* — August 30, 2016
Boy Box
Matt Thompson, 2007
In her diary, Frances writes encouragement, suggestions for bettering her life. Tonight she scribbles: Less cautious! More often! Speak up!

Her name: the thing Frances thanks god for above all else. Signing Frances to the end of an email does not pin one down: androgynous, gender neutral. Frank, the most popular nickname for Frances, denotes boy. Frank. She says it out loud. She tries it on. To the mirror she says, Frank. Extends a palm. She gives a turn for her reflection. No boobs need to be taped down, because Frances runs. She runs fast and she runs far and she drinks plenty of water.
Frances likes to walk around topless in just underwear, but she only does it when the Fathers aren’t home. Tonight is a night like this: fatherless. Men gone. Shirt off. Frances squeezes her right nipple and studies it. A little fatter than boy. The roots of something lie beneath the skin. The tissue wants to soften and bloom. She squeezes the tit hard enough to hurt her eyes. More here today than yesterday even. This is worrisome. She evaluates the pink wounds on her stomach, her ribs, her armpits. Hidden places almost healed. She resists the urge to rip the scabs away. She dabs salve over the openings: the thick stuff made of comfrey, calendula, witch hazel. It’s a concoction from the books of her birth mother: books filled with healing recipes, directions on conjuring spirits, and cautions about dreams.
The cage in her fathers’ bedchamber is off limits, but when the dads don’t hang around, Frances likes to sit inside of it. She spreads her stash of Riot Grrrl zines and takes out a sharpie to circle the best bits. A blanket is draped over the cage to make it look like furniture, nice décor, just part of the apartment, but Frances wasn’t born yesterday. She knows the Fathers’ cage is for fucking. For fucking each other, but also for fucking Tim and Marc, men who aren’t her fathers, men they met on the internet, at a bar.
Frances sits in the cage and pulls at the strands of her longhaired head. The chick on the Riot Grrrl mag does not have long locks but a half-shaved skull dyed black and a tattoo of a unicorn eating a shark on her neck. The girl is screaming into a microphone. Frances can feel the words drip down her spine. I just wanna-I just wanna-I just wanna fee-fee-eeee-feeel you! This covergrrrl is from the band Sunday Sex. Sunday Sex sings about period blood and giving head. Neither of these are things Frances has experienced, but she gets the idea.
Her zines: the best things she owns. Multi-colored rainbows stitched together with fabric, felt, or cardboard. She’ll never know who made them, but she feels bonded for life. The zines came to her by way of Crane’s older sister, Kit. They were not a gift. Frances stole them. Kit. Just thinking her name makes her thighs scream. Kit is so hot it hurts to look. Her hair is as bright as Lysterine, and her eye makeup smudges just enough to make her seem a little tired all the time. Her bones are big, and her breasts are bigger than any Frances has seen in real life. She imagines standing next to Kit, both of them topless and turned on. Frances puts her hand inside her underwear and starts to touch herself. She thinks of Kit’s neck and of fingers that smell like headaches.
A rustle at the door sends Frances to her feet. She clamors from the cage and throws the fancy covering back over it. In the hall mirror she finger-combs her hair to okay. Two at a time steps take her to her room upstairs where she puts on a t-shirt. The footfalls belong to Father First, lighter in his movements than Father Second. Cupboards open. Cupboards close. A glass gets placed on the counter. She traces the motion until she is sure Father First is upstairs and headed for her room. A two-knuckle knock on the door:
Honey? he says. Can I come in?
Yes. Enter, sir, she says.
How do I look? He holds his hands to his side and gives a turn. His voice is warm, his eyes two slices of summer in the middle of a fake-tan face. All right angles. Hard jawline. Strong arms.
Tired, says Frances. You need a shave.
I feel tired, he admits.
Me too.
Lucky girl. You get to stay in.
Get to? says Frances.
Come to the loo and help me shave the back of my neck.
The hand on her shoulder is warm. The lotion she lathers to his skin smells like peppermint. Touching the long tendons on his neck makes her teeth itch. The desire to climb onto his back and sit on his shoulders overwhelms her. She likes the sound of the blade cutting stubble and the pink abrasions lingering on his skin. On the tips of her toes to get it all, the rough patches gone, she pats away the small hairs and leftover cream with a brown towel. Although Frances doesn’t share a single gene with either dad, Father First’s face is eerily like her own. No one doubts she is his daughter.
One rogue patch of stubble stands near his starched collar. When Frances takes the blade to it, she draws a plump, round speck of blood. The cut is deep, and more red threatens to rise and run. He exhales hard. A muscle twitches under his skin. Frances touches the spot with her thumb and hums one note, familiar, but not rehearsed. She doesn’t know where she pulls it from, but it comes from her, like it has before, without warning. When she takes the thumb away, the lesion is gone. Not even a mark.
All done, she says.
Did you get me? he asks, trying to find the cut.
Nope, close, but nope.
He turns. Smiles. You always do the best job. Like a pro.
Whatever. It’s easy.
How’s that friend of yours, Crane? He says this as he studies his temples in the mirror, pushes at a patch of grey rising up in his black curls. Now he’s an odd fellow.
No odder than me.
Than I.
Father First turns the corners of his mouth to a frown. She can see his eyes studying the accumulated age on his body.
Why is everything so much harder for you, honey? You’ve got to learn to lighten up. Smile more, that sort of thing.
Crane’s not my boyfriend by the way. He’s my boy comma friend.
Did I say he was your boyfriend?
Father First tucks a hand into his pocket and directs his attention to Frances. He isn’t looking at her, but through her, flipping the catalogue of memories: the adoption center, Montessori daycare, Lion King themed pool parties, everything she wanted always.
Youth is wasted on the young and all that.
But nothing is wasted on Frances. She can cry at something as simple as a bug accidently inside the house. Too much everywhere all the time.
I’m going to go read, says Frances. I won’t wait up for you.
Hey. Brunch in the AM? Pancakes? Anything you like.

 

      She checks the bus schedule on her phone, but nothing is coming for another two hours. She needs to get there faster, which is where her legs come in. Tonight, Frances heeds her own advice:

less cautious.

    The Fathers will not notice she is gone; they will not come and crack the door to check her bed upon their return. They will retire to the upstairs where they will bind themselves in saran wrap and penetrate new crushes and creeps in front of each other. She does not bother making the covers look occupied, as she has observed teens do on T.V. All she needs is to find an outfit that isn’t 100% nerd or 99% goody-good. She takes out a grey t-shirt and cuts off the sleeves. She scissors three slashes over the chest and safety pins them back together. She attaches a few more safety pins to the thighs of her black jeans, and pulls on her red running sneakers. Her cell buzzes in her back pocket. It feels itchy-good, like she wants to rub the vibration between her legs. Crane’s pic flashes on the screen, so she answers it.
Yo ho, she says into the speaker.
I’m leaving in T minus 10, says Crane.
I don’t even know what that means, says Frances as she turns to check how the new safety pins look from all angles.
Time till launch. 10 minutes till launch, says Crane, and she can hear him rolling his eyes.
OK, smarts, sounds good. See you in T. That’s wrong. You’re using the phrase wrong on purpose.
Should I wear my purple shirt or? I dunno. I just did this thing were I cut the sleeves off my favorite sweater. What are you wearing?
Just a thing. I’m wearing pants. The usual uniform.
Uh-huh. Is Kit around? What’s she wearing? Something black?
Crane empties his lungs into the receiver. Who cares, he asks.
Ok, weirdo, Frances says. I’m letting you go now. Father is on his way out. I can hear him pocketing twelve handfuls of condoms into his pants as we speak. See in you T minus 10. Or whatever.
Whatever, says Crane. See. You. Then.
They disconnect. Frances clips in a nose ring. She stays in her room for a whole 30 minutes after Father First leaves the house, just making sure. Two miles to the venue. She takes off at a slow pace for the show. It’s the kind of summer evening with autumn already in it. A couple of blocks away, Frances feels the chug chug chug of Sunday Sex inside her chest. She stops and pulls a sprig of lavender from a bush. She rubs it over her face and arms, shoves it inside her training bra. Kids either too skinny or too fat suck cigs in front of the dumpster.
A lilac-haired boy leans against a bike rack, thank god. His eyes twitch in his face. The fingernails on his hands recede to the cuticles, the collateral of a nervous mind. She walks up to him, and they touch their fists together. She can see Kit’s face inside Crane’s. The edges of the mouth. The hairline. They share blood. That much is obvious. She must be here. Somewhere. Frances loops her arm through Crane’s: the one body she is comfortable touching. Together they are more. The new acne drug Crane is taking makes him more anxious than usual, but the craters on his cheeks are less jagged, his skin less irritated. He spits. No new sores. He swallows. Nothing picked or aflame on his face. Self-confidence can’t be far off.
They open the door, break the borders of the venue, and become part of the swarm. Frances fights the urge to itch her eyes or plug her thumbs into her ears. The music is all the way inside of her, thumping and bumping around every inch of muscle, finger, toe, chin. The smell of sharp liquid and unbathed bodies collide and come toward her. People pack tight in front of the stage and lean elbow against elbow at the bar. Frances studies a condom stuck to the floor and imagines the penis it once went on. Crane pulls away, his sticky body no longer part of hers.
Where’s your sister anyway. She playing tonight? I have something to give her.
Suspicion falls over Crane’s face. Give her? he says.
Like a thing. I have a thing.
She’s somewhere. But what do you have to give her?
Let’s get a drink! A drink! Frances says. Coca-cola with vodka?
Crane pulls a flask from his back pocket and tips it toward her.
You can’t order anything. You look prepubescent.
Fuck you, man, Frances says, but takes the flask anyway.
Warmth fills her throat, and when she hums the ringing in her ears gets less loud.
She’s there, says Frances, nudging Crane.
So?
Kit sits under an arc of wheat pasted posters. Her fierce blue eyes: so precise and pure and hard-pressed. Someone in a red hat whispers in Kit’s ear, but she doesn’t change her expression. Her eyes find Frances and settle. Kit’s gaze bends Frances’s breath. It bends her knees. There is an unearthly quality to Kit’s face, in her ability to keep looking at something. Frances wants to touch the warm fabric of her knees. Kit raises her glass at Crane and Frances.
She wants to talk to you, Frances says to Crane. Let’s go say hi.
Seriously? What is wrong with you? She’s fucked up right now, I doubt she even recognizes me, much less wants to say hi.
I think she does. I think she is trying to get our attention, says Frances.
She doesn’t even know your name. She keeps calling you Frank.
She does? Really?
Why are you smiling? That’s not your name.
Nothing. You don’t get it. The end.
What? said Crane, yelling over the music.
Nevermind!
What?
Frances turns from Crane to the bench where Kit was sitting, but it’s empty. She scans the room with no luck. No sign of her curves, no hint of her smell. Bodies twist against them until she finds a flicker in the crowd, green hair going toward the toilets.
I’ve got to pee, Frances says and points at her crotch.
Frances steps to the end of the line, behind a fat girl with pigtails and a lower back piercing. Someone stuck a rod of nag champa in a vent above the sink and an inch is ready to fall off onto the liquid smeared tile. Kit emerges from her stall, sucking on a lollipop and hysterical at her cellphone. Everyone in the bathroom stops what the’re doing to watch. Mascara cuts trails down Kit’s cheeks. She doesn’t wipe them away, but blows her nose into the sleeve of her jacket. It’s loud and the music still swings through Frances’ core. She can’t hear what Kit is so upset about, even when Kit walks directly in front of her, still trembling at the things being said on the phone.
Cold fingers touch Frances’ wrist. Kit’s fingers. Kit laughs kind of creepy, then falls silent. She shakes her head at Frances, still holding onto her wrist, as if the two of them are in on something together, as if Frances is on it, too. Kit’s eyes glisten like wet pavement. She mouths, Fuck.This.Guy. and hangs up her phone. A moment of stillness, maybe a thousand years, hangs between then. Kit does something with her eyes. Something that is almost sexual, almost flirtatious. Then, without warning, Kit begins to choke on her lollipop. Blood rushes to her face. A fear-coated cough lifts from her raspberry lips.
Does anyone know CPR? yells the fat girl next to Frances.
Kit stomps her feet and brings her hands to her neck in panic. Her face is red. Her face is purple. She looks at Frances and mouths the word Frank, and something inside of Frances gathers together. She steps forward and touches her mouth to Kit’s and hums. She hums three notes. That’s all it takes. Kits swallows. There’s nothing in her mouth or throat or stomach. Whatever bit of candy that was caught is now gone. She searches Frances’ face for a secret, but she doesn’t let on anything. She just stares back. More often!
Kit grabs Frances’ head and kisses her. Soft and violent and there’s a little blood on their tongues. Kit pulls her hair and Frances likes the way the sharpness of it travels to her hips. She feels her back hit the wall. Her shoulder blades press into the wood. She wants to bite Kit’s lips off. She wants to lick the roof of her mouth until she hits tonsils. The kiss ends as suddenly as it began, and Kit is gone, pushing her way from the bathroom line, through the bodies. She pulls Frances with her by belt loops.
The air outside is thick as tea. They’re in an alley, but not the one Frances and Crane came in through, a quieter one. Frances stares into the puddle she is standing in and watches the oil rainbow. What the fuck, Frank.
What the fuck was that?
Frances works hard not to smile. She lifts a shoulder to indicate a feeling she can’t name. Kit wraps her sweater tight across her shoulders. She knows something weird just happened. They look like old friends on a warm night, each circling the tops of their drinks with one finger.
What was that? In there? The thing you did?
Frances eats a piece of skin from her thumb and studies the new incision.
You Christian or something? You just talk to God?
My dads are atheist.
Good thing I’m not asking about them.
An idea cold and wet comes to her, and Frances says, Can you keep a secret?
Not really, says Kit.
My mother, I never met her, but I think she gave me something. Some kind of voodoo something. Well, maybe not voodoo, but something that made me different and I think it’s her.
Voodoo? You mean like witchery? Like one of those chicks from The Craft? That what you’re saying?
I’m saying I got something in my throat that makes things better. Like your choking. It makes things better.
Kit sucks on her lips and waits for Frances to go on, but as soon as Frances begins, Kit’s interest slides somewhere else—to the gutters, to the blemish on the brick wall, to the past.
What kind of better. What do you mean? asks Kit, still a little glazed over, still only half here.
Not sure where it comes from. I don’t make it. This humming thing. It just does it. My body just does it.
Try. Try the humming.
Frances closes her eyes. It doesn’t work like that, she says.
Kit takes an earring off and jabs the needled part into a vein in her forearm. A spindle of blood unwinds from the opening.
She shakes her head. I can’t, she says. I can’t. Just. Do it.
Fucking try it, Frank. Be a little less cautious. Speak up.
A pressure starts in her stomach like trapped gas. Frances coaxes it through her chest, through her throat, until her tongue is on Kit’s cut. The taste of coins fills her mouth. The notes flood from her and when she pulls back, nothing red is left. It’s just skin. Just some freckles and a few blond hairs.
Kit smiles. Her teeth are not healthy. They are thin and too yellow.
You’ve got to come with me, kid. The dudes are not going to fucking believe it. We wrung us a witch.
Where are we going? asks Frances on the way to Kit’s van, but Kit is already on her phone, texting someone, laughing.
I have to say goodbye to Crane. He is going to wonder where I went.
Look, Frank. NBD. Crane is a big boy. He’s got this handled. Let him get a little wild in there. Shake it up.
But where are you taking me? She buckles her seatbelt, aware of the vodka tinged kiss from earlier and the slur that cuts the end of Kit’s words.
Kit holds her finger to the radio volume until the whole place is packed with noise and bass, and Frances can’t tell the difference between what’s beating inside of her and outside. She pushes her foot into an invisible brake on the van floor, hoping for Kit to slow down on the curves, at red lights, in the woods. They’ve driven out of the familiar into a park where there’s just dark. Kit’s eyes press forward and Frances searches for Crane in her features. She needs to see him in there, to make her feel a little less alone, to make her feel like this isn’t dangerous, but just another nighttime drive to smoke cigarettes, sip dandelion beer, practice kissing on your best friend.
Originally published in No Tokens Issue No. 5. View full issue & more.
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Genevieve Hudson is an American writer living in Amsterdam. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Tin House (online), The Believer (online), Portland Monthly, Monkeybicycle, NANO Fiction, and many other places.