The Break-Up

The Bethany Arms. The kind of place where they keep a donkey inside a barb-wire enclosure. Chickens chased each other through the rising dust.

“Do you think that’s our supper?” said Jean, trying to make me laugh.

She’d spent the trip sulking. We were on our way to see my dying father and I could have used some support instead of Jean’s black moods. At first she had charmed me – her quick wit, even her temper – but now I knew that she wasn’t the right companion for this kind of thing. If she sulked in the car, God knows what she’d be like when we finally reached the hospice.

For now, the sight of the mundane – a desert motel, the dirty animals – had restored her good humor. To her, the livestock was a charming novelty. But I’d grown up in a town not far from here and my childhood had schooled me well in small cruelties. Unlike Jean, I could spot the whip-marks across the donkey’s back. If this place was a joke, it came at the expense of the voiceless.

The motel office stood locked and empty, ringed by cheap outdoor furniture. We sat in silence, drinking warm soda from our cool-box, suitcases at our feet like loyal dogs. The local fey, finger-length, fluttered around us, cursing in mouse-squeaks until I opened a third can for them.

“They set traps for them. I saw one outside the manager’s office,” offered Jean.

“They don’t like magic around here.” I fumbled across the table for her hand but she crossed her arms and stared into the distance.

“They don’t like magic here? So where does something like you come from?”

“My father had Old Blood. Just a trickle. It didn’t breed true in him. But with me-” my voice trailed off at the sight of a man slouching towards us.

“The manager. You should carry your own luggage,” I mumbled. “We don’t want people to talk.”

Jean’s scrutiny made me clumsy; my suitcase banged my shins. Instead of anger in her gaze, there was something worse. There was judgment.

*********

The manager had wet brown teeth.

There was something anachronistic about his poor dentistry; rotten teeth are almost unknown in an era of cosmetic spells. But as I’d told Jean, they don’t care for magic this far South. His eyes darted from me to Jean, assessing. He took in our superficial resemblance and his brow furrowed in confusion.

“Sisters? Passing through?” he guessed.

Jean opened her mouth to correct him.

“Yes,” I interrupted smoothly, “Just passing through.”

*********

Our room was narrow and smelt, for some unknown reason, of apples. The air buzzed with raised voices. It took me a few seconds before I recognized one of them as my own. I experienced a strange sense of detachment, as if I was standing outside myself, studying the fight with clinical disdain.

“Why the hell did you want me here? If you’re ashamed of me?” hissed Jean. In anger, her face became smoother, her features less defined.

She glared up at me. Lonely as I was, I still wasn’t stupid enough to whistle up something taller than me. And of course, she was shrinking now. A safety measure of sorts. When I first created her, I’d sworn that this one wouldn’t go wrong but God knows, I’d made those sorts of promises before.

“Why am I here if you don’t need me?” she whined “What happens to me then?”

“I make another,” I said.

Her hand – barely larger than a child’s now – struck me. Without thinking, I hit her back as hard as I could. Something – not blood – flew out of its mouth. Then the homunculus collapsed at my feet.

Drained of magic, its corpse was smaller than a drowned kitten. It looked like a half-formed fetus, something born dead. The only sound in the room was my own breathing. I was alone again.

*********

That night I didn’t sleep. Instead, I thought about my mother’s illness. By the time she died, she didn’t even look like a person.

After the funeral, my father came into my room for the last time. He was a lean, gingery man; his Old Blood manifested in his unusual eyes, a foxy cast to his features. He spoke in a beery gasp, somewhere between a sob and a growl: “Did you do something to her?”

I studied him with pale eyes – his eyes – and offered him the lie, carefully rehearsed at her graveside.

“Yes. And if you touch me again, I’ll do something to you too.”

He ran from my room and I heard the sound of spasmodic vomiting. A week later, I left home. Now I was less than a day away from the man who had raised me, sometimes violently, less often with love. I couldn’t face him alone.

On the pillow beside me, Jean’s corpse was a hard leather lump. Briefly I cradled the spent thing to my chest, my lips parting in a reedy whistle. But it was no good. My magic needed living flesh to sculpt. My thoughts strayed to the motel donkey.

There was no one else awake when I approached its enclosure. The animal shifted uneasily but settled down when I reached through the wire and petted its nose. I started to whistle. In the middle of nowhere, a miracle unfolded beneath my touch.

I slipped away before dawn, my new homunculus at my side. Everything fascinated her – the rumbling car, the caress of Jean’s shirt on her skin, me. We touched constantly. In a few hours, she’d be capable of speech. In a few months, she’d be bored with the world and me. Soon she’d look at me with the same disappointed eyes as Jean.

Might as well enjoy my new relationship while it lasted.

The End

Lee Jacob Phillips is a former art lecturer who has had 4 solo exhibitions. His short fiction and articles have appeared in a number of collections and anthologies. He was selected multiple times as an Ambassador of Words by the César Egido Serrano Foundation and recently received a Shortbox grant for his comic work. His previous occupations include toy salesman, bartender and bodyguard. He currently lives in South Africa. To find out more about his art, writing and other projects, you can visit his Twitter https://twitter.com/smokefurandsto1

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How to Form a Sincere Apology

I’ve seen a lot of well-meaning people throw their entire apologies to the wind through one mistake. While some of these apologies are sincere, others are non-apologies meant to try and appease those they’ve upset as opposed to actually learn from their mistakes. So, here is a little guide to help write a sincere apology and avoid those tropes and pot holes that may make your apology, no matter how sincere, bunk. This is aimed at more mass apologies as opposed to personal ones between one or a few people however that does not mean certain key points here are not applicable.

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The Assumed Male Default: Misogynist

None of my coworkers or customers know I spent the first 20 years of my life being assumed to be a woman. They have no need to. It’s never come up and unless it is relevant, it is strictly irrelevant information. So, when it comes to how they treat me, I am treated just like every other guy, which has led to some insight when it comes to men interacting with one another.

Customers and coworkers alike have stated blatantly misogynistic things to me and expected me to agree. They automatically assume that I am misogynistic. This has come from anyone from teenagers to the elderly, both in words and actions. For example, I recently had a customer come in and begin complaining about a female employee from another store. He expected me to agree. He attempted to get me to agree. I was silent. I shrugged and listened. Then he left. I was baffled.

I had a coworker show me photos of a woman who had apparently slept with five guys (who were Black, cause apparently that just adds to the shock) and quoted Chris Brown “these hoes ain’t loyal”, I flat out told him maybe if he stopped beating women and calling them hoes, they’d be more inclined to stay. He seemed taken aback. I didn’t agree with his racist and misogynistic comments? What?

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The Tokenization of Relationships

“But I have Black friends!” “My cousin is gay.” “That’s not true! My uncle is transgender!” We’ve all seen it before, the tokenization of relationships in order to prove a fact. Someone with friends, relatives, or ever partners who belong to a marginalized community cannot be against that community or hold ideas that are oppressive against them, right? Of course they can. The tokenization of relationships to prove a point even solidifies this point. How?

 

We’re all the same.

By saying you are friends, related to, partners with, etc. X marginalized group and thus cannot hold beliefs that harm other members of the group, you are saying that all members of the group are like your friend, family member, partner, etc. This is erasive and simplification of the complexity and variance of the group. In order for you to be supportive of the entire group, you are saying their identities and lives are just like that of the person you know.

Get Out of Jail Free Card

This tokenization also uses said relationship as an object, proving that there is nothing you can do or say that would be problematic because you have some relationship to this marginalized group and they have never said anything. This goes back to the fact that it holds the idea that these groups are all the same and cannot hold varying, let alone conflicting ideas or beliefs. If one person of a group believes something, all other beliefs must be incorrect. Interesting how this only applies to the ones who agree with the person who is defending their actions, beliefs, thoughts, etc.

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The Internet Saved My Life

And countless others. In fact, the internet saved my life repeatedly and continues to do so. I’m not alone either. I can safely say that millions of people have had their lives deeply and personally touched by those whose faces they may never see, voices they may never hear, and bodies they may never touch. People constantly disregard internet relationships (both intimate and friend) because of the lack of physical. While some of us may eventually meet these people, some of them we may not for whatever reason. Does that diminish the value, love, acceptance, and so on we feel in these relationships? Absolutely not. People criticize how people often have their heads in their phones, tablets, or other devices, as opposed to interacting with those around them. They talk about how people are always on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or other forms of…SOCIAL… media. These people are being social. In fact, they are possibly being more social than they could be with those around them.

I met both of my partners online, relatively. Most of my friends I have met through the internet. I have friends who have been my friends for almost ten years. These are people who experienced me at my worst, people who were at my side when I was going through the most troubling and traumatic times in my life. People who were there for me and cared for me when others were not. When I first tried to come out to my family as trans*, I was rejected. I was mocked. I was humiliated. I found solace in those who loved me online. Even before then, I was able to quell my loneliness with the internet. Before the internet, I didn’t think people like me existed. I’m not talking about just trans*, but trans* people LIKE me. In media, there were no femme trans guys. There were no cross-dressing men who had happened to be assigned female at birth. I didn’t exist. I was a freak among freaks in my head. That all changed when I found people like me online, not just one, or two, but communities FILLED with them.

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