by Byron Kimball
They say nothing of substance and haven’t for days. There are the lines they exchange as they look for the right gate, but beyond that, she keeps her eyes glued to her cell phone. He glances at his watch.
In the time before, there was a silence. But it was the comfortable one that lovers shared and body language made up for everything. Not like it is now.
They board the plane. Before they would hold hands too. He twists his hand in his pocket. Her hand, the one that’s not holding her ticket, hangs limp by her side but he doesn’t dare reach for it.
They find seats together by the wings of the plane, a row from the emergency exit. She finds a place by the window and leans against it. The nape of her neck is pale under the electric lights of the overhead display.
Another stranger, a college student with scraggly dark hairs dotting his chin, takes the seat by the aisle. Thankfully for the two of them, the student wears headphones, great big black lumps that seem to swallow up his lean head, throughout the entire flight.
He half watches her and half watches the landscape as it shrinks underneath the wing of the plane. The roar of the engines barely registers with him. Below, the hills swell up under the earth like tumors. Cars, small as fleas, amble along roads to nowhere in particular.
His wife, although she won’t be that for much longer, wears a blank expression.
They used to call him ‘she’. And he let them, because what else could he do over the years?
He doesn’t like to remember what it was like back then and what he does let himself remember, it comes back to him in scraps. But he remembers how they met and it’s never felt more distant than it does right now.
Back then, they called him a butch and he embraced the title, although he didn’t like to say why. The dyke bar in Castro- if he wasn’t at work, he was there sitting in the back, polishing off a Sea Breeze.
After a while, when you became a regular, you started to memorize the faces of the girls who would filter in.
He homed in on her the moment she first started coming in. She used to keep her soft brown hair wrapped up in a scarf. Even when the bar was busy, he could always catch a wisp of the perfume she used to wear. Her curves, voluptuous, were accented by hippie skirts.
He watched her from a distance.
Instead, she was the one who approached him. He glanced at her. She glanced back.
“Buy you a drink?” she asked.
He wishes he had said no.
When the plane reaches the proper altitude, he tries to speak but she plugs in her headphones before he has a chance.
After she bought him a drink that night, they stumbled home to his flat.
They migrated to the bedroom. It almost happened too fast.
She didn’t touch his body; he didn’t let her, although he never said why. Instead, he pleasured her. And when she let him, he dug a dildo out of his sock drawer.
As she rode him, he imagined the dildo was a part of his body.
As the flight attendant hands out drinks, he finds himself glancing to her hand. He almost jumps when he realizes she’s already taken off her wedding ring.
They had been married for five years when the thoughts came back.
The thoughts first came to him when he was a teenager. He would be getting dressed. First, he would slip on the sports bra. His hateful chest would swell underneath his shirt otherwise.
He would change his boxers last and try not to notice that feeling of emptiness between his legs.
When the thoughts came back, he did nothing at first. But then the panic swelled.
He strapped his chest down with bandages when she was at work. Then he bought chest binders. He stuffed a sock in his briefs.
It was his little secret until she came home early.
“I can’t do this anymore,” he said.
She held him and they cried.
As the plane starts to descend, he gives her hand a squeeze. She doesn’t rip her hand away.
“We’re going to get through this,” she lied.
First came the hormones. Then the name change.
When his voice dropped- that was when she grew distant. They rarely had sex anymore. They spoke less and less. When she introduced him as her husband, her voice faltered.
It should have been no surprise when she came to him, drunk and in tears. “I can’t be with a man.”
And that was that.
Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas.
He’s numb as they ride down the strip. The garish glow of the casinos burns into his eyes.
The divorce happens swiftly, cheaply. Papers signed, papers filed.
They walk out of the courthouse together like they did so many years before when they wed.
This time, neither of them hold hands.
They share a hotel room but not a bed.
“I still love you,” he says.
“We can be friends.”
“It’s not the same.”
“It never is,” she says.
He watches the ceiling. “So this is how it ends.”
“You’ll find someone better.”
“That should be my line.”
“I can’t hold you back,” she says.
“No, I guess not,” he says.
The bags hang heavy under her eyes. Eventually, she falls asleep. He doesn’t.
She finds a new girlfriend a month later.
It’s only then he stops wearing his wedding ring.
When he yanks off the ring, he feels light, as though he’s removing much more. He sets the ring in a box back in the closet.
And when he does this, he sleeps easily for the first time in weeks.
Byron James Kimball is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on various online platforms including The Appzine and TransGlobal Magazine. Along with advocating in his local town for various causes, Byron will be graduating Western Oregon University with a B.A. in Communication Studies. You can follow him on Twitter at @thebasicpizza.