some queer short fiction for your pride weekend

The fear is different this time. She is beautiful.

new tattoo

She reaches her hand across the table and I count each fragment of a second, two seconds, three seconds, between her skin and mine. I don’t know if she has ever touched me before, both of us civil introverts who prefer head nods to goodbye hugs or congratulatory back slaps. Her hand is small and honest, nails cut short so they don’t clatter on the keyboard while she types. We are not disruptive people.

I feel everything in my body all at once: the rough fabric of my sweater pulled down, the brush of the central air across the sensitive skin of my stained collarbone. I feel the space as she fills it, her careful fingertips just grazing the ink. She studies the flower with the focus of someone who knows the smart of a needle changing you forever. I am torn between watching her face work, lower lip between her teeth, and her delicate touch on my clavicle.

“How long did it take?” she asks.

I shrug with my free shoulder. I don’t know how to talk about time and its racing stutters. The lily took hours that felt like minutes and every minute with her is an eon, heavy with promises that scare the shit out of me. I am brave and brave and brave and it fails me. I wasn’t taught this kind of courage in the magazines, given no code breaker for her coy glances and pick-up lines. Words are at their most basic with her: how are you, sit with me, did you have a good weekend, please get home safe. In my head it’s all mess and poetic. I remember being a child with my face pressed against a bus window to watch my crush walk home from his stop, a backpack slung over his pre-adolescent shoulders. This is like that, age twenty-five and stomach curdling with new. But the fear is different this time. She is beautiful.

“It was easier this time,” I say. But I bled everywhere, red making the lily’s petals thick and runny. It hurt more but I wanted it more and my nails bit into my palms. Somehow I didn’t cry. It felt like excavating a new version of myself, body bright and colorful. In this body I am somebody I don’t know yet but will someday—with her help, if I’m lucky.

She rubs her thumb back and forth over the tender leaves and hums under her breath. It takes another eon or two for me to realize she isn’t looking at the tattoo now but at me. Her poker face is soft at the edges and that can’t just be my imagination. She is waiting for me. Not to make a move or make up my mind or anything like that. She’s waiting for me to heal.

I wrote this short short story a few years ago in an exhale, one of those scenes that emerges fully formed and ready. Most of the fiction I write is for myself, a way to process what I’m feeling or can’t quite share in an essay. Now that I’ve been out for a while, this short story from before deserves a little place to live with you. Happy Pride month. Love, Ella