Ted is pretty sure she was born with the power. Her earliest memory is of lying on the bed in a diaper while her mother stood by the closet debating what to wear, a worn violet dress or a clingy yellow sheath. Baby Ted, sensing how sticky the yellow would be, wanted her mom to pick the violet.
From the sink, Ted’s mother snorts. “‘Violet’? I’ve never owned anything that color.” Without looking up from her trig, Ted describes the stitches on the skirt, the pleated bodice. Bodice. Do girls even use that word, or just Ren-Fest creeps? Ted’s mother frowns into the rainy yard. “You can’t remember all that.”
This is typical Ted’s mother. Typical Roberta. Fussing about the trivial to distract herself from the critical. Ted does remember the dress—she has the muggle talent of good memory—but the point is how she saw it in the first place. Baby Ted was lying on the bed while the yellow and violet dresses hung out of sight in the closet. What is remarkable is not that Ted remembers but that she was able to see them. They had flashed into her infant mind as bright and noisy as the racket of her mother’s indecision. But Roberta doesn’t want to hear this. She has long closed herself off from the supernatural.
Lately, Ted has been trolling witch reddit. She got the idea because of a girl at school. The girl was poking at her phone across from Ted’s locker. Ted could feel her choosing what to listen to, Regina Spektor or a track by a reality star, one of those women whose face was such a heightened version of average that it functioned as disguise. That woman wasn’t a true musician, in Ted’s opinion, and it bothered her that a queer-looking girl would have her on a playlist. It would have been mansplainy to say so aloud. Maybe it was mansplainy to think it. But the girl’s thoughts were loud, and the right choice so obvious that for once Ted couldn’t resist the urge to try to change a mind. Shutting her locker, Ted sang aloud the Spektor line that was running through the girl’s head. “Better, better, better . . . ?”
“Oh my fucking g, you witch!” said the girl with admiration—and promptly selected the reality star’s song. Ted couldn’t hear the actual decision—that was beyond the scope of her ability—but the generic beats leaked from the headphones and got stuck in her brain, along with the girl’s exclamation. Annoyed and thrilled by the girl’s bad music taste, Ted lurched home, her thumbs tapping into the search bar, Are witches real?
ON WITCH REDDIT, lots of people—girls—brag about extrasensory perceptions.
It starts with a tingling. Like my blood is carbonated. i can cure bad breth + headahces
Visions of the future dance in my dreams, I get dejavu ALL THE TIME.
Ted thinks they are lying or are on too high or low a dose of psychiatric meds. It’s misogynistic to doubt women, though. If Ted is misogynistic does that make Ted a chauvinist or a victim of internalized oppression? Scrolling past her inner skeptic, Ted reads deep into the threads to no avail. None of the internet girls say they can read minds verbatim. Definitely no one claims to exclusively read indecisive minds.
If Ted is a witch, it’s the useless kind. For as long as Ted can remember, Ted has perceived the thoughts of people trying to come to decisions. The choices can be life-altering but mostly are dumb, like whether to text someone back or which route home will avoid the traffic jam. The more banal the decision, the shoutier. Restaurants are a nightmare: BUT I HAD A BAGEL YESTERDAY; CHIPS ARE EMPTY CALORIES; WHAT CAN I GET FOR TEN BUCKS? Serious decisions, weirdly, are easy to miss. They are a white noise that Ted rarely notices unless Ted gets up close.
“The girl is talking to her like another girl,
as if on some level she detects their sameness.”
ONCE, WHEN TED was in the third grade—before Ted had thought about being “she,” although wasn’t the feeling always there?—Ted chased her dog, Yoda, into the neighbor’s yard. The yard was full of rosebushes and sunflowers, stalks and snags in which a dog could hide for hours. Ted wished she could read dog minds, but dogs, it seemed, were born knowing what they wanted.
“Yoda?” whispered Ted. Ted tiptoed onto the neighbor’s porch, listening for the jingle of a collar. That’s how Ted discovered the neighbor was considering suicide. I can’t, if it hurts this much . . . But if it doesn’t, if it would go away. Ted knew from the internet about teen suicide, the It Gets Better campaign, which Ted didn’t know yet was supposed to apply to her, though later she would learn and it would scare her. That day, though, the thoughts were coming from an adult mind. Grown-up minds had a harder feel, grayer. Especially this one. The gray thoughts came from inside the house, the other side of the wall.
Ted had never heard of grown-up suicide. Until that moment, Ted had assumed growing up was safe. Boring, maybe, but protected. All the worst uncertainty washed away by trivialities, like what Ted’s mother worried about, whether to get blue Tide in the clear bottle or white Tide in the blue one. But the adult thoughts that seeped through the wall were the opposite of safe. Their grown-up grayness only made them more frightening. When kids were upset, they thought in streaks and vivid colors, quick with feeling. The neighbor’s gray thoughts were steady. Hard. Like a list she was reciting. One by one, the suicide options gif-ed in Ted’s mind’s eye: pills, bridge, car exhaust, oven, gun, razor, noose. Ted barely understood what they meant—what did a tailpipe have to do with killing yourself?—but the death wish was hard and sure as the clear-edged images themselves.
It was all happening too fast. In a flick, the, razor was gone, oven was gone. Pills gif-ed. A bridge gif-ed. A clothes-line noose waggled like a charmed snake. Ted might have been in over her head, but she recognized the rush of a mind headed toward a decision. After that, it would go dark. And then nothing. You couldn’t change a closed mind.
Ted smacked the sliding door, desperate, but also, if she was honest with herself, she’d been excited. Her powers were finally going to help someone. “Hello? Miss?” Ted could see herself—himself—on the news. Heroic Local Boy, the banner at the bottom of the screen would read, followed by a shot of Ted leading the wan neighbor by the hand. Maybe over to some flowers? The woman, weak, but grateful, would say, “I don’t know how he knew, but this child saved my life! He made me hope again!”
The door slid open, revealing an ordinary-looking woman in a tasteful pantsuit and blazer. The woman’s expression was cooler than Ted had expected and her clothes were crisper. She looked like the type of person who hated waiting at a deli counter and honked her horn at red lights. Impatient. Not crazy. The woman narrowed her eyes at Ted. “Why are you in my yard?” Ted doubted herself. This woman could have been the star of an action movie about a well-dressed assassin. The only person at risk of being murdered here was Ted.
“My dog got out . . .” Ted stammered.
“Your dog,” the woman repeated, but she was thinking about whether her niece would miss her.
Ted’s lip began to quiver. It hit her: this was real life, not some hero fantasy. “Do you want to borrow Yoda?” she croaked, thinking of her teacher’s therapy dog. “Or I could watch Star Wars with you?”
Star Wars always made Ted feel better, but the neighbor said, “I have to get ready for work,” her mind on pill labels and quantities.
Ted felt sick. She had to act. “I promise you’ll feel better soon!” she blurted as the door slid shut.
The neighbor’s mind jerked silent so fast Ted touched her own ears, thinking she’d gone deaf. But as the woman gazed at her through the glass, she curved her mouth up into a smile. Of gratitude, Ted thought. Of hope. Somehow Ted had done it. They’d done it together, her and this stranger, they’d made It Get Better.
That day at school Ted prepared herself for fame, or at least a thank-you card, but when she got home there was an ambulance in the neighbor’s driveway. Roberta, watching from their porch, explained about the accidental overdose.
“But it wasn’t an accident,” Ted sobbed into her mother’s soft arms.
“Oh sweetie,” said Roberta. “What could we have done?”
Even now, Ted feels guilty about the neighbor. Roberta couldn’t have done anything, but Ted could. Otherwise what was a power for. It keeps Ted up nights, wondering. Wondering also, what Ted will do if the same urges come over Ted one day, the death wishes, and no one is in Ted’s head to stop them.
Ted flinches at the boy. Or maybe the hey. She looks up through her eyelashes at a silhouette outlined by the sun. Regina Spektor–girl, whose position on the stairs above creates the glorious illusion that Ted is short. “Hi.”
“Which way you going?”
Ted points across the green. “Chem.”
The girl nods like she knew it. She descends until she and Ted are at eye level. She has fluffy hair and blue plastic earrings. Moles. She isn’t the sort of girl boys like, Ted doesn’t think, but if Ted is going to be a girl, maybe this will be the sort Ted likes. “I have Ancient Greece.”
Normally, Ted would say groovy instead of cool, instead of embarrassing herself by misusing newer, trendier slang.
But what comes out is a football-bro “That’s lit.”
The girl crinkles an awkward smile, like she thinks Ted is being sarcastic. “Greece is the original rape culture. But we gotta know where we come from if we want real change.”
The girl is talking to her like another girl, as if on some level she detects their sameness. Ted nods quickly and lowers her chin. For a girl, Ted’s neck is grotesquely long, the Adam’s apple a patriarchal rock hurled through feminism’s front window. She is taking up way too much space. She would die—no, kill—no, die—to be five inches shorter. Six.
“See you,” says the girl. She pounds down the steps until Ted spots dandruff in the fluffy hair. Dandruff schmandruff, the girl’s confident stride seems to say. Only later does Ted realize why the girl seemed so confident: Ted couldn’t read her mind. There was no flicker of doubt there to be read.
TED MAKES PRACTICE coming-out videos. Hormone- blocker videos. Transition videos. Ted—she—turns on the tub and records and deletes and records and deletes until Roberta taps on the door. “Honey, the drought.” Roberta is concerned about climate change. Roberta can’t decide if she should stockpile canned meats or chill out because Ted’s generation will probably perfect carbon-capture technology and water desalinization. Roberta’s thoughts are bland and constant. She has trouble deciding about many things: outfits, routes, whether to insist that Ted go to community college before a four-year or if that would be shooting Ted in the foot since studies show that men pay off their loans more successfully than women. Ted has to listen to Roberta agonize over the swiping on her dating app but has yet to hear Roberta entertain the possibility that her son is really a daughter. A mom would intuit that, right? Would go back and forth, trying to decide which version of her child was true. If so, Ted, having a literal sixth sense for inner conflict, should have heard some stirring. Unless Roberta has known all along that Ted was a girl and is waiting for her daughter to catch on.
When Ted was little—when she was a little girl—she asked Roberta, “Can I have a vagina?” as if female genitalia were sold at toy stores in pink cardboard packages. Roberta repeated this story every Thanksgiving and Christmas, even though it made Ted’s dad, Allen, uncomfortable. Allen finally divorced Roberta and moved to California, a decision he questioned but not so much to make him call or come to visit. Ted knows for a fact that Allen didn’t divorce Roberta because of Ted wanting a vagina—if Ted does want a vagina—but Allen not liking Ted was a factor. Ted is glad her father moved away. It was depressing hearing Allen debate whether to invite Ted to play Super Mario Kart when Allen really wanted to do single-player behind a locked basement door. Ted doesn’t like Allen either. On the “gendercritical” net, lack of male connection is listed as a prime cause of trans identity in “bio-males.” People, or bots, who knows?, on those sites also say that “boys” with “gender identity disorder” dress up in lipstick and pumps, have lisps, like barbies, hate sports, and might try to saw off their penises with plastic knives.
Ted’s pale chest puckers above the bathwater, nipples pricked red. She doesn’t love her penis, it’s gross and needy, who could love that, but she has never felt compelled to maim it with picnic cutlery, and not even Roberta, who is against Barbie on principle, wears lipstick and heels, except to divorce court. Ted pulls the plug with a toe. Water glugs down the drain.
“Hi, my name is . . . My name is whatever. Today was my first day living mentally as a girl. I am already more in touch with my anima. I’ve decided to give her, my anima, a name. Like a spirit guide? But not really, because, you know, appropriation? Anyway, her name is, um, Leia.”
Ted hits stop, then trash. Not everything can be named after Star Wars. Ted replugs the tub and runs more hot water. My clit, she—she—thinks as she rubs it. My clit is hard.
“YOU INTO HEALING crystals?”
Ted pictures the structure of rock salt: a cube, the ordinariest shape. “Yeah. I mean, I’m interested.”
“My coven eats lunch above the theater. You should come.”
Regina Spektor girl says she has to run, then does, her backpack slapping like a wild, free animal kicking up dust.
TED IS DISAPPOINTED. She thought a coven would be female. In fact, it’s two girls, two boys, and an enby who Ted, because of internalized gender normativity, couldn’t help mentally categorizing as female and, aloud, like an idiot, called “she.”
The coven asks Ted’s pronouns. Ted chickens out. “Whatever,” she says. “He. Or them. Or whatever.”
One of the boys, a Tom or Tim, makes a disgusted sound in the back of his throat. “Not caring is a privilege.” Tom-Tim debates whether to say something to Aline, the Regina Spektor–girl, about Ted being one of those guys who fakes pansexuality to earn feminist trust.
The rest of the coven is nice. The enby, Dash, is deciding whose Brit Lit homework to copy, the other boy, Kiran, whether he thinks Ted is cute. Petite Mary wonders if she should go on a cleanse. “Do you want my fries?” Mary asks. “Sure,” says Ted. If Mary is right, the fries are loaded with trans fats. Ted prays they go to her thighs.
A coven turns out to be a group of friends who throw mellow parties that Roberta dubs, cringingly, “adorable.” These gatherings fit cross-legged on one of their beds, involve quantities of herbal tea, chalked pentagrams, and the overwriting of Ted’s Star Wars knowledge with dialogue from The Craft. Supported by her coven, Ted grows her hair less short, buys high-waisted jeans and tucked tops (“they’re shirts,” said Aline, “unless you work at the Gap”), and transitions from awkward “he/they” to embodied “she.” She tells her new friends about her power and her friends share stories of their own empathic sensitivities: Mary’s ability to smell pregnancy; Kiran, whose poltergeist once shattered a bulb in the language lab; Timo’s tarot cards; Dash’s gift for anti-hexing. Only Aline leaves paranormal territory unstaked.
One night, when the boys have gone to make out on the pull-out sofa, after the girls plus Dash have battled for and won Ted’s woman-born right to slumber upstairs, Aline and Ted squat on the wet balcony vaping mullein. According to Ted’s phone, mullein should get her a little high, but if so, high feels a lot like the usual anxiety of being near Aline.
“Do you want this aragonite? It came with my quartz.” Their fingers touch as Aline passes her the crystal, its facets cratered like a magnified wart. “Aragonite’s for making decisions.” Aline kisses her. Ted drops the vape, which clatters loudly on the metal balcony. Ted and Aline freeze. They must have woken up the parents. But the only noise is literal crickets, the buzz of the bulb above the garage. Aline kisses her again. Ted smalls her lips to match Aline’s, stills to not disturb Aline’s mouthy-tasting tongue. No false moves, thinks Ted. It’s what Roberta says around cats, though Aline is more like bird of prey.
“How did you do that?” Ted means how did Aline kiss her without agonizing. Ted has worried for months about whether to kiss Aline, if this is true desire or a crush of convenience. Does she want to be Aline or do her? It is lucky Aline isn’t psychic or Ted’s indecisiveness would have chased her away. Aline is the poster girl of certainty. Aline’s few inner battles relate to music, and that’s because Aline doesn’t care much about music, which she considers pure soundtrack. Ted should tell Aline that she’s pretty.
Ted clears her throat. “You’re so confident.”
Aline drags a bitten nail across Ted’s palm. The sensation is uncomfortable but erotic. Ted wonders where Aline learned it. Ted pulls her knees to her chest to hide her clit’s needy outburst. Aline whispers, “Deep down we all know what we want.”
Aline leans in and Ted obediently slouches lower. Aline gropes under Ted’s shirt. It’s more painful than sexy, a relief, since the pain shrinks her clit. The night air fills with their mingled stink. A second relief: Aline’s sweat, leaking through her salt crystal deodorant, smells worse than hers.
Does Ted know what she wants? Her hand hurts where she has been squeezing the aragonite. She endures Aline’s energetic kissing until her chin burns from saliva and Aline proclaims that “that was hot.” In the morning, Ted’s stubble hurts and the leftover flavor of Aline’s mouth is stronger than her own morning breath. She feels invaded. Claimed. She can’t tell if this feels good. She wonders, watching Aline wolf down cereal, if Aline is tasting Ted, or just Quinoa Puffs and peanut butter. Ted can’t quite imagine her own flavor lingering. There is nothing as strong inside her as the spit inside Aline.
ROBERTA CLEARS HER throat. “I notice you are giving away your clothes?”
Ted should have an answer ready. Roberta has been considering bringing this up for weeks. She should, as Dash advised, have written Roberta a letter like Dash and their parents did as homework for Dash’s family therapist. Then, a letter had seemed impossible. Now it’s a missed opportunity. It would be much nicer to never have to say it aloud. “You said I should scale down before college.”
“That’s months away. And I meant your old toys. The plushies and Lego.”
“I’ll do those too.”
Roberta actually sticks her foot in the closing door.
“Honey. They’re your boy-ey clothes. If there’s something you want to talk about . . .”
Ted presses her face against the gap, her body safely hidden. “Boy-ey isn’t a word.”
“Anything can be a word.” Roberta’s voice high and tight, her eyes a guilt-inducing pink. Why is Ted doing this to her mother? But also: Why is her mother doing this to her?
She channels Aline. Forces herself full of confidence, of Aline’s quotes from Judith Butler and Rain Dove and Vivek Shraya. “Mm, that’s not really true? Language happens organically. Boy-ey would never be organic. Girly exists because of negative biases about girls. Even if you say boy-ey, it still isn’t the opposite of girly because the opposite doesn’t exist. Like with reverse discrimination.” Ted is lit up with herself, this articulation of ideas she barely grasps. She should do this, always. Wrap her mind around a steadier one. She can find herself by becoming someone else. “You know what I mean?” She waits for Roberta to be impressed, to say, like she used to, when Ted would really wow her, I almost can’t believe you’re my kid. But Roberta only says, “I guess you aren’t ready to talk,” and recedes, her features shrinking, her undecided thoughts silenced into impenetrable certainty. About what, Ted isn’t sure.
IS HE—? He can’t be—because. Should I say they? It’s so awkward, though! Thoughts Roberta abandons midway, not that Ted needs to be a mind reader. Mornings, they slink around the kitchen, Roberta going for creamer to avoid Ted at the cereal cabinet. Ted crouching for nettle tea to keep from brushing into Roberta at the coffeemaker. At school, Aline pulls Ted onto her narrow lap. “Homo!” boys shout from cars speeding out of the lot. “Lesbo!” screams back Aline. Ted knows Aline means it as an editorial suggestion but wishes in this case she would be quiet. It’s riskier for me, she wants to tell Aline, but isn’t sure that’s true. Ted is larger than Aline. Whiter. Ted has never been beat up. The worst threats she gets are when she’s with Aline. Maybe if she grows boobs it will be worse. She has heard that, that change can be worse than denial. But if she’s not in denial anymore, if the change has already begun, if she’s on a trajectory of want that won’t quit till she gets, is staying the same any safer? Each direction she looks is dark and full of danger.
Ted considers hormone blockers. Online, she finds a magazine article about “desistors,” ex-trans kids whose gender dysphoria turned out to be a passing delusion. Adult women, former FTMs with testosterone-bristled chins, stare out from the screen, telegraphing across space and time: Don’t Make Our Mistake.
Ted divides a sheet of paper into PROS and CONS. On the PROS side, she doodles tits of various shapes and sizes. Pointy tits, melon tits, small, square tits like deflated pecs. On the CONS side, she copies out a phrase, “deep vein thrombosis,” from the website Roberta calls hypochondria-dot-com. She thinks of these de-transitioned ex-transmen pouring out their body-sorrow to a magazine reporter. Their voices will never un-deep. Their beards will keep needing to be shaved. Ted strokes her own concealer-dusted jaw in confused kinship. Estrogen, she knows, will soften her only subtly. She is stuck with her overgrown skeleton. On Tumblr, trans girls write about wanting to rewind themselves so the cells that veered boy can turn girl instead. They talk about always knowing they were female. But Ted isn’t sure about herself. Is she a real girl or just an ill-fitting person? She imagines being born into the Right body, an XX body, growing up girl. In her mind, though, that road dead-ends at this same confusion. She imagines her XX girl-self asking for a penis. What if gender dysphoria is Ted’s true gender? What if she’s doomed to always be lost? She watches a playlist of reactions to those old, bullying videos. It Doesn’t Get Better, these ones are called. She wonders when she will begin to want to kill herself.
“YOU’VE REALLY SWALLOWED the binary, T.D.!” Aline roars. Ted’s heart fluttering in anxiety. Aline, furious, Wonder Woman hands on hips. “Gender’s fluid. You can be anything you want. You think I’m a ‘normal girl’? I go by ‘they’ sometimes, I have genderless days.”
Ted insists that no, she wants to take Aline’s birth control pills, to start today. Ted is a girl. She’s sure, deep down. She knows who she is.
Ted gives Aline head. It is sloppy, her nose streaked with vaginal secretions. Aline tells her, “Don’t stop, don’t stop,” and then, “not there.” Aline debates whether to let her keep going. Ted’s tentative jabs turn her off, but Aline doesn’t want to make her insecure. Too late, Aline, Ted thinks. Seeing herself from her girlfriend’s point-of-view, Ted is so ashamed, she drips tears in Aline’s pubic hair. “Let me.” Aline jams her knuckles against Ted’s nose, groping herself manually. She arches in pleasure, blocking Ted’s mouth from a repeat attack. Ted’s lips bob uselessly against the knot of Aline’s fist. Ted might as well be on a lonely moon of Saturn. She might as well be the moon. Cold and shut-off, in outer space.
On the front stoop, Ted finds a pube crusted to her cheek. “How long has that been there?”
Aline pokes the spot. “A while.”
Ted pictures herself again from Aline’s perspective, lapping away like an untrained pup. Boy-ey. “You could have said something.”
“You’re always messy. It’s cute.”
Ted, who spent several frustrating pre-date hours sponging on and cold-creaming off bronzer in a failed effort to create feminine contours, feels betrayed. Confident—narcissistic?—Aline puckers for a kiss. Ted offers the corner of her mouth. You two witches are soooo cute, the coven would say if they were here. Aline pinches Ted and tells her she loves her.
“Love you,” echoes Ted, erasing her own pronoun. No one ever says their pronouns are “I”/“me,” she thinks. Is that weird? It feels like a gendercritical thought. Ted tinywalks along the curb, her lower back cramping. Leftover leaves from before winter lie limp in the gutters. Most of the trees flaunt green buds but a few remain bare. Ted identifies with these late trees and maybe-dead trees, bony naked against the sky. Maybe she is a plant. Maybe she was never supposed to be human.
“I SUPPORT TRANS women, Ted. You know that. But you’ve never been . . . binary. When you were little, you played dolls and trucks. Have you thought about a more flexible label? Agender? Isn’t that a thing now?” Roberta pronounces this between rabbit nibbles of her Impossible Burger. Around them, diners mentally shout about sweet potato fries versus olive oil coleslaw, chickpea bake versus seitan enchiladas, sharing appetizers versus solo entrees, we split versus I pay. The restaurant was Ted’s idea. Plantopia is the coven’s favorite and Ted thought the noise of so many strangers thinking would help distract her from Roberta’s inner monologue. Hubris, Ted recalls from Aline’s flashcards, is when a heroine’s misplaced confidence causes her to defy the gods. Had Ted not been pummeled by eaters’ this-or-thats, she would have noticed her mother’s thoughts and fled to the single stall bathrooms long before Roberta spoke up.
Ted fake-laughs. “Funny.”
Roberta lowers her bun. “Sweetie, no, um, person is an island. You need to communicate.”
“I communicate with my friends,” she says scathingly. You are not my friend, she thinks at Roberta. You are my enemy.
Roberta inhales, holds for three, exhales. She is offensively calm. “I’ve been reading. There are some kids who change their minds later. They say it was traumatic. Having done that to themselves. And, ending up . . .”
“Ending up like this?” Standing to show Roberta her monster body, Ted bangs her head into the lamp and trips on the carpet. Everyone, the old-school lesbians, the beardos, the hippie students on dates, stares. Humiliated, crying, Ted, shrill giantess, flaps out of the restaurant, brushing nonexistent hairs from her contoured cheeks, screaming, “Don’t you fucking follow me!”
Aline agrees to meet at the elementary school. Mary and Dash come too. They stand on the swings, yelling across to each other. Ted exaggerates what happened so they’ll understand why Roberta made her feel so terrible.
“And she said maybe I should go to one of those camps!”
Mary leans into the plastic-coated chains. “A conversion camp?” Ted actually meant one of those LGBTQ2IA bonding camps for queer kids too awkward to make their own friends, but a conversion camp sounds more right. That’s what it felt like. “You know Roberta. She’s a liberal. She’d never say it directly. But . . . yeah. That’s what she wants.”
“Ohhh, messed up,” exclaims Dash, who wants to tell about when their grandmother tried to get them exorcised but worries it will come across as insensitive since Dash has always had the loving support of their parents and family therapist.
“Maybe she’s right,” says Aline. “About you regretting it. You’re always saying you wish you were FTM . . .” Aline trails off suggestively, as Roberta had, a gesture toward the elephant on the swing-set, the fact that no one believes Ted is a girl.
Ted thrusts herself against the air, the chains buckling, the swing barely dipping forward. She might as well be on the ground. “I meant I wished being MTF was like being FTM. Being MTF, you’re like everyone’s whipping girl, and girl hormones don’t fix anything important. Trans guys inject themselves and, whammo, sound like Barry whatshisface.”
“Manilow?” says Dash.
“Ew. Nooo.” It comes out whiny. Barry whatever, rumbling deep, an underwater river she could get washed away on. Barry the other singer, the Black one. Aline sails neatly back and forth, a straight line. Aline is made for swings. She can go anywhere, stay the same if she wants. The world will make way. Ted stumbles down to kick at the hollow metal pole. It dongs like swingsets everywhere. Mary is not sure what to do, she wants to make everyone feel better and can’t and this makes her feel worse. Dash has a Latin test tomorrow and wonders what Aline would think if Dash peaced out.
“I’m fine,” Ted announces. “You witches should go.” But they don’t. They all four walk together to the liquor store where a former super-senior sells Aline tallboys of Colt and drink behind Big Ben’s QuikMart, sitting on a curb that smells mildly of pee. Mary gives Ted a fringe of spiky braids, declaring her hair to be “like a baby’s.” Aline and Dash wrestle in a patch of dead grass. Aline pins Dash, who shrieks. Neither struggles internally about flaunting mutual crushes in front of Ted. They should bone right there. Have fun. See if Ted cares.
ROBERTA TEARS OPEN the plastic cereal bag and hands over the box. “Everly.”
Marshmallow horseshoes tinkle against the bowl. A previous morning’s cereal, sterile from the dishwasher, is caked on the ceramic. Ted scratches at it with the blade of her spoon.
“It’s what I would name you if I had you now.” Roberta doesn’t add the “if” Ted’s brain fills in: if you were a girl. Roberta crinkles around the eyes, but her mind reveals nothing. Maybe Ted has been too hard on her. Everly, though. It sounds like the kind of girl who wears a ponytail and sings piano ballads. A horse-girl too shy to raise her hand in class.
“It’s nice.” It’s okay. The leprechaun on the box, tumbled by 3 NEW rainbows!, grins filthily. Roberta considers hugging Ted. Instead, she lightly brushes Ted’s neck and trundles out of the kitchen.
That’s it. Even her mother is labeling her now. Ted’s got to learn to commit.
I LOVE YOU. Ted folds the note, then unfolds it to check her handwriting is legible. It is, but the folds have smudged the letters. Aline might not know who it’s from. I could be anyone. Ted signs a heart and letter T. Refolds. Is it weird to say love then use a heart? Unfolds. Love, she pens redundantly inside the heart. She adds an E-D after the T.
Aline gave Ted her locker com weeks ago. This is Ted’s first time turning the black knob and being alone with the taped-up Instax of them kissing. At first glance, like always, the Ted and Aline in the picture look like boyfriend-girlfriend. Then, as if a switch has turned in her brain, Ted sees two girls kissing. One girl is tall, yes, and angular, like architecture interpreting the female body, and the other is curvy, but both seem like girls.
Ted, knowing deep down what she wants, pushes the folded note into the Odyssey. Hopefully near the part where Penelope decides to believe Odysseus, even though it’s bullshit that Penelope had to wait so long. Ted vows to identify more with Penelope from now on. She will unstick her foot from the doorway of manhood. She could always have opened that door if she wanted to. But she didn’t want to. That’s the point. She didn’t want to. Now she does. She’s doing it.
“THANKS FOR THE note.”
They are under the vaping tree, their meeting place during Friday free periods. They both believe in having good lungs but appreciate the smell of e-juice. Tobacco, Aline points out, has been healing people for centuries. Ted mostly likes how nicotine makes people focused: smokers rarely broadcast their thoughts. Today, though, the peace is interrupted by a whisper of indecision. Too quiet to tell who the thought is coming from, the emos or the scene goths or the out-of-place, normcore guy-person lurking by the fence.
Ted sproings Aline’s curl. “Thank you.”
The whispered thought gets louder. If she and am I and the seep of guilt. It’s Ted’s least-favorite kind of indecision—where the person wants to do what will hurt someone else and is only calculating when.
“Are you expecting someone?” asks Aline.
Ted turns back around. “Just my witch radar going off.”
“A-ha.” Aline wears an unfamiliar expression. One side of her lip drawn up, skeptical.
Could come across as TERF-ish, says the whisper. Everyone will think—Do it already! Ted wants to scream at whichever brain is being so annoying. Aline has straight-up challenged Ted’s witchcraft; trans-exclusionary radical feminism is the last thing Ted needs to be thinking about. To Aline, she says, “You don’t believe me.”
“What do you mean?”
Ted lowers her voice, not wanting the scene kids to overhear. “You don’t think my power is real.”
Aline smiles in a way Ted will have to tell her comes across as condescending. “Truth isn’t a binary, T-T.”
Ted’s chest feels tight. She is probably overreacting. She wants to be overreacting. “What does that even mean?”
“If it’s real for you, it’s real.”
Ted has been around this block but never with a sister witch. The point is, witches work with forces others ignore. She toes her boot into the mud. “What about Regina Spektor? How did I know which song it was, if I’m not psychic?”
I could wait until graduation. It’s expected to break up before college. Everyone else will understand. But she’s already so needy . . . Aline’s vague expression, the too- familiar look of a person lost in thought, tells Ted what she must have already known. Her girlfriend wants to break up with her.
“Dump me then,” Ted whispers. “I’ll tell the coven it’s not because you’re transmisogynist.” She throws out her arms like MTF Jesus. He—she—probably was one. That pretty hair and befriending sex workers, and doomed to misgendering until the end of time.
“Baby.” Aline engulfs Ted in her ample, taken-forgranted softness. Fickle estrogen, thinks Ted, gently mauling cis-girls into womanhood while hormonized transgirls barely get butt-chub to cushion their fall. “I’m not going to dump you. Don’t cry, sweet Ted.” Then: “What’s so funny?”
Ted against the vaping tree, crumpling with laughter. Hysteria, actually. Seventeen years old and she finally understands the secret to changing a mind. People decide the opposite of whatever they are told. Commit suicide this afternoon! she should have ordered the neighbor. Force me to come out in a vegan restaurant, she should have instructed her mom.
“Uh, T, the bell’s ringing.” Aline’s sideways face through the veil of Ted’s hair. “Should I text Roberta? You’re acting kind of . . . bananas.”
Ted breathes one, two, three. Giggles through her nose.
“Ev . . .” She gets it out. “Everly.” “What?” says Aline.
“I’m Everly,” chokes Ted—chokes Everly. Aline rubs her back in slow circles. Today is the first day of the rest of Everly’s life. Wait. Not Everly, not a horse-girl, not blue puff–haired Aline. Today is the first day of this witch’s life.
Call me Power, thinks the witch. Call me Anima.
Call me Leia.
Yes: Leia. For this moment at least, it is exactly what she wants.
Luke Dani Blue
Luke Dani Blue’s stories have won awards from major literary magazines and been listed in The Best American Short Stories. Originally from Michigan, Luke (they/them) is a two-time college dropout with an MFA in fiction who resides most reliably on the internet. They are also an astrologer. This is their first book.
Mie Yim (b. 1963, S. Korea) received a BFA in painting from Philadelphia College of Art and spent a year studying abroad at Tyler School of Art, Rome. She has had numerous solo exhibitions, including at the Brattleboro Museum; Villa Magdalena (San Sebastian, Spain); Lehmann Maupin, NY; Michael Steinberg Gallery, NY; and Gallery in Arco (Turin, Italy). Her work has been exhibited in group shows at the Drawing Center; Feature; Ise Cultural Foundation; Mitchell Algus Gallery; BRIC; Mark Borghi Gallery (all in New York); Weatherspoon Art Museum; Marcia Wood Gallery (Atlanta); and the Arts Center at Western Connecticut University. Mie is a recipient of grants from the Pollock Krasner Foundation, Lillian Orlowsky and William Freed, New York Foundation for the Arts, and Artist in the Market Place, Bronx Museum. She lives and paints in New York.