It’s 1997. I’m seven years old. I can’t seem to walk regular; everywhere I go, I skip or speed. I’ve been reading through the whole Paranormal section of the public library, and once I did everything in slow motion for a week because I was afraid that otherwise I’d spontaneously combust. Today I’m excited because I found a magic spell in a book that promises to turn a girl into a boy. Problem is, it involves peach pits and it’s not peach season. I find a rotten plum in the parking lot behind the school cafeteria while I’m hiding from Tanner Canady, who likes to beat me up and who I secretly sort of enjoy getting beat up by. I wonder if the plum pit will work as well as a peach pit would. I wonder if I could beat up Tanner as a boy, if he’d still want to beat me up. In the end, when Tanner rounds the corner, I just throw the plum at him. Pit and all. It bursts against his head and sits there like a slimy alien egg, oozing. He tells me I’m dead meat. I say not on your life, and I sprint as hard as I can off school property, into the woods. I get home early and I climb up on the garage roof, and I scan the clear blue arc of the sky for UFOs.
In 2007, I throw myself a seventeenth birthday party and Tanner Canady, the closest thing I have to a best friend, is the only person who shows up. He pulls the fake fox tail I’ve attached to the back of my baggy cargo shorts. (My thing in eleventh grade is being a fox Otherkin.) He says hey, I brought you a present. I say, oh joy. I say, you should try the punch. I made so much fucking punch. I thought there’d be like twenty guests here. He says the punch smells like paint thinner, and he pours himself a big plastic cupful. I tear the skull and crossbones wrapping paper off my present. It’s a beach toy—a hot pink inflatable coffin that floats. Big enough for someone my size to lie down in. I start laughing, because we live in Ohio. Where am I going to float in my neon bimbo coffin? Even the nearest lake is a two hour drive away. At some point the laughter turns into crying and I don’t even know why. Tanner Canady puts a skinny mesh-sleeved arm around my shoulders and tries to comfort me. The kids at school are just assholes, he says. You’re one of the coolest girls I know. You’re really beautiful. I’ve always thought so. He tries to kiss me, but I pull away and rest my head on his pigeon chest. I’m not a girl, I mumble into his ribcage. I’m not a girl, I’m not a girl. I’m a fox.
2017 is one of the worst years of my life, which is saying something. It’s finally December and I'm at the only gay bar in my hometown, drinking a drink the color of toilet bowl cleaner or the water in a motel swimming pool. It burns at the back of my throat. I keep running a hand over the fur of my scalp, mentally rehearsing sentences I don’t know if I’m brave enough to speak. Mom, I’m trans. Dad, I’m not your daughter but your son. Hey, doc, I want to go on testosterone. The drunkenness is just starting to fizz up inside my skull when Tanner Canady sits down on the stool beside mine. The years have not been kind to Tanner, but he looks happy. He smiles at me with stained teeth. Says my old name, asks where I’ve been, how I’ve been. And I tell him, plus I correct him on the name thing, and he’s really matter-of-fact about it all. He says now the crush he had on me from first through twelfth grade makes perfect sense. I think he’s going to proposition me but he doesn’t, and I’m not sure if I’m disappointed or relieved. He sees another guy across the bar and goes to greet him; they disappear into the bathroom together. The walls around me are a little bit tilted and blurred, so I pay my tab and zip up my puffy coat. I go out into the night, where slushy snow shines faintly beneath the full moon and tiny, cold stars. I breathe deep until my nostrils ache and I look for the constellations I know. And wait, what’s that? That there, that flash? That thing dripping light like a cracked egg dripping yolk? That thing like a flying neon coffin? It’s only in the sky for a few moments, not long enough for me to pull out my phone and snap a picture. But I know what it is. Or, at least, I know it won’t be easy to identify.
Briar Ripley Page is from Pennsylvania but currently lives in England. Online, they live at briarripleypage.xyz. Briar’s short fiction has previously appeared in beestung, smoke + mold, Moon Park Review, Delicate Friend, and other places.