MY ROOMMATE BUFFALO BILL

after Shira Erlichman

I sit on the counter as she scrubs the dishes, wait my turn to dry. Her black acrylics skim through greasy water, black eyes inspect each fork. My hand dips in the frenzy of her hair to trace the curls. She cranes her head into my palm, smiles, still scraping pasta sauce.

 

We binge Forensic Files without the sound on. Bill narrates instead. Between episodes, she pulls out a cellophane bag and frees the moth inside. It laps the room then perches on her Adam’s Apple. Nibbles off her stubble. The moth crawls up to shape her eyebrows.

 

We met six months before through an acquaintance. Both needed to split rent, were both looking for a trans roommate. Things moved fast and we found a place that week. She hooked me with her hand-stitched clothes, love of bugs and goofy smile. The moth picks at her lip while she watches me. What eats at you? she whispers, though I feign not hearing this. She moves on, walks us through the crime scene.

 

Bill hasn’t seen the ocean. We drive to the pier and walk around, discuss freeing lobsters from the seafood market. We sift our hands through the cold sand, watch the water darken till it disappears. A question roars at me from the black.

 

I want to ask about the suit: whose skin she used, how it was constructed. If gender’s something I can put on, too. Instead, I ask what it’s like to be beautiful. I’m not trying to flirt and really want to know. She stops fondling a scrap of driftwood and turns to me, wide grin glinting moonlight.

 

My parents are rattled meeting her—rattled, but not scared. They’re thrown by the attention she demands: the bold outfits, snort-laugh, sweater patterned with small dogs. The way she claims everything and never waits. She’s got killer style, my dad chortles afterward to show approval.

 

Soon my friends are hers and come over just to see Bill. They gush about how brave she is, how there’s no one like her. I’m insecure and what I hear is you’re not trans enough. I know it’s not her fault. I pick fights for no good reason: knitting needles on the couch, the lotion she never puts into the shower basket. We stop talking and instead clang dishes, sigh, let the air grow cold.

 

I want it to be that easy— to have the glossy mane, neon lounge pants, a followed Pinterest board. Want to be brave, too. I still use the wrong name getting coffee. I’m scared of someone stopping me. Walk with clenched fists to hide my nails. Scared of what it means to be myself.

 

I threw it out, Bill says unprompted, drowning out the detective’s onscreen testimony. The suit, I mean. She’s trying but I don’t deserve it. I ask why, picking at the numbers printed on the remote. I couldn’t live as an idea. Be known as a performance. We sit in silence. The next episode begins.

 

Bill takes me shopping, despite my usual reluctance. Despite how much we hate the mall. She holds onto my elbow in the parking lot and won’t let go. She does eventually when I try shirts on at Uniqlo. Shoos salespeople off when they hover. We wander other stores and Bill holds onto me again. Despite how close she is I feel space open for me. A body filling out its bones, becoming somewhere.

 

Bill moves out a few months later—moves someplace closer to her work. The night before, we drive down to the beach to wander on the bike path. Watch moths dance in orange lamps then disappear from view. I watch her hair catch the light, hold it close, let the beams fall in the sand.

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CD Eskilson is a queer nonbinary poet, editor, and educator from Los Angeles. Their work appears or is forthcoming in Anti-Heroin Chic, Homology Lit, Barren Magazine, and Redivider, among others. CD is Poetry Editor for Exposition Review and reads for Split Lip Magazine. They are an MFA Candidate at the University of Arkansas.