hand, the hand she pressed up against herself without asking, still feels like its been set on fire.

“Tell Nathalie that I’m sorry I had to leave early,” she says, being careful not to let any part of herself brush up against you as she turns to leave. You wonder if your touch had burned her, too.

* * *

You don’t tell Nathalie what happened because you don’t want her to know how terribly you handled it, how terrible you are. It’s only been six months. In junior high your health teacher told you and a roomful of eighth graders that the most intimate thing you can do with someone is have sex. He was wrong. The most intimate thing you can do with someone is show them how bad of a person you can be.

“Are they just always there?” Nathalie asks.

The two of you walked back to the river today, this time at sunset so Nathalie could bring her camera and take advantage of the light. Nathalie takes out her camera now and puts on one of the smaller lenses, eyeing the hippies. “Think they’d let me take their picture?”

“Go ask,” you say, kissing her forehead and taking the camera bag from her, knowing you will be stuck waiting for her for at least thirty minutes.

You look for Lexa in the group and don’t see her. You don’t see the man she was with yesterday, either, so you think she must have left town. You’re sad she isn’t here, but if she was you don’t know what you would do about it. Go up and apologize? Tell her you changed your mind? You haven’t changed your mind.

Nathalie is talking to a young woman with hair that would probably be blonde if it was washed but instead looks light brown, falling in strings around her shoulders. The woman has a little girl balanced on her hip, maybe three or four years old, with the same color hair. She’s a pretty little girl, pretty enough that for a moment you wonder what you would look like with a baby, or what Lexa would look like. You’ve never wanted a baby but something about seeing a baby now, seeing this woman with her daughter looking so happy, makes you wonder what that would be like. No more pressure from school or student debt. Just traveling with a pretty little girl who has no choice but to love you.

That night, for the first time since you started dating Nathalie, you wish you were with a boy. With a dick you would be able to create a nice fantasy, a fantasy where there is no condom and no birth control and you are going to have a baby that really will look like you. Instead you have small fingers and a vibrator and the thought that if you were Lexa, you would be happy to raise a baby with the hippies. It sounds like a dream.