September showers. Static storms. Listening to Grace Jones’ ‘Walking in the Rain’. Doing what I’m doing, feeling out of place.
Walking out of the rain, into charity shop shelter. Hair soaked, newly bleached blonde, exploding from the storm. My thin jacket is satin-slide as the warm air wafts in from outside. I am sheltering near the dress aisle. Feeling out of place. Waiting for a woman to move on. Waiting to tip-toe hush hush across the invisible line between over-sized grandad shirts HERE, and satin grace THERE.
The woman, bleached blonde like me, slowly steps away. I creep towards the aisle. My fellow blonde hears me and shoots a glance. Not a fellow-glance. I feel red. Shame. Rising like an apology. The bleached blonde stranger moves out of the shop with a huff and a tut and a peacock-tail strut. I hold my breath across the years. I’m wearing mum’s clothes in the garden. The cruel blue the boys at school peering through the fence. Caught. Cackling at littleboyme. Daisy, Daisy, look at the pretty daisy boy!
The dress aisle in the charity shop, sheltering from static storms. No one else around. I step forwards, feel the silk-soft grace of the dresses against my hand. I flick a black velvet one, lustrous with a high neck. Too formal. I flick again, fitted floral pattern, no, too academic, flick, flick, white satin, no, not getting married, flick, flick, desperate flick, ah! Shift dress, lace-topped Little Black. Perfect.
I take it down. I move stealthily towards the dressing room, avoiding non-fellow glances. Glances that fix me in time and place as a man. No coming back. This man has betrayed the woman in him, their gazes say. This man was a gonner long ago.
But I am trying to speak to her, calling her to live. With my body, which I have rarely spoken to freely, which has often been a simulacrum of desire, something to go missing from, abodymybody that has rarely belonged at all.
In the dressing room I take off my shirt, and then my shorts, which cling to my skin after the rain. I fumble-shove my legs through the LBD, wrestling with the stupid dress though worried that it will rip. Stuck. One roving eye peeps out at the deformed monster in the mirror, dress half-on, half-off, cocoon-trapped wings stuck to its body. Arms caught in arms, dress caught on body, body trapped in the mirror and its cruel, immovable gaze. The mirror holds me in stasis. I have been there, numb, for many years. Naked in the P.E. changing rooms at school. Hurriedly trying to put on my clothes but I cannot find my pants, my shirt is buttoned up, refusing to fit over my head. Stuck. Idiot body. Cruel-blue laughter from the boys. The ripped, sporty boys. Those cruel-blue boys, lost and without a way of finding their way back from always, back from without. I start again. Try and find a way back. Dress over the top this time, out-of-this-wet-coat-and-into-a-dry-martini enthusiastic, the LBD moves over my shoulders, arms through sleeves and slips down to my waist. Cava bottle popped. Ta-da!
The mirror is not immovable in its gaze now, no, not merely crystalline smooth. It is a silvery stream. I blink back six years. My then-lover’s birthday party. I am Twin Peaks Denise glam, clean-shaven, elegant dark wig, mascara gently streaked along her lashes; LBD dry-martini sass. I have not seen this woman for a long time: she has been missing. I feel her shimmering beauty as she looks back at me from the bathroom mirror. I blow herself a kiss, before moving outside to the party. In the corridor, straight men tell me I am sexy, laugh raucously, touch me when I have not asked to be touched. I play along, pretend it is hilarious. Inside I am nervous.
In the living room, I meet the eyes of the lover, unsure of how she will react to Denise. Her eyes meet mine; her pupils widen. I walk over but she gently steps back. She smiles and tells me she does not recognise me. I lean into kiss; she leans away. Micro-distances. No one but me can tell. We half-kiss with open eyes. The lover does not know what to say. I begin to lose Denise. I blink. The dressing-room mirror. September static. I am calling to her. She is held in the silvery stream, hip-slippery and shoulder-sashayingly gorgeous, lace woven around her delicate shoulder-line, nakedness trembling beneath with tender contours. I trip the light fantastic, I dance the spiral hips. There is something moving. In the looking glass I am he I am she, I am finding a space for her to live. I am calling between.
I take one last look. A gentle smile curls in my reflection, then I slip out of the LBD. Pop! Bottles frothing with joy. Abundance. Glamour.
I nervously take the dress outside. I glance around to chart my route, praying for a clear path. It is still empty. I walk slowly towards the till, caught in this moment between the passing over and the passing back.
I hand it to the woman on the other side of the counter. Fearful of her reaction. She takes the dress, offers a warm smile and asks if I want a bag. No thank you. I want to hold it; I want to feel its power.
She passes back the dress and I walk into the September-static streets, wet copper pavements steaming in the heat after the rain. Feeling like a woman, looking like a man. I look down, see the dress gripped in my hand like a weapon. I blink beyond to the kaleidoscopic swirls and endless stars that line my eyelids. I blink again: sunlight after rain. I put my headphones on and Grace beckons me, Come in all you Jesters! Enter all you fools!
I step her into the day.
Jack Young writes experimental fiction and non-fiction, which has found its home with Entropy, HOAX, Somesuch Stories, 3 A:M and Caught by the River, among others, and his hybrid chapbook of interspecies intimacies, Urth, was published in 2022 by Big White Shed. He also co-hosts the literary podcast Tender Buttons and recently curated a participatory programme at Spike Island Gallery in Bristol around the concept of the Body-Forest; a way of decentring the human and thinking radically about desire, time, language, community and more.