Granddad says I need normal pants not faggot pants.
If his father was around, he says to Mom, He wouldn’t be in these things. Do you wanna call his father? Mom yells.
Granddad lives with us now.
Last night he caught me wearing makeup when I got home from the midnight movie. He was asleep in the recliner and woke up right after I closed my lab coat to cover what was under it—the silky tank top and the underwear Katy let me borrow—lucky but the glitter lip gloss and the eye shadow were still staring him in the face.
He didn’t say anything and just shut his eyes and I went to bed. I guess the pants were an easier target.
Is this all he has, says Granddad.
He means the faggot pants I’m wearing today. I wear the biggest pants I can find. The bigger the pants the closer they are to a dress. Skate pants. I don’t skate but I like watching the boys skate and they let me sit near them on the hill above the rec center. It’s all he has clean, Mom says, Unless you wanna do laundry?
She wins arguments by asking questions.
Let’s go, Granddad says and we’re out the door.
We get in his convertible and he drives us five minutes up the road to the mall.
I stare at my hair in the side view mirror. It grew out over the summer and it’s almost touching my shoulders. I watch it blow around.
Granddad parks outside of Belk.
William, Granddad barks to get me to stop looking at myself. He calls me William. That’s his name. My name is Billy.
We get out of the convertible and go through the automatic doors. We’ll deal with the hair next, Granddad says.
Our town mall is only one floor so it’s pretty easy to get around. It has two turns and one big fountain. Today the mall is full of dads—dads everywhere—shopping and eating.
Just past the fountain I see Ben from school. He’s on his knees in front of Sam Goody and has a sack next to him and is lighting candles and rubbing ash all over his hands. He’s in my same seventh grade block. Ben only wears black, and makeup, and sometimes he wears black skirts and the assistant principal makes him go home.
He is a lot of things I want to be, but not all of them.
I hope Granddad doesn’t see Ben. He does.
Jesus, says Granddad.
I murmur It’s the ’90s, Granddad.
Not in our house it isn’t, he says.
We get to the normal men’s store. The three mannequins up front wear clothes like Granddad. I look back at Ben. He smiles with his black lipstick lips and I risk a wave. He’s pulling something out of the sack.
Granddad hustles me into the normal men’s store and nods at the sales guy and grabs jeans and khakis off the table and then puts me in the dressing room.
Take ’em off, Granddad says and points down at my faggot pants.
I unbelt and let them drop, which is easy because they’re huge. I kick them over my shoes and up into my arms.
Give ’em here, Granddad says and grabs the pants and slams the dressing room door. I’m alone in my boxers with the normal pants beside me.
You want ’em to touch the skin of your legs, Granddad shouts, They should hug your nuts, come on.
I take my shoes off. The Me in the mirror tries on the jeans. They’re too tight and I can only get the top part up to my thighs before I start to feel trapped. I tug them down and try the khakis and it’s the same suffocation.
I can hear Granddad apologizing to the sales guy, about me.
I know now I’ll have to either shout at Granddad or leave the dressing room in my underwear, like in my nightmare where I’m walking to school in the clothes I really want to wear and busses keep passing and kids keep laughing and pointing.
Granddad comes back.
There’s a weird hard creaking noise and the lights go out. It’s nice not to see myself in the mirror. I breathe out.
I hear more hard creaks, getting louder and Granddad tries the locked handle and bangs on the door and shouts his own name over and over.
There’s a sound I’ve never heard before, I don’t know, and then it’s quiet and my feet are wet. I inhale and exhale slowly and wait for the lights to come back on. They don’t. After a few dark minutes I pull off the khakis and use them to dry my feet. I put on my shoes and leave the dressing room.
The store is slightly brighter from the skylights in the main mall.
My pants are on the floor next to a long dark red smear that goes out the entrance. The mannequins are missing.
I leave the store and enter the light. There are no mannequins in any of the windows. The clothes that were on them are piled on the floor. More smears join the first one on the floor. I follow them back toward the fountain.
The smears end at a pile of dads. Dead dads, necks and arms and legs broken into different shapes. The mannequins creak as they walk on their stumpy legs. They strip the clothes off the dead dads and make a new pile. I forget that I’m in my boxers.
Ben sits at the top of a small staircase. I go to him.
Ben says Hi Billy.
I ask him if we should run. Ben says Nah.
He offers me a bite of his cinnamon sugar pretzel. I sit.
We eat and watch the mannequins. Their blank heads turn and whisper to each other. They use their sharp stiff hands to peel the skin off the dads, holding each piece of flesh up over their chests and legs and admiring it. Fashion. They toss the eyeballs into Chick- fil-A.
Ben finishes his pretzel and says Okay c’mon.
We go to Belk and he tells me to pick out whatever I want.
I get a white dress with lace and a leather jacket and dark red boots and put them all on right then and there like the world is my dressing room.
We go back to stand where we sat before. A lake of blood splashes the steps below us. The blood matches my boots.
This afternoon is better than this morning.
A lady-shape mannequin comes over and puts a stiff white hand on my shoulder. It takes me a second to notice that she’s wearing Granddad’s face.
She tells me I look great.
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