21 comments

Contemporary Transgender

tw: implied/referenced suicide


You’re alone in the grocery store again, fingers tapping out no particular rhythm on the checkout counter, feeling this strange dark hour yawn inside you.

The windows have long since faded to a flat midnight blue, and the moon is a wrinkled paper crescent pinned to the starless sky. Inside the store, fluorescent lights halo the groceries lining the aisles. If there do happen to be any customers here, they’re swimming through the endless rows of groceries, out of your sight.

You’ve never liked working at this time. Because of the echoing emptiness, maybe, or the way the clinical white light only seems to reach halfway down the wall, or the shouting all-caps advertisements for Fresh Meat! From Farm to Table! 60% discount on pastries today! that have no one to advertise at. The world is asleep, dreaming of rainbows, and you’re here, leaning on the checkout counter with your mind far away, looking at an assortment of cans.

Shopping cart wheels squeak against the tiled white floor. Someone - a man, tall and burly - rounds the corner, peers into your checkout aisle. “Are you open?” he asks.

You smile and nod. It’s a reflex.

He wheels the rest of his cart into your aisle. It’s heaping with groceries, cooking supplies and ingredients, utensils and seasonings. Taken alongside your cramped gray counter, it looks like the Titanic seconds away from colliding with the glacier.

“That’s a lot of food,” you hear yourself comment as you reach out for the first item. You’re not quite sure why you’re trying to strike up a conversation, except for the vague feeling of wanting inside you, of some sort of human noise to rise and expand and fill this empty store. You’ve spent too much time here alone anyway.

Now that he’s right in front of you, transferring items from the cart to the conveyor belt with some sort of fumbling uncertainty, you can see the dark bags under his eyes. “I’m making dinner for my s- daughter,” he says. The words sound like they don't belong on his tongue.

“In the middle of the night?” you ask. The machine beeps as you scan and talk, confirming one purchase after another. “That’s an interesting time to have a dinner party.”

For a moment, he looks like the words have died on his tongue. Eventually, he mumbles, “I never said I was eating it with him- her. Sorry.” He forces a wan smile to his face. “New pronouns. Sometimes it’s hard for me.”

You think about your childhood for a moment, long carefree days and golden afternoon laughter, summers spent running through sprinklers barefoot, winters spent curled up inside with an oversized blanket spread across your shoulders, just as ill-fitting as your body felt when you looked at yourself in the mirror. Then leaving home, moving away, and presenting yourself to the chaos of the city as the gender you’d always been - even if no one else had recognized it. The new pronouns were a pair of gilded wings, a sleek suit of armor that fit, at last.

Something sympathetic unfolds inside you. “It’s good that you’re trying.” You lock eyes with him, trying to infuse your gaze with something meaningful, with visible understanding. “I know I would have appreciated the effort from my parents, even if they made mistakes.”

A moment of silence passes, broken only by the beeping of the machine as you flip the items over with robotic coordination and press the barcode downwards. It’s an awkward rhythm, an off-beat metronome to the crooked motion of your conversation.

Finally, he exhales. “I think she would appreciate it too. But she can’t make it tonight.”

You shrug. “Next time, I guess.”

“No, you don’t get it.” The outburst is surprising, and you look up to see the man holding a container of canned tomatoes tight as a lifeline, well-built and broad-shouldered and on the verge of tears. He turns his face away for a moment, but not before you see something like anguish cross it. “She can’t make it anymore… ever.”

Ever. The word hits you like an anchor colliding with sun-dappled sand. Even your hands freeze for a moment, as if the hidden machinery inside them has ground to a halt. “I’m sorry,” is all you can summon to your lips.

You hear him take a shuddering inhale, see his chest rise and fall. He puts the canned tomatoes down on the conveyor belt with a little too much force. “It was my fault. I wasn’t accepting enough, I hated her until she hated herself, and then she-”

He breaks off. You don’t hear him finish the sentence, but you can practically see the words hanging in the air, fluorescent lights outlining their ghostly borders in the color of grief.

There is something about the night that loosens lips, you think, its shadows like oil working at the hinges of mouths until they open a little easier. Until thoughts take form and words come spilling out like dark ink from a pen, until new waterfalls spring to life. Maybe it’s the freedom in the dark that makes people feel like they can say anything. The words have been penned up in their throats for far too long, leaping frantically against their clenched teeth, and everything is easier to voice in the night.

The silence is choking. You reach toward the conveyor belt and find that there are no more groceries. You’ve finished checking them out.

When you look back up at the man, he seems to have collected himself, though you think you see something shining clinging to the taper of his eye. “This was her favorite meal,” he says. He raises his hand in a bitter mock toast. “Here’s to hoping I can make it without her.”

You have a vision of the man returning to an empty house, where the corners cast shadows even when the lights are turned on. Maybe he’ll chop the asparagus by himself, boil the water by himself. A vestige of a man making dinner for his daughter, trying to save a girl who cannot be saved anymore, by himself for now and always. It almost snaps your heart in two.

You show him the charge. He pays. He tightens his fingers around the cart handles until his knuckles pale. You know with bone-aching certainty that home was not meant to be experienced alone.

He starts heading toward the exit, and you let him go. Just as the doors whoosh open, he turns back, his expression unreadable. Something unspoken passes between you.

“Wait,” slips out of your mouth, and he does. A cool breeze flows through the open doors. 

You jot down your phone number on a piece of paper and rush to hand it to him. “Let me know if you need any help, okay?”

“In the middle of the night?” he repeats, but he pockets it gratefully.

“Sure,” you say.

The faintest hint of a smile arches across his face. “Thanks,” he murmurs, and steps out into the night.

You nod and wave goodbye. Smile back.

July 02, 2021 19:32

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21 comments

Alex Sultan
11:42 Jul 10, 2021

This is not the genre I usually read, but I think your writing style is captivating - I like how you do second-person POV, it is easy to get into the story.

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T.H. Sherlock
22:22 Jul 06, 2021

There's such poetry to your writing Ellie - I always feel like I have to read your stories quickly as they carry me along with them and then go back for a re-read to savour all the subtle, beautiful touches you weave into your work. Lines like these: 'It’s an awkward rhythm, an off-beat metronome to the crooked motion of your conversation'; 'you can practically see the words hanging in the air, fluorescent lights outlining their ghostly borders in the color of grief'; 'feeling this strange dark hour yawn inside you'. To me these all build ...

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Ellie Yu
14:09 Jul 07, 2021

This means so, so much to me - and I really admire your writing too, which makes this all the more meaningful. Can't thank you enough :)

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Amaranthine Sky
22:04 Jul 03, 2021

Wow. Can I emphasize how good of a writer you are? These simple moments unfolded into a beautiful story full of gripping emotion. Your dialogue flows so well, and I can feel the power of each line. Honestly, I think your title is perfectly fitting for the story, but maybe other people have better suggestions. You should definitely be proud of this--it's so sad and beautiful. The connection between the customer and the cashier have through those woven moments really brings out the good in humans. We can be good sometimes, too. We can be th...

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Ellie Yu
14:33 Jul 05, 2021

This really means a lot to me, thanks so much! <3

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Amaranthine Sky
17:19 Jul 06, 2021

Np! If you have time, I would love your feedback on my story...only if you have time. Looking forward to reading your next piece!

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Ellie Yu
20:08 Jul 02, 2021

Edit: This didn't get approved and I don't know why. I try not to be too negative on here, but this is like the fifth time it's happened, and it's honestly killing my motivation to submit stories. It's really, really discouraging to see something you've worked so hard on not even make it into the contest - I'm not expecting a win, but I'd at least like to know that I was in the running, you know? I don't know why I'm writing this here when it really won't do much, but I guess I just wanted to get that off my chest. If some Reedsy executive s...

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Hoor Amin
02:36 Jul 14, 2021

Oof! Ellie strikes again!!! Loved it!!

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Riley Elizabeth
05:27 Jul 10, 2021

I'm simply astonished. You must secretly be an NYT Best Selling Author. It's obvious that you wrote every word with care, and I can tell how much you really love to write! Like T.H. Sherlock said, there's such poetry to your work, and I'm completely obsessed. Your style of writing is so unique. I'd love to interact with you more, and I can't wait to see what you do next.

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Emma D
03:51 Jul 19, 2023

Just came across your profile, even though this was written a long while ago, but I just wanted to say that I like this story, and I love your style. I also am a high school student that is a pianist, so it's nice to find someone I can relate to as well!

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Keya J.
07:12 Dec 06, 2021

This is such a sweet story Ellie, circling around unsaid emotions. Your writing forms an instant connection with the readers, automatically creating sympathy. I liked the flow of the story and how beautifully it has been expressed. Great read!

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Graham Kinross
08:24 Nov 26, 2021

You nod your head and write a positive comment because you liked the story. You don’t often read stories in second person other than Harrow the Ninth, which you really liked. You look forward to reading more of Ellie’s work.

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Master Jack
22:31 Oct 25, 2021

daily voice/video chats and talks about trends, news, science, IT, and more we glad to have you in our conversations too... https://discord.gg/XmgFyk6

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16:05 Jul 03, 2021

Oh, Ellie! This touched my heart. It was amazing from start to finish, and I was half hoping it would never end. The title fits perfectly; it's a literal and figurative phrase that wonderfully encompasses this gem of a story. The emotions are brilliantly woven throughout this piece. It's amazing how you turned what could have been a completely mundane and typical non-interaction into a story that had the power to make me feel like I could cry. The connection between the checker and their customer was a beautiful--yet tragic--testament ...

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Ellie Yu
14:32 Jul 05, 2021

Thank you so, so much! This is the most amazing thing to wake up to. I really appreciate your kind comment :) Also, funnily enough, I didn't actually realize the figurative meaning of the title, only the literal one - I'm liking it a lot more now!

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19:56 Jul 06, 2021

I'm so glad I brightened your morning--and I really appreciate your amazing story. :) Happy writing!

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21:53 Jul 05, 2021

edits n' feedback account, my man- i saw you followed me. is there some criticism in my future? ;)

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19:53 Jul 06, 2021

Criticism is now in your present, on "Build-It-Yourself". :)

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Unknown User
23:25 Jul 04, 2021

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19:57 Jul 06, 2021

Sure! I will pop over to your page soon. :)

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Unknown User
20:01 Jul 06, 2021

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