Tessa in the Mirror

Tessa drives to the Target by the interstate, alone. Her once-blonde-now-blue hair is in a ponytail, the unruly short pieces tucked behind her ears. She wears jeans and a Sturgis rally shirt she got at a thrift store and its thin fabric clings to her ribs and her chicken-bone arms. It was meant for little boys. In Target she grabs a cart and wanders, thinking of birthday presents, soccer practice, new shoes. Things she should be doing instead.

The sullen teens re-racking clothes look like people she might see at football games or arcades, but they look past her, all sweat and hormones. Something else she doesn't understand. Tessa watched boys clowning in the men's section with bright rugby shirts and trucker hats. Meaningless decals, too much noise. But she wants what they have; already the colors call her, she has no choice. Tessa goes off to see about the hat, head down as she shoulders toward the boys.

When it happens like this, and it always does, she's not prepared for the way her muscles start to clench up. Clothes are only fabric. A tall boy tries on a green-and-yellow hat for his buddies and Tessa wants to crane her arms out to snatch it from him, it's her hat.

She finds another hat and jams it on her head. The anger carried her but now she's unmoored again, floating between the racks with her Windex blue hair falling in her face, and her hands curled in half-moons. The hat could be her little brother's could be for a boyfriend only with her walk her scowl her funky hair she's never had a boyfriend. What she knows about boys—and about this—is trial and error.

She figures her feet are a size 6 and her underthings a size small but she's never been able to get a dress shirt, because they're all wrapped in plastic so you can't try them on, and if you wanted to how would you start, with what numbers? Straight back is pants and she scans the folded sizes for her numbers, wishing her hair were short enough so she could pass for a boy, or that she'd worn a different shirt so you just couldn't tell she had boobs. She's passed before—could pass again. When they thought she was a boy it made her feel like she'd finally done something right. Pants.

Tessa sneaks into the ladies' dressing room feeling sure, always, at this time, the old lady will comment, or sneer, which might be worse. They'll say she's a girl and girls don't do this. They'll take the clothes away.

In the stall she throws the clothes aside and tears her own things off, already thinking past this moment so she can say she wasn't there, but in a minute she's someone else entirely with the pants the shirt the hat. She cocks the hat just so feeling a thousand boys live and die in her—I am this, she thinks—and her feet splay accordingly, her face widens, she wants to stay in these clothes forever. Tessa blinks in the mirror and the boy blinks back.

In the corridor outside Tessa's stall, a mother rebukes her child, and the women at the desk mutter in response. The world breaks in with all its demanding as Tessa opens her mouth to say something to this perfect boy, but the boy's gone again, even as Tessa holds one bright finger out to the mirror willing him to come back.


words: Lindsey Danis, Boston (Adventures in Dessert)
photo: Blogistin, Germany (blogistin)


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