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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Follicles

“Lydia,” Countess Eleanor whined, “why can’t you take better care of your hair?”

One, two, three. Her mother always brushed her hair in three succinct strokes before taking a breath. This meticulousness always unnerved Lydia: for one, because her mother never seemed to notice that she was doing it, and two, because she couldn’t stand to sit still for so long. On and on, one two three, pause, one two three. She stared straight ahead at her reflection in the ornate mirror, her soft brown eyes burning, willing her tangled raven hair to spontaneously combust.

“Lydia. I am serious,” Eleanor hissed, tugging roughly against a tight knot of hair. “I know that you do not use these brushes; there’s not even a strand of your hair left in here!”

“I brush it. I just clean off the brushes.”

“That’s a funny lie, girl. You best learn to take care of yourself, otherwise I will not allow you to go riding in the afternoons.”

“And what shall I do all day instead?”

“You can work on your embroidery skills, for one. Your governess gave you an assignment about a week ago, didn’t she?”

“I misplaced it.”

Continue reading “Follicles”

Circe’s Boars

“Odysseus is mad.”

Eurylochus leaned in on his bow until only Elpenor could hear him. They hovered near a lighted torch on the furthest side of their beach camp. From where they were, Elpenor saw the great blue eyes of their ship peaking out from the water, which looked oily so deep into the night. On their other side, he only saw dim shadows in the dark wood.

“He misses home,” said Elpenor, himself leaning in, although he kept his back straight. “And he’s kept us alive.”

“By fighting a giant we had no business bothering?” Eurylochus challenged. He looked back at Elpenor from under a headband and dark-brown curls. “Now we’re stranded on this island, and more of us go missing every day. He swears there’s a witch.”

Elpenor’s brows arched downwards, his fine mouth settling into a frown. The woods beyond stayed quiet, and far enough away not to hide listening ears. “You don’t believe him.”

Eurylochus checked behind them to confirm that the men at the bonfire were still distracted. They did. Men sat languidly around the fire, telling tales and cooking meat until their watch. The boat remained quiet, the soft waves rocking it peacefully. “I don’t believe one way or another. I know I took a small group of men into the woods, and we found nothing but vines and wild sows.”

“No boars?”

“Well,” Eurylochus began, “As far as I can tell, there’s not a stag, bull, or stud among them.”

“Odysseus came back with a stag not long ago,” Elpenor added.

“But have you seen any? In the wild?” Continue reading “Circe’s Boars”

Short and Long-Term Effects of Family Rejection on LGBTQ Youth

A family’s most basic functions include support, both emotional and financial. Our family are the first relationships we develop and are usually the ones that we hold onto the longest, from birth to death. These bonds are not only meant to integrate us into society but prepare us for our own families when the time or choice comes (Hammond & Cheney, 2009). What happens when these family units do not fulfill their most basic functions and cast out their family members for things that are often not a choice, such as gender or sexual orientation?

Family rejection can happen for a number of reasons from personal differences, religious problems, alcohol/drug use, arguments, and so forth. However, many times families can settle their differences and still continue to act as a unit, even if they do not necessarily get along. However there are occasions where this rejection is lifelong from the moment it happens. This can lead to short and long-term health effects, both mentally and physically, regardless of age. The impact is most significant if this rejection happens during youth and is over things that cannot be changed, such as gender or sexuality (Lowrey, 2010).

These effects can range from homelessness, increased depression, increased suicidal thoughts and tendencies, to higher accounts of HIV/AIDS and drug use/alcoholism (Ryan, Russell, Huebner, Diaz, & Sanchez, 2010). This rejection can also lead to being in and out of the criminal justice system due to the criminalization of homelessness as well as survival tactics such as the survival sex trade (Valentino, 2011). These problems are also affected by experiencing racism, transmisogyny (misogyny directed specifically at trans women), as well as sexism, heterosexism, and other institutional oppressions. For example, a Black trans women will face more problems on the streets than a White cisgender (meaning non-transgender) gay male (Grant, Mottet, Tanis, Harrison, & Herman, 2011). These impacts are both short and long-term, impacting a person’s life from the moment the rejection happens and beyond.

Continue reading “Short and Long-Term Effects of Family Rejection on LGBTQ Youth”

Our Lives: Rebellion

This first appeared in Permanent Wave Philly‘s zine entitled Tiny Acts of Rebellion. Currently the full zine is not available for download, but when it is, I will link it.

Every day I wake up is a small act of rebellion. Every day I walk out the door is a small act of rebellion. Everything I say is a small act of rebellion. My mere existence is a rebellion. For years, and even now, people have told me to shut up. People have told me to kill myself. People have told me that I should disappear. People have told me I don’t exist. Despite these things people has told me many times over, I am still around. I am still alive and louder than ever.

This is not something unique to me either. Every queer person alive is an act of rebellion. Our mere will to live is a rebellion against a society that tells us we are not worthy. It is a rebellion against the cissexist and homophobic world we live in. Queer people rebel with every breath they take. Merely being alive and refusing to let society snuff us out is an act of rebellion.  In the words of Kanye West, “jokes on you, we still alive”.

Those queer people who do not live their lives as out and proud people are still rebelling. Those trans* people who live in stealth are still alive. Queer people are anywhere from four times to eight times more likely to have tried to commit suicide. Almost half of trans* people have tried. Those of us who are still here, breathing in the same air as our oppressors, are acts of rebellion.  We go against the very grain of what society expects of us. By refusing to fit into the perfect square cages, we are rebelling and we are winning.

In a way, these acts, one totaled, are not so tiny. These acts of rebellion are huge. An ocean of it, releasing wave upon wave of change, no matter how small. Rebellion does not have to be loud. It does not have to be angry, nor does it have to be passive. Rebellion has to demand change. Rebellion has to demand its rightful place. By living, we are demanding change and asserting our rightful place. As queer people, we are showing ourselves to the world. We are bearing out hearts in our existence and our lives. Every step we take is in the right direction, there is no backwards in life, just forward. Onward.