By the time he reaches the gas station, Jim would have to make a decision.
Either I tell her, or I don’t.
His cowboy boots kick up dirt as he trudges down the pathway, dust smoking behind him like the exhaust pipe on an old car. Exhaust... Exhausted... I am exhausted.
He squints ahead, only a few more steps to the gas station. Or maybe it was further? Walking for hours on end was starting to screw with his mind. The heat wasn’t helping either.
Why have I waited this long to tell her? if I do end up telling her that is.
The smell of petrol crawls up his nose.
What will she think of me? Will she tell the neighbours? Does she already know?
The glass doors slide open as cool AC pours over him like a bucket of water. For a moment, his mind eases. He closes his eyes, mainly to avoid the stares of the people inside; but also to imagine he’s somewhere else. Somewhere cold, in the middle of winter, always raining, always an excuse to be miserable-
A man pushes past him heaving a LPG bottle through the entrance. He realises he’s still standing in the doorway and heads over to the fridges.
This would be a great time to have money.
He eyes up the bottled water like it’s expensive jewellery kept safe behind glass doors. A young woman notices him.
“Sir? Would you like me to buy you some water?”
Jim shifts his gaze to the young woman. She’s dressed like a glamorous 1950’s housewife; wearing a long-pleated skirt and tailored blouse. He face is painted in elegant makeup, hair curled. Her smiling lips are bright pink, which match her pink bag, which match her pink shoes. There’s a twinkle in her eyes, the kind of twinkle only the young seem to have. Like life hasn’t sucked it out of them yet.
She was everything Jim envied.
All the pink. The glamour. The youth. The freedom to be exactly who she was. He’d never felt that. It made his heart sink...
He pushes past her and storms out the store.
Circling round the outside of the building, he finds a hose attached to a tap and pours water into his mouth, gulping madly.
Is she even home? She normally is at this time, but things may have changed since I left.
The relief of being hydrated doesn’t last long, as Jim realises he’s busting to pee. Scanning for a bush, his eye’s lock on a pink vintage car parked at one of the gas pumps.
Surely that’s the young woman’s car.
A twisted idea enters his brain. After checking she’s still inside, Jim runs over to the car, pulls down his pants, and starts peeing all over the hood of the car. It spills off the sides and drips onto the concrete floor.
He looks over; a man filling up his car a few pumps down has noticed him, and looks horrified.
Jim pulls up his pants and makes a run for it. He shouts out over his shoulder,
“I’m just very confused!”
The man watches Jim as he runs off down the street.
Panting from running, Jim finds a nook under a tree and sits down. His veins are pumping with electricity from the thrill of what he just did.
He suddenly realises, I never made my decision.
His chest tightens, the electricity now zaps and shocks pain around his body. Needing a distraction, he starts replaying what happened at the gas station. He imagines the young woman finding pee all over her car.
He wonders if she’ll cry. He thinks about how her makeup would crease from crying; how her lipstick would smear and fade as her eyes drip tears down her face
What a pretty shade of lipstick that was...
Jim loses himself in a memory...
6 MONTHS AGO
Cath, Jim’s wife, was working late. She was going to be longer than usual. She will text when she’s close.
This was always the best news.
As he hung up the phone, he raced into their bedroom and headed straight for Cath’s dresser. Placed carefully on top of the dresser was a wooden box, a treasure box in Jim’s eyes. He opened it and gazed at the fortune inside.
Powders, brushes, lipsticks, liners, colours of every shade. An artist’s toolbox. As always, he went for his favourite thing first– the lipstick.
Red, brown, orange and pink. Tonight, he was feeling... pink. By now he had gotten a good technique with applying it. When he first started, it looked more like a clown mouth. Since then, he’s learned the importance of following the lines of your lips. Next was powder; a little paler than he’d like but better than nothing. Then blush, a swipe of shimmery eye shadow and a light brush of mascara. Smudged eyeliner on the lash line, but only on special occasions.
He stepped back to look at his reflection. A smile spread across his face. A sigh of relief.
That’s more like it.
A quick check of his phone. No text from Cath. He had more time. Did he dare tonight? Would she notice his scent on her clothes?
That night he felt daring, maybe it was because he’d just turned 56. Or maybe it was the pink lipstick.
He opened Cath’s side of the closet. Her side was full of patterns, colours, textures. His side was full of brown. It was a no-brainer what side of the closet he preferred. He brushed his hand across the clothes, feeling for the softest fabric. He lingered on something- a dress. Pulling it off the rack, he realised,
I bought this for her.
He’d seen it in a shop window on his way to work one morning, and it had stopped him in his tracks. It was a floor-length blue summer dress, with puff balloon sleeves that synched above the elbow. The dress had silk ruffles across the neckline and the bottom hem, and a blue ribbon tied at the waist. It had reminded him of Wendy from Peter Pan. He wanted it so badly, he decided to buy it for Cath as an early birthday present. He thought one day he would try it on when she was out.
But he’d never gotten the courage to, not until now. He unhooked it and placed it carefully on the bed, treating it like a precious historic artefact.
A moment passed, then he went for it. He unzipped the dress and stepped into it. It fit a little snug, but he made it work. He pushed his arms through the sleeves, and zipped up the back. A deep breath, then he looked in the full-length closet mirror.
It was beautiful. He was...beautiful? It felt weird to think that, but he didn’t really look like himself. Or he looked exactly like how he was supposed to. He felt conflicted, but weirdly at peace-
Then the bedroom door slammed open.
“Sorry my phone went flat-”
Cath entered the bedroom and looked up at Jim. Her jaw dropped.
Jim is thrust back into present day by the sound of an ambulance screaming down the road. It’s heading in the direction of his house.
What if something’s happened to Cath?
He stands up and wipes the bark off his pants. His decision is made, sort of. He would walk up to their house, making sure he’s not seen, and check the ambulance wasn’t in their driveway. From there, he would decide whether or not he’ll go inside.
He picks up his pace, nearly jogging down the footpath.
What if I never get to tell her? Would that be better?
He counts down the house numbers, his heart racing. Part of him thought he’d never come back. It’d been so long he was half expecting to see a completely different neighbourhood. But it was painfully the same. No wonder he was so miserable here. Not that he hasn’t felt miserable far out in the desert. Wandering through the nightlife of small towns, seeing drag shows, meeting strangers in bars. He was so desperate to see a different way of life, see different kinds of people. Desperate enough to leave behind his wife without an explanation.
He’d only discovered the tip of the iceberg, but that was enough to convince him. He’d been lying about who he was to everyone his whole life, including himself.
She deserves to know why I left. Maybe she’ll understand. Maybe she’ll accept me and we live together again. Only this time I’ll be me. Truly me.
He was getting close. 60, 58, 56,...
It was hard not to imagine how different things could have been if he’d just confessed to her that night. Bad or good, surely it wouldn’t feel as scary as this moment.
40, 38, 36,...
There it was, their home. It looked the same. Thank god - there was no ambulance. Jim crouched behind the hedge that fenced off their driveway, and peered into the windows. He couldn’t see her, but the lights were on. Now was the time to decide. His mind wandered back to that night...
“Jim? What are you doing?” Shock spilled across Cath’s face.
He didn’t know what to say, he felt so exposed. His head lowered in shame. Cath took in his appearance.
“You’re stretching my birthday dress.”
He tried to unzip the dress but couldn’t reach. Cath watched him struggle and walked over to help.
She unzipped the dress. Jim stepped out of it, and she hung it back in the closet. Jim sat on the bed, his head in his hands. His makeup smeared and smudged as he rubbed his face.
“I thought you were still at work...”
“My phone went flat. I couldn’t text. ”
Still looking down, he started trying to explain himself, “I didn’t want you to know about this-”
Jim looked up to see Cath laughing into her hand.
“Are you laughing at me?”
“I don’t know how else to react! I’m sorry! It’s just...I don’t understand. Please, if you have something to tell me...?”
She stood still, waiting for Jim's response. He started to mumble,
“I just feel so lost. This is so hard for me to say to you-”
She suddenly realised how serious Jim was, and all humour vanished. She looked at him, properly this time, and her eyes began to well up. Jim stared back at her, and in that moment he lost all confidence.
He got up and walked into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. He turned on the shower and stared at his reflection; this time he felt shame. They never spoke of that night again.
Why hadn’t I told her that night? How I had never felt at home in my skin; my hair balding and thin; my curves that grew in all the wrong places; my face too harsh, skin too rough to the touch. In private moments I would catch glimpses of myself, and try find the softness in my features. That night, I saw softness.
If I'd told her, maybe all of this could have been avoided and I wouldn’t be hiding in a hedge right now. Or maybe she would have packed a bag and left me instead.
Just knock on the front door. Do it coward-
Startled, Jim looks over to see his neighbour, Bryan, waving to him across the street.
“What are you doing” Bryan half jokes, but looks concerned.
“I’m...uh... here to see Cath.”
“I haven’t seen you for a while now.”
“Cath said you were travelling for work?”
“Is she home? Do you know?”
“I believe so, I’m sure you could find out yourself though hah!”
A pause, Jim eyes up the front door.
“So, you going to go inside then?” Bryan asks
Jim stands lost in thought. His mind flashes back to that night; he can hear Cath’s laughter, teasing him; see her shocked expression as she walked in on him; listen to her quietly crying, hiding her pain from him.
He’s made up his mind.
She’s better off not knowing.
“I’m going to stop by the gas station first. Don’t tell her I was here, it’ll spoil the surprise.”
“Alright then, see you Jim! Stop by later if you like!”
Jim waves goodbye, turns around and walks in the direction he came. As he walks, he takes one more look over at the house. Their home.
He never came back.